Thursday, November 30, 2023

He Said, They Said

The Planning Board is holding a special "working meeting" today about the Colarusso application for the proposed "haul road," a paved, two-lane road through the wetland that was once South Bay. The image below shows the trestle through South Bay, completed in 1874 for Fred W. Jones's "mountain railroad," going from the quarry to the river. The trestle evolved into the berm that exists today, on which Colarusso is proposing to built a paved, two-lane road for its gravel trucks.

The meeting, which was agreed upon at the Planning Board's November 14 meeting, is now listed on the City of Hudson calendar. It is scheduled to happen at 4:00 p.m. today, November 30. The workshop meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station and on Zoom. Click here to join the meeting remotely. 

It's not known what will happen at this working meeting. The discussion that preceded the decision to hold the meeting suggests that the board and Colarusso might use to meeting to work out the conditions agreeable to Colarusso should the Planning Board grant its approval. At the November 14 meeting, much time was spend discussing the situations--flooding and blasting--in which "public safety" would demand that Colarusso trucks travel on city streets. One hopes, however, the Planning Board will begin some serious deliberation about the decision before them rather than allowing John Privatera, Colarusso's attorney, to monopolize the meeting.

At the November 14 meeting, Privatera was invited to present the applicant's response to public comments. The response had been submitted to the Planning Board in a letter dated November 1. Even Privatera seemed to find that strange, commenting, "It's unusual to have a discussion of comments, but I think that's what the board wants." Before summarizing and presenting the applicant's response to public comments, the vast majority of which expressed opposition to the project, Privatera spoke of a letter written by Donna Streitz and David Konigsberg, representing Our Hudson Waterfront, reacting to his response to comments. The text of the letter can be found here. Privatera dismissed the letter as being "hugely mistaken" and declared it was "procedurally inappropriate and unfair to the board to read [the letter] outside of the comment period." The letter had been sent to the Planning Board on November 14; the deadline for submitting written comments was October 10. 

Everything Privatera had to say about the letter from Our Hudson Waterfront (OHW) and his response to public comments can be heard here, beginning at 1:34:48. In this post, Gossips will consider some of his more stunning claims.

Speaking of the OHW letter, Privatera said, "It starts with the premise that what we are doing at the dock is illegal," and declared that premise to be false, backing that up by saying they'd been operating at the dock for nine years, and "the city hasn't told us to stop operating." The truth is, since 2018, when unauthorized repairs to the dock ended the grandfathered nonconforming use status of the dock operations, Colarusso has been operating at the dock without the required conditional use permit--in other words, in violation of the city code, or illegally. The fact that city government has been reluctant to shut down Colarusso's operations at the dock does not legitimize them. 

In his presentation on November 14, Privatera asserted, "The law was written to accommodate the haul road." By "the law," Privatera presumably meant the zoning code that is part of the city's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). He was referring to the fact that the Core Riverfront District (C-R), shown in green on the zoning map, extends the length of the haul road. 

He went on to claim, "The code was specifically written to facilitate the development of the haul road." I was on the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee--the committee that developed the draft LWRP in 2006-2007--and I can attest that was hardly the case. At that time, O&G was moving gravel from the quarry to the dock along what was then known as the "causeway," and the zoning simply acknowledged that. There was no intent or interest in facilitating further development. In fact, the zoning was meant to prohibit development. In 2011, when the Common Council was voting to adopt the LWRP, Cheryl Roberts, who has then the city attorney and the principal author of the LWRP, assured the Council that "the law presumes that eventually nonconforming uses will no longer be in existence"--quite the opposite of facilitating development.

Privatera also claims that the LWRP "contemplated a commercial dock." A commercial dock is not an industrial dock. What the LWRP envisioned was a dock for shipping agricultural products from Columbia County to New York City and beyond, as the Apollonia is doing, and for receiving passenger ships traveling on the Hudson not for loading gravel barges and unloading asphalt. 

Privatera made a claim about the OHW letter that works to incite Colarusso supporters: "They're really trying to put us out of business." That's ridiculous. A. Colarusso & Sons has been in existence since 1912, and they have only been shipping gravel from the dock they acquired from Holcim since 2014, an activity that represents less than 5 percent of the company's revenue. The company's success and survival hardly depends on this. 

We can only hope that the Planning Board has the courage to support the vision for the waterfront that people have been working toward since 1984, when a citizens' group called SHOW (Save Hudson's Only Waterfront) fought off the siting of an oil refinery on our waterfront, rather than acquiesce to Colarusso's nine-year-old venture. 

It should be noted that Colarusso is probably the reason why Hudson does not have a fully approved LWRP. LWRPs require approval of the New York State Department of State, and approval of Hudson's LWRP was contingent on fulfilling some conditions, one of which was the transfer of ten acres of land on the waterfront, south of the dock, from Holcim to the City of Hudson. Cheryl Roberts, then city attorney, was negotiating with Holcim's lawyers to make that happen, but those negotiations broke down sometime in 2014. That was because, as Gossips learned in 2016, Colarruso had begun its negotiations with Holcim to buy Holcim's property in Hudson, and Colarusso wanted those ten acres adjacent to the dock to use as a staging area.

The Planning Board's special meeting takes place today at 4:00 p.m., in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Zoom. Click here to join the meeting remotely.


  1. Given the massive downside impacts that Colarusso is imposing on our community, one would hope that there would be equally massive upside benefits. But there are none.

  2. The 2011 Zoning Code was written to accommodate one of two truck traffic alternatives in or around the South Bay. These alternative solutions to Hudson's age-old problem received a great deal of input and self-interested cooperation from the then-owner, Holcim (US).

    Today, the City's preferred alternative is no longer available, which leaves the current landowner's private road on the causeway as the remaining alternative.

    However, the causeway was to be used as is: a one-lane road to be used in two directions of travel. The idea of NYSDOS attorney William Sharpe was to limit traffic volume, even on private property, without risking the charge that government was thereby regulating a private enterprise.

    There was never talk of a "haul road" nor does a "haul road" exist today. That question is precisely what the Planning Board is considering for a conditional use permit, and possibly without any idea of the why and wherefores of the amended zoning (2011), nor of the correct procedure they risk violating (only the ZBA can issue use variances).

    I do agree with Privitera about one thing, however, that the ongoing operations are indeed legal until the moment the City issues some sort of an order. That the City has not done so, and also not asked anything of the operator for this privilege, is an unmistakable sign that Hudson residents don't have the government that they deserve.

    Begin preparations for an Article 78 petition against the City of Hudson Planning Board.

  3. In my opinion it was a huge mistake for the city and its residents to neglect the greater property dispute underlying the Colarusso dock itself.

    The acreage in question stretches from the southern boundary of the Riverfront Park almost to the South Bay inlet. It includes more than half of the waterfront land the City illegally relinquished to St. Lawrence Cement in the early 1980s.

    In fact, the entire area which encompasses much of Colarusso's southern yard was never granted to anyone by the State of New York. That makes it state land, the likely theft of which - by Elihu Gifford and his iron works Board - can be corrected at any time, now or in the future.

    Scroll to the bottom at the following address to see an exhaustive analysis of Colarusso's chain of deeds, beginning with the state's 19th c. underwater land grants. It's extremely complicated, but the wrongful appropriation of underwater lands is found in the deed chain alone; the state can produce no evidence that it ever conveyed these lands to anyone.

    The hard work of pressing for a state ruling to correct this wrong had a single glorious moment under Betsy Gramkow's Planning Board Chairmanship. Thanks to Betsy, the City effectively cornered the New York State Office of General Services into an impressive, years-long display of squirming and buck-passing. In the end they did what bureaucrats do best, and waited out Betsy's Chairmanship.

    Betsy aside, a big problem with Planning Boards across the nation is that they rarely appreciate their actual power. In Hudson though, for one moment it seemed we had a real chance to return the Colarusso dock and yard to The People of New York. For now that will have to wait until someone else renews the interest. But note it well, there's no Statute of Limitations for this.

  4. While the LWRP does contain a clause of a sentence that mentions use of the waterfront for shipping produce from the county to NYC, it also contains paragraphs regarding the continued industrial zoning and use in both bays, and the presumption that O&G's (ACS's predecessor in interest and operation on the waterfront and through the S. Bay) use of the causeway to transport gravel, and its stockpiling of the same at the port, would continue.

    Nothing is as cut and dry as people might like in the LWRP. That doesn't negate the facts, as you point out, that any change at the port facility would require a special use permit in its wake -- and that's lacking. I believe a court might make such a special use permit retroactive if ACS can show that the PB would have had to grant it in the first instance if ACS had timely applied. Whether they can make that showing or not is TBD.

  5. This comment, from David Konigsberg, was submitted by email:

    What is clear after last night's contentious meeting--thanks to Colarusso's contentious team--is that only one thing matters to the company in building its haul road: big growth and big profits. For as we've learned about the low-margin gravel business, to make big profits, volume is everything. Colarusso's team made clear that they will resist ANY condition on the company's "right" to run as many trucks as it wants, to and from the waterfront--and to use city streets IN ADDITION to the road whenever it suits their business interests. Full stop.

    In a vacuum, there is nothing wrong with this stance, but it forgets two things: The first, of course, is that we're not a vacuum. We're a busy small city with zoning laws and a more productive waterfront vision whose benefits are now becoming obvious, in terms of both public amenities and job creation.

    The second fact the C team forgets is that the city's Planning Board has the "right" to say NO--to deny permits for both the road and when the time comes, the conditional use permit at the dock, should the plan conflict with Hudson's zoning laws (both in fact and intent) and vision expressed consistently over the past four decades.

  6. There is no possibility of a "retroactive permit," because there never was a permit for the gravel operation at the dock. The only status Colarusso ever had was as a "non-conforming use,' which the company pissed away when they did physical alterations to the property. A NY State Supreme Court judge has ruled that Colarusso now has no status of any sort, and is before the Planning Board as a new applicant.

    1. Courts can do what they want in a great deal of situations. Permitting something nunc pro tunc happens all the time particularly when small planning boards, etc., which lack expertise are involved. The law in practice is rarely as cut and dry as lay people often believe it to be. Particularly when the local law conflicts with state policy (as it likely will here). If everything was as simple as you posit why spend so much money in a quixotic quest for what can’t be achieved? Answer: because it CAN be achieved.

    2. If the city actually wants to recover the property for public recreational use, why not recover it by eminent domain? Trying to force positive change by arguing over permits, truck volume, etc., seems like a round about and ineffective way to achieve the desired result. On the other hand, city planners may actually want to approve a massive, growing gravel and asphalt transfer station down at the waterfront. After all, haven't they been letting them operate it without a permit for years?

  7. This comment, from Donna Streitz, was submitted by email. Because of its length, it is being published in two parts.

    Part 1
    At both November Planning Board meetings, the Board has been given mistaken information about gravel truck volume considered by Greenport in its 2017 haul road SEQRA decision, and by NYS DOT in Colarusso permit approval (issued in 2016, renewed 2019). The Greenport Planning Board and the DOT did NOT consider 284 truck trips as max daily condition, as that number was not known until 2020, when consulting engineer for Colarusso--Creighton Manning (CM)-- conducted truck studies for them; 3 to 4 years after Greenport SEQRA and DOT decisions!

    In fact, Greenport’s SEQRA deliberations relied on earlier CM reports issued in 2016 that estimated much lower volume based on barge deliveries. The numbers considered by Greenport were 20 trips (10 loads) per day and 4,000 trips per year, with the Board assuming no future increase. Similarly, the DOT relied on an earlier 2016 CM report that showed peak of 24 trips per day. History has since shown rapidly rising intensification to the dock. Indeed, CM’s updated 2020 studies (based on actual load tickets) showed a more than double jump in daily truck trips from 48 in 2016 to 114 in 2019. From 2015 to 2019, annual truck trips almost tripled from 5,460 to 15,180.

    And it’s about to get much worse.

  8. Part 2
    In its application for proposed two-lane haul road, Colarusso proposes a max of 284 truck trips per day, as many as 250 days per year – worse case potential. This means as many as 71,000 annual trips, or 26 trips per hour and more than two trips to/from the dock every 5 minutes. This is the reality that the Board must consider as it tries to determine impacts on Hudson, including not just noise, diesel fumes, dust and disruption, traffic congestion, etc., but dangerous crossings at Route 9 and 9G, at Amtrak's line, and Waterfront pedestrian and vehicle access points.

    Bottom line, as history has proven, heavy truck traffic is already greater than it used to be and this is just the jumping off point. While Colarusso is concerned foremost about its business—as any business would be—the issue here is not its business, but impacts on Hudson. And as it struggles with these complex deliberations, it does not help that the Board is being mis-informed about truck numbers and the intensification threat.

  9. John, the 'quixotic quest,' is simply good ol' boy behavior. For 200 years, local business interests hereabouts got everything they wanted. They are amazed that citizens are now rising up and challenging their nasty, selfish agenda. Colarusso is offering nothing in the way of upside for Hudson, yet apparently they believe they enjoy a divine right to impose their noise, dust, and fumes on a waterfront that is being developed for the citizens of Hudson. Take a look at the towns that are host to the cement and gravel industry in the valley-- they are miserable, economically-depressed places with no positive energy. Is that your vision for our community?

    1. Add "destroying our streets and infrastructure below" to the list of Colarusso's damage they leave for us. Ask the DPW foreman, he will attest: All the trucks, especially the heaviest of them, literally shake our pipes, sewers, streets, curbs, etc to pieces, especially when hills are involved.
      Have you biked or driven on Columbia from 3rd to 7th recently? Who has to live with all that and eventually pay to have it replaced? Colarusso? ADM? Wal Mart, Aldi, or Shop Rite?
      When asked recently why Columbia Street isn't on the list of streets to get repaved this year with biannual State CHIPs funds, our DPW Superintendent nearly laughed, explaining that he can't justify to the State having the truck route repaved "if it's just going to collapse the next day." He said this at a council meeting, but no council member ASKED him what his plans are for the worst portions of the truck route that routinely have pipe problems and sinkholes with the street constantly being excavated by DPW with taxpayer funds. The answer is obvious: Only when the truck route is no longer in Hudson can we tend to Columbia Street properly.
      So where does that leave us? Up a creek! We are in an unsustainable, money wasting, heads in the sand situation that no one wants to acknowledge - Not the mayor, Rob Perry, nor the feckless council. Maybe not even the Planning Board. In other words, it's business as usual.

    2. BILL, are Colarusso's the only trucking company that comes through Hudson on any given day? The people going after this one company stating they are ruining our streets is quite humorous. Our city streets have needed repaving for years. ALL OF THEM, not just Columbia street!!