Time to finish the LWRP

OUTSIDERS MUST WONDER about the bathtub-toy-like whale logo that lingers on some City of Hudson signs. Some sort of upstate joke? Whales don’t swim in the river.

Actually they do sometimes, although the rare sightings are mostly around New York City, where the water’s still salty. As most local people know, the logo is less about whales than whalers, the seafaring Quakers who fled their homes on the islands off Massachusetts during the Revolution and settled here. They laid out the grid for the City of Hudson and engaged in various maritime activities, including whaling. And though it’s hard to believe from the vacant land and derelict industrial buildings there now, the city once had a bustling waterfront.

Can it have one again?

It can’t have a replica of the old one; imagine a maritime theme park that recreated the old days, complete with the brothels that once made Hudson notorious. And though geology favors Hudson with deepwater moorings–an unusual feature found north of Newburgh only here and at Albany–large ships would need a reason to stop here. Anyone care to take the Carnival Cruise Line vacation to Hudson?

Redeveloping the waterfront has to be about many different ideas, some of them traditional and some of which nobody has thought of yet. That approach to flexible planning is one of the hallmarks of the latest version of Hudson’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which often goes by the unpronounceable acronym LWRP. Once the city adopts an LWRP it becomes eligible for state and federal grants and, more importantly in the long run, it sets down clear rules and guidelines for the types of development the community wants within the area defined as the waterfront.

Hudson made only fitful starts on its plan for much of the last 20 years. The people in charge early on took a paternalistic approach to the process, assuming they knew better than the citizens of Hudson how the city should evolve. The state rejected their earlier draft plan because it lacked sufficient public input.

Then former Mayor Richard Tracy appointed Linda Mussmann to lead the LWRP committee, and she got the process moving again. She placed such an emphasis on public participation that it sometimes felt like a dragnet; reporters would cringe at the prospect of having to cover yet another LWRP meeting. But in a city that prides itself on arguing about  everything, no matter how insignificant, few would dare suggest that they hadn’t had a chance to voice their views on waterfront development.

To be fair, former and current Mayor Rick Scalera made waterfront improvements even without a formal plan. In an earlier term, he oversaw the removal of old oil tanks, and the state stepped in to clean up some of the pollution left behind by long-defunct riverfront industries. His administration also oversaw the creation of the riverfront park, with its gazebo and dock. But the broader approach that a revitalization plan makes possible has eluded him until now.

For the first time in a century and a half–since the railroad first limited access to what had been the gateway to the city–Hudson can now take control of its own waterfront. Although other communities in the county are as close to the banks of the river, only Hudson has a bridge that can carry vehicles over the tracks. Everywhere else, people have to cross the tracks at grade level, an increasingly perilous task in an era of high-speed trains. In Hudson the public can drive to the riverside and take advantage of all that’s there.

Some individuals and groups still have objections to parts of the plan. Scenic Hudson has misgivings about rerouting some truck traffic headed to the riverside down an old causeway through the environmentally sensitive wetlands that once was the South Bay. The organization has sound scientific evidence to back its objections.

But even well-reasoned concerns like these, which can and should be addressed in the near future, must not derail the momentum of the LWRP as the latest draft moves through the last, agonizingly slow steps toward final approval.

The city has gone long enough without an overarching plan for the redevelopment and conservation of its waterfront. The Common Council, which will discuss the plan next week and vote the week following, should keep in mind that adoption of this plan is long overdue and now is the time to act.

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