Getting to the water’s edge

Waterfront plan for Hudson movers closer to completion

HUDSON–Like the tide, enthusiasm for the city’s proposed Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan has ebbed and flowed over the last two decades. But Hudson city officials now believe they have completion of the plan in sight and with it more money for the city and far greater public access to the river.

This Monday, December 7, the Common Council will receive a briefing on the current status of the plan as the city considers the latest and final draft of the Generic Environmental Impact Study for the changes proposed to the waterfront. The environmental study alone cost $43,000, all of it grant money, which may help explain why many municipalities proposing similar waterfront plans haven’t bothered with environmental impact study, Hudson Mayor Rick Scalera said in a recent interview. But the mayor sees the detailed impact document as a tool to promote the types of development the city wants to see along its waterfront, making the waterfront an “economic engine” for the community.

The city has broadly defined the area encompassed by its waterfront, mapping out a C-shaped region starting with the state prison grounds on the south side and wrapping around through the wetlands that was once the South Bay, north along the shoreline to the North Bay and back inland to the Firemen’s Home and Hudson High School. The central part of the waterfront extends east to Third Street, which is part of state Route 9G.

The boundaries have particular significance, because part of the plan requires changes to the city’s zoning law that would identify a dozen different zones, everything from a Core Riverfront District to mixed use residential districts and conservation areas meant for recreation.

The mayor and Cheryl Roberts, the lawyer who in recent years has helped guide the city through the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) approval process, see the plan as offering benefits that extend beyond the city. The document envisions an easy and attractive way for people from all over the county and beyond to enjoy the riverfront, including a new public boat launch.

Now that the plan has moved beyond what the mayor called its “diaper phase,” he said the county has shown more interest in participating in some aspects of development along the waterfront.

Final approval of the waterfront plan rests with the state Department of State, which must , like the city, solicit input on the proposal, although the mayor expects the city and the state will proceed in tandem as the approval process appears to be nearing completion. The Hudson River, an estuary, is technically part of the U.S. coastline, and the Department of State is the state agency with jurisdiction over coastline development in New York. That gives the department real power, something it exercised earlier this decade with a decision against a cement plant proposed for Greenport and Hudson. That ruling helped scuttle the multi-million-dollar plant.

Hudson’s waterfront revitalization plan was languishing until about four years ago, most recently because the Department of State said that an earlier draft failed to meet state standards for public input. But the dynamic changed when community activist Linda Mussmann was appointed to head a committee to revive the LWRP. The committee, working with a professional planning firm, reworked aspects of the proposal and constantly sought public comment and participation. Ms. Mussmann described the final version now in the final review stage as “a great day not only for Hudson but for all of Columbia County.” She said this week that the plan offers “a chance to have the entrance to the City of Hudson restored.”

The city still has a working waterfront and observers call it the best deepwater port between Newburgh and Albany. Barges and ocean-going vessels dock at the shore and take on limestone from a quarry in Greenport, while others offload salt for municipal highway departments. The dock and the land around it are owned by the multinational cement company Holcim, and the waterfront plan calls for that type of shipping to continue, but with public access to the dock and the surrounding land. So far the company has expressed an interest in this approach. But there is another aspect of the plan that suggests that the limestone that now is transported from the quarry through the most densely populated neighborhoods of Hudson be rerouted down a currently unused causeway across the wetlands in the South Bay.

The mayor, Ms. Roberts and Ms. Mussmann all see this as a better option than having the heavy trucks destroy city streets and put residents in jeopardy. And while the overall plan doesn’t hinge on the use of the causeway nor has Holcim agreed to allow use of the roadway, at least one group sees this idea as a major flaw in the plan.

“We need to think of a more sustainable route,” said Mark Waldonger, a planner with the environmental group Scenic Hudson. He said Scenic Hudson is aware of the “social justice” issues raised by continuing to allow the trucks to be routed through the city, but his organization commissioned a study by Hudsonia last year that identified environmentally sensitive species in the South Bay along the causeway.

He does see other aspects of the plan that Scenic Hudson does support, including efforts to protect the North Bay. But he did not say how what, if any, position the organization would take on the final proposal. Scenic Hudson has already helped preserve other sections of the shoreline in the county and elsewhere in the region.

After years of small steps toward opening up the waterfront, including the removal in a previous term of rusting oil tanks in what is now the city’s riverfront park, Mayor Scalera remains optimistic. He calls the plan a “road map and support guide” as the city tries to develop its waterfront.

Following next week’s briefing, the Common Council is scheduled to vote December 15 on whether to present the plan to the public for a final round of comments. Then the document would go to a public hearing in late January, with time after that for responses and a final vote in the council. Assuming it receives council approval, the mayor expects a final plan could be in place as early as the spring of 2010. 

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