Council wades ahead on waterfront plan

HUDSON – The Common Council has approved the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the city’s proposed Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP). Passage of the impact statement moves the council one step closer to drafting new zoning regulations that will give official weight to the changes the waterfront plan envisions.

The plan passed with 9 ayes, one nay and one abstention at a special meeting at the Central Firehouse Monday, September 26. The re-zoning process still must await completion of the required state Environmental Quality Review of the plan, which is now in progress.

The vote was taken after attorneys Cheryl Roberts, the attorney for Mayor Richard Scalera’s office, and William Sharpe, a senior attorney for the state Department of State, discussed the final changes to the document.

Over 80 members of the public attended the meeting but were not invited to comment during what Common Council President Don Moore said was a work session, not a public hearing.

Among the changes in the waterfront plan from earlier drafts is one that permits “conditional use.” Ms. Roberts said this new feature adds teeth to the document by requiring that O&G, the construction company that ships gravel out of the city’s deep water port and other conducts other commercial operations in the waterfront zone, must secure a conditional use permit if the company changes its operations in any way.

Currently the port is in an industrial zone, but once the LWRP takes effect the port will be located in a newly drawn commercial recreational(CR) zone, which will not allow the same practices in the core riverfront district.

For now, O&G can operate the port as in the past, but any change, including O&G’s proposal for the addition of 400 feet of bulkhead, would trigger the requirement for a conditional use permit with constraints on hours of use, noise, dust and fumes. Those restrictions are designed to protect neighbors and to protect views and public access to the waterfront.

Mr. Moore said he liked that option because “it adds great weight to the document.”

The council president said he supports the long-term goal of having the city own the port, but believes it will only happen with a willing buyer and seller. Holcim, the multinational cement manufacturing company, owns the southern section of the city’s waterfront.

“The proposed core riverfront district does not allow port use,” said Ms. Roberts, but she added that if a change in operation triggers the requirement of a conditional use permit, “you would have a board’s oversight of the operation. The city could also enact certain other controls that could lawfully control truck activity.”

Large trucks carrying heavy loads of gravel on city streets have damaged city infrastructure and generated concern over pedestrian safety.

Another significant change in the generic impact statement noted by Ms. Roberts involves the South Bay. The state Department of State has proposed the South Bay, which is bisected by a causeway, as a wetland habitat. The causeway was recently resurfaced by O&G, an action that the state deemed allowable under Hudson’s existing zoning regulations.

The city of Hudson has shied away from the idea of owning the South Bay. “We’d like an easement to the South Bay. We don’t really want to take title. You get liability with title,” said Ms. Roberts.

Alderman Sheila Ramsey (D-4th Ward) applauded the passage of the resolution, saying she hopes that waterfront development will bring jobs and more economic prosperity to Hudson.

Alderman Sarah Sterling (D-1st Ward) said she voted Yes to hasten the drafting of new zoning laws.

Aldermen Ellen Thurston (D-3rd Ward) abstained and Chris Wagoner (D-3rd Ward) voted No.

Ms. Thurston said she had to be mindful of her constituents’ views on the subject and had to follow her own conscience. “Many Questions remain unanswered…. I think it’s a flawed document,” she said.

Mr. Moore described the long-awaited document, in the making since 2007, as “complex but human.”  The city has been working on a waterfront plan in one form or another for over two decades.

Mr. Moore said that citizens and officials had “all met and exceeded what the law asked” in terms of the state’s requirement that the LWRP represent a consensus by community stakeholders in regard to the future of Hudson’s waterfront.

“We want an LWRP that can gain the enthusiasm and support of the community and the consideration of developers,” said Mr. Moore.

Linda Mussmann, who earlier led the city’s effort to advance the plan, attended the meeting.“It’s about time. It’s wonderful. We’ll have some zoning to protect the city’s interests. Right now we have virtually no protection,” she said

But Ms. Mussmann caution that the plan still has flaws. “The focus has been skewed. What about North Bay and other potential parks in the plan that were never discussed?” she said

Commenting by email after the meeting, Sam Pratt co-founder of the Valley Alliance, which organized to propose more environmental protections for the waterfront, wrote, “The plan as presented simply is not the result of citizen input, community consensus, and public acceptance, each of which are explicit state goals  for waterfront planning,” and he charged that “local voices have been silenced in favor of amplifying the clout of a few privileged interests.”

Mr. Pratt, with Peter Jung, founded the organization Valley Alliance.

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