Friday, October 14, 2011

Hudson’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP)

Two posts today.  Both are about the LWRP. 

The first is an editorial by Parry Teasdale in The Independent of October 7, 2011: “Hudson makes progress on waterfront” which can be read at: 
“…last week the Hudson Common Council took one of the most significant steps in decades aimed at changing both the zoning of South Bay and opening up the  overall waterfront of the city to new uses that should give the public more access than ever before to the waterfront along the Hudson River.

“The council adopted a document called a generic environmental impact statement for the city's long-delayed Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. That clears a  major hurdle toward adoption of both the waterfront plan and changes to city zoning designed to make a revitalized waterfront possible.”

The second is a My View I authored that appears in The Hudson Register-Star today, Friday, October 14, 2011: “Hudson’s Future Protected by the LWRP.”

The full text follows:
One of the biggest questions about the LWRP: Does passing it open up the waterfront to industrialization?  In fact, no, the opposite is true. The new zoning prohibits manufacturing and processing at the port (and in the entire Core-Riverfront zone). The LWRP explicitly states that the “City’s support to encourage the use of the port for the shipment of raw materials, processed and/or finished goods should in no way be construed to support a return to cement manufacturing. The City does not support cement manufacturing in or near its boundaries.

Another question: what would rejecting or just not voting on the LWRP mean? The City would lose the LWRP’s new zoning, leaving the entire waterfront industrially zoned. Developers will wait for the new zoning before making commitments. If we leave the current zoning in place, we’ll have industrial zones that exist virtually with no restrictions. The port or the causeway could be developed without any restraints.

Here is why. If we adopt the LWRP now, the changes to the City zoning code would restrict the causeway and the port to shipping only. O&G already has the permits to truck across the causeway. The NYSDEC granted that permit in October 2009. Both the permit and the resurfacing were challenged by Scenic Hudson but upheld.

If the Council adopts the LWRP with the new Core-Riverfront zoning, the current use at that time, whatever that is, is “grandfathered,” it is allowed to continue. Under the new zoning it becomes what is called a “non-conforming” use. Changes to non-conforming uses – like altering buildings, repaving roads — that require approval by the City would then be considered “changes of use” and the Hudson Planning Commission would impose conditions spelled out in the zoning code. If the City grants a conditional use permit, the owner must abide by conditions that would include: site plan approval, restrictions on hours of operation, noise, dust, light, and screening and viewshed concerns.
What about Holcim’s ownership of the Hudson port and wetland, including the causeway? To answer that, two fundamental questions need to be addressed: one of law and the other of finances. First, property rights are a legal principle that protects us all. The City cannot simply take over the South Bay and port. It could only do that through a successful eminent domain action. Second, the City could not afford to pay anything like what it would take to buy those properties even if we were to win an eminent domain decision. Would it benefit the City to own the port?  Absolutely. Must we find another way to own it? Yes. Do we hold up the LWRP while we figure how to do that? No.

Passing the LWRP is only the first step. Then, the City must determine which of the many projects and land parcels (some city- and state-owned, some privately held) on our waterfront we want to develop, in what order of priority, and then pursue the private finances and public grant money to make each a reality.

As we know, Hudson has a very limited amount of land.  Many of our potentially most attractive properties are along the waterfront. But right now our waterfront is a patchwork of well-developed park and revitalized older buildings, alongside exhausted and underutilized industrial buildings and land. The LWRP spells out policies and proposes new laws — zoning codes, consistency law — that refresh the possibilities for new business investment and jobs, housing, a more robust tax base.  It also offers a path to recovery of the South and North Bays that give us confidence we can preserve and enjoy the natural beauty right at our doorsteps. The LWRP protects against decisions that aren’t right for Hudson. It is a roadmap to smart choices for our future.