HUDSON — Several residents spoke out against a proposed zoning law amendment at a public hearing at City Hall on Monday.
Local Law Introductory No. 4 seeks to amend the city zoning law as it relates to the definition of a dwelling unit and off-street parking requirements for certain types of dwelling units.
The law in part aims to address affordable housing shortages within the city by allowing renovation of garage units or accessory buildings and basements to be modified into living spaces.
The proposed law also corrects an error made in previous amendments to the zoning code in which the Common Council was attempting to codify the minimum off-street parking spaces per apartment.
Residents at the public hearing Monday took issue with bringing commercial zoning into residential areas and questioned whether encouraging the renovation of garage units and basements would actually translate into more affordable housing.
Most of the residents who spoke agreed more affordable housing is needed in Hudson.
“We need to look at being able to have more micronized apartments that are really affordable and not just call it affordable housing,” resident Victor Mendolia said.
But many residents disagreed with how the proposed local law goes about creating that type of housing.
Resident Kristal Heinz from the 5th Ward said she doesn’t see the connection between affordable housing and the dwelling units proposed in basements and accessory structures, such as the historic garages and horse carriage houses.
“The expense to renovate these projects — and I know from experience with clients — is significant,” she said. “Frankly, I just don’t see that as a result in affordable housing.”
City Code Enforcement Officer Craig Haigh said many of these spaces have dirt floors and must be completely renovated and in some cases demolished before they are converted into habitable structures.
He was also concerned about the impacts to the historical integrity of the city by converting the buildings into living spaces.
“To me it is not an answer to affordable housing,” he said. “They (the alleyways and carriage houses) carry a historic detail to the city.”
City resident Carole Osterink agreed, saying many of the buildings “can’t really be converted to living space without significant restructuring and usually demolition.” She also made a plea for the alleyways and carriage houses which are “a picturesque” part of the city, she said.
Haigh said the Zoning Board regularly deals with converting the carriage houses on a case-by-case basis.
But Haigh’s biggest concern about the law was the threat to public safety.
“The reason that should probably stay in place, is because every case is different,” Haigh said. “If you just make it a blanket rule to change accessory buildings to living structures without control, it’s just an invitation for disaster.”
One example Haigh gave is winter weather.
“When there is a snow emergency, for example,” said Haigh, a 31-year-veteran of the Hudson Fire Department, “people can’t park on the main streets and they are parking in their garages that they are no longer able to park in. Where are you going to park? In the alleyways. Now we are going to have issues with emergency services, your DPW services because these alleyways are not wide enough to have parking. It makes it very difficult to move fire equipment through these alleyways.”
Haigh recalled an incident in which a fire destroyed a garage in an alleyway near Baba Louie’s Sourdough Pizza Co. Firefighters struggled to reach the structure because a dumpster and car blocked their path, he said.
“Now imagine if a person was living there,” he said. “There are better answers to all of this.”
The law also addresses the wrong zoning district, Haigh said. He says zone RI has always been a residential district and he could only think of one property that has ever been commercial. He suggested the law be modified to represent zone R4.
“To take commercial businesses and add them into a residential district that has never been is ridiculous,” Haigh said. “That is misinformation that the general public is getting. That, without this public hearing, I could honestly may have gotten passed. Then we would have been back here probably about six more months trying to correct that.”
The law is on the agenda to be discussed at the Council’s next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 21 at City Hall.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.