The winner gets to control the fate of a proposed 376-car parking garage at the Stevens Institute of Technology, and the loser gets to limp back to the drawing board.
In one corner, there is the Stevens Institute, who wants to build a parking garage/athletic field upgrade at the corner of Eighth and Hudson Streets. In the other corner you have a group of citizen activists named the Historic Hudson Street Coalition (HHSC), who don't want to see a garage built across the street from their homes and have authored an ordinance that would put a halt to the project.
Both sides showed up in force at Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting. Stevens was there to try to get final approval of their project. The HHSC was there to get a report from the city planner that determines whether the HHSC's self-designed ordinance conforms to the city's master plan. If it does, they can take that report to the City Council and have them pass the ordinance.
In a nutshell, that is the crux of the race. If Stevens gets approval for the project before the HHSC gets their ordnance accepted, the building will go up and there will be a new garage at the corner of Eighth and Hudson streets. If the citizens group is successful and gets the ordinance passed before the final approval of the building, the project will be more out of line with zoning guidelines and face a more difficult approval process.
To be continued...
Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting was full of sound and fury but in the end signified little. For now neither side got what they wanted. The Planning Board dismissed early in the evening the notion that there would be any possibility that the board would send the ordinance to the City Council the next night. According to Planning Board Attorney Jack Carbone, the board cannot send along the ordnance until the city planner files a report about the ordinance's compatibility with the city's current master plan.
But Tuesday night, neither City Planner Elizabeth Vandor nor her report were present at the Planning Board. According to Carbone, the code states that the planner has 35 days from introduction of the ordinance to produce that report. If that time period elapses, that report will go to the City Council with an automatic approval. As of Tuesday night's meeting there have only been 20 days since the introduction of the ordnance at the May 16 City Council meeting.
(If the city planner says the ordinance is not in compliance, this will not kill the ordnance but will only be a strong recommendation to the City Council to vote against or revise it and introduce it again at a later date.) The fact that neither the report nor the planner were present at a Planning Board meeting drew the vexation of Mayor-elect and Planning Board member David Roberts and the more than 50 citizens that were present. "How can you go forward with a Planning Board meeting with a full agenda without having the city planner present?" questioned Roberts.
Roberts then urged the board to move the ordnance along without the planner's report.
A few blocks down
Roberts' contribution to the discussion raised concern from Carbone. Roberts' Hudson Street home lies less than 200 feet away from the Stevens campus and the proposed parking garage. City and state law prohibit a member of the Planning Board to be included in any discussion of a project that is within 200 feet of his property. In every previous Planning Board meeting, Roberts has stepped aside when it has come to discussion of the Eighth and Hudson Street Garage project.
"You are jeopardizing the city by your apparent conflict," warned Carbone. He said that any further contribution could lead to the invalidation of the city's entire master plan.
At that point, Roberts made a motion to postpone the meeting until the city planner was able to be present. Carbone strongly disagreed that the meeting should be stopped, but assured Roberts that the Stevens project would not be voted upon that night because at least one of their witnesses was not present.
Robert then withdrew his motion and requested that a special Planning Board meeting be held to go over Vandor's report. The board agreed and there will be a special meeting of the Planning Board on Monday June 11 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Not Stevens' night either
While the HHSC was not successful in getting their ordinance discussed, neither was Stevens successful in getting their site plan approved. Following the flap over Vandor's absence, the Planning Board went on with the public hearing for the Stevens project.
The only witness to testify was Lisa DiGerolamo, a senior associate with Paulus, Sokolowski and Sartor of Warren. DiGerolamo is the a civil engineer with a planner's license and is the project's supervisor.
In her two hours of testimony, she was grilled by citizens and lawyers representing citizens over what the possible impact of the garage might be with respect to drainage, lighting, and noise.
DiGerolamo stated that her company undertook an environmental impact study that came to the conclusion that the project would not have a detrimental impact on the surrounding area.
But there were many in the audience who did not agree with the engineering firm's conclusion and asked pointed questions, some pertaining to the fact that the garage will have an athletic field on top of its roof.
"What is the impact of pedestrian traffic?" asked one member of the public. DiGerolamo responded that her firm had not conducted studies that would gauge the impact of the pedestrians. She added that the site could possibly accommodate upwards of 830 spectators, but in her personal experiences when she was a student at Stevens she rarely saw more than 10 to 15 spectators at Stevens lacrosse game.
Several members of the public raised questions to DiGerolamo in regards to the amount of lights that could be seen from neighborhood homes. While DiGerolamo testified that the light emitted toward Hudson Street would not be more than a streetlight, many in attendance scoffed at that fact.
"There's no way you can play a game under a streetlight," said one member of the public during the public session. "I think the impact of this project is being severely misrepresented."
After two hours of questions, the Planning Board decided to end the meeting at 10:30 p.m. Stevens still has two witnessed to testify before the board and they will be heard at the special meeting of the Planning Board on Monday, June 11 at 7 p.m.