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Voting for a chain ban, Hudson hopes to preserve character


HUDSON–The Hudson Common Council capped a year-long consideration of a local law to protect the City’s “community character” with unanimous approval of the law January 16. The law restricts “Formula Retail use”–largely commercial retail chains–from locating in the city.

The vote was the new Common Council’s first substantial legislative action, taken after a public hearing at which the only comments came from the law’s author, John Friedman, and local blogger, Carole Osterink, both of whom spoke in its favor. Restating one of Mr. Freidman’s original purposes for the law, Ms. Osterink argued that the law would keep wealth spent in Hudson re-circulating here. Chain stores send the proceeds of their business out of the city, she said.

After review by the Columbia County Planning Board and refinements by the city attorney, the local law states that it is intended to “promote and preserve the character of the Hudson community while encouraging the development, expansion and/or retention of business organizations seeking to be a local force in the City’s economy in a manner that does not harm public health, welfare and safety.”

Mr. Friedman first proposed the law with the broader argument that the character of Hudson’s retail core is important to the local culture and economy that has made the city unique and attractive to new businesses, residents and tourism. The adopted local law states that it is intended to address “the preservation of community character through provisions intended to promote investment of local businesses dedicated to the local economy.”

The new law amends the City Zoning Code and establishes new review standards and penalties for the City Planning Board to prevent formula retail use by any “type of retail sales or service activity or sales or retail establishment that has four or more other retail sales establishments… located anywhere in the world.”

While going to great length to delineate the establishments that fall within the definition of rormula retail, the law also sets out the commercial retail service not prohibited. These include: Federally or New York State chartered banking, savings and loan, and trust institutions; pharmacies and drug stores; stores where the overwhelming majority of the foods sold are un- or minimally-processed and intended for preparation and consumption by the purchaser or another location; and convenience stores that also sell gasoline.

How do you know a formula retail establishment when you see it? With the new law says the characteristics are: a standardized array of merchandise, meaning 50% or more of stocked mechanize from a single distributor; a trademark or service mark that “distinguishes the source or service from one party or another”; décor; color schemes, building facade; limited financial services, meaning a provider of loans, say for an automobile; and uniform apparel.

Among the prohibited chain establishments are: all varieties of bars and taverns; drive-up food facilities; liquor or beer stores; sales or rental retailers of clothing, printed material, office supplies and beauty and food industry supplies; restaurants, lodging; movie and entrainment venues; spas and gyms.

The county Planning Board filed formal comments on the draft law in November of last year, proposing modifications to clarify the law, all of which were accepted by the city and gave the green light to the law, but also expressed some mildly stated opposition that “various limitations are placed on non-conforming uses which in essence could curtail business growth.”

The county also questioned whether “the prohibition of these uses is based on the health, safety and welfare of the community.” The council approved the local law despite these reservations and Mayor Rick Rector, who participated in the law’s development as chair of the council’s Economic Development Committee, is expected to sign the law.

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