Sunday, November 18, 2018

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, all the meetings this week take place on Tuesday, November 20. The monthly meeting of the Common Council Public Works & Parks Committee, regularly scheduled for Wednesday, November 21, the eve of Thanksgiving, has been canceled. So, here's what's in store for us on Tuesday.
  • At 5:30 p.m., the Common Council Finance Committee holds its regular monthly meeting. No agenda is available for this meeting.
  • At 6:45 p.m., there is a special meeting of the Common Council to vote on the 2019 budget.
  • At 7:00 p.m., the Common Council holds its regular monthly meeting. All the resolutions introduced at last week's informal meeting will be voted on at this meeting. It is also expected that the Council will vote on enacting Local Law No. 5.
All meetings take place in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Progress on the Nack Center

The idea for the Everett Nack Estuary Education Center, a project of the Hudson Sloop Club, was first introduced in 2015. In 2016, the Sloop Club received a $91,780 grant from the Hudson River Estuary Program to construct the center, which was essentially a repurposed shipping container.

In 2017, the Nack Center became linked with a proposed public pier, which was identified as a Priority Project in Hudson's DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) application. At the beginning of this year, the Nack Center and the public pier were Phase I and Phase II respectively of a larger project vying for DRI funding called "Railroad Point Pier."

Although the public pier started out as a priority project, it ended up not getting funded. Now the Nack Center is moving forward on its own. Yesterday, a legal notice appeared in the Register-Star soliciting sealed bids on the project. The RFP and the drawings for the project can be found on the Hudson Sloop Club website 

The Everett Nack Estuary Education Center is now Phase I of a two-phased project--Phase II being the restoration of the abandoned railroad trestle over the embayment that borders Rick's Point on the south as a footbridge.


Get Ready for Shopping Small Big Time

Next weekend, spend Black Friday and Small Business Saturday and start your holiday shopping at Basilica Farm & Flea Holiday Market.

As in years past, the market will feature a diverse group of regional vendors selling their wares--handmade and vintage clothing; handcrafted jewelry; locally sourced edibles; handmade soaps; handcrafted furniture and home decor; wild foraged health, wellness, and beauty products; textiles and paper goods; ceramics; home goods and collectibles. Click here for a list of all 101 vendors.

The market is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Friday, November 23 , and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 24, and Sunday, November 25. Click here for more information.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Oakdale to Go Solar

At the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting last night, Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who chairs the committee, announced that, as a consequence of the City of Hudson finally qualifying to be designated a Clean Energy Community, the City is soon to have $35,000 to invest in clean energy projects. The first of those projects will be the installation of nineteen solar panels on the roof of the picnic pavilion at Oakdale Lake.

The panels are expected to generate enough electricity to meet all of the needs of Oakdale and, sold back to the grid, some of the demands for electricity of the Youth Center at Third and Union streets.

Another project to be financed by the grant from NYSERDA will be a light bulb exchange, in which residents can exchange their stock of conventional light bulbs for energy efficient LED bulbs.

'Tis the Season

Mayor Rick Rector announced yesterday that, as is the time-honored custom in Hudson, parking at meters on Warren Street and in municipal parking lots will be free during the month of December, relieving holiday shoppers in Hudson of the need to feed quarters into the parking meters. Be aware, however, that the holiday largesse does not extend to the parking lot at the train station.

Correction: About the New HFD Vehicle

I was informed this morning that the chief's vehicle to be replaced using the $25,000 grant from the Galvan Foundation is not the 2013 Chevy Tahoe driven by the fire chief, as I reported yesterday, but a 2004 Dodge Durango driven by the second assistant chief.

In addition to the 2013 Chevy Tahoe and the 2004 Dodge Durango, the Hudson Fire Department also owns, as a chief's vehicle, a 2016 Chevy Tahoe. The new vehicle being purchased to replace the Dodge Durango will also be a Chevy Tahoe, giving the department three Tahoes of different vintages, one for each of the three chiefs.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Stewart's Shops Elsewhere Again

In January, Gossips reported on the efforts of Stewart's Shops in 2015 to get the Village of Altamont to change its zoning to enable Stewart's to demolish a house and expand into a residential district: "Stewart's Shops Elsewhere."

Photo: The Enterprise|Michael Koff
Altamont resisted and refused to change its zoning to accommodate Stewart's, but this past Tuesday the Altamont Enterprise reported that Stewart's is back with its proposal for expansion: "Stewart's again looking to expand Altamont store." The article, which is recommended reading, quotes a village resident as saying, "I thought the community spoke on this issue [three] years ago, and the village board listened and voted to deny the expansion into the neighborhood. So I'm wondering why it's even coming up again?" 

Another quote of interest from the article involves what Stewart's is now promising:
Chuck Marshall, who works in land development for Stewart's, said that the new plan submitted to the village will align more closely with Altamont's existing architecture, citing the former train station that now houses the Altamont Free Library as an example.
"So, there's a larger porch," Marshall said. "There's particular elements that were for the village of Altamont, but again, that'll be discussed if the zoning changes are approved."
The Altamont Free Library

The building Stewart's is proposing for Altamont

This reminds me of how Kevin Walker years ago got the Planning Board (then the Planning Commission) to approve the Elks Club building, a metal structure which was prohibited by Hudson code, by adding brackets and persuading the board it would resemble the historic Hudson train station.

The Altamont Enterprise also reports that in the new Stewart's proposal there will still only be two gas pumps instead of the three that had been previously proposed. Does that sound familiar? 

Again, the article in the Altamont Enterprise is recommended reading; it can be accessed by clicking here.

Highlights of Tuesday's Council Meeting

Dan Udell's video of the informal Common Council meeting, which took place on Tuesday, November 13, can be viewed online here.

For Gossips' account of the highlights of the meeting, read on.
  • A resolution was introduced creating a Zoning and Planning Special Committee, "dedicated to reviewing the City's Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code, analyzing future development opportunities and obstacles, and recommending a course of action to be taken by the City of Hudson is [sic] an appropriate vehicle to address zoning and planning issues in the City of Hudson." As originally presented, the resolution indicated the special committee, "to be known as the Zoning and Planning Task Force," would be made up of seven members: the chair of the Planning Board or designee; the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals or designee; the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission or designee; the chair of the Conservation Advisory Council or designee; the mayor; the Common Council president; the code enforcement officer. 
At the meeting, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) noted that two aldermen should be part of the task force. The resolution was so amended and then introduced. The resolution specifies "the Zoning and Planning Task Force shall operate and exist until December 31, 2019." It is to meet at regularly scheduled times, and its meetings are subject to Open Meetings Law.
  • A resolution was introduced to sell 427 Warren Street, the old police station. The resolution specifies that the building will be sold "to the highest bidder by sealed bids in a Public Auction, with a minimum required bid of $300,000"--$300,000 being the building's most recent assessment.
At the end of the meeting, when public comment was permitted, Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann asked why the auction would be carried out by sealed bid instead of having a live auction, in the manner that foreclosed properties are sold. She argued that open bidding might be more competitive and could drive the price higher. City attorney Andy Howard told Mussmann auction by sealed bid and an open auction were essentially the same thing. Mayor Rick Rector commented that there was a lot of interest in the building, apparently implying that the interest in the building would ensure the City would get a good price.
Mussmann also asked if the money from the sale of the building would go into the general fund (to balance the 2019 budget) or if it would go toward paying down the debt on the new police and courts building. Council president Tom DePietro told her it was going into the general fund, but the general fund could be used to pay down the debt.
  • Resolutions were also introduced authorizing the mayor to enter into an agreement about appropriate fees to be paid to the Columbia-Greene Humane Society for sheltering dogs found at large in Hudson and an agreement with Wes Powell for his services as dog control officer. DePietro explained that the first resolution was necessary because "Hudson was being stuck with some extra fees" by C-GHS. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) said she wanted Wes Powell "to come in and speak with the Council," presumably before the Council voted to renew his contract with the City.
  • There is also a resolution authorizing the city treasurer to accept a check for $25,000 from the Galvan Foundation to buy a new vehicle for the fire chief. It seems money for a new vehicle was written into the proposed budget presented by the Hudson Fire Department, but in its efforts to rein in City spending, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment eliminated it. So the HFD turned to Galvan for the funds. According to the HFD website, the vehicle now used by the fire chief is a 2013 Chevy Tahoe.
  • A proposed local law was also introduced raising the penalty for confining "a companion animal in a motor vehicle in extreme heat or cold without proper ventilation or other protection from such extreme temperatures." The maximum fine is currently $50; the local law would raise the fine to not less than $250 and not more than $500 for the first offense.
It should be noted that the law applies only in cases of extreme temperatures, "where such confinement places the companion animal in imminent danger of death or serious physical injury due to exposure to such extreme heat or cold." It should not prevent companion animals from going along on jaunts about town with their humans, in temperate weather, to do errands or take photographs. 

Fleeting Hope

Anyone who was gladdened, as I was, to see that a section of the picket fence surrounding the vacant lot at Warren and Fifth streets had collapsed, hoping it might mean the whole fence would be taken down, will be disappointed, as I was, to learn that this morning it appeared efforts were underway to repair the fence.

This picture was taken shortly after 9 o'clock this morning. Probably by now it's been entirely reinstated.

The Losing Battle for Hudson's Backstreets

Gossips has written more than once about the unconventional, "accidental" beauty of Hudson's alleys and the challenges of trying to preserve the authentic quirkiness of our backstreets. I am inspired to return to the topic again by two things that happened recently.

This morning, a phone call from a neighbor alerted me to a demolition in progress in the 200 block of Partition Street.

This once funkily picturesque building was located in a historic district, and its demolition should have required a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission. None was sought or granted. Calls to Craig Haigh, the code enforcement officer, to see if the building had been deemed a hazard to public safety and given a emergency demolition permit on that basis, bypassing the HPC, have not been returned.

Meanwhile, in the 300 block of Partition Street, the Historic Preservation Commission is dealing with a proposal for renovations to another historic accessory building.

The proposal involves adding a deck on the roof, replacing the windows, and adding new roll-up overhead garage doors. 

When the proposal was presented to the HPC at its meeting last Friday, architect member Kate Johns spoke about the desire to preserve the character of alleys and backstreets. She noted that the original wood door was "highly detailed" and the windows were early windows, with wavy glass, probably original to the building. She urged that the original garage doors, which she called "rare vintage doors," be restored and adapted to function as overhead doors and that the original windows be restored instead of replaced. HPC member Miranda Barry agreed with Johns, saying that the doors were "unusually attractive" and "an original feature that has real charm."

When HPC chair Phil Forman asked the applicant, "What's your feeling about trying to keep as much as possible of the existing doors?" and applicant argued that "newer materials are far more efficient and longer lasting"--an interesting argument since the current doors have already lasted for more than a hundred years and could continue into the future, and there is no way to know if newer materials would enjoy that same longevity.

When HPC member John Schobel suggested the windows might be replicated "to preserve some of the character," the architect representing the applicant volunteered, "We've talked about using antique glass." Johns maintained that the original windows, which already have "antique glass," should be restored.

After the discussion had gone on for a while, Forman set forth the options for the applicant: "Plan AWe vote on this now. Plan BYou revise the proposal based on the comments and come back." The applicant opted for Plan A and called for a vote. Not one of the six members of the HPC voting on the proposal--Forman, Johns, Barry, Schobel, Philip Schwartz, and Paul Barrett--voted to approve the application and grant a certificate of appropriateness.

You win some; you lose some. Sadly, the losses are altering irreparably the character of Hudson.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Building Talk

At the end of last night's informal Common Council meeting, Alderman Kamal Johnson asked for an update on John L. Edwards, which some would like the City of Hudson to acquire as a new location for City Hall, the Youth Department, the Daycare Center, and the Code Enforcement Office. He was told by Council president Tom DePietro that the request for proposal (RFP) for the feasibility study was being worked on. DePietro went on to say, "The county has given up on their interest [in the building]."

Today, the Register-Star reported that the Columbia County Board of Supervisors is looking to enter into a contract with EMG, a company headquartered in Maryland, to conduct building assessments on six buildings owned by the county "so the county can make a capital projects plan and determine how much to budget for each building": "Supervisors to vote on county building assessment contract." Four of the six buildings in question are in Hudson. They are 610 State Street, 401 State Street, 560 Warren Street, and 15 North Sixth Street. The first three buildings are historic buildings, each more than a hundred years old. The fourth is only about twenty years old.

Supervisor Ron Knott (Stuyvesant), who chairs the Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, is quoted in the article as saying, "Some of the maintenance on these buildings has been put off over the years. For years, we've talked about moving different places, including the Walmart building, but never did that." The article goes on to say that Knott wants the assessment "to show the county what it may cost to keep the old buildings in Hudson, make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and more energy efficient."

The study will cost $27,620. The resolution authorizing the assessments was to be considered at a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee tonight, then at a special meeting of the Finance Committee also tonight, and finally at the monthly meeting of the Board of Supervisors at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

Local Law No. 5

Last night, there was a public hearing on proposed Local Law No. 5, which has come to be known as the "Stewart's law." The law would amend the zoning in R-2 and R-2H districts to enable Stewart's Shops to expand its convenience store and gas station at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue, demolishing two houses, representing six or seven dwelling units, in process.

The public hearing lasted all of six minutes, with only three people having anything to say. One of those people was Kristal Heinz. In the past, Heinz has expressed objections to proposed Local Law No. 9 of 2017, which would have allowed preexisting commercial buildings in residential districts to have new commercial uses and be renovated or even expanded, provided the expansion did not exceed the lot on which the building was located. Her past objections seemed to arise from concern about the impact Local Law No. 9 might have on R-5 zoning districts. Last night, Heinz expressed support for Local Law No. 5. Michael LeSawyer, who lives across Fairview Avenue from Stewart's and in the past has expressed opposition to Stewart's expansion, declared the zoning amendment "not a problem" but went on to say he didn't think he should be subject to restrictions that Scali's and Stewart's were not. (Scali's and Stewart's being the only possible beneficiaries of this zoning amendment.)

I expressed my puzzlement that, in light of letters from former city attorney Ken Dow and former Third Ward alderman John Friedman, which defined substantive problems with the proposed zoning amendment and, in the case of Friedman, suggested an alternative approach to addressing the problem, and the recommendation from the Planning Board, which the Council waited months to receive, it appeared the Council was moving forward with the law without making any revisions to it. Council president Tom DePietro informed me that the Council had never received the letters from Dow and Friedman, implying that since the letters had been addressed to the Planning Board instead of the Council, the Council was free to ignore the problems with the proposed law identified in the letters. The recommendation from the Planning Board, however, was addressed to the Council, and it seems, unless the Council intends to disregard it completely, the proposed law needs to be revised to include some reference to SmartCode principles if the Planning Board is to be empowered to prevent a sprawling, incongruous, suburban-looking gas station from being built at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue.

The Stewart's in Chatham, which is very like what has been proposed for Hudson
The Council may be counting on Stewart's to be a "good corporate actor" and abandon its formula stores to build something unique for Hudson at the behest of the Planning Board, but if it's not part of the law, that doesn't seem assured. And what about Scali's? Without anything in the statute to make designing according to SmartCode principles a requirement, will the Planning Board be able to exercise any design control if and when Scali's decides to demolish a house and expand?

The Crosswalk Four Plead "Not Guilty"

The Register-Star reports today that, despite photographs posted on Facebook by one of their number showing them in the act of painting unsanctioned crosswalks at Third and State streets, Linda Mussmann, Claudia Bruce, Peter Spear, and Ed Cross pleaded "not guilty" to the class A misdemeanor charge of making graffiti: "Suspected crosswalk spray-painters plead not guilty."

Photo: Linda Mussmann|Facebook
Photo: Linda Mussmann|Facebook
The article reports: "All four are due back in court Dec. 11 for an appearance to discuss restitution. . . . No trial date has been set."

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Attacks on Parked Cars

On Sunday morning, the cars of people who were in the church preparing for the morning service were vandalized in the parking lot behind the First Reformed Church on Green Street. Five vehicles had their tires slashed; three had all four tires slashed, and two had three tires punctured. Police were called to the scene and conducted numerous neighborhood interviews.

Early this morning, just before 1 a.m., police responded to reports of someone damaging car mirrors in the vicinity of Union and South Front streets. After arriving on the scene, officers documented twenty-two cars with their mirrors damaged and one car with its driver's side window smashed by a piece of marble. The cars had been parked on South Front, First, Second, Warren, and Union streets.

Witnesses reported seeing a male, approximately 160 pounds, wearing a black hoodie, in the area. Chief Moore commented, "We had two citizens call in the complaint almost simultaneously. I think the heavy rain kept more people from seeing or hearing the vandal while he was in the act." 

Anyone with more information regarding this incident is urged to call HPD detectives at 518 828-3388.

Photos courtesy Hudson Police Department

Calling All Raconteurs

The Ancram Opera House is seeking storytellers for its popular Real People Real Stories event, which features local residents telling true stories from their own lives. The performance will be on Saturday, December 15, at 3 p.m. Interested participants should call the Ancram Opera House pitch line at 518 250-9791 to leave a one-minute version of their story.

The theme for the December performance is "The Kindness of Strangers." Ancram Opera House director Paul Ricciardi, who created Real People Real Stories after being inspired by The Motn Radio Hour on NPR, says he is "looking for tales about Good Samaritans, random acts of kindness, and the goodness of humanity through actions large and small." Ricciardi will direct the show and provide five hours of coaching to each storyteller. Stories must be true, experienced firsthand by the storytellers, and run no more than fifteen minutes.

"No experience is necessary," says Ricciardi. "The goal is not to create a polished monologue but to allow the spontaneity of a real life story to shine through."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

In the week that started with a holiday, the meetings of interest are concentrated into three days.
  • On Tuesday, November 13, the Hudson Industrial Development Agency (IDA) meets at 1 p.m. at 1 North Front Street. The IDA, which is currently made up of entirely of people serving ex officio--the mayor, the treasurer, the assessor, the chair of the Planning Board, and the majority and minority leaders of the Common Council--is looking to add a new member who does not already hold a position in city government. It is expected the search for a new member will be one of the topics of discussion.
  • At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the Common Council holds a public hearing on proposed Local Law No. 5, which has come to be known as the "Stewart's law." The law was been criticized by former city attorney Ken Dow and by former Third Ward alderman John Friedman. Last month, the Planning Board, asked to make a recommendation about the proposed law, submitted a letter saying it would support the proposed law provided that "it be conditioned by use of Smart Code principles, and in particular that the relevant planning principles of the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva, be incorporated into the LL5 plan requirements." No revision to proposed Local Law No. 5 has been made in response to any of these communications. The public hearing on the law will take place in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.
  • At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the Common Council holds its informal meeting in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library. Among the resolutions to be introduced at the meeting is a resolution creating a Zoning and Planning Special Committee and a resolution increasing the penalty for leaving dogs in cars in extreme heat or cold.   
  • On Wednesday, November 14, two meetings of interest are happening at the same time. The first is a public hearing on the proposed city budget for 2019. The hearing takes place in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. Also at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Board of the Hudson Housing Authority holds its monthly meeting in the Community Room at Bliss Towers, 41 North Second Street. It is expected that the final plans for the two new apartment buildings to be constructed at State and Second streets will be presented at this meeting.

  • On Thursday, November 15, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall. No agenda for this meeting is as yet available, but there is a chance Alderman Rich Volo, who chairs the committee, will be reporting about the NYSAR Recycling Conference he attended last week, sharing information about laws and ideas pertaining to recycling, single-use plastics, plastic bag legislation, and composting.

More About Skunk Fur

After publishing the post "Contemplating Skunks," I got curious the alleged popularity of skunk fur coats. A little research discovered these two ads. The first, undated, is for the New York department store B. Altman & Co., where a skunk greatcoat from the Altman Fur Salon cost $395. 

The second appeared in the New York Daily News in August 1941, advertising a fur sale at Russeks, once located on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-sixth Street, where a skunk fur coat could be had for a mere $170. 


Contemplating Skunks

Last week, Peter Jung posted on Facebook this photograph of a skunk, with a remarkably wide white stripe, making its way along Prison Alley.

Photo: Peter Jung
The picture elicited lots of comments, including one from me, telling how that same evening, driving home, I had to come to a full stop in the 200 block of Warren Street to allow that same skunk to meander across the street. The mostly white skunk also reminded me of an ad I found a while back, in the Hudson Evening Register for January 13, 1914, and gave me the perfect excuse to share it.

Although the almost white skunk seems something of a rarity today, a hundred years ago, its value was only a fraction of that of an all black skunk. Of course, this raises the question of what skunk fur was used for in the early years of the 20th century. The answer is: coats. 

According to an article called "Skunk Fur: Why Have We Forsaken You?" which appeared on the blog Truth About Fur, skunk fur was "discovered" in the mid-19th century, and by that 1880s it was America's second most valuable fur harvest. The market for skunk fur, however, was not in this country; it was in Europe. By the turn of the century, the European demand for skunk fur had surged, but the demand was interrupted. To quote my source: "World War  I changed everything, not just for skunk but the entire fur trade. With shipments to Europe disrupted, the age of major American auction houses began, first in St. Louis in 1915, then in New York in 1916. Demand for skunk in North America finally took off, and when the European market came back on stream in 1918, the golden age of skunk had arrived."

In 1914, the year the war began in Europe, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a pamphlet called "Economic Value of North American Skunks," promoting the benefits of skunks and providing instructions for raising skunks.       

The introductory comments include this paragraph:
The skunk indirectly conserves the food supply by preying upon insects and other enemies of crops, and the excellent fur it produces offers a valuable material for warm winter garments. Among fur animals it is second in importance in the United States, the muskrat alone exceeding it in total value of fur produced.
The pamphlet was first published in June 1914 and reissued in June 1923. 

The ad for skunk fur that appeared in the Hudson Evening Register ran in January 1914, several months before the war started in Europe, so it's likely the pelts being solicited by Sterling Coon were destined to be shipped overseas, but their first stop was this building, where, in the storefront at the right, Sterling Coon ran a cafe. (In 1914, the blocks of Columbia Street from Sixth Street, where Elihu Gifford's home was located, to the intersection with Green Street, where the Gifford Foundry was located, were known as Gifford Place.)

Anyone squeamish about dining at the eatery where raw skunk pelts were being received and maybe also stored was probably not a patron of Sterling Coon's cafe. A further hint about the cafe's cuisine and ambiance is provided by this notice, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register on August 16, 1913.