Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reaction to Proposed Development

Arthur Cusano reports, in today's Register-Star, on the reaction at last night's Board of Education meeting to the notion of developing 33 acres of land belonging to HCSD for market rate housing: "City school officials unsure of property deal."

Of Interest

Yesterday, Zephyr Teachout, who is challenging Andrew Cuomo to be the Democrats' candidate for governor of New York, was endorsed by the New York Chapter of the Sierra Club.

If you haven't already done so, take three minutes to watch this video: Zephyr Teachout: Two Futures. It delivers a very compelling campaign message.

The Democratic Primary--the only primary in Hudson--is Tuesday, September 9. The polls are open from noon until 9 p.m.

Hudson's History Is Secure

Last October, Gossips reported that Byrne Fone's beloved and valued history of Hudson, Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, was out of stock, and there was a chance it might not be reprinted. Almost a year later, the good news is that the book, which was originally published in 2005, has been reprinted, and copies from the new run are now available at The Spotty Dog, Hudson City Books, and Rural Residence.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Better Look at the Venus Fountain

Unless the responses to the Seventh Street Park survey prove otherwise, it appears there is overwhelming support in Hudson for restoring and/or re-creating the Venus fountain, which was originally installed in the Public Square in 1883 and replaced, in 1975, by the "Inspiration Fountain," in an attempt at beautification and modernization.

Much abused and twice repaired, the statue of Venus, which surmounted the fountain, has been in storage since 1998. According to some accounts the stone pedestal, which was also the top pan of the fountain, was pulverized at Gold's Scrap Yard in 1975. Gossips recently heard, however, the totally unsubstantiated rumor that the pedestal lives on in someone's backyard, but probably not in a backyard anywhere in Hudson.

It always seemed that the fountain was so well documented--its dimensions were published in the newspaper, and countless images of it exist in archives and on post cards--that it would be possible to replicate the missing pedestal. These two images, however, recently brought to Gossips' attention, from the Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection in the Collection of Columbia County Historical Society, reveal the details of the fountain better than any images we've seen before and make the task of replicating the pedestal even more possible.

Photos from the Collection of the Columbia County Historical Society; The Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection

The End of the Quest

This morning, one of the children of Herbert Meicht confirmed that the house that figures largely in the mystery photo album is indeed 38 Chapel Street, where Ezra and Emma Meicht lived and raised their three children: Clarence, Herbert, and Mildred. Mystery solved!

And here's a message from John and Susan Roberts, who took on the task of finding the family to whom the album belonged, to all the Gossips readers who assisted in the search. (That's Clarence at the left and Herbert at the right.) 

Mystery Album Update

Last Sunday, Gossips appealed for help in identifying the family whose picture album, dating from the 1910s through the 1920s, had found its way to an antique shop in South Burlington, Vermont. A week later, thanks to a terrific lead from a loyal Gossips reader, the mystery is as good as solved. 

Although the search continues for a picture that will provide proof positive, it seems pretty certain that the mystery house is 38 Chapel Street--a house and a street that are no more. At the time the photos in the album were taken, the house was owned by Ernest and Emma Olm. According to the 1920 census, Ezra and Emma Meicht also lived in the house (Emma was Ernest and Emma Olm's daughter) with their two sons, Clarence, then 5, and Herbert, 4. 

The young couple in the picture below is believed to be Emma and Ezra Meicht, and it may be Clarence, whose birth was announced in the Hudson Evening Register on May 19, 1914, who is in the baby carriage.

Ezra Meicht worked as a machinist at the Gifford-Wood Company, which would explain the pictures of the Gifford-Wood Company in the album. He was one of two assistant fire chiefs in Hudson, which would explain the firemanic outfits worn by the boys, believed to be Clarence and Herbert, in this picture.

Ezra and Emma Meicht also had a daughter named Mildred, and it is believed that this is baby Mildred in the picture below, with her two older brothers.

So far, this detail from a 1970 aerial photograph of the part of Hudson targeted for urban renewal is the only picture that has been located of 38 Chapel Street. 

If you have pictures of Chapel Street, please contact Gossips. If you are a descendant of this family and would like to claim the album, the contact information for the people who have it and are seeking to return it to you can be found on Flickr, along with more pictures from the album.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Crossing a Bridge with the Bridge

It has been determined that, although in the past the City has pestered CSX to make repairs to the Ferry Street Bridge, the City has owned the bridge all along, so it's up to the City to deal with the historic bridge that Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) recently called "the ticking time bomb in Hudson."

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Common Council passed a resolution allocating $30,000 for a feasibility study on replacing the Ferry Street Bridge and authorizing the mayor to "solicit for and enter into a contract" for such a study. 

On Thursday, at the Economic Development Committee meeting, Council president Don Moore instructed Bill Roehr of TGW Consultants, the group that is retained by the City and Hudson Development Corporation to identify potential grant funding and prepare grant applications, to focus all efforts on finding funding for the bridge. Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), however, declared, "We need emergency funding tout de suite." He went on to say, "We can't wait for the grant cycle--it's too political." Friedman seemed to think one of the sources of funding might be Columbia County, implying the the County had money available for such things when he observed, "Bridges throughout the county get fixed"--overlooking the bridges in Columbia County that have been closed rather than repaired.

It is expected that a new bridge over the railroad tracks to the riverfront will cost $2 million--"more," Moore opined, "if we want it to have any character." In the past, Moore has spoken of the possibility of retaining or replicating the more visible parts of the 1905 bridge, the historic significance of which rates 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

Haddad stressed the urgency of the situation by saying, "The moment this [feasibility] study comes in, we have to fast-track it." He then expressed a different concern: "The more attention we bring to this bridge, we may end up with it closed."

Increasing the Tax Base

At the Common Council meeting on Tuesday, Council president Don Moore proposed a resolution that "the City of Hudson forthwith initiate discussions with the Hudson City School District . . . to convey [a parcel of unused land] to the City of Hudson for development of market rate housing." The parcel in question is about 33 acres of land west of the Hudson Junior and Senior High School campus, near the border with Greenport.

When the idea was presented, the mayor immediately wanted to know if it had been discussed with HCSD. At the time, it hadn't, but on Thursday, at the Economic Development Committee meeting, Moore reported that a discussion with HCSD had been initiated, and the school district was open to the idea.

The thinking behind the proposal is that, because the City of Hudson needs to increase its tax base and the revenue the school district requires increases inexorably every year, it makes no sense for HCSD--a tax exempt entity largely supported by property taxes--to own property that is unused and generates no tax revenue either for itself or for the City of Hudson. The idea is to encourage private development of new housing on this 33-acre parcel to create new property tax revenue for both the City of Hudson and the Hudson City School District.

When Gossips asked Moore about the nature of the housing envisioned for the site, he reiterated that the resolution specified market rate housing and suggested that "arguably there could and should be both" individually owned homes and apartments. In a subsequent email, Moore stated, "The desirability of the location is clear. It has access to the center of Hudson, to the Middle, Junior and High Schools, to merchants on Fairview Avenue, and to the existing and planned recreation and conservation areas along the river." He went on to say, "I foresee a complex set of land use master planning, negotiations and agreements between the School District and the City to arrive at a point where everyone is confident in the character of the project." Moore believes that the City--represented by the Council, the mayor, and Hudson Development Corporation--and HCSD are in earnest to begin discussions of the possibility.

Click here to read the draft resolution.      

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Boats on the River

Yesterday, the Hudson Sloop Club marked the end of its summer camp program by launching the boats they'd built on Hudson River. Gossips arrived at riverfront park too late to see the boats set off for Middle Ground Flats but was there to see them return, some in tow, some being paddled on their own. Among them were the ingeniously designed bicycle boat,

the swift and beautiful paper boat,

the reed boat, made from plentiful phragmites,

and the party boat, kept afloat by platoons made with about 500 empty plastic bottles.

Congratulations to the Hudson Sloop Club and all the talented young boat builders!

Friday, August 22, 2014

More About 134-136 Warren Street

A number of people showed up on Friday morning for the Historic Preservation Commission meeting, among them Ferol Barton Blake, who designed the storefront proposed for 134 Warren Street; Tim Slowinski, who owns Limner Gallery at 123 Warren Street; Pam Kungle, who owns and resides at 124 Warren Street; Joe Gentile, from the Register-Star; John Isaacs, of imby.com; and Myron Polenberg, husband of HPC member Peggy Polenberg. It seemed most were there expecting an opportunity to protest or defend the HPC's decision to deny a certificate of appropriateness to the facade changes proposed for 134 Warren Street, but no such opportunity was forthcoming.

HPC chair Rick Rector stated at the outset that it was not a public hearing and they would not be entertaining comments from the public. The purpose of the meeting he explained was "only to do the HPC's business."

The HPC first attended to two applications that had, at the last meeting, been deemed incomplete: replacement windows for 556 State Street and a revision of the front porch at 434 East Allen Street. In each case, the information needed to make the application complete was provided, and the members of the HPC voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

Next came the formal vote on 134-136 Warren Street. Rector read aloud the statement, prepared by HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck, denying a certificate of appropriateness and then called for a vote. Of the five HPC members present (Tony Thompson has absent), four voted in support of the denial (Rector, David Voorhees, Miranda Barry, and Peggy Polenberg), and only one--Phil Forman--voted against it. It is interesting to note that on August 8 Polenberg voted to grant a certificate of appropriateness, and two weeks later, she voted in support of denying a certificate of appropriateness.

The HPC then took its formal vote on the language of the certificates of appropriateness for three other projects: handrails for the stoop at 32 Warren Street; a sign at 431 Warren Street; facade renovation at 243 Warren Street.  (Two of these properties are owned by HPC members, and each member appropriately recused himself when the vote was taken on his project.)

The business of the HPC being completed, the meeting was adjourned twenty minutes after it began.  Myron Polenberg, however, objected that the people who had come to the meeting had not been heard. Rector pointed out that the meeting was adjourned. Whitbeck assured Rector, "It's up to you whether you accept public comment or not."

Not to Be Missed

Mark Orton, on his blog Current Matters, comments on Mayor Hallenbeck's explanation of why two years have passed and there is still "no sign or stone for Staley B. Keith": "Our Stranger and Stranger Mayor."

Curiouser and Curiouser

A year ago, Per Blomquist presented to the Planning Commission his plan to demolish the houses at 248 and 250 Columbia Street and construct in their place a new building with five apartments.

At that meeting, then city attorney Cheryl Roberts, in her capacity as counsel to the Planning Commission, misinterpreted the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations and set in motion nine months of unnecessary turmoil over the alleged 1,500 square foot minimum requirement for apartments in the R-4 zone. The first casualty of that snafu was Blomquist's plan for 248 and 250 Columbia Street. The Zoning Board of Appeals denied him an area variance in November 2013.

In May, when clearer heads prevailed and it was finally acknowledged that 1,500 square feet pertained to lot size not apartment size, it was thought that Blomquist might resurrect his plan, but he didn't. 

Last week, Gossips noticed someone on the roof of one of the buildings, apparently making repairs. Could it be that Blomquist had a change of heart and was thinking of rehabbing the houses instead of demolishing them? Then today Gossips noticed this.

The houses, now almost completely boarded up, have been spray painted gold.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More Images from the Mystery Album

Since Sunday, Gossips has been publishing pictures from a family photo album that started out in Hudson and ended up in Mary Heinrich Aloi's antique shop in South Burlington, Vermont. The pictures in the album are believed to date from around 1911 to 1919, and the people who now have custody of the album are hoping to identify the family in the pictures and return the album to their descendants.

More pictures from the album were posted on Flickr today, but, although immensely interesting to students of Hudson history, they offer little help in identifying the people whose album it is, unless, of course, someone reading Gossips recognizes a grandmother or grandfather (or a great grandmother or great grandfather) in one of the pictures. In these pictures, members of the family, or perhaps family members and friends, appear posing at the back of St. Winifred on Promenade Hill, swimming (could it be at Sandy Beach?), sitting at the edge of the river, and with a horse at what appears to be a brickyard.

Photos courtesy Mary Heinrich Aoli, Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace, and John and Susan Roberts

Struggle Over Second and Warren

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Common Council received as a communication a letter from Bruce H. Steinberg of Danian Realty in Chappaqua, NY, the current owner of 134-136 Warren Street, stating the intention to appeal the Historic Preservation Commission's decision to deny a certificate of appropriateness to the storefront proposed for 134 Warren Street.

After introducing the appeal, Council president Don Moore said, "The HPC is still considering the proposal," and commented that he was "not aware that we have entertained an appeal in the past." Two statements that are not quite right. 

At their meeting on August 8, the HPC, after hearing public comment on the proposal, voted on whether or not to grant a certificate of appropriateness to the project. Two members of the commission voted aye; four members voted nay. Hence a certificate of appropriateness was denied. All that is left to do is vote formally on the language, composed by counsel, stating why the certificate of appropriateness was denied. 

Relevant to the statement about the Council never having entertained an appeal before, in 2012, Galvan Partners initiated an appeal to the Common Council after being denied a certificate of appropriateness for their plan to move the Robert Taylor House from the head of Tanners Lane to 23 Union Street. Moore was correct in that the process of an appeal has never been established or tried, because a few months after Galvan Partners initiated the appeal, they apparently abandoned the notion of moving the house. 

Today an email written by Tim Slowinski, owner of the Limner Gallery, at 123 Warren Street, and sent to members of BeLo3rd found its way to Gossips' desk. The email urges people to attend the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting tonight at 6 p.m. and the Historic Preservation Commission meeting at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning "to protest this decision"--"this decision" being the denial of a certificate of appropriateness to the proposed storefront at 134 Warren Street. 

In his email, Slowinski makes a couple of statements that are unfair to the HPC and actually not true. He contends that the application was denied "because the commission said they wanted to restrict business in the neighborhood and keep it more residential." HPC decisions have nothing to do with use. As HPC member Miranda Barry rightly stated at the meeting on August 8, "It is not our place to decide if this block should become all commercial or all residential." The HPC is charged with protecting the historic architecture of Hudson, which means that if a building has survived for 150 years as a residential building with its facade unchanged, that facade should not be altered no matter what permitted use the building is put to. 

HPC chair Rick Rector made the point at the meeting that the ground floor of 134 Warren Street has had a commercial tenant for the past ten years. Also there are at least four businesses being operated in what are historically residential buildings in the 100 block of Warren without requiring changes to the facades of the buildings: BCB Art, at 116 Warren Street; Davis Orton Gallery, at 114 Warren Street; Jeff Bailey Gallery, at 127 Warren Street; and Dish, at 103 Warren Street. The uses of these buildings have changed, but the architectural integrity of their facades has not. 

Slowinski's email concludes: "It is good and essential for the historic architecture of our community to be preserved, but it is not the place of the commission to restrict and/or engineer economic growth in our neighborhood." In making the decision it did, the Historic Preservation Commission was doing exactly what Slowinski calls "good and essential." They were preserving the architectural integrity of 134 Warren Street. 

After the public hearing on August 8, HPC member Tony Thompson noted that all the comments in support of the project had to do with economics, and he reminded his colleagues that "historic preservation itself has an economic value"--a principle that everyone in Hudson should acknowledge and embrace. Thompson also admonished his colleagues, "Individual ideas of economic viability should not be part of the picture," and in the decision that the HPC made, they were not.

Not to Be Missed

Scott Baldinger on his blog, Word on the Street, critiques the plans now being discussed for Seventh Street Park and those now being implemented for the "linear park" in the 300 block from Warren to State streets: "Stairway to Purgatory." Baldinger's comments begin with this question: "What is it about Hudson that inspires so many would-be urban planners; worst of all, would-be urban planners who want to make an "original statement"?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

More Images from the Mystery Album

This morning, two more pictures from the mystery album, created by a family in Hudson and recently discovered in an antique shop in South Burlington, Vermont, were posted on Flickr. The location of one of them is readily identified. 

The shingle on the house behind the young man in the picture reads "Dr. A. N. Tracy." According to the 1912 Hudson city directory, Dr. Tracy was a "homeopathic physician" who lived and practiced at 410 Union Street. What would have been just to the left in this picture, but out of the frame, is the Hudson Post Office, newly constructed in 1909. The picture below, from Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection, taken in November 1923, shows the fate, a decade or so later, of 410 Union Street and several of its neighbors.

Identifying 410 Union Street in this picture from the album doesn't help much in locating the house and the block where it is believed the family lived. The second picture that was posted on Flickr today shows that block again.

This picture was taken from more or less the same vantage point as the picture of the parade or procession that was posted yesterday, but at a later date. The four-bay house that was under construction in the picture of the procession is finished in the picture of the motorcycle.

One thing that is clear is that the mystery street is not Union Street. The picture below, taken of a parade in 1917 to encourage people to buy Liberty Bonds to support the Great War, shows Union Street just east of 410 Union. The street is much wider, and the houses on the south side of the street bear no resemblance to the buildings on the opposite side of the mystery block.

So the questions remain: Where was this house, and who lived in it from around 1911 to 1919?

Waiting for Action on the Weighted Vote

Gossips has often kvetched about the inequity of the weighted vote in Hudson--the scheme that is supposed to achieve the democratic goal of "one person, one vote" but in fact gives the representatives of the Fifth Ward a disproportionate amount of power on the Common Council. The weighted vote was taken up by Victor Mendolia in his Hudson Government 101 presentation at the Hudson FORWARD meeting on Monday night. The visuals for Mendolia's representation included a pie chart and a bar graph that show quite dramatically the inequity of the representation of the five wards on the Council.

This past spring, Hudson city government was the subject of a semester long seminar for a group of Hofstra Law students. The weighted vote was one of the topics studied. Brendan Friedman and Peter Barbieri, the two students who investigated the issue, reported that Hudson is the only city in the State of New York--probably in the entire United States--that uses the weighted vote to achieve "one person, one vote" and offered the opinion that Hudson's weighted vote, particularly because of the way it is calculated, raises constitutional questions.

People at the meeting on Monday night, very few of whom live in the Fifth Ward, wanted to know if anything was being done to correct the inequity of the weighted vote. The question was directed to Common Council president Don Moore, who was present at the meeting. (Aldermen from the Second, Third, and Fourth Wards--John Friedman, Tiffany Garriga, and Alexis Keith respectively--were also in attendance.) Moore replied that "the legal basis needs to be shown" that Hudson's weighted vote is unconstitutional and explained they were waiting for the full report from the Hofstra Law students. (What has been presented thus far is just the Executive Summary.) It was expected that the City would have the full report by now, since the study was completed at the end of the academic year, but it has not been received yet.

Turn Your Radios On

Today, on WGXC's @Issue, Debora Gilbert interviews congressional candidate Sean Eldridge. The prerecorded interview will be aired during the second half of the show at 10:30 a.m. WGXC can be heard at 90.7 FM or online at wgxc.org.