Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Good Fences . . . Yada, Yada, Yada

Gossips has reported on several occasions about the fences and gates Amtrak is planning to erect along the Empire Corridor from Hyde Park to Stuyvesant. The most recent post, published in May, had to do with the plan to install fences and one gate here in Hudson: "What Fresh Hell Is This?"

Amtrak cites safety concerns as justification for the fences that will block access to miles of the Hudson River shoreline, but there is some evidence that such a barrier could actually decrease safety.

On Saturday, December 15, the Town of Rhinebeck and the Town of Germantown will join with Scenic Hudson to explore the question of how both rail safety and river access might be increased. The Forum for Balancing Rail Safety and Public Access, hosted by the Germantown Waterfront Committee, takes place on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Kellner Activity Building, 54 Palatine Park Road, in Germantown. The announcement of the event describes it in this way:
We will be finding examples from other railroad shorelines around the country and invite you to do the same or think entirely out of the box. There will be panel discussion, a mapping exercise, presentations on pedestrian crossings and "Rail with Trails" and plenty of time for questions, answers, and community discussion.
The Amtrak proposal and more information about the event can be found at Gatesgate.org. Refreshments will be served beginning at 9:30, and people are encouraged to come early to "mix and mingle." Those planning attend are asked to RSVP here. 
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Eight Ideas for Oakdale

Last night, Hudson Valley Initiative (HVI) presented its vision for Oakdale Lake, which, as HVI director Kaja Kühl described it, was "a combination of low-hanging fruit and a bigger vision." The vision was based on input from the community, starting in August with a visit to Oakdale and interaction with the children there and continuing with a workshop that took place in October at the Hudson Area Library. To make the larger vision doable, it was divided into eight parts, all of which could be pursued independently.

Idea 1 is the renovation of the beach house and redesign of the entrance. 

The proposed changes to the beach house include a concession bar and rearrangement of the Youth Department office and the bathrooms, to make the latter more accessible. The redesign of the entrance involves closing the entrance on North Sixth Street to vehicles, making it a pedestrian entrance and a drop-off spot for buses and parents bringing their kids to Oakdale. A new entrance from North Seventh Street would be created for vehicles.

Idea 2 is reorganizing all the asphalt covered areas into a multipurpose space for the skate park, basketball courts, and parking and creating a play lawn.

Idea 3 involves enlarging the existing picnic area.

Idea 4 is controlling the algae bloom in the lake. 



Various means of achieving this were suggested, including floating islands that would break down the unwanted nutrients that encourage algae growth.

Idea 5 is a "forest classroom," which would include small installations and interpretive signage along an improved trail through the woods.


Idea 6 is a new playground, with a covered area to provide shelter from rain, bathrooms, and natural installations for play.

Idea 7 is the creation of a picnic grove on the north side of the lake. 

One of the features of the proposed picnic grove is a "Date Nook," which brings to mind--to Gossips' mind at least--the legendary "love rock" on Promenade Hill that Stephen B. Miller, writing in 1862, told about in Historical Sketches of Hudson:
Near the Southern end of the hill, visitors cannot have failed to notice a small circular grove of trees, called "lovers' retreat." These were planted, it is said, to mark the location of a rock known in the early days of the city as "Love rock," and the spot, where "by moon-light alone," a large proportion of the marriage contracts of our Quaker ancestors were "made and entered into."
Idea 8 is a redesign of the western end of the lake, along Glenwood Boulevard.

The plan involves a toddler water play area, a broadwalk, and vegetation to buffer the lake from the street.

There was another idea, in addition to the eight: returning ice skating to Oakdale.

Ice skating on Oakdale Lake, 1968|photobygibson.com
During the discussion the followed the presentation concerns were raised about the multiple uses planned for the hard surface areas. It was asserted that there were times when the basketball court was being used and, simultaneously, parking for seventy cars was required. The opinion was also expressed that one full basketball court and two half courts were not enough.

Matthew Frederick expressed an interest in seeing Underhill Pond included in the plans. He spoke of the potential for creating a chain of green spaces that would connect Oakdale Lake with the Hudson River. 

There were sign-in sheets asking attendees to indicate their interest in one of the eight ideas presented. Tamar Adler, the driving force behind Friends of Oakdale Lake, explained that the proposal had been broken down into eight parts, "so that people can commit to things and start making it happen."

Another meeting, at which the final plans proposed for Oakdale will be presented, is scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 7, in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library.
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Update on the Crosswalk Four

On HudsonValley360, Amanda Purcell reports on another day in court for the four who took it upon themselves to paint crosswalks at State and Third streets--Linda Mussmann, Claudia Bruce, Peter Spear, and Ed Cross: "No deal made in crosswalks case."

Photo: Linda Mussmann|Facebook
The article reveals that Mussmann and Bruce are being represented in court by Susan Tipograph, the attorney hired six years ago to defend Quintin Cross when he was accused of breaking into City Hall, with an accomplice, and stealing petty cash. A post Sam Pratt wrote at the time about Tipograph is of interest again: "Cross's counsel."
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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Follow the Food

Rolling Grocer 19 has changed its schedule since Gossips last published it in October, so it's time to publish it again. With ShopRite moving a mile farther afield into a bigger store that makes popping in to pick up just a few items nigh impossible, we need RG19 more than ever. Here's where you can find it:
  • Wednesdays, 3 to 7 p.m., Bliss Towers, Columbia and North Second streets
  • Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m., 427 Warren Street, in front of the old police station
  • Fridays, 3 to 7 p.m., Seventh Street Park, on one of the four sides depending on available parking
  • Saturdays, noon to 3:30 p.m., Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street
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The Rest of the Meeting

Dan Udell's videotape of last night's informal Common Council meeting is now available here. Of particular interest is a presentation by Christine Vanderlan, community projects manager for the Columbia Land Conservancy, about a feasibility study being undertaken by CLC and Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) on connecting the Harlem Valley Rail Trail with the Empire State Trail, using Oakdale Park as a hub. 

Vanderlan also gives an update on plans for the North Bay trail connecting North Second Street with the Greenport Conservation Area. In that update, she says the article that appeared last week on HudsonValley360, suggesting that the Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee had decided against pursuing the plan, was misleading, because there was not yet a final plan before them. The plan is still being reviewed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and has not yet been finalized. Vanderlan's presentation begins at 17:05 in the videotape.
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The Council and the Dog Control Officer

Last night, at the informal Common Council meeting, Wes Powell, the dog control officer for Hudson and most of the rest of Columbia County, appeared to answer the Council's questions. In November, when the Council was called upon to pass a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into an agreement with Powell to provide dog control services in 2019, for which he would be paid $7,200 for the entire year, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) said she wanted Powell "to come in and speak with the Council." Powell appeared last night as requested.

Garriga opened the conversation by explaining that she wanted to be able to contact Powell, but she didn't know how. She spoke of how people in Hudson used Facebook groups to share information about lost and found pets--a practice that more often than not results in the pet being reunited with its humans within a few hours--and said Powell should have a Facebook page, suggesting that would allow Powell to be more involved or involved earlier in the process. He told her he did have a Facebook page: Animal/Dog Control Officer. The photo above is the profile picture from that page.

Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) asked Powell to describe some typical "scenarios" of his work in Hudson. When Powell seemed flummoxed by the question, Merante spoke of someone who habitually walked his dog without a leash and asked what Powell would do about it. Although this seemed, to this observer, a little outside a dog control officer's bailiwick, Powell responded by saying, "Contact me, and it will be addressed.     

Audience member Claudia Bruce asked about the volume of dogs Powell dealt with in Hudson in a month. His answer: "It could be five; it could be twenty."

Garriga then said she wanted to create flyers providing Powell's contact information, explaining the need for this by saying that residents of Bliss Towers were now able to have dogs if they could provide a note from their doctor stating that the dog was a necessary emotional support animal. Powell was agreeable to working on that flyer with Garriga.

Before those flyers are ready, if you need to know the phone numbers for the dog control officer, where he can be reached at any time of the day of night, they are 518-794-0225 and 518-399-4008. Meanwhile, license and microchip your dogs, and keep them safe at home and on a leash when not indoors. 
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Of Interest

Photo: HudsonValley360
HudsonValley360 reports today that Mark Vinciguerra, its publisher, is moving on: "JNC sells Ravena News-Herald to Vinciguerra." Capital Region Independent Media LLC, a company created by Vinciguerra, has purchased the weekly Ravena News-Herald from Johnson Newspaper Corporation, the company that owns Columbia-Greene Media. In addition to publishing the weekly newspaper, Vinciguerra will run his own consulting company, National Press Institute for Audience Growth, which will be consulting with Johnson Newspaper Corporation. Vinciguerra has been with Columbia-Greene Media, which publishes the Register-Star, the Daily Mail, and the digital HudsonValley360, since May 2013.
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Monday, December 10, 2018

A Chance Discovery

Anyone who has ever spent any time looking at 307 Warren Street realizes that the building today as it is not the way it was meant to be, but up until now, I for one could only infer what its original appearance might have been.

Today, at photobygibson.com, I stumbled upon a series of photographs taken by Howard "Howie" Gibson of the fire that damaged and dramatically altered the building, then Stanton's drugstore, in 1956. The pictures show that the building was originally three stories high and had a two-story oriel where the out-of-character 1950s picture window now is.

The third picture above shows that 305 Warren Street, where the Chinese restaurant called the Red Chopstick is now located, once had a recessed entrance flanked by very nice display windows.
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Was It Ever Thus? . . . Continued

Last week, Gossips started exploring the question of whether or not two streets--South Second Street and Montgomery Street--ever actually existed as they appear on old maps and drawings.


In last week's post, we reported that in April 1854 the Common Council decided not to pursue a petition to open and grade Montgomery Street between Third and Second streets. In today's post, we share an article, uncovered by the same Gossips reader and researcher, that appeared in the Columbia Republican on April 5, 1900, reporting an incident that occurred on South Second Street.

 

This suggests that South Second Street may have existed in 1900, but it also suggests that the slope of South Second Street may not have been as steep in 1900 as it is now.
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Unwelcome News

Gossips just received the following statement from Mayor Rick Rector:
Last Friday I signed off on the local law introductory No. 5 of 2018.
I am very thankful for the many residents and others who have thoughtfully contacted me, written articles, posted on blogs and social media with comments for both sides of the conversation. Our community continually impresses me as to how engaged the citizens are when it comes to most matters.
It was a difficult decision for a variety of reasons but it had gone through many hours of debate and consideration and was ultimately approved unanimously by the Common Council.
It is my hope that the city will ultimately deal with comprehensive zoning revisions that would negate the need for much debate on what, where and why while encouraging economic development both large and small and always trying to protect the integrity and fabric of our historical and charming community.
This photograph showing the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue at some time before 1922, when the bell watering trough was removed, is my only comment.

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Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

The coming week is chock full of meetings--several having to do with visions for Hudson's future.
  • On Monday, December 10, the Common Council holds its informal meeting at 7 p.m. in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. So far, the only thing on the agenda is the introduction of a resolution to demolish 6 Lucille Drive, a house the City seized for nonpayment of property taxes in 2017. The house was one of properties that were part of the tax auction in November 2017, but it was withdrawn for lack of bidders. The minimum bid at the time--what was owed in back taxes--was $16,512.40. The Department of Public Works is now willing to demolish the house for $15,000.
  • On Tuesday, December 11, the Hudson Valley Initiative team from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University returns to present a design concept for Oakdale Lake. The concept, based on community input received on October 13, has been broken down into eight doable parts. The presentation takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Hudson Youth Center, 18 South Third Street. Childcare and pizza will be provided.
  • On Wednesday, December 12, the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners holds its monthly meeting at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at Bliss Towers, 41 North Second Street. It is expected that final plans for the two new buildings and plans for the exterior renovation of Bliss Towers will be presented, as well as a report on the ongoing progress of the RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) conversion. 
  • On Thursday, December 13, the Urban Design students from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University will present a pop-up exhibition and screening called The Space Between Cities: Redefining Urbanization in the Hudson Valley. The students will be sharing printed work and eleven short videos that explore a range of topics--from the challenges of agriculture and the distribution of fresh produce, through the relationship between a small city like Hudson and its suburban and rural surroundings, to scenarios for the future of Hudson's waterfront. The event takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street. Click here to RSVP.
Also on Thursday, December 13, the Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall. As yet, no agenda is available for this meeting.
  • On Friday, December 14, the Historic Preservation Commission meets at 10 a.m. at City Hall. No agenda is as yet available for this meeting.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Return of the Light

Here's a little reminder for everyone who hates the darkness of winter. Although the Winter Solstice is still twelve days away, we've already had the earliest sunset of the year. It happened on Friday, December 7, when sunset happened at 4:23 p.m. From now on, sunsets will start occurring later and later in the afternoon. 
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Another Corner, Another Gas Station

Gossips hasn't been reporting on the progress of the mega gas station proposed for the corner of Route 23 and Craryville Road. It's too far afield, and there's certainly enough happening in Hudson to occupy our attention. Still, it's not been off the Gossips radar entirely. For readers who want to catch up, there was a comprehensive article about the controversial proposal by John Townes in last month's Hill Country Observer: "Saving a country crossroads: Gas station proposal draws backlash, spurs test of a town's new vision for development."

Photo: Susan Sabino|Hill Country Observer
The proposal for the out of scale and out of character gas station is currently being reviewed by the Copake Town Planning Board. The Planning Board met last Thursday night, and Amanda Purcell reported about it the next day on HudsonValley360: "Craryville gas station support falls short." I bring this up only because of something Purcell quotes Planning Board chair Robert Haight as telling the assembled audience: "If you are here and you just don't want this gas station, please don't waste your time telling us that or our time, because those comments should have been done with the Zoning Board of Appeals. We're here just for site plan approval. We'd like to hear some comments about the building or safety of the site. That is what we're here for." In future months, we here in Hudson may be hearing our Planning Board chair telling audiences the same thing only he will have to say such comments should have been made to the Common Council.
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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Following Up

Last Sunday, Gossips reported that work was being done on the roof of 59 Allen Street, the Gothic Revival house built for Charles Alger in 1851.

No certificate of appropriateness had been sought or granted by the Historic Preservation Commission, and it was not known if a building permit had been issued for the work.

This morning, I spied a notice on the front door of the house.

Closer examination revealed that it was a stop work order, issued on Monday, December 3, by code enforcement officer Craig Haigh, indicating that the roofing work was being done without a permit.

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Letting No Grass Grow Under Their Feet

Discovered this morning on the Columbia County clerk's website:


The deed transfer for 17-19 Fairview Avenue was filed yesterday, Friday, December 7, at 11:52 a.m.--only hours after the mayor's public hearing on Local Law No. 5. Stewart's Shops paid $600,000 for the property, more than twice what the prior owners paid for it in 2005.

We've known for close to two years that Stewart's was in contract to buy this house as well as the house at 162 Green Street, but the sales were contingent on the City changing the zoning to allow them to pursue their plan for expansion. Local Law No. 5 hasn't even been officially enacted yet, but Stewart's is moving ahead with its plan.
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Friday, December 7, 2018

Design Ideas for Oakdale

On October 13, members of the Hudson community gathered in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library for a planning workshop that was the first step of a project to revitalize Oakdale Lake and the surrounding park. To review the ideas that came out of that session, click here.



In the intervening two months, the Hudson Valley Initiative team from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University has been working with those ideas to create an innovative design concept for Oakdale, which they have broken down into eight doable parts. On Tuesday, December 11, Hudson Valley Initiative returns to present the result of the work so far: "8 Design Ideas for Oakdale Lake."

Kaja Kühl, who directs the Hudson Valley Initiative program, commented, "We heard so many fabulous ideas at the first community workshop in October for different aspects of Oakdale. We wanted to find a way to accommodate as many as possible, so rather than one big vision, we are excited to come back to Hudson and share a series of design ideas with Hudson residents. Each can be pursued individually and at different timelines; together they provide a vision for Oakdale as a destination for all." 

The workshop to review and comment on the ideas for Oakdale takes place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11, at the Hudson Youth Center, located at Third and Union streets. Childcare and pizza will be provided. For more information visit friendsofoakdalelake.com.
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Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Mayor's Public Hearing

About ten people showed up for the mayor's public hearing on Local Law No. 5--four of them aldermen: Rob Bujan (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), and Rich Volo (Fourth Ward). 

The first to speak was Kristal Heinz, who declared, as she did at the Common Council public hearing, her support for the legislation, asserting that the two businesses that would benefit from the law "have been here for a long time." After Heinz's comment, I stated my opposition to the law, wondering why the Council had never pursued Local Law No. 9 of 2017, which would have addressed Stewart's complaint that Hudson's zoning prevented making any improvements to the convenience store, without enabling Stewart's to double the size of its facility and demolish two houses in the process, and would also have solved some other zoning issues in the city at the same time.

Next to speak was Michael LeSawyer, whose house, where he has lived for the better part of the past sixty years, is directly across Fairview Avenue from Stewart's. LeSawyer argued that Stewart's and Scali's "have not established a need to change a neighborhood that has existed for a lot longer than twenty years." (The zoning amendment applies specifically to a nonconforming use that "has been established and has been operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years.") LeSawyer predicted the Stewart's expansion, which involves demolishing two houses, "will look like a bomb went off the neighborhood" and warned, "It's not going to look better." He noted there is no guarantee of what a new Stewart's would look like and commented, "We're doing a lot of things for wanna, maybe, gonna get." He complained that the Council had voted unanimously to enact the amendment "without discussion or review" and called it "an embarrassment." He brought up the dog park, where a plan supported by many Hudson residents was jettisoned by the objections of just five households. Of the Stewart's expansion he said, "A lot of people are concerned and don't want it," and contended that only Stewart's would benefit, marveling at the willingness to "change our zoning for a gas station." LeSawyer concluded, "I'm opposed. It's wrong all across the board."

Heinz then spoke for a second time to rebut LeSawyer, saying it was unfair to characterize the Council as voting to enact the amendment "without discussion or review" and insisting that amending the zoning was only the first step in the process of designing an expanded Stewart's.

Architect and urban designer Matthew Frederick said he was struggling with the justification for Local Law No. 5. "If we are changing the law, we need to know what economic opportunities justify it." He also questioned the rationale for specifying in the law that the two nonconforming uses could double in size. He noted that Stewart's and Scali's both are suburban in character, located in an urban residential neighborhood. He concluded his remarks by saying he saw no justification "economically or urbanistically" for the zoning amendment and what it would enable.

Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), who voted on November 20 to enact the legislation, then spoke, saying that he thought the Council "could have done more due diligence" before voting on the legislation, noting that it had not been put before the Zoning Board. 

Mayor Rick Rector then read written comments he had received, one of them being from former Third Ward alderman and attorney John Friedman. Friedman questioned the structure and language of the law, making reference to Ken Dow's criticism of the law expressed in the letter originally addressed to the Planning Board, and warned that the issues of spot zoning and legislative licensing "will very likely lead to suits against the City on due process grounds." He was skeptical of the claim that the Council had given serious consideration to the issues raised by Dow:
I am, frankly, appalled that Mr. Dow's scholarship has been so casually brushed aside when clearly the aldermen hadn't read it--for if they had, they would have had questions, and they had none. It beggars belief that a Council composed entirely of land use and legal neophytes could digest Mr. Dow's work without question and then discard it completely.
Friedman concluded that too many questions remained about "the structure and legal import of this measure" and urged the mayor to veto it.

Libby Coreno, attorney for Stewart's Shops, arrived at the hearing late. When Rector invited her to speak she said, as she has before, in an effort to minimize the significance of demolishing six dwelling units, that the City needed to explore housing initiatives and develop a "large-scale land use policy," complained, as she has before, that the City's current zoning gave Stewart's "no ability to modify, update, or improve its store," and contended that "Stewart's is a jobs provider and cares about providing jobs." She went on to say that Stewart's just wanted to "stay and remain and be a jobs creator in Hudson." 

The public hearing lasted for twenty minutes. It is not known what action the mayor will take.
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Of HHA and Housing in Hudson

Last week, a headline on the front page of Columbia Paper announced "Private firm to own Bliss Tower." In the article that followed, reporter Jeanette Wolfberg recounted the November 14 meeting of the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissions, at which HHA executive director Tim Mattice explained to tenants the RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) program and how it will affect them. Gossips was at that meeting, too. 

RAD is federal program now being promoted as a way to save public housing by allowing housing authorities to partner with private sector entities to seek private funding. Mattice told tenants at the meeting, "Congress is no longer funding public housing," HHA "typically gets a couple hundred thousand dollars a year" (not enough to maintain the building and make the needed improvements), and "Ben Carson [HUD Secretary] sent out a letter saying they want all housing authorities to convert to RAD." 

The RAD conversion is being pursued in order to carry out a $55 million project, which involves the complete rehabilitation of Bliss Towers--inside and out--and the construction of two new buildings across State Street from Bliss Towers.

Speaking of the future, Mattice explained, "We are going to be co-owners of the building with shared management responsibilities with our development partners." Those development partners are PRC (Property Resources Corporation). The co-ownership agreement would be in force for fifteen years, after which HHA would have first right of refusal to buy the buildings. 

In her article, Wolfberg reported that a woman in the audience asked, "What if PRC says, 'We aren't getting as much as we could get, so we want to turn this into condos?'" The question, as well as the rest of Wolfberg's report, inspired Parry Teasdale to write an editorial about the state of affordable housing in Hudson generally and specifically about the agreement HHA is now negotiating with PRC: "How much is Bliss worth?" The editorial ends by evoking the hobgoblin of gentrification and enjoining HHA not to enter into an agreement with PRC unless the rights of residents are protected.
So imagine a company that, in 2033, owns a high rise apartment building in Hudson with upper floor apartments that have spectacular views. The neighborhood will have benefited from the $10 million state grant to develop the waterfront. People who know money would say that's a deal worth waiting for, especially because there will be revenue in the meantime from government vouchers for low-income tenants who can now (in 2033) be displaced.
Property Resources Corporation is not doing Hudson a favor by partnering with HHA. It's making a shrewd investment that promises a high return. HHA should not underestimate the value of its asset in terms of improvements and the veto powers the HHA board will need in writing to protect the rights of residents. Otherwise the deal should not be approved.
Gossips tried to speak with Mattice to get his reaction to this editorial, but my phone call was not returned. I was, however, able to speak with Alan Weaver, chair of the HHA Board of Commissioners, who explained that even after fifteen years, the buildings would still be subject to the same income parameters (percentage of area median income) that Bliss Towers is now. He assured me there was no plan to convert the buildings to high-end condos.

Weaver also told me that, at the next meeting of the HHA board, which takes place on Wednesday, December 12, at 6 p.m., in the Community Room at Bliss Towers, the final design for the new buildings will be presented, as well as the design for the exterior rehabilitation of Bliss Towers. (It's rumored that those powder blue panels under the windows may be going away.) The meeting may be an opportunity for members of the larger Hudson community to ask questions about the RAD conversion and its impacts.
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