Saturday, December 15, 2018

It Could Be Worse

Property owners in Hudson feel the heavy burden of school taxes, but the Albany Business Review reports that among the 90 school districts in the Capital Region the Hudson City School District ranks 53 when it comes to school taxes (1 being the highest), with the average cost for a $300,000 house being $4,970 and cost per $1,000 of assessed value being $16.57: "The Capital Region's Highest School Taxes."

The highest school taxes are paid in Schenectady (1) and Albany (2).

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Fate of Wildcliff

Two weeks ago, Gossips reported that Wildcliff in New Rochelle, a house designed by premier 19th-century American architect Alexander Jackson Davis and built around 1852, had been destroyed by fire.

Photo: New Rochelle Patch

Earlier this week, it was reported that four thirteen-year-old boys, New Rochelle middle school students, had been arrested--three charged with criminal trespass and the fourth charged with criminal trespass and arson. The story was reported in Talk of the Sound: "WILDCLIFF ARRESTS: Four New Rochelle Middle School Students Arrested for Wildcliff Mansion Fire."

Last Night at the Planning Board

Dan Udell's video of the Hudson Housing Authority presentation to the Planning Board about the proposed new low-income housing buildings is now available on YouTube. Click here to view it.


Thursday, December 13, 2018

HHA Project and the Planning Board

The initial presentation of the Hudson Housing Authority's plan to build more low-income housing across State Street from Bliss Towers before the Planning Board happened tonight. The representatives of the project--among them, two lawyers, two architects, an engineer, a landscape architect, and someone from PRC (Property Resources Corporation) there to explain RAD--filled half the benches in the Council Chamber at City Hall.

Dan Udell was there to videotape the entire proceeding, which took about an hour and a half, so Gossips will focus only on new information disclosed and a few other highlights of the evening.
  • The two buildings proposed for Phase 2 of the plan--the footprint for each is larger than that of Bliss Towers--will each contain 40 units, for a total of 80 more units. (The two buildings in Phase 1 represent 73 new units.) Phase 2 will also involve the expansion of the existing parking lot on Columbia Street, so that it wraps the corner and extends to Bliss Towers along North Second Street--the very area for which volunteers from the Conservation Advisory Council had designed new landscaping.
  • Instead of the economic diversity cited in the Strategic Housing Action Plan and DRI awards --"targeting incomes between 30% and 120% of Area Median Income (AMI)"--only households with incomes between 50 percent and 65 percent of Area Median Income will qualify to be tenants of the "family" building and the "senior" building to be constructed in Phase 1.
Some comments from members of the Planning Board and their legal counsel also merit reporting:
  • Mitch Khosrova, counsel to the Planning Board, advised Charles Gottlieb, one of the attorneys for HHA, to produce the compilation of the comments from the public design charrette and the responses to each--what was feasible, what was best for the project--to head off having it all revisited at the Planning Board's public hearing.
  • Clark Wieman told his colleagues, "We're the Planning Board not the Project Review Board."
  • Speaking of the income levels targeted for the project, Mark Morgan-Perez declared, "That is not diversity in this area at all."
  • Laura Margolis asked, "Was there an assessment done that indicates this is the housing needed here? Are you pursuing this project without knowing the need?"
  • Morgan-Perez suggested that the process might have been "find available funding sources and then build a project around it rather than looking at what the community needs and what it says it needs."
  • Margolis said there were people in Hudson--creative people, people who worked in shops and restaurants--who can't afford the available housing but probably wouldn't qualify for low-income housing. She went on to say, "To develop such a massive project and not look at the people who are living here is disturbing."
  • Walter Chatham, who chairs the Planning Board, said, "We want to serve first the people here and not draw people from out of Hudson."
  • When Wieman commented, "Hudson is now approaching a moment when it is revisiting its comprehensive plan," Chatham observed, "They have adopted a number of New Urbanism strategies" and called the plan "well-intentioned." He also shared what he called his "new favorite axiom": "The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Before the meeting ended, Khosrova praised the representatives of PRC for their cooperation and willingness to provide whatever was needed, and Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, declared, "As of right now, it's only this board," meaning that the proposal conformed with the zoning constraints and requirements and would not have to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

South Side, North Side Redux

Three months ago, in September, Gossips marveled at how a development project proposed for the south side of town had been halted by members of the community who thought process was moving too fast and without sufficient community input, while a project on the north side of town was moving ahead apparently without input from the community beyond the residents of Bliss Towers. I spoke too soon. Amanda Purcell reports today on HudsonValley360 that Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), former resident of Bliss Towers and long-time critic of the Hudson Housing Authority, is raising questions about the RAD conversion: "Officials raise concern about the future of public housing in Hudson." At last night's Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, questions were raised about future ownership of the building, the design of the proposed new buildings, and the entire process, which many felt was moving too fast and without sufficient community input.  

Since the public design charrette in October, the design for the two new buildings has changed. No more will they be all brick, meant to be reminiscent of the old Union Mills building, a.k.a. the Pocketbook Factory, at North Sixth and Washington streets.

The revised design involves "a more clapboard type finish for a portion of each building." 

When asked if introducing the "more clapboard type finish"--probably vinyl siding or Hardiplank--had been the result of value engineering, Peter Clements, director of design and construction for PRC, HHA's development partner in the project, acknowledged that the "clapboard like finish" would be less costly than brick but maintained that the change had been made in response to comments at the charrette that the original design for the buildings looked "too monolithic," and the clapboard would make it look "more residential."

Also on display at last night's meeting was a preliminary design for an exterior makeover of Bliss Towers, which involves a combination of brick--"to relate to the buildings across the street"--and some other material yet to be determined.

Clements reported that recent borings disclosed there was "not a lot of integrity to the soil" around Bliss Towers and that "may limit the load of what can be done." HHA commissioner Marie Balle asked, "Since there is a structural integrity issue with Bliss, could it be exacerbated by construction across the street?" Clements dismissed that as not a potential problem.

Some comments at the meeting addressed the design of new buildings. Rebecca Wolff asked about energy considerations--the color of the roof and using geothermal to provide heating and cooling. Matthew Frederick said the ground floor units in the buildings should have their own separate entrances, to make the building feel more like townhouses and create a sense of safety. Most of the comments, however, had to do with the process.

Luisa Burgos-Thillet complained that the residents and the public had been promised they could have continuing input into the planning, but now it seemed the time for input was over. Clark Wieman noted that the ideas from the charrette should be presented and the public should be told how each had been incorporated into the design or why it had been rejected. HHA executive director Tim Mattice said Clements had compiled a list of all the comments from the charrette and seemed to suggest that accounting for how each had been addressed would be part of the Planning Board's review of the project. 

Frederick alleged that the RAD plan was "contrived to send money out of the community," saying that with the proposed co-ownership of the building, "$60 of every $100 in rent leaves the city." Mattice maintained that the developer made its profit only from the development fee. Dan Hubbell, the attorney representing HHA in the RAD conversion and the development project, said the project had gone through a public RFP process, and no Hudson developer had submitted a proposal. He went on to say that RAD was a program, conceived during the Obama administration, to get private money into public housing. He explained that housing authorities could not get a loan from a bank. To do a project without a co-developer would involve bonding. Frederick insisted the public should have seen the possibilities "side by side"--doing RAD or pursuing other financing. 

Wolff asked about other designs or concepts. It was explained that other concepts had been considered and rejected. "You guys did the process," said Wolff, "but we didn't see it." Frederick concurred, "We got the solution, but we didn't see how you got there."

Council president Tom DePietro stated that "nothing in the Strategic Housing Action Plan [adopted by the Common Council in July] said anything about senior housing," and he wanted to know where that came from. "Nothing [in the document] asked for something this big." The following is quoted from the Strategic Housing Action Plan:
Hudson Housing Authory--40 units
The Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) submitted a proposal to construct a mixed-use, mixed income rental housing project on vacant land currently owned by the HHA. This rental housing development is targeting households with incomes ranging from 30% to 120% of the area median income. The project would also include retail and community space on the first floor. The DRI funds will be used for soft costs and construction. . . .
The project was awarded $800,000 in DRI funds. The following is quoted from Capital Region Downtown Revitalization Initiative: Hudson Awards:
Construct Mixed-Use and Mixed-Income Housing on State Street
Develop a vacant parcel of land on State Street for mixed-use and mixed-income housing. The project will include retail and community space on the first floor and approximately 40 units of mixed-income rental housing targeting incomes between 30% and 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). ($800,000)
What's being proposed now is nearly double that size--33 units in the "senior building" and 40 units in the "family building"--and this is just Phase 1. There is a Phase 2, which involves demolishing the low-rise buildings, a.k.a. Columbia Apartments, and replacing them with three new buildings of unknown size. DePietro alleged that the plan was being driven by the developer, PRC (Property Resources Corporation). Alan Weaver, chair of the HHA Board of Commissioners, and Hubbell responded: "We have to build a project that can be financed."

DePietro also questioned constructing four-story buildings when Hudson code prohibits buildings higher than three stories. Hubbell said the site was in a G-C district and claimed there were "no bulk regulations" in a G-C (General Commercial) district. Gossips raised the issue of zoning and this project back in October, when Mattice claimed there was no zoning in that part of the city. I was in touch with code enforcement officer Craig Haigh yesterday, who said he was in the process of reviewing the project with the attorneys and told me: "It appears the height will be OK. They are preparing to go to the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) as well."

Tonight, the project--both Phase 1 and Phase 2, to avoid segmentation under SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review)--will have its initial presentation to the Planning Board. The Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

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 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. 

Eight Ideas for Oakdale

Last night, Hudson Valley Initiative (HVI) presented its vision for Oakdale Lake, which, as HVI director Kaja KΓΌhl 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|
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.

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."

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

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.

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. 

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.

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, 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.

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.

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.


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.

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. 

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.