Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Unhappiness Continues

On Thursday, Gary Schiro, executive director of the historic civic center at 327 Warren Street, released a statement saying that he, the staff, and the board of directors had reconsidered the re-branding of the building, and, instead of abandoning the name "Hudson Opera House" for the new name "Henry Hudson Hall," the building would now be called "Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House." 

Enid Futterman was quick to express her dissatisfaction on imby: "Hudson Opera House responds to the backlash with a baby step." Another eloquent critic of the re-branding, Byrne Fone expressed his discontent with the compromise in this statement, which he shared with Gossips:
In the press release announcing the name change from Hudson Opera House to Henry Hudson Hall, we were told that HOH (!) had “learned through discussions with constituents and key community stakeholders just how limiting our misplaced identity as an ‘opera house’ has been in our efforts to engage new and diverse audiences.”
Opera! Scary! I’m not an especially PC sort, but I do get the feeling that when an organization hints that the “new and diverse audiences” they hope to cultivate may be “turned off” (as perhaps they think someone in these new audiences might say) simply by hearing “opera” in a name, then aside from being just too ridiculously PC for words, it is at the worst a rank insult to the audiences they want to attract.
It is the height, or maybe the nadir, of PC arrogance to dumb down an identity so that “new and diverse audiences” won’t be uncomfortable with “opera”--both as the term identifying centuries of musical culture, but as well, as many have pointed out, in its historic  and general use in America to mean a “multi-use performance space” (to engage the sort of jargon that branders seem to like).
But then, realizing not only that Henry Hudson did not found the city, but also that a large and very vocal number of “constituents and key community stakeholders” hated the name change, someone finally did some back peddling.
But is it really a cause for any satisfaction that the historically accurate--and concise--Hudson Opera House is now Hudson Hall at the Historic Hudson Opera House? Quite a mouthful. I’ll tell you, that name really turns me off.

Save the Date

On Saturday, April 29, the People's Climate March will take place in Washington, D.C. On that same day, there will be a Sister March in Hudson.

An organizational meeting for the Hudson march is planned for this Wednesday, March 29, but because the number of people interested in getting involved has exceeded the space originally intended for the meeting, a new location is needed, and that has not yet been determined. If you want to get involved (and be among the first to know where the meeting will be held), send an email to To learn more about the event planned for April 29 and to RSVP, click here.

Get Ready for What's Ahead

Hudson is losing population, Columbia County is losing population, and upstate New York is losing population, but in the 518 area code region, the demand for phone numbers is making it necessary to introduce a second area code: 838. It will be an area code overlay, which means that those of us who have 518 numbers will keep them, new phone numbers issued will have the 838 area code, and every call within our region will require dialing ten digits--the area code and the seven-digit phone number.

It is advised that we start now to get used to dialing ten numbers whenever we make a call. Beginning on August 19, if you don't add the area code, your call will not be completed and a recorded voice will tell you to hang up and try again. Beginning on September 19, new phone numbers will start being issued with the 838 area code.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Urban Centers Are Key to Bright Future"

Recently, Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress released its report Urban Action Agenda: A Program in Motion. Hudson is one of the twenty-five communities included in the study, which finds that "revitalization of the Hudson Valley's cities and urban areas is setting the stage to attract a new wave of residents and businesses," those priced out of New York City. 

Much of what is said in the study doesn't really seem to apply to Hudson, which is the northernmost of the twenty-five cities and urban areas included in the study. (The not-for-profit Pattern for Progress is headquartered in Newburgh.) Some of it makes you wonder how much time was actually spent in Hudson. For example, in the section on infrastructure, there is a chart about bridge conditions. According to the chart, Hudson has two bridges: the oldest built in 1905--that's the Ferry Street Bridge; the newest build in 1936--which has to be the bridge that carries Fairview Avenue over the railroad tracks into Greenport. According to the chart, both bridges are 50 percent "Functionally Obsolete" and 50 percent "Structurally Deficient." 

In Allison Dunne's report about the study on WAMC, Hudson was mentioned only because it lost population between 2000 and 2015. Click here to read the study in its entirety.

Of Interest

In today's Register-Star, Nick Olivari does extensive investigative reporting about A. Colarusso & Son and some of its more recent plans to facilitate the movement of gravel from their quarries in Greenport: "The long road for gravel company." In particular, Olivari looks at LS (LS for Lone Star) Industries and the plan for a "transloading facility," which won $2.2 million in economic development funding back in 2011--money that was never actually awarded. Gossips covered that story a few times back when it was happening in 2011 through 2014, but it's good to have this in-depth account of the story and be reminded that abandoning the plan for a transloading facility, which was supposed to be an economic boon to the region, was pretty much concurrent with Colarusso purchasing the Holcim holdings in Greenport and Hudson.

A Look Inside 701 Union Street

Today, the Register-Star has a story about the new Hudson Police Department headquarters at 701 Union Street: "City police prepare to move into new, modern headquarters on Union Street." 

Meanwhile, yesterday, thanks to Judge Brian Herman, Gossips got permission to tour the now completed and occupied court side of the building. The following pictures, with the exception of the first, show the new courtroom, equipped with all the state-of-the-art technology needed for security and documenting court proceedings.

Security check at entrance to building

Courtroom as seen from door used by judges
View from back of courtroom
View of courtroom from the bench
Jury box
For those not familiar with the previous courtroom on Warren Street, Herman provided these pictures, taken on March 2, after the last court session held there before the move.


Friday, March 24, 2017

What's in a Name . . . or Two

Since the announcement yesterday that the Hudson Opera House was retreating from its decision, announced with some fanfare on March 13, to rename the building "Henry Hudson Hall," there have been questions about what the statement actually meant: "We are revising our name to "Hudson Hall" and our branding will retain a reference to our historic Hudson Opera House." What some hoped, Gossips among them, was that the newly restored performance space would be called "Hudson Hall" and the rest of the building would remain the Hudson Opera House.

This morning, Marty Davidson, one of the more vociferous opponents of the name change, asked Gary Schiro, executive director of Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House, for clarification. Here's what Davidson told Gossips Schiro told him:
The two plaques on either side of the doors leading in that say 1855 HUDSON OPERA HOUSE will remain there, and the letters over the doors which now say HUDSON OPERA HOUSE will be changed to read HUDSON HALL.  The second floor will NOT have any name.

Not to Be Missed

Seth Rogovoy, who, on WGXC's @Issue last week, questioned Gary Schiro about the wisdom of renaming the Hudson Opera House after a man who introduced Native Americans to alcohol and small pox, comments on yesterday's announcement of the tempering of the new name: "Hudson Opera House Retreats on New Name . . . Partially; Opts for 'Hudson Hall.'"

What the Lodging Tax Isn't

Gossips has been reporting about Hudson's lodging tax since September 2014, when it was first proposed by Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), so doing more than simply noting it had, after all this time, finally been enacted in Tuesday night seemed unnecessary. Perhaps I was wrong. 

Today, the Register-Star has story about the lodging tax with the lede: "Hotel and Airbnb owners will now pay a portion of their profits to city tax": "Hotels, Airbnbs to pay portion of profits to city tax coffers." No, that's wrong. Like sales tax, the lodging tax is a local tax added to the daily rate charged at hotels, inns, and B&Bs--including rooms rented through Airbnb. It does not come out of the profits of the owners of these hostelries any more than sales tax comes out of the profits of the owners of retail stores and service businesses. The lodging tax is paid by visitors to Hudson who stay in the city's hotels, inns, B&Bs, and Airbnbs.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Art of Compromise

On Monday, March 13, the Hudson Opera House, announced that the long-awaited restoration of the second-floor performance space was now complete. The organization was entering into a new era, with a new level of quality performances, and for that new era, it had adopted a new name for the building: Henry Hudson Hall. The opposition to that name from the very people who had supported the effort for more than twenty years was immediate, passionate, and fierce.

This afternoon, ten days after the original announcement, Gary Schiro, executive director of the organization, released the following statement:
In moving forward with the re-opening of our newly restored performance hall and our new name, I, together with the Board of Directors, my Co-Director Tambra Dillon and our staff, acknowledge the concern expressed by some that we would highlight a historical figure who may not reflect the spirit of inclusion and community we value.
We want you to know that we have listened, with great respect, to those of you who have raised this issue, along with the tremendous affection shown for the Hudson Opera House. We are revising our name to “Hudson Hall” and our branding will retain a reference to our historic Hudson Opera House.
This past week we have been heartened by the passion with which our neighbors and patrons regard this organization. With your support over the past 25 years, we are nearing completion of this beloved and historic building. We look forward to the opportunity to open the doors of the upstairs performance hall to the people of Hudson and our region for the first time in over 55 years.
Schiro's signature at the end of the statement is followed by "Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House."

"We Are Closer to You"

While the Common Council Economic Development Committee is busy drafting legislation that would ban "formula businesses" from Hudson, a formula business already in place, with 337 look-alike stores throughout the state, is looking to expand.

Last night, a representative of Stewart's Shops came before the Common Council Legal Committee seeking a zoning change to allow a new and larger Stewart's convenience store and gas station to be constructed at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue. The proposal requires a zoning change, because the existing Stewart's Shop is a nonconforming use in an R-2 district. A nonconforming use stay as it is for as long as it likes, but any expansion is prohibited.

The expansion being proposed involves the acquisition and demolition of two houses adjacent to the current Stewart's site: 162 Green Street and 17-19 Fairview Avenue.

Stewart's is in contract to buy both houses but the sales are contingent on the City changing the zoning to allow them to pursue their plan for expansion.

The new store, which would look very much like every other Stewart's Shop of recent vintage (below is the Stewart's in Chatham), would sit at the northern end of the expanded lot with three gas pumps in front, set back from the street and arranged parallel to Green Street.

Needless to say, the term spot zoning, which is of course illegal, came up a few times during the discussion. The Stewart's representative suggested that the City might consider doing a retail overlay for the R-2 zone to create a transitional zone of mixed commercial and residential, citing other businesses established along Green Street and the proximity of the Stewart's site to the G-T-C  (General Commercial Transitional) zone. Andy Howard, legal counsel to the Council, advised the committee that concerns about spot zoning should not "keep the Council from considering this."

The Stewart's representative brought up the City's Comprehensive Plan, which he said was "very reliant on visual appearance" and argued that the new building "can better meet this vision." Actually, the Comprehensive Plan stresses, as Goal 1, "protecting Hudson's distinctive architectural integrity and walkable character." This applies not only to the "downtown," i.e., Warren Street, but to the neighborhoods. Of particular mention in the Comprehensive Plan are the gateways: "Gateways play an important role in forming first impressions and welcoming visitors and residents alike. Both the form and the character of a gateway can influence the overall experience of a particular area." The Stewart's site, a block from the city limits, is at the gateway to Hudson for those entering by way of Route 23B.

After close to an hour of discussion, Howard asked, "What does the committee want to do?" He counseled the committee that they had two choices: they could say (1) "We're not interested"; or (2) "We're willing to consider this further." Despite the fact the the proposal runs counter to the original intention of the zoning and the Comprehensive Plan and is antithetical to the initiative to protect community character being pursued by the Economic Development Committee, the Legal Committee, made up of aldermen Michael O'Hara (First Ward), Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Council president Claudia DeStefano, indicated they were willing to consider it further. The Stewart's representative offered to send the committee, through Howard, examples of zoning overlays that have been adopted in Saratoga Springs, Utica, and Malta, and the committee accepted the offer.

At some point in the conversation, O'Hara, who chairs the Legal Committee, called Green Street and the beginning of Fairview Avenue "a significant commercial corridor in the city." That seems like a bit of an overstatement. Despite the fact that Green Street is the most heavily trafficked street in Hudson, because the two truck routes through Hudson converge on Green Street, and several of the street's original houses have been lost or brutally altered beyond recognition, Green Street was never meant to be a "commercial corridor," and it isn't today. The same is true for Fairview Avenue--at least until it crosses the bridge and enters Greenport.

These early 20th-century images of Green Street and Fairview Avenue, both from more or less the vantage point at the intersection of the two streets, show how these streets were meant to look. These were Hudson's early "suburban" neighborhoods. It is this character and the integrity of these architectural styles that we should be respecting and protecting to the greatest extent possible.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Of Snow, Trash Bags, and the DPW

At the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting tonight, Rob Perry, DPW superintendent, revealed how much Winter Storm Stella cost the City: just shy of $37,000. Perry told the committee that Columbia County would be seeking FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) reimbursement for expenses incurred as a consequence of the storm, and for that purpose Perry created the following chart.

According to Perry, what FEMA will reimburse, if indeed it reimburses anything, will be the cost of equipment usage, which totals $28,265. What the City must absorb is the cost of overtime, private haulers, salt, and fuel, which totals $36,993.

On the topic of Stella, it was snow that prevented the City from taking possession of the trash bag vending machine soon to grace the facade of the classic 1907 bank building that is City Hall. It's all set and ready to be delivered, so expect it to appear soon.

To address the question of the lost jobs of the three people employed by the City to sell the bags during regular hours at City Hall, Perry prepared the following chart to show how the cost of employing the trash bag sellers has increased since 2010 and is expected to increase in the future.

Perry explained that in the past a large percentage of the trash bag sellers' wage was paid by other entities--various not-for-profits. The City's share of their hourly wage was only two or three dollars. In the past decade, Perry said, "One by one, the other entities fell off," and the cost to the City of employing these workers doubled. Perry told the committee that the sale of trash bags generates $100,000 a year, income meant to offset the cost of owning and operating the garbage truck(s). In 2010, the cost of employing people to sell those bags represented 10 percent of that income. Today, it is closer to 20 percent, and it is anticipated to be almost 30 percent five years from now. Enter the trash bag vending machine, which has the added benefit of being available 24/7 and able to accept cash, credit cards, debit cards, and Apple Pay.

More Video of Last Night's Council Meeting

Dan Udell's video of last night's Common Council meeting, which covers the entire meeting but does not, as Lance Wheeler's video does, include the scene outside the building and the man with the Trump flag, is now available on YouTube. Go to 11:26 to see Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue bending to the will of the people who crowded into City Hall to witness the vote and voting yes, even though he wanted to table the resolution.


New Leadership at Bliss Towers

The Register-Star reported today that a new executive director for the Hudson Housing Authority had been named: "Laulette to take the reins at Bliss Towers as new Housing Authority executive director."

Hiring someone to replace the beleaguered Jeff First, who announced his retirement in December, effective almost immediately, was the responsibility of the HHA Board of Commissioners. In the past few months, since First's departure, the board seems to have gone through some turmoil. Three commissioners resigned: Vernon Cross, in January; Kristal Heinz and Charlie Suisman, in February. Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton appointed three new people to the board, which now consists of Barbara Hall, Randall Martin, Martin Martinez, Anthony Pastel, Peggy Polenberg, and Alan Weaver. Tracy Brown, who was previously on the board and has been acting executive director, will return to the board when Anthony Laulette, the new executive director, begins his job on March 27.

The Vote on Video

Lance Wheeler's video of last night's vote on Hudson's "welcoming and inclusive city" resolution is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch.


What Else Happened Last Night

The big news from last night's Common Council meeting was passing the resolution declaring Hudson to be a "welcoming and inclusive city," which essentially directs the Hudson Police Department to continue, in the current political climate, their established practice of not inquiring into the immigration status of crime victims, witnesses, or people who call or approach the police seeking assistance and not stopping, questioning, or detaining people solely on their actual or suspected immigration status. After the applause died down, and the people who had crowded into City Hall began filing out of the Council Chamber, the aldermen turned to the other business before them.

Of interest among the other issues was the resolution authorizing "the conveyance of real property and two utility easements to the Hudson City School District." The real property in question is 1.277 acres adjacent to Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School, and the need for the property and the utility easements is related to the proposed addition to the building. According to the resolution, "the fair market value of the property has been determined to be $7,094.00," and the resolution authorizes giving the land to HCSD, and in exchange "the School District shall credit the City of Hudson the sum of $7,094.00, to be utilized to offset the present and future charges related to the City of Hudson Department of Youth's use of School District facilities."

Kelley Drahusuk of Spotty Dog
talking with HCSD students
earlier this month
The resolution passed, but with opposition from both Third Ward aldermen: John Friedman and Henry Haddad. Friedman said of the exchange, "They are stealing from us." Haddad similarly declared the transaction "real estate theft." Before casting their nay votes, both alderman made reference to their active support of HCSD. Both volunteer their time to the Hudson Reads Power Lunch program, and Friedman conceived of and continues to manage the Creative Approaches to Work luncheon, which gives HCSD high school students access to members of the community who have found successful careers through paths that vary from a "traditional collegiate trajectory."

Although the revised local law creating a lodging tax in Hudson was only placed on the aldermen's desks at the informal meeting on March 13, and Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, had advised that the law would have to "ripen" for ten days before the Council could vote to enact it, last night, the Council voted on it anyway, after only eight days. Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton has scheduled a public hearing on the law, before signing or vetoing it, for Tuesday, April 4, at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hudson Is a Welcoming and Inclusive City

Supporters of the resolution declaring Hudson a "welcoming and inclusive city" packed the Council Chamber and spilled out into the lobby of City Hall tonight to witness the vote. In addition to Dan Udell, who always videotapes Council meetings as a public service, Lance Wheeler was there with his video camera, along with news people from a couple of Albany TV channels.

After Council president Claudia DeStefano called the meeting to order, the moment of prayer or silent reflection was observed, and the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, DeStefano announced a change in the order of the agenda. The "sanctuary city" resolution, which had been the fifth item on the agenda, would be first. 

DeStefano then announced that Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, had a statement to make before any action was taken by the Council. Howard's statement was essentially a synthesis of a letter from Hudson Police Chief Ed Moore, stating that he would abide by whatever directive he received from the Council, but he had some concerns and didn't want to "run afoul of federal grants" to his department. Howard noted that the State Attorney General had agreed to give an opinion in writing on Hudson's "sanctuary city" resolution.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) then proposed that, since the Attorney General's office had agreed to give written advice and everyone on the Council seemed to support it, the resolution be adopted by acclamation, adding, "I would just like to go back to where we were all neighbors." That seemed to be what was happening until DeStefano declared that she was voting no, because she wanted the Attorney General's opinion about the resolution in writing before she would support it.

This triggered a roll call vote. First to be called on, in alphabetical order, was Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward), who moved to table the resolution until they got the Attorney General's written opinion. This elicited boos from the audience and admonitions from his colleagues that they were voting and a motion to table was out of order. Forced to vote, Donahue said he couldn't vote no with all the people there in support of the resolution, so he voted yes. 

Everyone thereafter voted yes but not without making a statement. Friedman asked rhetorically "Who needs to be protected from the law?" and answered "It's usually not the ones with the guns." Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) said she was proud of the Council for previously passing resolutions supporting issuing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants and welcoming Syrian immigrants. Henry Haddad (Third Ward) read aloud the last paragraph of Moore's letter, which warned in part, "A directive, order, or resolution that causes a police officer to be less than fully cooperative with another police agency runs antithetical to our standard practices and sensibilities as a law enforcement agency." Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward) said, "The safety of residents and businesses should come first." Abdus Miah (Second Ward) said, among other things, "I don't want to see any family suffer." Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward) worried about federal funding and said, "I just hope I'm doing the right thing." Michael O'Hara (First Ward) said he sympathized with the concerns of DeStefano and others but "trusted the Attorney General's office at their word" and assured his colleagues, "We are doing the right thing." Rick Rector (First Ward) said that welcoming and inclusive were the important words and they "reflect what the HPD is doing right now." Lauren Scalera (Fourth Ward) said she hoped "we can get the chief what he is seeking."

With every alderman voting in favor, the resolution passed despite opposition from Council president DeStefano.

Update: Click here to view the Channel 6 coverage of tonight's Council vote.

The Wards of Hudson . . . and Other Things

In our next local election, which happens in November, a little more than eight months from now, Hudson voters will be electing aldermen to represent the recently redrawn five wards of equal population.

A while back, in August 2013, Gossips shared the item below, found in the Hudson Evening Register for April 30, 1886, which announced the creation of the Fifth Ward, carved out of what had been previously the Fourth Ward.

Some may think, based on the 1873 Beers Atlas map below, that Hudson was divided into four wards from the time of the Proprietors, but it was not.

Originally, Hudson was divided into just two wards: everything south of Warren Street was the First Ward; everything north of Warren Street was the Second Ward. Today, I discovered, in the Hudson Daily Star for January 11, 1853, a letter to the editor that helps determine when the change from two wards to four wards happened. The letter makes the case that Hudson should have four wards because having only two wards presents "an insignificant appearance among our sister cities, none of which have less than four." The letter, which called for a charter revision, also sheds light on how we ended up with two aldermen for each ward instead of just one. Because there is much of interest in the letter, it is reproduced below in its entirety.


Equally interesting is the editorial comment about the letter, which emphasizes and amplifies the letter writer's salient points.


It's interesting to note that, according to the letter, the charter in place in 1853 "was revised and passed some twenty-four years ago." A new charter was adopted two years later, in 1855. Our current city charter has not been amended in its entirety since 1973.

Whether the Weather . . .

Remembering those warm days in February that challenged records before Stella plunged us back into winter on the cusp of spring, I was amused to find this little item in the Hudson Daily Register of January 11, 1853.


Cocktails and Literacy

The ninth annual Hudson Children's Book Festival is happening on Saturday, May 6, at Hudson High School. It is, if you didn't know, one of the biggest book festivals in all of New York State.

On Saturday, April 1, the directors of the HCBF Literacy Fund are holding their fourth annual cocktail party fundraiser to raise money to sustain the literacy efforts in the Hudson City School District. The fund provides "Good For" coupons for HCSD students to buy a book from the author of their choice at the book festival. A tax deductible contribution of $35 at the cocktail party provides a "Good For" to one student. The HCBF Literacy Fund also provides financial awards to college bound students for books, and financial coupons for summer reading to students moving up from 1st, 5th, and 8th grades.

The event, which is hosted by Colin and Katrina Stair, takes place at Stair Galleries, 549 Warren Street, from 5 to 7 p.m., on Saturday, April 1. For more information, visit the HCBF Fund Literacy Fund website

Monday, March 20, 2017

Of Interest

There was an article earlier this month, in the UK Independent, about the patterned borders, created by Thomas Cole himself on the walls of his home Cedar Grove, which are now being uncovered and restored: "Thomas Cole murals uncovered on walls of Catskills home in New York state." Featured in the article is art restorer and Hudson resident Margaret Saliske.

Observing Women's History Month

This morning, in celebration of Women's History Month, Assemblymember Didi Barrett announced the release of the fourth volume of Women's History in the Hudson Valley: Ten Stories from Columbia and Dutchess Counties. The booklet tells the stories of ten women from our region who, during the past three centuries, made significant contributions in various fields. Among the ten women featured in the 2017 booklet is Mary Shepherd Hallenbeck.

Commenting on the release of the booklet, Barrett said, "This year marks the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in New York State. It was an extraordinary accomplishment resulting from ordinary women coming together to form a grassroots movement for suffrage. Too often women's history and women's stories are forgotten; my office has published these volumes each year to ensure that in our region they are forgotten no more."

The booklets are distributed in collaboration with the Mid-Hudson Library System. Copies of the booklet are available at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. The booklet is also available online, as are the previous three volumes.