Monday, July 16, 2018

Party for the Parks

In September 2017, Gossips announced an initiative to morph what was fondly known as the Mrs. Greenthumbs Hedge Fund, an informal group who organized the biennial Mrs. Greenthumbs Day Garden Tour and raised money to fund improvements to the city's parks, into a full-blown Hudson Parks Conservancy, to carry out the mission on a grander scale. At the inaugural meeting, which took place on October 20, 2017, the organizers knew they'd struck a chord. More than a hundred people came out, enthusiastic and eager to share their ideas about how Hudson's seventeen parks--large and small, historic and fairly new--could be improved and how a parks conservancy could help make that happen.

Since that inaugural meeting, the Hudson Parks Conservancy has made significant progress. It is now a registered not-for-profit, with a board of directors, active committees, a logo, and several projects in various stages of planning. The projects range from conceptual to hands-on, using community research to understand what people want from their parks and conceptualizing how the city's park might be enhanced. The goal of the Hudson Parks Conservancy is to partner with the City of Hudson in maintaining and improving the city's parks to ensure that these most democratic of spaces enrich the lives of all Hudsonians and are a source of community pride.

On Sunday, July 22, from 5 to 7 p.m., the Hudson Parks Conservancy is celebrating its auspicious beginning and launching its next phase with a Parks Party at The Secret Gardener, 250 Warren Street. The party follows this year's Mrs. Greenthumbs Day Garden Tour, a self-guided tour of twenty private gardens in Hudson open for visitation from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The garden tour is free. A donation of $40, which can be paid at the door, is requested for the Parks Party. Click here to RSVP for the party.  

Plan to spend next Sunday outdoors in Hudson. First, tour some of the city's private spaces--gardens hidden behind buildings and fences or only tantalizing glimpsed from the street. Then, gather at The Secret Gardener to celebrate and support the Hudson Parks Conservancy's efforts on behalf of the city's shared public spaces. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Friday at the HPC

Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday was one of the longest in recent memory--going on for close to three hours. During that time, a few projects of interest were considered and granted certificates of appropriateness. 

The first in our review is 364 Warren Street, the building which for two centuries was the location of the Register-Star and its antecedentsAccording to the evidence in this picture, the building was constructed in 1805.

There have been many changes to the building's facade over the past two centuries--some minor, some more dramatic. In 1919, there was a fire in the building, and in the reconstruction after the fire, the roof line was altered.

What had been a gabled roof for the first 114 years of the building's life, became a flat roof with a decorative cornice.

The latest changes to the facade, as Jason O'Toole, property manager for the Galvan Foundation, explained it, are to assure that 364 Warren Street has "flair" like 366 Warren Street, which he called "beautiful." Essentially the storefronts and the entrance to the building are being restored to what they were when the building was reconstructed after the fire, the exception being the addition of pilasters on either side of the storefronts and the central door.

The red paint that is now on the building will be removed (O'Toole volunteered to provide information on the paint removal techniques to be employed), and the plan is to repaint the building the terra cotta color shown in the rendering.

Another Galvan project that came before the HPC on Friday was 22-24 Warren Street. Like 364 Warren Street, this is a building--or perhaps two--that has experienced much change in the more than two hundred years of its existence.

The 1873 Beers Atlas map shows that there was a single structure on the site at that time.

But there is photographic evidence that prior to urban renewal in Hudson, and for many decades before that, probably from as early as 1903, there were two separate but connected dwelling units on the site--two houses of different heights, different roof profiles, and  different architectural styles.

The historic preservation initiative that was part of urban renewal in Hudson determined that the two buildings were originally one house, an example of "Federal Period Architecture," and set the date of its construction as "c. 1795." There's a plaque to that effect on the building. 

Although identifying the building as "Federal Period Architecture," the urban renewal restoration of the building stopped short of imposing the generally agreed upon features of Federal style--most notably symmetry--on the building. The third story of one of the dwellings was eliminated, and the roof was changed to be one roof over what had been two buildings, but the placement of the door and the windows remained the same. The door was off center, and there was no regular rhythm to the placement of the windows. What's been proposed for the next phase of the building's life is a complete transformation into what is accepted as textbook Federal style.
The door will be moved to the center of the house, and all the windows in the facade will be moved to create strict horizontal and vertical symmetry. 

The only detail in the plan that troubled the HPC was the steps leading to the front door. What was proposed was stone with blue stone for the treads and platform. What was recommended by the HPC was antique--salvaged or reproduction--brick. HPC chair Phil Forman encouraged the use of "anything that creates an authentic touch . . . to bring in some sense of age." Forman also suggested that the railings proposed for the front stairs were "way too slick." O'Toole offered to use railings similar to those approved for 260 Warren Street.

Of interest too from Friday's meeting is 545 Union Street, which is soon to get some attention.

The HPC approved Dutchman repairs or replication of the cornice, newel posts, railings, and balusters on the porch of this house, as well as replacing broken panes of glass in the existing windows.  

The HPC also announced its new official policy on the removal of asbestos, aluminum, and vinyl siding. Henceforth, all certificates of appropriateness for the removal of such siding will contain this language:
This approval does not apply to any historical building elements not currently visible that are revealed in the course of the approved alterations. If any historical building elements are revealed, applicant must inform the Building Code Enforcement Officer immediately, and applicant may need to apply for another Certificate of Appropriateness.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

River Watch

Photo: Allison Dunn|WAMC
On Wednesday, July 11, a scoping session took place in Poughkeepsie. It was the last of five held by the Army Corps of Engineers on its plans to manage storm risk in New York Harbor. Of the first four scoping sessions, two were held in New York City and two in New Jersey. 

The Army Core of Engineers is considering six conceptual plans to manage storm risk, ranging from storm surge barriers to levees to natural and shoreline solutions. According to John Lipscomb of Riverkeeper, two of those plans--"Alternative 2, which is the Sandy Hook to Rockaway barrier, or Alternative 3A, which is the Verrazano and Throgs Neck and Arthur Kill barrier"--would be disastrous for the Hudson River. In a report on the meeting by Allison Dunn for WAMC, Lipscomb says, "If those are the finalists, essentially what we said to the Hudson River is, 'How do you want to die, firing squad or hangman's noose?'"

The entire report on WAMC can be read and heard by clicking here.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Attention in the New York Times

In 2015, Gossips followed the journey of Apollonia from Buzzards Bay to the Hudson River. Today, I was alerted to an article about Apollonia which will appear in Sunday's Metropolitan section of the New York Times: "Artisanal Foods, Coming by Sail to a River Port Near You."

Photo: Lauren Lancaster|New York Times
Although Hudson is the Apollonia's home port of choice, it is moored in Athens these days. Unfortunately, the Railroad Point Pier, which was intended, among other things, to provide docking space for the Apollonia, was not one of the projects chosen to receive DRI funding

Inside Bliss Towers

In March, there was much attention being paid to Bliss Towers. Congressman John Faso, who had toured the building with Tiffany Garriga, alderman and former resident of Bliss Towers, had written to HUD secretary Ben Carson, calling his attention to the living conditions at Bliss Towers, allegedly saying they had "deteriorated well beyond livable." Meanwhile, Timothy Mattice, who had taken over as executive director in September 2017, was doing a reassessment of the entire building, preparing to address both buildingwide issues and problems with individual apartments.  

Since March, the intense scrutiny of the building has relaxed, but the plans for improving the building are moving ahead. The fences have come down, and plans for new landscaping are being pursued. The lobby has been redone. One third of the units have been completely rehabilitated--new kitchens, new bathrooms, new flooring. Another third will be rehabbed next year. The remaining third required only a new coat of paint.

On June 29, there was an open house at Bliss Towers, to introduce residents to available community services and people in the community, who may never have visited Bliss Towers, to the building and to show off the work being done. Gossips was not able to attend the open house, but recently, Fourth Ward alderman Rich Volo provided these pictures of the lobby and the kitchen in one of the apartments being rehabbed.


Local Impact of a New USDA Contract

Photo: Amy Brown
An article from Modern Farmer came to my attention yesterday, reporting that people using SNAP benefits may soon no longer be able to shop at farmers markets: "Tens of Thousands of People Are About to Lose the Ability to Buy Fresh Food at Farmers Markets." The article begins:
Farmers markets are a huge and growing supplier of healthy food to those using SNAP benefits, better known as food stamps. In New York City alone, an estimated $1 million per year is spent at farmers markets using SNAP. Many cities and states have additional benefits; in New York, for example, SNAP users get an extra two dollars to spend on produce for every five dollars spent at the farmers markets.
This is true at the Hudson Farmers Market. SNAP recipients swipe their cards; $5 is deducted from the card, and they get $7 in tokens to spend at the market. Two weeks ago, the Hudson Farmers Market was at the open house at Bliss Towers to spread the word about this benefit.

The ability to use SNAP cards at the Hudson Farmers Market and every other farmers market in New York State could end on July 31. The reason has do with the software required for swiping cards and the USDA awarding the contract for managing the program, which for years had been done by the Farmers Market Coalition, a national nonprofit that promotes and helps farmers markets, to a new company called Financial Transaction Management, LLC. The article in Modern Farmer provides all the details.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Fifteen Minutes of SWAT

On June 5, the Shared Services Response Team conducted a raid at three locations on State Street. A week later, at a Common Council meeting, Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann spoke out against what she called "a militarized raid on Hudson," saying "it doesn't belong in our community." Mussmann, who lives about half a block from two of the houses that were raided, told the Council, "I stepped out the door and thought I was in Iraq." The Register-Star, in an editorial on June 15, took Mussmann to task for her hyperbole: "Her comment about Iraq was exhibited poor judgment. We don't know for sure, but it might be safe to say Mussmann has never been there. If that is correct, she can ask any Middle East veteran who will tell her that one night in Iraq was 1,000 times worse than any 15-minute police action on a city street."

At the Common Council Police Committee meeting on June 25, Mussmann herself did not speak. Instead Claudia Bruce, Mussmann's wife and partner in TSL, did. She expressed her concern that the trust between the community and the police is harmed by the SWAT raids "because they are overwhelming in a neighborhood." Bruce asked about the role of the mayor in planning such action and wanted to know if the mayor gave his "say-so" to the raids. Responding to Bruce's suggestion that the mayor should be the one to decide if the deployment of the shared services team was warranted or not, Mayor Rick Rector said that Chief Ed Moore advised him before the raid took place but he was not involved in deciding when a situation called for such action. "He's the expert," Rector said of Moore, "I'm not the expert, and I have complete faith in him and his department." In his comments, Rector also mentioned that a new police commissioner had not been appointed since Martha Harvey, appointed by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton in September 2016, resigned in August 2017.

Photo: Linda Mussmann|Facebook
The issue of the police commissioner--or the lack of one--was taken up at Monday's informal Common Council meeting by Maija Reed. Reed called on the mayor to appoint a police commissioner, reading extensive passages from the city charter as evidence that the mayor was obligated by the charter to make such an appointment. One of the passages was Chapter 4-4B, which states: "The Mayor shall appoint the following officers to serve at his pleasure: (1) Commissioner of Public Works; (2) Commissioner of Police; (3) Commissioner of Fire; (4) Commissioner of Youth; (5) Commissioner of Purchases; (6) Commissioner of Grants; (7) Harbor Master." For decades, there had never been a commissioner of public works in Hudson until Mayor Dick Tracy appointed Michael O'Hara to that position in 2006. There has never, to my knowledge, been a commissioner of purchases. There has been a commissioner of grants during only two administrations in the past quarter century: Sam Pratt had the position when Ken Cranna was mayor (2000-2001), and Daniel Karpowitz during the Tracy administration (2006-2007).

The connecting thread in all of this can be found on Linda Mussmann's Facebook page.  There she expresses her opinion that the Common Council should pass a resolution requiring the Hudson Police Department to opt out of the Shared Services Response Team (the team is made up of officers from the sheriff's departments of Columbia and Greene counties and the HPD) and also reveals her preference for police commissioner: Peter Volkmann, the police chief for the Village of Chatham who was the Democratic candidate for Columbia County sheriff last November. Volkmann is known for a program he launched in Chatham to address opioid addiction called Chatham Cares 4 U (CC4U). In a video accompanying an article about Volkmann that appeared in April in the web magazine CityLab, Volkmann says he trains his officers to be "guardians of our community; they are not warriors." Those terms were also used by Bruce at the Police Committee meeting when she told Moore, "SWAT training makes warriors; police officers are guardians."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Didn't Make It

Now that we all know what projects will be getting funding from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, it's time to consider what didn't get funding. The final list of projects submitted in March can be found here. Of the list, those that will not get DRI funding are:

  • Railroad Point Pier
  • Citywide Wifi
  • Community Makerspace/Business Incubator
  • State Street/Columbia Street Site Prep Work
  • Wayfinding and Signage
  • Homeowner Improvement Grants
It is of interest that each of the projects to be funded with DRI will get exactly the amount proposed, with the exception of the redevelopment of the Kaz site. It was proposed that $2 million in DRI funding go that project; it will in fact be getting $487,160.

The Word Is Out

The projects to receive DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) funding were announced today. They are as follows:
  • Implement Complete Streets Improvements ($3,982,550)
  • Renovate Promenade Hill Park and Provide ADA Access ($1,100,000)
  • Improve the Safety and Aesthetics of Cross Street and the Second Street Stairs ($250,000)
  • Establish the North Bay ReGeneration Project for Environmental Education ($400,000)
  • Establish a Community Food Hub to Support Small Startup Businesses ($700,000)
  • Stabilize the Dunn Warehouse for Future Re-Use ($1,000,000)
  • Winterize Basilica Hudson and Create a High-Visibility Public Greenspace ($250,000)
  • Redevelop the KAZ Site a Mixed-Use Transit-Oriented Development ($487,160)
  • Provide Workforce Development Infrastructure at River House ($250,000)
  • Repurpose Historic Fishing Village as a City Park ($150,290)
  • Construct Mixed-Use and Mixed-Income Housing on State Street ($800,000)
  • Provide Minority, Women and Veteran Owned Business Support ($100,000)
  • Fit Out Commercial Kitchen and Retail Space to Provide Workforce Training ($230,000)
Click here for full information.

Another Threat to the River

Riverkeeper is issuing a warning about a new threat to the Hudson River. A blog post on the Riverkeeper website, with the title "Storm surge barriers for NY Harbor: Army Corps proposals threaten the very life of the Hudson River," begins:
The Hudson River needs you again. It faces an existential threat.
You may not have heard, but you should: In response to Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering six different plans involving massive in-water barriers and/or land-based floodwalls, dunes and levees intended to "manage the risk of coastal storm damage" to New York Harbor and the Hudson Valley.
Anyone who cares about the Hudson River needs to become informed and involved, now. Several of these plans--specifically, the ones including giant in-water barriers throughout New York Harbor--would threaten the very existence of the Hudson as a living river.
Click here to read the entire post.

There's an informational meeting tonight, Wednesday, July 11, in Poughkeepsie. It will take place in the Auditorium Room of the Hudson Valley Community Center, 110 South Grand Avenue, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Lively Discussion

The Common Council didn't always meet twice a month. The practice wasn't introduced until 2000, when Ken Cranna was the mayor, and Mary Anne Lemmerman was Council president. The first meeting of the month--the informal meeting--was initiated to introduce new resolutions and legislation, giving the aldermen eight days to consider them before voting on them and also giving the public the opportunity to know what was before the Council before the aldermen voted. In the beginning, it was also a time when the public could express concerns, either on issues before the Council or new issues. Over time, with different Council presidents, the nature of the informal meeting has evolved, but it remains the meeting at which most resolutions and new legislation are introduced.

At the informal Council meeting on Monday night, the proposed amendment to the zoning code for R-2 and R-2H districts (now known as Local Law No. 5 of 2018) was introduced. Presenting the legislation, Council president Tom DePietro reminded everyone that this was "the beginning of a very long process." Later, he elaborated on that process, saying the amendment would have to go to the Hudson and Columbia County planning boards for a recommendation and noting that the amendment, if passed, would only allow any expansion of a nonconforming use to go before the Planning Board for site plan review. 

Asked by DePietro to comment on the proposed amendment, John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, where the amendment originated, explained that the zoning code was being amended for two "historic businesses"--a term now being used to describe any business that has existed for twenty years or more. He spoke of a community benefit agreement with Stewart's and talked about the need to "move forward and deal with problems." Moving forward and dealing with problems involves "retaining a planner to redo a comprehensive plan." This, Rosenthal said, "will cost a great deal of money," and because the City is "very stressed," he went on to say, "it is our job to engage [with 'corporate actors'] to our benefit." To synopsize, what is being proposed is that the City of Hudson change its zoning to accommodate the desire of Stewart's and presumably also Scali's--two nonconforming uses in districts zoned for one- and two-family houses (R-2) or one- and two-family houses with offices as a conditional use (R-2H)--to expand, demolishing residential properties in the process, in exchange for Stewart's giving the City, in a host community benefit agreement, some yet undetermined amount of money.

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) proclaimed: 'The chairs of the Legal Committee [Rosenthal] and the Economic Development Committee [Rich Volo] and the city attorney [Andy Howard] are to be commended, because they came up with a solution."

City treasurer Heather Campbell wanted clarification: "They'll get to expand, knocking down buildings on either side, but who makes the decision if what they are offering in exchange is greater than what the City is giving up?" The answer given was the Common Council.

Responding to a question raised by Nick Zachos about a possible conflict of interest posed by "a corporation paying for a comprehensive plan that might benefit them," Rosenthal acknowledged the irony of "carving out exceptions to get money to redo a comprehensive plan when the comprehensive plan might not approve what was given up" but denied it would be a conflict of interest.

Although inviting aldermen and elected officials to comment on the proposed amendment, DePietro postponed public comment until the regular meeting of the Common Council on Tuesday, July 17. His reason for doing so seemed to be to allow time for Nick Pierro, assistant fire chief, to make a presentation to the Council--a presentation that had the effect of validating Rosenthal's assessment that the City is "very stressed." The Fire Department is in urgent need of 82 new oxygen bottles, 42 new air packs, and masks for each fire fighter--the total cost of which is "just under $354,000." Campbell characterized it as "a lot of money we weren't planning for." A bond resolution for the needed funds is expected to be presented to the Common Council at its meeting on July 17.

At the end of the meeting, when DePietro invited public comment, Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann asked, referring back to the discussion of the zoning amendment: "Is there a number connected to the host agreement?" In further comments, Mussmann complained that instead of fostering "lively discussion" DePietro "shuts it down." In responding, DePietro, in addition to indicating that no amount had been agreed to, asked Mussmann if she would like to report what she is doing on the county level. 

On a motion from Alderman Kamal Johnson (First Ward), the meeting was adjourned, at approximately 7:35 p.m.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Long Duration Restoration

The long-awaited restoration of 260 Warren Street, at one of the principal gateways to the city, seems finally to be approaching its finale. The building, the owner of which is now listed in the tax rolls as Galvan Civic Housing LLC, has been transferred from Eric Galloway LLC to another for fifteen years or more, and during that time, proposals for its restoration have come before the Historic Preservation Commission three times, and three times, the HPC has granted a certificate of appropriateness only to have it expire before any of the proposed work was undertaken. The last certificate of appropriateness was granted in January 2018, and it appears the third time was the charm, for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, right around the time of the HPC's most recent review of the project, the picture of the building shown below, from the Evelyn & Robert Monthie Slide Collection, was discovered. It provided the detailed guidance needed for the HPC to insist that the original doors, which disappeared without a trace sometime in 2006, be re-created exactly as they were.

The third time was also the charm in that the proposed restoration was actually undertaken.

I have told the story at least once on Gossips of how, while driving by the building one morning, I witnessed the original doors, which had been removed and replaced with plywood sometime before, being loaded onto a pickup truck and how I followed the truck to a garage on Seventh Street. To bring the story full circle, I happened to be driving by the same corner this afternoon and witnessed the new reproduction doors being unloaded from a truck. Back in 2006, I didn't have a camera with me to snap pictures; today, I did.


Never Mind

If you were planning to spend your early afternoon today at the IDA meeting at City Hall and on Thursday at the HCDPA meeting at 1 North Front Street, you need to find other ways to amuse yourself during those hours. Gossips has learned that both meetings--the IDA at 1 p.m. today and the HCDPA at 2 p.m. on Thursday--have been canceled.