Thursday, October 27, 2016

Of Bridges and Ramps at Public Works

Last night, at the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, Rob Perry, DPW superintendent, told the committee that three of the four engineering firms that had been asked to submit letters of interest on the Ferry Street Bridge had done so. He further reported: "We have reached out the Columbia County Engineering Department for assistance with this portion of the project. The county owns and maintains many bridges throughout the County and has replaced dozens over the past few decades. They are intimately familiar with the FHWA scheduling and reimbursement process."

Lately, it seems there cannot be a meeting in the Council Chamber without rancor and raised voices. Last night's Public Works Committee was no exception. At the end of the meeting, after Perry had completed his report, Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) asked about the status of the ramp at Promenade Hill. It was interesting that he should ask at that time, since the design for the ramp and the selection of the materials had just been completed, and those involved in that process had spent the day considering when the project could go before the Historic Preservation Commission for review. It was also interesting that he directed his question to Perry, who bowed out of the planning process when it reached the design phase, instead of his fellow Second Ward alderman, Tiffany Garriga, who has been a part of the design phase, working with the landscape architect and the representatives of the Mrs. Greenthumbs Hedge Fund, which provided the money to hire the landscape architect to design a ramp sensitive to the design of Hudson's most historic park.

Miah groused that the ramp wouldn't be done for another ten years, alleged that the mayor had promised it would be done by spring, and reminded all present that he had been asking for a ramp at Promenade Hill since 2009. Garriga was having none of it. She challenged Miah's implication that he was the great champion of the ramp by demanding, "Did you get any money allocated for it in 2009?" The answer, of course, was no. It wasn't until 2015 that $20,000 was allocated in the 2016 budget for the ramp. 

The ramp now being pursued, the design for which will go public when it is presented to the HPC on November 18, will cost considerably more than $20,000. The cost estimates for the ramp are still being finalized, but Garriga reported that the mayor is "finding the financing."

Fifth Annual Tweed Ride on Sunday

It may be snowing today, but on Sunday, the temperatures are expected to be back in the 50s, and Sunday is the day for the fifth annual Tweed Ride through the streets of Hudson.

Dust off your velocipede, get out your Anglophile threads (tweeds preferred), and join the group for an easy 3.1 mile pedal around and about Hudson. The ride begins at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 30, at the foot of Warren Street, at the entrance to Promenade Hill, beside the Chamber of Commerce building, 1 North Front Street.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Dog's Life in 1889

Portraits from the period suggest that dogs were revered companions in the late 19th century, enjoying a status in the lives of their humans not dissimilar to that of dogs today.


Still it's hard to imagine anyone today not being appalled by the inducement to register your dog provided in the new dog law, announced in the Hudson Daily Evening Register for November 7, 1889, which apparently applied to dogs throughout almost all of New York State.


The Importance of Knowing the Gear You're In

The restoration of 134-136 Warren Street was a long time in being realized. The project was before the Historic Preservation Commission for several months in 2014 before a design for the ground floor at 134 Warren Street, which was to be converted to commercial use, was finally approved. Then there were the many months of work on the building. Finally, just two weeks ago, the awnings were installed on the ground floor windows at 134 Warren, and the reality looked like the rendering the HPC had approved.

Then yesterday, at about 5 p.m., a driver leaving a parking spot apparently made the mistake of thinking the vehicle was in Drive when in fact it was in Reverse. The SUV jumped the curb and crashed into the portico at 134 Warren Street.

Photos courtesy Ferol Barton Blake
Work on repairing the building is now underway.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

All Good Things Must End Someday . . .

This weekend is your last opportunity to experience Lynn Davis's remarkable Warren Street Project until the next time Historic Hudson decides to exhibit it in celebration of another anniversary. In 2021, to celebrate twenty-five years perhaps?

Since none of us can know the future, take advantage of the chance to see this amazing work in 2016. Davis's three-hundred-image portrait of Warren Street twenty years ago can be viewed at Vincent Mulford Antiques, 419 Warren Street, this Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. and this Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

Architecture and Athletics

At the special meeting of the Hudson City School District Board of Education on October 6, a new configuration for the addition to Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School was presented to the board. Instead of one long single-story building stretching out from the south side of the historic school building, the new plan would build on top of the existing "tech wing" and bring classrooms closer to the central building. The new configuration was judged to be "the best academic footprint for primary students," for whom the addition is intended, and it also, because of its size and scale, had a better chance of being compatible with the 1937 Colonial Revival building to which it would connect. 

On October 6, the board was considering two variations of a design for the newly configured addition: one had a flat roof on the foremost part of the addition; the other had a pitched roof and a profile that echoed the profile of the historic building and the 1997 addition.
The version with the flat roof was within the budget for the addition; the version with the historic profile was $250,000 more than the budget allowed. Torn between what was affordable and what would be compatible, Superintendent Maria Suttmeier worked with the architects to find a middle ground. What finally evolved was presented by Suttmeier at last night's school board meeting.

The new design, which according to the architects is in the "safe zone" as far as the budget is concerned, adds a pitched roof to the front of the addition, with walls that echo the historic profile on either side instead of in the front. The roof is pitched only at the front of the building; the roof behind it is flat.

This new design includes a crest along the ridge of the roof that repeats the crest on the historic building. While a tremendous improvement over both the original one-story design and the affordable design with the flat roof, the new design doesn't achieve the same height and scale as the unaffordable version and tends more toward imitation than compatibility, but it is what can be built within the budget.

The addition to Montgomery C. Smith is Phase 2 of HCSD's current capital project. Phase 1 is the new athletic field at Hudson High School, which has received far more attention from the community than the addition to a historic school building. When the school board was struggling to decide between natural turf and artificial turf for the playing field, parents and other community members came out in force to weigh in on the discussion. When it came to the track, people let it be known that what was planned was inadequate for track meets. What they wanted, after years of having an antiquated track, were track facilities that would allow Hudson to be the site of Patroon Conference meets.

The improvements to the athletic field requested by the community put Phase 1 $225,000 over budget--almost the same amount as the most desirable design would put Phase 2 over budget. Last night, Suttmeier reported success in securing the lion's share of that $225,000. After being turned down by Nike and the Dyson Foundation, she took her case to the Galvan Foundation. Accompanied by high school athletes Mike Alert, who distinguished himself last season in basketball and is doing so this season in football, and Noah Taylor, who excels in track, Suttmeier met with Eric Galloway. The students, whom Suttmeier praised for their demeanor and sincerity, made their case persuasively, speaking of what sports means to them. Galloway agreed to contribute $200,000 for Phase 1. 

Phase 2 of the capital project has not sparked the same level of public interest as Phase 1. Although there are grumblings about the new addition and fears that it will deface the hallowed eighty-year-old school building, during the lengthy design development process, few if any members of the public have shown up at school board meetings to engage with the project and express an opinion. The next school board meeting may be the last chance. A three-dimensional model of the proposed addition, in its latest configuration and design, will be presented at that meeting, which takes place on Monday, November 7, at 7 p.m., in the library of Montgomery C. Smith School.

Monday, October 24, 2016

National Attention to Our Congressional Race

Photo: Huffington Post
Earlier today, Zephyr Teachout, the Democratic candidate vying to represent us, the 19th Congressional District in New York, in the House of Representatives, was endorsed by President Barack Obama. Here's what the President had to say about Teachout:
I'm proud to endorse Zephyr Teachout for the United States House of Representatives. In Congress, Zephyr will be the kind of reform-minded leader we need to build on all of the progress we've made over the last eight years to create a stronger, fairer country for our children. Zephyr is an independent fighter for working families, and will help create an economy that works for everyone in this district, not just the wealthy and well-connected. In Congress, I know that Zephyr will fight for independent businesses, be an advocate for ending the influence of secret money in our political system, and stand up to the big polluters that threaten our fragile water resources. I know that families throughout upstate New York can count on Zephyr to stand up for them, too.
In response to the President's endorsement, Teachout said, "Barack Obama has been an outstanding fighter for middle class families. In Congress, I'll continue working to protect Social Security and Medicare, invest in our schools, and bring jobs back to the Hudson Valley."

Breaking News for City Government Watchers

If you were curious to know what would happen at the first Police Committee meeting since Alderman Tiffany Garriga was abruptly removed from that committee by Council president Claudia DeStefano on September 26, your curiosity will go unsatisfied. The calendar on the City of Hudson website indicates that tonight's Police Committee meeting, which was to take place at 6 p.m. today, has been canceled.

Police Business in Hudson, 1889

On Friday, October 14, the Register-Star reported that "crime rates in Hudson fell last year [2015] to their lowest point since data collection began in 2008." I was reminded of this article and the statistics it reported today when I stumbled upon this little item, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register for Saturday, November 2, 1889.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cuomo, Airbnbs, and Our Lodging Tax

On Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill authorizing fines of up to $7,500 for advertising rentals for fewer than 30 days on Airbnb. It's never clear from the reports about this legislation if it pertains to the entire state or only to New York City (that's the downside of the major city in a state having the same name as the state itself), but since the kinds of buildings to which the legislation applies very likely exist only in New York City, it's reasonable to assume that it pertains only to New York City and not to Hudson. 

The fact that Governor Cuomo is signing legislation, however, reminds us that he has not yet signed the legislation to allow the City of Hudson to levy a tax on rooms in hotels, inns, B&Bs, and accommodations advertised on Airbnb. The current status of the bill appears to be the same as it was back in June, when it was passed by the Assembly and the Senate.


The Larger Vision for Hudson Avenue

The proposed amendment to the zoning law, which would change the zoning on three parcels on the west side of Hudson Avenue from I-1 (Industrial) to R-S-C (Residential Special Commercial), is meeting with unanticipated opposition. 

The Planning Board is expected to recommend against the amendment. Although the specific reason for making this recommendation will not be known until the Common Council receives a letter from the Planning Board, it is believed that the letter will urge to Council to undertake comprehensive zoning revisions rather than making specific zoning changes. 

The parcels in question are located in the Waterfront Revitalization Area--the portion of the city that was comprehensively rezoned in 2011 when the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program was adopted by the Common Council. Although, in the LWRP, this particular area of the city, surrounding what was originally the Gifford-Wood Company, retained its I-1 zoning, the LWRP is clear in its support of the very change now being proposed. On pages 74 and 75, the LWRP speaks specifically about this site: "The City proposes to maintain the industrial zoning but acknowledges that this site has great potential for residential, commercial, and recreational uses. A zoning change in the future to accommodate nonindustrial development would be consistent with the LWRP."

The zoning amendment now proposed is also getting flak from a neighbor on East Allen Street whose backyard abuts the western tip of the largest of the three parcels. Although she opposes the amendment, she does not have a problem with the plan to construct four row houses on the west side of Hudson Avenue. What she finds unacceptable is the larger vision for the area, which Walter Chatham, the architect who owns and wants to develop the parcels, described in a letter to property owners in the immediate vicinity. Last week, Chatham shared the letter with Gossips. The following is quoted from that letter:
RSC Zoning is the equivalent of R-4; permitting 3-story multiple dwellings and general commercial uses. We are requesting this zoning because we believe that it is the highest and best use for the site, which is on a one-block-long public street across from the Hudson Little League Field. We believe that this proposed zoning is consistent with the Hudson Comprehensive Plan and Draft Apprendices; which encourage the conversion of under-utilized industrial land for commercial and residential use.
Allowing commercial uses would permit "Live/Work Units"--owner or tenant-occupied buildings that provide both shelter and the means to make a living. These are increasingly popular and provide much needed start-up spaces for all types of businesses. Specific types of businesses imagined would be a mix of small specialty shops with neighborhood features such as a deli/newsstand, small restaurants, etc.
In order to accommodate this idea, we are hoping to provide an old/new building type on Hudson Avenue: two and three story buildings with retail/commercial and office on the ground floors and residences above. These buildings were the backbone of small-scale property ownership in cities like Hudson in the 19th century, and they allow many different types of occupancy to occur, so the use of the property can change over time to remain "useful." It makes sense to try to emulate the most desirable parts of "old" Hudson in a new "addition" to the City Father's Plan. 
The ironic thing about the opposition to the zoning amendment based on the larger vision for the area is that the elements considered worrisome and objectionable in the plan--delis, restaurants, specialty shops--are permitted by the current I-1 (Industrial) zoning. The only thing that is not permitted in an industrial zone is housing, and it is for the construction of houses that the zoning amendment is being sought.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Open House at The Falls

It's been three years since JMS Collective announced its plans to create a luxury apartment complex on the site of the old Greenport School on Union Turnpike, also known as Route 66.

The plan demolished the 1950s addition, retained the original 1930 school, and built an enormous complex of new multistory buildings, containing 116 apartments. Next month, the first tenants will be moving into twenty-one "inaugural apartments," but before that, The Falls is having an Open House tomorrow, Saturday, October 22, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The advertising copy for The Falls stresses its proximity to "historic Hudson" and Hudson's "renowned Warren Street shops and restaurants," but the "resort-like lifestyle" it promises seems the antithesis of a college campus for grownups or "Upstate's Downtown," which is how many Hudsonians view their city. Historic architecture and the commitment to authenticity in its preservation are what most people find attractive about Hudson. With The Falls, the one historic element--the original 1930 Greenport School--is hard to pick out from all the new construction that surrounds it, and the restoration of "the school's architecturally significant auditorium" seems far more splendid than one imagines it was originally meant to be.


The amenities at The Falls make it sound as if it should be located in Boca Raton instead of Greenport: fully equipped gym, yoga/spin room, children's playroom, adult game room, two swimming pools, tennis court, basketball court, walking trails through more than twenty wooded acres, space for gardening, playground for children, movie theater, and spa with heated pool, salt room, and sauna. And then there are the features of each apartment: nine-foot ceilings, crown molding, hardwood floors, a gas fireplace, and a balcony, which for some but not all means a view of the Catskills. What may be most appealing to some is that pets--dogs and cats--are allowed, and there is even a plan for a dog park somewhere on the complex's twenty-two wooded acres.

It will be interesting to see who ends up residing in the 116 apartments at The Falls. The first wave of Hudson newcomers now septuagenarians and octogenarians weary of maintaining their historic houses? Weekenders seeking a low maintenance pied-à-terre in the Hudson Valley? Or the people The Falls seems to want to attract: the "explosion of newcomers to the region" brought here by the "attraction of outdoor living."

Just Say Yes . . . Twice!

The Fair & Equal Campaign, which of course is encouraging everyone to vote yes on Proposition 1, which would establish wards of equal population in Hudson and do away with the weighted vote system in the Common Council, released a statement yesterday wholeheartedly endorsing Proposition 2 as well. Proposition 2 would establish a Service Award Program for active members of the Hudson Fire Department.
A Service Award is a benefit guaranteed to any active firefighter who meets the program requirements by accumulating 50 credits of service per year. Hudson's firefighters are diligent volunteers we all depend on, at all times of the day and night, on every single day of the year. They fight fires everywhere in Hudson, investigate fuel spills, send firefighters and equipment for mutual aid to other jurisdictions, and provide emergency dive teams for boating accidents. By law our firefighters must undergo one hundred hours of training a year, keeping up the same skills that are required of paid firefighters. When the Prop 2 referendum is approved, up to $700 a year will be set aside for active firefighters who accumulate the required annual points.
The Fair & Equal Campaign believes there are no more deserving recipients of this benefit than the men and women of our Fire Department. We urge every voter to turn your ballot over and vote yes for Prop 2, the Service Award Program referendum!

Presentation Is All

If you watched Part 2 of Dan Udell's videotape of Tuesday's Common Council meeting to the bitter end, you saw city treasurer Heather Campbell expressing her great disappointment that the resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with OpenGov had been defeated. She told the aldermen, "I'm willing to bet that, as the elected officials who are actually voting on the budget, the majority of you probably could not say how much our tax levy was in 2016, how much we pay for the police department, how much our debt service is, what our tax increase was. If you, our elected officials don't know that information and can't communicate it to your constituents, how do you think the average taxpayer is supposed to understand how their tax dollars are being spent?"

Campbell's indignation was justified, but perhaps if she and her colleagues on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton and Council president Claudia DeStefano, who were advocating for adopting OpenGov, "the world's first purpose-built cloud solution for budgeting, reporting, and open data," had presented a better case for the technology, the outcome might have been different. The members of the BEA seemed to rely solely on a PowerPoint, projected onto the closed doors of the Council Chamber, narrated by someone patched in by cell phone, and presented in the middle of a very contentious meeting on October 11, which focused on another issue altogether, to convince the aldermen that this was something the City needed. 

Even though the case for OpenGov was not effectively made, the idea that OpenGov would allow the City to track expenses more effectively and taxpayers to access information, in a clear and readily understood format, about the City budget and how their tax dollars are being spent is very appealing. So it was a surprise when the resolution came up on Tuesday, in the middle of another contentious meeting, that only three members of the Council--DeStefano, Bob Donahue (Fifth Ward), and Michael O'Hara (First Ward)--voted in favor of it. Perhaps the BEA could give the effort a second try.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fact Checking: Leases on City-Owned Property

There was much discussion at Tuesday night's Common Council meeting about the leases on City-owned property--in particular, 20 Columbia Turnpike, 27 Rossman Avenue, and 80 Reservoir Road. The tenants refused to sign the leases they were offered more than a year ago because they contained unacceptable terms. As a consequence, the tenants have continued living in the buildings, paying rent but without lease agreements. Among the terms that the tenants found unacceptable were paragraphs that prohibited smoking on the premises and keeping pets.

On Tuesday night, various members of the Common Council denied ever having seen or approved leases with such restrictions, but the Council records show otherwise. The lease agreements for 27 Rossman Avenue, the upstairs apartment at 20 Columbia Turnpike, and 80 Reservoir Road were presented to the Council at the informal meeting on August 10, 2015, and the resolution approving the leases--Resolution 7--was passed unanimously on August 18, 2015. The leases all contained the following paragraphs:
13. SMOKING: Smoking within the residence without the written permission of the Landlord is strictly prohibited.
16. PETS: Tenant shall not be entitled to have any pets at the rental premises without the prior written approval of Landlord.
At the informal meeting on September 8, 2015, the lease for the downstairs apartment at 20 Columbia Turnpike came before the Common Council. It contained the same two paragraphs, and the resolution approving it--Resolution 5--was unanimously passed on September 15, 2015.

The question of why the tenants did not seek written approval from the City to smoke in their homes and keep pets instead of simply refusing to sign their leases has never been addressed.

Watch the Council Meeting for Yourself: Part 2

Now that you have had a chance to digest the first hour of Tuesday's Common Council meeting, here is the next hour, in which city attorney Ken Dow leaves the building. Click here to view Part 2 of Dan Udell's video.


Watch the Council Meeting for Yourself: Part 1

Tuesday night's Common Council meeting was so long--longer even than the third presidential debate--that Dan Udell had to put his videotape of the meeting on YouTube in two parts. Part 1, which is mostly about Alderman Tiffany Garriga's removal from the Police Committee, is now available and can be viewed here.