Thursday, October 19, 2017

More Attention to Accessory Buildings

At the last Common Council meeting, Council president Claudia DeStefano announced that the Columbia County Planning Board had determined that proposed Local Law No. 4 "has no significant county-wide or intercommunity impacts associated with it." This proposed law would, among other things, eliminate the requirement for offstreet parking for "dwelling units that are located in a cellar, basement, or a building that is in the rear yard behind another separate building on the parcel containing one or more dwelling units," provided that such dwelling units are not used as short-term rentals. The purpose of the proposed legislation is to encourage the development of affordable rental apartments, on the assumption that an apartment in a cellar, basement, or accessory building would not command a high rent. A possible unintended consequence of the legislation is the loss of the historic accessory buildings that line the alleys of Hudson and Partition Street. A public hearing on the proposed law will take place on Monday, November 13, at 6:30, at City Hall--just prior to the informal Common Council meeting.

Even without this new law in place, Hudson is experiencing an increase in the number of proposals to repurpose accessory buildings--buildings that were built to be carriage houses or garages--into spaces for human use. Repurpose is not really the appropriate term, since these projects, because of code requirements, invariably involve demolishing an existing structure and building something new in its place. In the past year, this has happened in the 300 block of Partition Street, behind 317 Union Street, and is soon to happen in the 400 block of Partition Street, behind 439 Union Street. To be fair, the proposed law would have had no effect on either of these projects, since the plans for both new structures include a one-car garage. 

There are now two new proposals before the regulatory boards to demolish existing accessory buildings and replace them with new structures to be used for human habitation. The first involves an accessory building on Cherry Alley behind 405 Warren Street. 

The proposal is to demolish the existing building, described as a two-car garage, with a new building that would be a two-car garage with an office above it. The project came before the Historic Preservation Commission last Friday. Kate Johns, architect member of the HPC, acknowledged that the design for the new building had "the character of a carriage house" but expressed concern that the new building would be taller than the existing structure. After some discussion, during which the application for the project was deemed complete, it was decided that, before rendering a decision, the HPC would hold a public hearing. That hearing will take place on Friday, October 27, at 10 a.m., at City Hall.

The second project requiring the demolition of a historic accessory building involves this building on South First Street, on Cherry Alley and behind 30 Union Street.

The proposal to demolish the existing building and replace it with a new structure, built on the same footprint, which will be a residence. The new building is meant to replicate the existing structure.

The proposal came before the Historic Preservation Commission last Friday, and the HPC deemed the application incomplete for a number of reasons. Because building a new structure on the footprint of the existing structure requires all manner of area variances, the proposal came before the Zoning Board of Appeals last night--Wednesday, October 18. It was at that meeting Gossips managed to snap a (bad) picture of the elevation drawings for the proposed new structure.

The members of the ZBA deemed the application before them complete and scheduled a public hearing on the project for Wednesday, November 15, at 6 p.m.

Inaugural Meetings & Time-Honored Races

The Meetings
Today, Thursday, October 19, at 6 p.m., the Local Planning Committee for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative meets for the first time in the cafeteria/auditorium of John L. Edwards Primary School. The meeting will be led by LPC co-chairs Matthew Nelson and Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton and is meant to be a working meeting for the twenty-three members of the LPC. It will include an overview of the DRI program, process, roles and responsibilities, and schedule and a review of Hudson's DRI application. There will be opportunity for public comment at the end of the meeting.

Tomorrow, Friday, October 20, at 6 p.m., there will be a meeting of those interested in creating a parks conservancy/friends of the parks group in Hudson. The meeting takes place in the Chamber of Commerce conference room at 1 North Front Street. The purpose of the meeting is to share ideas and define next steps for the nascent group. Click here for more information.

The Races
On Saturday, October 21, the second annual running of the latest revival of the Hudson Bed Races happens at 3 p.m. The event had to be postponed owing to lack of entries, but with the autumnal weather came a resurgence of interest in pushing a wheeled bed down the street for excitement and acclaim, and the organizers promise an impressive roster of entries. This year, the bed races are moving from Warren Street to South Front Street. Sign in and the team captains' meeting takes place at 2 p.m. at Promenade Hill, and the race down Front Street begins at 3 p.m., with the finish line being in front of the Half Moon. There is still time to enter your team and bed in the race. Click here for information.

On Sunday, October 22, is the seventeenth annual Ghostly Gallop to benefit the Hudson Area Library. Participants have the choice of doing a 5K run, a 5K walk, or a one-mile family friendly walk. The 5K (3.1 miles) course begins and ends at Hudson High School, 208 Harry Howard Avenue.

This year, the 5K walk will be led by Kim Bach, the proprietor of Verdigris Tea & Chocolate, who just returned from completing the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trek across Spain--a pathway that was forged in the 12th century during the Crusades and continues to draw pilgrims from around the world.  

There is still time to register for the Ghostly Gallop. You can do it online here or on the day of the race. Walk-up registration begins at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. The race steps off at 11:30 a.m. Those already registered can pick up their race packets on Saturday, October 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Steiner's Sports, 301 Warren Street, or on race day starting at 9:30 a.m. For more information, click here.

The Great War: October 18, 1917

In the wee hours of the morning, I decided to get back to my search of 1917 Hudson newspapers for news of World War I. After locating the Hudson Evening Register on Fulton History and homing in on the date, the first thing I saw was the cartoon below. It struck me as mordantly appropriate for today, given the current state of things.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Disorderly Houses and Houses of Worship

During a question-and-answer period at Common Council Police Committee meeting on September 25, a resident of North Fifth Street, in the neighborhood that had experienced recent gun violence, asserted that "a crime against the community is worse than a crime against property" and characterized a house that represents a nuisance and danger to the neighborhood as a crime against the community. He asked, "Do the police have adequate laws?" The question brought attention back to Chapter 188, Paragraph 5, of the city code:
§ 188-5. No person shall, within the limits of the City, keep or maintain a disorderly house or a house of ill fame or allow or permit any house, shop, store, or other building or structure owned or occupied by him or her to be used as a disorderly house or house of ill fame.
The problem with the law is that the terms disorderly house and house of ill fame mean "brothel" or "house of prostitution," and the police had been trying to apply the law to the owners of houses known to be centers for drug dealing and suspected gang-related activity. A year ago, Chief Ed Moore made known to the Legal Committee his desire to have the law amended so that it could be applied to problems the police are facing in dealing with the gun violence that has occurred in Hudson in recent months. 

When the question of amending § 188-5 was brought up at the last Legal Committee meeting, the response from Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs that committee, was that it was impossible to get the language of such an amendment written in such a way that it would not draw criticism from the community. It turns out he was correct.

Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, drafted such an amendment, which was introduced at the informal meeting of the Common Council on October 10. The proposed amendment redefines disorderly house in this way:
(b) For purposes of this section, "Disorderly House" shall mean any building, structure, enclosure, booth or other place within the City of Hudson where persons gather or abide and where the owner, lessee or person in charge permits, encourages or tends to encourage a pattern of drunkenness, illegal consumption of alcoholic beverages or drugs, boisterous conduct, unseemly noise, fighting or other conduct which habitually or routinely disturbs the public peace or promotes disorder and lessens the dignity of the community.
Yesterday, several posts appeared on Facebook encouraging people to attend the Common Council meeting to protest the proposed amendment. One such post intimates that the proposed amendment is somehow connected with immigration issues and gentrification:
The City of Hudson is trying to amend a "disorderly house" law that would make it easier to raid and invade homes where groups of people gather. . . . With the problems facing the citizens of Hudson--particularly the citizens in low income housing, generational residents, and people who occupy spaces desired by others--we can't let police take this first step into criminalizing this behavior. With the problems facing the residents of Hudson we cannot allow people being together to be criminalized.
Last night at the Council meeting, when the amendment to § 188-5 came up in the agenda, Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) suggested that, since the amendment had not actually come out of a committee and Chief Moore had not reviewed or commented on it, the proposed amendment be referred to the Police Committee. It was agreed that would be done. The Police Committee meets on Monday, October 23, at 6 p.m.

Also, at last night's meeting, the Council passed a resolution to cancel the interest and penalties on real property taxes for Holy Temple First Church of God in Christ, located at 64 North Sixth Street. The church was one of three churches, Shiloh Baptist being another, that had failed to file the necessary paperwork to renew their tax exempt status. When the resolution passed, there was applause in the room, and Ed Cross, the pastor of Endless Love Temple, seemed for a moment to think that the resolution had something to do with his church, which rented a building from owners who failed to pay the property taxes. The church building, which was the original home of Shiloh Baptist Church, has been foreclosed on by the City and will be sold at auction on Saturday, November 4, at noon. The minimum bid for the building is $35,907.09--the combination of back taxes owed, interest, and penalties.

The confusion of Holy Temple First Church of God in Christ with Endless Love Temple recalls that a few years ago the former congregation lost a building it allegedly owned to tax foreclosure. That building was 405 Warren Street, which the pastor of Holy Temple First Church of God in Christ maintained belonged to the church and was therefore tax exempt even though he was the owner of record.

Other things of interest happened at last night's Common Council meeting, and you can watch it all for yourself. Dan Udell's video of the meeting can be viewed here.

Ear to the Ground

On Monday, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton reiterated the news of the first meeting of the Downtown Revitaliation Initiative Local Planning Committee. The announcement began: "The first meeting of the DRI Local Planning Committee, at 6 p.m. on October 19, will be led by Co-Chairs Matthew Nelson and Tiffany Martin Hamilton, with assistance from our planning consultant, Stantec. . . ." 

Today, a reader alerted Gossips to this information, found on the Stantec website: "The Keystone Pipeline is a "bullet" pipeline--stretching 3,460 kilometres from Alberta to Illinois and Oklahoma without any intermittent supply or receipt points. At Stantec, we're proud to have been part of its development. . . . We started this project in 2005 and are still working on it today."

This seems vaguely reminiscent of 2001, when Saratoga Associates was working with the City of Hudson to formulate its comprehensive plan while at the same time working with St. Lawrence Cement to help make the proposed behemoth cement plant more palatable to the residents of Hudson.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Remembering a Partition Street Garage

A while back, Gossips published a post about the apparent trend of constructing new buildings suited for human habitation on the footprint of old carriage houses and garages on Partition Street. In that post, I juxtaposed pictures of the new building behind 317 Union Street and a Google street image of that stretch of Partition Street before the new building was constructed.

What wasn't visible in the Google image, because a truck was parked in front of it, was a green garage, which has also been demolished. Lisa Durfee recently sent me this picture of the building, which she took in March 2015.

Photo: Lisa Durfee

Monday, October 16, 2017

What Lies Beneath

The repaving of Fourth Street began today by milling to remove the old asphalt. In the block between Union and Warren streets, this process revealed that, once upon a time, the surface of Fourth Street was brick.

Thanks to Lynn Davis for providing Gossips with these pictures

Historic House in Jeopardy

This is a bit beyond Gossips' usual beat, but concern for historic buildings knows no boundaries. Gossips has learned that there is a proposal before the Catskill Village Planning Board to demolish a historic house north of Beattie-Powers Place--a house that was once part of the estate--and build a new house in its place.

Beattie-Powers Place
The house to be razed was once the quarters for James Powers staff, and it may have been home to the family of Aaron Burr. The house was expanded in the 1920s, but it is believed that the core of the house dates from around 1790. The house is located within the East Side Historic District in Catskill, and village preservation laws prohibit the demolition of historic structures and the construction of new structures that are incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The proposed new house is of modern design, described by an opponent of the project as "a suburban ranch house with a slight Swiss chalet motif."

The concern is not only for the preservation of a historic house and the architectural integrity of the immediate neighborhood but also for the viewshed. The proposed new house is expected to be much more conspicuous in the view from the river and from the bridge, in direct opposition to the goals of the Skywalk Project now underway, a walkway between the Thomas Cole House and Olana with three observation decks on the bridge for viewing the landscape.

The Catskill Planning Board is holding a public hearing on the project tonight, Monday, October 16, at 7:15 p.m., at the Senior Center, 15 Academy Street, in Catskill. Residents of Catskill and others concerned with preserving and protecting historic architecture and scenic views are encouraged to be present. 

Getting Across Town

Yesterday, "No Parking" signs went up on both sides of Fourth Street from Union to State. The signs indicate that, starting at 7 this morning, there will be no parking on either side of the street for the entire week.

The reason is that the street is being repaved. The milling--removing the existing surface--begins today. While work is going on, expect all or portions of the street to be closed to traffic.

There are similar "No Parking" signs on Third Street. The schedule of paving that superintendent Rob Perry presented to the Common Council Public Works Committee in July indicates that only a small portion of Third Street between Union Street and Cherry Alley is to be resurfaced, but the "No Parking" signs extend far beyond that.

Be aware of this repaving activity whenever you need to drive from one side of Hudson to the other this week.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Hudson as Mecca--Then and Now

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, James Marston Fitch used to bring his graduate students from the School of Architecture at Columbia University to study our fine collection of late 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century architecture. Hudson was then (and still is) seen as "a dictionary of American architecture." Today, graduate students and mentees in urban planning are coming here for a different purpose: to investigate our challenges. We've become an "interesting case study" in gentrification and displacement. 

Richard Moody reports today in the Register-Star that Herbert Dreiseitl, who is the director of the Liveable Cities Lab at the international urban planning group Ramboll, convened the Young Planners Summit 2017 this weekend in Hudson: "International planning co. eyes solutions to Hudson's problems."

Hudson has been on Dreiseilt's radar for at least a decade. Back in 2006, he visited Hudson and submitted a proposal to be the planning consultant for the Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). Some on the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee (WASC) of that era were intrigued by Dreiseilt's approach to creating green spaces, often on marginal land, that solved storm water flooding problems, improved water quality, increased the resilience of urban areas, and connected people with urban nature. When the WASC met to discuss the proposals submitted (if memory serves, there were three or four) and come to agreement about which one would be best, it was disheartening that there was no real discussion. A decision apparently had already been made by the leadership of the WASC, along with the staffer from the Department of State, to go with BFJ Planning, which had worked on many LWRPs before and would bring that experience (and conventionality) to the task.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Little History of a Building Lost

Last Saturday, Gossips published a post about the threat to the authentic character of Partition Street and the alleys from the desire to convert existing accessory buildings into studio/office space or living space: "Musing on the Alleys of Hudson." In that post, I used this photograph of a building that once stood on Partition Street, just west of West Court Street. I didn't acknowledge the source then, because I had been asked not to. 

Seeing the picture on Gossips last week prompted David Kermani to give me permission not only to reveal that the picture had been taken from his and John Ashbery's backyard, in the early to mid-1980s (Kermani and Ashbery came to Hudson in 1978), but also to share this story about the house and its unfortunate demise.
John and I thought we had assured the survival of that house, which we loved. It was part of the parcel fronting on Union owned and lived in by a Mr. Fingar and his wife. I got to know Mr. Fingar slightly because some mornings we’d meet on Partition Street on our way to or from Ritter’s on South Third Street to get our New York Times. We developed a casual acquaintance and would chat about neighborhood issues, etc. We watched that house, which Mr. Fingar never did anything to except to make sure that the water was kept out, and after a few years we made a verbal deal that when he was ready to sell the entire property or subdivide it so we could purchase the Nantucket house, he’d let us know so we could take it over and restore it. Things went along for many months (I think maybe even a few years) with no change or word from him; we assumed he was pleased that we were intending to preserve the house he’d kept standing for so many years. Early one morning I was in our kitchen and heard an enormous racket outside in the alley. I ran to the dining room windows and saw that a bulldozer or backhoe had begun demolishing the front wall of the house. I wasn’t yet dressed, so couldn’t run outside, and by the time I could it was so far gone there was no point in trying to stop it. I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Fingar again, so maybe he had already sold the property and the new owner demolished it.
The Nantucket house stood behind 353 Union Street. The new owner, if there was one at the time the house was demolished, would have been the owner prior to the property's current owners. It is not recalled, not by Gossips at least, exactly when the house was demolished, but tax records indicate that in 2002, when the parcel on which the Nantucket house stood was sold to its current owners, it was described as "Res vac land." 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ear to the Ground

Gossips has been told that tonight at 7:30 on WMHT-TV the topic of discussion on the program New York Now will be the constitutional convention. It promises to be a good way to learn about the issue, which will be a referendum question on November 7. 

First DRI Meetings Announced

This morning, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton announced the dates of two upcoming meetings of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Local Planning Committee (LPC). 

The first meeting will take place on Thursday, October 19, at 6 p.m., in the auditorium at John L. Edwards Primary School. This meeting will include an overview of the DRI program, process, roles and responsibilities, and schedule. There will also be a review of Hudson's DRI application. This meeting is intended to be a working meeting for the twenty-three member LPC. There will, however, be opportunity for public comment at the end of the session.  

The second meeting, which will take place on Thursday, October 26, at 6 p.m., at John L. Edwards, will be a community meeting. At this meeting, the LPC "will being to fully engage with the public regarding process and projects."

There is now a page on the NYS Downtown Revitalization Initiative website devoted to Hudson, where information about the program will be maintained: There you will find this overview statement:
Hudson’s BRIDGE District has the look and feel of the post-industrial cityscape that millennials seek, yet retains a working historic waterfront along the Hudson River. Dense housing in the Downtown Revitalization Initiative area ranges from historically-designated single-family homes to townhouses and high-rise apartments, served by a variety of dining and shopping options in revitalized historic structures. Recent organic, entrepreneurial development has primed Hudson for the next phase of its revitalization: the increased development of mixed-use projects that incorporate affordable and market-rate housing and transportation oriented design; job incubation to create high quality, living-wage jobs; workforce development to prepare local workers for year-round local employment; and a re-imagining of the waterfront for expanded public use and enjoyment. DRI investment will drive the continued success of existing private and public ventures; emphasize job growth and the attractiveness of the district; and set the stage for economic and civic expansion in the district and across the Hudson.

The Race Is On!

Gossips has learned that enough beds have been registered to make the second running of the revived Hudson Bed Races a go! But enough is never enough, and more is always better, and there is still a whole week to organize a team, register a bed, and join the bizarre competition.

This year, for the first time, the bed races will take place on South Front Street, with the finish line being in front of the Half Moon. The bed races are at 3 p.m., on Saturday, October 21. Click here to register a bed and be part of the fun.