Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sharing a Discovery

Gossips has more than once shared this picture of Elihu and Eliza Gifford's house, which stood at the corner of Columbia and Sixth streets, where there is now a parking lot.

It's not known when the house was built. Elihu and Eliza were married in 1817, and they moved to Hudson in 1823, when Elihu purchased an interest in the city's only iron foundry. The picture below was found on, identified as "Home of Elihu & Eliza Starbuck Gifford just after Civil War." 

Both pictures show the belvedere that was added to the house to serve as a studio for one of Elihu and Eliza's sons, the Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford. 

The house was demolished in 1965, and at some time prior to its demise, it had been divided up into apartments. I have many times wondered what the house looked like in its latter days.

Today, while exploring the wonderful archive of Howard Gibson's photographs being made available online by Bruce Bohnsack, I discovered these two pictures taken in February 1955 and identified as "Hudson Fire Apartments 6th & Columbia St."

The building in these pictures can only be Elihu and Eliza Gifford's house, with what was originally a side veranda opening onto a fenced yard turned into the main entrance, now with a very sturdy looking Greek Revival portico.  

Last Night at City Hall

Last night's Common Council meeting was fairly uneventful, except that Dave Barnett from GAR Associates was there to talk about the revaluation of property in Hudson. He presented the following timeline. New assessments will be mailed to property owners on March 1. A month of informal review follows, during which property owners can examine the information used to determine property value and challenge the assessment. On May 1, the tentative tax roll will be filed. When that happens, the formal grievance period with the BAR (Board of Assessment Review) begins. The final tax roll will be filed on July 1.

Barnett asserted that the goal of the revalutation was "to get the value correct" and explained that what will be sent to property owners on March 1 will be the old assessment, the new assessment, and a "hypothetical tax illustration," in other words, a projection of what the tax on the property might be given the new assessment. He asked the aldermen not to answer questions about the revaluation but to refer all questions to GAR.

Barnett's presentation (which begins at 32:58) and the entire Council meeting can be seen in Dan Udell's video, now available on YouTube.   


A Tale of Two RFPs

In September, the Common Council passed resolutions authorizing two requests for proposals (RFPs) for feasibility studies: one for the adaptive reuse of John L. Edwards School as municipal offices; the other for improvements to the current City Hall to make the early 20th century former bank building ADA compliant.

Last week, on February 13, the RFP for JLE was issued. Responses are due back on March 12. The RFP for City Hall progressed along a different timeline. It was issued on October 22; responses were due on November 20; proposals submitted were reviewed by the mayor and the DPW superintendent; and last night, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with the firm of Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson Architecture & Preservation to do the study. 

Before calling for a vote on the resolution, Council president Tom DePietro commented that this feasibility study might seem redundant "given JLE" but quoted City treasurer as saying that, even if the ADA improvements to the building are not pursued, having the study would "enhance the value of the building." DePietro also noted that the $32,000 for the study had been written into the 2019 budget, as part of the budget for the Department of Public Works.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Columbia County's Sleeping Dragon: Part XI

Margaret Schram's series about Lake Albany clay has come to an end. The following is the final article, which appeared in The Independent on September 15, 1988.

The map accompanying this article indicates, by the lined areas, those parts of Stockport, Stuyvesant and Ghent that have the potential for landslides in Lake Albany clay.
A quick glance shows that the Towns of Stockport and Stuyvesant contain many slopes with slippage tendencies, a fact that the state and town highway departments will readily confirm. The area on Route 9 just south of the Columbiaville bridge had a long history of damage due to undermining by the clay soils. In 1976, that section of the road was rerouted, which required the moving of a house. "Test borings show the base of the new section of the road would be able to support the new stretch of highway without further landslide difficulty," the state Department of Transportation reported in 1976.
Portions of Route 9J have been constantly slipping, and Route 46 out of Newton Hook has ongoing problems.
Informed that Lang and Allendale roads were good examples of landslide difficulties, my drive there revealed that there was no longer a Lang Road. A short portion leads to a private driveway. Beyond, the road has slid into a deep, narrow valley and is closed to the public. The Stuyvesant highway department was at work on what is left of Allendale Road, and I was told of the problems there and on Hollow Road.
The rules for preventing landslides of Lake Albany clay are the same for highways as for buildings: do not add weight; do not excavate; and make sure the slopes do not become waterlogged because of poor drainage.
For the average homeowner or builder in an area of lake clay, certain precautions should be taken. Exploring carefully and thoroughly if lake clay is suspected would be the best maxim. The Columbia County Soil and Water Conservation Service office has soil maps and information that gives a property owner or prospective buyer a good idea of the makeup of the soil and whether deeper, more extensive test holes should be dug. Soil data and percolation tests are required from builders by the Columbia County Department of Health for a single-lot sewage disposal system or a subdivision review.
Planners should discourage or prohibit large developments on clay slopes. Insurance claims might be difficult to collect, for a slide is still considered to be an "act of God." The desire to build on hilltops with panoramic views should be tempered with the knowledge that Lake Albany clay requires special considerations. It can be done using California-type building techniques to anchor foundations.
Problems are most likely to surface in existing homes built on landslide-prone slopes. Extending the yard by adding fill is one way to precipitate a slide. Building anything that alters the drainage or increases the amount of rainwater running over the hill and infiltrating the soil adds to the potential. A prime example of a catastrophe-in-the-making would be an in-ground pool built on the edge of a hill. Follow this with a leak in the pool so that moisture is added to the soil and eventually the lake clay will move.
It would be well to remember that though the upper layers of Lake Albany clay appear to be brown and stable, underlying these are material that require only a little change in their natural equilibrium to make the clay unstable. For a fine view of an exposed hill of Lake Albany clay, drive into the road marked Dead End off the northeastern end of Mill Street in Hudson. An excavated hillside is visible on the left where the strata of gray and light brown clays are easily recognized.
I followed Schram's advice and drove to the end of Mill Street. Then I walked halfway up the Dugway looking to the left for the excavated hillside she described. Either the hillside has been altered in the past thirty years by natural phenomena or the extensive excavation required when Charles Williams Park was created, or the hillside was simply covered with snow, but I could not see the strata. 


Exploring the Possibilities

Amanda Purcell reports today on HudsonValley360 that the Common Council has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a feasibility study on the adaptive reuse of the now vacant John L. Edwards School building as a center for city government offices: "City to weigh John L. Edwards school fate."

Photo: Jonathan Simons
The twelve-page RFP, which Council president Tom DePietro had been working on at least since November, can be viewed here. The RFP was issued on February 13. Respondents have four weeks to prepare and submit their proposals, which are due on March 12.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

The snow has stopped for today, and no more is in the forecast for the rest of the week, so inclement weather should not interfere with attending meetings.
  • On Tuesday, February 19, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The agenda for the meeting can be viewed here. At 7:00 p.m. in City Hall, the Common Council holds its regular monthly meeting. Among other things, the Council is expected to vote on the sale of 6 Lucille Drive 

  • On Wednesday, February 20, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:15 p.m. and the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. Both meetings take place in City Hall. No agenda is available for the Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, but two public hearings are on the agenda for the Zoning Board of Appeals. The first public hearing is for the restoration of 8-10 Park Place, which needs a height variance for the proposed elevator tower and for the 25 offstreet parking spaces required by the code. The second public hearing is for the 30 offstreet parking spaces required for the wine bar proposed for 260 Warren Street.
  • On Thursday, February 21, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. in City Hall. No agenda is available for this meeting.
  • On Friday, February 22, the Historic Preservation Commission holds its second meeting of the month at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall.

Lessons Never Learned

Commercial development seems on every hand to defy reason and logic. In Livingston, there's a plan to build a giant gas station diagonally across from an existing giant gas station, on land that today is a big, open grassy space.

There are no plans for the existing gas station. It seems it may just be abandoned.

In Greenport, there's a plan to build a new "retail development" on the west side of Fairview Avenue at the current location of the McDonald's--a plan that requires the demolition of a significant historic house.

While just across the street, in Fairview Plaza, there are at least eight vacant stores and an abandoned supermarket building.

And here in Hudson, where some might think we would have learned our lesson about demolishing old buildings and sacrificing neighborhood character, two houses are soon to be razed so that Stewart's can build a bigger and better gas station and convenience store.


Fifty Years Ago in Hudson

The plan for renovation and new construction currently being proposed by the Hudson Housing Authority has brought community attention once again to Bliss Towers and the low rise buildings that were constructed during urban renewal. Recently, while exploring the Common Council minutes for 1969, I came upon the transcript from a public hearing on the project, then known as "Urban Renewal Project No. 1, First Stage." The hearing took place almost fifty years ago, on March 10, 1969. It is fascinating reading and presents an interesting contrast to recent public meetings about the current proposal. For those reasons, I share it here, in its entirety. A note about the people involved: Mr. Sheffer is Elmer Sheffer, the president of the Common Council in 1969.

You have heard the reading of the call of the meeting tonight. Before we get into it--the plan of procedure--First an explanation of the plan will be given by Mr. [Frank] Yankowski, Urban Renewal Director who will introduce Curt Mohr and Leonard Feldman. Mr. Mohr represents the firm of Raymond May Associates and Mr. Feldman is with the Housing Authority.
The ground rules--the public will be able to speak. Those in favor will speak first. Those opposed, next. Questions will be allowed from the floor with a two minute time limit for each speaker. No one may speak again until everyone has been heard once. The questions should be referred to me and then I will refer them to the appropriate individual who will answer the question. If you want the use of the floor, stand up, give your name and if you are a member of an organization or firm and you represent them, that should be stated also. Minutes will be taken. Speak slowly so we can understand. The Aldermen are here to listen to your comments on Project No. 1, First Stage. If you wish to speak raise your hand.
Excuse me, Frank will introduce Curt Mohr.
My job here tonight is simple. Mr. Curt Mohr, a representative of Raymond May Associates, is going to speak to you. This is the firm that is responsible for putting the project together. And Leonard Feldman of the Housing Authority will also speak to you. We have maps and displays and an Exhibit of the Project. May I present Mr. Curt Mohr.
Many of you were here four weeks ago this evening when we talked about this for the first time. With your permission, I will run through this and then with questions, we can go into detail.
Let me point out, where it is and the first stage under consideration this evening. (Pointed out on map.)
You enter the Urban Renewal area--both areas on this map and area in pink. The area in pink is the area under consideration this evening. About the area in pink (use of second map). This is the same thing but you just see the area itself. There are 30 buildings in this area. They meet all the Federal and State requirements for a project necessary for an Urban Renewal area. There are 32 families in this area and the area is approximately six and one-half acres. The proposal before you this evening is to start on this pink area in advance of the remainder of the project, so that people who are to be displaced in the larger area will have, available to them, housing which will meet their needs. The purpose of the public hearing is to explain the Urban Renewal Plan.
(Use of 2-dimensional map) This is a two-dimensional plan of the project, it simply shows the elimination of Chapel Street and designates both parcels for residential use.
The maximum height is eight stories or 80 feet. Total area, 1,000 square feet. Parking setbacks, restrictions, yards, etc., all of which would be met by the proposal in the model.
There will be houses acquired. The property owners will be notified so a fair and equitable agreement can be reached. There has been one independent appraisal and another to be made. The property owners will be assured two independent appraisals, to prove a maximum price for each parcel, insure equitable price. We hope to arrive at the prices to meet owner's satisfaction. The families being displaced also. Of the families to be displaced, 24 of these would be eligible under Federal criteria for low rent housing. The purpose of this plan is to build more, but to do so we have to displace people. We have made application to Federal authorities to lease units from private landowners and what they can pay and what the different is will be made us. The leased housing program has been okayed by the Federal agencies. Making provision for construction of new housing before anyone is displaced. Sometimes adequate provision has not been made but this won't be the case here because of the foresight in making the housing for families to be displaced before. No one will be forced into the street.
Probably the most interesting to you this evening will be, what is to be built. The gentleman to explain that is Leonard Feldman who built the model and will tell you the details about the buildings. Mr. Feldman.
As Mr. Mohr has pointed out, I represent the Housing Authority and to be created within the City of Hudson, to provide housing in the first part of the Urban Renewal Plan, by the Housing Authority, with funds from the Housing Assistance Administration, will provide low rent housing in the development for 140 families. These 140 families will consist of 90 family units and 50 elderly units, they are comprised of apartments, efficiency units and one bedroom units. The remaining 90 consist of 2, 3, 4, and 5 bedroom apartments. The project starts at Second and goes west, straddling State Street and goes over to Rope Alley, takes a portion into Rope Alley east to State Street. It closes off Chapel Street and goes off the bounds on the south by Columbia Street. The development consists of a high rise building, seven stories of apartments. Low rise of two story apartments. The two story have basically individual units with duplex type--kitchen, living room, etc. on the first floor and bedrooms on the second floor. Each of the low rise units has its own entrance to the building essentially self-sufficient. It has its own heating plant, its own hot water plant, providing the equivalent of a small apartment or individual tenant.
The high rise is--the elderly wing is to the south, consisting of one bedroom apartments. The wing running east to west is family units of 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. Construction is completely fire proof, concrete and masonry with two elevators and an incinerator. The low floor of the high rise consists of the service areas to support the entire development, including sitting room for the elderly and family--separate areas, hobby rooms, agency offices will be coming in, Golden Age Clubs, space provided for youth clubs, etc. There is a central laundry unit in the high rise unit, washing machines, etc., baby carriage room. The Housing Authority will have its offices in the first floor of the high rise building. In the surrounding area there will be play areas in the tots area. In conjunction with the high rise an additional large recreation area for teenagers. There are individual parking areas. Approximately a little over one parking area for every family in the development.
Basically, the low rise buildings will be constructed of masonry walls. It may be well to note that the individual low rise apartments will have provision for washing machines. All units will come provided with a new stove and new refrigerator as part of the apartment.
We have covered the parking, recreation and sitting areas as you will be able to view in the model, methods of going from area to another. All the landscaping you see on the model is actual. Planted as part of the Urban Renewal housing. It lacks some of the plants which will be planted in the development. There was no room on the model for it all.
The status of this development right now is that the working drawings are made and being reviewed by agencies charged with approving the same. As soon as the land is acquired, the Housing Authority will go out to bids and go into construction.
Now, question period. Will you kindly keep your questions on the Urban Renewal. Don't deviate.
I would like to make this comment, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce is in favor of the project and they will, on its behalf, work with this group to facilitate this place or do anything for this or other plans to come into being. I would like to point out one thing, it has been called to my attention several times, the Chamber is working with large industries interested in location in this area. We have met with officials looking over the area. Every one of them asked about Urban Renewal. Do you have it? What is its status? When will it break ground? This is one of the most important factors to locating a plant in this area. The Chamber of Commerce is behind this 100%. It should have taken place years ago. We will help out.
Each speaker will speak for two minutes. I will hold that line because we could go on here all night. Someone else?
Tom Bluteau of National Commercial Bank. We will do anything in our power to help. It is a wonderful thing. A miracle.
I would like to congratulate everyone on this plan. It is a new era for our city and to see fulfillment on this--please feel free to call upon us.
I am with Urban Renewal 100%. Best thing that ever came to Hudson. I am with you. 100%. Anything we can do, we will be glad to do it.
I have lived in the Urban Renewal area for many years. I have seen it deteriorate and it is a wonderful thing and hope it comes to pass. To think Hudson could look so beautiful.
Anyone else? We will have questions later.
I have lived in Hudson a long time. This project is a very important thing to me. Especially to me, I am a young man and have a lot to look forward to. I would appreciate it if everyone would keep the ball rolling. Get this project for the whole entire area.
Those who are opposed to this? Anyone to say anything against? If you have anything to say, say it now against Project No. 1, First Stage. If not, we are ready for questions you might like to ask about the Urban Renewal Plan or Housing project. Mr. Mohr and Mr. Feldman will answer the questions.
I think probably the most important question here this evening, the question that they have, is when this project will be started in--In 1960, under Art Koweek, the first and only planning commission, he was and is chairman, I followed it and know the work he and his commission have expanded, I know how he feels. Even this model, having it here is front of you is progress. (The head) of the Housing Authority and his committee have worked since 1965. I am enthused. Never any doubt in my mind that this would come to pass, it is here. I do think the people in the area would like to know if there is any guideline or projected dates when buildings are going up. When construction will start and so forth.
I think it has been mentioned. The working drawings are completed. Federal government permits us to go for bids as soon as the Urban Agency can acquire land. It is not even necessary to make purchase from the Urban Agency. As soon as they will acquire land, within six weeks after they have acquired the lands, we hope to have bids back into the Housing Agency. Could go into construction. We are planning 15 months for construction period, outside the contract. There is our program from the bid period on. Six weeks and 15 months. As soon as we get the land we will go ahead.
Question is also asked, but with deadlines, I am going to underline the word tentative, my past experience, if you give a date and don't meet it, you are not doing your job. There is a great deal of paper work you never see. For example, letter of consent application in New York, expect approval of it by April 1, real test is getting acquisitions appraisals. We hire two experts who go around and inspect properties. He has completed his inspection (one of them) and his written reports have been turned in. He will put appraisal on the building. The Urban Renewal Agency has hired another firm--when we have the two appraisals, we will sit down with the Urban Renewal and arrive on the price. Send it to New York City. They will look it over. Can take two months for them to look it over. The schedule is like a whale. It flexes this way and that. Hope to keep it as strict as possible. From the time we start acquiring property and moving people out, I am giving a conjecture. April is too tight. We have to see the people and negotiate and talk prices. Tentatively around May, the middle of May, depending on the timing of the acquisition appraisals. Get title, then the Housing Authority can step in. The Housing Authority will do the demolition, a big factor, most important is the relocation of the people. We won't just rush them out. We are making every effort possible to make it a minimum inconvenience and in addition we have a junk yard and a slaughterhouse to move. A killer. The minimum time they have in which to move after notification is 90 days after you receive notice. When the Urban Agencies send you notice you have 90 days in which to vacate the premises. We assist you to get relocated. 24 units will be leased housing, eligible for public housing. It is up to us to get people to participate in the plan. I don't want to give you a schedule without being able to meet it. We hope to turn land over this summer. We don't want to lose a construction season. Need successful acquisitions of properties. As much as I wish I could give you a schedule. I have been in Mechanicville--slow process. Dealing with humans and moving the junk yard is difficult and the slaughter house. Do the best we can to eliminate inconvenience and relocate people and perhaps by late summer to turn the buildings over to the Housing Authority to put it up for bid.
On this drawing, demolition and new construction--only half of Chapel Street is being taken up. Is there another entrance?
Previous to coming up just below our site. Connection arose and through and into First Street. Right to our property. Chapel cannot be a dead end street. We are in close contact with the city and with the power company, telephone company. Fully aware of the proposals of closing of portion will provide access out to Chapel, come out on Columbia.
Before I call this public hearing to a close, I would like to thank you for coming up here. Tomorrow is a regular meeting of the Common Council. Aldermen are here. I will be happy if as many come out for that as are here tonight. You are citizens of the city of Hudson. You can come here to the Council meeting. Aldermen will be here. They might be missing something in regards to your comments. We have a general meeting tomorrow night. Would like to see some people here who might come back tomorrow night. I see a couple of eyes flashing. Do you have questions you want to ask?
May not seem important, but is is to the women. If a person within the 90 day period fails to find housing and cannot find it, then they may get help from your office?
They will never be looking on their own. Anyone who wants to relocate on their own may do so. At all times during the relocation each person will be advised and visited personally. If at the end of 90 days, you still have not found a place, no one will be evicted.
3 or 4 little quickies--Female questions. Will there be interior door on all the rooms?
If anyone has seen the new housing being done in low rent housing. Doors on every closet.
Can you tell us how much closet space per room?
Four foot closet, three feet of broom closet, etc. There will be tile around the tub, showers around the tubs, formica kitchen cabinets, to last 40 years or so. A good quality construction.
About the policy, paint replacement, will all the colors be the same, etc.?
The Housing Authority has not set up its policy program as yet. All will be considered as far as colors are concerned. We intend to make a choice of basic colors to satisfy everyone possible and so that anyone can bring in their own colors in furniture, etc. The Housing Authority will maintain and decorate.
Anyone else? Questions.
Dr. Bliss has asked us to communicate that this model will remain in Hudson until we get a full size one. The model will be in the Urban Renewal office, come and look at it. If you have any questions, we will answer them either personally or in writing. Most of the time the model will circulate out in the city. Banks will show them and large department stores, the model is here to look at and investigate.
Any more questions? If not, I declare this public hearing closed.
The model remained in Hudson even after there was a "full size one." It can still be seen in the Community Room at Bliss Towers.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

About That Host Community Benefit Agreement

From the beginning, Stewart's has offered a host community benefit agreement as an enticement to get the Common Council to change the City's zoning to accommodate its desire to expand, but it has never been clear exactly what they were offering. 

Back in July, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), chair of the Common Council Legal Committee and the staunchest proponent of Local Law No. 5 of 2018, which changed the zoning, made it clear at a Legal Committee meeting and an informal Common Council meeting that he believed Stewart's would give Hudson some significant but undetermined amount of money which the City could use to revise the comprehensive plan and make comprehensive zoning revisions. "It is our job," Rosenthal told the public and his colleagues on the Council, "to engage [with 'corporate actors'] to our benefit."   

The law was passed. Stewart's got what it wanted and is now before the Planning Board for site plan approval for the expansion. But we still don't know exactly what Stewart's is offering by way of a community host benefit agreement. Some statements, though, made by Stewart's representative Chuck Marshall at last Thursday's Planning Board meeting may provide some hints. 

According to Marshall, "the host community benefit agreement is supposed to fund improvements to the intersection" of Green Street and Fairview Avenue. He spoke of negotiating with the Public Works and Parks Committee about what improvements would be included in the intersection. (The Public Works and Parks Committee is chaired by Eileen Halloran who from the beginning supported the Stewart's expansion because she saw it as a way to improve the intersection and address hydrology issues that plague that part of the city.) Marshall went on to say that Stewart's would only be required to pay 1 percent of the cost of improvements to the intersection, so if the improvements cost $100,000, Stewart's would have to contribute only $1,000, but Marshall assured the Planning Board, "Our contribution would be substantial"--not defining what he meant by substantial. There was no mention of money to fund a new comprehensive plan.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Dan Udell Was There

Congressman Antonio Delgado held a town hall meeting in Germantown this afternoon, and Dan Udell was there with his recording equipment. If you missed the meeting, or if you want to relive it, click here to view the video.

A point of interest: In talking about offices he has established throughout the district, Delgado said he was "looking at a space in Hudson."

The Great War: February 18, 1919

In the winter of 1919, those who had served in World War I were making their way back home. A feature called "Soldiers News" in the Columbia Republican regularly reported the return or anticipated return of area servicemen, but sometimes such news made the front page. Such was the case with the following item. I share it because the two men mentioned--Henry C. Galster and A. Tremaine McKinstry--were both the subjects of earlier posts in this series. Last January, Gossips published a letter from Galster to a friend in Hudson. In July, Gossips published a letter from McKinstry to his Aunt Nellie.

Here's a curiosity. My research so far has failed to find Henry C. Galster on any list of World War I recipients of the Victoria Cross.

Fixing the Zoning Code

Hudson's zoning code was adopted in 1968, when Hudson was a very different place.
Fifty years later, some problems with the code are obvious: setback requirements that prohibit new construction to replicate or be compatible with existing historic buildings, commercial buildings that can no longer be used for commercial purposes because they are located in residential districts, unrealistic requirements for offstreet parking. All these things keep the Zoning Board of Appeals very busy deliberating over applications both for area variances and for use variances. 

It would seem that the code could be amended to correct these obvious problems, but there was been reluctance to make amendments to the zoning codeexcept, most notably, the one made recently to accommodate the proposed Stewart's expansionin favor of holding out for comprehensive zoning revisions, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars the City allegedly does not have to spend for the purpose.

The Planning Board, however, seems willing to eschew the trepidation about doing things "piecemeal." At the end of its meeting last Thursday, the board discussed making a recommendation to the Common Council about relaxing some of the requirements in the city code for offstreet parking. Currently, hotels must provide one offstreet parking space for every room, and eating and drinking establishments must provide one offstreet parking space for every three seats. These requirements have demanded some pretty inventive solutions for many new enterprises, as well as any number of area variances from the ZBA. There are two projects currently before the ZBA for area variances because of parking. The plan to restore and develop the Park Place firehouses into a marketplace and tasting room for New York State craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries requires, according to the code, 25 offstreet parking spaces. The wine bar planned for 260 Warren Street requires 30 offstreet parking spaces. 

In the discussion on Thursday, Planning Board chair Walter Chatham observed, "We have an overflow of parking capacity," referring to the underutilized municipal parking lots located off Warren Street. He also expressed the opinion, "At the time the parking codes were written, if you had to walk more than ten feet [from your car to your destination], you were putting yourself in danger." That may have been the case in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but probably not in 1968 when the zoning code was adopted. It's more likely the motivation for the parking requirements was to keep Hudson's commercial businesses competitive with Greenport. 

In 1965, just three years before Hudson adopted its zoning code, the Healy Farm93 acres between Fairview Avenue (Route 9) and Union Turnpike (Route 66), just beyond Hudson's northern border—had been sold and was being developed as a shopping center, with acres of parking in close proximity to places of business. Given that circumstance, it's easy to attribute Hudson's parking requirements to a desire to ensure that parking for patrons of Hudson businesses was as convenient as that provided in Greenportthat goal coupled with no compunction about demolishing old buildings and creating parking lots in their stead. This house, the home of Elihu and Eliza Gifford, parents of the Hudson River School painter Sanford Robinson Gifford, was demolished during that era, in 1965, and its location turned into a parking lot.

In what may have been his last bit of advice as counsel to a Hudson regulatory board, assistant city attorney Mitch Khosrova told the Planning Board, "The quicker you make a recommendation to simplify the parking, the better."

Only a Week from Today

The Hudson Polar Plunge happens just week from today, on Saturday, February 23. The ten-day forecast promises weather quite suitable for taking the plunge--partly cloudy with temperatures above freezing throughout the day.

There is still time to register to take the plunge or to support those already committed to diving into the chilly waters of Oakdale Lake. To do either, click here.

Photo: Zach Neven
Immediately after the plunge, the Great Chili Cook-Off takes place at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street. A pot of fabulous chili is all that's needed to enter the competition. A hearty appetite and a taste for heat is all that's needed to participate in the consumption and the judging. Click here (and scroll down) or email Tamar Adler for details. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Tomorrow in Germantown

In the coming week, Congressman Antonio Delgado will hold six town halls in various places throughout the district. The first of those town halls will take place tomorrow, Saturday, February 16, right here in Columbia County. From 2:00 to 3:00 p.m., Delgado will be in Germantown at the Kellner Community Center, 65 Palatine Park Road. 

And Then There Was One

In 2017, the City of Hudson employed three attorneys: Ken Dow was the city attorney--"corporation counsel"; Andy Howard was counsel to the Council; and Mitch Khosrova was counsel to the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Historic Preservation Commission. Beginning in January 2018, there were just two attorneys: Howard was city attorney, and Khosrova was assistant city attorney, counsel to the regulatory boards. This morning, Gossips received the following announcement from City Hall:
City of Hudson Mayor Rick Rector announced today that there have been revisions to the City's legal advisory group. Andrew Howard, Corporation Counsel for the City of Hudson, will be assuming the additional role as legal counsel to the City's three regulatory boards, which include the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Historic Preservation Commission.
This change will streamline the legal communication process for all city departments, agencies, boards and commissions. "Establishing a single voice for matters related to legal issues is something we have been evaluating and discussing for the past several months," said Mayor Rector.
"The community and I extend our thanks and appreciation to Mitchell Khosrova for his outstanding work with the three regulatory boards for the last few years," stated Rector. "Mitch has been loyal and consistent and will be missed."

Stewart's at the Planning Board

Last night, Chuck Marshall of Stewart's Shops made his first appearance at the Planning Board, seeking site plan approval for the new convenience store and gas station to be constructed at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue.

The plan submitted to the Planning Board did not substantively differ from the plan submitted to the Common Council in January 2018, when Stewart's petitioned the Council to change the City's zoning to enable its plans to expand the store: two houses get demolished, a larger store is sited at the north end of the newly enlarged lot, the gas canopy with four fueling positions is out in front, and the store itself has the same gable design.

The application to the Planning Board, however, was accompanied by a cover letter to Planning Board chair Walter Chatham from Marshall, which, among other things, defended the gable roof design for "mirroring the peaks of the surrounding residential buildings," explained why the gas tanks could not be hidden behind the building, and used Chatham's own words to laud the Stewart's plan: 
In a recent article on, I saw that your new favorite axiom is "the perfect shall not be the enemy of the good." I can't think of a more relevant planning and zoning re-development project than this one to prove the importance of that axiom.
In fact, it was a post on Gossips that reported Chatham's "new favorite axiom," which he had shared in reference to the design for the proposed Hudson Housing Authority project--a design he called "well-intentioned" because it "adopted a number of New Urbanism strategies."

Although Marshall considered the gable roof design compatible with the surrounding neighborhood because it "mirrored the peaks of the surrounding residential buildings," Chatham called it "countrified," saying the site required a more urban building type. He and Planning Board member Betsy Gramkow had identified another Stewart's model that would be more suitable for the site, one found on Hoosick Street in Troy. The following are Google images of that building.

The building appears to have two stories, but in fact the higher walls simply conceal HVAC equipment on the roof. Recognizing that compatibility has more to do with scale and proportion than with details like gables, Gramkow noted that all the surrounding buildings were at least two stories and those across the street--across both Fairview Avenue and Green Street--were on a slope, making them higher still, so the design with greater height was more appropriate. Marshall assured the board, "Tell me what you want, and I'll do my best to get as close as I can."

Various board members expressed concerns about lighting and driveways and landscaping and pedestrians. Chatham noted that the store building would buffer the adjacent house on Fairview Avenue but the adjacent house on Green Street would be completely exposed to the traffic at the gas pumps. Marshall explained there would be a grade change and a retaining wall. He suggested there might be a four-foot vinyl fence above the retaining wall to screen the site. Chatham suggested arborvitae.

Although the Planning Board has not determined the application to be complete, it was felt that public input should be heard early on in the process. For that reason, it was decided that a public hearing on the proposal would be held at the board's next meeting, on Thursday, March 14. At that meeting Creighton Manning, the engineering firm that did the traffic study for the project, is also expected to appear to discuss that study with the Planning Board.

HCDPA and Its Land for Sale

Last year, HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) decided to divest itself of most of the property it owns, to bankroll the agency and further its mission. In July 2018, a narrow lot on Columbia Street was sold to Shannan McGee. McGee, who owns the adjacent property, had been petitioning HCDPA for months to sell him the strip of land. The minimum bid had been set at $20,000; McGee's bid was $31,110.

Since then, HCDPA's attempts to sell its property have not been so successful. Last fall, HCDPA tried to sell the lot at 238 Columbia Street (now without the majestic tree), again by sealed bids. There were no bidders.

In January, HCDPA offered 238 Columbia Street for sale again, along with 202-206 Columbia Street, the parcel that was once half of a community garden. 

The sealed bids were to be submitted on February 14, and yesterday, at the monthly meeting of the HCDPA board, the bids were opened. There were no bids for the once hotly contested lot at the corner of Columbia and Second streets. For 238 Columbia Street, there were two bids: Per Blomquist, who plans to build two multi-unit buildings at 248-250 Columbia, offered $5,000 for the lot and indicated his intention to construct there a building similar to what he is planning for 248 and 250 Columbia; Matt Parker offered $3,000 and said he would build "a single-family house for affordable housing." 

Mayor Rick Rector, who sits ex officio on the HCDPA board, declared the bids a "crazy low price" and moved to reject both. (The lot is assessed for $32,000. When the lot was offered for sale last fall, the minimum bid was set at $30,000). The motion carried unanimously.

There was discussion of how the properties could be better marketed and questions about legal constraints for the agency in selling property, but no definite path forward was determined.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Last Night at the Hudson Housing Authority

The topic of the new buildings being proposed by the Hudson Housing Authority was introduced at last night's meeting with a statement by Randall Martin, the vice chair of the Board of Commissioners. Martin said that HHA was "taking time to reevaluate the project" and would "get back to the public regarding the State Street project." For the time being, he explained, the focus would be on the renovation of Bliss Towers.

In an effort to establish the need for more public housing in Hudson, the HHA board presented data gathered from the agencies in Hudson now providing publicly subsidized housing. That data is presented on the chart below.

Mary Ann Gazzola suggested that among the 1,386 names on the waiting lists there might be duplicates and then asked, "Are we housing our people or filling a regional need?" Her question seemed reasonable enough. She was curious to know if the people on the waiting lists were already part of the community or were seeking to move to Hudson from somewhere else. Although she didn't say it in so many words, Gazzola seemed concerned about Hudson, a very small city with a very small tax base, assuming responsibility for a disportionate number of people needing publicly subsidized housing. Citing the city planning game SimCity, she talked about the need for balance in urban development, noting that, in the game, which mirrors reality, overbuilding in any area causes a crash.

Daniel Hubbell, mixed finance development legal counsel for the project, honed in on Gazzola's use of the phrase "our people" and delivered a lecture on how, in the United States, people have the constitutional right to live where they want to live and spoke of putting constitutional protections at risk. He told Gazzola, "I don't find value in discussing 'our people.'" 

Mark Morgan-Perez quoted from the HUD website regarding waiting lists, which supported the idea that there could be a preference for people who are already residing in the community: 
Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local HAs [housing authorities], long waiting periods are common. In fact, an HA may close its waiting list when there are more families on the list than can be assisted in the near future.
Each HA has the discretion to establish preferences to reflect the needs in its own community. These preferences will be included in the HAs written policy manual.
Hubbell then conceded that "the board has heard the concerns and is rethinking the scope of the project."

When Don Moore asked about the process going forward, Hubbell said that the environmental studies had not yet been completed. He said that borings had been done on the north side of State Street--the site of the proposed new buildings--as well as at Bliss Towers. "The hope is still to renovate Bliss Towers," Hubbell explained, but they are "waiting for the environmental reports to come back." He also acknowledged that environmental tests were not the only reason the project has been suspended.

Just before the board went into executive session "to discuss Master Development Agreement (MDA and related development project matters," Common Council president Tom DePietro presented to the HHA board a list of eighty-seven properties owned by the City of Hudson. The list was presented in response to board chair Alan Weaver's challenges in the past that if the City didn't want more subsidized housing concentrated in the Second Ward, where HHA already owns property, it should donate alternative sites to HHA. What DePietro gave the board was the complete list of City-owned properties from the tax rolls, a list that includes city buildings and facilities and public parks but not very many viable building sites. DePietro encouraged the board to explore the entire list and added, "If HDC decides to plat the Kaz site, one of those [lots] could be available."