Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fifty Years Ago, Not Far From Here

Frank Engels|The Guthrie Center

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Sturgeon and the Bridge

In the 18th century, the term "Albany beef" was coined for sturgeon. Up until the 20th century, the large, almost prehistoric looking creatures were regularly fished, and their flesh consumed as food.

Today, both the Atlantic sturgeon, the largest fish in the Hudson and the icon of the Hudson River Estuary Program, and the shortnose sturgeon, which is particularly associated with Hudson and the North Bay, are both federally protected endangered species. 

Recently, Riverkeeper raised the alarm that concurrent with the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge there has been a dramatic rise in the mortality rate of both Atlantic sturgeon and shortnose sturgeon. Click here to learn more about the threat to Hudson River sturgeon and what you can do to help protect them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Council on the Budget

On Monday night, the Common Council held a special meeting to adopt the 2016 city budget. The resolution before them read:
RESOLVED, that the items set forth in the attached statement in the aggregate to the sum of $13,225,752 be and hereby adopted, and the same shall compose the January 1December 31, 2016 budget, and the amount of $4,879,753 shall be raised by the next annual tax levy in the City of Hudson for the purpose expressed pursuant to the provisions of the City Charter.
Typically, the meeting to adopt the budget, which must take place within twenty days after the budget is presented by the mayor, is pretty much pro forma, but that was not the case this time. Although the Common Council cannot add things to the budget, it can remove them, and Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) suggested that the money budgeted for parking meters in the 200 block of Warren Street be removed from the budget. Friedman argued that there were no municipal parking lots below Third Street and no off-street parking; therefore, residents and business owners had no option but to park on the street.

Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) argued that "business owners welcome parking meters," claiming that there was "no room for patrons to park because people from other blocks park on the 200 block" where there are now no parking meters. 

Friedman, whose law practice is located in the 200 block, disagreed with her. "There is never a complaint about the lack of short-term parking in December [when parking is free on all blocks of Warren Street]," he asserted.

Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward) said he was getting mixed messages from his constituents about meters on the 200 block. "Initially, I embraced meters," he said, "but now it is mixed." Rector asked how parking meters for the 200 block had gotten into the budget in the first place and was told it was a suggestion "from an alderman in the Second Ward." City treasurer Heather Campbell explained that the original suggestion was to install meters all the way from Front Street to Third Street, but the Board of Estimate and Apportionment agreed to meters on just one block.

Council president Don Moore suggested that the cost and benefit of the meters needed to be considered. "I'm not sure the revenue is great enough to justify the meters." Campbell, however, assured the Council that "revenues from meters and fines outweigh the expenses."

Friedman argued that a better source of revenue would be ticketing people for moving violations. "We nickel and dime our own residents," he complained, "instead of enforcing the law."

At some point it was suggested that the $50,000 to go to the Galvan Foundation for the senior center should also be removed from the budget. Friedman called the $100,000 exacted from the City by Galvan ($50,000 a year for two years) "wealthfare" and went on to say, "It makes perfect sense to me--pulling the meters and the $50,000 to Galvan." 

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) called the money to Galvan "ransom" and told his colleagues, "You're selling your birthright." The latter comment provoked Alderman Bob "Doc" Donahue tell Haddad, "Your birthright isn't Hudson, New York! That's for sure!"

In the end, the resolution put forward was simply to remove from the budget the $25,000 allocated for parking meters on the 200 block of Warren Street. Moore, Friedman, and Henry Haddad (Third Ward) voted yes to remove the budget item; Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward), Donahue, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Nick Haddad, Alexis Keith, Rector, and Stewart all voted no.  Abdus Miah (Second Ward) was absent from the meeting.

When the resolution to adopt the budget was voted on, all present voted in the affirmative except Friedman, who voted no.

The New Mayor and the Commissioners

The positions of commissioners in Hudson--there are five, with varying levels of visibility and de facto responsibility: Police, Fire, Public Works, Youth, and Aging--are mayoral appointees who receive an annual stipend of $1,000. It is reported today in the Register-Star that mayor elect Tiffany Martin Hamilton has made a decision about one of the commissioners, asking Gary Graziano, who has served as police commissioner for the past four years, to continue in that position: "Police commissioner asked to stay."  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Learn About the Proposed HCSD Capital Project

This morning, in response to yesterday's post about the capital project being planned by the Hudson City School District, Maria Suttmeier, HCSD superintendent, contacted Gossips to provide the following information:
While the project is still in its early developmental stages, the BOE is committed to complete transparency and welcomes input from all interested stakeholders. As such, anyone interested in learning more about the rationale for and scope of the project is welcome to attend the public BOE meeting this evening at 7:00 in the Junior High School Library. There will also be multiple opportunities for the community to meet with the district regarding this project once we are through the initial discussions regarding the scope of work. I will also be dedicating my December column that appears monthly in both the Register Star and Columbia Paper to this topic. 

Economic Development "Hunger Games"

Gossips lost track of URI (Upstate Revitalization Initiative) since it was first discussed at a Hudson Development Corporation Quarterly Community Update meeting in August, but today, the Albany Business Review reports that the winners in the competition for $500 million will be revealed in a couple of weeks, on December 10: "When we'll find out if the Capital Region gets $500 million in state money."

In the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the seven upstate regions of New York are competing for $500 million--$100 million a year for five years--which only three of them will get. The Capital Region, of which Columbia County is a part, paid a consulting firm $2 million to prepare its proposal for the competition. The document was completed at the beginning of October and can to reviewed here.

If it is announced on December 10 that the Capital Region is to receive $500 million for economic development, the burning question for us in Hudson is: Can a couple million of that pot of money go to repairing or replacing the Ferry Street Bridge?

What is being proposed for the Capital Region is described as "a plan of five integrated and mutually reinforcing strategies": New-Tech, Gateway, Talent, Lift-Off, and Metro. The Ferry Street Bridge project fits nicely into at least two of these strategies.

The strategy called called Gateway is about "connecting markets and businesses." The following is quoted from the proposal document:
The Capital Region has one of the most unique and desirable geographic positions in North America, one that will only become more valuable given future trends. This strategy will invest in our port infrastructure and waterways, and support our fast-growing distribution and logistics cluster, to make sure that our companies and entrepreneurs are able to respond to external opportunities and have access to the critical inputs and customers. We are committed to ensuring that we will continue to be the critical gateway that all of Upstate New York relies on and needs.
Produce from Columbia County farms can't get loaded onto vessels like the Apollonia to be transported to New York City unless the trucks from the farms can get over the bridge to the waterfront.

The strategy called Metro is about "building vibrant cities for businesses and families." Again, quoting from the document:
Smart urban investments are essential to the economic development, health, and vibrancy of a region, and we are committed to investing in our six, unique urban areas—Albany, Glens Falls, Hudson, Saratoga, Schenectady, and Troy. This strategy is an integrated portfolio of investment that will: catalyze smart, mixed-use urban development; take a place-based approach to supporting small businesses and tackling blight in our most challenged neighborhoods; and better connect workers to jobs and improve transportation equity.
Hudson is one of the "six unique urban areas" mentioned specifically in this strategy, and the argument can certainly be made that the Ferry Street would be a "smart urban investment" that would contribute to the "economic development, health, and vibrancy" of Hudson. Columbia County, and the region as a whole.

Getting the money will take more than a press conference in front of the barricades at Ferry Street Bridge and the claim that the State of New York owes us for maintaining the state boat launch on our waterfront for fifty years, but first, the Capital Region needs to be one of the three regions chosen to receive $500 million.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Float the Boat

The beloved sloop Clearwater is undergoing the most complicated and expensive overhaul in its history, the cost of which is $850,000. Half the amount needed has been provided by the State of New York, and grants are being sought from other major sources, but contributions are also needed from everyone who cherishes the Clearwater and supports its mission. Watch the video "Float the Boat" to learn more about Clearwater, the restoration, and how you can help.


Another HCSD Capital Project in the Offing

On Tuesday, the Common Council received a communication from a senior associate at the engineering firm Weston & Sampson, informing the City that the Hudson City School District Board of Education intends to undertake a capital project and has prepared the Environmental Assessment Forms necessary to begin the environmental review. According to the communication, the project consists of:
  • An approximately 18,000 square foot building addition to the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School, renovation of and additions to existing parking areas (± 100 new stalls), and relocation of the drive aisle around the school.
  • The acquisition of approximately 1 acre of land on an adjacent property to provide room for the new expansion.
A rough drawing on a satellite map which was part of the communication shows that the proposed addition would be on the south side of the building and the acre of land to be acquired is located behind Crosswinds.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), believing that the communication was somehow a request for money from the City, stated, "It is very difficult for this City to support this school district financially." He cited the district's spending per student and its shameful graduation rate. He went on to complain that "nobody from this district has ever come before this body." 

Although Friedman was mistaken about the nature of the communication (rather than asking for anything, it simply informed city officials that HCSD was initiating a SEQRA review and declaring itself lead agency), his complaint about HCSD being less than forthcoming about plans for which it expects community support is a valid one. When Gossips tried to learn more about this project, all that could be discovered was that the proposed addition to the middle school may be part of a larger capital project, the principal elements of which are a new soccer field and "sports complex" at the high school, which is expected to go to referendum in a special school district election in January or February. Completing the environmental review for the proposed projects is a prerequisite to seeking funding. However, it seems that the proposed addition to Montgomery C. Smith was discussed at the last HCSD Board of Education meeting. Jeanette Wolfberg reported what transpired in the Columbia Paper: "Hudson plans first steps toward consolidating schools."

Another Opera House

Soon, we will no longer be able just to say "the opera house" and expect people will know we are talking about the Hudson Opera House. Former Hudson residents Jeff Mousseau and Paul Ricciardi are the new owners and directors of the Ancram Opera House, and they are planning a new theater season beginning next summer.

Mousseau and Ricciardi are inviting everyone to an open house at the Ancram Opera House on Saturday, November 28, from 2 to 5 p.m., to introduce themselves and to learn more about the interests of the community. You can learn more about the event and the future plans for the performance space in Columbia Paper: "Opera House to open again in Ancram."

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Preserving the Symmetry

On November 13, a new design for the facade of 523 Warren Street, formerly the location of Earth Foods, was presented to the Historic Preservation Commission. The design, which eliminated the doorway at the right of the building and moved the entrance to the commercial space and the upper floors to the left of the building, was rejected because it did not preserve the symmetry of the building's original design.

Yesterday, a new design for the storefront was presented to the HPC. Although still moving both entrances to the left side of the building, the new design re-creates the symmetry of the building's original design with pilasters and the placement of windows.

The new design was unanimously approved by the five members of the HPC present at yesterday's meeting--Peggy Polenberg, David Voorhees, Rick Rector, Phil Forman, and Miranda Barry.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Different City, A Different Tall Garage

In September, the Historic Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness to the plan to turn a little garage situated between two 19th-century houses on upper Warren Street into a a building twice its height.

Recently, a reader gave me an article clipped from the August issue of New York Magazine which was all about a similarly heightened garage in a suburb of Syracuse, set in the midst of early 20th-century Dutch Colonial clapboard houses.

You can read article about the building, designed by architect Jon Lott and dubbed Haffenden House, and see pictures of the interior here.

Diamond Opera Theater This Weekend

This evening and tomorrow afternoon, Diamond Opera Theater, in association with the Hudson Opera House, will present, at Christ Church, a semi-staged condensation of Engelbert Humperdinck's fairy tale opera, Hansel & Gretel.

The role of Hansel will be sung by mezza soprano Teresa Buchholz, soprano Catherine Forbes will appear as Gretel, soprano Emilia Cedriana Donato will portray the Sandman and the Dew Fairy, and mezzo soprano Mary Deyerle Hack will play the part of the Witch.

The performance on Friday, November 20, begins at 6 p.m.; the performance on Saturday, November 21, begins at 2 p.m. The condensed presentation is expected to last about an hour. Children will be admitted free; a donation of $10 is suggested for adults. Christ Church is located at the corner of Union and East Court streets in Hudson.

Of Interest

Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), the group that earlier this year was the subject of an Authorities Budget Office investigation for its handling of the sale of county-owned property to Ginsberg's Foods, is looking to mend its ways, change its image, and recruit new members. Katie Kocijanski reports on the latter effort in today's Register-Star"New CEDC board members sought."

Thursday, November 19, 2015

At the Next Table

Gossips spent the day at the Board of Elections counting absentee ballots, at the table where uncontested races were being counted. It was a routine and tedious process, but across the room much more exciting things were happening as the absentee ballots for Ghent were being counted. For those who remember the protracted dispute over the absentee ballots for Taghkanic in 2010, it was déjà vu all over again. Sam Pratt tells the story: "With Nastke's help, GOP lawyers make a mockery of the election process."