Sunday, July 22, 2018

This Week at the ZBA

Often the first information about new projects in Hudson, especially those not located in a historic district, comes at the Zoning Board of Appeals, and this past week's ZBA meeting provided news of a few interesting projects. The first is 514 State Street.

This building is one of the many buildings in Hudson that were part of Phil Gellert's vast "Northern Empire." In recent years, Gellert has been selling his property in Hudson, and this building now has a new owner. Kristal Heinz, who is representing the new owner, was at the ZBA meeting on Wednesday seeking an area variance for parking. The rehabbed building will have seven units--two on each of the three floors and one in the basement. The plans include creating three offstreet parking spaces behind the building. (Currently there are none.) Hudson's zoning requires one offstreet parking space for every dwelling unit, so the building is four short, and an area variance is required.

Heinz was also representing the owner of 248 and 250 Columbia Street at the meeting. 

What's being sought for this project is a lot line adjustment to make the two lots, which are now of different sizes, of equal size. Unfortunately, once the two lots are of equal size, the two houses now there, two among the very few on that block of Columbia Street that survived urban renewal, will be demolished.  

Two new structures will be built on the lots, both to contain rental apartments.

The third proposal of interest involves constructing a new building with a residential unit over a two-car garage in the first block of Partition Street, behind 17-19 Union Street. Variances are needed from the ZBA for setbacks and for lot coverage.

The project, which is also before the Historic Preservation Commission, once again puts the desire to build secondary dwellings in alleys and backyards to create affordable new housing in conflict with the desire to preserve the character of Hudson's alleys. (Although Partition Street is a street, it has the character of an alley.) The project as proposed also involves the elimination of an old stone retaining wall to create offstreet parking spaces and replacing it with a "veneered stone" retaining wall.

The ZBA will hold public hearings on these three projects, as well as a proposal to build an 8-foot fence at 939 Columbia Street and a proposal to construct a solar carport at 65-67 North Third Street, on Wednesday, August 15, at 6 p.m.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Tomorrow Is Mrs. Greenthumbs Day

The Mrs. Greenthumbs Day Garden Tour happens tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.--rain or shine! There are twenty-one gardens on the tour this year. The map below is all you need to chart your course from garden to garden throughout the city.

You can click on the map to enlarge it and print your own copy. Or you can pick up a copy of the map at any of the following places:
  • Nolita Café, 454 Warren Street
  • The Secret Gardener, 250 Warren Street
  • Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House, 327 Warren Street
  • Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street
  • Pondside Nursery, 5918 Route 9G
Balloons mark the entrance to each garden.

The garden tour is free, but there will be an opportunity at each garden to show your appreciation by making a contribution to the Hudson Parks Conservancy. 

From 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, the Hudson Parks Conservancy is hosting a Parks Party at The Secret Gardener, 250 Warren Street. The party celebrates the launch of the Hudson Parks Conservancy, whose goal is to partner with the City of Hudson in maintaining and improving Hudson's parks, to ensure that these most democratic of spaces enrich the lives of all Hudsonians and are a source of community pride. Click here for more information about the Parks Party and to RSVP.

Friday, July 20, 2018

SNAP and Farmers Markets: Crisis Averted

Photo: Amy Brown
Last week, Gossips reported that a change in a government contract would result in farmers markets, including the Hudson Farmers Market, not being able accept SNAP benefits after July 31. What happened was this. A not-for-profit called Farmers Market Coalition had been running the program that funds the equipment used at farmers markets to scan SNAP cards. Last November, the contract for this program was up for renewal, and the federal government chose a different contractor for this program, a group called Financial Transaction Management, LLC. The new contractor decided to replace the software vendor that processes SNAP benefits, Novo Dia, with its own provider, and as a consequence Novo Dia, unable to cover the costs of the software, announced it was going out of business. Its service to farmers markets would end on July 31. Without Novo Dia's technology, farmers markets could not accept SNAP benefits.

Yesterday, though, it was announced that the not-for-profit National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs would fund Novo Dia at least until the end of August. It is expected that the extension will allow time for a new system to be put in place so there will be no disruption in the ability to use SNAP benefits at farmers markets. Click here for more information.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

OutHudson Awards Gala

Last night, OutHudson held its second annual awards gala at Helsinki Hudson, recognizing notable entries in this year's OutHudson Pride Parade. There were awards in seven pre-announced categories and also some special awards. The winners in the seven categories were:

Best in Theme (Superheroes): KS Fitness
Screen capture: Dan Udell Video

Most Kitschy-est: The Gossips of Rivertown
Photo: Beth Schneck Photography

Most MARVEL-ous: Camphill Hudson
Photo: Catherine Dodge Smith
RainBOWIE-est: Five and Diamond Rainbow Girls
Photo: JD Urban Photography

Most Villainous: Girlgantua
Photo: JD Urban Photography
Most Gender-bending: Lil Deb's Oasis
Photo: JD Urban Photography

Most OUT-rageous: Poke the Bear
Photo: JD Urban Photography

Lifetime Achievement awards were given to Carol Lavender and Peter Frank for their tireless work in organizing the Pride Parade in Hudson for the past nine years. A Judges' Choice award was given to Luci and Jes Cunningham and the whale.

Photo: Lance Wheeler for Columbia-Greene Media
A Participation Award was given to the Flag Day Committee. This year, in the spirit of unity, OutHudson Pride marchers had a contingent in the Flag Day Parade on Saturday, June 9, and the Flag Day Committee marched in the Pride Parade the next Saturday, on June 16. 

Rich Volo, a.k.a. Trixie Starr, one of the three founders of OutHudson and the principal organizer the Pride Parade since 2010, was the emcee for the awards gala. Much to his surprise, he was the recipient of an award for being "Hudson's Hometown Homo Hero." The award was presented by Andrea Elliott, wearing a flared polka dot dress and the iconic Trixie Starr wig and sunglasses.

Photo: JD Urban Photography
There were two Honorable Mention awards. Talbot and Arding were honored for being "The Cheesiest."

Screen capture: Dan Udell Video

The Wigstockers contingent was declared "Best in Show."

Photo: JD Urban Photography

Disappointing News

The Register-Star reports today that Andrea "Cricket" Coleman, who was elected as Columbia County coroner in November with the support of 55 percent of the voters, has resigned, after serving in that position for fewer than seven months: "Coleman, elected in November, resigns as coroner."  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Of Interest

Yesterday, Tuesday, July 17, the New York Times published an article about Antonio Delgado's early and brief rap career as "AD the Voice": "A Congressional Candidate Used to Be a Rapper. Will It Matter?" The following is quoted from that article:
In 2007, Mr. Delgado released a rap album featuring lyrics that criticize capitalism and America's history of racial injustice. They include frequent use of a racial epithet common among black rappers, and criticize some of the founders as "dead presidents" who "believe in white supremacy."
[John] Faso is trying to use the lyrics against him, saying they are "inconsistent with the views of the people of the 19th District and America."
Today, Wednesday, July 18, the Times published an opinion piece by its editorial board titled "Voters, You're Too Smart to Fall for John Faso's Bigotry." The editorial begins:
Representative John Faso must think very little of his constituents in New York's 19th Congressional District in the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains.
He's counting on their being bigots.
Both the article and the editorial are recommended reading.

The City's Business

Last night at the Common Council meeting, eighteen resolutions were passed unanimously, one was tabled until the Council had more information, a local law was enacted, and another was placed on the aldermen's desks.

Among the resolutions passed, the following are of interest.
  • The Council voted to sell the vacant lot at 67 Fairview Avenue for $35,000 to the owner of the business next door, Stella's Pizzeria. In 2013, the City paid $26,000 to demolish the house that stood in the site (shown in the photograph below), an amount that was then charged to the absentee owner of the house in property taxes. In 2017, the property, then a vacant lot, was seized for nonpayment of property taxes, and in November 2017 it was offered for sale at auction with the minimum bid being the amount then owed in back taxes: $52,215.15. There were no bidders for the property.
Photo: Scott Baldinger

  • The Council voted to support the route of the Empire State Trail through Hudson. Before casting his vote, Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) asked for confirmation that no parking would be lost on the two blocks of Allen Street included in the route.

  • The Council voted to support the efforts of Friends of Oakdale Lake and a design project to be undertaken by the Hudson Valley Initiative at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning.

  • The Council adopted the Strategic Housing Action Plan. Before the vote was taken, Alderman Rob Bujan (First Ward) wanted to know why the resolution hadn't gone to the Housing and Transportation Committee before coming to the full Council for a vote. Council president Tom DePietro gave two reasons: (1) the chair of the Housing and Transportation Committee, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), was a member of the Housing Task Force that created the document; (2) the goal was to "get it in place before this round of CFA grants." There has not yet been word that the City or any of its agencies will be applying for grant funding for any housing related projects in the CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) process. What DePietro didn't mention was that the Housing and Transportation Committee hasn't met for a couple of months, its meetings for June and July both being canceled. 
  • The Council approved the new fifteen-year, nonexclusive franchise agreement with Mid-Hudson Cable. DePietro stressed that the franchise agreement relates only to cable TV service.
  • The Council approved a land swap with HCDPA (Housing Community Development and Planning Agency). The City gets the lot that is Thurston Park, in the 200 block of Warren Street, and HCDPA gets the half of the lot at the end of Warren Street that belonged to the City to create a single developable lot. The idea is to build something on the site to replace the two buildings, visible in the photograph below, that were demolished during urban renewal.

  • The Council also approved the issuance of serial bonds, in an amount not to exceed $360,000, to purchase air packs for the Fire Department.
  • The Council also passed two resolutions relating to the application for a grant from Empire State Development to do a parking study. The first determined that such a study would be a Type II action under SEQR; the second authorized the mayor to apply for the grant.   

The law the Council enacted last night was Local Law No. 4 of 2018, the vacant buildings law, which will require owners to register uninhabited buildings and pay a fee for each year a building remains unoccupied. Before the Council voted, Bujan proposed amending the law to double the annual fee for vacant buildings, increasing the fee from $250 to $500 in the first year, $500 to $1,000 in the second, $1,000 to $2,000 in the third, $1,500 to $3,000 in the fourth, and from $2,000 to $4,000 in the fifth year and every subsequent year. The aldermen agreed to the amendment and voted unanimously to enact the law as amended. The next step for the law will be a public hearing held by the mayor before signing or vetoing the legislation.

By a motion and a second, the aldermen agreed to lay Local Law No. 5 of 2018--the "Stewart's proposal--on their desks and to send it to the Hudson Planning Board and the Columbia County Planning Board for review and a recommendation. DePietro reminded the aldermen that the recommendations of the planning boards are "advisory not binding."

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Rick Rector spoke about the thirteen projects that have been approved for DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) funding. Rector explained that a state representative will be assigned to each of the projects and "we have to have the money upfront," in other words, the City has spent $9.7 million before it will be reimbursed $9.7 million. "The fun starts now," said the mayor.

Dan Udell's video of last night's Council meeting can now be viewed by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Moment from Tonight's Council Meeting

Gossips will report fully on tonight's Common Council meeting, but for now I want to share just one moment. After a motion and second to lay proposed Local Law No. 5--the law that would amend the zoning in R-2 and R-2H districts to allow the expansion of "two historic nonconforming uses"--on the aldermen's desks, Council president Tom DePietro invited comment on what he said "has come to be called the 'Stewart's proposal.'" 

Michael LeSawyer, whose house is situated midway between Stewart's and Scali's, the "two historic nonconforming uses" that would benefit from the zoning amendment, complained about the inequity of the amendment: "Stewart's can do anything they want, Scali's can do anything they want, but I can't." He went on to say that if he was subject to the constraints of living in an R-2 district, he expected some benefits.

John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who as chair of the Legal Committee is principally responsible for crafting the proposed amendment, reproved LeSawyer, telling him, "Everybody has to balance their concerns with wider community concerns." To which LeSawyer countered, without missing a beat, "The community wanted a dog park."

To recall what happened most recently in the decade long effort to build a dog park in Hudson, click here and here

The Future for Oakdale Lake

At tonight's Common Council meeting, the aldermen will be voting on a resolution "supporting the efforts of The Friends of Oakdale Lake"--in particular supporting a design project to be undertaken by the Hudson Valley Initiative at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning.

The idea for the project originated with Tamar Adler, who realized, when she started taking her two-year-old son to Oakdale, "both what a treasure we have in Oakdale and how badly certain things were needed there. It was easy for me to see that some of its underuse was the fault of perception issues: even the most basic understanding of how humans interact with their environments dictates that we need clues, encouragement, and to see other people doing what we might want to do." Adler suggests that "human interventions in the form of docks, platforms, stairs, free paddle boards or paddle boats, natural/ecological water quality improvement etc. can keep humans in excited and regular interactions with this/these [natural] spaces."

Adler's enthusiasm for Oakdale and her desire to see its many "lovely and promising attributes" enhanced and appreciated led her to the Hudson Valley Initiative, a program of Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning, which "facilitates applied research into complex spatial, ecological, and economic opportunities in the Hudson Valley." The Hudson Valley Initiative was interested in working with Hudson on a vision for Oakdale's future.

The Hudson Valley Initiative project will cost $10,000, for the stipends, travel expenses, and material expenses of the graduate students who will undertake the studies, conduct the workshops, create the renderings, and write the report. As of this afternoon, all but $120 of the $10,000 has been raised--the first $5,000 in large donations, and the remaining $5,000 through a GoFundMe campaign. Adler says of the proposed study: "This is not 'outsiders' coming and designing something which will then be built, but a group whose specific goal is site-specific, community-specific, collaborative work. Their specialty is helping to tease out a vision in collaboration with a community."

To learn more about the goals of the project, check out "Oakdale Lake: Ideas for Design and Use" and visit the Friends of Oakdale Lake website.

Sunday Is Mrs. Greenthumbs Day 2018

In 2014, a group of people--mostly gardeners but not all--decided to revive a tradition that had started more than a decade earlier: Mrs. Greenthumbs Day, honoring the memory of Hudson's most talented, most exuberant, and most famous gardener, Cassandra Danz, who had a local radio show, appeared on national television, and wrote books as Mrs. Greenthumbs.

Mrs. Greenthumbs Day was and is observed with the most democratic of garden tours. People with gardens they love, work hard at, and are proud of open their gardens to fellow gardeners, gardener wannabes, and garden appreciators. The garden tour is a unique opportunity to view gardens hidden behind buildings and fences and to get inside gardens that can only be tantalizingly glimpsed from the street.

Now a biennial event, Mrs. Greenthumbs Day returns this year on Sunday, July 22. Twenty-one gardens in Hudson will welcome visitors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gardens are clustered together in different locations throughout the city, making walking from garden to garden on this self-guided garden tour, a pleasant stroll around town. The map below shows the locations of all twenty-one gardens. Balloons will mark the entrance to each garden.

Click on the map to enlarge it and then print it out, or email  Gossips to request a pdf of the map. On the day of the tour, maps will be available at Nolita Café, 454 Warren Street; The Secret Gardener, 250 Warren Street; and the Hudson Opera House (Hudson Hall), 327 Warren Street.   

The garden tour is free and open to all, but there will be the opportunity at each garden to show your appreciation by making a contribution to the Hudson Parks Conservancy to support its effort to restore and enhance our city's parks.

When the garden tour is over, garden "tourists" are encouraged to come to the Parks Party, from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Secret Gardener, 250 Warren Street, to celebrate the launch of the Hudson Parks Conservancy. The goal of the new organization is to work with the City of Hudson to enhance the city's public parks and make them sources of community pride that enrich the lives of all Hudsonians. A donation of $40 is requested for the party, which can be paid at the door. Click here to RVSP.

The Great War: July 16, 1918

The banner headline of the Columbia Republican for July 16, 1918, proclaimed: "AMERICANS SMASH THRU GERMAN DRIVE." The subhead elaborates: "After Enemy Had Crossed the Marne River at Chateau-Thierry, the Americans Drove Them Back in Counter-Attacks, Captured 1,600 Prisoners, Cut Off Their Retreat and All Germans on the South Bank of the River Are in Danger of Capture."

Elsewhere on the front page it is reported that "Seventy-Five Boys Left Monday," and at the bottom of the page, there's a picture of those seventy-five "boys," posing on the steps of the Columbia County courthouse.

The second page of the newspaper--the editorial page--also has an item worth sharing: a comment about the seventy-five young men from Columbia County who left the previous day, on their way to war.


Monday, July 16, 2018

What's Happening to America?

Dear Diary,
Am I so old, or has the country--even the part of the country that listens to NPR--been frighteningly "dumbed down"? This evening, some national news was interjected into NPR's special coverage of Donald Trump's summit with Vladimir Putin. Ari Shapiro (I'm pretty sure it was Ari Shapiro) reported that Sears had closed its last store in Chicago and then stated, in a perky manner that suggested listeners would be surprised by the news, "Sears actually was started in 1893 as a mail-order company."
"Micropolitan Diary" is Gossips' homage to and blatant imitation of "Metropolitan Diary" in the New York Times. The term micropolitan was coined (by Gossips) because Hudson is a metropolis in microcosm.

Meetings of Interest This Week . . . and a Gala

The calendar was free of meetings and events today, but that's hardly true for the next three days.

On Tuesday, July 17, there are three meetings of interest, but one of them won't be open to the public.
  • At 1 p.m., the nominating committee of the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) board of directors meets to interview potential new board members. It has been announced that this meeting will be held in executive session. In May, four members of the board--Seth Rapport, Kristal Heinz, Duncan Calhoun, and Brian Stickles--resigned after Common Council president Tom DePietro, who serves on the board ex officio, asked the city attorney to "look into how does one get rid of an LDC [local development corporation]." The whole crisis of confidence grew out of discontent and mistrust regarding HDC's handling of the Kaz redevelopment project.  
  • At 5:30 p.m., the Common Council Finance Committee meets at City Hall. The agenda for the meeting can be viewed here.
  • At 7 p.m., the Common Council holds its regular monthly meeting at City Hall. A number of resolutions introduced last week will be voted on at the meeting, and presumably Council president Tom DePietro will allow the public to comment on the proposed zoning amendment that would allow Stewart's and Scali's to expand in exchange for some unnamed amount of money from Stewart's in the form of a host community benefit agreement. Also to be voted on at the meeting are the resolution to adopt the Strategic Housing Action Plan and the resolution to support the route of the Empire State Trail through the city.

On Wednesday, July 18, there are meetings all day, not all of them open to the public. The good news is that the day ends with a gala.
  • At 12 noon, the HDC governance committee meets to discuss planning for agency administration--something necessitated by the imminent departure of HDC director Sheena Salvino. There is no indication that this meeting will be held in executive session.
  • At 1 p.m., the HDC nominating committee meets again to interview potential new board members. It has been announced that this meeting will held in executive session.
  • At 5:15 p.m., the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at City Hall. The main business of this meeting is always to receive DPW superintendent Rob Perry's report.
  • At 6:00 p.m., the Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a public hearing on a request from Hudson Mainstay, at 437 Warren Street, for an area variance for five offstreet parking spaces behind the building. After the public hearing, the ZBA will conduct its regular monthly meeting.
  • At 7:00 p.m., OutHudson holds its Awards Gala at Helsinki Hudson. There will be live performances, much banter, and the presentation of awards to the most fabulous entries in the 2018 OutHudson Pride Parade. Awards will be given in the following categories: Best in Theme: Superheroes; Most Kitschy-est; Most MARVEL-ous; RainBOWIE-est; Most Villainous, Most Gender-bending; and Most OUT-rageous. A $5 to $10 donation is suggested.

On Thursday, July 19, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. No agenda is yet available for this meeting.

Party for the Parks

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

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

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

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