Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Watch for Yourself

Dan Udell's video of last night's Common Council meeting is now available on YouTube and can be viewed by clicking here


What Can We Do?

Last week, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a landmark report that predicted a dire future for the planet--"worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040." Yesterday, Donald Trump, who has in the past called climate change a hoax, claimed he had a "natural instinct for science," argued that the climate "goes back and forth, back and forth," and maintained that "scientists are divided on whether climate change is the result of human activity." 

In the face of the dire forecast and the current administration's efforts to reverse Obama-era efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and control global warming, there seems little one person can do. This Friday, October 19, at 7:15 p.m. at the Hudson Area Library, you can learn a hundred ways everyday people can battle climate change. A live stream of Drawdown Learn: Teaching a Solutions-Based Approach to Climate Change, featuring environmentalist and entrepreneur Paul Hawken and other experts, will show how reducing greenhouse gases can be both possible and practical.

Paul Hawken
The Drawdown Learn event, presented by the Omega Center for Sustainable Living and organized by Citizens' Climate Lobby in collaboration with Spacesmith architect Wendy Wisbrun, details what has been called "perhaps the most unexpected and hopeful development in the critical effort to reverse global warming." In the live video presentation, Hawken, executive director of Project Drawdown, will highlight findings of this global coalition organized with the goal of reversing global warming. In 2017, Project Drawdown mapped, measured, and modeled the one hundred most substantive solutions to reach "drawdown," the point at which atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases start to decline. After Hawken's overview, a panel discussion with Project Drawdown's expert team will lay out next steps in developing the tools, training, and curriculum needed to help communities join the fight for climate action. 

The event, which starts at 7:15 p.m., is expected to last until 10:00 p.m. A wine and cheese reception follows the live-stream video presentation. The Hudson Area Library is located at 51 North Fifth Street. Click here to RSVP. 

For a little background in preparation for Friday's event: Last September, Bill Maher, on his show Real Time, spoke with Hawken about his book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. That conversation can be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.

On the Topic of City Spending

This morning, on his blog Fourth Ward Hudson, Fourth Ward alderman Rich Volo elaborates on his concerns about the retroactive pay increase for part-time city workers and about city spending in general: "Permanent Part-Time Raise Resolution and City Spending." The post provides important information that all Hudson residents should be aware of, especially now when the city budget for 2019 is being hammered out.

Highlights from the Common Council Meeting

The current Common Council may well be remembered for holding the shortest meetings in recent memory. Tonight's lasted only half an hour but left the observer with some questions and concerns. The first has to do with Local Law No. 5

At last night's meeting, the Common Council received as a communication a letter from Walter Chatham stating the Planning Board's recommendation about the proposed amendment to the zoning in R2 and R2H districts. The recommendation made in the letter is essentially what Gossips has already reported, except what had been referred to as the "suburban retrofit toolkit" is identified in the letter as the Sprawl Repair Manual. At the meeting tonight, Council president Tom DePietro read the letter aloud, in its entirety. The essential message of the letter is contained in the first sentence: "After lengthy discussion, the Hudson Planning Board agrees to support proposed Local Law No. 5, provided that it be conditioned by use of Smart Code principles, and in particular that the relevant planning principles of the Sprawl Repair Manual by Galina Tachieva be incorporated into the LL5 site plan requirements."

When DePietro finished reading the letter and set it aside without comment, Alderman Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) asked what the next step for the law was. DePietro answered, "We're going to vote on it--not this time." He then amended that statement by saying there would be a public hearing. 

It would seem that if the Council were to respect the recommendation of the Planning Board, which it waited three months to receive, the law would have to be amended to make specific reference to SmartCode and the Sprawl Repair Manual, otherwise the members of the Planning Board could be accused of being arbitrary and capricious when they tried to apply those principles in a site plan review, but there was no mention of amending the law.

Going into the meeting, Gossips expected that the Council wouldn't be able to vote on the resolution to sell the lot at 255-257 Columbia Street to the Hudson Islamic Center for $25,561. Alderman Rob Bujan (First Ward) would not be present, and aldermen Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward) and Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), as members of the Hudson Islamic Center, would have to recuse themselves. A vote to sell property requires a three-fourths majority, which is defined in the code as nine votes, so even if DePietro, who never votes, believing that the Council president, like the Vice President of the United States in the Senate, should only vote to break a tie, were to vote, the number of aye votes would still fall one short of the nine required.

But there was no mention of recusal, and Sarowar and Mizan both voted, along with the other seven aldermen present, to sell the lot, which the Hudson Islamic Center plans to use for parking.

When the Council got to the resolution to raise the wage of all permanent part-time employees to $15 an hour, retroactive to the beginning of 2018, Volo pointed out that making the wage increases retroactive to the beginning of the year required taking "an extra $72,000 out of the fund balance." He made a motion that the increase only be retroactive for two months instead of from the beginning of the year, eliminating the need to raid the fund balance. No one seconded his motion.

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) then moved to table the resolution to provide time to identify funds already budgeted to pay for the wage increases. The motion was seconded, but when it came to a vote, only Halloran and Volo voted to support the motion, Calvin Lewis (Third Ward) abstained, and the other six aldermen present voted to reject the motion. So the resolution was voted on. Halloran and Volo voted no; Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Kamal Johnson (First Ward), Lewis, Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), Mizan, John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), and Sarowar all voted in favor.

After the vote, DePietro told Volo that "the argument of going into the fund balance is incorrect." He maintained that there were "a number of lines [in the budget] from which it could have been taken that will not be used up." He attributed the decision to take the money from the fund balance to city treasurer Heather Campbell. Halloran told DePietro, "If you had a better idea, you could have presented it." Campbell clarified that the extra funds DePietro had in mind--the money budgeted for a separate attorney for the Council and another item in the Council's budget--"would be spent anyway."   

And so, after a resolution was passed to take another $56,013 from the fund balance to cover an increase in interest on the debt for the Central Firehouse and a resolution was passed to move money around in the budget for the assessor's office, the meeting was adjourned.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

A day into the week, here are the meetings taking place in the next three days.
  • Tonight, Tuesday, October 16, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m., and the Common Council holds its regular monthly meeting at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings take place in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.
  • Tomorrow, Wednesday, October 17, the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. It is expected that the public hearing on the addition and the new construction proposed at the rear of 17-19 Union Street, a project that requires four area variances, will be continued. 
The public hearing on this project was opened at the August meeting of the ZBA. At that meeting, Jason O'Toole presented the project to the ZBA and the public, because the owner of the property, Steve Dunn, is a member of the ZBA and had to recuse himself. The ZBA received a letter from the owner of the adjacent property at 15½ Union Street, which raised questions that O'Toole could not answer. For that reason, the public hearing was kept open. The September meeting of the ZBA was canceled for lack of a quorum, so the public hearing will undoubtedly continue at this month's ZBA meeting.
  • On Thursday, October 18, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. No agenda for this meeting is as yet available.

For Hudson Dogs: The Third Time's a Charm

Last evening, as I was leaving to go to the mayor's community conversation about a new city park, I made the mistake of telling Joey, "I'm going to a meeting about the dog park." Joey heard only two words in that nine-word sentence: DOG PARK. He started jumping in circles at the door, in gleeful anticipation of a trip to Germantown or Athens. Needless to say, he was confused and I felt perfectly wretched as I tried to walk back my statement and then gave him his Kong filled with peanut butter and left the house, promising I'd be back soon.

Joey's hopes for a dog park in Hudson have been dashed before, but this time it looks like it's going to happen. Last night, Mayor Rick Rector reviewed three sites that had been considered as a location for the dog park: Charles Williams Park; a site on North Second Street across from Hawthorne Valley Association's sauerkraut factory; and the newly remediated brownfield that was the former site of Foster's Refrigerator.

Of those three options, the Foster's site has been identified as the one. The site, which is approximately 2.5 acres, would serve two purposes. The area closer to the intersection of North Second Street and Dock Street would be developed as a trail head for the Empire State Trail, which passes right by the site on Mill Street and Dock Street, and a trail head for the proposed North Bay Trail, which would link Hudson with the Greenport Conservation Area and the network of trails to the north. The 1.5 acres toward the back of the site would be the dog park, with the concrete slab that already exists on the site becoming a parking lot for hikers, cyclists, and people visiting the dog park.

The images in this post thus far are from a PowerPoint presented at the meeting, as is the one below, which seems to dedicate far too much space in the park to cyclists and hikers and far too little to dogs.

I much prefer the concept drawing below, prepared by Hudson River Valley Greenway, which shows just the front corner of the site devoted to a trail head for the Empire State Trail. The actual design is still to be determined.

There are a couple of good things about this plan: 
  • In last year's ill-fated effort to build a dog park in Charles Williams Park, the money raised from two GoFundMe campaigns--one in 2014 and another last year--and a contribution from the Mrs. Greenthumbs Hedge Fund would have all been used to fence less than an acre of land for the dog park. 
In the current proposal, there's already a fence around the perimeter of the site, so there is only the need to fence one side and provide some internal fencing for the entrance and to separate the large dog area from the small dog area. There will be money left in the dog park fund for park amenities--poop bag dispensers, trash cans, benches for humans, maybe a shade structure, perhaps trees and landscaping, if the Department of Environmental Conservation, which dictates what can happen on this remediated brownfield, gives its approval to planting things on the site.  
  • Hudson River Valley Greenway is providing the money for the trail head part of the park, and the funding for the dog park is coming from private sources, so the park can be created without any money coming out of the city budget.
The meeting was well attended, by dog owners and some folks not known to own dogs, and everyone present, including Fourth Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann, who mustered the opposition to siting the dog park in Charles Williams Park last year, agreed that it was a good plan. The dog park would be far from houses, with only Crafttech Industries and the City of Hudson waste water treatment plant in near proximity. Finally, after more than seven years of advocating for a dog park in Hudson, it looks like it may actually happen.

Monday, October 15, 2018

And to Think It Happened at the Bronson House

Not long ago, Farrow & Ball released nine new paint colors--the first release of new colors since 2016. The setting for the event was none other than Hudson's own National Historic Landmark, the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. 

The new colors were showcased in nine vignettes created by Anthony D'Argenzio, with props sourced from such local places as Hawkins NY, Source Adage, and Flowerkraut. Today, an article about the release appeared in Remodelista: "9 New Paint Colors from Farrow & Ball: A Color Field Trip with Zio & Sons."   

The Future for Oakdale Lake

The first public workshop to be held as part of the Hudson Valley Initiative project to revitalize Oakdale Lake and the surrounding park took place on Saturday. The workshop was well attended--all the usual suspects as well as many newer faces--and there was no shortage of ideas and aspirations for what the park should be. The challenge for the planners from the Graduate School of Architecture, Preservation, and Planning at Columbia University will be to balance all the diverse community interests in what is, after all, a relatively small space.

To approach the visioning task, the group was asked to divide up among three tables, representing three uses of the park: Youth Infrastructure, Nature Preserve, and Public Park. After an hour of discussion and conceptualizing, each table reported what they'd come up with. Here's what was on each group's list:

  • Bigger and better skate park
  • Bike racks
  • Dog park
  • Bigger pavilion and more covered spaces
  • Kiddie pool (there used to be one)
  • Designated fishing area
  • Bathrooms
  • Ice skating on the lake in winter
  • Improved playground
  • Path that is not slippery and dangerous
  • Walkable and safe trail around the lake
  • Connection to Harlem Valley Rail Trail and Empire State Trail
  • Observation platform for kids to study nature
  • Inventory of the trees in the park
  • Appreciation of birds that visit the park
  • Keeping park natural, not a "huge man-made environment"
  • Ice skating on the lake in winter
  • Fishing piers
  • Dog park
  • Greater accessibility to different people
  • New playground--exploration zone made of natural materials
  • Shade structures
  • Improved trail
  • Art installations
  • Improved access points
  • More swimming access points
  • Nature or science area around the ponds
  • Natural water fountain from the spring
  • Park as a focal point for the community, where people of different ages come together
  • Small beer garden or cafe (for people who want to have a picnic but don't want to bring their own food)
  • Small outdoor theater (there is a natural amphitheater)
  • Expand park to Spring Street
The Youth Infrastructure group and the Public Park group had a few ideas for the park in common: ice skating, fishing piers, a dog park, more structures providing shade and protection from rain, a better playground. Some of the Public Park group's ideas seem to run counter to the Nature Preserve group's desire to keep the park natural. There was one thing that everyone agreed on: improving the trail around the lake to make it more walkable and safe.

Another meeting is planned, after the folks from Hudson Valley Initiative have had a chance to digest the public input and come up with some concepts. The next meeting is expected to happen in November, toward the middle or the end of the month.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Partial Collapse or Overreaction?

Late this afternoon (Sunday), Gossips received a tip from a reader that there had been a "partial collapse" at 211 Warren Street. I feared the worse. This was the poor building that had suffered a damaging fire in 2010 and has stood empty ever since.

The plan for the building, which was granted a certificate of appropriateness by the Historic Preservation Commission in 2015, amended, and granted a new certificate of appropriateness by the HPC within the past year, was to demolish the building, which was determined to be too damaged by the fire to be restored, and build a new building on its footprint, but to retain the facade and restore it to its 19th-century appearance. My first thought was that part of the facade had collapsed, possibly making the task of restoring it too challenging to pursue. When I arrived on the scene, I found the building cordoned off with barricades, traffic cones, "No Parking" signs, and caution tape, but the facade appeared no different from the way it was a few years ago.

At the scene, I was filled in by the person who said he had reported the alleged collapse. According to him, no part of the actual building had collapsed. Rather a portion of the fence along the side of the building had fallen, creating a potentially dangerous situation were anyone to stray too close to the edge of the parking lot, lose their footing, and tumble into what had been the backyard of the building, now several feet lower than the parking lot.

The informant was perturbed by the barriers and caution tape closing off the sidewalk and the parking lane in front of the building, considering the safety precautions an "overreaction."

Update: Early this morning (Monday), another Gossips reader reported that the entire foundation on the east side of the building collapsed, falling inward and compromising the east wall of the building and the facade.

Important Meeting Tomorrow Night

Tomorrow, Monday, October 15, Mayor Rick Rector is holding a "casual conversation" about a new park in Hudson "that would contain a dedicated space for a dog park and a possible trail head location for the planned Empire State Bike Trail and other recreation possibilities." The meeting takes place from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. There will be a brief presentation of possible plans and locations, followed by an opportunity for members of the public to make comments and ask questions.

Gossips will be there to represent his guy and all the dogs of Hudson who have been waiting for years for a dog park. Others with dogs in their lives are encouraged to be there, too.

The Planning Board and Local Law No. 5

Proposed Local Law No. 5, which has come to be known as "the Stewart's law," was referred by the Common Council to the Planning Board for a recommendation in July. In August, the board decided it didn't have enough information to comment. In September, it couldn't take action because there wasn't a quorum present. This past Thursday, after hearing John Friedman, attorney for The Applestone Meat Company, present the proposal for a meat vending machine facility at 21 Green Street and scheduling a public hearing on the project for November 8, the Planning Board once again turned its attention to the proposed zoning amendment known as Local Law No. 5. 

After much conversation, guided by Planning Board chair Walter Chatham, who told his colleagues, "The Common Council is in favor of this," the Planning Board agreed to the following statement of its position on the proposed amendment: "After lengthy discussion, the Planning Board has agreed to support in principle Local Law No. 5 but would like to see SmartCode principles, specifically the 'suburban retrofit toolkit,' incorporated into the site plan requirements. We strongly believe that ultimately SmartCode should be applied to zoning throughout the city."

Chatham maintained that, as a consequence of following SmartCode precepts, "the fear of a large, vacant gas wasteland doesn't happen, but a business that has been here for many years can stay." He also asserted, "The prettiness of the town is more important than being able to get in and out of a gas station." Planning Board member John Cody optimistically opined that being required to follow SmartCode precepts would be "a good example for Stewart's going forward." 

The discussion of Local Law No. 5 was very Stewart's specific. Mitch Khosrova, legal counsel to the Planning Board, reminded the board that they were discussing a local law and that they had been concerned in the past about doing things piecemeal. He also pointed out that there was no mention of SmartCode in Article 8, the part of the city code that defines the duties of the Planning Board and the grounds for its decisions. Chatham suggested that language be inserted in the law "that people benefiting from the amendment must use SmartCode precepts."

From the beginning of the Stewart's saga, which has been going on for more than a year now, there's been a concern about spot zoning--changing the zoning to accommodate one property owner to the detriment of others. Since Scali's signed on to the appeal for a zoning change, and it was decided the amendment would apply to all areas of the city zoned R2 or R2H (there are three zoned R2 and two zoned R2H), no one seems to be worried about spot zoning. When Gossips noted that the zoning amendment would apply to all R2 and R2H districts, Council president Tom DePietro asserted there was nothing in the other areas zoned R2 or R2H to which the change would apply, and he was right. There are no businesses other than Stewart's and Scali's that meet this requirement set forth in the law: "the non conforming use has been established and has operated continuously for a period of greater than twenty years in the R-2 zone." Scali's is actually in an R2H district, which makes the proposed law seem to suggest that only Stewart's would be affected by Local Law No. 5.

Local Law No. 5 has been sitting on the aldermen's desks for three months now. The Council wasn't required to wait for a recommendation from the Planning Board, but it did. Now it remains to be seen if the Council will go ahead and vote on enacting the law as it is currently written, or if the law will be amended to make conforming to SmartCode precepts a requirement for any expansion of a nonconforming use. It would seem that the law has to be amended if Stewart's is to be allowed to expand without that expansion being the "large, vacant gas wasteland" we presumably all want to avoid.

Food Near You

Rolling Grocer 19 made its debut three weeks ago, on September 19. Since then, it's been seen regularly around town. This past Thursday, heading for the Planning Board meeting at City Hall, I saw it parked in the 400 block of Warren Street, in front of the old police building. Yesterday, when I arrived at the library for the community workshop about Oakdale, it was parked in front of the building. Yesterday, too, Roger Halligan Gilson published his review of the mobile market on his blog, The Other Hudson Valley: "Dampening Hudson's 'Food Desert.'"

If you haven't caught up with the Rolling Grocer yet, here's its regular weekly schedule:
  • Wednesday, 3 to 7 p.m., Bliss Towers, Columbia Street parking lot
  • Thursday, 3 to 7 p.m., 427 Warren Street, in front of the old police station
  • Friday, 3 to 7 p.m., Columbia Memorial Hospital, main entrance near valet parking station
  • Saturday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Front Street between Columbia and State streets
  • Saturday, 1:30 to 4 p.m. in front of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Where to Spend Your Weekend Afternoons

Today, Saturday, October 13, Hudson Valley Initiative holds the first community input workshop for the revitalization of Oakdale Lake and its environs. The workshop takes place from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.

Tomorrow, Sunday, October 14, the Hudson City Democratic Committee holds its third annual Ellen Award ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street. Named for the indefatigable Ellen Thurston, the first recipient of the award in 2016, the Ellen Award this year goes to Dan and Mary Udell, the indefatigable video chroniclers of Common Council meetings and other meetings of interest in Hudson. 

The event is a fundraiser for Hudson Democrats, so there is an admission fee of $25.

Friday, October 12, 2018

All Is Confirmed

A Thai restaurant is opening at 11 North Seventh Street, the former location of Park Falafel & Pizza.

The Historic Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness to the sign for the new business this morning. The restaurant is expected to open in early November. 

Know Where Your Money Goes

Both Planet Fitness and Lowe's are currently running fundraising campaigns for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This hand-drawn appeal appears at Planet Fitness at Fairview Plaza in Greenport.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America is no doubt a worthy cause, but the people of Hudson should know that the boys and girls of Hudson will not benefit in any way from this fundraising effort. Despite the fact that the sign over the door of the Hudson Youth Center still reads "Hudson Boys Club," the youth facility in Hudson hasn't been part of Boys & Girls Clubs of America for about twenty years.

Those who want to contribute to support programs for the children of our community should make their donations to Friends of Hudson Youth. Contributions can be made at the group's website:

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tonight at the Planning Board Meeting

The Planning Board meets tonight at 6:00 p.m., and the agenda for that meeting is now available online. It seems the Planning Board approved "with comments" the proposal from The Maker to convert the house at 16-18 North Third Street into a mixed-use commercial building. Since the house is not in a historic district, we probably won't know what if any alterations are planned for the exterior of the building until they happen.

Tonight, the Planning Board will be continuing its discussion of Local Law No. 5, "the Stewart's law," in preparation for making a recommendation to the Common Council. The board will also review a site plan application from The Applestone Meat Company to operate "a retail vending automated butcher shop" at 21 Green Street.

Since I'm a vegetarian, the placement of the adjective automated in that description gave me pause. Was the butchering automated? A little research revealed that The Applestone Meat Company is the project of Joshua Applestone, who more than fourteen years ago opened a small whole animal butcher shop to sell organic and grass-fed meats here in the Hudson Valley. What's being proposed for this location in Hudson is literally a vending machine that dispenses meat, where those so inclined can buy beef, pork, lamb, and sausage every day and at any time of the day or night. There are already such vending machines in two locations on the other side of the river, in Stone Ridge and Accord. There's even a video online demonstrating how to use the meat vending machine.

The Planning Board meeting takes place at City Hall tonight at 6 p.m.

Behold the Bridge

The Gossips report yesterday on the meeting about the Ferry Street Bridge, which is scheduled to take place on Monday, October 29, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, was published before I knew that the Draft Project Scoping Report/Final Design Report was available on the City of Hudson website. After posting the link, I did a cursory scroll through the document but found little to satisfy my curiosity about how the bridge might actually look. 

Today, I was encouraged by a reader to take a closer look. There, on this page from Appendix A--Plans, Profiles & Typical Sections . . . 

I discovered this drawing of the proposed bridge. 

Click on the image to enlarge, or go directly to the document to have a look. It's page 39 as you are scrolling through.