Monday, March 18, 2019

A Meeting to Discuss Policy

On Tuesday, March 5, ICE agents attempted to detain two people at the corner of Warren and Fifth streets in Hudson. Bryan MacCormack, executive director of Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, who was driving the car transporting the two, alleged that the Hudson police officers who were at the scene violated the executive order that made Hudson a "welcoming and inclusive" city.

A meeting was called soon after the incident by Mayor Rick Rector with MacCormack, HPD Chief Ed Moore, and others, to explore the allegations and determine if amendment or clarification of the policy was needed. A second meeting was planned, which MacCormack insisted be a public meeting. That meeting took place on Friday, March 15, and Dan Udell was there to document it. His video can be viewed here.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

In the middle of this week, winter officially ends and spring begins, but the lineup of meetings this week may distract you from fully appreciating that longed for event.
  • On Monday, March 18, GAR Associates and city assessor Justin Maxwell will hold an informational meeting to answer questions and provide assistance to property owners who wish to challenge their assessments. The meeting is intended for property owners who don't use computers and cannot access the instructional information available online and for those who are not fluent in English. Bengali and Spanish interpreters will be present. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street.
  • On Tuesday, March 19, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, followed by the regular monthly meeting of the Common Council at 7:00 p.m. On the agenda for the Council meeting is a resolution "supporting universal rent stabilization and control" and advocating for the passage of the following bills now before the state legislature, all having to do with tenants' rights: S2845/A4349, S185/A2351, S2591/A1198, and S2892/A5030.
  • On Wednesday, March 20, the vernal equinox occurs at 5:58 p.m. Meanwhile, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall, followed by the monthly meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals at 6:00 p.m. No agenda is available for either meeting.
  • Wednesday, March 20, is also the last day to request an appointment to challenge your assessment. To do so, call 1-866-910-1776. 
  • On Thursday, March 21, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. in City Hall. No agenda is as yet available for this meeting.
  • On Friday, March 22, the Historic Preservation Commission holds its second meeting of the month at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall.

The "Deconstruction" Continues

This was the sad state of the original Hudson Orphan Asylum yesterday, on Saturday, March 16.


A Woman's Prerogative

After last Monday's rancorous informal Common Council meeting, Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) declared she would not seek reelection. Since then she has reconsidered. Yesterday, Halloran informed Gossips that she would run after all. 

That leaves only the First Ward, which after the wards were redrawn in 2017 is the largest ward geographically, with only one candidate seeking to represent the ward on the Common Council: Rebecca Wolff.

There are two weeks left to gather signatures on designating petitions. Only thirty-two signatures are needed to get on the ballot to run for First Ward alderman. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Longest Planning Board Meeting: Part 1

At three hours, last night's Planning Board meeting was perhaps not the longest in history, but it was certainly the longest in recent memory, and the Council chamber at City Hall was packed with members of the public. The agenda included two controversial projects: the Stewart's expansion at Green Street and Fairview Avenue, and Colarusso's unauthorized repairs to the dock and the proposed haul through South Bay. Gossips will report on the meeting in two parts, the first dealing with the Stewart's proposal.

Chuck Marshall returned with new elevation drawings, this time showing a 3,700 square-foot building similar to the one in Troy.

He talked about the eight-foot retaining wall built of Versa-Lok blocks along the south side of the site, to be surmounted by a four-foot high vinyl fence. He talked of landscaping and curb islands and hedge maples. (According to the Central Park Conservancy website, "the hedge maple is an ornamental tree that is no longer widely planted in North America due to its invasive tendencies.") He also informed the Planning Board that the Department of Transportation was now involved with the project, and everything in the intersection or the roadway would have to be reviewed by DOT.

A representative from Creighton Manning then walked the Planning Board through the traffic study done last November. The essential message from the traffic study was that volume of traffic at the intersection was not expected to increase significantly when Stewart's bigger and better gas station and store were in place. In questioning from the Planning Board, it was revealed that the traffic study had not included a safety analysis of the intersection.

When the public hearing finally began, there were comments about the safety of the corner and concerns about light escaping from the facility impacting the houses across the street. Matthew Frederick, who had proposed six ways to tweak the design to make it better on this blog Hudson Urbanism, suggested the plan could be significantly improved by turning the store into a street-facing building. When Marshall asserted that the building Frederick was proposing was "almost the same building" as the one he was presenting, Frederick rejoined, "If you see this as not much different for what you're proposing, then why not do it?" He suggested the axiom Planning Board chair Walter Chatham had cited back in December--"The perfect is the enemy of the good"--should be instead "The better is the enemy of the bad."

The impact the expanded Stewart's would have on the immediate neighborhood and the entire city was a recurring theme in the public comments. Cynthia Lambert, who lives on Green Street, introduced it when she declared that she didn't know what Hudson had to gain from having a bigger Stewart's. "We are losing what people love about Hudson," Lambert said. "Making a bigger and better Stewart's is not the way to go."

Kurt Wehmann, who owns a house on Fairview Avenue directly across from Stewart's, asked what impact the Stewart's expansion would have on property values. He said that when he bought the house just last year the realtor told him not to buy the house because of the proposed Stewart's expansion, but he did "because he thought Hudson would do the right thing." Lambert cited three foreclosures on houses in close proximity to Stewart's (two across Green Street, the other right next door), a house next to Stewart's that had been unsellable until Stewart's bought it recently, a house on Green Street that was on the market for two years before being sold for half the asking price, and a house on Fairview Avenue that has been on and off the market for several years with no buyers. Frederick noted that the two properties immediately adjacent to Stewart's--the two properties that Stewart's has purchased and plans to demolish--were not in good shape because they were adjacent to a gas station.

The subject of the host community benefit agreement was raised by Nick Zachos, who said that he thought it was meant to "create a fund for affordable housing . . . to create as much affordable housing as is being taken away." Marshall told him there had to be "some kind of nexus" to the project and said that the Common Council has to negotiate the host community benefit agreement.   

At one point, when Lambert repeated the questions "What exactly has Hudson to gain by this? Why are we doing this?" Chatham responded, glibly and one hopes facetiously, "We want people to come from all over the United States to see our Stewart's."

Dan Udell and his camera were present for the first 95 minutes of the three-hour meeting, and his video recording can be viewed here

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The "Deconstruction" Begins

I haven't visited the old Hudson Orphan Asylum since the weekend, when the barriers and fences were in place but no demolition had begun, so I don't know exactly when the "deconstruction" commenced. The picture below shows the building as it appeared this morning, with its roof removed.


Albany Business Review on Stewart's

In a bit of serendipity, the Albany Business Review has an article this morning about Stewart's and its plan to build twenty new stores this year and remodel or expand at least a dozen others: "Stewart's Shops getting 'more aggressive' with store renovations."

Since the pay wall is likely to prevent some readers from reading the entire article, I'll quote some of the more relevant parts:
The convenience store chain could spend $55 million or more replacing smaller, older stores with shops that include extra space for prepared foods such as soup, sandwiches, meatballs and coffee. . . .
One of the biggest obstacles over the past few years, [vice president of facilities Chad] Kiesow said, is the time it takes to get new stores approved by local planners. . . .
Social media has given residents and property owners a platform to share concerns about development. That means Stewart's spends more time working with planning boards and attending public hearings before projects are approved. . . . 
[T]wo of the stores Stewart's is building this year have been in the works for three years. Another project was planned five years ago. . . .
Although Gossips is not exactly "social media," I will take credit for sharing concerns about Stewart's expansion here in Hudson. It's not clear exactly when Stewart's started planning for the new store at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue, but two years ago, in March 2017, when Chuck Marshall started petitioning the Council to change the city's zoning laws to accommodate the company's expansion aspirations, they were already in contract to buy the two houses that must be demolished to realize their plans.

Stewart's is back before the Planning Board tonight, and the Planning Board will begin hearing public comment on the proposed project. The meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Of Zoning and Planning in Hudson

In November 2018, the Common Council passed a resolution establishing "a special committee to be known as the Zoning and Planning Task Force." Nothing has been heard of this special committee in the ensuing four months, but at the informal Common Council meeting on Monday, Council president Tom DePietro announced that the visit by Alexandra Church, the city planner from Newburgh, scheduled for Wednesday, April 10, is to be the "kickoff event" for the Zoning and Planning Task Force. As a reminder, that special committee, according to the resolution, is tasked with "reviewing the City's Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code, analyzing future development opportunities and obstacles, and recommending a course of action to be taken by the City of Hudson as an appropriate vehicle to address zoning and planning issues in the City of Hudson," and its work, also according to the resolution, is to be completed by December 31, 2019.  

The task force is made up of nine members: the chair of the Planning Board (Walter Chatham) or a designee; the chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals (Lisa Kenneally) or a designee; the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission (Phil Forman) or a designee; the chair of the Conservation Advisory Council (Jonathan Lerner) or a designee; the mayor (Rick Rector); the Common Council president (Tom DePietro); the code enforcement officer (Craig Haigh); and two members of the Common Council. Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) has been designated to chair the task force, but it has not been made public who the second Council member on the task force will be.

Not to Be Missed

Tonight at 6 p.m., the Stewart's proposal is back before the Planning Board, and the public hearing on the proposal begins. Meanwhile, Matthew Frederick has been giving thought to the proposed Stewart's expansion and shared his ideas yesterday in a post on his blog, Hudson Urbanism: "One way to stop Stewart's expansion and six ways to make it better." Frederick's post is recommended reading before tonight's Planning Board meeting. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Help with Those Assessments

At Monday's informal Common Council meeting, Alderman Shershah Mizan (Third Ward) reported that many of his constituents had seen increases in their assessments, and he wanted the Council to pass a resolution to reassess those properties. During the subsequent discussion of the process by which assessments can be challenged, it was decided that a special meeting was in order to help people with language barriers and no access to computers understand how they could challenge their assessments.

Today, it was announced that Justin Maxwell, the assessor for the City of Hudson, has coordinated an informational meeting, with Bengali and Spanish translators present, to answer questions and provide assistance to property owners who wish to challenge their assessments. The meeting is for general information only and not for individual property review. Maxwell and a representative from GAR Associates, the group that is carrying out the revaluation project, will be present to address concerns and explain the informal challenge and formal grieving process.

The meeting will take place on Monday, March 18, at 6:00 p.m., at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street. 

Another outcome of Monday's meeting, the deadline to schedule an informal review of your assessment has been extended from Friday, March 15, to Wednesday, March 20. A review can be scheduled by calling 1-866-910-1776. The deadline for submitting documentation to challenge your assessment by mail or email remains the same: Friday, March 29.     

Ear to the Ground

After Monday's rancorous Common Council meeting, Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) has declared that she will not be running for re-election. That leaves only incumbent Dominic Merante running for alderman in the Fifth Ward. With only seventeen days left to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot, no one has so far stepped up to run for the second seat to represent the Fifth Ward. 

Mayor Rick Rector has made known his intention to run for re-election and received the endorsement of the Hudson City Democratic Committee (HCDC), but there's a rumor making the rounds that Kamal Johnson, who is serving his first term as First Ward alderman, intends to run for mayor and is expected to announce his candidacy today. 

With the possibility of both First Ward aldermen vying for citywide office--Rob Bujan for Common Council president and Kamal Johnson for mayor--the First Ward is left with no incumbents and only one candidate. The HCDC has authorized Rebecca Wolff, who is not a Democrat but a member of the Working Families Party, to gather petition signatures to run for First Ward alderman on the Democratic line. So far, Wolff is the only potential candidate in the First Ward.

In the Second Ward, incumbent aldermen Tiffany Garriga and Dewan Sarowar are being challenged by Mohammed Rony. In the Third Ward, there are a number of challengers to incumbent aldermen Calvin Lewis and Shershah Mizan. The rumor is there are four, but Gossips has only been able to confirm two: Victor Mendolia and John Darby. In the Fourth Ward, both incumbents--Rich Volo and John Rosenthal--are expected to seek re-election.

At this point in time, it appears that the county supervisors from each ward--Sarah Sterling (First Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Michael Chameides (Third Ward), Linda Mussmann (Fourth Ward), and Rick Scalera (Fifth Ward)--will be running for re-election unopposed.

So here's the question: What happens if only one person runs for alderman in the First and Fifth wards? 

Adaptive Reuse of JLE

Yesterday afternoon, the proposals submitted in response to the RFP for a feasibility study for the adaptive reuse of the former John L. Edwards School as city offices and a youth center were received and opened in City Hall by Council president Tom DePietro. Aside from Gossips, the only person present to witness the event was Fifth Ward alderman Eileen Halloran.

Photo: Jonathan Simons
Eight proposals were received from the following firms:
The eight proposals will be reviewed by an ad hoc committee made up of DePietro, Mayor Rick Rector, DPW superintendent Rob Perry, Fifth Ward alderman Eileen Halloran, Third Ward alderman Calvin Lewis, Planning Board chair Walter Chatham, Fifth Ward alderman Dominic Merante, and commissioner of public works Peter Bujanow.  

The proposals will be on the City of Hudson website later today, on the Common Council page. Public comments on the proposals are welcome and can be submitted to

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Interesting Info Learned Today

On my way to the IDA meeting this afternoon, someone asked why I was going to that meeting. My answer was simple: I might learn something interesting. And I did. 

Today was the IDA's annual meeting, and members of the IDA were reviewing the audit report with accountant Victor Churchill of Sickler, Torchia, Allen, and Churchill. One item in that report was the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) on the IDA's only PILOT agreement: Hudson Terrace Apartments, a PILOT initiated in 2010.

The report indicated that the full tax on Hudson Terrace Apartments in 2018 would have been $228,248. The PILOT, what was actually paid in 2018, was $167,404--about 73 percent of the property tax.

Activity at Stewart's

In February, Stewart's Shops began the site plan review process before the Planning Board. Day after tomorrow, Stewart's will be back before the Planning Board, and the board will begin hearing public comment. Meanwhile, there's been some activity at Stewart's.

Yesterday and today, trucks from R. M. Dalrymple, a company that specializes in the sale and service of petroleum equipment and seems to work almost exclusively for Stewart's, have been parked in the parking lot of Stewart's #209, and workers have been focused on a hole in the pavement. Today, it appears, they were pouring cement into the hole, probably filling an underground tank to take it out of service. It's hard not to speculate they are moving ahead with their plans for a new facility even before they have gotten site plan approval from the Planning Board.

Watch for Yourself

Dan Udell's video of last night's Common Council meeting, shot from a different angle, is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch.


Lapse of Civility

The current Common Council, under the leadership of Tom DePietro, takes pride in the civil manner in which it conducts its business. All of that seemed out the window last night, in a meeting that lasted for more than an hour and a half and included many a feisty moment.

The discord started with a resolution forwarded to the full Council by the Housing and Transportation Committee, chaired by Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward). The resolution calls for extending New York State's Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) of 1974, the law that created rent stabilization, to the entire state. The resolution also expresses support for the following bills now before the state legislature--S2845/A4349, S185/A2351, S2591/A1198, and S2892/A5030--all of which relate to tenants' rights.

Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) had concerns about the potential cost to the city of adopting rent stabilization, suggesting it might discourage investment, and protested, "This is an awful lot to ask us to understand and then vote on next week." When DePietro assured her, "This doesn't commit us to anything," Halloran opined, "I don't see Hudson as a place that needs rent stabilization." After several other aldermen reiterated that the resolution simply declared support for legislation, DePietro called for an introduction and a second to introduce the resolution.

That was the last of the resolutions to be introduced, and it was then that audience member Annette Perry rose to deliver an emotional indictment of the Common Council, the main themes of which seemed to be that she was born and raised in Hudson, and it was her town; the members of the Council (or some other undefined you) were taking over her town and wrecking it; and she was not going to let them ignore the kids and the elderly. She accused the Council of "taking from the kids" and "meeting in secret" and complained about the condition of the Youth Center. It is not clear if there was any particular incident that inspired her outrage.

DePietro tried to placate Perry by saying the Council was looking into moving the Youth Center to the former John L. Edwards school and announced that the proposals to do a feasibility study of the potential adaptive reuse of the building would be received and opened today, Tuesday, March 12, at 4:00 p.m., in City Hall.

Alderman Shershah Mizan (Third Ward) then brought up the issue of assessments, stating that some of his constituents saw the assessed value of their property double or triple, and wanted the Common Council to pass a resolution to have those properties reassessed. Mizan was told that's not how the process worked, and city assessor Justin Maxwell explained that the property owners needed to challenge their assessments. Advice was offered about the process by other aldermen, and Mizan was assured that all information needed was available online, but he protested that many homeowners don't have a good command of English, and Alderman Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward) noted that many did not know how to use a computer. Maxwell promised to work on getting interpreters and setting up a meeting with GAR on the weekend expressly for Bangladeshi homeowners. The possibility of extending the deadlines for challenging assessments was also raised, but no decision was made regarding an extension, and it may not be possible since the assessment rolls need to be finalized by July 1.

When DePietro asked if any other aldermen had issues to bring before the Council, Halloran stood, which is not typical for aldermen when they have the floor, and declared that the environment of the Council Chamber was getting "more confrontational" and called for a return of civility. DePietro said he was not allowing anyone to "go over the line," which he defined, in part, as questioning someone's motives. Garriga took Halloran's complaint to be specifically about Perry's tirade and accused Halloran of judging her (Garriga's) constituents who come to City Hall. The exchange devolved into intimations of racism and then segued into aldermen taking turns declaring what they have done, individually and collectively, to help the youth of the city. Audience member Claudia Bruce took the opportunity to bring up the revenue from the lodging tax controlled by the Tourism Board, which now amounts to about $140,000, and express the opinion that the money should not be used for branding and marketing the city but for other things--namely, the Youth Center and sidewalks. DePietro encouraged people concerned about how the funds were spent to attend the next Tourism Board meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, March 26, at 5:30 p.m. at 1 North Front Street.

When DePietro invited comments from the public, a woman who identified herself only as Gloria from CCSM (Columbia County Sanctuary Movement) wanted to know whom to hold accountable for the police "violating the executive order." When DePietro said the Common Council had no jurisdiction over the police and referred her complaint to the mayor, she said, "The mayor is not getting my anger and frustration." Bryan MacCormack, executive director of CCSM, then said, "If our only access is the mayor, it's a closed door meeting. The public has to be involved." Mayor Rick Rector, who was present at the Council meeting, responded, reiterating many of the points made in a statement released on Friday. He avowed that he had supported the "Welcoming and Inclusive City" resolution when he was on the Council and continued to support it and stressed that he just wanted to get to the facts. "If the police did something wrong, we will correct it. If I did something wrong, I want to know." The woman from CCSM told Rector that his statements "don't sound like they are coming from a sincere place."

After DePietro asked MacCormack to provide more evidence that the HPD is violating the the "Welcoming and Inclusive City" resolution, and MacCormack alleged the police were present at the incident last Tuesday "to protect the safety of ICE not anyone else," it was decided that the mayor's next meeting with CCSM would be a public meeting, to take place on Friday, March 15, at 6:00 p.m. in City Hall.

Monday, March 11, 2019

House Out of the Woods

There are a few houses around town that evoke concern because they are vacant and seemingly neglected. One of them is 34 South Front Street. 

The house was acquired by new owners in August 2018, and last Friday, plans for its restoration were presented to the Historic Preservation Commission. The house is getting a new roof and new windows, and the door at the left is to be replaced with a wider door. The four members of the HPC present at Friday's meeting--John Schobel, Miranda Barry, Paul Barrett, and Philip Schwartz--granted a certificate of appropriateness with two conditions: that specs for the new windows and the new doors at the rear of the building (visible from Partition Street) be submitted for review by the commission.      

What They Were Worth Then

Yesterday, while searching for something else in the database of old newspapers at, a reader discovered an article about property assessments that appeared in the Hudson Register on August 4, 1941, and shared it with Gossips. I publish it today, along with an unrelated photograph that also appeared on the front page of the paper that day.

The caption, which is hard to make out, reads: "A New York filling station attendant glances at his watch as he fills a motorist's gas tank just as the government-requested curfew goes into effect for voluntary cessation of gas sales from 7 P.M. to 7 A.M. as the sign in the foreground indicates. There was no immediate indication whether compliance would general in the 17 designated Eastern seaboard states from Maine to Florida but a majority of station owners instructed their attendants to observe it."

The photograph and its caption provide background about the state of things just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The article itself provides information about who owned Hudson buildings in 1941 and the assessed value of those buildings was--information that may be of interest to the current owners of the buildings and anyone who is obsessed with Hudson and its history.