Friday, June 22, 2018

The Transformation of Our Back Streets

In the press release that announced the memorable exhibition at the Hudson Opera Hall in December 2016, No Parking: The Alleys and Garages of Hudson, the late Bill Hellermann, whose photographs, along with those of Lisa Durfee and Peter Spear, were featured in that show, is quoted as saying, "I happened to notice in the summer of 1998 that gentrification had unmistakably taken off in Hudson. However, by contrast, I found that the garages were often more visually interesting than the buildings on the main thoroughfares. They have an accidental beauty."

Twenty years later, as the gentrification of Hudson continues, the "accidental beauty" of those garages and alley buildings is in danger. The fate of one such building, an early 20th-century garage on Partition Street (not officially an alley but perceived as one), behind 439 Union Street, came up in discussion toward the end of the Historic Preservation Committee meeting this morning.

In August 2017, the proposal to demolish this pre-World War II garage and replace it with a new building came before the HPC. The building wasn't structurally unsound. It was perfectly fit for its intended purpose as a garage and storage, but the owners of the property wanted to use it for human habitation, which meant it would need a new foundation, and code enforcement officer Craig Haigh predicted, "This building will fall apart if they have to lift it and put it on a new foundation."

The plan to demolish the original garage and build a "new, similar building" on its footprint first came before the HPC on August 11, 2017. HPC member Miranda Barry described what was first proposed as "a new, generic contemporary building." The applicant came back with another design, meant to replicate the existing building, and the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness, persuaded that the new design would preserve the integrity and character of the streetscape.  

This morning, after the business before the HPC was concluded, Barry explained that she was almost late for the meeting because on her way to City Hall, she was detained by someone who wanted to complain about the "massive" new building on Partition Street. In the discussion that ensued, questions were raised about whether it had actually been built on the footprint of the original building and if the height exceeded what had been approved. 

After the meeting, Gossips went to take a look at the new building and concluded that the building is probably exactly what was approved, with the exception of the window on the second floor of the south facade, which appears to be much taller and narrower than what appeared in the elevation drawing.

The building is in fact taller than the original and made to appear even taller by what appears to be a steeper pitch of the gable roof.  What is most striking, though, is that the new building completely fails to replicate the character of the original. Maybe fences and plantings will help--softening the stark newness of the structure--but there is no doubt that the character of this stretch of Partition Street has been significantly altered.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The First Hour of the Meeting

Tuesday night's Common Council meeting had been going on for an hour before the part of the meeting we've already reported on began. The first hour of the meeting was taken up primarily with a discussion of a resolution to amend the budget for the Youth Department, adding $50,751.65 to be taken from the fund balance.

This is not the first time the Youth Department has needed its budget amended. Back in 2016, after the summer program at Oakdale was over, the Youth Department was $4,000 over budget, with four months go in the year. That year, the Council approved a transfer of $25,000 to the Youth Department to keep it going. In the budget for 2017, the Youth Department budget was increased by 6.1 percent, and it was proposed that instead of moving the entire operation to Oakdale for the summer, which seemed to be greatest cause of financial stress, the Youth Center at Third and Union streets would remain the primary location throughout the year. As it turned out, summer program in 2017 happened at Oakdale just as it had in the past. Before the summer began, the Common Council approved, on May 16, 2017, transferring $75,266 from the fund balance to the Youth Department budget.

At the Common Council meeting on Tuesday, four new resolutions were introduced having to do with the Youth Department. The first transferred $8,500 from the Youth Donations account to "the proper accounts to pay for water treatment of Oakdale lake, re-distribution of sand at Oakdale beach and other improvements to the beach house." The second accepted $5,973.21 in donations from the Polar Plunge, which happened back in February. The third accepted $2,025.00 in Fishing Derby donations. The fourth requested an increase of $50,751.75  in the Youth Department budget, to come from the fund balance. (The amount budgeted for the Youth Department in 2018 is $370,000.) 

The attachments to the resolution itemized how the money would be used: $6,951.17 for the fire alarm system at the Youth Center; $3,990 for a finger printing protocol for Youth Department employees; $6,995 for an electronic check-in system; $4,000 to repair the heating system at the Youth Center; $1,049.48 for staff uniforms (T-shirts and hoodies); $5,700 for a fence at Oakdale to keep balls from rolling into the lake; $9,300 for repairs to the beach house at Oakdale; $3,526 to pay staff to make repairs to the beach house; $9,240 to pay the lifeguards at Oakdale Lake.

Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward), who sits on the Youth, Education, Seniors & Recreation (YES&R) Committee, was the first to comment on the proposed resolution. He urged that the Council reassess some of the requests. Kamal Johnson (First Ward), who chairs the YES&R Committee, argued that the money requested was needed to address safety issues. Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) maintained there were things that "cannot wait," citing in particular the fire alarm system. Later, Nick Zachos, youth director, indicated that the alarm system could wait, because there is no programming at the Youth Center during the summer. Rob Bujan (First Ward) suggested they go down the list and decide items were critical and which could be deferred. Zachos identified four priorities: finger printing ($3,990), the fence at Oakdale (($5,700), repairs and renovations at Oakdale ($12,826), and lifeguards ($9,240). Tom DePietro, Council president, suggested they delete money for the fire alarm ($6,951.17) and the heating system ($4,000) at the Youth Center and vote on the amount that remained: $39,800.48.

It was then that city treasurer Heather Campbell interrupted the process with some observations: the Council had just accepted $8,000 in donations for the Youth Department; there was $5,000 in donations from last year in the Youth Department budget that had not been spent; last year's $75,266 budget amendment included $13,400 for improvements to the Youth Center, which included fire suppression and the heating system, and money was being requested again for the same purpose. 

After much discussion (all of which can be viewed in Dan Udell's video), during which Bujan suggested amending the resolution "to insist that donated money be used first before dipping into the fund balance," and Zachos and Peter Frank, speaking presumably on behalf of Friends of Hudson Youth, insisted that donations were not unrestricted funds (the Fishing Derby donations, for example, were specifically for water treatment and stocking the lake with fish), DePietro decided the resolution could not be amended on the fly and called a special meeting to take up the issue. That meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, at 6 p.m., at City Hall.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

More News from the City Website

The Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing and the regular meeting of the ZBA scheduled for tonight have been cancelled. The meeting of the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee seems to be going forward as scheduled, even though it's likely that DPW superintendent Rob Perry, whose monthly report is the major business of the meeting, may be otherwise occupied, dealing with the water main break that has left most of the city without water. 

Water, Water . . .

If there is no water coming out of your faucets, or if the water pressure is very low, you are not alone. The whole city is affected. There was a major water main break at Columbia and North Front Street. This information was found on the City of Hudson website, which is now being used to keep the community informed.

Housing Plans and Zoning Amendments

At the Common Council meeting last night, Joe Czajka, senior vice president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress and chair of the Housing Task Force convened last year by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton to work "in tandem" with the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) process, presented to the Council the Strategic Housing Action Plan (SHAP), the work product of the Housing Task Force. The aldermen were given the first 30 pages of a 146-page document--a document that is available in its entirety online.

In presenting the document, Czajka outlined the four goals of the plan--(1) preserving housing; (2) creating a comprehensive and complementary housing policy and zoning; (3) producing new housing opportunities; (4) creating housing and community development programs and partnerships--and identified the three "foundational recommendations" of the plan: (1) hire a housing coordinator; (2) adopt an affordable housing policy; (3) update the City's 2002 comprehensive plan and its zoning. Czajka stressed that strategic and action were the critical words in the title and recommended that the Housing Task Force continue going forward, meeting on a quarterly basis, to monitor progress in implementing the plan. He urged the Council to adopt the SHAP before submissions in the CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) program are due at the end of July, indicating that some of the proposals being submitted would benefit from having the SHAP in place, and Council president Tom DePietro indicated that it would fit within the Council's schedule, since the aldermen would be voting on adopting the SHAP at their meeting on July 17. It's interesting that the Council could not vote on a resolution to support the proposed route of the Empire State Trail through Hudson without holding a public hearing, but no one suggested that a public hearing might be needed before adopting this rather wide ranging plan.

On the related topic of zoning, the Council received last night, as a communication, a letter from Chuck Marshall of Stewart's Shops who apparently has joined forces with Steve Scali, owner of Scali's Pizza and Pasta, another commercial entity that is a nonconforming use in an R-2 residential district, to try to persuade the City to alter its zoning to allow the expansion of nonconforming uses in residential districts.

When Gossips last reported on this issue, after the Legal Committee meeting on May 23, the committee was considering the "hybrid option," amending the code to allow nonconforming uses to be enlarged or relocated on the same lot, to allow an existing nonconforming use to be changed to another nonconforming use, and to allow a nonconforming use to be reestablished if it had been discontinued for more than a year. The way things were left at the end of the meeting was the amendments to Section 325-29 of the code would be submitted to the full Council for consideration. That didn't happen last night, and apparently some things transpired behind the scenes. 

Last night, Gossips asked John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, what had prompted the letter from Scali and Marshall. He said that he had spoken with Marshall about the proposed "hybrid option" and the letter was a response to that. The letter, which introduces terminology and concerns that were never mentioned in Legal Committee meetings, begins:
At the May 23rd Legal Committee Meeting, a recommended change to Local Law No. 9, was voted out of committee, but failed to reach the desks of the full Common Council. It is our understanding that the stumbling block to an amendment getting set on the Council Members' desks, is that the prohibition of the expansion of non-conforming uses does not address "historic concerns" surrounding Stewart's and Scali's, both family and employee owned businesses.
The letter goes on for five more paragraphs. The point seems to be that Stewart's and now Scali's as well are not content with a zoning amendment that would redefine nonconforming use to allow them to do everything but expand beyond the lots they currently occupy, and they are holding out for an overlay district that would allow for the progressive transformation of an essentially residential neighborhood into something that resembles the unchecked commercialization found just over the border, along Fairview Avenue and Union Turnpike, in Greenport. 

In 1965, the Healy Farm--93 acres between Fairview Avenue (Route 9) and Union Turnpike (Route 66), just beyond Hudson's northern border with Greenport--was sold for a shopping center and industrial development. The following article appeared in the Times Union for June 8, 1965.

Three years later, in December 1968, the City of Hudson adopted its zoning. It's not hard to surmise that a desire to protect Hudson's residential neighborhoods from the kind of commercial development happening in Greenport was the impetus for making existing commercial establishments on Fairview Avenue and Union Turnpike in Hudson nonconforming uses. Fifty years later, with two Gothic houses about to be demolished to create a new shopping mall in Greenport, with a bigger and better McDonald's as its centerpiece, an amendment that would allow nonconforming uses to rebuild and reconfigure without expanding beyond their current lots, demolishing houses in the process, still seems like a good idea, particularly since preserving housing is the first goal of the Strategic Housing Action Plan.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Mayor Appoints New Commissioner

Mayor Rick Rector just announced the appointment of Mark Bryant as Commissioner of Youth for the City of Hudson.

In the past, Bryant served as assistant police commissioner in Hudson, and he is currently on the board of the newly launched Friends of Hudson Youth

Mark Your Calendars

Last Monday at the informal Common Council meeting, the resolution supporting the route selection through the city for the Empire State Trail was tabled, because, although the trail through Hudson follows city streets and many people worked very hard to get the best outcome for Hudson, it was decided there needed to be a public hearing about the route before the Council could approve it.

The date and time of that public hearing has now been announced. It will take place on Monday, July 9, at 6:30 p.m., at City Hall--just prior to the informal Common Council meeting for July.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Rhodes Here on Wednesday

On Sunday, the New York Times endorsed Gareth Rhodes as the candidate to beat John Faso in November: "Gareth Rhodes in the 19th District." If you haven't met him yet (he's been in Hudson a few times), you will have a chance to do so on Wednesday, June 20, when he will be holding a town hall meeting here in Hudson. 

Rhodes at Vincent Mulford Antiques on June 4      Photo: Will Dendis|HV1

Rhodes in the OutHudson Pride Parade on Saturday
In his campaign, Rhodes has visited every one of the 163 cities and towns that make up the vast 19th Congressional District. Now, in the final two weeks before the primary next Tuesday, he's been holding town hall meetings in each of the eleven counties in the district. Columbia County is eighth in the schedule. The town hall meeting will take place from 6:30 to 8:30 on Wednesday, June 20, in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.   

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

For those who haunt City Hall, attending meetings, Monday, June 18, is a day off. Meeting-wise, the week begins on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, June 19, the Common Council holds its regular monthly meeting. In addition to the Council voting on all the resolutions introduced at the informal meeting on June 11, it is expected that Sheena Salvino, executive director of HCDPA (Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency), and Joe Czajka, senior vice president of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, will present the Strategic Housing Action Plan, the work product of the Housing Task Force convened last year by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton to work "in tandem" with the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) process.

On Wednesday, June 20, the Common Council Public Works & Parks Committee meets at 5:15 p.m., followed by the Zoning Board of Appeals at 6 p.m. The ZBA is holding a public hearing about the area variance needed for offstreet parking by Hudson Mainstay, located at 437 Warren Street.

On Thursday, June 21, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6 p.m. The agenda for that meeting is not yet available, but at the HCDPA (Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency) meeting last week, executive director Sheena Salvino said she was planning to propose to the Economic Development Committee that the City swap the two parcels it owns at the end of Warren Street for 235 Warren Street. Four parcels make up this sad little mostly asphalt open space that the end of Warren Street: two belong to the City of Hudson; the other two belong to HCDPA.

HCDPA owns 235 Warren Street, the land on which Thurston Park was created in 1997. The park was named for John W. Thurston, the Proprietor who owned that parcel of land in 1785 when the city was incorporated.

The idea is that the City will take ownership of Thurston Park and make it dedicated parkland, which it isn't now (in fact, in 2010, 235 Warren Street appeared on the HDC website in a list of properties available for sale), and HCDPA will market the entire lot at the end of Warren Street as a potential building site. Up until sometime shortly after 1970, two buildings stood on that site, which can be seen in this 19th-century picture taken from the entrance to Promenade Hill and in this detail from a 1970 aerial photograph of the first block of Warren Street. 

The point was made that the "park" at the end of Warren Street didn't need to exist because it was right across the street from one of Hudson's major parks, Promenade Hill. Architect Walter Chatham, who chairs the Planning Board and is ex officio a member of the HCDPA Board, commented that, "from an urban design standpoint," there should be a building there.

On Friday, June 22, the Historic Preservation Commission holds its second meeting for June at 10 a.m. at City Hall. Later on Friday, at 5 p.m., the HPC will hold a public hearing on its proposal to amend the southern and western boundaries of the locally designated Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District to resolve a discrepancy between intent and resolution that happened back in 2006 when the district was created. The public hearing will take place at City Hall. More information about what's being proposed and why it matters will follow.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Summer in the City

A shooting at Fairview Avenue and Green Street--near the location of Stewart's Shops--is being reported on Facebook by Bill Williams of 98.5 The Cat: "Shooting in Hudson Sunday Night." 

Update: HudsonValley360 now has more information about the incident: "19-year-old shot and killed in Hudson."

Monday Morning Update: Police are seeking a "person of interest." You see TV news coverage on Channel 10 and Channel 13.

Midday Monday Update: Various media outlets, among them HudsonValley360, are reporting that the person of interest, Mohammed H. Morshed, is now in custody: "Police arrest Hudson shooting suspect."

Not to Be Missed

A little more than a week before the Democratic primary on June 26, which will decide who will challenge John Faso in November, the New York Times made an endorsement yesterday: "Gareth Rhodes in the 19th District." To quote the editorial's conclusion: "Among those in this worthy field, Mr. Rhodes stands out as the best candidate to take on--and beat--Mr. Faso in November. He offers the combination of intelligence, enthusiasm and empathy that is desperately needed in Washington today."

Gareth Rhodes, the Rhodes crew, and the well-traveled Winnebago in the OutHudson Pride Parade here yesterday

The Great War: June 18, 1918

The systematic review of old newspapers regularly yields unexpected finds, and so it was today. Pursuing the Gossips series documenting life in Hudson a hundred years ago, during the war we now call World War I, I checked out the local weekly newspaper of the time, the Columbia Republican, for June 18, 1918, and discovered on the front page, with a headline that spanned five of the paper's seven columns and a photograph I couldn't remember ever seeing before, the account of a significant moment in the life of one of Hudson's important historic buildings--the building now known as Cavell House, the location of New York Oncology and Hematology.

Hudson is again the beneficiary of the generosity of two of its prominent citizens, Dr. and Mrs. John C. Smock, who have decided to make their future home in California and have presented to the Hudson Hospital their beautiful home on Prospect avenue which is surrounded by grounds equally beautiful adorned with trees and flowers. The removal from Hudson of these two generous people who have always been so open handed in the support of every good cause, giving so that no one knew but giving and giving is indeed a matter of general regret. [sic]
To lose not only their generous support but even more to lose their personal presence is a distinct loss to this community. In going however, they have lived up to the standard which has always governed them by presenting their home and grounds to the Hospital. The purpose of the gift is that the place should be used for a home, Liberty House it is to be called, for convalescent soldiers and sailors until the conclusion of the war after which the Hospital will use it as the trustees see fit.
At a meeting of the trustees held Saturday afternoon the following statement was issued:
At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Hudson City Hospital on June 15th, 1918, announcement was made that Dr. and Mrs. John C. Smock had given their place on Prospect Avenue to the hospital for the use of the hospital authorities in caring for convalescing men from the United States service, the place to be known as Liberty House, and after the war to be devoted to other hospital uses.
The last annual report of the hospital had a note referring to the part which the hospital might take in caring for invalid and wounded men in the government service, and it was this note which arrested the attention of the donors and suggested the gift. The large and well-built house is in perfect order and capacious enough to afford room for a goodly number of convalescing and the environment of flowers, shrubbery and trees is well adapted to help in making a cheerful home for those who may be placed here for the restoration of health and strength, and reinvigoration of soul and body for further service in the cause of Liberty, or for useful activities in the homeland.
The Surgeon General of the Army has been notified of the Hospital's willingness to devote this property to the uses of wounded and convalescing soldiers and sailors, and the offer has been placed on file with expressions of thanks for the same, and there is no doubt that when the hospitals near the New York port of debarkation are filled, the property will be called upon. When that time comes the necessary war nursing aids will be called for and trained and the property placed in readiness for service.
The house was used for its designated purpose, and after the war, it was renovated for use by the Hudson Hospital School of Nursing. Its name ceased to be Liberty House, and it was renamed Cavell House, in honor of Edith Louisa Cavell, the English nurse who was executed on October 12, 1915, for helping some two hundred British and French soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. The north wing was added to the building in 1927 and called the Fritts Memorial Wing in honor of local physician Crawford E. Fritts. The south wing was added in 1932. In 1995, Columbia Memorial Hospital intended to demolish the house to create more parking space. That might have happened were it not for community efforts to save the building and an oncology group's interest in locating its services in the historic building.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Happy Pride!

It was a perfect day for the OutHudson Pride Parade but, alas, a tad too breezy for the Gossipsmobile. Here it is, in the parade lineup, before the flags and banners and bunting all started coming detached.

But, thanks to able assistance of Rick Rector and Jeff Perry, Joey's parade double, tricked out like a canine version of Superman, remained firmly in place on the roof until the very end.