Monday, January 21, 2019

Over the River a Hundred Years Ago

I haven't been down to the river since Saturday evening, when the snow was just starting, and it wasn't nearly as cold as it is now. Then, the river was large chunks of broken up of ice moving swiftly downstream and piling up in the slips at riverfront park--quite different from what it must have been like a hundred years ago, when, on December 21, 1919, this news was reported in the Columbia Republican.


Considering Heating on a Bitterly Cold Day

Not many houses in Hudson are heated with oil, but if yours is, and your oil tank is more than fifteen years old, this lecture, co-sponsored by the Columbia County Historical Society and the Historic Committee for the Town of Kinderhook, will be of interest to you.

There is no way to predict if or when an oil tank will fail. Both above ground and underground tanks have the potential to create environmental problems to lead to costly remediation. 

On Saturday, January 26, Toni Hokanson, director of marketing and training for C2G Environmental Consultants, will address how to determine if your oil tank is a candidate for replacement before it becomes an environmental hazard and how to go about the process of oil tank abandonment if your tank has leaked or is buried. Also, Cailey Nieto, public health technician with the Columbia County Health Department, will make a presentation on fire extinguishers--what we should know about them and where to have them filled or checked.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, takes place from 1:30 to 2:30 on Saturday, January 26, in the meeting room at the Martin H. Glynn Municipal Building, 3211 Church Street, in Kinderhook.

A Thought for Today

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Yesterday in Hudson . . . Before the Snow

Dan Udell has just posted his video excerpts from Women March On! Hudson on YouTube.

Celebrate Nine Years of Gossips!

At 10:06 a.m., on Wednesday, January 20, 2010, The Gossips of Rivertown published its very first post, which combined news of city government, the Hudson Development Corporation, and historic preservation. Since then, there have been 8,222 posts--this one being the 8,223rd.

In the past nine years, Gossips has become a recognized source of information that the Hudson community relies on. As evidence, last week, at the Hudson Housing Authority meeting, when a resident complained that notice of the meeting had not been given in a timely fashion, mention of the meeting on Gossips was offered as evidence to counter the complaint--no matter that complainant disparagingly referred to Gossips as the "gossip column," and someone else noted that it wasn't the city's "official newspaper."

Many people have shared with me their perception that Gossips is a labor love, and indeed it is, but I've always believed you should be able to support yourself doing something you love. So, today, as I do every year on Gossips' anniversary, I offer my deep and sincere gratitude to the Gossips supporters and advertisers whose financial contributions help pay the bills and make Gossips a joyful endeavor, and I invite everyone to join the celebration of nine years of sharing news, history, and gossip about the events, machinations, troubles, and triumphs right here in our little river city by becoming a supporter of The Gossips of Rivertown.

For those who read Gossips on a computer, the process is easy. Just click on the "Donate" button at the top of the right column. For those who read Gossips on their phones, I'm hoping that if you touch the word DONATE right here, it will bring you to Gossips PayPal page, but it may not. 

Your support--in any amount--will be gratefully acknowledged and will ensure the continuation of Gossips into its tenth year. 

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

The snow has fallen and is still falling, the freezing rain started right on schedule, so far the mayor has not declared a snow emergency, Shiloh Baptist Church has postponed its Martin Luther King Day service until February 10, so today and tomorrow, most of us can just stay home and enjoy being snowbound, or what passes for snowbound in the 21st century. The week's meetings and events begin on Tuesday.
  • On Tuesday, January 22, the Tourism Board meets at 5:30 p.m. at 1 North Front Street. No agenda for the meeting has been posted. The deadline for submitting proposals in response to the RFP for a consultant to develop a "Branding and Marketing Strategy" for Hudson was January 15, so it's reasonable to expect this topic and the criticism the RFP has drawn may be discussed. 
  • The Greenport Planning Board may also be meeting on Tuesday, January 22, assuming it meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month. So far, no agenda has been posted for the meeting, so it may be that it meets on the last Tuesday of the month. The new retail development that will house an expanded Aldi's and a new McDonald's is a project of interest before the board. Gossips will provide an update when information is available.
  • On Wednesday, January 23, the Common Council Legal Committee meets at 6:15 p.m. at City Hall. No agenda is available for the meeting, but it's been intimated that the committee intends to take up the issue of sidewalks and street trees being the responsibility, according to city code, of the owners of the adjacent property and the problems of uniformity and maintenance that result from that situation.
  • On Friday, January 25, the Historic Preservation Commission meets at 10:00 a.m. at City Hall. This is the second meeting of the month, at which the commission gives final approval to certificates of appropriateness drafted by the assistant city attorney. New projects are not typically presented to the HPC at this meeting.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Who Knew?

No doubt everyone who has visited the Cedar Park section of the cemetery has noticed the house where the cemetery office is located. The house is owned by the City of Hudson, rented to a DPW employee, there's a DPW garage attached to it, and usually there are a few DPW trucks parked nearby. The house has seen better days. The picture below, a still from one of Josef Cipkowski's home movies, shows the house in 1939.  

Gossips recently discovered, in the inventory of the cemetery prepared by Shirley Dunn for its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, that the house in the cemetery, known as the William Brocksbank House, was nominated for individual listing in the National Register in 1983. I don't have the nomination document for the house itself, but the document for the cemetery has this to say about the house:
Location of the office of the administrator is in a historic house, the William Brocksbank House, in the new section. This house has an individual nomination. 
. . . Italianate posts. The interior is well-preserved, with mid-century architraval molding throughout, original doors with round-headed panels, an excellent curved staircase with a period newel post and turned balusters, and a wide hall. Other round-headed windows with circular window panes in the top appear in the octagonal gate-house on Prospect Street and in a store and firehouse on Warren Street. The house has a stone foundation and paired chimneys which pierce the roof behind the ridge. . . .
The present house on the property could date from the 1850s, although whether the house is the one on the [1858 county] map is not certain. The 1873 county atlas identifies the property as W. Brooksbank's [sic] nursery. Brocksbank advertised in the city directories that he was a florist and nurseryman. He used the valuable farm lands to raise plants and flowers. The house was originally outside the city line, and was brought into the city boundaries when the line was extended in 1897, after the property had been purchased for use as a city cemetery. It has been owned by the city ever since and as a result is unusually well-preserved. When the grounds were landscaped in 1895, Frederick Law Olmstead [sic], designer of Central Park, gave assistance to local planners. The plantings and design of 1895 still surround the house.
The building attracts attention because of its size, estate setting and unusual architecture. As headquarters for William Brocksbank's nursery, it was a part of the history of the City of Hudson for about forty years. As late as 1888, Brocksbank sold his business to his partner but retained rights to the house. The nursery business was apparently profitable and gives a unique association to the house. Its use as a funeral chapel and residence and office for a large cemetery for the past eighty-five years is also an unusual historical association which sets this building apart.
The store and the firehouse on Warren Street referenced in the inventory, with round-headed windows and circular window panes, may have been 441 Warren Street, now the location of TK Home & Garden, and C. H. Evans Hook & Ladder Co., now the home of Spotty Dog Books & Ale.

The "octagonal gate-house on Prospect Street" is a mystery. Where on the three blocks of Prospect Street was it located, what was it the gatehouse for, and what happened to it?    

Today: Women March On! in Hudson

Friday, January 18, 2019

Even More HHA

Dan Udell's video of the public comment, before and after the HHA Board of Commissioners went into executive session, is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch.

Fences Begone!

Gossips just received the following press release.

Amtrak and State Agencies Withdraw 
Hudson River Fencing Proposal
Amtrak announced on Friday that the company and New York State agencies have jointly agreed that Amtrak will withdraw its current fencing application before New York State.
The plan was to erect fences blocking unofficial crossings to the Hudson River and locked gates blocking a shoreline access road widely used by anglers, hunters and other river stewards. The proposed project has been a point of contention in affected Hudson River communities in Columbia and Dutchess counties since it was announced in March 2018, sparking widely signed petitions, meetings, a forum, an Earth Day rally, comments, letters and speeches from state and local politicians urging Amtrak to consider the impact the plan would have on river access.
A public informational meeting had initially been scheduled for January 29 in Germantown for Amtrak and state Department of Transportation officials to present details and reasoning for the project. . . . 
Amtrak's full statement, titled "Amtrak Withdrawing Current Hudson Line Fencing Project Application to New York State Department of State," reads:
"After hosting collaborative meetings over the past few months, Amtrak, the New York State Department of Transportation, and the New York State Department of State, have jointly agreed to Amtrak withdrawing its application on the current Hudson Line Fencing Project proposal so it can be revised in conjunction with a five-year corridor plan to improve safety along the Empire Service Hudson Line. Additionally, Amtrak will continue to work with the affected communities, Town Officials and State agencies on formulating the revised plan. Public informational meetings will also be held prior to the submission of a new application to the Department of State.
"At Amtrak, the safe operation of service for our Customers, Employees, and the Public is top priority, and we will continue to work towards providing the safest, reliable, and most efficient passenger rail service along the Hudson Line and throughout the entire Amtrak system."

Thank You, DPW

In the past week or so, workers from the Department of Public Works cleared the brush from the slope below Promenade Hill. The following picture was taken by John Cody, and Gossips uses it with his permission.

More HHA

Dan Udell's video of last night's Economic Development Committee meeting is now available on YouTube. Click here to watch.

An Evening with the Hudson Housing Authority

Last evening, the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to enter into a Master Development Agreement (MDA) with PRC (Property Resources Corporation) and Duvernay + BrooksDan Hubbell, the "Mixed Finance Development Legal Counsel" for HHA, explained that the MDA "governs the terms and conditions of exploring and moving forward with the project," but it does not "commit the board to a specific design."

The project HHA is proposing was the topic of two meetings last evening: the special meeting of the HHA to vote on the MDA, which took place at 5:00, and the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting, which started at 6:00. Gossips will not report everything that was said in chronological order. Instead, the focus will be on main themes.

During the first meeting, the public was ejected from the room so the HHA board could go into executive session. Amazingly, Dan Udell, who was there to videotape the meeting, was asked to remove his camera, which he had left in room, the implication being, it seems, that he might have set the camera to continue recording during the executive session. While the public was waiting in the lobby, I spoke with Ifetayo Cobbins, a resident of Bliss Towers, who repeated a complaint Luisa Burgos-Thillet, also a resident, had made earlier: notice of the meeting was not posted in the building until that afternoon. Cobbins suggested the actions of the board seemed "underhanded" and "kind of fishy" and wondered what the board had to hide. It may not be the case that the HHA board is hiding anything, but their story seems to be ever changing.

Last week, the income limits for the 40 units in the "family" building were defined as being between 50 and 65 percent of the AMI (area median income). Last evening, the spread was said to be from 50 to 70 percent. According to Hubbell, 11 of the units will designated for households with incomes of 50 percent of the AMI, 12 for 60 percent, and 17 for 70 percent. A handout distributed at the Economic Development Committee meeting charted the targeted income limits by apartment size.

In the past, the public was led to believe that all residents in Bliss Towers and the two proposed new buildings would be Section 8. Last night, it was explained residents in Bliss Towers would be a RAD type of Section 8; residents of the proposed senior building would be Section 8 with an income limit of 30 percent of the AMI; the "family building" would not be Section 8 but income restricted workforce housing.

A major concern voiced by the public is that the project is out of scale and does not meet the housing needs of Hudson as defined in the city's Strategic Housing Action Plan. Mayor Rick Rector has expressed the opinion that the SHAP "is in almost complete contradiction to what is being proposed." That opinion was echoed last night by former Third Ward alderman John Friedman. Friedman said the project "seems to have metastasized," saying that it contradicted the city's housing study, and asked of the HHA board, "Have you considered how this will impact the rest of the city?"

In her criticism of the project, Mary Ann Gazzola has repeatedly called the project out of scale and too big for the city, maintaining that the project is addressing a regional housing problem not the housing needs that exist in Hudson. At the Economic Development Committee meeting, she noted that there were already 600 units of subsidized housing in Hudson, a city of about 6,300, all confined to the same area of the city. This project would add to that density. In the same vein, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) remarked that the SHAP "does not envision a greater concentration [of subsidized housing] in the same area."

Hubbell and Brian Heeger of Duvernay + Brooks, who addressed the Economic Development Committee last evening, maintain that the project is consistent with city's Strategic Housing Action Plan and meets the goals of HUD. Hubbell did concede that the project was based on "what HHA has identified as the need" and "what we think can be financed by the state." When asked by Gazzola if there was a way "to fix the high rise, fix the low rise, and build something to scale," Heeber admitted "at a certain point, the scale becomes too small, and it loses its competitiveness"--competitiveness for funding, that is.

Another concern was fiscal strain the proposed project would put on the city. Because it is a federal housing project, the new buildings will be exempt from real property tax. Matthew Frederick noted the project would be "seventy-six households needing city services but not paying seventy-six households' worth of property taxes." There will be a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), which is yet to be negotiated, but Gazzola pointed out that the PILOT paid by Bliss Towers is $50,000 a year, whereas many homeowners in Hudson are paying between $10,000 and $15,000 a year in property taxes--a situation she called "woefully out of proportion."

Those representing the project were caught in an inconsistency last night. Despite criticism from members of the community that this project addresses a regional need not a local need, HHA and the developers have maintained that it will serve people already living in Hudson who are currently "rent burdened." Last night, when trying to make the case for the economic benefit of the proposed project, Heeger told the Economic Development Committee that the residents of the new buildings would bring $3 million in spending into the local economy. The sophistry of that statement was pointed out by an audience member, Sorche Fairbank, who asked, "If the people who are going to live in the buildings are already in Hudson, where is the $3 million coming from?"

The project requires site plan approval from the Planning Board, which in its review will be weighing the impacts on the environment and the city. The project also requires the approval of the Common Council. The next meeting at which the project will be discussed is the meeting of the Common Council Housing and Transportation Committee, which takes place on Wednesday, February 6, at 6:45 p.m. at City Hall.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Intel from the ZBA

Last night, two projects came before the Zoning Board of Appeals seeking variances for parking. A bit of necessary background: Hudson's current zoning code requires one offstreet parking space for every three seats in an eating and drinking establishment. Neither project will have any offstreet parking for its patrons.

The first project seeking a variance for parking spaces is the restoration of the historic firehouse on Park Place.

It turns out the plan for the commercial space--the ground floor and the cellar--is to create a marketplace and tasting room for New York State craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. 

The second project needing a variance for parking is a new restaurant soon to open at 260 Warren Street, the building owned by the Galvan Foundation at the corner of Warren and Third streets which has been vacant for more than a decade.

The restaurant will have a total of 90 seats--62 inside the building and 28 in a fenced courtyard behind the building on Prison Alley. (At its meeting on January 11, the Historic Preservation Commission voted to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the fence, which will painted wood, six feet high, surmounted by two feet of open lattice.) 

The ZBA will hold public hearings for both projects on Wednesday, February 20, beginning at 6:00 p.m. in City Hall. 

Land for Sale on Columbia Street

Yesterday, Gossips reported on the demolition of 249-251 Columbia Street and quoted a reader as saying, "What was probably the most blighted block in the city is beginning to see a lot of investment." Anyone who wants to be a part of the transformation of the block, whatever that may bring, has the opportunity to do so by acquiring one of two vacant lots being sold by Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA).   

The first is 202-206 Columbia Street--what's left of what was once a vibrant community garden.

In 2013, HCDPA sold half of the garden to Habitat of Humanity to build two more of their passive houses. In 2016, HCDPA announced that it was accepting sealed bids for the remaining half of the property "for the construction of low to moderate income housing and/or uses compatible with the Urban Renewal Plan"--a plan adopted in the 1970s. That effort did not result in the sale of the property, and now HCDPA is trying again. The HCDPA website announces that the agency is "requesting proposals from qualified developers, firms, or individuals who have demonstrated commensurate experience and expertise for residential housing development projects for the sale and development of three adjacent parcels on Columbia Street in Hudson, NY." The guidelines for submitting a proposal can be found here. The deadline for submitting proposals is noon on Thursday, February 14.

There is also this lot at 238 Columbia Street. (Sadly, the majestic tree on this lot is no longer there.)

HCDPA tried to sell this lot last fall, but there were no responses to the call for sealed bids. Now the agency is trying again. Sealed bids for the property are requested, to be submitted by 1:00 p.m. on February 14. Click here for the bid package. The bids, if any are received, will be opened and read aloud at the next scheduled meeting of the HCDPA board, which takes place at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 14. 

Of Access, Certification, and Gestures

Dan Udell's video of Tuesday's Common Council meeting is now available on YouTube.

The presentation on Complete Streets begins at 22:51; the presentation on becoming a Certified Climate Smart Community begins at 36:50; the discussion that resulted in the portraits of elected officials being removed from the mantelpiece begins at 50:24.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Polar Plunge Returns!

Next month, on Saturday, February 23, the Polar Plunge at Oakdale Lake returns for its second year. Last year, the event raised more than $10,000 for the Hudson Youth Department and Hudson Fire Department Water Rescue and Dive Team. This year's goal is $15,000.

Girlgantua Jones, a.k.a Justin Weaver, at last year's Polar Plunge
If you're up for taking the plunge into the icy cold, invigorating water of Oakdale Lake, you can register as an individual or persuade your friends to join you and form a team. The entry fee is $25 a person. Once you've entered, you can get your family, friends, and co-workers to sponsor your plunge. All the information you need to become a plunger or to sponsor a plunger can be found by clicking here.

This year, something new has been added to the event: the Great Chili Cook-Off. The plungers start hitting the water at noon, and soon after the last brave soul scampers back out of the lake, the Great Chili Cook-Off begins at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street. If you make chili that gets rave reviews, and you want to increase its fan base, consider providing a pot of it for the Great Chili Cook-Off. Information on doing so is also available here

A Bit of Political Pedantry

Two women with not garden variety first names are among the presidential wannabes in the Democratic party: Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris. Since their names will be mentioned often in the coming months, it would nice if those speaking of them would pronounce their names correctly.

First, Kirsten Gillibrand. The first syllable of Kirsten does not sound like cur. Instead, it rhymes with ear and clear and near. To hear it pronounced correctly, click here

Then there's Kamala Harris. Kamala does not rhyme with Pamela. The first syllable of Kamala, as do all the syllables, rhymes with baa and spa and rah. To hear it pronounced correctly, by Kamala Harris herself if you watch long enough, click here.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

No More Portraits on the Mantel

Back in April, Gossips reported the sudden appearance of a portrait of Donald Trump in the center of the pictures of our representatives in state and federal government on the mantelpiece in the Council Chamber at City Hall: "New Face in City Hall."

Tonight, at the suggestion of Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), the Common Council decided that the portrait of Trump--and indeed all the portraits--would no longer be displayed. Amanda Purcell reports exactly what transpired on HudsonValley360: "In symbolic gesture, Common Council removes Trump photo from fireplace mantel."


Oakdale: Memories and Aspirations

On HudsonValley360 today, Amanda Purcell has a story about Oakdale and the plans to revitalize it: "Oakdale volunteers whittle down project list." Essentially, she's reporting the same information that was presented to the public on December 11 and reported by Gossips the next day: "Eight Ideas for Oakdale." What Purcell doesn't mention is an Oakdale event coming up next month, on Thursday, February 7, at the Hudson Area Library: the opening reception for an exhibition called "Oakdale: Past & Future."

Oakdale Lake, June 1963
The exhibition, the collaborative creation of Friends of Oakdale Lake, Friends of Hudson Youth, the Hudson Area Library, Columbia University's Hudson Valley Initiative, and the City of Hudson Youth Department's "Oakdale campers," includes historic photographs of Oakdale, maps from early Oakdale Lake plans (it is a human-engineered lake, after all), a history of Hudson's relationship with the lake, environmental projects by Oakdale campers, and the Hudson Valley Initiative team's final design concept for Oakdale, refined based on the input from the public meeting on December 11.

HVI's findings will be presented in a short video to be screened at the exhibition opening. Attendees can discuss and augment the concepts. There will be design images for people to take hone and "mobilize around." Speaking of the eight design ideas, Kaja KΓΌhl, director of the HVI program, explained, "Each can be pursued individually and at different timelines. Together they provide a vision for Oakdale as a destination for all."

The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, February 7, in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. People are encouraged to bring copies of photographs of themselves, their friends and family at Oakdale. These will be placed on a community board that will become part of the exhibition, which will be on display at the library through the month of March.

Happening Right Now on Columbia Street

At this moment, these two houses--really a double house--at 251 and 249 Columbia Street are being demolished.

The two houses have been sad and abandoned for a while now. They were often mentioned back in 2010 as a potential location for scattered site housing, when there was talk of replacing Bliss Towers. The tax rolls indicate they were acquired by a new owner in March 2017. Now they are being demolished.

Recently, the two houses across the street, at 248 and 250 Columbia, were demolished to make way for a pair of new multiple unit houses.

According to a Gossips source, close to 75 percent of the properties on the south side of the 200 block of Columbia Street have changed ownership in the last year or so. To quote that source, "What was probably the most blighted block in the city is beginning to see a lot of investment." It remains to be seen what that investment will bring.

At Tonight's Common Council Meeting

Gossips has received word that at the Common Council meeting tonight, which begins at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall, Rebecca Polmateer from Cornell Cooperative Extension will be making a presentation about Complete Streets

New York State passed the Complete Streets Act in 2011. The NYS Department of Transportation defines a Complete Street in this way:
A Complete Street is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of all roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.
Complete Street roadway design features include sidewalks, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable to use by bicyclists, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic calming measures.
The Before and After pictures below were taken from the New York State Complete Streets Report, published in February 2014. They show the transformation of a street in Great Neck, Long Island, from a two-lane one-way road into a two-lane two-way road with Complete Streets enhancements--"a new aesthetic, easier and safer crossing for pedestrians, and a number of traffic calming measures."

The lion's share of Hudson's $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) money--a little less than $4 million--will go toward implementing Complete Streets improvements in the area of the city below Second Street, "to provide safe access, aesthetic improvement, and separation of truck traffic from pedestrians and bicyclists."