Thursday, March 21, 2019

Of Interest

The Albany Business Review this morning featured an interview with Jeff Buell of Redburn Development Partners: "Why Jeff Buell of Reburn Development is trying to rebuild cities."  Buell is shown in the center of this photograph with partners Tom Rossi (left) and John Blackburn (right).

Redburn Development was one of the three groups that submitted proposals last year for the redevelopment of the Kaz site and the only one whose proposal did not involve using affordable housing tax credit. In the interview, Buell said essentially what he told the HDC board last year: "We are going to be fixing historic buildings as often as possible. We're gonna be creating housing that is affordable but doesn't access affordable tax credits. Just everyday apartments for everyday people." 

An article that appeared last month in the Albany Business Review reported on Redburn's acquisition of historic buildings in Albany for adaptive reuse as apartments: "Redburn buys more property in downtown Albany." The article includes a slideshow of a building in downtown Schenectady they converted into apartments, with rents that range from $750 for a studio apartment to $1,350 for a two-bedroom apartment.    

Happening Just a Few Hours from Now

Tonight at 6:00 p.m., the History Room at the Hudson Area Library, in collaboration with the Leisler Institute for the Study of Early New York History, the Greenport Historical Society, and the Gotham Center for New York City History, presents the latest in its series of local history talks: "Colonial New York and the World of Jacob Leisler."

Map courtesy Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Boston Public Library
The talk, presented by L. H. Roper, will focus on 17th-century colonial New York and the Hudson Valley in the context of the larger Atlantic World. Speaking about the subject of his talk, Roper commented, "Where does the history of New York fit into the history of colonial America and where does the history of colonial America fit into the history of the wider world? I will discuss the 17th-century European colonization of the greater Hudson Valley and what its history suggests about the character of early Americans."

Roper is a professor in the Department of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz and is co-general editor of The Journal of Early American History. His research at this time focuses on the 17th-century slave trades and the colonization of the area bounded by the Connecticut River and Chesapeake Bay.

The event takes place in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. A question-and-answer period and refreshments will follow the talk.

Remembering Doc Donahue

Robert Donahue, whose nickname, for reasons not entirely clear, was "Doc," died on Tuesday. His wife of 59 years predeceased him four months ago, and after her death, his own health declined.

Doc was often seen around town, making deliveries for Meals on Wheels, driving people to medical appointments, and, in the days before ShopRite's home delivery service, doing grocery shopping for others, but where many people saw Doc most often was in the outside seat on the left in the Council Chamber at City Hall.

Robert Donahue served for twenty-four years--twelve consecutive terms--on the Common Council as alderman for the Fifth Ward. At his last Council meeting in December 2017, when he was given a plaque to acknowledge his long years of service, he expressed his gratitude to Rick Scalera for persuading him to run for alderman back in 1993 and quipped that Scalera was not only a great mayor but also a great salesman. He explained that the Democrats had not endorsed him in 2017 because he had supported Republican Bill Hallenbeck in 2015 and asked rhetorically, "What's more importanta friend or a political party?" 

Talking about politics and city government, a native Hudsonian once told me that back in the day people could argue passionately and acrimoniously at Council meetings and then all go out and have a beer together. Doc's relationships with people often had that same paradoxical quality. During my four years on the Council, representing the First Ward, Doc and I, although both Democrats, were on different sides of the aisle, literally and figuratively. He crystallized our opposition once by declaring, directing the comment at me, "I don't know anything about this resolution, but if you're for it, I'm against it." A few years later, when I was no longer on the Council, Doc stopped his car, as he often did, to say hello when I was out walking my dog. After exchanging greetings, Doc asked, "Am I still your favorite alderman?" In one of my finest Dorothy Parker moments, I assured him, "Nothing has changed, Doc. Nothing has changed."

At Doc's last Common Council meeting, Scalera was there to, in his words, "escort the last good old boy off the Council." Bob Donahue was indeed the archetypal Hudson good old boy, who put friendship above political party and loyalty to friends above almost all other considerations.

The last time I saw Doc was a month or so ago. I was walking Joey in the cemetery in the early morning, and Doc drove right past us, without seeing or acknowledging us. I have since learned that he visited his wife's grave every morning. He must have been on his way there when I saw him.  

Rest in peace, Doc Donahue. We shall not see your like again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Police Car Totaled

A few years ago, a 2000 BMW, seized in connection with a drug arrest, was painted red, white, and blue to become the HPD's official D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) car. The rear bumper of the car bore the message: "Compliments of a Local Drug Dealer."

Photo: Bill Williams|98.5 The Cat
Today, that car was totaled and school resource officer Jake Hoffman was injured in an accident at the corner of Sixth and Columbia streets. Gossips received the following press release late this afternoon from Chief Ed Moore.
At 3:08 p.m. today, HPD responded to the intersection of North 6th Street and Columbia Street for a report of a two car personal injury accident involving a police vehicle. The call for assistance was made by Officer Jacob Hoffman, HPD’s School Resource Officer for the Hudson City School District.
Upon arrival at the scene, officers discovered a 2016 black Honda Accord operated by Monish D. Patel, 18 years old, of Hudson had struck Officer Hoffman’s assigned vehicle, a 2000 BMW sedan, in the intersection. Patel had a passenger, a 16-year-old male resident of Hudson. Patel complained of pain but declined medical treatment at the scene. His passenger claimed no injury but is being evaluated at Columbia Memorial Hospital (CMH). Officer Hoffman sustained injuries and is currently being examined at CMH.
Patel has been arrested for unlawful possession of marijuana, driving while ability impaired by drugs, and vehicle & traffic law violations. This matter is still under investigation. Patel is currently being processed at HPD.
HPD is currently being assisted by Troopers from the S[tate P[olice] Livingston Barracks.
“Officer Hoffman was driving the BMW 'D.A.R.E.' vehicle that we had seized from a drug dealer. It appears the injuries are minor, and it certainly could have been worse.” Chief  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

One Meeting Canceled, Another Announced

Yesterday, Gossips reported that the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, which was scheduled to take place at 5:15 p.m. tomorrow, had been canceled. Today, I learned why. DPW superintendent Rob Perry, whose monthly report takes up the greater part of the meeting, and PW&P Committee chair Eileen Halloran have to go to another meeting.

Photo: Jonathan Simons
At 5:15 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, March 20, the ad hoc committee formed to review the eight proposals to do a feasibility study of the former John L. Edwards School will be meeting to do just that. In addition to Perry and Halloran, the ad hoc committee includes Mayor Rick Rector, Council president Tom DePietro, Third Ward alderman Calvin Lewis, Planning Board chair Walter Chatham, Fifth Ward alderman Dominic Merante, and commissioner of public works Peter Bujanow. The meeting is a public meeting, but it's scheduled to take place in the conference room on the second floor of City Hall, a room that reaches its capacity at about eight people, so it's hard to imagine how the interested public will be accommodated.

"Deconstruction" Abandoned

This afternoon, I went to check on the deconstruction of the old Hudson Orphan Asylum and discovered this.

Whether intentionally or because of an unanticipated collapse, the meticulous deconstruction and salvage of materials seems to have been abandoned in favor of a more brutal knock down. 

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Columbia-Greene Community College has been working on developing a certificate-granting program in the skills needed for restoring and preserving buildings. Now it's ready to begin. C-GCC will be enrolling students in its new Construction Technology Preservation Certificate program beginning in the Fall 2019 semester.

On Friday, March 29, C-GCC will be hosting a Construction Technology Workshop to introduce potential students, building and construction business owners, and interested community members to the new program. The event takes place from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. in Room 612 of the C-GCC Professional Academic Center on the Columbia-Greene campus, located at 4400 Route 23. For more information about the workshop, click here.   

Ear to the Ground

Last week, Gossips reported that there was only one candidate running for alderman in the Fifth Ward and one in the First Ward. Then, Eileen Halloran, who had previously declared her intention not to run, changed her mind. So once again, there are two incumbents running in the Fifth Ward: Halloran and Dominic Merante. Today there's word that two more candidates have joined the race for First Ward alderman where previously there was only one: Rebecca Wolff. According to Gossips sources, the new declared alderman candidates in the First Ward are Jane Trombley and Ginna Moore.

Everybody's Doing It

The Albany Business Review reported this morning that Troy is undertaking a project to update its zoning: "Troy is overhauling its zoning code to make (denser) development easier."  

Photo: Donna Abbott-Vlahos|Albany Business Review
The article states: "The last zoning code Troy wrote, in the 1980s, was suburban and automobile-centric--hardly suited to a city known for its urban downtown." Sound familiar?

The Longest Planning Board Meeting: Part 2

After more than an hour and a half spent discussing the Stewart's expansion, the Planning Board turned its attention on Thursday to Colarusso and the already completed but never properly permitted repairs to the dock and the proposed haul road through South Bay.

In January, the retaliatory lawsuit brought by A. Colarusso & Sons against the City of Hudson and the Hudson Planning Board, challenging the determination "requiring them to obtain a conditional use permit for their commercial dock operations" and seeking "declaratory relief regarding a laundry list of complaints," was dismissed. Now that "laundry list of complaints" has become the eleven things the Planning Board is empowered to examine in its review of the operation.

City attorney Andy Howard advised the board to keep the dock and the haul road separate and to make findings on each. Still the presentation by Colarusso engineer Pat Prendergast and the discussion it provoked moved between the two issues. 

On the subject of the haul road, Prendergast noted that the part of the haul road in Greenport had already been approved by the Greenport Planning Board. He claimed the road between Route 9 and Colarusso's headquarters on Newman Road would would remove 12,000 asphalt trucks from the streets of Hudson every year. When asked by board members--first by Clark Wieman and later by Betsy Gramkow--by they haven't started using that portion of the road already, Prendergast responded that they were ready to do all of the haul road but insisted that it was more efficient to do the construction of the entire road--from the quarry to the dock--at one time. What he didn't mention was they would lose some of their leverage for getting Hudson to approve the portion of the haul road that passes through South Bay if they removed 12,000 asphalt trucks from city streets before approval was granted.

Railroad tracks and "road" c.1968 
Photo courtesy Hudson Area Library History Room
The plan for South Bay involves moving the roadway from its current location to the center of the berm where the railroad tracks once were. Prendergast told the Planning Board that Norbert Quenzer would be consulting on the revegetation along the route. He explained that the existing path would be "top-soiled and seeded." Six feet on either side of the proposed two-way paved road would be mowed; the rest would be allowed to grow back naturally. 

Planning Board chair Walter Chatham spoke at some length about the LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Program) and the FGEIS (Final Generic Environmental Impact Statement). He told that board that the LWRP recommended a two-way haul road "to alleviate truck traffic in the city." He went on to say, "My sense is that the purpose was to mitigate not eliminate the business," and he counseled the board, "There is a lot of noise around us now, but we need to look at what the actual benefit to the community would be." He also confessed, "I didn't understand that the haul road idea originated from the LWRP and didn't originate with Colarusso." (In the interest of historic accuracy, it should be pointed out that in 2011, when the LWRP and the FGEIS were adopted, Colarusso did not own the property. It was owned by Holcim, and company called O&G was hauling gravel to the dock.)

When the discussion returned to the topic of the dock, Chatham said that the "salt shed" was "not an attractive enhancement to the waterfront as it is." He pointed out that the cladding is rotting off and asked, "Can we dress up things?" He also spoke of screening and suggested that gravel might be stockpiled in six small piles instead of one big one.

Returning to the haul road, Chatham said he sought an agreement that there would be no trucks associated with Colarusso--hauling gravel to the dock or coming for asphalt or other material--on Hudson streets except in an emergency. The representatives from Colarusso said such such a guarantee was not possible because the haul road between Route 9 and Newman Road could not be used when blasting was occurring the the quarry.

The Colarusso discussion ended with the Planning Board deciding to make a site visit to the dock and haul road to "form some opinions" and "come up with conditions" for granting a conditional use permit.

Monday, March 18, 2019

A Little Known Bit of Information

A movie called Captive State was released on Friday and is now playing at the Octoplex on Fairview Avenue, also known as Spotlight Cinemas. The movie, which stars John Goodman, imagines life nearly a decade after an occupation by an extraterrestrial force.

Captive State is set in a Chicago neighborhood. It's not known how much of the film was actually shot in Chicago, but post-production was done right here in Hudson, in a house on Allen Street. Knowing that makes this comment by Andrew Todd, in a review of the film on Birth.Movies.Death, especially interesting: "Captive State feels like nothing quite so much as an entire television series edited down to feature length."

Rethink Your Plans for Wednesday Evening

Gossips has just learned that the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, which was to take place on Wednesday, March 20, at 5:15 p.m., has been canceled.

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.
Update: The Public Works and Parks Committee meeting was been canceled. Anyone planning to attend can instead celebrate the vernal equinox and the beginning of spring.
  • 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.