Saturday, August 18, 2018

Supermarket Shuffle

The rumor that's been swirling around for months now was confirmed yesterday in the Register-Star: the Price Chopper in Greenport is closing. The family-owned, regional supermarket chain headquartered in Schenectady is closing the store on Fairview Avenue "because of the area's economic downturn." That's according to a spokesperson for the Golub Corporation Mona Golub. 

The article notes that Price Chopper opened a store in Greenport forty years ago. That store was located in what is now Movieplex 8. Golub is quoted in the article as saying, "Back then that part of town was a good place to do business. Now, the population has decreased and the traffic has declined and other local retailers have either relocated or left the area." That strikes me as a rather curious perception. It's noted in the article that the current store, which opened about twenty years ago and which I've always considered too big, preferring the smaller and closer ShopRite, is "one of the company's smallest and older stores." I guess in the chain store business--be it supermarket or convenience store--bigger and newer are always better.

The rumor has a second part, which I seriously hope is not true: ShopRite, which is closer and more convenient for us Hudsonians, is moving to the current Price Chopper location. It seems to me, if Price Chopper is closing the store because of "the area's economic downturn," the decrease in population, and the decline in traffic, those same woes would beset ShopRite in that location, which in its present location seems to be a bustling and thriving concern.

Foster's Remediation Complete. Now What?

At the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting on Wednesday, DPW superintendent Rob Perry reported that, after ten years, the cleanup of the brownfield that was Foster Refrigerator was almost complete.

Photo by Gibson
Perry reported that the area was being hydroseeded, and yesterday morning when Gossips visited the site it appeared that process had been completed. The grass will start sprouting in about a week.

What remains is for the City to decide what to do with this newly remediated parcel. In April 2012, Mayor William Hallenbeck had the idea of using the site for a dog park. Dog park advocates were enthusiastic about the possibility for several reasons:
  • It is several thousand square feet and is already surrounded by a fairly new six-foot chain link fence.
  • There is ample space to create separate areas for large dogs and small dogs.
  • It is large enough to ensure that dogs can exercise there and not just use it to relieve themselves.
  • The site is not located in a high-density residential area where neighbors might be disturbed by barking dogs.
  • There is ample room for parking.
  • The site has an existing water supply. 
But alas, in 2012, the City had no money to clean up the site. In 2015, when the Department of Environmental Conservation undertook to clean up the site, at a cost of close to a million dollars with a 10 percent match from the City, the site was being eyed for a parking lot and entrance way to the hiking trails that were part of the Columbia Land Conservancy's Concept Master Plan for North Bay. Now that the site has been cleaned up, it is not clear what it will be used for. 

At Wednesday's Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) asked Perry about potential uses for the site. His answer indicated that it could be used for just about anything so long as the use involved building up and not down into the ground. Given that, in this city desperate for affordable housing, someone is sure to suggest it could be used for some kind of housing development, no matter that it would be adjacent to a manufacturing plant and the waste water treatment plant. Gossips, however, is of the opinion that it would make a perfect dog park.

Dog owners in Hudson have been advocating for a dog park for close to a decade. Last year, Mayor Tiffany Martin, nearing the end of her term in office, decided to make good on the promise of a dog park and determined in October that the best location for a dog park was the underutilized Charles Williams Park. A dog park had, after all, been part of the original plan for the park.

The people who live in the five houses adjacent to the park vehemently protested the plan to site the dog park there. In December, the Common Council passed a resolution opposing creating a dog park in Charles Williams Park and calling on the mayor to "explore constructing a dog park at another location within the City of Hudson." In the discussion preceding the vote on the resolution, Rick Rector, then mayor elect and First Ward alderman, said, "I don't think we can completely erase [Charles Williams Park] as a possibility, because there are not a lot of possibilities, but I will as the next mayor convene a conversation with the community about the best possible place to have a dog park." 

The resolution was vetoed by then mayor Tiffany Martin, who asserted that she had determined Charles Williams Park the logical choice, "after evaluating every available green space owned by the City of Hudson." When the mayor's veto message was received by the Council, it was January, and there was a new Council and a new mayor. The Council did not vote to override the veto. Instead Council president Tom Depietro observed that the mayor who had vetoed the resolution was no longer the mayor and promised, "The entire issue will be revisited by the Council and the mayor."

We are now eight months into the terms of the new Council and the new mayor, and the topic of the dog park has not been revisited in any public way. Let's hope when it is the newly remediated brownfield that a previous mayor identified as the possible site of the dog park will be among the green spaces owned by the City of Hudson under consideration. In Gossips' opinion, it would be the best possibility.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Unique Opportunity on Saturday

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 18, Hudson Hall invites the public to visit the charming Livingston home of Bruno Pasquier-Desvignes for "The Unicorn Party," a late summer garden soiree and open house celebrating the work of this iconic Hudson Valley artist. Visitors have the opportunity to purchase any of the thousands of artworks on display and even the house itself.

A special preview showing for friends of Hudson Hall takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, followed by an open house and public sale from 2 to 5 p.m. To make a reservation for the preview, click here. For more information about the event, including the location of the house, click here

Update: Online reservations for the members-only preview have closed. Current friends of Hudson Hall and those seeking to become friends to attend the preview are asked to see a member of the Hudson Hall staff upon arrival.

Filled with wonderfully expressive sculptures made from found and recycled materials, paintings, etchings, murals, and musical whirligigs, Pasquier-Desvignes' home is a one-of-a-kind installation of this unique artist's life work.


Pasqueir-Desvignes is of the same generation of artists who sparked Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Pop Art, and other "isms," while being fully attuned with the less genre-bound artistic experiments of the early Modernists. Born in the village of Saint-Lager, near Lyon, France, in 1930, he has lived in Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, and Asia. His home encapsulates, through his art, many of these experiences, and his larger than life presence.

In 1995, Pasquier-Desvignes was approached by his famous film producer neighbors, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, to create paintings and drawings for their film Surviving Picasso. An artist and friend, R. O. Blechman explains: "When Merchant-Ivory asked Bruno to create Picasso-like drawings for their film Surviving Picasso, little did they guess that they would get Picasso-Plus drawings. And when I saw his little metal sculptures, little did I guess that I would be looking at several Calder-Plus sculptures."

Pasquier-Desvignes' work is of infinite creativity and playfulness. He made an animated version of the French epic poem The Song of Roland with corks and toothpicks, filled Grand Central Station with his sculptures, and created a short-lived but much heralded installation of Rube Goldberg-like contraptions at the Emerson Resort in the Catskills, home to the world's largest kaleidoscope. For the anniversary of Robert Fulton's first steamboat on the Hudson, he created a junk barge that sailed the river.

The special preview takes place tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; the public sale is from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Click here for more information.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Reminder About Comments

Totally anonymous comments will not be published on this blog. I don't care if you adopt a synonym that you use consistently, but you must distinguish yourself in some way.

Awaiting the Governor's Signature

In July 2017, the Common Council passed a resolution calling for the New York State Legislature to pass S.2412B/A.5285A to create an independent New York State Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct "specifically designed to investigate complaints of misconduct by prosecutors and impose discipline on prosecutors who violate the law." The issue and the resolution was introduced to the Council by Second Ward alderman Tiffany Garriga.

Creating a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct would allow a fair procedure for the public to voice concerns regarding improper prosecution, lack of prosecution, and selective prosecution. Specifically, the commission would:
  • receive complaints and initiate their own investigation when it appears prosecutorial misconduct may have occurred;
  • ensure the right to a fair trial by enforcing the obligation of prosecutors to observe acceptable standards of conduct and to establish accountability for the conduct of prosecutors during the performance of their functions, powers, and duties;
  • allow citizens to voice their concerns over improper prosecution and have the ability to discipline a prosecutor or allow him or her to clear their name of wrongdoing.
In June 2018, the legislation was passed overwhelmingly in the State Senate and the Assembly, and it is now on the governor's desk awaiting his signature. He has until Monday night to sign the legislation. On Tuesday, the editorial board of the New York Times urged the governor to do so: "Prosecutors Need a Watchdog." In the editorial, it is noted that "A review of 250 exonerations in New York since 1989 found that one-third involved prosecutorial misconduct, like tampering with key evidence, withholding evidence from the defendant or coercing a witness to give false testimony." The editorial concludes:
Mr. Cuomo has made criminal-justice reform a signature of his long career in public service; as governor he's overseen the shuttering of more than a dozen prisons and restored voting rights to tens of thousands of New Yorkers on parole. He knows as well as anyone that prosecutorial misconduct is a serious and stubborn problem that has largely defied solution. By signing this bill, he would move New York in the right direction, as well as set an important example for the rest of the nation.
In a press release received yesterday from the coalition called "It Could Happen to You," Garriga is quoted as saying: "Legislation that would be first in the nation, legislation that is a model for the rest of the country. Yes, I believe the governor wants to be on the right side of history."

A Relic Discovered Beneath the Street

At the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting last night, DPW superintendent Rob Perry shared the picture of a piece of wooden water pipe discovered while excavating for the sewer separation project on lower Columbia Street. This morning, he provided Gossips with three pictures of the relic.

The pipe, which is essentially a hollowed out log, is a remnant of Hudson's earliest municipal water system. It is currently residing in the entrance to the water treatment plant at the top of Rossman Avenue.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Eger Communications and Blue Hill

More than two weeks ago, Gossips linked to an article in the Register-Star that reported Congressman John Faso was calling for the FCC to move forward with the plans for Eger Communications to build a new tower on Blue Hill, in the Olana viewshed: "Another Faso Misstep." That article quoted Faso as saying, "This is a simple replacement and upgrade that is vital for our local emergency communication capability."

Frederic Edwin Church, Our Banner in the Sky, 1861
Courtesy the Olana State Historic Site
Needless to say, there is more to the story than what was presented by Faso in his call for the FCC to get off the dime. The rest of the story is explained in a letter by Sean Sawyer, president of The Olana Partnership, and Jeff Anzevino, director of land use advocacy for Scenic Hudson, which appeared in the Register-Star on Monday: "My View: Providing the public with the full story." The letter reveals that Eger Communications has refused to participate in a Section 106 Historic Review, as defined by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, and recently "appealed directly to the White House, members of Congress, and other elected officials to push the FCC to quickly approve the project." The letter, which can be accessed here, is recommended reading.

Recent Appointments to the Regulatory Boards

The Planning Board started the year with three vacancies--two because Tom DePietro and Rob Bujan had become elected officials and hence ineligible to serve on the Planning Board. In January, Mayor Rick Rector appointed Betsy Gramkow to the Planning Board, and in April, he appointed John Cody. The final vacancy was filled last week, when Rector appointed Mark Morgan-Perez to the Planning Board. Morgan-Perez, who has an extensive background in real estate development and project management, served on Mayor Tiffany Martin's Housing Task Force, the body that created the Strategic Housing Action Plan. He also was recently appointed to the board of Hudson Development Corporation (HDC).

In recent weeks, Rector also appointed Paul Barrett to replace David Voorhees, who stepped down after serving for twelve years as the historian member of the Historic Preservation Commission. A local historian, Barrett has lectured in Hudson on the mansions that surrounded Lyndhurst during the Golden Age of Tarrytown and on the social history of the Hudson Armory. He has done extensive research on "The Pines" and the Farrand family and frequently shares his discoveries about Hudson history with Gossips.

Monday Night at City Hall

Dan Udell's video of Monday night's informal Common Council meeting can now be viewed here

Of particular interest is Council president Tom DePietro's announcement that the Common Council is going to form a Planning Task Force "to encompass the discussions" of Local Law No. 9 of 2017 and Local Law No. 5 of 2018, both amendments to the zoning code having to do with nonconforming uses in residential districts. He indicated that "all relevant agencies--HDC, HCDPA, Zoning, and Planning" would be involved, and the task force would assist with the LWRP, DRI, and "any other group that needs help with planning for housing or other related projects." He also promised that "full details" about the task force would be provided at the formal Council meeting on Tuesday, August 21. DePietro's comments about the task force begin at 18:30 in the video.

Fifth Ward alderman Eileen Halloran's concerns about historic preservation and her ideas for changing the law begin at 19:40 in the video.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Starting This Friday

At the last Police Committee meeting, Chief Ed Moore mentioned a program that would happen in August to educate pedestrians and drivers about rules of the crosswalk. Today, this photograph of Officer Tracey Roberts, holding a poster for the Pedestrian Safety Detail, appeared on the Hudson Police Department Facebook page, together with the information that the Pedestrian Safety Detail will begin its work this Friday, August 17.
HPD officers will be monitoring our crosswalks and handing out informational pamphlets to pedestrians and motorists. We ordered the materials after a June meeting with resident Peter Spear, who has been a huge advocate for traffic safety within our city. More information to follow. . . .
Drivers and pedestrians, get ready to see and be seen!

Deja Vu All Over Again

When it was discovered, back at the dawn of the 21st century, that the Historic Preservation Commission created by the newly enacted preservation ordinance--Chapter 169 of the city code--was empowered to designate historic districts and local landmarks, the law was suspended and rewritten to give the power to designate historic districts and landmarks to the Common Council. The HPC could only make recommendations. As a consequence, aside from a few designations made before the law was changed--Willard Place, the Robert Taylor House, and the five historic firehouses--all the historic districts and landmarks were designated in a two-year period--2006-2007--when there was support for historic preservation on the Common Council. Since then, no new historic districts have been designated. An initiative by Historic Hudson in 2011 to get Robinson Street designated a historic district went down in flames, and the recent attempt by the Historic Preservation Commission to expand the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District seems to have opened a new can of worms.

Robinson Street in 2011                   Photo: Peter Frank
A couple of months ago when the Common Council was discussing the proposal to expand the existing historic district south and west to include the Kaz site and the waterfront, Alderman Eileen Halloran, who represents the Fifth Ward, told the Council her constituents were concerned that "historic preservation was coming to them." At last night's informal Common Council meeting, Halloran revealed that the HPC's desire to expand a historic district to have some oversight over new development in an adjacent area where in the next two years the Downtown Revitalization Initiative will invest tens of millions of dollars and could potentially change the character of the city is making her constituents, far away in the Fifth Ward, nervous. (To my knowledge, the HPC has never contemplated designating anything in the Fifth Ward, although Gossips has on a few occasions bemoaned what can happen to buildings that are not in historic districts.) Halloran told the Council last night that her constituents "are not comfortable with this" and quoted one constituent as saying, "I'm not going to go ask someone if I can put a screen door on my house." She then suggested that the preservation law be amended so that "people have to agree to having their house included in a historic district."

The Historic Preservation Commission has never opined on the installation of screen doors, but this kind of extreme statement is typical of the fears surrounding historic preservation. I recall that back when the law newly drafted was ready to be introduced to the Council, the city attorney at the time called all of the aldermen and warned them that if they passed the legislation as it was written people would have to get approval to put up a new mailbox. That was not true then, and it is not true now.

To require that building owners must agree to inclusion in a historic district defeats the purpose of the historic preservation law. The law recognizes "as a matter of public policy, that the protection, enhancement, and perpetuation of landmarks and historic districts are necessary to promote the economic, cultural, educational, and general welfare of the public." The law exists to protect the architectural fabric and the character of neighborhoods, indeed of the entire city, and to prevent architectural transformations like the one shown below from happening.

Photo: Old House Journal
To make inclusion in a historic district voluntary achieves nothing. The people who opt in will be the people who care about historic preservation and want to do the right thing with their houses. They are not the ones who need the guidance and oversight of the HPC. The people who opt out may be similarly committed to preserving the architectural integrity of their homes, but if they are, why do they feel so threatened by the remote possibility that their neighborhood might become a historic district? Besides, even if the HPC were to propose making some part of the Fifth Ward a historic district, the residents can always protest and squelch the initiative the way the folks on Robinson Street did back in 2011. It is not necessary to amend and dilute the preservation ordinance to make it powerless to preserve the historic architecture and character of the city.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Original "Gossips of Rivertown"

This blog takes its name, The Gossips of Rivertown, from an 1848 novel written by Alice B. Neal, who grew up in Hudson. The novel can be read in its entirety online at Google Books, but when the blog called The Gossips of Rivertown got started in 2010, I serialized excerpts from the novel over the course of more than a year. After telling someone recently how the 19th-century Gossips could be read on the 21st-century Gossips, I realized how daunting a task it would be to try to find all the excerpts and read them in order. For that reason, I am providing the links, in order, to all of the excerpts. The titles of the excerpts were introduced by me.  

Excerpt 1:  "Was There Ever Such Imprudence?" 
Excerpt 2:  "An Artful Creature as Ever Lived"
Excerpt 3:  "Mr. Jorden Was Going to Be Married"
Excerpt 4:  "The Love of Gossip Prevailed" 
Excerpt 5:  Miss Harden and Miss Mitchell Pay a Visit  
Excerpt 6:  Whose Miniature Was It?
Excerpt 7:  "One of that Amiable Sisterhood"
Excerpt 8:  Doing Their Duty as Friends
Excerpt 9:  A Perfect Day in Rivertown
Excerpt 10:  Summer in Hudson
Excerpt 11:  "The Hypocrisy of Some People!"
Excerpt 12:  Catching up with the Original Gossips
Excerpt 13:  A Visit from Mrs. Townsend
Excerpt 14:  A Visit from Mrs. Townsend (continued)
Excerpt 15:  "A Woman So Imprudent"
Excerpt 16:  "How Have I Transgressed the Laws of Propriety?"
Excerpt 17:  "A Tall, Sad-looking Man"
Excerpt 18:  "I've Made Up My Mind About His Case"
Excerpt 19:  "Someone Must Have Corrupted the Truth"
Excerpt 20:  "'Tis but a Trial Sent for Our Good"
Excerpt 21:  "Many a Sorrowful Struggle"
Excerpt 22:  Mr. Townsend Hears His Accusation
Excerpt 23:  "This Sadly Eloquent Appeal"
Excerpt 24:  "Into the Silent Land"
Excerpt 25:  "Benevolence Became a Mania in Rivertown"
Excerpt 26:  The Orphan Asylum Fair
Excerpt 27:  "Unexpected Good Fortune"
Excerpt 28:  Another Gossips Milestone
Excerpt 29:  Spring in Rivertown
Excerpt 30:  "Partings Seem the Order of the Day"


Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

This week there are a couple of reasons to show up at City Hall in the evening and one to show up at 1 North Front Street in the afternoon.
  • Tonight, Monday, August 13, the Common Council holds its informal meeting at 7 p.m. at City Hall. So far, the only items on the agenda are the mayor's veto of proposed Local Law No. 4, the law pertaining to vacant buildings, and a resolution to adopt a fund balance policy. Gossips has heard that Local Law No. 4 has been revised to eliminate the problems that necessitated the mayor's veto, but it is not known if the revised law will be introduced tonight or if it will have to go through committee.
  • Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 14, the Nominating Committee of the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) board will meet again to contemplate who will be appointed to the board to replace the four members who resigned as a consequence of Common Council president Tom DePietro's expressed lack of confidence in HDC over the redevelopment of the Kaz site. So far, the appointment of only one new board member, Mark Morgan-Perez, has been made public. The committee meeting will take place in executive session, with no members of the public permitted to observe.
  • On Wednesday, August 15, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:15 in City Hall. DPW superintendent Rob Perry, whose report to the committee is the major business of the monthly meeting, will be reporting on the impacts of the severe thunderstorm Hudson experienced last Tuesday.
  • Also on Wednesday, August 15, at 6 p.m., the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at City Hall. At its July meeting, the ZBA scheduled six public hearings for Wednesday regarding the following requests: (1) an area variance for parking at 437 Warren Street; (2) an area variance for parking at 514 State Street; (3) an area variance to create two lots of equal size at 248 and 250 Columbia Street [The Planning Board approved the lot line adjustment at its last meeting; an area variance is required from the ZBA because neither lot will meet the minimum lot size required by the code.]; (4) several area variances for the project proposed for Partition Street behind 17-19 Union Street, including setbacks and lot coverage; (5) a variance for an 8-foot fence to be constructed at 939 Columbia Street; (6) area variances for a solar carport to be constructed at 65-67 North Third Street.
248 and 250 Columbia Street
Elevations for Partition Street proposal (behind 17-19 Union Street)
  • On Thursday, August 16, Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA) meets at 2 p.m. at 1 North Front Street. At its last meeting on July 26, there was talk of selling off all the property and dissolving the agency. The property owned by HDCPA consists of vacant lots at 202, 204, and 206 Columbia Street (what remains of the community garden), 238 Columbia Street, 2 through 12 State Street, and 2-4 Warren Street. At the July meeting, Walter Chatham, who chairs the Planning Board and also chairs the HCDPA board, offered this assessment of HCDPA: "The agency is broke, we don't have much of a track record, and the political climate does not favor this type of agency." At Thursday's meeting it is expected that city attorney Andy Howard will be present to discuss the agency's options going forward. It is not known if the meeting will be open to the public or if the board will invoke attorney-client privilege and go into executive session.


Greatness Among Us

Yesterday's magazine section of the New York Times had an article about Lynn Davis and her career as a portrait photographer before she started photographing sacred sites, icebergs, and, most notably for us in Hudson, every building on Warren Street: "She Chronicled the Great Photographers of the 20th Century. Then, She Stopped Taking Portraits."

Lynn Davis with A. T. Mann at a book signing event at Rural Residence in 2010 for Sacred Landscapes: The Threshold Between Worlds | Photo: Rural Intelligence

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Damage to an Ancient Tree

It is not known if it was the victim of lightning, wind, old age and gravity, or a combination of some or all of the above, but between Saturday night and Sunday morning one of the venerable old trees in Washington Park, a.k.a. Courthouse Square, suffered severe but hopefully not irreparable damage.

Photo: Llew Young
Photographic evidence suggests that the tree is older than the current courthouse and indeed was already a fairly substantial tree when the first courthouse to occupy the site, built around 1837, was there. (The current Warren and Wetmore courthouse, completed in 1907, is the third to be built at that location.) If you look to the right in the photograph below, which shows the courthouse that existed before 1900, I believe you will see the tree now critically damaged as it was when it was young.

Photo courtesy Historic Hudson

Walk | Don't Walk

I have often observed that pedestrians in Hudson don't seem to distinguish between mid-block crosswalks and crosswalks at intersections controlled by traffic lights and will boldly step into crosswalks in front of cars that have the green light. There seems to be the expectation that a zebra stripped crosswalk is a charmed and protected place where the pedestrian has the right of way no matter what the circumstance.

Pedestrians don't seem to be able to interpret how traffic lights affect them either. Last week, for example, heading up Warren Street, I was stopped at the red light at Seventh Street. A family--man, woman, and two children--were standing at the corner, in front of Lick, waiting to cross Warren Street. They were watching the same traffic light I was, and instead of crossing when the light was red for Warren Street, they waited until the light turned green and then stepped out into the street in front of cars that had just gotten the green light.

Earlier this month, Peter Spear monitored the corner of Third and Warren streets over the course of three days and edited the resultant three hours of video recording down to twenty-five minutes. That video, called "Pedestrian Observation," has now been published on YouTube and can be viewed here.

Spear's video documents all the things I've experienced driving around Hudson lately and makes an implicit recommendation: we need pedestrian crossing lights at the Warren Street intersections that have traffic lights--especially Warren and Third, since Third Street is a truck route. Whether they say WALK|DON'T WALK or just use icons, we need them. I would suggest that since many of the people captured in Spear's video appear to be visitors to our city, the newly created Tourism Board, empowered to determine how a portion of the revenue from the city's lodging tax is spent, consider investing in pedestrian crossing lights to improve the safety and walkability of our city.