An article in the Register-Star last week informed us that the renovations to Hudson Terrace would begin in the middle of this month. Aside from the sketchy information provided in the article, no one seems to know exactly what is being planned. The interior changes are nobody's business but the tenants' who are going to occupy the apartments. The exterior changes, however, should be everybody's business.
Hudson Terrace sits atop the bluff on which Hudson was built. Approaching Hudson by the river, these architecturally undistinguished late 20th-century buildings are the first and about the only things that can be seen of our city, which is known for its rich inventory of historic architecture. The vast complex stretches the width of the city, from Allen Street to State Street, and it is visible from many vantage points within two National Register historic districts (the Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District and the Hudson Historic District) and two locally designated historic districts (the Warren Street Historic District and the Union-Allen-Front Street Historic District).
Historic Footnote: When the Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District was originally added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, it consisted of 95 buildings. In 1986, the district was decreased to 25 buildings. Many of those missing 70 buildings (including the one glimpsed through the trees in this picture) had been demolished to build Hudson Terrace.]
When the Historic Preservation Commission designated the Union-Allen-Front Street Historic District, they wisely included the buildings of Hudson Terrace as "non-contributing structures." Inclusion in a historic district--even as a non-contributing structure--makes a building subject to review by the Historic Preservation Commission because what is done with non-contributing structures has an impact on the overall character of a historic district. We know that Evergreen Partners intends to replace the faded blue vinyl siding on the buildings of Hudson Terrace with new siding, but I don't think anyone--aside, perhaps, from Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster--knows what they plan to replace it with or what color the new material will be.
Last Saturday, I had occasion to drive the length of Hudson Terrace, from north to south, and as I did, I contemplated what the buildings might look like with a different "skin" of a different color. Knowing that the renovations to the buildings were to begin this month, it occurred to me wonder if the plans for the exterior changes had been presented to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness. So I emailed the members of the HPC and asked.
A response came quite promptly from HPC chair, Tom Swope. Not surprisingly, Evergreen Partners has not presented their plans for substantive exterior changes to the Historic Preservation Commission, but, Swope reminded me, Wurster was the "gatekeeper," and it was his responsibility to refer projects requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness to the Historic Preservation Commission when his office receives an application for a building permit. Sadly, given Wurster's lack of sympathy with historic preservation, it is highly unlikely that it would ever occur to him to refer this project to the HPC. In 2005, Wurster allowed renovations to the facade of the C. H. Evans Firehouse (now The Spotty Dog) to begin without a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HPC and claimed that he didn't know that all the old firehouses had been designated local landmarks. In 2006, he issued a demolition permit for a historic building at 404 Warren Street without approval from the Historic Preservation Commission. In 2007, Wurster issued a building permit to replace the slate roof on 448 Warren Street without referring the project to the HPC. To expect Wurster to be a watchdog for historic preservation is a great mistake.
The Historic Preservation Commission needs to reach out to Evergreen Partners to let them know their obligations. The south half of Hudson Terrace is in a locally designated historic district, and all of the complex is visible from historic Promenade Hill. Hudson's preservation ordinance requires the Historic Preservation Commission to review and give a Certificate of Appropriateness to the substantive material changes that are about to be made to the exterior of the buildings--at the very least, those located in the south half of the complex.
It is not known what kind of siding will be used. The likely possibilities are new vinyl siding or Hardiplank, a fiber-cement siding. (Crosswinds is sided with Hardiplank.) Although it's possible to paint Hardiplank, very likely, if Hardiplank is used for Hudson Terrace, it will be the kind with the color already baked in. Although the our preservation law does not require a Certificate of Appropriateness for paint colors, on the assumption that paint color is temporary and makes no permanent impact, it does give the HPC approval authority over the color of materials used in any alternations to buildings in historic districts. To quote from Hudson's Historic Preservation Law (Paragraph 169.6 of the City of Hudson Code): "Any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district" (italics mine). One of the tests of compatiblility is: "Texture, materials, and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood."
In the case of Hudson Terrace, we need to encourage the Historic Preservation Commission to be proactive. This is a huge project with huge visual impacts on Hudson--our waterfront as well as our historic districts. It seems unlikely that the exterior work on the buildings will begin in the dead of winter, so there is still time for the Historic Preservation Commission to intervene and inform Evergreen Partners of their obligation under Hudson City Code, if indeed Peter Wurster has neglected to do so.
The Historic Preservation Commission meets this Friday, February 12, at 10 a.m. at City Hall.