Saturday, March 12, 2011

Proposal for Union and First Streets

On Friday morning, Kevin Walker, accompanied by Galloway attorney Mark Greenberg, appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission to present a revised proposal for new construction on the corner of Union and First streets.

First and Union Streets
Cherry Alley and First Street
The plan involves constructing two attached houses facing Union Street and one freestanding house facing First Street, and demolishing the existing house on Cherry Alley and constructing on its footprint a fourth house, being called a carriage house, with a garage door in the center of the facade facing First Street. 

Most of the discussion at the HPC meeting focused on the house that will be situated along Cherry Alley. Walker submitted photographs documenting the poor condition of the existing building to justify razing it, including pictures of its concrete foundation, which is crumbling. There were questions about why the garage door had to face First Street, and the reason given was that there was not adequate space for the garage to be accessed from the alley. This reasoning seems odd, since there are a number of garages and carriage houses along that stretch of Cherry Alley, all of which open onto the alley.

There was also discussion about the intention to use Hardiplank instead of wood clapboard to clad the houses. According to Walker, Hardiplank, which is fiber cement siding, "has the same personality as wood but not the problems." He pointed out that the two houses introduced onto Willard Place by Galloway were sided with cedar clapboard, and "the planks have shrank" in the short time since they were built. He explained that the house at 13 South Second and the addition to 136 Union Street that is now 15 South Second are both sided with Hardiplank. HPC member Nick Haddad suggested the possibility of using wood clapboard on the facades of the houses and Hardiplank on the back and side walls.

HPC member David Voorhees tried to refocus the discussion by reminding the commission their concern should be "compatibility with the surrounding houses." Chair Tom Swope predicted that the proposed houses would be so compatible with their surroundings that "they'll just disappear," and architect member Jane Smith expressed the opinion that overall the proposal was fine.

When the question was raised about the need for a public hearing, Greenberg discouraged that action. Greenberg pointed out that the project had been granted a certificate of appropriateness four years ago, and although the C. of A. had expired, the project was not substantively different from the one proposed four years ago. The only thing that had changed, he said, was the makeup of the HPC. There had been "no change in the character of the neighborhood in four years." Residents of the neighborhood, who had come out for Friday's meeting to make sure that the HPC did not waive a public hearing on this project, took issue with the statement, pointing out that nine houses in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the proposed project had new owners since 2007, and many of those new owners were engaged in painstaking restorations of their buildings. One resident objected to "ticky-tacky imitation Greek Revival houses" in their neighborhood of authentic historic buildings. Greenberg cautioned the HPC that there had to be "evidence that would change the prior ruling," intimating that a change in decision now could be considered arbitrary and capricious.

Smith argued the need for a public hearing "given the extent of the project," and in the end, the HPC voted to accept the application as complete and to schedule a public hearing. Swope requested that the plans submitted in 2007 be available at the public meeting. At the end of the meeting, after other matters had been considered, it was decided that the  public hearing would be scheduled for Friday, March 25, at 10 a.m.--the HPC's regular meeting time.

Mayor Scalera, who was an active supporter of the project in 2007, was at the meeting but said nothing publicly. After the HPC had moved on to another issue, Scalera remained in the chamber, carrying on a conversation with Greenberg, Galloway's attorney, and Common Council President Don Moore. 

Meanwhile, the project is scheduled to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals for an area variance on Wednesday, March 16. The ZBA granted an area variance to the project four years ago, but, like the certificate of appropriateness, it has expired. The ZBA meeting is at 7 p.m. in City Hall. 


  1. Carole, do you know what an "area variance" is and why it's necessary to get one?



  2. Yes, Peter, I do know what an area variance is, and I apologize for asuming that everyone else did as well.

    A variance is any departure from what is permitted in the zoning code. There are use variances and area variances. A use variance would be required, for example, if someone wanted to open a business on a street zoned residential. An area variance has to do with the relationship of a building to its surroundings.

    This project will require area variances for a few reasons. (1) The code requires houses to be set back something like 15 feet from the street. These houses are meant to continue the existing street wall, which means they will only be about 4 to 6 feet from the curb, so they'll need an area variance for that. Also I think the space between the houses on First Street is less than the code requires, although it's more than the 4 feet that is the typical space between houses in this part of the city. (2) The code also requires offstreet parking for new houses, and these houses won't have that.

  3. I walk by here all the time. If it was just one or two buildings on the alley side instead of that wreck, I'd say great. There are so many buildings here empty and/or in need of repair that could be made into decent housing, but so little open space. If it was up to me I'd keep the lot as it is or make it into a small public park. It's unfortunate when people see an empty space they can't appreciate it, but only see it as a spot to stick another building.

  4. Exactly. This was my major objection to the building of Crosswinds, the development plopped down on one of Hudson's last large open spaces (next to the Intermediate school). We have such a surfeit of old houses in need of repair. Couldn't we convince Mssr. Galloway to direct his energies and monies toward them?

  5. I have never understood this particular argument with regard to the development of Crosswinds. The "last large open space" that Crosswinds is now situated on was For Sale for a long time, which means that Mr. Meyer or anyone else could have purchased that property and maintained it as an open space for as long as they wanted to.

    As the former Site Manager, I can attest to the fact that Crosswinds improved the lives of many Hudson City School District students by providing newly constructed, safe and sanitary housing. Comfortable housing, as you already know Mr. Meyer, is one of those variables that help children learn better and succeed.

    When a group of Democrats toured Crosswinds, Mr. Mendolia's comment at the end of the tour, (I can't quote him exactly because it was so long ago now.), was in regard to "losing the view". (THAT phrase stuck with me.)

    As a Democrat, I was stunned by that comment. I believe the needs of CNAs, police officers and customer service employees - all jobs that provide services to readers of this blog - and Senior Citizens surviving on fixed incomes - trump the view.

    Earning local wages in a housing market that now and has for quite some time, catered to non-local wages, seems to be the specific economic/housing conversation one no one wants to take up. Perhaps it is just too uncomfortable to do so.

    I often hear and read that new residents who come to Hudson, to invest in Hudson, do so because it is "edgy". I would be very interested to read that definition of edgy, because in the new Hudson terms, it apparently doesn't ideally include a community with poor people, disabled people, people with physical or mental illness or a whole host of people who can't afford to or don't drink $3 coffee or eat $3 loaves of bread.

    Finally, there are many local young people who would also like to invest in Hudson - that idea, that dream - is not limited to people from somewhere else. But that goes back to the economic/housing conversation about local wages versus a non-local wage housing market.