Friday, March 25, 2011

Public Hearing on Union and First

The Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing last night on the project being proposed by the Galvan Partners for Union and First streets. It was standing room only at City Hall, but surprisingly few people made comments about the project, which will have a significant impact on the neighborhood. 

The project was presented by DeWayne Powell, who has replaced Kevin Walker as the public face of Eric Galloway and his several LLCs. In his opening comments, Powell described this part of the First Ward as an "increasingly nice neighborhood" but characterized the corner in question, which has been maintained for the past year or so by local stealth gardeners, as "vacant, forbidding, unsightly, and probably filled with vermin." 

Although the Historic Preservation Commission was only hearing public comment last night and will not be making a decision about a certificate of appropriateness for the project until its next regular meeting, Mark Greenberg, counsel for the Galvan Partners, lectured the HPC about its appropriate purview, reading relevant excerpts from the preservation law and reminding the Commission that the project "in substantially the same configuration" had been granted a certificate of appropriateness in 2007.

The first audience member to comment was First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie, who talked about complaints she had received about the corner from people who wanted the surviving house torn down. She expressed the opinion that the four houses that the Galvan Partners, operating under various names, have completed in the First Ward--presumably referring to 111 Union Street, 130 Union Street, 136 Union Street, and 34-36 South Second Street--are "fine examples of restoration" and seemed to imply that it was the HPC's fault that the houses now being proposed had not been built back in 2007.

Phil Forman, who lives at Warren and First, said that First Street between Warren and Union was "frightening at night" and complained that there were skunks and rats living in the abandoned house. He called the proposed project a "totally appropriate use" and dismissed concerns of density, obviously thinking those concerns had to do with too many people rather than too many houses crowded onto the lot.  

Three other topics were the subject of public comments: materials, the design of the carriage house, and Galloway's many vacant properties.

The topic of materials was introduced by HPC member David Voorhees. The plan is to side the buildings with Hardiplank, which Powell said had a "longer lifespan" than wood. Christabel Gough, whose wood-sided house on Union Street is more than two hundred years old, spoke in praise of "beautiful materials and craftsmanship" and suggested that "Hardiplank next to genuine wood is inappropriate." When Powell pointed out that the sale of Kevin Walker's seven-year-old house on Willard Place almost fell through because of cracks in the cedar siding, Gough countered, "I suggest that any board that cracks that quickly . . . somebody made a purchasing mistake."

The design of the carriage house, with the garage door accessing First Street rather than the alley, was a topic addressed by several people. Powell had come prepared with an alternative design that had the garage door at the back of the building, but he stressed this was only a possible alternative and one that sacrificed green space behind the house. He also had a display board with photographs of the following six buildings, which he offered as evidence that there was precedent in Hudson for garage doors in the street-facing facades of residential buildings.

Two of the buildings were houses whose facades had been inappropriately altered long before Hudson adopted a preservation ordinance; two were commercial buildings, one of which is currently being converted into a residence and the garage door eliminated; and two were garages--one inappropriately sited decades ago on Allen Street and the other located directly across First Street from the proposed carriage house. None of the six examples, Gabriele Gulielmetti and Gossips argued, provided adequate evidence that the design for the new house, with a garage door in the street-facing facade and the entrance along the side, was an appropriate configuration for a historic district.

Victor Mendolia brought up the issue of the large number of buildings in Hudson owned by Galloway that were being warehoused--in particular three buildings that had been multiple dwelling apartment buildings. Mendolia was told by Greenberg that his comment was inappropriate to the public hearing, and he should write a letter, although it wasn't specified to whom the letter should be addressed. Later in the hearing, Rachel Sanzone asked what the appropriate forum to bring up the issue of Galloway's abandoned and warehoused buildings would be, but no definitive answer was forthcoming. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold its public hearing on this project on April 20 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.          


  1. In my opinion, if you want a 21st century building to look like a 19th century building that has a "garage door" street opening, you are really saying that you are making it look like a re-use of a pre-use. The upper east side of Manhattan has many of these, they used to be carriage houses. Sometimes owners turn them into car garages, sometimes they turn into living/working spaces. But you can tell what they used to be.

    I would say the rendering for the new buildings look like 21st century buildings. They look fake.

    I was in the audience the other night at city hall and was also struck by how few comments were made about the project, considering how one can hardly have a night out in this town without someone criticizing the Galvan Group and their projects. And yet, I too remained silent. Shy? Intimidated? Scared, even? I am uncertain. It just seems to me that that room was not full of people worried about the placement of a garage door. And yet the larger issues, (warehousing buildings, density, and more Disney-esque temples taking over our town) seem somehow incorrect to bring forward, maybe too personal, and rude. (They are a snarky bunch those Galvans!). Personally, I was so taken aback by Phil Forman’s comments that I’m not sure I could have spoken even if I’d had the nerve. It’s strange that, although the Formans and I face each other across the length of First Street, we appear to live in separate neighborhoods. Scared to walk at night? Vermin? Ridiculous!!! I have spent more time in that lot than anyone I know (including any of the Galvan’s who’ve left it for dead until there is money to be made) and I can promise that I have never seen a rat, skunk, or mouse for that matter. Dangerous?? Give me a break. I can only surmise what scares Mr. Foreman so much, but I find his choice of residency curious. Perhaps Litchfield is a better fit. As for the proposed project, I can only say that it is not any detail (the renderings, the buildings crammed in, the garage doors) that gets under my skin. It’s the whole thing. Sure, the blue building should come down; one can practically push it over at this point. Then what?? I fully understand my own naïveté and idealism here, but how about the Galvans leasing the lot back to the neighborhood for a green space, a lower union park, a garden, a pretty space. Maybe if they actually cared about this neighborhood and the people who call it home, they would consider it. But they don’t. They are developers, first and foremost, and what they care about is making money. Period. And as unsettling as that is to so many of us in this town, there is an uncomfortable hush when it comes time to speak of it.

  3. I have no problem with the building density -- only with their ugliness. And the so-called precedents are not precdents at all. But I'm wondering who exactly are the buyers of these places? Weekenders? Professionals? Families? God Bless Galloway for building new, but as he is the only game in town and he has a rather obvious "style," I'm feeling like Hudson is being turned into a neo-Greek Revival Playland. Soon, Historic Hudson will be sub-contracting its annual house tours to Disney....