Saturday, July 28, 2012

The State of Historic Preservation in Hudson

Ask the people who have made Hudson their adopted home in the past twenty years what attracted them here. Ask the visitors who throng Warren Street every weekend, visiting the shops and galleries, dining in the restaurants, and keeping the B&Bs booked to capacity, why they chose to come. Chances are Hudson's historic architecture will be a part of everyone's answer. Given that, it is remarkable how careless official Hudson is about its valuable and irreplaceable architectural heritage. 


Former mayor Rick Scalera, who was the mayor when Hudson's historic preservation ordinance was adopted in 2003, has gone on record (more than once) saying that signing the ordinance into law was the "worst mistake he ever made." Current mayor William Hallenbeck has made it known that he thinks a developer with an obscene amount of money to spend in Hudson and a demonstrated lack of respect for our history and the authenticity of our architecture deserves the key to the city, while he chides members of the Historic Preservation Commission for trying to do their job in a deliberate and conscientious manner. Inundated by proposals from said developer, who now owns more than 2 percent of the taxable property in Hudson, and pressured by mayors past and present not to "hold things up," the Historic Preservation Commission was told yesterday by Common Council President Don Moore that it "has not been as active in its educative function as it might be." In the meantime, in a city where everyone should be pulling together to protect its most valuable asset, things like this keep happening.


This is 816 Warren Street, a classic example of Victorian Stick architecture on upper Warren Street. Among other things that appear to be happening to this building, it is sprouting a new shed roof dormer. The house is situated in a locally designed historic district, but this project never came before the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness.

22 comments:

  1. It's at 816 Warren Street and there's no Certificate of Appropriateness from the HPC?!

    According to the LWRP, the Warren Street Historic District stretches the length of Warren from Front Street to Worth Avenue (rte 9).

    Hudson's laws aren't worth the paper they're written on as long as one has all the right friends.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm disgusted by this. A grand old house has now become an eyesore.
    Where is the building inspector, who is the owner of this building, which apparently changed hands without ever being on the market? I don't see any permit displayed for this work. The HPC is overburdened in many ways and the city officials do nothing but obstruct. It is a blindness of vision which is mind-boggling.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I didn't mean to impugn the HPC when I said that having the right friends is everything.

    Jennifer is right about the obstructions which further burden the HPC.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article. Darn right, without the historic architecture, Hudson wouldn't be Hudson :)
    As one of those very people that came here in large part due to the historic look and feel, I'm angry at what's being done to the housing stock and offended at the apparent lawlessness, and yet even more offended at the politicians and law enforcement officers that are apparently turning a blind eye.
    Thank you so much for continuing to bring this issue to the forefront.

    ReplyDelete
  5. In 100 years this will be historic the plaque will read "early 21st century bad planning."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Everybody slow down. Two things: One - this post makes it seem as though Galloway has purchased this house. He hasn't. This house is not, I repeat NOT a Galloway property, Two - I live next door to that house, and the dormer that's going up on that roof is a replacement for the one which was already up there, and falling apart. I see this house literally every day of my life, and I didn't realize that this new dormer was slightly bigger than the old one until the owner of the structure mentioned that it was. It's not as though they just randomly slapped a dormer shed on top of the roof - there was already one there and it was falling apart, so it's being replaced. That's it. Replacing the old dilapidated dormer shed with one whioch is unnoticably larger does nothing to compromise the historical integrity of the structure. Where was all of this concern for historical integrity when tyhe aluminum siding went up on that house? No knock against COARC (the previous owners of this structure) but this house has been slowly falling apart for years, and was in awful shape when they sold it. I saw the inside of it before ownership changed haands, and it was dreadful. The maintenence on this structure is a huge undertaking, and that house needed to be stripped down to the bones and completely remodelled - which is what is now happening. This house was basically undergoing the long process of demolition bt neglect before ownership changed hands, and I for one am damned glad that someone with the resources to restore it has taken up the job. We can all lament the subdivision of these grand old houses, but consider this: COARC was going to leave that house whether a developer bought it or not. It was, before they left, in utter disrepair, and was slowly falling apart. Now, a developer (and a small developer at that - the owner of this house owns ONE other property in town) has purchased it, and while they are subdividing it into apartments, they are also carefully and lovingly restoring this house. The dormer on the roof is nothing more than a replacement for one that was already up there. I agree that historical preservation is important and valid, but let's not get so carried away with our efforts to preserve that we can't see the forest for the trees (or in this case, the dormer for the roof). Okay?

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is one of those times when the name of this blog rigns true - perhaps moreso than intended. There's a difference between gossip and information. The owners of 816 Warren are a father and son, and they could not be nicer guys. The father's name is Mark, and the son's name is John, and John is at the site daily. You might see him on the porch wearing a construction helmet with a New York Jets logo on it, and if you do see him, and you have questions about what's going on here, ask him. He'll be more than happy to give you details about this project. I can also say from oersonal experience with these guys that they couldn't be more accomodating or considerate while this project is underway. That house is right on top of mine. A full third of my house lies behind that one, and our property line is the wall of that house that borders my yard. They could have easily taken a "screw you guys/not my problem" approach to this situation, but they haven't. They have been extremely careful to remove any material that may have fallen from that house into my yard, as they know that two small children play there. They have even gone so far as to build a canopy to protect the milkweed with the monarch butterfly eggs on it that's in my garden so that it wouldn't get destroyed by debris and construction. I totally understand the need for historical preservation, and there are indeed many who have thumbed their noses at this need, but the owners of 816 Warren are not among this group. They are not destroying this house. They're SAVING it. We should thank them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The fact remains that this is a project that should have gone before the Historic Preservation Commission and didn't. That was the point of the post.

      Delete
    2. Hi, Carole.

      Understood. I know how committed you are to historic preservation and I appreciate, probably more so than many, the good that Gossips does in this (as well as other) areas. Until just the other day, the owners didn't know they needed a COA from the HPC to do the dormer (I actually brought it to their attention when I saw this post). On their last rehab, they were told that only alterations made to the front or street-facing side of the building needed a COA. In any case, they're on it now and I'm sure things will work out to everyone's satisfaction.

      I just want to be sure the community gives these guys a chance -- we need people like them buying, fixing, maintaining, and bringing our property values back up!

      Delete
  8. As the border of my property is the east wall of this house, I feel the need to chime in on this one. When I found out that the sale on this house had closed (it was being discussed since the end of last year), I was thrilled. COARC had been trying to sell it for a couple of years and I knew through the grapevine it was going to be redone and made into high end apartments by a guy who was just finishing up another multi-family on N 5th Street. While COARC has been a truly wonderful neighbor in the years we've been here (I miss a lot of those residents and am happy to still run into them at the grocery store every few weeks!), the house really needed some help. It was purchased on a Friday and work began on Monday. We were out of town for more than a month, but I was lucky enough to be here for a meeting one day and met the new owner of the house, John. He walked me through and told me their plans.

    When we returned earlier this week, the new dormer was in. To be honest, it didn't stand out to me at all because it's just replacing an old dormer. I guess from everyone's reaction that maybe it's not exactly the same as the old one -- I can't really recall. I am wondering if it would've even been noticed had it been completely finished off in one day.

    I see the workers and the owners every day. They are VERY nice and are quite approachable - I'm sure they're open to suggestions as to how to maintain the historical integrity of the building. I want to be sure to get the record straight and not see them lumped in with other landlords in town who own lots of buildings, many of which are partially done and empty, and have a habit of ignoring the HPC and the general concerns of the community.

    I hope this helps clear up some misunderstanding.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If the point of this post is that there's a dormer going up on 816 that should have gone before a planning commission before being built, why spend the paragraph before saying this alluding to "said developer, who now owns more than 2 percent of the taxable property in Hudson" with the implication that "said developer" is at it again? I say again, this isn't Galloway's property, and the dormer on the roof is simply a replacement of what was there before, adjusted to make it safer. The accusation that the work going on at 816 Warren demonstrates a lack of respect for Hudson's architecture, or somehow represents some kind of deplorable crime against same is, simply and quite frankly, divorced from reality. Perhaps a trip to the Preservation Commission before repairing the preexisting and rapidly deteriorating dormer on the roof was indeed warranted, but as this was a repair and not an addition, and since it's on a side of the house which is not facing the street, I'd be willing to bet the farm that the only reason which this was not done is that the owners honestly did not believe it to be necessary. I was amazed when I found that a stop work order had been issued. We rebuilt our porch last year after the old one collapsed, and guess what? The new porch, in several aspects, is quite different from the one which preceded it. I defy you to tell me what those differences are whilst standing on Warren Street and staring directly at it, I didn't ask for anyone's permission to replace my porch, and the only thing anyone has ever said to me about it is "It looks great! It looks just like the old one!" The same is true with the dormer on the roof at 816. The Historic Preservation Commission is a good thing, and I couldn't agree more that Hudson's architecture is a rare asset for all who live here that deserves our reverence and protection. This case is one in which, if anything, an honest oversight has occurred. I assert again that what's going on at 816 Warren is a restoration. It's being subdivided, and in that aspect is a development, but the owners of that house are not in any way disrespecting or destroying Hudson's architecture. What they are doing is taking a beautiful old house which has seen far better days, and in developing it, returning it to it's former glory. These guys are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I would like to correct my assumption from the first comment.

    It wasn't a case of having the right friends after all, but of not knowing the requirements of the Historic Preservation Commission.

    Assuming that the gentlemen had acquired a building permit - and of course they had - it's also safe to assume that they were not given further instruction by the code office.

    In that case it's exactly like having friends in the right places, except that one doesn't know that they're being done a favor.

    That's not a favor then, but a problem which begs the question whether people are being used unwittingly as counters in a struggle between the code office and the HPC?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You've got that right, unheimlich. When I heard about the stop work order my first fear was that the Historic Preservation Commission would once again be the whipping boy, accused of standing in the way of good people just wanting to do the right thing. Matthew and Tiff have added fuel to that fire.

      Delete
  11. I'm not adding fuel to any fire here. What I am doing is correcting a couple of incorrect assumptions on your part.
    1. This property does not belong to "said developer".
    2. The dormer that you're so up in arms about is a replacement of a preexisting structure, which in no way compromises the historical integrity of the house in question.

    I'm not trying to be a jerk here, and I've stated several times that I think that the Historical Preservation Commission is a GOOD thing. It's just that in this case, everyone is making something out of nothing.

    The end.

    ReplyDelete
  12. M - I was hoping that my recent comment, besides correcting my own assumption (see below), would draw our attention to a possible explanation for the misunderstanding whereby the homeowners were set up. In this scenario, the code office intentionally withholds necessary information from the permit-seeker (C of A), fully expecting the resulting excitement to create tension and rancor between the homeowner, the HPC and the rest of the community.

    In fact this exact scenario has played out in Hudson before, and it took years (and a document search) to iron out the truth and the kinds of hard feelings that are being perpetuated in this thread.

    As before, we may all have been ill-used in the present case. I freely admit that I should have known better.

    Only the homeowner can confirm this account, though it's made more reasonable by the precedent I mentioned. If only for their own sake I hope that you bring this hypothetical to their attention. Also, please convey my apologies

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'm really not angry nor do I harbor any ill will toward anyone, I just wanted to set the record straight. If I come off as defensive, it's because I am indeed defending the guys who bought and are renovating 816 Warren. The post which began this thread appears to lump this house in with Galloway's properties, and I don't think that it's fair to do so. If you'd like to see an example of work done by these very property owners, look at 77 n. 5th. That is their other property. Again, I have no hard feelings toward anyone, and I'm not trying to be mean to anyone, I just though it was important to point out that the initial post which began this thread at best clouded the waters as to who owned this house and what was going on there, and since I live next door, I'm in a unique position to provide some clarity. That's all.

      Delete
    2. M, you're a good neighbor to have their backs that way.

      In this story, the potential manipulation by city officials is what we should all ultimately stay focused on. As I've said, it wouldn't be the first time we've seen this scenario.

      Inasmuch as I've added to the troubles of the original post which displeased you, I must emphasize that the subsequent dust-up and your admirable defense of your neighbor could easily have been the intention of the official involved. If so, then it's a miracle that we straightened it all out as quickly as we did.

      The last episode literally took years to make sense of, and cost the homeowner and contractor a good deal of money and heartache.

      In an ironic twist to this entire thread, I happen to know that it was the author of the above post who then admirably defended her own neighbor.

      Eventually it will become the city's job to make sure that citizens are aware of everything that's covered by the waterfront program (which even encompasses your neighbor's project), but we're not there yet.

      Delete
  13. Would-be developers -- whomever they are -- need to be acquainted with the City Code as it impacts their projects. It's not voluminous or too much of a thicket, verbally. It's the responsibility of the property owner/developer to know what the requirements are. Should the CEO give some guidance? Sure, why not; but it's not the Code Enforcement Office's obligation to ensure that the public reads public documents. If a property owner or developer wants to do things right and can't or won't research the legal requirements well, then, hire a lawyer :) Signed, your friendly neighborhood lawyer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In Schenectady, Albany, Troy, Boston, and Providence (to name a few), the code enforcement/building department has the authority to approve "in-kind" work in historic districts. Each of these cities has a resource officer or building inspector trained in historic preservation standards and guidelines and qualified to approve "in-kind" work. When a slightly more involved project is proposed, the resource officer emails the HPC members and polls them as to whether the application can be handled by the CEO or needs full HPC review. These projects/approvals are reviewed at the HPC's monthly meeting as a matter of checks and balances. Could this streamline the process and be more customer friendly? I don't mean for large-scale projects like I've been invloved with, but for the dormer at 816 Warren or Barbara Dague's front steps.

      Delete
    2. Considering Hudson, first you'd have to codify these arrangements after which you'd have to excite the code enforcement officials to honor them.

      It's a great idea, but there are just too many levels that would still require good faith. It's nice to dream of a friendlier future, but personally I don't hold out much hope for this place.

      Delete
  14. The CEO must never go out of his way to aid newcomers or any other applicants. To do otherwise would be to defy Hudson's ancient code of obstructionism. So few people truly appreciate the importance of local tradition, but we carry on as best we can. Welcome to Hudson, the Friendly City and the school of hard knocks.

    ReplyDelete