Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What He Said

This morning, Mayor William Hallenbeck went on Victor Mendolia's @Issue radio show and talked for almost a full hour about issues affecting Hudson. I won't attempt to summarize everything that was said. If you missed it, the interview is now archived, and you can listen for yourself. I will remark, however, on a few things he said that were news to me and may be news to Gossips readers as well. 


In his laundry list of accomplishments and ongoing projects, Hallenbeck included RFPs being considered for the three acres adjacent to the old Dunn warehouse building on Water Street across from Henry Hudson Riverfront Park. The combination of the verb considered and the object RFPs made it unclear if the City was reviewing proposals submitted in response to a request for proposals or if the City was thinking of writing an RFP to solicit proposals from developers.


He also mentioned how happy he was that there was the "potential for a hotel just above City Hall," referring to the plan to convert 542 Warren Street into an upscale hostelry. In April, after site plan review by the Planning Commission was already underway, it was learned that the owner had a change of heart and had taken the building off the market, thus dashing any hope of the purchasers turning it into a boutique hotel. When Menedolia asked the mayor this morning if the hotel plan was still on track, Hallenbeck confirmed that it was.


When asked about the Furgary Boat Club, Hallenbeck reiterated that "once the City took ownership, the Furgary became a liability." He spoke of two "olive branches" that he had extended to the Furgarians: the first was giving them 30 days before evicting them from the shacks instead of doing it as soon as the court decision was handed down on June 14; the second was allowing the Furgarians to hold open houses, which Hallenbeck referred to as "tours," on two Saturdays--June 30 and July 7--prior to their eviction.


In recounting the most recent history of land ownership in the North Bay, Hallenbeck said that the City of Hudson had to own the land on which the Furgary Boat Club was located in order to qualify for $4.4 million in funding to upgrade the waste water treatment plant. The state owned the land in question and was willing to swap it for 9.5 acres of land underwater that was owned by the City of Hudson. According to Hallenbeck, when the City acquired the land, former mayor Rick Scalera "went to the Furgary and offered them the opportunity to work out a deal with the City to pay taxes and stay." The Furgary, calling themselves the North Dock Tin Boat Association, responded to Scalera's "olive branch" by initiating a lawsuit against the City claiming adverse possession, a lawsuit that Hallenbeck said cost the City $40,000 to defend against.


When asked about the City's future plans for the Furgary Boat Club, Hallenbeck reiterated that "it is my job to make sure I protect every citizen of Hudson from liability," and then mentioned four possibilities, along with the problems that might render each an impossibility. (1) The City could lease the land to the Furgarians, but he didn't think it was legal for the City to lease public property to a private entity, in spite of the fact that the City has for years leased land to the Hudson Power Boat Association. "Corporate counsel," as he likes to call Cheryl Roberts, has written a letter to the Department of State asking if the land can be leased, and the City is awaiting their response. (2) The City could sell the land to the Furgarians, but since the City needed to own the land to get the $4.4 million for the sewer treatment plant, it might have to return that money if the land was sold to someone else. (3) The City could preserve four or five of the shacks and rent them out--whether to Furgarians for whole seasons or to visitors for a week or two was not clear. The cost of bringing the shacks up to code, said Hallenbeck, would likely be $20,000 per shack, and whose expense, he wondered, would that be? (4) Some of the shacks could be "preserved for a boathouse or something that would support recreational use." This was the one possibility that seemed not to have a strong argument against it.


Speaking on the topic of the Civic Hudson Project, Hallenbeck revealed two things that had not previously been public knowledge. The first was that Scalera, when he was still mayor of Hudson, had tried to work a deal with Eric Galloway to have Galloway build a police and city court building for the City. That plan was abandoned because it was going to cost the City $385,000 a year for some undisclosed number of years, and that was more than the City could afford. Then, this year, when Scalera was no longer the mayor but a special adviser to the Galvan Foundation, the idea of adding low-income housing to the plan for a municipal building made the cost affordable to the City--only $100,000 a year for thirty years. 


Hallenbeck also revealed that, although Galvan representatives have told the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals that no use has yet been determined for the first and second floors of the proposed building, there is still the possibility that the building will house the police department and the city court. Hallenbeck said that the architect for the building, whom he described as "an expert in police and court buildings" and I suspect is Tony Shitemi of Urban Architectural Initiatives, who presented the project to the Planning Commission last week, had a meeting with the Hudson Police Department. Hallenbeck, who was present at the meeting, intimated that the architect had persuaded the police to reconsider their position on the Civic Hudson Project, but, he explained, "they are waiting for the tax credits to be approved before they change their position." The decision on tax credits is expected in mid-August.


Another surprising revelation was that the City of Hudson has volunteered to, in Hallenbeck's words, "take the lead in providing a [homeless] facility" for the entire county. He spoke of "the movement Hudson has so graciously made to provide for the homeless throughout the county" and suggested that the City "should be compensated for that by the towns" who don't want the homeless in their municipalities. Just last night, Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) said we don't want "to make Hudson the repository for all the homeless in the county." It seems that someone had already offered our city to be just that, and the county has taken him up on it. 


When Mendolia reminded Hallenbeck that he had said Eric Galloway should have the key to the city, Hallenbeck talked about the "great justice" Galloway has done to Hudson by "taking vacant buildings," many of which have been renovated. It is too bad time ran out before Mendolia could press him for examples, since most Galloway watchers would describe a quite different modus operandi: buy an occupied building, empty it of tenants, and let it stand vacant for years.


The entire interview has now been archived and can be heard online.

7 comments:

  1. 1.

    Gossip's breakdown of the interview is good. Concerning Furgary I noticed several of the same points she did, though some were easy enough to pick off. For instance, most are now sufficiently cynical about the hollow claim that "leasing the land is not possible." And who is not familiar with the disdainful character of the "corporate counsel" whose words they are.

    Any number of the mayor's assertions wouldn't have stood the light of day.

    He is very confident that the Furgarian's loss in court amounts to a great moral victory for himself and for the city. His resentment is palpable, though no question put to him required any acknowledgement of the actual court proceedings and findings.

    The Furgarians had good reason to believe that they were on Proprietor-purchased lands, and they still do. I predict that one day they will be vindicated. (To that end I'd love the opportunity to explain the city's historical maps, especially seeing as though the Furgarian's lawyers didn't bother to do so according to court documents.)

    The mayor's magnanimous-sounding observation that suing the city is the same as suing the residents of Hudson falls apart when you try to reverse it; i.e., anyone claiming to defend the city may be defending only their own interests, which many long-time residents reckon is a probability.

    Naturally the mayor never discussed any negotiations or arrangements offered to the city by the Furgarians. Instead, he painted a pretty picture whereby the city's offers and intentions were always transparently wholesome against the obstinacy of the camp. That is not even close to the truth, but how do you contradict a bully pulpit?

    Nevertheless, we hear that "talking to Furgary is like words falling on deaf ears," [paraphrased]. This is the kind of falsehood that indicates that our mayor is learning fast, and a warning to those who aren't otherwise interested that the attitudes at work here will surely be seen again.

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  2. This all must surely mean the world is coming to an end to make way for the light at the end of the tunnel.

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  3. 2.

    That he felt a personal attachment to Furgary which led to the 30-day stay of eviction should be measured against the time it takes to FOIL the mayor's office to learn the real purpose of the eviction (FOIL is the Freedom of Information Law).

    On 26 June, two of my FOIL requests reached the mayor's office. Their 20 day limit to provide me with at least some word has come and gone. (Perhaps this serious breach of state law can be attributed to personal vindictiveness, thus proving the argument against the mayor's demand that the city centralize its FOIL process by funneling it through his office.)

    At least we can be sure that the reason for removing the Furgarians was not that the city had suddenly acquired a liability. The liability issue was not only surmountable, the Furgarians had already (and much earlier) worked out reasonable policy options that fell on the city's deaf ears. (Among the Furgarians is a CPA who worked out the figures.)

    At the last informal meeting, one alderman questioned attorney Roberts as to why the state never showed concern about the camp. If the state believed Furgary to be on state land, what was its take on the liability issue?

    The alderman didn't get an answer, or not a real one anyway. Instead Roberts made a non sequiturial reference to the State Pollution Discharge Elimination System, and that was that.

    (The question arises why the city was ever discussing leasing the property to Furgary, as it did in the 1990s, if everyone believed that Furgary was on state land? So much for the moral high ground!)

    That the extension beyond an immediate eviction was used to hold an open house for the city surely surprised and frustrated the mayor's team. They still have not grasped that lots of people suddenly developed a deep interest in the place, and that using a swat team boomeranged back on the character of his administration. ("Suicide by cop" is an exciting vindication, but I was at Furgary just an hour before the raid and the discussion rarely departed from fishing.)

    Thus we all enjoyed the mayor's Freudian slip today: "when we occupied this land."

    And did anyone else think it absurd to hear talk of "saving" the cabins in the same breath as providing estimates ($300K!) for what it would take to totally transform them? Will these "rental units" feature close-up views of North Bay's "tubefish"? (the name the Furgarians give to the ubiquitous condoms that STILL float into the river from the city's sewer system).

    These historical structures belong to a historical fishery (shad), and should never be outfitted with plumbing.

    But what a cheap thing to try and obfuscate the truly ministerial nature of all that's come to pass at Furgary:

    "People think that what I say is the word, but in some cases the Common Council has more power then the mayor does."

    Yes, the council could have done much more to help pressure the mayor, but they decided to get out of the way of the problem.

    The mayor entirely owns the recent events that surround Furgary, never mind where he gets his legal advice. To hear him sneakily distribute his culpability to others for his own actions is ... ugh!!

    Cheryl Roberts understands better than anyone else in local government that this opportunity to rid Hudson of Furgary is fleeting. After her own LWRP is fully authorized, the ability of any mayor to remove them single-handedly would be out of reach. In Roberts' adaptations of the state's Coastal Policies, Furgary is all but identified for its historic and recreational values under Policies 2, 4 and 10.

    After the LWRP's "consistency review" becomes law, none of the decisions and actions we've witnessed in relation to Furgary will ever come down to any individual's decision. As it is, Mr. Hallenbeck bears full responsibility and he should own up to it.

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  4. Did the Mayor or Mendolia discuss the plastics extrusion factory that Scalera and our other county leaders is actively courting right now? How many jobs will that bring? Is it a clean business? Is it good for Hudson? Will there be PILOT-type incentives and tax breaks? Or as a little bird told me, will the factory's workforce, according to the powers that be, consist of recent Bangladeshi and Central American arrivals? Will old-line blue collar Hudsonians be interested in employment at the factory? Will the factory be sold to that constituency politically, but without any prospect of decent employment for that group? Will our city officials wax nostalgic about bringing back the good old days of places like the Kadin Bros. Pocketbook Factory or the Refrigerator Factory? Will the factory workers be housed in newly built or renovated Galvan buildings as part of a sweetheart deal guided by Scalera? Start asking these questions, my friends!

    Also, why is the City asking the state whether it can lease the former Furgary land when the City has leased our waterfront to the Hudson Power Boat Association for years? To an entity, which, is a discriminatory, exclusive club made up of locals and which forces other Hudsonians (New Yorkers! Antiques Dealers! Auction House people! Lesbians! Gay men! Weekenders!) with power and sail boats to resort to the marina in Catskill? People who pay very high property taxes in Hudson are foreclosed from the possibility of keeping a boat on our waterfront....which is public land!! I recall the LWRP may have called for the HPBA to relocate where Furgary was, but if that is the case, when will that happen? I'd like Cheryl Roberts to look into that issue, and would love it if our Aldermen and Don Moore to look into that too. Why is public land owned by the City being leased to a private club that practices freedom of association and discriminates against non-natives? Are we living in the 21st Century or in the 1950s?
    My guess is the latter.

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  5. The state boat launch must be moved to accommodate the moving of the Power Boat Association (PBA).

    The DEC's Region 4 office has already expressed doubts that the boat launch can be moved to the proposed site, but the state's doubts are nothing compared to the terrestrial issues involved, as ably laid out by citizens in their public comments to the GEIS (all available online at the city website).

    Rather than reference the PBA, the example used by Roberts to distinguish a potential Furgary lease from other leases was "The Spirit of the Hudson" lease.

    Fortunately for the mayor Roberts carried off her nearly continuous prevarications when explaining that a boat which occasionally departs the city dock makes all the difference.

    Due to the ill-preparedness of the aldermen (who nevertheless asked good questions) combined with Moore's deliberate and artificial time constraint on the discussion, Roberts glided right passed the fact of The Spirit's on-shore facilities. Next she changed the dialogue to something which presented no further hazard to the mayor's patently false claim about the impossibility of leasing to the Furgarians (the oily crocodile tears about "racking is brain" notwithstanding).

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  6. It does not take more than a casual Google search to see that cities, towns and the State lease and sell public land quite commonly.

    For example, the State has outline clear guidelines for itself and municipalities to follow in order to complete an "Alienation of Parkland" (alienation here being a legal term of art). See, among others, these links:

    http://www.ptny.org/pdfs/e-news/Alienation.pdf

    http://nysparks.com/publications/documents/AlienationHandbook.pdf

    http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/pubs/research/ldcreport.pdf

    http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/1577.html

    --S.

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  7. Just so Sam.

    We need to call the mayor out, and call out his legal henchman, er ... henchperson.

    As it is, their fictions hang in our air far too long.

    It is OUR air; OUR environment; OUR city; OUR waterfront program ...

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