Saturday, September 15, 2012

Friday Morning at the HPC

The Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday morning got off to a discordant start. After reviewing and accepting the minutes of the previous meeting and receiving the communication, which consisted of a NYCOM pamphlet on ethics distributed to commission members by legal counsel Cheryl Roberts, the HPC invited Ward Hamilton to present the new application for the Robert Taylor House.

Before Hamilton could utter his first word, First Ward supervisor Sarah Sterling rose from the audience to object to Peggy Polenberg's participation in the discussion because of her pecuniary connection to Eric Galloway. Polenberg served as buyer's agent for Galloway when he purchased the house in August 2011. Polenberg protested that she had recused herself from the vote in June and didn't think she should be "thrown out of the room." Cheryl Roberts, legal counsel to the HPC, corrected Polenberg, advising that she had to leave the dais and probably should leave the room. Polenberg responded by storming out of Council chambers, slamming the door behind her. Later, when Hamilton went out to tell her that she could return to the room, it was discovered that she had left City Hall altogether, presumably with no intention of returning when the discussion of the Robert Taylor House was over.

After Polenberg's departure, Hamilton's presentation was postponed again, by Roberts, who pointed out that there were "many things in the application that are not in the Historic Preservation Commission's jurisdiction." She pointed that the new application made two claims: (1) that the individual designation of the Robert Taylor House as a local landmark was not legal because it has been made prior to 2005 when the preservation ordinance was amended to give the Common Council the authority to make designations based on a recommendation from the HPC; and (2) that the house is not located in a historic district. She advised that the question of the legality of the designation was not theirs to decide, and they should consider it legally designated. The question of whether or not the house was located in a historic district was based on a factual error: although the recommendation to the Common Council suggests that the southernmost end of Second Street is part of the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District, it is not mentioned in the actual designation document. Since the designation of the location was in question, Roberts advised the HPC to consider only that the proposal was to move the house into a designated historic district.

When it came time for Hamilton to speak, he characterized the proposed move as "trying to bring the house into the historic district" because it would be "presented better" in the setting of the historic district. HPC member Phil Forman asked why the location is not intrinsically part of the historic designation of the house and made the point that it is "a tanner's house on Tanners Lane that represents what Hudson was in history." 

HPC member Jack Alvarez made the point that "by moving a landmark, we threaten or diminish its significance," adding that there is "historic precedent that historic houses lose their significance when moved."

In the end, the HPC voted unanimously to accept the new application as complete, contingent on including the site survey for 21-23 Union Street, the house's proposed new location, which had been submitted with the original application but omitted from the new one. It was also determined that the HPC would hold a public hearing on the proposal to move the house before rendering their decision. Gossips will announce the time and place of the public hearing when it has scheduled.

Next up was 67-71 North Fifth Street. Although during the workshop on this project, HPC vice chair Rick Rector and Alvarez had expressed concern about the change in the pitch of the roof and gable, the absence of the windows in the gable, and the change from single pane sash to six over six, no mention of any of these concerns was made yesterday.

Alvarez reiterated that he was happy to see the return of the porch. HPC member Scott Baldinger asked if the original clapboard could be reused, and Hamilton assured him that it would be if it could. The HPC then voted unanimously to approve the design with the condition that the clapboard be reused or replaced in kind.

The final project taken up by the HPC was 816 Warren Street. When the project came before the HPC in August, work on the house was being done without a certificate of appropriateness and also without a building permit. It was the latter--the lack of a building permit--that caused code enforcement officer Peter Wurster to issue a stop work order, but work has continued in spite of that. When the project was presented to the HPC in August, the plan proposed was to replace the aluminum siding on the first floor of the front of the house with faux brick. Apparently the original clapboard had been hacked away when the aluminum siding was installed years ago. Although the applicant, John Perry, expressed the opinion that "brick would marry nicely with aluminum," the HPC pointed out that the house was an example of Stick style architecture, a design that was dependent upon wood, and encouraged Perry to replicate the original wood. The HPC requested a number of things from the applicant before a certificate of appropriateness could be issued, among them samples of the materials to be used on the first floor facade and the dormer, which was being enlarged to twice its original size.

On Friday morning, a man identifying himself as "John's father" appeared with sample materials tucked underneath his arm. One of the exhibits was a sample of wood siding that he said matched the profile of the aluminum siding on the building. Although he was presenting the materials for the HPC's approval, the materials have already been installed on the building. With a stop work order still in place, all the exterior work on the building has been completed.

Forman asked Roberts what recourse they had in the face of such blatant disregard of both the HPC and the code enforcement office. Roberts indicated that whether or not to take enforcement action was ultimately the mayor's decision, so it seems that it is up to Mayor Hallenbeck to decide if this "cowboy" action, as Rector described it, will be tolerated.


  1. Roberts giving advice on ethics? That's rich!

  2. If this slides under the radar of the City's permitting process with no punitive action by the City it would seemingly promote open season for scofflaws to ignore City codes and permits whenever they feel like it.

    I'm sure the Mayor will take this into consideration and act accordingly.
    At least, I hope so.