The Historic Preservation Commission held a special meeting on Friday, November 30, to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the storefront and facade renovation at 255 Warren Street and to discuss enforcement of the historic preservation law. The decision on the proposed restoration of 255 Warren Street had been held up by concerns, expressed by HPC architect member Jack Alvarez, that the design of the entrance to the commercial space was not ADA compliant. The discussion of enforcement was requested by HPC member Peggy Polenberg, who wanted the discussion to take place in a nonpublic meeting but was advised by HPC counsel Cheryl Roberts that meetings of the HPC had to be public.
After code enforcement officer Peter Wurster confirmed that the plans for the restored storefront at 255 Warren Street complied with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the HPC voted unanimously to approve the certificate of appropriateness, with the stipulation that, if the design had to be changed in any way for ADA compliance, it would be resubmitted to the HPC for review.
When the discussion turned to enforcement, it became clear that Polenberg was looking for another opportunity to complain about being cited for violating the historic preservation ordinance. In August, about ten weeks after she had been appointed to the HPC, Polenberg hung a sign for her real estate business on her building at 249 Warren Street. She had not applied for or obtained a certificate of appropriateness for the sign from the HPC, of which she was a member. Polenberg was cited for this violation by code enforcement. Instead of acknowledging that an HPC member should probably be above reproach when it came to the historic preservation law, Polenberg surveyed other businesses on the block, reported that none of them had received certificates of appropriateness for their signs, and argued that, if no enforcement action had been taken against them, none should have been taken against her.
On Friday, Polenberg's husband, who was in the audience, took up cant that his wife had been unfairly treated, making reference to Ellen Thurston's report, in the Register-Star Winter Walk supplement, that 32 new businesses had opened in Hudson in the past year. "All these have signs," said Myron Polenberg, "but they have not come before the Historic Preservation Commission." Wurster admitted, "I have not been chasing people down," acknowledging that "probably more than 32 signs have gone up without permits or paying fees." Polenberg clarified that it was "not my thought to harass 32 new businesses"; rather he wants "the law"--it wasn't clear if he meant the law requiring a sign permit from the code enforcement office, the law requiring a certificate of appropriateness for signs in historic districts, or both--to be "generally ignored or eliminated."
The discussion of signage ended without clear resolution, but, in the public interest, it should be pointed out that there is an entire chapter in the city code--Chapter 244--devoted to signs. Any sign erected within the city limits of Hudson must conform with basic requirements that have to do with dimensions, overall size (i.e., square footage), materials, method of illumination, fixture, etc., and be issued an "erection permit" by the code enforcement office, for which a fee must be paid. Signs within a locally designated historic district also require a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, which considers the proposed sign's compatibility with the historic character of the building and the street on which it is located. There is no fee for a certificate of appropriateness.
A second issue discussed at Friday's meeting, which involved a question of compliance and members of the HPC, was the rose window at the First Presbyterian Church which was recently covered with plywood. HPC chair Rick Rector raised a question that had been asked of him: "Why didn't this come before the HPC?" The discussion revealed that not only had the church not approached the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness, but, according to Wurster, it had not approached him about a building permit. HPC members Phil Forman and David Voorhees are both involved with the church--Forman as the president of the Friends of the First Presbyterian Church, and Voorhees as a member of the FFPC board and a member of the Session, the church's board of governors.
Calling it a "process oversight," Forman explained that the Friends had not been involved in the project to cover the window. It was, he explained, a project undertaken by the church. Voorhees said that the contractor was supposed to get a building permit but apparently had not done so. Roberts expressed her opinion that the HPC did not have jurisdiction over the project because it was not a permanent change to the building, but Jack Alvarez, architect member of the HPC disagreed.
Myron Polenberg, from the audience, reminded the HPC that his wife had been required to leave the room when the certificate of appropriateness for moving the Robert Taylor House was being considered (Peggy Polenberg had been the buyer's agent when the property was purchased) and wanted to know why Voorhees and Forman could participate in the discussion and weren't being asked to leave the room. Roberts explained that the difference was that no vote was being taken about the First Presbyterian Church. She also acknowledged that she had been mistaken when she told Polenberg that she probably needed to leave the room when the Robert Taylor House was being discussed; simply leaving the dais would have been adequate. Roberts said she had already admitted her error and apologized to Polenberg, but Polenberg told Roberts she wanted the fact that "you were in error throwing me out of the meeting" to go "on the record."
Two projects that have flouted the historic preservation law by proceeding without a certificate of appropriateness were mentioned: 82-84 North Fifth Street and 816 Warren Street. In neither case has any penalty been imposed. Wurster expressed the opinion that these projects should be fined. Roberts, however, explained that "every time there is a violation, we don't pursue and prosecute." According to Roberts, the decision to "pursue and prosecute" is the purview of the mayor, and she has not yet had the opportunity to discuss these matters with him.