There was a time, a year or so ago, when Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) launched regular assaults, during Common Council meetings, on the historic preservation law and the Historic Preservation Commission for their alleged interference with projects perceived by Pierro to represent progress and development. The complaints about the obstructionist nature of historic preservation were usually related to Galvan Partners/Foundation projects, and it was easy to suspect Pierro's long-time political crony Rick Scalera, special adviser to the Galvan Foundation, was behind them.
Lately, Pierro seems to have eased up on historic preservation, taking up instead the need to sell at auction the former Dunn warehouse and the vacant lot at Fourth and State, but life for the Historic Preservation Commission hasn't become any easier. On August 9, the plans for another Galvan project, the conversion of the Hudson Armory into the Galvan Community Learning Center, came before the Historic Preservation Commission. HPC chair Rick Rector called it "the most major thing we have dealt with," and although the project was granted a certificate of appropriateness, not everyone on the HPC was happy with the decision.
When the HPC considered the proposal for the Armory on August 9, the vote to proceed with granting a certificate of appropriateness was four to one, with only Tony Thompson opposed to the action, saying that "adding two historic styles to the building turns it into a mongrel." (On August 9, Jack Alvarez recused himself, and Scott Baldinger was absent.) This past Friday, when the HPC took its official vote approving the certificate of appropriateness, only three members voted yes (Rector, David Voorhees, and Phil Forman) and two voted no (Thompson was joined by Baldinger, who had been absent at the previous meeting).
After the vote was taken, Thompson, who tends to stress the importance of differentiation beyond what some feel is recommended in the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines, enumerated all the problems he saw with the design for the new addition proposed--"same materials, same roof height, same roof material"--and said that he had problems with the interpretation of the law. He wanted to know, in particular, the difference in meaning among the terms similarity, appropriateness, and compatibility.
Baldinger took Thompson's comments as an opportunity to share his own objections to the design, which focused on the Greek Revival portico planned for what will be the entrance to the Hudson Area Library on State Street. Baldinger said there was a handsome keystone at that entrance now, which would be covered up by the proposed portico. He suggested all that was needed were new doors and "some kind of canopy" and expressed the opinion that the proposed portico was "not in the spirit of the building."
Forman, who had voted both times in favor of granting a certificate of appropriateness, mused about "very large projects with a lot of momentum" and the "enormous pressure to move forward." He alluded to the number of library board members who had turned out for the meeting. When Rector reminded Forman that the HPC had decided not to do a workshop on the project and to waive a public hearing, Forman conceded, "If I didn't perceive some kind of pressure, I would have wanted to have a workshop."
Some months ago, Scalera asked at an HPC meeting why workshop sessions could not take place before an application for a certificate of appropriateness was presented, implying that when a workshop happened after an application was submitted, it held things up and interfered with the construction schedule for a project. He had the Armory project in mind when he asked the question, and he was told the there was no reason why an applicant couldn't seek input from the HPA before submitting a formal application. Despite this, the Armory design was never presented to the HPC until August, when a certificate of appropriateness was needed if the project were to proceed on schedule, although a version of it had been presented to the public as early as December 2012.
The opinion that historic preservation discourages development permeates City Hall and beyond--originating with Scalera, voiced by Pierro and parroted by the other Fifth Ward alderman Bob "Doc" Donahue, shared by the current mayor, and even echoed by Tom Swope, former chair of the HPC, when, as an applicant before the commission on Friday, he asked the rhetorical question, "Does this law stand in the way of progress?" The pressure to prove this is not the case often seems to compel Rector to gallop the commission through the review process. Although the law (Chapter 169-7.C) gives the HPC sixty days to render a decision on an accepted application, in practice they seem hellbent on doing it in under sixty minutes.
In May 2012, following the guidance of city attorney and HPC counsel Cheryl Roberts, the commission initiated the practice of meeting twice a month. Two meetings a month would seem to give applicants more opportunities to present projects to the HPC and give the HPC more time to deliberate, to do research, to seek expert advice, to arrive at informed and well thought out decisions. In fact, that is not the case. As the meetings are now structured and rigorously adhered to at the apparent insistence of Roberts, the practice only adds to the waiting time for the applicant.
At the first meeting of the month, the HPC considers applications for certificates of appropriateness. They decide at that meeting if they want Roberts to draft a decision approving or denying a COA. Roberts takes two weeks to write a paragraph explaining what has been approved or why it was denied, and at their second meeting of the month, with these documents before them, the HPC votes officially to approve or deny. It would seem that, instead of making an applicant wait two weeks for the documentary evidence that a project has been approved, it would be better, particularly in the case of "major projects" like the Armory, if the HPC took those two weeks to consider the proposal before them.
There is more bad news for the beleaguered HPC. After last Friday's meeting, Baldinger resigned. Although he had not been present at the meeting on August 9 when the Armory project was presented and discussed, Baldinger was permitted to vote on the COA on August 23. But when he expressed his criticism of the portico proposed for the library entrance, he was told by Rector that it was inappropriate for him to rehash the discussion, of which he hadn't been a part, after the decision had already been made. After the meeting, Baldinger and Rector had words, but Baldinger told Gossips that his difference of opinion with Rector was not the reason for his resignation. Rather the demands of his work (Baldinger is the editor of Rural Intelligence) made it increasingly difficult to carve out the time required for the HPC, and he had been thinking about resigning for some time.
Baldinger was appointed to the HPC by Mayor William Hallenbeck in February 2012. In May 2012, Hallenbeck appointed Peggy Polenberg.
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