Friday, January 10, 2014

Galvan Plan Before Planning Commission

As Gossips predicted , the initial presentation of a new Galvan proposal for 620 State Street and the garage building behind it was made to the Planning Commission on Wednesday night. Making the presentation were Galvan attorney Joe Catalano and architect John O'Connell, of OConnnell Architecture, who designed the interior at Mexican Radio and advised the library board when they were deciding which Galvan building--the Armory or the former Register-Star building--better suited the library's needs.

Catalano began by explaining that the plan had been "modified" since in the application had been submitted. Instead of 24 studio apartments in both the former orphanage and the former garage building, they were cutting it down to 10 studio apartments in the orphanage. The garage building on Seventh Street, which will have two new stories built on top of the existing structure, will have no apartments but instead will be a "multi-purpose building for educational and community service use."

Apparently, the proposed three-story building on Seventh Street was labeled "Office Space" on the plans submitted to the Planning Commission. When asked about this, Catalano again spoke of "educational and community service" uses but added two more possible uses: retail and service businesses.

The basic plan for the two buildings seems to be essentially the same, as far the the exterior of the buildings goes, as the one proposed in 2012 for "Galvan Quarters," Galvan's solution to homelessness in Columbia County. The new plan, which so far has no name, involves an infill building that connects the two original structures, which Catalano twice stated were "physically connected by not functionally connected," and a two and a half story addition on the west side of the old orphanage building, not entirely dissimilar to the addition that was demolished by Galvan in 2010. The one significant difference is that there are now two stories proposed to be built on top of the old garage building instead of just one.

What's most puzzling about this project is its purpose. Not only are the uses undefined for the old garage building with its two new stories, but the exact nature of the residential units planned for the old orphanage building is also unclear. With consistency throughout the presentation, Catalano referred to them as "studio apartments," but when describing the interior layout of the building, O'Connell spoke of a "hotel arrangement . . . with business areas and lounges." At one point, toward the end of the presentation, Catalano said that they might "do it as a long-term hotel."

Catalano stressed the fact that two of the ten apartments would be on the ground floor and handicapped accessible, which suggested that the project is seeking some kind of federal funding for which the percentage of handicapped accessible units might be a significant factor. He also pointed out, more than once, that 620 State Street is located in an area zoned General Commercial Transitional (G-C-T), where it seems just about anything goes--except residential transitional service facilities. Those seem to be confined to R-5 districts.

The question of the required size of a dwelling unit arose (the proposed "studio apartments" are only about 350 square feet). Catalano, an attorney, expressed the opinion that the minimum square footage per dwelling unit specified in the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations has to do with lot size not apartment size. But, in this case, it doesn't matter anyway. The regulations apparently apply only to residential districts, and the area in question is not a residential district.

Because so many changes had been made to the plan since the application was originally submitted in December, it was decided that Catalano would withdraw the application and submit a revised one. Planning Commission chair, Don Tillson, wanted to schedule a public hearing for February 12, before the commission reviewed the revised application, but commission member Claudia DeStefano objected, saying that the commission needed to "digest" the proposal before receiving public comment. It was decided that Catalano would return "with the updated package" to the Planning Commission's regular monthly meeting on February 12, and a public hearing and a special meeting to vote on approving the site plan would be held "outside the regular schedule" so that Galvan wouldn't have to wait until March for a decision. When asked if the Planning Commission didn't have to know if the proposed building was going to be an apartment building or a hotel in order to review the site plan, Tillson evaded the question by saying that the commission was waiting for the revised application.

At the end of the meeting, Register-Star reporter John Mason alleged that the Planning Commission was in violation of the open meeting law. Mason told the commission, "You're not supposed to be talking about documents that the public cannot see." Tillson's immediate response was, "I don't think you want to get into the debate now," but commission member Glenn Martin took offense that Mason had implied that the commission was doing things "in secret."

Asked to comment about appropriate procedure, Common Council president Don Moore, who was in the audience (as was mayor's aide Gene Shetsky), expressed the opinion that material presented to a board should be made available to the public prior to the meeting. Daniel Tuczinski, who is now legal counsel to the Planning Commission, suggested that it depended on board policy. Some boards, he said, "receive materials right up until the time of the meeting," making it impossible to give the press and the public access to the materials in advance. He pointed out that, once documents and drawings are accepted by a board, they can be FOILed.

Mason's report on the meeting appears today in the Register-Star: "Galvan presents plans for former orphan's asylum." According to Mason, the project will go before the Historic Preservation Commission today, but it is not included on the agenda for the HPC meeting published in the City of Hudson website.


  1. Recently John Mason's been doing a great job agitating for more government transparency.

    If you missed his well-researched article on the Common Council's dereliction in regard to committee Minutes, it's deserving of an award for excellence in journalism:

  2. ...sounds to me like an in-patient residential alcohol/narcotics treatment center. perfect thing to go along with the out-patient methadone clinic planned for the armory...

  3. Was this presented at last Friday's HPC meeting? What happened?

    1. No. Mason was wrong, as I suspected he was. This project did not come before the HPC on Friday.