Saturday, July 26, 2014

Report from the HPC

Originally, the second meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission was held solely to review and approve the language of certificates of appropriateness prepared by legal counsel, but the HPC has been relaxing its rules in recent months and reviewing applications at its second meeting. At Friday's meeting, the HPC voted on the language of one certificate of appropriateness, returned to an application that had previously been deemed incomplete, and reviewed a new application. 

731 Warren Street  The HPC unanimously approved the language of the certificate of appropriateness for the Warren Inn, 731 Warren Street. The certificate of appropriateness was granted on the condition that the stepped parapet on the facade of the building be restored. Now that the "mansard" roof which was added in 1959 has been removed, it is clear that it will be possible to meet that condition.

134 and 136 Warren Street Two weeks ago, the HPC deemed the application for this project incomplete. What is being proposed is a new storefront for 134 Warren Street (between the two porticoes), new windows for the second and third floors, and repairs to the wood clapboard.

The application was considered incomplete because no historic photographs had been submitted. The HPC also requested photographic evidence that the windows, which are wood windows dating back to the 1860s, were beyond repair. Today, all the photographs requested were provided, although the photographs of the windows seemed not to persuade architect member Jack Alvarez, who observed, "I don't see extensive rot on those windows." The applicant stressed that the brand of replacement windows they were proposing was "certified and sanctioned by the National Park Service," not mentioning that the justification for replacing windows in the Secretary of the Interior's Guidelines was that the original windows were deteriorated beyond repair. He also clarified that it was not their intention to use Hardiplank to make repairs to the clapboard. Rather they would evaluate the existing clapboard and will make repairs with wood or "if it is more cost effective" replace all the clapboard with Hardiplank. 

HPC chair Rick Rector brought the attention to the proposed storefront by asking, "If the HPC does not permit the creation of the storefront, will you proceed with the restoration of the exterior of the building?" The applicant said he could not answer for the owner but indicated that he thought it was unlikely.

HPC member Peggy Polenberg opined, "I think it's nice to have a storefront there. We need more retail." Rector reminded her that although everyone "would like more commerce," the mission of the Historic Preservation Commission is to protect the integrity of Hudson's historic architecture. Later when Tony Thompson observed that the rest of the 100 block of Warren Street was largely if not completely residential and said he would hesitate to add more commercial space, Rector noted that the building had already been changed, making reference to the storefront in 136 Warren Street, which was added, in its original configuration, probably as many as sixty years ago. "Does previous compromise justify further compromise," he asked, "or do we protect what survives?" The answer for our unique architectural palimpsest of a city should have been obvious to every member of the HPC, but it didn't seem to be. 

Rector, who usually prefers to waive public hearings, suggested that a public hearing might be in order for this project. When a motion was then made and seconded to waive a public hearing, Polenberg, Alvarez, and Thompson voted aye; Rector and David Voorhees voted nay. HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck pointed out that four affirmative votes were required to pass a motion--four being the majority of the full commission. So a new motion was made to have a public hearing. There were four affirmative votes for that motion, with all but Polenberg voting aye. 

The public hearing on the proposed changes to 134 and 136 Warren Street will take place on Friday, August 8, at 10 a.m.

202 and 204 Warren Street  This was the first time the HPC saw the most recent proposal for this building, which has been owned for the past ten years by one or another of Eric Galloway's various LLCs and now by the Galvan Initiatives Foundation and kept vacant for almost all of that time. Six or so years ago, a plan was proposed to convert the buildings into two giant townhouses with commercial space on the ground floor. That plan entailed dramatic changes to the facade, which the HPC rejected, and after much consternation and negotiation, a plan evolved that the HPC could and did approve, but work on the building never commenced.

This past April, Galvan attorney Joe Catalano presented a proposal to the Planning Board to turn the ground floor apartment in each building into a combination of commercial and residential space. At the time, city government was operating under the misconception that the minimum size for an apartment, dictated by city code, was 1,500 square feet, so Galvan decided to abandon the notion of having an apartment on the ground floor rather than having to petition the Zoning Board of Appeals for an area variance. Although the misinterpretation of the bulk and area regulations was finally acknowledged as the error it was in late May 2014, Galvan has not returned to the idea of creating live/work space on the ground floors of 202 and 204 Warren Street. In the plan presented to the HPC on Friday by architect Philip Higby, the ground floors will be exclusively commercial space.

It is for the sake of that commercial space that the ground floor windows on the front of the building are being lengthened by six inches. The change will alter the pattern of the fenestration on a building which was, as Voorhees pointed out, designed by Hudson architect Michael O'Connor, "using very classical principles." Lengthening the windows will require the creation of new windows for those space, but the exact nature of those windows was not discussed at the meeting. Rector commented that he didn't see the point in making this change. Polenberg, however, called it "very minor" and declared that she had no problem with it.

Copyright 1995 Lynn Davis
As has been noted before, the original porticoes on this building where removed about a decade ago and allegedly put into storage. When the HPC asked about the porticoes, Higby acknowledged that "at one point they had been saved and put in storage, but they have since disappeared." Even though the original porticoes are well documented in the photographs taken by Lynn Davis in 1995, as part of The Warren Street Project, no effort seems to have been made to replicate them in the new design, and beyond noting some specific differences between the proposed porticoes and the originals--a hipped roof (visible in the elevation drawings not the rendering) instead of a flat roof and Ionic capitals instead of Corinthian capitals--the HPC made no suggestion that it would have been more respectful of the design of the building to reproduce the original porticoes than to introduce the porticoes with rather exaggerated dentils and polyurethane columns.

The HDC approved granting a certificate of appropriateness to the project, with Rector, Polenberg, Voorhees, and Thompson voting in favor, and only Alvarez opposed.


  1. What a most unfortunate situation for this once elegant property.

  2. Carole, you didn't say who own owned 134-136 (or did I miss it). And speaking of ownership, can the HPC please get everything that Galvan is proposing in writing, with stipulations that failure to comply comes with penalties. The City does not need any more 3-card monte games played with our historic buildings.

    1. I don't know who owns 134 and 136 Warren Street. The owner was never identified during the discussion at the HPC meeting. The owner had to be identified on the actual application, but people attending the meeting don't get to see the applications.

      Everything is is writing on the application, as it always is. Not that that has helped any in the past.

    2. Thanks, Carole. So, if I understand you correctly, the public is not allowed to see a copy of the application? I would say this would not pass FOIL muster.... And if everything is in writing, then I'm assuming that permission to "move" and/or "disassemble" and "reassemble" the Green Street house is all in writing? Any idea who we would FOIL for this information? Thanks, peter m.

    3. No, no. I never said that the public was not allowed to see the applications. My meaning was that, understandably, applicants do not pass out copies of their applications to members of the audience. The HPC requires three copies of the application for its own use.

      I have a copy for the application for the certificate of appropriateness to move 900 Columbia Street, and I have posted about it many times. (It was no big deal to get it. I just send an email to the city clerk, Tracy Delaney.) The problem with that project was this: They only needed a certificate of appropriateness to move to house to 215 Union Street--in other words, for 215 Union Street to receive the building--because 215 Union Street is in a locally designated historic district, but its original location is not. Although it was absolutely clear from the original application that the intention was to MOVE the house intact (they even named the company that would do it), the approval was required not to move it from 900 Columbia Street but to move it TO 215 Union Street. Rick Scalera figured they were approved to put the house there in whatever shape it was in when it arrived--which as it happened was in bits and pieces--but the HPC insisted they needed a new certificate of appropriateness because they hadn't done what they said they were going to do, and they prevailed. The project had to get a new certificate of appropriateness.

      For whatever use it is, 134 and 136 Warren Street is owned by Realty II Danian and Paul Kisselbrack is the property manager.

    4. Thanks for the explanation, Carole, especially regarding the 900 Columbia St. So, the petitioner violated the agreement and the HPC simply issued a new one, making the violation a non-violation? That I've got to see.

    5. A lot of it turned on the weasel word "relocate" that Cheryl Roberts used in the first certificate of appropriateness. "Relocate" doesn't say it will arrive intact and not in bits and pieces.

      Did you ever see the 1967 film "Bedazzled"? I am often reminded of poor Stanley Moon's struggles to get the wording of his wishes right when observing Galvan and the HPC.

    6. Re 900 Columbia Street: The question before the HPC was not “Can the building be relocated to 215 Union?” or moved or any other word. In fact, while this was part of the pageantry of the application, I suggest that how the building was moved from outside the Local Historic District (LHD) to within it was irrelevant. The question before the HPC was “Is the building presently located at 900 Columbia Street historically appropriate if located within the LHD at 215 Union Street?” This examination was based on a principle of compatibility, as proscribed by Chapter 169 of the city code. Based on the appearance of 900 Columbia at the time that the question was asked the answer was a resounding “yes.” Does the building presently located at 215 Union look like what was at 900 Columbia?

      Choose one: Yes or No

  3. Ref: 134-136 Warren & all other bldgs. located on the 100 block of Warren.

    At the time of Hudson's Urban Renewal in the 1960's-70's choices were made.
    One good choice was decided to maintain the historical façade of the buildings in the 100 block with most renovations of the day reflecting the same.
    And I do believe that historical block of Hudson was the genesis of what exists in Hudson today.
    Therefore it is time for the HPC to reject any & all major alterations to the 100 block of Warren and to say "nay" to the proposed new storefront and stand and be counted that the historical preservation of Hudson is most important to us and all future Hudsonians whether they are Hudson by Birth or Hudson by Choice but all are for the best in Hudson.

    1. Re 134 and 136 Warren Street: Rather than discussing what may be otherwise construed as zoning issues and straying from the HPC’s mission, why not simply apply Chapter 169 as so empowered? 169-6 (A) clearly states that “properties that contribute to the character of the historic district shall be retained, with their historic features altered as little as possible.” It goes on to say that “any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district” and that “new construction shall be compatible with the district in which it is located.”

      The principle upon which the HPC must make such determinations is one of compatibility. 169-6 (B) of the city code sets forth the criteria to be considered when applying the principle of compatibility. The HPC shall consider the following factors:

      1. The general design, character, and appropriateness to the property of the proposed alteration or new construction;
      2. The scale of the proposed alteration or new construction in relation to the property itself, surrounding properties, and the neighborhood;
      3. Texture, materials, and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood;
      4. Visual compatibility with surrounding properties, including proportion of the property's front facade, proportion and arrangement of windows and other openings within the facade, roof shape, and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback; and,
      5. The importance of historic, architectural, or other features to the significance of the property.


      1. Is the proposed change to the building appropriate to the building itself? A bit of an esoteric discussion that really boils down to “Does it look right?”
      2. How does the size of the proposed change work with the building aesthetically? Does it fit in with surrounding properties and others in the neighborhood? Precedents are important. Are there similar store fronts to point to?
      3. Do the building materials and colors to be used in the alteration look like what others have done nearby? Does it work with the neighborhood? Further need for precedents.
      4. After the alterations, will the building look like it belongs there? There are other principles upon which Chapter 169 could be based, like intentional dissimilarity, but it is not. The law to be applied is one of compatibility. Is the finished product appropriate to the neighborhood?
      5. How will the proposed changes to the building affect historic, architectural or other character-defining features? What are we losing to make this happen? Is it worth it?

      In order to create the proposed store front, what historic building fabric must be removed? Is it OK to lose a couple windows and some cladding? Let’s hypothetically approve this plan. What if the next applicant wants to remove three windows and adjoining claps? And the one after them wants to remove a couple original windows and a door? I would be cautious about any proposal that requires removal of historic building fabric for reasons other than systems and materials which have deteriorated beyond a serviceable condition.

  4. Just maybe the owner of 134-136 Warren is doing the math. Rental income from retail (+2500 per month) vs. apartment income (+1200 per month).
    Money changes EVERYTHING.