Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring Is Minutes Away!

The vernal equinox happens today at 12:15 p.m., marking the beginning of spring. 

At 12:15 today, it is expected to be 32 degrees and mostly cloudy. Happy Spring!

Resisting the Fences

On Sunday morning, people gathered at Germantown Town Hall to discuss the fences and gates proposed by Amtrak to be installed along the railroad tracks and the river. Yesterday, the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee issued the following press release.
The Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee hosted a group of about 40 people for about 1.5 hours early on Sunday morning to review and plan a course of action to respond to the proposed Amtrak gates & fences. We were joined by Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper, Germantown Sportsman's Association, the Columbia County Sportsman's Federation, Trout Unlimited, the Germantown Fire Department, residents, and local business owners.
Germantown's Supervisor, Robert Beaury, was also in attendance. He plans to write a letter to the Department of State to request additional information. The letter will also request that the current comment period be halted, as many feel there are too few details with which to make informed comments. The Town will instead request that the DOC conduct meetings with the public in each affected municipality, and that a new 30-day comment period start at the conclusion of the last meeting. Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson plan to write a joint letter requesting the same.
In parallel, the Germantown Waterfront Advisory Committee plans to continue research and outreach efforts in order to fully comprehend the potential impacts to the Town, and to form alliances with potential partners in addressing the proposal. We can be reached at germantownwaterfrontcommittee@gmail.com.
The letter from Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper to the Department of State referenced in the press release begins:
Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper have each received numerous phone calls and emails expressing opposition to Amtrak's proposal to install gates and/or fences along the railroad right-of-way in Rhinebeck (Rhinecliff), Tivoli, Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant. As longstanding proponents of expanding public access to the Hudson River, we share their concerns. . . .
The letter concludes:
Given the outpouring of public concern and the need for the public to participate meaningfully in this decision-making process, both Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper believe the 15-day public comment period is partial to the applicant's interest and insufficient for affected stakeholders. Fifteen days is simply not enough time to capture the public's concerns regarding the proposal's impact on the loss of river access and to viewsheds. Public information provided by Amtrak to date is completely inadequate making meaningful public comment impossible. Additionally, we believe that the proposed gate and/or fence installation, while part of one application, have very different ramifications at each location, and as such require separate public meetings.
Therefore we request that public information meetings be held in each municipality where gate and/or fence installations are proposed--Rhinecliff, Tivoli, Germantown, Stockport and Stuyvesant. Rail representatives must provide each community with the specific details of all proposed gates and/or fences and provide data to justify each project individually. Each meeting must be part of the official public record with a stenographer recording all public comments. Only upon the conclusion of the final community meeting, should a 30-day comment period begin. This would ensure that everyone interested in this issue has ample opportunity to submit informed written comments to the Department of State.
Gossips will stay on this issue as it develops. Meanwhile, the current public comment period ends on Thursday, March 29, at 4:30 p.m.

Monday, March 19, 2018

They're Back

This morning, it was discovered that a vanguard from GSI (GeoStabilization International) has returned to the scene of the crime: the escarpment along the railroad tracks in Hudson.

Gossips followed the story last summer and fall, as GSI stripped the rock face of all vegetation, removed loose stones, and installed anchor bolts. When Historic Hudson, Scenic Hudson, and the City of Hudson raised a ruckus about this happening without a coastal consistency review by the Department of State, a stop work order was issued, but it wasn't enforced until after part of the rock had already been sprayed with the dreaded shotcrete.

On September 26, there was a long awaited public meeting with the Department of Transportation, during which the DOT stressed how critical the work was because of the imminent danger of pieces of the cliff breaking free and falling onto the railroad tracks. The public was given until October 11 to comment on the project, and many did, asking why slide fences couldn't be installed at the base of the cliff instead of permanently defacing the cliff by spraying it with concrete. 

Despite the appeals, two days later, on October 13, 2017, the Department of State made its determination that the "proposed activity, which has been modified, is consistent with the New York Coastal Management Program." Here's the description of the "proposed activity, which has been modified":
The scaling of exposed sections of rock face to remove loose material; the installation of anchor bolts; the installation of drainage infrastructure; the application of tinted and sculpted sprayed concrete to the rock face; and the installation of vine like planted material at the top of the rock face.
The modifications were that the shotcrete will be "tinted and sculpted" and "vine like planted material" will be installed at the top of the rock face.

It appears that GSI has now returned to carry out the last three steps: installing the drainage infrastructure, applying the tinted and sculpted concrete, and installing the "vine like planted material" that's meant to convince us that this is a natural rock face.

Fences Along the Hudson

As we have reported, Amtrak is proposing installing fencing along the river to keep pedestrians and vehicles out of its right of way and impeding access to the river at eight locations between Rhinecliff and Stuyvesant. This doesn't affect Hudson, but it does affect river communities south and north of here.

The proposal submitted by Amtrak to the Department of State can be read here. A public comment period about the proposed project began on March 14 and continues until 4:30 p.m. on March 29. There is an effort to get the comment period extended, but for now assume that next Thursday is the deadline for making your opinion known about this proposal. Comments can be mailed to Matthew Maraglio, New York State Department of State, Office of Planning, Development & Community Infrastructure, 99 Washington Avenue, Suite 1010, Albany, NY 12231 or emailed to cr@dos.ny.gov

There is also a petition opposing the proposed fencing: "Stop Amtrak's Fence Along the Hudson!" To sign that petition, click here

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Hudson Down Under

Flying from Australia to New Zealand, one of Hudson's own discovered this article in the Qantas inflight magazine.

This image was provided to Gossips by Dylan Meyer. Dylan graduated from Hudson High School in 2009 and went on to graduate from the University of Chicago in 2013, with a degree in environmental studies. His work since getting his B.A. has taken him to China and Michigan (exotic to some) and most recently to Australia, doing bird research with the University of Chicago. While in Australia, he took some time to explore New Zealand on his own.

Many thanks to Dylan Meyer for providing these images and to Peter Meyer, his father, for serving as go-between.

More About the Galvan Motel

At the special meeting of the Board of Supervisors Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday, the question arose about why the rehab of the Sunset Motel had not come before the Greenport Planning Board. Tom Alvarez, whose properties border the motel site on their east and south sides, raised questions about water and drainage and where 2,000 gallons of waste water will go. (The motel has its own well and septic tank--systems that, according to Alvarez, are more than sixty years old.) Alvarez and others insisted that these concerns would have been addressed had the project been subjected to site plan review by the Greenport Planning Board. 

Kathy Eldridge, Greenport town supervisor, explained that because the area was zoned for a motel (a rather remarkable statement since Greenport has no zoning) and this was not a change of use, a site plan review by the Planning Board was not a requirement. Dan Kent assured Alvarez and the group that Galvan's project engineer and the Greenport building inspector were addressing all the issues, and they were developing the space "in full compliance with the code."

Although questions may linger in the minds of project's opponents, the Galvan Foundation has erected a new sign at the motel. One wonders if the new sign was needed because people were stopping there looking to check in.


The Stewart's Issue

It was just about a year ago, on March 22, 2017, when Chuck Marshall of Stewart's Shops first appeared before the Legal Committee of the Common Council seeking a zoning change to allow Stewart's to demolish two houses and expand its convenience store and gas station at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Green Street. Stewart's is a nonconforming use in an R-2 (One- and Two-Family Residence) district; as a nonconforming use, it is prohibited from expanding.

Image: Google Maps
In May 2017, Michael O'Hara, who then chaired the Legal Committee, sent a letter to Marshall informing him that the committee would not deal with the request separately but "would take it up in a redo of the comprehensive plan." Andy Howard, then counsel to the Council, now city attorney, recommended that the issue be handed over to the Economic Development Committee. In July 2017, the Economic Development Committee held a "public information session" to give the people in the immediate neighborhood and the rest of Hudson the opportunity to learn about the project and comment on it. Of the six people who commented that evening, only one--Eileen Halloran--had anything positive to say about the proposal. Halloran saw the project as a way to improve the intersection and address the hydrology issues that plague that part of the city, although it's hard to imagine how a bigger and better Stewart's with even more impervious surface could improve either situation. With the input from the public, the Economic Development Committee decided, in September 2017, not to pursue the zoning change requested by Stewart's.

In January 2018, with a new year and an almost entirely new Council, Marshall was back, this time with a request that the City create a Green Street Overlay District. The proposed overlay district would allow commercial development, as a conditional use, on the left side of Green Street from the Rosery to the current Stewart's and on the left side of Fairview Avenue from the Stewart's location to the former car dealership where ProPrinters is now located, and, of course, it would include the Stewart's site.

When the application was received, Council president Tom DePietro handed it off to the Economic Development Committee. At its meeting in January, the committee decided to give itself a month to study the proposal. At the February Economic Development Committee meeting, Marshall was there to pitch his plan and answer questions, and so were members of the public, who had nothing to say in support of the proposal. At the end of the discussion, a comment by Halloran--in July, the only member of public who spoke in favor of the project and now an alderman and a member of the Economic Development Committee--about needing to understand the "new law" presaged that the Stewart's request for a zoning change and proposed Local Law No. 9 of 2017 were about to be conflated. In fact, they are quite different, but the distinctions between them are getting obliterated.

In February, in response to comments from the Columbia County Planning Board, DePietro sent Local Law No. 9 back to the Legal Committee. At the next meeting of the Legal Committee, which took place on February 28, it was revealed that the Legal Committee had referred Local Law No. 9 to the Hudson Planning Board for a recommendation. At the Planning Board meeting, which took place on March 8, there was no discussion of Local Law No. 9. Instead they discussed the Stewart's proposal to create a Green Street Overlay District. Speaking of the proposal, Planning Board member Clark Wieman asked, "How is this not spot zoning?" Planning Board chair, Walter Chatham responded, "I think they are trying to grab a bunch of other buildings to make it not spot zoning." Chatham read an email from Halloran which, in its reference to Third Street, seemed to conflate totally the zoning overlay requested by Stewart's and proposed Local Law No. 9. Chatham told the board that the code enforcement officer Craig Haigh was suggesting that "if two items in the code were rejiggered, the Planning Board could review this without amendments."

After some discussion, during which Planning Board member Ginna Moore said she thought the proposed overlay district was a "horrible idea," and Wieman said, "Expanding in an area that is mostly residential is a bad idea," Chatham concluded: "In principle, we support that an existing building should expand, but we don't support rezoning an entire neighborhood." He then suggested that the Planning Board "do Craig a solid and support what he suggested."

But what had Haigh suggested? No one on the Planning Board seemed to know exactly, so Gossips called Haigh to find out. He explained his idea that eating and drinking establishments, and presumably gas stations and convenience stores and a host of other commercial enterprises, should become conditional permitted uses in the R-2 district, which would make them conditional permitted uses in the R-3, R-4, and R-5 districts as well. In effect, any and all commercial uses would be permitted in residential districts anywhere in Hudson--with the notable exception of the R-1 district--so long as they were approved by the Planning Board. To follow that suggestion might simplify things, but it would make Hudson more like Greenport, where there is no zoning, and where the Planning Board, one project at a time, makes the decisions that shape the character of the town without any overarching, publicly agreed-upon vision for the community to guide them.

To return to the Economic Development Committee, at its meeting on March 15, the members--Halloran, Rich Volo, John Rosenthal, and Calvin Lewis--pondered why the issue had been assigned to the Economic Development Committee, not seeming to appreciate that community character is an economic development issue and allowing a giant new Stewart's to be developed at one of the gateways to the city--a city that, ironically, has just passed a law banning formula businesses--would have a huge impact on community character. Alluding to the information from Stewart's that they didn't expect to do significantly more business in a new and expanded facility, Halloran declared the project would have "little impact economically." DePietro, who had handed the Stewart's proposal over to the Economic Development Committee in January, suggested from the audience, "If you kick it over to Legal, they'll have a public hearing." Two of the members of the Economic Development Committee--Volo and Rosenthal--are also on the Legal Committee. 

So it seems the Stewart's proposal is going back to the Legal Committee, where it started a year ago, and where Local Law No. 9 is awaiting a recommendation from the Planning Board. The next meeting of the Legal Committee is scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 28, at 6:15 p.m., in City Hall.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The County and the Galvan Motel

Yesterday, the Health and Human Services Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting to receive public comment on the proposed contract with the Galvan Foundation to provide temporary shelter for homeless people at the former Sunset Motel, now the Galvan Motel. Dan Udell's video of the meeting, which went on for close to two hours, can now be viewed on YouTube by clicking here.

Dan Kent, Vice President of Initiatives for the Galvan Foundation

Deja Vu All Over Again for Germantown

Amtrak has proposed installing fencing along the railroad tracks at eight locations between Rhinecliff and Stuyvesant. The proposal for the project can be read hereA public comment period began on March 14 and continues until March 29 at 4:30 p.m.   

For the people of Germantown, where three of the eight sites are located, this new proposal is reminiscent of 2001, when CSX abruptly closed an access road leading to one of the town's three riverfront parks and the boat launch, and there was fear that all the grade crossings would be closed. In 2001, Germantown fought to preserve access to the river and, in a David and Goliath battle, won. Now, seventeen years later, Germantown residents are preparing once again to fight for their access to the river. A meeting to come up with a plan to resist this latest impediment to river access is planned for this Sunday, March 18, at 9 a.m., at Germantown Town Hall, 50 Palatine Park Road. The meeting will focus on the impact of the proposed fencing on Germantown's shoreline, but residents from other locations where river access will be affected are welcome to attend.

Why We Need a Dog Park and a Roundabout

Dear Diary,
Yesterday morning, I decided to take Joey to the dog park in Germantown, an outing typically reserved for the weekend. Joey loves to run, but I'm paranoid about losing him, so a fenced dog park suits us both. Forget that "if you love something, set it free" nonsense. Too many dogs end up on the Lost Pets of the Hudson Valley Facebook page, and I don't want Joey to be one of them. But I digress.
Heading for Germantown, I had merged onto Route 23 and made my way into the left lane when I saw a white pickup truck approaching. It seemed too close, and it was. Coming off the bridge, heading east, the truck had somehow gotten into the westbound lane, and it was coming straight at me. 
For a heart-stopping few seconds, the truck and my little car engaged in a frightening dance. I went to the right; the truck mirrored my action. I went to the left; the truck did the same. Fortunately, at that point, the truck had reached the place where the grassy median ends and only zebra stripes divide the west and eastbound lanes. The driver of the truck sped across the zebras onto her side of the road, and Joey and I continued on our way to the dog park, shaken but none the worse for wear.
The roundabout will deter people from getting on the wrong side of the road and threatening head-on collisions, but if Hudson had a dog park, Joey and I wouldn't have to venture afield for our morning outings.

"Micropolitan Diary" is Gossips' homage to and blatant imitation of "Metropolitan Diary" in the New York Times. The term micropolitan was coined (by Gossips) because Hudson is a metropolis in microcosm.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

HHA and Housing & Transportation

Last night, I attended the monthly meeting of the Hudson Housing Authority board of commissioners, and I learned many things, which I will share in no particular order. 

First, the Hudson Housing Authority has a website, which you can view by clicking here. Some parts of it appear to be still under construction, but you can find the RFQ for a co-developer for "the rehabilitation or redevelopment of the Authority's Columbia Apartments, a 9-story 117-unit high rise and a 15-unit low rise development originally constructed in 1973" and for "a proposed new mixed use, mixed income, housing development on State Street, an adjacent parcel owned by the Hudson Housing Authority." Also, soon to appear on the website are the new bylaws approved by the board of commissioners last night.

On the subject of the RFQ, which HHA executive director Timothy Mattice explained was really an RFQ (request for qualifications) and an RFP (request for proposal) rolled into one, proposals are due from prospective developers on March 30. Mattice said they were looking for "the right developer that will work with us in a community-engaged, transparent process," involving charettes and workshops, to plan both aspects of the project.

The elevators have been a problem in Bliss Towers for some time. Last night, Mattice told the board that Otis Elevator will soon be doing a "modest modernization" of the elevators. A "modest modernization" is being pursued instead of the "substantial modernization," because the former will cost $134,983 and the latter well over $500,000. The modest modernization will address the operation and reliability of the elevators but will involve no cosmetic changes.

Two more bits of information: The building has a new generator which prevents the brownouts that used to occur with some frequency. The size of the maintenance staff has been doubled. 

In January, the HHA board hired an independent inspection group to help them "clearly define and understand the magnitude of the problem." Last night, Mattice reported that within two weeks of receiving the report, all the health and safety items were fixed, and they are now moving forward on addressing general repairs.

Nine apartments are currently "offline," awaiting a total rehab, for which $80,000 has been budgeted. Seven apartments are vacant and being prepped for new tenants, which involves, among other things, a fresh coat of paint. 

I have to admit that I haven't been in Bliss Towers for a few years, not since 2014 when I was regularly attending HHA board meetings during the great bench controversy. Upon entering the building last night, I missed a vaguely unpleasant odor that I remember being present in the building. During the meeting, I learned why. The garbage chute, which hadn't been cleaned for twenty years, had recently been power-washed and sanitized. The ventilation system had also been cleaned.

I left the meeting before it was over to go to City Hall for the first meeting of the Common Council Housing & Transportation Committee, so I wasn't there to witness the resident members of the board and residents in the audience praise Mattice for the work he has been doing, but I heard about it from others who remained to the end of the meeting. 

When I arrived at City Hall, only two members of the four-member Housing & Transportation Committee were present--Tiffany Garriga, who chairs the committee, and Dominic Merante. With no quorum, the committee was just having a discussion with members of the audience. Making reference to an article that had appeared that day in the Register-Star, "Alderwoman wants to remove Housing Authority members," former Fourth Ward supervisor Bill Hughes, who was in the audience, cautioned Garriga about approaching the problem "from a contentious angle." Speaking of the resolution she had introduced, asking the mayor to remove the currently appointed members of the HHA board of commissioners and appoint new members, Garriga said it was "sending a message," tacitly acknowledging that the resolution cannot force the mayor to take this action. Speaking of the conditions that prompted her to demand a change of leadership, she asked rhetorically: "How many apartments have you inspected inside? When was a grant applied for? Who is overseeing the executive director?" She also alleged that "HUD in Buffalo has not been doing its job."

When Mayor Rick Rector arrived at the committee meeting from the HHA meeting, Garriga asked him about the earlier meeting. In his response, he provided a hint about what action he might take if the Council passes the resolution introduced by Garriga: "I give him [Mattice] the opportunity to do what he said he will."  

Of Interest

Photo: J. Wase Construction Corporation
On Monday, March 12, the Albany Business Review reported about the Cosmic Cinemas movie theater eatery coming to Fairview Plaza: "This movie theater won't allow talking, babies or cell phones." In the article, Terrell Braly, CEO of Cosmic Cinemas, is quoted as saying, "The genesis of Cosmic Cinemas coming to the Hudson Valley was the result of our curiosity about the massive buzz Hudson is generating."

Thanks to Bruce Mitchinson for bringing this to our attention

DRI Watch: What Was Adopted by the LPC

The list of projects to be included in the draft DRI Investment Plan, which has been adopted by the Local Planning Committee, can now be viewed here. The same thirty projects are still on the list, but the three projects proposed by the Galvan Foundation previously among those recommended for DRI funding--the Robert Taylor House, 22-24 Warren Street, and the Salvation Army kitchen--are no longer being recommended for funding, although they remain in the investment plan.

The Galvan Foundation originally submitted five project proposals, the fourth and fifth being 59 Allen Street and 260 Warren Street. The latter was eliminated early on, because it was not in the BRIDGE District. In the list presented to the LPC on March 1, 59 Allen Street, which was to be restored as a B&B, was recommended to remain in the investment plan but not to receive DRI funding. Now, the three other Galvan projects have joined 59 Allen Street in that category.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Not to Be Missed

On his blog The Other Hudson Valley, Roger Hannigan Gilson writes about HPD chief Ed Moore: "Chief Moore: Policing Hudson for 30K a Year."

Photo: Lance Wheeler

The Bicentennial of a Building

Answering an inquiry from a reader this afternoon about 400 State Street, I was reminded that the building was constructed in 1818, and this year is the building's 200th anniversary. In recognition of the building's bicentennial year, I share a brief history of the building that I wrote back in 2000, when I was on the board of the Hudson Area Library and the library was housed in this historic building.


1818 to 1830—Almshouse
The imposing stone structure located on State Street at the head of Fourth Street was built in 1818 as the almshouse for the City of Hudson. Under the New York laws of 1778, towns and cities were responsible for the care of their own poor. Previously, the poor of Hudson had been sheltered in a house, also located on State Street, which had been purchased for the purpose in 1801 from Daniel Allen.

The new almshouse was built by Ephraim Baldwin, under the supervision of a building committee made up of Dr. John Talman, Judah Paddock, and Barnabus Waterman. The construction costs, according to A Visible Heritage, were $5,100. The plan for the almshouse was based on a plan drawn by Robert Jenkins, and the building is related in style to Robert Jenkins’ own house on Warren Street, which was built in 1811 and is today the home of the Hendrick Hudson Chapter of the D.A.R. In A Visible Heritage, Ruth Piwonka and Roderic Blackburn call the almshouse building “a unique local example of surviving Federal architecture intended for institutional use.”

1830 to 1850—Lunatic Asylum
Around 1830, Columbia County established a poor farm on land purchased from John C. Hogeboom, and the poor of Hudson, together with paupers from the towns throughout the county, were moved to the county poor farm. In May 1830, Dr. Samuel White, who had been practicing medicine in Hudson since 1795, established a lunatic asylum in the building, which he ran himself, assisted by his son, Dr. George H. White. Dr. White was a pioneer in the humane care of the mentally ill. An advertisement of his institution, published in 1841 and quoted in Ellis’ History of Columbia County, stated that “in the first ten years three hundred patients were admitted, most of whom were cured, and all were benefitted.” Dr. White’s asylum closed when the state asylum at Utica opened, and his patients were transferred there.

1851 to 1865—Academy for Young Women
In 1851, the Hudson Female Academy was established in the building, under the direction of Rev. J. B. Hague. The school enjoyed a “high reputation” and attracted students from as far away as Detroit, Milwaukee, the West Indies, and Europe. Henry Ary, who painted the portrait of George Washington that hangs in the Common Council chamber in City Hall, as well as numerous views of Mt. Merino, the South Bay, the Hudson River, and the City of Hudson, was on the faculty and taught drawing and painting to fourth-year students.

An 1853 catalog of the academy offers this description of 400 State Street:
The building occupied by the Academy, was originally erected at a cost exceeding twelve thousand dollars. By an additional outlay it has been perfectly adapted to its present use. It is situated on a gentle eminence, commanding a view almost unrivalled in extent and magnificence. It contains a large and beautiful schoolroom, recitation rooms, and numerous other apartments, arranged for carrying on to the best advantage, the work of instruction. Hair Mattresses are used throughout the sleeping apartments. Each room is carpeted, and furnished with table, bureau, &c., and in the arrangements generally regard has been had to comfort and elegance.
In 1865, the Hudson Female Academy moved to a building at the corner of First and Warren Streets, and by 1878, when Ellis’ History of Columbia County was published, it was no longer in existence.

1865 to 1881—Private Residence
When the Hudson Female Academy relocated, the building on State Street became the private residence of one of the school’s trustees, George H. Power. Power was a major force in the development of ferries and river transportation in Hudson. Born in Hudson in 1817, he began his career on the river at the age of seventeen as the master of a vessel owned by Jeremiah Bame. Eventually George Power became the owner of the New York and Hudson Steamboat Company, the Hudson and Athens Ferry, and the Hudson and Catskill Ferry. The ferry boat that ran between Hudson and Athens bore his name. He was one of the original trustees of the Hudson City Savings Institution (now Hudson River Bank & Trust) and served two terms as the mayor of Hudson.

George Power lived at 400 State Street from 1865 until 1881, when he sold the building to the Hudson Orphan and Relief Association and moved to 218 Warren Street, the grand mansion built by Thomas Jenkins, the richest of the original Proprietors.

1881 to 1957—Orphanage
From 1881 to 1957, the Hudson Orphan and Relief Association operated a home for orphans and needy children in the building. In 1957, the organization, then called the Children’s Home of Columbia County, ceased providing institutional custodial care for children, and the orphanage building and grounds were given to the Board of Education of the Public School System of Hudson with the stipulation that a children’s library be developed in the building. In 1959, 400 State Street became the home of the Hudson Area Library.

In more recent history, the Hudson Area Library Board of Trustees bought the building from the school district in 2005 and embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the building. After $300,000 was invested in replacing the roof on the central structure and the east and west wings, the capital campaign foundered, a $250,000 grant for masonry repair could not be matched, and, in 2011, new leadership on the board sold the building to Eric Galloway. The library is now a tenant in the Galvan Armory, and 400 State Street is owned by the Galvan Foundation. 

Although the building's image is the foundation's logo, appearing on its signage all over town, it's not clear what plans the foundation has for the building, so rich in Hudson history, which marks its 200th anniversary this year. 

Happy birthday, 400 State Street!

Fencing Along the Railroad and the River

A week ago, Gossips shared the information that Amtrak was proposing to install fencing at several points along the railroad tracks between Rhinecliff and Stuyvesant to keep pedestrians and vehicles out of the railroad right of way. The action will also restrict access to the river. The full proposal submitted by the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, a.k.a. Amtrak, to the Department of State Coastal Management Program can now be viewed here

A total of 8,200 feet of fencing will be installed at eight different locations, identified in the proposal as Stuyvesant, Stockport Creek Conserve, Anchorage Road, German Town Park, Cheviot Road, Tivoli Road, Rhinebeck, and Rhinecliff. The following explanation of the purpose of the fencing is reproduced from the proposal.

A two-week public comment period begins today and continues until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29. Click here for information on submitting comments. The proposed project is F-2018-0060.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

She Said, He Said

Bliss Towers was the subject of discussion at the informal Common Council meeting on Monday night. Alderman  Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) introduced a resolution "requesting that the mayor remove the currently appointed members of the board of commissioners of the Hudson Housing Authority and appoint new commissioners." The reason for this action, as set forth in the resolution, is that "recent revelations concerning the conditions of property administered by the Authority has [sic] revealed the necessity of changing the leadership on the Board of Commissioners." 

After the resolution was introduced, Garriga read a prepared statement in which she asserted that the results of a recent inspection of the building "clearly show mismanagement has been going on for years" and enjoined her colleagues on the Council, "We need to do anything we can. People are suffering. That's what this is about."

Present at the meeting was Alan Weaver, chair of the Hudson Housing Authority board of commissioners. While acknowledging that there were "things that needed to be addressed in the building that were not for the past twenty-five years," he contended that the new executive director, Timothy Mattice, who has been in the position since September 2017, has initiated changes. He told the Council that, upon taking on the job of executive director, Mattice wanted to know when the building had last been inspected, and, on his suggestion, an inspection firm had been hired to assess the building. Weaver told the Council that all health and safety issues identified in that inspection have now been corrected.

Dan Udell's video of the meeting is now available, and the entire discussion of the current state of Bliss Towers can be viewed by clicking here   

From Richest to Poorest

In August 2015, Bloomberg Business included Hudson in its list of the twenty richest small towns in America. Hudson was seventeenth.

In August 2017, NYup.com identified the poorest places in each of the sixty-two counties in New York. In Columbia County, it was Hudson, with a median household income of just $14 more than the median household income of people living in the Bronx.

A former mayor of Hudson might attribute this apparent loss of wealth to his loss of the mayor's office in 2016, but it's more likely to be all in how people look at the numbers and what numbers they look at.

Connecting the Dots . . .

or the historic sites. 

Photos: TripAdvisor
Yesterday, after Gossips picked up Bill Williams' news about the public information meeting on March 22 regarding the roundabout planned for the intersection of Route 9G and Route 23, a reader directed me to a January 5 press release from Governor Andrew Cuomo which speaks about the roundabout. The following is quoted from that press release:
Governor Cuomo has been a strong supporter of the Hudson River SkyWalk project, a 1.8-mile scenic pedestrian trail that crosses the Hudson River linking the Olana State Historic Site in the Town of Greenport to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in the Village of Catskill. In 2017, the state supported phase 2 of this project. As part of the third phase the Hudson River SkyWalk project, the state will reconstruct the current intersection of Route 23 and Route 9G in Columbia Count into a pedestrian and bicycle friendly roundabout with a direct connection to [the] Olana State Historic Site. Further, the state's Empire State Trail, currently under construction, will provide pedestrian and bicycle friendly travel north from Olana and the Rip Van Winkle Bridge directly into the City of Hudson.  
It's all good.

Monday, March 12, 2018

What Goes Around . . .

Bill Williams of 98.5 The Cat is reporting today that the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) is planning to create a roundabout--a.k.a. traffic circle or rotary--where Route 9G intersects with Route 23 (and I often decide if Joey and I are going to the dog park in Germantown or Catskill). A public information meeting, structured as an open house, is planned for Thursday, March 22, from 6 to 8 p.m., at Columbia-Greene Community College, Professional Academics Center (PAC), 4400 Route 23. The press release describes the meeting in this way:
This event will highlight the conceptual plan and components of the project, as well as the project schedule. Attendees will have the opportunity to learn more about the project at the open house. The public is encouraged to drop in any time and review the preliminary plans, ask questions, and provide input.

A Change of Plan

Back in December 2016, the Historic Preservation Commission was asked to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition of 718-720 Union Street.

It was a strange and unloved building. Not originally constructed for human habitation, it had been converted into an apartment house and became probably the worst example of a Hudson slum dwelling. When the building was purchased late in 2016, the sale was contingent on being able to demolish the building. The new owner maintained it was structurally unsound and a threat to public safety, and he did not want to be "the custodian of a hazard." Once the building was demolished, it was his expressed intention to build a studio and residence on the site.

In applying for a certificate of appropriateness, the new owner suggested that the building was constructed in the 1940s as some sort of garage and storage facility. It was later revealed by a commenter on Gossips that the building was the stables of Silas W. Tobey, whose Picturesque home once stood at 729 Warren Street.

The HPC refused to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition, but in the end, Ray Jurkowski, the engineer retained by the City of Hudson, and Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, ordered the building demolished in the interest of public safety. The demolition took place in February 2017.

Now, a year after the building was demolished, the site is being marketed as "Buildable Land in Hudson's Core Commercial District."

What's Coming to Greenport

A week or so ago, Gossips reported that the building at the end of Fairview Plaza, which for decades had been Fairview Cinema 3, was to be a movie theater again. This time, however, it won't be an independently owned theater. It will be part of the a franchise: Cosmic Cinemas. Also, it won't be a movie theater with a concession stand selling popcorn and candy. It will be a "first-run cinema eatery," following the model of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas.

A little sleuthing discovered that the person behind the new plans for the former Fairview Cinema 3 is Terrell Braly, who was the CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas from 2001 to 2005. According to his LinkedIn profile, as CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, in Austin, Texas, he expanded what had been "a small local 5 screen concern with 16 employees to a 47 screen concern with 1000 employees." He also "conceived and co-founded the franchise division" of Alamo Drafthouse.

In 2006, he sold his interests in Alamo Drafthouse and founded Cinebarre, with the goal, again quoting from his LinkedIn profile, "of entering selected national markets on a controlled strategized growth with an enhanced premium cinema eatery experience he had pioneered in Texas."

In 2016, he sold his interests in Cinebarre and formed a new entity, Cosmic Cinemas, "with the goal of taking the first-run cinema-eatery concept I pioneered in Austin to a new level." It is this new level of cinema eatery that is coming to a shopping plaza near you in Greenport.

Bliss Towers: Point-Counterpoint

After Gossips published "No Bliss at Bliss" yesterday, Alan Weaver, who chairs the Hudson Housing Authority board of commissioners, contacted me to refute the information provided by Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) about the condition of Bliss Towers. Weaver provided evidence, a detail of which is reproduced below, that on a Public Housing Assessment System Score Report, published at the end of 2017, the building had scored 73 out of 100. "Not a great score," Weaver admitted, "but we're working on it."

On this assessment, the physical condition of the building--where the score was 22 out of a possible 40--appears to be only one of the categories.  

Weaver went on to state: "All 'Health and Safety' issues from the internal inspection report have been addressed and corrected but there is still much work to be done after 20+ years of neglect." He pointed out that Channel 6 News had reported on the building last Friday, presumably to counter the report done by Spectrum News at the behest of Garriga: "Housing complex called out for 'deplorable conditions' seeing improvements."

Sunday, March 11, 2018

No Bliss at Bliss

At the monthly meeting of the board of the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency (HCDPA) on Thursday, board member Tiffany Garriga brought up the letter Congressman John Faso had written to the HUD secretary Ben Carson, calling his attention to the living conditions at Bliss Towers, which he said "have deteriorated well beyond livable." The letter was the outcome of a tour of the apartment building Faso and Mayor Rick Rector had taken with Garriga in January. Garriga told the board that Faso has assured her he is "staying on top of HUD." She said she has heard from other elected officials who want to help.

Alan Weaver, chair of the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) board of commissioners, which oversees Bliss Towers, who also serves on the HCDPA board, told Garriga that Timothy Mattice, who took over as executive director of HHA in September 2017, had done a reassessment of the entire building, resulting in a 47-page report. He said the problems in individual apartments had been resolved, but buildingwide issues were still to be addressed. He chided Garriga for bringing Spectrum News into the building without informing Mattice.

Weaver spoke briefly about the "RAD conversion" of Bliss Towers. RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) is a HUD program created to allow public housing authorities to work with developers and to borrow money to make capital improvements to public housing. In December, Mattice told the Housing Task Force that HHA was looking for a developer to "rebuild new public housing or rehabilitate what is." On Thursday, Weaver reported that an RFP (request for proposals) for such a developer had been released, and they expected proposals to be submitted by developers at the end of March.

After the HCDPA board meeting on Thursday, Garriga, in a conversation with Gossips, alleged that nothing has been done to address the problems at Bliss Towers. She stressed that, in an inspection of the building, Bliss Towers had scored 14 out of a possible 100. She acknowledged that the lobby has been repainted, "so it looks like the entrance to a hotel," but insisted the problems that make the living conditions in Bliss Towers unacceptable persist. Garriga plans to introduce a resolution in the Common Council to "do away with the entire board" of HHA. The HHA board has seven members--two elected by the residents of Bliss Towers; five appointed by the mayor. Those currently serving on the board are Weaver (chair), Barbara Hall, Mary Decker, Tracy Brown, Randall Martin, Anthony Pastel, and Peggy Polenberg. 

The next meeting of the HHA board takes place on Wednesday, March 14, at 6 p.m., in the community room at Bliss Towers. The Common Council Housing & Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Garriga, is scheduled to meet for the first time at 6:45 p.m. that same evening in City Hall. 

Gossips Note: The board of HCDPA is made up of five members, all of whom serve ex officio: the mayor, Rick Rector; the Common Council majority leader, Tiffany Garriga; the Common Council minority leader, Eileen Halloran; the chair of the Planning Board, Walter Chatham; the chair of the Hudson Housing Authority board of commissioners, Alan Weaver.