Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Power of the Purse

At a public meeting recently, an audience member noted that the Common Council has "the power of the purse." Last night, the Council may have taken that power a little too far. Each month, at its regular meeting, the Council votes to approve paying the bills. Last night, the Council decided not to pay a bill for $12,000 to the lawyers who are representing the City in contract negotiations with the union that represents the Hudson Police Department.

Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who has served on the Council since 2014, was first the question the item. When told what it was for the lawyers who were negotiating the police contract, she wanted to know why city attorney Andy Howard couldn't do that. (The attorneys who are handling the negotiations have been doing it for at least a decade.) She seemed outraged when Council president Tom DePietro told her that $12,000 was only part of the bill, which would total $17,500.

Garriga then asked if the Common Council Police Committee was involved in the contract negotiations. When told no, she protested, "The entire Council has been left out." Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) then took up the plaint, saying, "[The police budget] is the biggest expenditure, and the Council is left out?"

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) advised, "The Council can make changes. To assert ourselves into the process will make it take more time." It should be noted that the Council can also reject the contract altogether, which has happened in the past. 

Garriga suggested that the attorneys not be paid until the Council was satisfied with the contract. When the decision to withhold payment came up for a vote, five aldermen--Kamal Johnson (First Ward), Garriga, Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward), Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), Rosenthal--voted in favor of withholding payment, and four aldermen--Rob Bujan (First Ward), Rich Volo (Fourth Ward), Halloran, and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward)--voted against withholding payment. Even though the vote was not tied, DePietro, who makes a point of not voting except in the case of the tie, voted in favor of withholding payment.

What impact this action might have on the ongoing contract negotiations with the union is unclear.

JLE: Estimating the Costs

Last night, Mark Thaler of Lacey Thaler Reilly Wilson, the firm doing the feasibility study on the John L. Edwards school building, made a presentation to the Common Council. Most of the information repeated what was presented to the public on September 30 and in the PowerPoint presentation that has been available on the City of Hudson website to the past two weeks.

What was new in the presentation to the Council were estimated costs.

On the subject of cost, Thaler started out by stating that the operating costs on the five City-owned buildings--1 North Front Street is being included in the buildings to be sold--is $108,000 a year. Operating costs for JLE are set at $12,000 a year for heat, $40,000 for electricity, and $75,000 for custodial services, making the total $127,000 a year. He then said that property taxes on the five buildings, now off the tax rolls, would be an estimated $44,000 a year, and concluded that the City would break even on operating costs.

The estimated costs for rehabbing the building--depending on whether the minimal Scheme A or the more elaborate Scheme B is followed--would range from $5.4 million to $14.8 million. Add to that the cost of fixtures, furniture, and equipment and project soft costs, and the range becomes $6.95 million to $18.9 million. Add to that the purchase price, which is currently $3.95 million, and the price of the project becomes anywhere from $10.9 to $22.85 million.

Thaler then talked about ways to pay for the project. He noted that the assessed value of the five buildings to be sold--520 Warren Street, 18 South Third, 10 Warren Street, 429 Warren Street, and 1 North Front Street--was $3.4 million.


Thaler reported that the State Historic Preservation Office had indicated the building was eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. He cited the famous school architects Sargent and Folley and commented that the building "hasn't really changed" since it was constructed in 1964. Presumably, it is an excellent example of Cold War school architecture, since it was designed to double as a fallout shelter. If the building were to get historic designation, the project would be eligible for historic tax credits, but to take advantage of the tax credits, the City would have to partner with a private developer.

Curious about the famous school architects Thaler mentioned, I Googled the names Sargent and Folley and discovered that a firm called Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw & Folley had also been the architects for Hudson High School, which was completed in 1972. It seems that in 1980 the Hudson City School District sued the architects for breach of contract over a leaky roof, alleging that the roofing that had been used was defective and not the type specified in the contract the district had with the architects. You can read about the case and the decision here

Audience member Matt McGhee expressed skepticism that the building merited historic designation and opined, "I wouldn't rely on getting the status for it."

Alderman Tiffany Garriga asked if there would be an office in the building for the Council majority leader and the minority leader. (Garriga is currently the majority leader.) Thaler pointed out the Common Council meeting room adjacent to the Council Chamber, suggesting it might be used for that purpose. It might have to be used from other purposes as well since the current plan does not appear to include an office for the Common Council president.  


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Domino Effect

A house was demolished on Fairview Avenue to make way for a bigger and better Stewart's convenience store--a building that breaches the streetscape by sitting much closer to the sidewalk than the rest of the buildings on the block. Now the next two houses up from the not yet completed Stewart's building are for sale.

On the opposite side of the street, these two houses also have "For Sale" signs on their front lawns.

It seems the giant new Stewart's is not being universally embraced as the boon to the neighborhood that some thought it would be.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

The Hunter's Moon reached its peak fullness tonight. Autumn is definitely upon us, and the meetings of City government continue.
  • Despite the fact that it is a holiday, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets tonight, Monday, October 14, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. It is expected the due diligence regarding community solar will continue.
  • On Tuesday, October 15, the Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. and the full Council meets at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings take place in City Hall.
  • On Wednesday, October 16, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BEA) meets at 2:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall to continue its consideration of the proposed budget for the Youth Department.
  • At 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday, October 16, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at City Hall, followed at 6:00 p.m. by the regular monthly meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA meeting will begin with public hearings on three applications for variances: the first to convert a carriage house at 26 Warren Street into a residence; the second for an addition to an existing structure at 68 North Third Street; the third for an in-ground pool at 910 Columbia Street. The interpretation of the code regarding the self storage units proposed for the vacant lot at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Oakwood Boulevard will also be the subject of a public hearing.
  • On Friday, October 18, the BEA (Board of Estimate and Apportionment) holds another workshop session, this time to consider non-departmental expenses. The meeting begins at 2:30 p.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall.
  • At 6:00 p.m. on Friday, October 18, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the subdivision of the CSX parcel on South Front Street. Approval of the subdivision is essential for Hudson Development Corporation to close on its purchase of a portion of the CSX land to provide access to the Kaz warehouse site from Front Street.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Hudson Has a Dog Park!

Gossips has been reporting about the effort to get a dog park in Hudson since 2011. The very first Gossips post on the subject was published on June 1, 2011, but the discussion of a dog park for Hudson started long before that. The most recent Gossips post was on September 19, 2019, when I reported that the fence would be going up in two or three weeks. Since then, my (almost daily) communication about the progress of the dog park has been on the Hudson Dog Park Facebook page. Now it's time to tell the world--at least the part of the world that reads Gossips--that Hudson finally has a dog park!

Photo: Dorothy Heyl
The fence went up over the past three days. It was completed yesterday, Saturday, October 12, shortly after midday. The park is not actually open yet. It is still lacking signage, trash barrels, and poop bag dispensers--all of which should come in the next week. Because the park is lacking these essential elements, the outer gate is being kept locked. It is hoped that the dog park can be opened for regular use sometime next week. To keep up with the latest news about the dog park, ask to become a member of the Hudson Dog Park Facebook group

The dog park is getting exuberant reviews from the dogs who have been lucky enough to get a preview of the dog park.


Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Future for Hudson Upper Depot

In April, Hudson Upper Depot at 708 State Street made Gossips' list of Nine Not to Ignore. On Friday morning, Jason O'Toole, director of property management for the Galvan Foundation, was before the Historic Preservation Commission seeking a certificate of appropriateness for the restoration planned for the building.

The last time a plan for the historic depot came before the HPC was in November 2013, when Mark Schuman of Mountain View Masonry and Landscaping, the firm that had "disassembled" 900 Columbia Street earlier that year, was seeking a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building and salvage the materials to resell them. He told the HPC that the owner, then Van Kleeck Tire, wasn't interested in maintaining the building and wanted to demolish it to "get a little more staging area." The HPC denied his request. Six years later, the HPC found what is being proposed for the building more acceptable.

The Galvan Foundation, which acquired the building two months after permission to demolish it had been denied, is now proposing a meticulous restoration of the building to prepare it for its new tenant: Upper Depot Brewery. The windows and doors will be replicated by a master craftsman. The roofline, which is intact at the front of the building, will be restored and replicated for the back of the building.

O'Toole explained that, because load requirements prohibit putting a real slate roof on the building, a slate substitute in a charcoal gray color will be used for the roof. He indicated the snow guard, which can be seen in the historic photograph below, will be replicated.

Needed repairs to the masonry of the building will be made using brick from the orphan asylum across the street, which was demolished in March of this year. O'Toole maintained that the brick was "from the same era" as the brick in the depot. That's not exactly true.

Although the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad was established in 1838, this depot wasn't built until 1871. The Hudson Orphan Asylum was established in 1845. It is most likely that the building in which it was located already existed at that time, making the demolished building a few decades older than the depot. But since brick making methods probably didn't change much in those years, it matters little.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Happening This Weekend

Whether the holiday on Monday be Indigenous Peoples Day or Columbus Day, there is much going on in Hudson on this long weekend. 

On Saturday, October 12, and Sunday, October 13, Open Studio Hudson 2019 celebrates the vibrant and talented community of artists and artisans in Hudson. Open Studio Hudson is a self-guided tour, organized by Jane Ehrlich, of the studios of more than forty artists working in a wide range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, design, photography, and printmaking. The tour will enable both casual art enthusiasts and serious collectors to explore and experience the artistic process at their own pace.

The citywide event is free and open to the public. Studios are open from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. To download a PDF version of the map shown below, click here.

On Sunday at 7 p.m., there will be a closing reception for artists and visitors at Time & Space Limited, 434 Columbia Street. A photographic installation by David McIntyre in collaboration with Open Studio Hudson will feature portraits of the artists, together with photo journalistic coverage of the event.

Also on Saturday, Friends of the Hudson City Cemetery continues its effort to revive a 19th-century tradition of viewing cemeteries as parks with Art and Fun Among the Tombstones. The event, which takes place in the cemetery from 1 to 4 p.m., features an art installation, curated by Katherine Kim, called Death About, a group exhibition of works on paper about death as a beginning or a sign of renewal, about death as cyclical. The works explore the essence of nature and life. 

The afternoon will also offer an audio guided tour of the cemetery, a "Seek and Find" challenge designed by Kelley Drahushak, music by "The Professor" played on wine glasses, cider and doughnuts provided by Samascott Farms, arts and crafts, cookies, and a raffle to raise money for new landscaping at the entrance to the cemetery. Vince Wallace, who worked tirelessly as a volunteer to maintain the sections of the cemetery dedicated to veterans, will be remembered at the event. 

The center of activity for Art and Fun Among the Tombstones will be the lawn just inside the main entrance to Cedar Park Cemetery.

Later on Saturday, from 5 to 7 at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street,  there is the opening of Photo + Synthesis, a visual art exhibition about the ecology, history, and landscape of the Hudson River Valley. The work includes 19th-century paintings, new commissions of landscape photography, and a special data visualization piece about tree science. 

In connection with the exhibition at Hudson Hall, a video by Eve Morgenstern called Tree Shadows will be projected from 6 to 9 p.m. just up the street at September Gallery, 449 Warren Street. The exhibition and the video are presented by FieldLight Arts. For more information, click here.

Public Housing on Both Sides of the River

Yesterday, HudsonValley360 reported on the current situation with the Catskill Housing Authority (CHA): "Full board for Hop-O-Nose, interim director on the horizon." The article reads in part:
"The Catskill Housing Authority has approved the contract, now it has gone to the Hudson Housing Authority for approval," [CHA chairman Sam] Aldi said.
The contract would allow for Tim Mattice, who oversees Bliss Towers in Hudson, to act as a part-time interim administrative director, Aldi said.
Mattice did not respond to requests for comment.
Had the reporter attended the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) meeting the previous night, it could have been reported that the board of HHA passed a resolution authorizing Mattice to serve 15 to 20 hours a month as a consultant for CHA, for which CHA will compensate HHA at a rate of $200 an hour. 

Commenting on the arrangement at the meeting on Wednesday, Mattice said the agreement "could work out as a long-term arrangement," called it "a good trial basis," and spoke of "potential synergy." 

Arriving at the meeting as the board was voting to approve the resolution, Second Ward alderman Tiffany Garriga, who has been a vocal critic of both housing authorities, asked, "What is that? Approving him to go to Catskill? Doesn't he have enough responsibilities here?" 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Another DRI Decision Made

The DRI Committee met on Tuesday. The most significant thing to report from the meeting is that a team has been chosen to carry out the connectivity project--a DRI project that combines "Complete Streets" improvements for the BRIDGE District (everything below Second Street, from the north side to the south side), streetscape enhancements for Cross Street, and rebuilding the Second Street stairs. That team is made up of Arterial, Street Plans Collaborative, and Creighton Manning.

Photo: Street Plans
Given the involvement of Street Plans Collaborative, a term we are likely to hear often in the coming months is Tactical Urbanism. On its website, Street Plans Collaborative makes the following statement: "Through the publication of six open-source guides and one full-length book, we have become the progenitors and stewards of the Tactical Urbanism movement." One those publications, Tactical Urbanism, Vol. 1, describes the movement in this way:
Improving the livability of our towns and cities commonly starts at the street, block, or building scale. While larger scale efforts do have their place, incremental, small-scale improvements are increasingly seen as a way to stage more substantial investments. This approach allows a host of local actors to test new concepts before making substantial political and financial commitments. Sometimes sanctioned, sometimes not, these actions are commonly referred to as "guerilla urbanism," "pop-up urbanism," "city repair," or D.I.Y. urbanism." For the moment, we like "Tactical Urbanism," which is an approach that features the following five characteristics:
  • A deliberate, phased approach to instigating change;
  • The offering of local solutions for local planning challenges;
  • Short-term commitment and realistic expectations;
  • Low-risks, with a possibly high reward; and
  • The development of social capital between citizens and the building of organizational capacity between public-private institutions, non-profits, and their constituents.   
To learn more Tactical Urbanism, you watch a video called Tactical Urbanism: An Introduction, featuring Mike Lydon, who is one of the principals of Street Plans Collaborative. It's the first of a series of videos that explore the subject, all available on YouTube.

When the three groups that will be collaborating on the connectivity project made their presentation to the DRI Committee on September 24, the first person to speak was a representative from Arterial, who said they'd been exploring Hudson before the meeting, "holding ourselves back from brainstorming too hard as we walked around."

In Memoriam: Vince Wallace

Photo: Lance Wheeler
Gossips got word yesterday that Vince Wallace had died, just a few weeks short of his 88th birthday. Vince was familiar to most Hudsonians as the man who drove the Korean War era Jeep in every Memorial Day and Veterans Day parade. Frequent visitors to the cemetery know him as the man who faithfully tended all the sections of the cemetery dedicated to war veterans. It was Vince who, year after year, planted and watered the geraniums in the urns in the plot for Civil War veterans, the section of the cemetery to which he was particularly devoted, and in the urns on the pillars that flank the entrances to the cemetery on Ten Broeck Lane. Many's the time, while walking Joey in the cemetery, I encountered Vince going about his self-assigned duties tending the urns and looking after the graves of those who had served their country in war. 

The best obituary for Vince Wallace may be an interview William Shannon did with him in 2015 and published on Hudson River Zeitgeist: "From the Vantage Point of Major Vince Wallace."

Rest in peace, Major Wallace. Thank you for your service.