Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Restoration Begins

Last month, Shanan McGee appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission seeking a certificate of appropriateness for the restoration of the facade at 723 Warren Street, the building constructed in 1921 as a movie house called the Park Theatre. On Friday, scaffolding appeared on the building, singling that work has begun.

The plans for the restoration are relying are reading what survives of the facade, most details of which are still intact. Surprisingly, no period pictures of the building exist--at least no one has been able to find any. 

Two years ago, Gossips published an article that appeared in the Columbia Republican on May 3, 1921--a few days before the new movie theater's official opening--describing in some detail the interior of the building but saying little about the exterior. The article was not accompanied by a photograph of the building. If anyone has or knows of someone who has a photograph of this building, please contact Gossips. I will pass the information along to the people who need it.

Another Video of the Debate

Yesterday, Indivisible CD19 released its video of Thursday night's debate, which can be viewed by clicking here

Those who want to hear more from Kamal Johnson can do so today, Sunday, May 19, at Lil' Deb's Oasis, where he will be holding a meet and greet from 2 to 4 p.m.

Those who want to hear more from Mayor Rector can do so tomorrow, Monday, May, 20, when he holds a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. at the Second Ward Foundation, 71 North Third Street. Tomorrow's meeting is the first of three town hall meetings with Rector scheduled before the primary in June 25. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Hudson on WAMC News

Our mayoral debate on Thursday rated coverage on WAMC's Midday Magazine today. To listen, click here.


Good News for the River

HudsonValley360 reported yesterday afternoon that Wheelabrator is giving up its plan to create an ash landfill across the river in Smith's Landing: "Trustees: Wheelabrator abandons Catskill project."

Friday, May 17, 2019

Marijuana and Columbia County

This morning, WAMC reported that the Columbia County Board of Health is advocating that the county opt out if recreational marijuana is legalized in New York: "County Board of Health Urges Opting Out of Recreational Marijuana Sales." On Wednesday, WAMC reported that Columbia County was second in the state in the number of arrests for marijuana possession: "Five NY Counties with High Marijuana Arrest Rates."

Last Night's Debate

The Hudson mayoral debate took place last night. Surprisingly, the auditorium at Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School was far from filled. For those of you who were not there, Dan Udell was and documented the proceedings. His video of the event can now be viewed here.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

A Forum to Focus on Economic Development

Future Hudson's second event, "How Can Hudson Grow? A Focus on Economic Development," takes place this Saturday, May 18, at 4 p.m., in the Community Room of the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street. The panelists for the event are:
  • Michelle Hughes, co-manager and director of development for Rolling Grocer 19
  • Kendra Home, real estate development project manager for RUPCO, a nonprofit housing and community developer based in Kingston 
  • Kevin Irby, director at Threadspan, a multi-stakeholder collaborative "seeking to contribute to the emergence of a regenerative Hudson Valley"
  • Maureen Boutin, associate director of Workforce NY at Columbia-Greene Community College
  • Linda Kelley, chair of the Westside Neighborhood Initiative in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a resident-driven initiative focused on building economic opportunity for all
The event will be moderated by Todd Erling, executive director of the Hudson Valley Agribusiness Development Corporation.

If you missed Future Hudson's first event, "What Makes Hudson a Great City? A Focus on Urban Planning," the video of that meeting can be viewed here.

Paint and Historic Preservation

Hudson's historic preservation law, Chapter 169 of the city code, states: "A certificate of appropriateness is required to carry out any exterior alteration, additions, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction, or moving of a landmark or property within an historic district, or to make any material change in the appearance of such a property or its windows." In practice, because it is not considered a material change, the Historic Preservation Commission has never intervened when it comes to paint. As a consequence, at least one brick building, which had never been painted before, was painted a few years ago, without a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC.

Recently, another paint-related change to a historic house was brought to Gossips' attention. The entry doors at 125 Warren Street, which were natural wood and were never painted before, are now being painted.

The picture above, which was taken this morning, shows what appears to be a primer on the doors. 

It has been suggested in the past that when masonry or wood that has never been painted before is to be painted, or when paint is to be removed from masonry or wood that has historically been painted, the action should require a certificate of appropriateness. Whether this requires an amendment to the law or can simply be achieved by a change in practice by the HPC, it is definitely something that should be seriously considered.

Assessment Footnote: The 2018 assessment on this house was $350,000. Its full market value at that time was $454,545. Its tentative assessment is $1,200,000. It is currently for sale, with an asking price of $1,295,000.

Providing the Background

The Common Council has been passing a lot of resolutions lately in support of various initiatives before the state legislature. Three such resolutions were introduced at the informal meeting on Monday: a resolution calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign the Protect Our Courts Act (A2176/S425), which would protect people from civil arrest while in court or on the way to and from court (what is called for in the bill is already policy in the Hudson city court); a resolution supporting the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act (A3676/S1747), which would allow driver's licenses to be issued without regard to immigration status; and a resolution supporting universal health insurance coverage in New York State (A5248/S3577). 

Much of the supporting documentation presented with the universal health coverage resolution by Council president Tom DePietro addressed how much the city and the county would save if the New York Health Care Act were to be adopted. On Tuesday, the Albany Business Review published an article that provides background information on the bill and its history: "Single-payer health care proposal reaches furthest point yet in New York."      

Grieving Your Assessment

Dan Udell was there to record last night's presentation by Rachel Kappel on "How to Grieve Your Assessment." The video can be viewed here.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Reviving an American Tradition

Last year, Atlas Obscura published an article about a forgotten national pastime: "Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries." This Sunday, the Friends of the Hudson City Cemetery are reviving that tradition.

Photo courtesy Historic St. Luke's
On Sunday, May 19, from noon to 4 p.m., the Friends of the Hudson City Cemetery invite you to pack a lunch, bring a blanket or a chair, and join people who share a love and concern for Hudson's historic burying ground for a picnic in the cemetery. The picnic will take place in various sites in the Hudson City Cemetery, the older part of the cemetery west of Ten Broeck Lane. Balloons and signs will mark the spots.

Photo: Library of Congress
If you don't feel inclined to pack your own picnic lunch, you can pick up a box lunch from House Rules Cafe, which, located at 757 Columbia Street, is right on the way to the cemetery for most of us. The box lunch is $20, and you have your choice of the following menu items: All the Veggies quinoa bowl, the Vegetarian Reuben (a Gossips favorite), Joel's Go-To Tuna (tuna salad served over avocado), and the B(acon) S(prouts) T(omato). All come with Cape Cod potato chips, a Fentiman's craft soda, and "a sweet treat to round it out." Place your box lunch order by email or phone 518 828-5938 by Friday, May 17, and pick up your lunch on your way to the picnic on Sunday, between 11:30 and noon.

For more information, click here.

Debate Prep

The mayoral debate between incumbent Rick Rector and challenger Kamal Johnson takes place tomorrow, Thursday, May 16. To submit questions for the debate or to secure a free ticket, if you haven't already done so, click here

The debate begins at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School, 102 Harry Howard Avenue. Seating is limited, so be sure to secure your place at the debate in advance by clicking here.

As Good as It Gets

Last night, the six members of the Planning Board present (John Cody was not there) approved the site plan for the Stewart's Shops expansion at Green Street and Fairview Avenue. For the first time, Chuck Marshall had a rendering to show what the gas station and convenience store would look like, instead of simply presenting engineering drawings as he has in the past.

Marshall enumerated some changes to the plan: five more arborvitae and two more maples; LED pricing in the canopy instead of freestanding signs; tinted concrete for the fuel pump island. On the issue of the building entrance and the ice cream window, Stewart's wasn't budging. The main entrance to the building still faces the parking lot, with a secondary entrance to the building from Fairview Avenue, and there will be no ice cream window, which Marshall claimed wouldn't be used eight months out of the year.

Before the Planning Board began its discussion of the Stewart's project, Walter Chatham, who chairs the board read a letter submitted by Matthew Frederick, whose suggestions for improving the proposed plan have guided the Planning Board in its review. In the letter, Frederick addressed first the issue of the building entrance:
With the support of residents living across the street from the site, I have urged a "corner entry" in lieu of Stewart's proposal for a parking lot-facing main entry and secondary sidewalk entry. This is the single most important, pro-urban improvement that could be made to Stewart's site proposal. Urban buildings need to face and direct their primary energy to the street. But Stewart's is proposing a suburbanized, side-facing building that gives primacy to the parking lot.   
Stewart's has claimed the corner entry is infeasible because it conflicts with the store interior. But it has offered no evidence that it would force an unworkable floor plan. Granted, the Planning Board does not have authority over floor plans. But neither should the board cede its authority over an important aspect of a site plan over an unsubstantiated claim. This is an important project to get right, and until I am shown otherwise, I am inclined to trust my professional experience in both urban design and retail design, which says that with a little more attention the site and the interior can work together.
Frederick supported his argument with juxtaposed images of the entrance he had proposed for the building and the Stewart's building in Troy, which is the pattern being used for the Hudson Stewart's.

The two images were accompanied by the following captions:
[Left] My corner entry proposal: At the left front building corner, one door faces the sidewalk, and another door (behind khaki-uniformed figure) faces the parking lot. The overall energy of the building is directed toward the street. This is further enhanced by the placement of tables and benches on the sidewalk frontage rather than on the parking lot side of the building.
[Right] Stewart's new store in Troy is effectively identical to its proposal for Hudson. The building's predominant energy is away from the street and toward the parking lot. This dynamic will not be fundamentally affected by the inclusion of an active door under the portico to the right (the Troy store does not have a door here).
Despite Frederick's cogent and well-considered argument for a reconfigured building entrance, the Planning Board did "cede its authority over an important aspect of a site plan." After making a SEQR negative declaration, the Planning Board, in a voice vote rather than a roll call vote, approved the site plan presented, with three conditions:
  • The landscaping be maintained and replaced as needed
  • Anything of architectural significance in the two houses being demolished be salvaged for reuse
  • The Common Council successfully negotiates a host community benefit agreement with Stewart's Shops
Regarding the demolition, Marshall explained that, after asbestos mitigation had been done, the buildings would be turned over to the fire department for training exercises. Craig Haigh, former fire chief and now code enforcement officer, commented from the audience, "After we get done with them, there won't be much left." He clarified, however, that the training exercises did not involve setting fire to the buildings. 

Regarding the host community benefit agreement, Marshall indicated, as he has before, that Stewart's was committed to making pedestrian improvements to the intersection but anything beyond the sidewalk was off site and would be part of the host community benefit agreement. He mentioned specifically crosswalks, ramping, and push buttons to control the traffic light, but he acknowledged that he was "not expecting to pay what he was offering," implying that he expected the Common Council to demand more. City attorney Andy Howard noted that what is requested in the host community benefit agreement "needs to have some sort of rational relationship to the project," which seems to negate the notion that Stewart's will be giving the City hundreds of thousands of dollars to do with as it pleases. Howard reiterated that site plan approval was contingent on successful negotiation of the host community benefit agreement. "If the Council doesn't approve, Planning Board approval doesn't take effect."  

ZBA Meeting Canceled

The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting scheduled for tonight at 6:00 p.m. has been canceled. On the agenda for tonight's meeting was a public hearing on an application from the FASNY Museum of Firefighting for a use variance and an area variance to enable to construction of a 33,000-square-foot addition to the existing museum building.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Seen While Driving Up Union Street

The crumbling wall at 501 Union Street appears to be getting some attention. The part of the wall where there was a gaping hole is now covered by a bright blue tarp, although it is not known what exactly is happening beneath the tarp.


Watch for Yourselves

Gossips has already reported on the presentation of the CAC's natural resources and open space inventory to the Common Council last night. Now, Dan Udell's video of the entire meeting may be viewed by clicking here.

For Everything, There Is a Critic

Last night, Jonathan Lerner, chair of the Conservation Advisory Council, presented Hudson's natural resources and open space inventory to the Common Council. In making the presentation, he reminded the Council that state enabling legislation directs CACs to complete such an inventory, and when it has been adopted by the local legislature, the legislature may also pass a resolution to transform the CAC into a Conservation Board, with a formal role in the review process of projects proposed in the city.

In presenting the document, Lerner explained that the CAC did not create the data presented in the inventory. Instead, they brought together information that existed in other places. He explained that the inventory defines the most important conservation issues and vulnerabilities for the city. He stressed that the inventory was not a plan. Rather, it should inform planning. He urged that the document be part of any conversation about zoning changes and a revised comprehensive plan. He advised that the Planning Board should be guided by the information contained in the inventory. He also stressed that the inventory is a dynamic thing. He noted that all the maps in the inventory, which he called "the spine" of the document, exist in digital form and can be updated.    

Lerner told the Council that the CAC was working on a resolution adopting the natural resouces and open space inventory that would be presented to the Council in June. He told the Council that the CAC would not to asking to be designated a Conservation Board but rather wished to remain an advisory council and would be recommending that city policy be adopted to determine when issues should be referred to the CAC. 

When Lerner had finished his presentation, Timothy O'Connor, who has been a steadfast critic of the CAC and the inventory, told the Council that the obligations of the Hudson River Estuary Program grant the CAC had received were fulfilled with the completion of the inventory and its presentation to the Common Council. The Council was under no obligation to accept or adopt the document, which he called "problematic, or even fraudulent." O'Connor's major issue with the inventory has been the sea level rise projections the CAC used, which in the past he has called "outrageously inflated" and warned they would encourage "potential fanatical resolutions."


Meeting Update

The Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting scheduled for 5:15 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15, has been canceled.

Monday, May 13, 2019

A Tale of Development in Two River Cities

Gossips has done a couple of posts comparing the efforts by the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) to redevelop the Kaz site with the efforts in Troy to redevelop One Monument Square, where the city's mid-1970s concrete City Hall was demolished in 2010. (Coincidentally, HDC acquired the Kaz warehouses in 2010.) Just about a year ago, Gossips reported that Troy was on its fifth attempt to settle on a developer for the site, while HDC's efforts to develop the Kaz site had stalled on what was only its second attempt: "The Kaz Site and One Monument Square."

Photo: John Carl D'annibale|Times Union
For its fifth attempt, Troy hired consultants to help gather public input. In June 2018, there was a three-day design charette to hear ideas. In April 2019, an RFQ (request for qualifications) was issued for a developer to take on the project, which is envisioned to be a public/private partnership, with the City of Troy maintaining some form of ownership of the public spaces involved. Today, the Albany Business Review reports that four developers have submitted their qualifications: RAL Development Services LLC, described on its website as "a New York City-based premier real estate developer of luxury apartment, condominium, and resort communities nationwide"; Hoboken Brownstone Co.; First Columbia--The Davies Companies; and The BDC Group

In Troy's previous attempt to develop One Monument Square, two firms that had submitted proposals also submitted proposals for the Kaz site: Bonacio Construction and Redburn Development. Neither submitted qualifications this time around.

Meanwhile, back in Hudson, that last time the HDC board discussed the Kaz redevelopment, which was in March, Branda Maholtz, executive assistant, advised the board, "Within the next year and a half, you should be putting out another RFP." Board member Walter Chatham, who also chairs the Planning Board, expressed the opinion that this was the opportunity "to look at this as urban design." He went on to say it was "a perfect moment to look at what the founders did" and to "lay out a streetscape." Board member Mark Morgan-Perez, who also serves on the Planning Board, reminded the group that there had been talk about getting an urban design team involved and mentioned Kaja KΓΌhl and the graduate students in the Hudson Valley Initiative at Columbia University, the group that undertook the redesign of Oakdale Lake.

Meetings and Events in the Week Ahead

The week ahead promises to be pretty bleak weatherwise, with rain in the forecast for three of the five days, but there are meetings and event to occupy and distract us.
  • On Monday, May 13, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall. The major topics on the agenda are establishing an Energize NY Open C-PACE program in Hudson to assist commercial properties in funding clean energy projects and discussing next steps now that Hudson has taken the Climate Smart Communities pledge.   
  • Also on Monday, May 13, the Common Council holds its informal meeting at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall. At this meeting, in addition to receiving communications and introducing resolutions and proposed legislation, the Council will be hearing a presentation by the Conservation Advisory Council of Nature in the City: A Natural Resources and Open Space Inventory, a document the CAC has been working toward since its inception in June 2015. The document is online and can be viewed here.
  • On Tuesday, May 14, the Planning Board meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting begins with a public hearing on Zak Pelaccio and Kevin Pomplun's proposal to reconfigure the outdoor space at BackBar, 347 Warren Street, and introduce "family fun games"--bocce, shuffleboard, and cornhole--in the open space nearest the street.
When the public hearing is concluded, the Planning Board will resume its ongoing review of Stewart's Shops proposed expansion and the Colarusso dock and haul road.
  • On Wednesday, May 15, Rachel Kappel, former member of the Board of Assessment Review (BAR), will be making a PowerPoint presentation and answering questions at a meeting called "How to Challenge Your Assessment." The event takes place at 6:00 p.m. at Time & Space Limited, 434 Columbia Street. 
  • Also on Wednesday, May 15, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall, and the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m., also at City Hall. The ZBA meeting will begin with a public hearing on the request from the FASNY Museum of Firefighting for a use variance and an area variance to enable the construction of a 33,000-square-foot addition to the existing museum building. 
  • On Thursday, May 16, it's the mayoral debate between incumbent Rick Rector and challenger Kamal Johnson. The debate takes place at 6:00 p.m. at Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School, 102 Harry Howard Avenue. Admission is free, but tickets are required. You can secure your tickets by clicking here.