Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Some Things to Add to the Calendar

For the past two years, because of the pandemic, the budget workshops conducted by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (BEA--the mayor, the Common Council president, and the treasurer) have been accessible on Zoom. Those days are over. The workshops this year, at which department heads present their budgets for review as a prelude to drafting the City budget for the coming year, are in person only. They begin tomorrow at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, which is functioning, probably for another month, as the substitute for City Hall. Budget workshops are scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, September 28, and Friday, September 29, and will likely continue well into October. Here's what is scheduled for the remainder of this week.  
  • At 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 28: Code Enforcement
  • At 4:00 p.m. on Thursday,  September 28: Fire Department
  • At 3:00 p.m. on Friday, September 29: Mayor's Office
  • At 3:30 p.m. on Friday, September 29: Clerk's Office; Common Council; Parking Bureau

A. Colarusso and Hudson

Today at 6:00 p.m., the Planning Board holds a public hearing on the application from A. Colarusso & Son for a conditional use permit to build a paved, two-lane road through South Bay. The public hearing takes place at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and a full house is expected, both of opponents of increased industrial activity on the waterfront and supporters of Colarusso, described on Facebook this morning as "us ACTUAL LOCALS."

Photo: Our Hudson Waterfront
The City of Hudson has a bizarre and complicated relationship with A. Colarusso & Sons. Last year, the City accepted a $100,000 donation from the Colarusso family for the completion of the redesigned entrance to the Promenade Hill after it had been determined that the $1.1 million in DRI funds was more than a half million short of realizing the project as planned, while at the same time Colarusso was one of the contractors working on the project and Colarusso was suing the Planning Board (the second of two lawsuits Colarusso brought against the Planning Board) for making a positive declaration in its review of Colarusso's applications for condition use permits for its gravel operations at the waterfront. 

Now the City is in another weird situation with Colarusso. Last week, the Common Council authorized entering into a contract with Colarusso to construct the replacement Ferry Street Bridge. Tonight, the Planning Board holds a public hearing on Colarusso's application for a conditional use permit to build a paved, two-lane road through South Bay.

One thing Colarusso supporters like to remind people is that the company is more than a hundred years old, having been established in 1912 by its patriarch, Antonio Colarusso. That being the case, I decided to take a look the early days of the company and its relationship with the City of Hudson. In the first decade of the company, the Hudson Register and the Columbia Republican contained frequent reports of Antonio Colarusso being awarded contracts for various projects, in Hudson and around the county, including the "street to Oakdale Park" in 1917 and widening Mt. Merino Road in 1921. In several cases, Colarusso was the only bidder.

In June 1922, the Columbia Republican reported that Antonio Colarusso had purchased a large tract of land from the Hudson Orphan and Relief Association, land located behind the Hudson Orphan Asylum, then located at 400 State Street, to expand his brickyard. In September 1922, the Columbia Republican reported that Antonio Colarusso donated five loads of gravel to the Orphan Asylum to improve its driveway.

Antonio Colarusso served at least twice as Commissioner of Public Works in Hudson. He was appointed by Mayor Henry Galster at the beginning of 1921 but resigned later that same year, as the Chatham Courier reported, "in order to submit bids for street paving work which he was later awarded." He was appointed Commissioner of Public Works again in the 1940s by Mayor Earl Colwell but resigned again in July 1941 after a reported disagreement with Colwell over improvements to Harry Howard Avenue, which some complained at the time was a "cow path" leading to the "new half million dollar Hudson High school" (now Montgomery C. Smith), which had been completed in 1937. During his tenure as Public Works Commissioner in the 1940s, Antonio Colarusso also had a dispute with the city treasurer over the DPW budget.

Antonio Colarusso at a picnic sponsored by Atlas Cement, c. 1937
There are more recent examples of the intertwining of Colarusso and Hudson government. Charlie Butterworth, who was for years superintendent of the Department of Public Works in Hudson, found his way here in the late 1960s by way of a job at Colarusso. In 2002, Mayor Rick Scalera solved the problem of repaying the $11 million the City had borrowed to build a new water treatment plant with a "rent-to-own" scheme with Colarusso involving the 339 acres of land, in the quarry and over an aquifer, the City had purchased to provide a secondary water supply for Hudson after the drought that struck the Northeast in 1965.  

Tonight, the Planning Board holds a public hearing on a Colarusso project that has been before them since 2017--the review periodically interrupted by lawsuits brought against the Planning Board by Colarusso. Only two members of the current Planning Board, which at present is one member short, were on the board when the review was suspended as a consequence of Colarusso's second lawsuit. They have much to learn in order to get up to speed on this issue. One thing they should study carefully is Hudson's LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan). For reasons that are complicated and hard to explain, the LWRP was never reviewed by the NYS Department of State, but it was adopted by the City of Hudson, and its content has force and validity. The LWRP makes it clear that the goal is to "sunset" heavy industrial activity at the waterfront not enable its continuation and intensification.

Looking back over the past six years, one sees how Colarusso has been bullying Hudson in order to get its way. In 2017, when the Greenport Planning Board gave approval for its portion of the proposed haul road, creating a direct route from the quarry to the dock, Colarusso could have built the portion of the road that passes through Greenport and gotten their trucks off Hudson streets. Instead they maintained that they--a company that builds roads--had to build the entire road, from the quarry to the dock, at one time, and continued to run their trucks through the streets of Hudson. Now, they are cynically arguing, through their attorney John Privatera, that approval of the paved, two-lane road they want to build through South Bay is a matter of "environmental justice."
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News of the Robert Taylor House

The Robert Taylor House, generally considered to be the oldest surviving house in Hudson, has been owned by the Galvan Foundation since 2011, and during that time not much has been done to curb demolition by neglect. Gossips has written about the house many times, both recounting its history and worrying about its future.


Gossips learned today that the Robert Taylor House has been sold. According to the deed filing, the buyer is 68 South 2nd Street LLC. Further inquiry revealed that 68 South 2nd Street LLC shares an address with South Front Street Holding LLC, the LLC that owns The Caboose and Kitty's. 


There is reason to hope that Ben Fain will do better by the historic house than Eric Galloway did.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Happening This Weekend

On Saturday, September 30, Michael Saltz, author of the memoir The Winding Road: My Journey Through Life and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, will be appearing at the Copake Grange, where he will be interviewed by Tom Chulak, the former owner of the Chatham Bookstore, and will answer questions from the audience about journalism, politics, and whatever anybody wants to bring up.


In the summer of 1975, famed newsman Robert MacNeil left London and the BBC for New York City to begin preparations for a new news program scheduled to debut in the fall. There he met Michael Saltz, a production manager for WNET-TV, who had begun planning for the show two months before MacNeil's arrival. Thus began the production of The Robert MacNeil Report, which soon evolved into The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, then The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, followed by The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and finally The PBS NewsHour. Through all the changes over the years, the show gained a devoted audience and is widely regarded as the most trusted and fair source of TV news in America.

Saltz's position on the show evolved as the show evolved, from the show's production supervisor in 1975 to senior producer soon after the program expanded to its one-hour format in 1984. As senior producer, he was responsible for creating some of its most innovative and creative programming segments: newspaper editorial cartoons voiced by a group of improvisational actors, book reviews, the highly regarded "Road Series" (short documentary pieces about creative people), and, most importantly, the unique essay segment of the NewsHour, serious commentaries about life, politics, history, and cultural issues in America. The essays, which Saltz produced until he retired in 2009--some 1,500 of them--won numerous awards, including an Emmy and two Peabody Awards, the most prestigious awards in television. Throughout his career, Saltz traveled extensively throughout America, going to approximately forty-five states, as well as to some of the hot spots of the world--places like South Africa, Rhodesia, Nicaragua, Panama, the Soviet Union, Libya, and Iran.

Saltz began visiting Columbia County in 1952 at the age of 12, when his parents bought a vacation house on Copake Lake. He was a frequent visitor until 1990 when he and his wife bought their own house in Copake (or Hillsdale, depending on how you look at it) and became part-time residents of the county. Saltz has lived here full-time for the past seven years, now accompanied by his wife, after her retirement, and Max, their bullmastiff.

Starting in 2018, he wrote op-ed essays that frequently appeared in the Register-Star. In one of those essays, Saltz had nice things to say about The Gossips of Rivertown. Later, I had the privilege of meeting Saltz and becoming acquainted with him and Max at the Hudson Dog Park. These days, he publishes his essays in a blog on Substack.com and on imby.com
 
Saturday's event at the Copake Grange will start at 4:00 p.m. and is free to attend. The Grange is located at 628 Empire Road, in the center of Copake. Saltz's memoir will be available for sale at the event, through the Chatham Bookstore.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

Although it feels like drizzly November, it's only the final week of September. A couple of meetings scheduled for this week have been canceled, but the one of greatest interest--the public hearing on Colarusso--remains on the calendar.
  • On Tuesday, September 26, the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) Board holds its monthly meeting at 11:00 a.m. Note that this is one hour earlier than their typical meeting time. The agenda for the meeting can be found here. The meeting takes place in person only in the conference room at 1 North Front Street.
  • Also on Tuesday, September 26, the board of Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency (HCDPA) meets at 4:30 p.m. The meeting is in person only at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street.
  • On Wednesday, September 27, the Columbia County Housing Task Force meets at 4:00 p.m. The meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at 1 City Centre, Suite 3o1, and on Zoom. Click here to join the meeting remotely.    
  • Also on Wednesday, September 27, the Planning Board holds a public hearing on Colarusso's application for a conditional use permit for "road improvements." Information about what's being proposed and the issues surrounding it can be found here. The public hearing takes place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Zoom. Click here to join the meeting remotely. 
Photo: Our Hudson Waterfront
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The City, HCSD, and Charles Williams Park

On September 15, the Register-Star published an article and an editorial about Hudson's urgent need for affordable housing and the need for the Hudson City School District to "OK" the use of a portion of the former Charles Williams playground as the site of a proposed affordable housing project. On September 18, Gossips published a post on the subject, which clarified what the actual issue was between the City and HCSD.   


Today, HCSD issued a press release meant to bring more clarity to the issue.
New stories and social media posts have mentioned the City of Hudson's intent in using vacant land for affordable housing. The property being considered is a portion of the former Charles S. Williams Memorial School. The Hudson City School District Board of Education would like the community to be updated about the full story and latest developments.
In late August, the Board of Education's attorney notified the Board about the City's intent to use this land for affordable housing. The Board immediately instructed its attorney to learn more about the situation and investigate the ownership and history of the property.
Land records showed that the City of Hudson owns the land, which was given to the City by the School District in 1983. That transaction included a restriction that the land be used for "park and recreational purposes only"--and that any other use would return ownership of the property to the School District. The land, while not an official park, has been used by the community for informal recreation. Softball fields once on the property no longer exist.
The Hudson City School District Board of Education certainly agrees that the City of Hudson needs additional housing. The Board has told the City Administration that it would welcome an official outline of the City's plans for the land, as well as an official request to remove or change the "park and recreational purposes only" restriction. To date, however, the City has not provided an outline or issued that official request.
These details are required so the Board of Education can determine what legal steps are needed for the property to be considered for other uses, including housing. The Board of Education cannot simply "OK" a City request, and the Board and/or the City cannot simply withdraw or ignore the "park and recreational purposes" clause. That restriction in the 1983 deed must be legally addressed before a housing plan can move forward.
Another fact to consider is that the New York State Constitution forbids public entities from giving gifts unless there is a public benefit. In this case, the City plans to sell the property to a developer, The Kearney Group, which would build the housing. Such a sale to a developer does not qualify as a public benefit, so the land must be sold for a fair market price.
Other issues that would require attention:
    • The land is in a flood zone, meaning that there is a high risk of flooding during heavy rain.
    • What costs would the School District potentially have if families move into the additional housing and increase enrollment in our schools?
The Board of Education looks forward to communicating with the City and is committed to weighing options in the best interest of the community and the children of the City of Hudson.
HCSD need not be concerned about parcel being sold for a fair market price. The resolution passed by the Common Council in January 2023 indicates that the combined appraised value of this parcel and the lot at the corner of North Fourth and State streets is $419,000, and the two properties are to be sold to Kearney for $420,000.

The question of the impact the development could have on school district enrollments and costs is quite another thing. One wonders if the school district, which recently "right-sized" itself into just two buildings, has any idea of how much affordable housing is being considered for Hudson--138 units proposed for the "Depot District," more than 300 units being contemplated by the Hudson Housing Authority, and an untold number of units in the buildings being proposed by Kearney for this site and the lot at Fourth and State. How many of these units, all of which will be receiving some level of tax subsidy, will be inhabited by families with children needing to be educated in the Hudson City School District? What impact will that have on the school district's capacity and budget?

Update: Mayor Kamal Johnson has taken issue with the press release from the HCSD Board of Education and published a statement responding to it on the City of Hudson website. That statement can be found here.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Of Interest for Not-for-Profits

The Hudson River Bank & Trust (HRBT) Foundation has launched a new website that provides  information about Foundation and grantee activities, including a short history of the Foundation's nearly $20 million in local impacts over the past 25 years. The centerpiece of the new website is an application portal that allows those seeking grants to fill out and upload all the necessary application forms and attachments right from the website and submit them directly to the Foundation. All transmitted information is encrypted for security. There is a simple one-page form for organizations seeking $1,000 or less. A more extensive application form requests several categories of information for grants up to $30,000.

The HRBT Foundation funds only 501(c)3 nonprofits and makes no more than one grant a year to any applying organization. Each grant requires a report upon completion of the funded activity. The Foundation confines its grantmaking activities to Columbia County and adjoining area.

The new site, which was constructed by Dandelion Design, in association with Tangent Web Services, is found at http://hrbtfoundation.com.

Friday, September 22, 2023

"The Greatest Thing That Ever Happened"

Today, a reader sent me the link to this bit of Hudson history: "Harry Belafonte on the Set of Odds Against Tomorrow on The Ed Sullivan Show, October 18, 1959." In this film clip, you will hear Don Wagner, city editor for the Register-Star, share the myth that in the 1800s whales were towed up the river and butchered in Hudson.

What Happened at the Special Meeting

Despite all the outrage and indignation expressed on Facebook, tonight's special meeting of the Common Council went forward without incident and was over in about ten minutes. 


Only about twenty spectators showed up for the meeting, with six or so more on Zoom. Eight members of the Council were present in person, three were attending on Zoom, and only one (Amber Harris) was absent.

Although there were four resolutions on the agenda for the meeting, Council president Tom DePietro started with the second one, the resolution authorizing entering into a contract with A. Colarusso & Sons for the construction of the new Ferry Street Bridge. Every member of the Council present--in the room or on Zoom--voted in favor except for Vicky Daskaloudi (Fifth Ward) and Margaret Morris (First Ward). Before casting her vote, Morris stated that she believed it was in the best interest of the city to rebid the project, and she would feel that way if the roles were reversed and Colarusso been the one that made the omission and withdrew their bid. The resolution passed with eight votes in favor and two against.

The resolution authorizing the issuance of serial bonds to finance the new bridge passed with ten affirmative votes. DePietro clarified that the bonds are necessary because, although the bridge is being financed with state and federal funds, the City does not get the money up front. The City is reimbursed after the money has been spent. When the City is reimbursed, the bonds will be paid off.

The resolution to enter into a contract with Rise & Run Permaculture to plant trees for this year's Autumn Arbor Day also passed with ten affirmative votes.

Lance Wheeler's video of the meeting can be viewed here.
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Happening Tonight

The special meeting of the Common Council taking place today at 6:00 p.m. is likely to be very well attended. As Gossips reported, on Tuesday, after the Council was unable to agree either to rebid the Ferry Street Bridge project or to award the project to A. Colarusso & Sons, Mayor Kamal Johnson expressed his opinion that rebidding the project would be "an extremely bad idea." Johnson then turned to Facebook to rally support for his position. His post there begins: "Update on - Ferry-fairy-Front street, waterfront bridge." The Facebook group he chose for making his appeal is called "Unfiltered Hudson NY Community Board." One of the group's rules is: "No tourists or transplants . . . locals only." 

The mayor's Facebook post so far has elicited ninety comments. This morning, Lance Wheeler announced on Facebook that he would be videotaping the meeting and publishing it on his YouTube channel.

At the special meeting, the Council will be voting on four things:
  • A resolution to reject the current bids and rebid the project
  • A resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with A. Colarusso & Sons to construct the new Ferry Street Bridge
  • A resolution authorizing the issuance of serial bonds to finance the new bridge. This resolution was voted on at the meeting on Tuesday, but the vote was invalid because approving a bond issue requires a two-thirds majority (in other words, eight affirmative votes) and only six members of the Council were present at the meeting.
  • A resolution, totally unrelated to the Ferry Street Bridge issue, to authorize a contract with a landscaping service to plant trees for this year's Autumn Arbor Day.
The meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Zoom. Click here to join the meeting remotely.
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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Another Hope Dashed

These days, it seems every significant development proposed for Hudson is either low- to moderate-income subsidized housing or a hotel. Still there are a fair number of people (just about everyone I know) who would like to see a substantial market-rate apartment building constructed in Hudson. Any hope that the proposal to construct a market-rate apartment building on the site of the failed Parkview Plaza on lower Warren Street might somehow be revived was lost forever last month when Galvan sold the site to the County, for some as yet undetermined use. 

Rendering of the building proposed for 11 Warren Street in 2021 
The last, best hope for a significant number of market rate apartments in a desirable location in Hudson was whatever Ben Fain might be planning for the former Kaz site. Sadly, that seems to be another hope dashed. The following is quoted from a Times Union article about the opening last week of The Caboose: 
Fain is already working on the next phase of his waterfront campus: redeveloping the former Kaz manufacturing site behind Kitty's.
"This place is a jewel," he said. His goal is for it to include a year-round home for the Hudson Farmers Market with custom space, storage and a commissary kitchen. There will eventually be a hotel, too.
Does Hudson really need another hotel, cheek by jowl with The Wick?
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Planning the Replacement of Bliss Towers

Gossips made the mistake of not attending the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting in person on Monday. Alexander Gorlin Architects, the firm engaged by Mountco, HHA's development partner, made a presentation on what's being planned, but the boards they displayed were never visible to the camera, so those participating on Zoom never got to see them. Copies of the drawings were distributed to the commissioners, but they were collected after the presentation. 


What we do know that they are planning to build on the site of Bliss Towers and Columbia Apartments and on the site across State Street from Bliss Towers. They are proposing that State Street be closed to traffic, except for emergency vehicles, between Second Street and what would be First Street and that First Street be extended from Columbia Street to State Street.


On these two sites, on either side of State Street, buildings will be constructed around a central courtyard or park. The buildings, designed to relate to the scale of the neighborhood, will be of various heights--some three stories, some five, some seven. Claire Cousin, who serves on the HHA Board. objected to seven stories, because, as she explained, "Seven stories feels like a highrise." Parking for residents will be around the outside of the buildings or underground. Alexander Gorlin said of what is being proposed, "It is meant to be an ideal community." This ideal community will contain 300 residential units. (The number of units in Bliss Towers and Columbia Apartments is 192.)

In addition to the buildings proposed for the current HHA site, Mountco is proposing fifteen townhouses to be constructed presumably on the three lots owned by Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency, which HHA has an option to buy: (1) the vacant lot at the northeast corner of Warren and Front streets; (2) what remains of the community garden at the northeast corner of Columbia and Second streets; (3) the vacant land along the north side of State Street from Front Street eastward.


It was not revealed how many townhouses are being proposed for each site, and it has not been determined how many units each townhouse would have. It was suggested, however, that some of the townhouses should have larger units with four or five bedrooms. 

During the meeting, Jeffrey Dodson, executive director of HHA, stated, "I've been pushing to get as many units as we can." A goal often cited is to build twice as many units as HHA now has, "to serve people here now and new people as well." 

The plan is to build on the north side of State Street, now being called Site B, first and have people move from Bliss Towers and Columbia Apartments into the new buildings. Then Bliss Towers can be demolished, and construction can begin on what is now being called Site A.

In 2019, when HHA, working with a different development partner, contemplated constructing new buildings on the north side of State Street, it was determined that that land there was not stable enough to support the 120 units being proposed for the site. 


At the meeting on Monday, Nick Zachos, who serves on the HHA Board, asked the architects if they were confident they could build on that site. They acknowledged that they haven't yet completed their site studies.

In the discussion, Revonda Smith, who chairs the HHA Board of Commissioners, spoke of 280 North Pearl Street in Albany as an example to be emulated. The building (shown below), owned by the Albany Housing Authority, opened in 2019 after three years of construction.

Photo: Albany Business Review
The architects for the HHA project promised the new buildings "will look like market rate but will be affordable."

Mountco and the architects will return in October with the completed preliminary plan that will be submitted to the state, and the HHA Board of Commissioners will be asked to vote on approving it. Apparently, it is at this point that community engagement begins. John Madeo of Mountco assured the board that Gorlin was "very good at community engagement" and was "not afraid to come out at night."
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Wednesday, September 20, 2023

What's in a Name?

In November 2022, Gossips reported that the Galvan Foundation had changed its name on Facebook and was now calling itself "Galvan Center for the Common Good." Yesterday, Galvan changed its Facebook name again and is now calling itself simply "Galvan Initiatives."

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