Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Great War: November 22, 1917

It's been a while since we pursued the exploration of life in Hudson during World War I. The long Thanksgiving holiday provides an opportunity to return to it.

On November 22, 1917, this news item appeared on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register.

Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, was established on September 5, 1917, as a temporary cantonment for training soldiers.

According to the 1913 Hudson city directory, Volkert Whitbeck was the proprietor of Forshew's photograph gallery at 441 Warren Street. It is likely that the photographs were installed in the display windows of this building.


Paying for the Water

Last night, the Common Council went through its annual November ritual of passing a resolution to add unpaid water and sewer fees to people's property taxes. Accompanying the resolution was a list of all the offenders, which goes on for 31 pages and includes more than 300 names. Mine is among them, along with those of the current mayor and two former mayors, a couple of supervisors, an alderman, and a few prominent business owners.

In 2013, the Common Council passed a local law intended to, in the words of then city treasurer Eileen Halloran, "take away an incentive to let you not pay water and sewer bills on time." At that time, in a public meeting, and in 2015, in a post on Gossips, I suggested that the City needed to make it more convenient for people to pay their water bill. The water bill arrives quarterly, seemingly out of sync with any other bills, and, in this age of online banking, it is probably the only bill that cannot be paid online. You have to send a check--in your own envelope--or go in person to City Hall and climb the stairs to the second floor to pay the bill. Is it any wonder that this bill is often set aside, forgotten, and then goes unpaid?

In several of his conversational meetings in the five wards, mayor-elect Rick Rector spoke about the arcane methods of billing and payment for the water and sewer bills and made known his intention to bring the system into the 21st century to allow the bill to be paid online. If he succeeds in this, the list of property owners in arrears on their water and sewer bills in November 2018 will certainly be much shorter.

More Highlights from the Council Meeting

Dogs took another step toward being able to walk with their humans in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park without the fear of being cited for breaking the law or the stigma of willfully ignoring it. Last night, the Common Council voted to place on their desks proposed Local Law No. 8, which would amend Section 70-4 of the city code "to permit dogs to be present at the Riverfront Park." 

Also last night, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the City to apply for a Restore NY grant "for the demolition and redevelopment of properties located at the former KAZ site at 14-17 Montgomery Street." 

A portion of the Kaz warehouse has already been demolished by the owners of The Wick.

It will be remembered that the City was awarded a $500,000 Restore NY grant at the beginning of this year to stabilize the Dunn building and arrest the deterioration. Eleven months later, none of that money has been spent, and no work has been done to preserve the building.

A public hearing on the City's latest Restore NY grant application for funds to demolish and redevelop the Kaz warehouse site has been scheduled for Monday, December 11, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Fate of Local Law No. 4

Local Law No. 4, the proposed law that would waive the offstreet parking requirement for apartments in basements and accessory buildings and would allow buildings in residential districts that were formerly used for commercial purposes to be used for commercial purposes again, didn't fare well in the public hearing about it on November 13. At the end of the hearing, Council president Claudia DeStefano indicated that she thought the proposed law needed some work. 

At tonight's Common Council meeting, there was no mention of the proposed Local Law No. 4 until Steve Dunn, who it seems drafted the law, asked why the Council was taking no action on it. DeStefano told him she was sending it back to the Legal Committee for further consideration based on the input from the public hearing. Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, said he didn't think anything could be done in the Legal Committee. He then launched into a defense of the proposed legislation, responding specifically to objections raised by Kristal Heinz in the public hearing. He dismissed the objections made by code enforcement officer Craig Haigh, saying they were "misplaced." He asserted that the proposed legislation was meant to codify what is now common practice by the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals regarding offstreet parking requirements. 

After some discussion, it was decided, given that the proposed legislation has been on the aldermen's desks since August, that the Council would vote on whether or not to enact the legislation. In a roll call vote, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Shershah Mizan (Third Ward), and Michael O'Hara (First Ward) voted in aye; DeStefano, Henry Haddad (Third Ward), Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward), Priscilla Moore (Fifth Ward), and Rick Rector (First Ward) voted no. Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) abstained, saying that he didn't understand either the proposed law or the objections to it.

After the vote was taken and the law failed to be enacted, Dunn lamented that people hoping to establish commercial enterprises in buildings that formerly had commercial uses would be inconvenienced. It was then suggested by an audience member (truth be told, it was Gossips) that the law should go back to the Legal Committee to be bifurcated, to separate that part of the proposed law that deals with nonconforming commercial uses from the part that deals with dwelling units in basements and accessory buildings. It was agreed that should happen.

Hudson and Housing

The Housing Task Force, which is running "in tandem" with the DRI process, met yesterday, and there's a report in the Register-Star about that meeting: "Task force tackles housing in Hudson." Some of the things reported seem a bit ominous. According to a study commissioned by the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, the housing stock in Hudson is in "poor to average condition." Also, according to the study, the housing stock is "very old"; 63.3 percent of it was built prior to 1939. No big surprise. It's a historic city, and its "very old" buildings are what make it appealing to those of us who live here and make it a destination for those who visit. 

The "poor to average" assessment of Hudson's housing stock makes the heart sink when one recalls that, according to local legend, humiliation over having "the worst housing stock in the State of New York" led to this half a century ago.

The article also reports that Mark Morgan-Perez, a member of the Housing Task Force, has identified 96.5 acres of vacant land in the city. Let's hope this time we can provide new housing opportunities without destroying or compromising the city's finest assets--its historic architecture and its historic character.

Monday, November 20, 2017

A Change at City Hall

It's another forty-two days before Mayor-Elect Rick Rector is sworn in as mayor of Hudson, but there has already been a change in personnel on the second floor of City Hall. 

Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton announced today that Friday, November 17, was Lisa Walsh's last day serving as mayor's aide. "Over the past two years, Lisa has made a tremendous contribution in support of the City's administration. We thank her for all her hard work, and wish her well in her new life in Beacon, NY, where she has taken a position with the mayor's office."

Hamilton also announced that Branda Maholtz was sworn in this morning as the new mayor's aide and will serve under the current administration through the end of the year.

Another One to Bite the Dust

On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals accepted an application to demolish the house at 418 State Street and build a new house in its place. According to the applicant, the existing house has been determined to be structurally unsound. The house is not located in a historic district.

The facade of the proposed new house will align with the rest of the street wall, as the existing house does, but the new house will be positioned in the center of the lot instead of off to the left. The project is before the ZBA for area variances--both front and side setbacks.  

A public hearing on the application has been scheduled for Wednesday, December 20, at 6 p.m., in City Hall.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Meeting Reminder

There is a Housing Task Force working in tandem with the DRI. Four of the fifteen members of the task force--Tiffany Martin Hamilton, Matthew Nelson, Randall Martin, and Brenda Adams--also serve on the DRI Local Planning Committee. The complete list of members of the task force and the goals of the task force can be found on the DRI website.

The Housing Task Force will hold its second meeting on Monday, November 20, at 11 a.m., at 1 North Front Street. The meeting is open to the public.

Preserving Hudson's Architectural Heritage

The Robert Taylor house, one of the oldest surviving houses in Hudson and a locally designated landmark, has been owned by Galvan Initiatives Foundation since August 2011.  

In April 2012, Galvan proposed moving the house to Union Street. The justification for moving the house, which was built by the tanner for whom Tanner's Lane was named, was its location. The following is quoted from the press release announcing the intended move: "On its current site the house is somewhat lost, and looks out over warehouses, when originally it looked out over the South Bay towards Mt. Merino, the river and the Catskills beyond." 

The Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness for the move. During the discussion of the proposal, HPC member Rick Rector offered the opinion that "restoring the house in its present location could be a catalyst for [neighborhood] improvement."

Five years later, it's The Wick Hotel that is transforming the neighborhood, and the poor Robert Taylor House continues to decay. This picture of the north wall of the house was taken earlier today.

Two years ago, a hole was discovered in the wall beside this window. It was alleged at the time that it had been created in an attempt to break into the house. That's when a fence was installed around the house.

Now the brick around the window frame is deteriorated, and the boarded-up window is falling out.


The Wick Revealed

The demolition of the portion of the abandoned Kaz warehouse that marred the Wick Hotel's sense of arrival began on October 31.

Today, it is complete--except for some tidying up.


DRI Watch: Leverage Is All

The DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) Local Planning Committee (LPC) met last Tuesday, and the word that seemed to be used most often during the two-hour session was leverage. It was stressed that no project can be fully funded by DRI money, and a project's potential to leverage other money, from private or public sources, will be a significant factor in deciding which projects will be pursued. Another significant is factor is that projects chosen should be those that can be completed within two years.

One of the goals of last Tuesday's meeting was to confirm the boundaries of the DRI target area--the BRIDGE District. There had been a suggestion that the eastern boundary should be moved from Second Street to Third Street.

Although there was considerable discussion of the possibility, no decision was made to alter the boundaries.

Another goal of the meeting was to confirm the vision statement. This was the original vision statement:
Increased development of mixed-use projects that incorporate affordable and market-rate housing and transportation oriented design; workforce development; and re-imagining the waterfront for expanded public use and enjoyment. While tourism is a seasonal surge economy for the Hudson, the DRI application proposes to create an environment for high-quality, year-round, living-wage jobs.
Based on input received at the public engagement workshop on October 26 and from stakeholder interviews, the vision statement has been revised to read:
Increased development of sustainable mixed-use projects that incorporate affordable and market-rate housing and transportation oriented design; workforce development; access to healthy, affordable food; and re-imagining the waterfront for expanded public use and enjoyment. Preserve and enhance diversity in the district by prioritizing current residents. While tourism is an engine for the Hudson economy, leverage the DRI to create an environment for high-quality, year-round, living-wage jobs for local residents.
When asked about the weight the vision statement carried, Steve Kearney, from the Stantec Urban Places Group, stressed that "every DRI initiative must fall within the vision." Jeff Hunt, from the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, wanted the word commercial added after mixed-use, although mixed-use does seem to imply a mix of residential and commercial uses. Sara Kendall, assistant director of Kite's Nest, worried about the way tourism was presented in the statement and wanted to be certain the statement conveyed an understanding that economic development went beyond tourism.

Another thing to be accomplished at the meeting--what was identified as the most important thing--was to establish the goals of the DRI. Almost an hour into the meeting, Kearney presented these draft goals for consideration by the LPC:
  • Connect to--and improve--the waterfront
  • Prioritize mixed-income residential development
  • Increase access to high quality, affordable, and (when possible) local food
  • Create lower-cost spaces for entrepreneurs, creative workforce
  • Help train for, and help create, jobs
The conversation soon got mired in a discussion of leverage, with John Reilly, chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, pointing out that infrastructure--sidewalks, etc.--was a "dollar for dollar" investment, because "no one will want to invest in sidewalks unless you're giving them a toll road."

Ultimately, it was decided that transportation connectivity and green spaces should be included in the goals. It was also decided that the LPC needed to have another working meeting before the next public engagement workshop, which is set to take place on Thursday, December 7. That additional meeting for the LPC will take place on Thursday, November 30, at 6 p.m. at John L. Edwards Primary School.

Early on in the meeting, it was emphasized that the Hudson DRI website is the central repository of all information about the DRI. People with "prominent websites" were urged to provide a link to the DRI. Gossips has done this. The link now appears at the top of the right column.

For those for whom this synopsis of the meeting is insufficient, Dan Udell's video of the meeting can be viewed here.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Hudson Dogs to Have Their Day

The dogs of Hudson may soon have two things they've been wanting for a long time: a dog park and the right to walk legally on leashes with their humans in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.

The late William with Turner, a pup of our extended family, in the park illegally back in 2012 
As Gossips has already reported, the dreams of a dog park are soon to become a reality. On Monday, at the informal meeting of the Common Council, a resolution was introduced that would amend Section 70-4 of the city code to delete item A (11), which makes it unlawful for dogs "to be present at any time at Riverfront Park."

A resolution to repeal the ban on dogs in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, which was put in place in 2002, was initiated by former Third Ward alderman John Friedman in March 2015. Despite a petition signed by about 200 people in support of allowing dogs in the park, the Common Council voted it down--a move that disappointed many dog owners and infuriated Dan and Mary Udell so much that they ceased videotaping Hudson Common Council meetings for more than a year. 

This time we may hope for a better outcome. The resolution now before the council is the initiative of Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who in 2015 was one of the aldermen opposed to lifting the ban on dogs in the park.

Friday, November 17, 2017

In Defense of Our Alleys

In today's Register-Star, there was an editorial about the proposed law that was the subject of a public hearing earlier this week. For most of the day, the editorial was only available in the print version of the newspaper, but as of this evening it can be read online. Most worthy of quoting, in Gossips' opinion, is this argument: "Transforming the city's historic garages and horse carriage houses is equally a dead end. The expense to convert these structures, which will likely have to be demolished and rebuilt, would be prohibitive. These projects would result in a considerable loss to Hudson's rich heritage, but they would not create affordable housing." The rest of the editorial can be read here: "Try another approach to Hudson's affordable housing crisis." 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Getting There from Here . . . on Foot

Tonight at 6 p.m. at 401 State Street, the Columbia Land Conservancy is holding a public meeting to receive input on the conceptual design for a proposed trail connection from North Second Street to the Greenport Conservation Area.