Saturday, February 22, 2020

Happening Next Week

On Thursday, February 27, from 6 to 9 p.m., the Hudson Community Incubator is having a soft launch at Barnfox, 320 Warren Street. 

The invitation to the event on Facebook explains:
A group of us met at Future Hudson, and thought our town could benefit from having its own startup incubator. So we launched the Hudson Community Incubator (HCI).
For those unfamiliar with startup incubators, they are essentially resource centers for people looking to start and/or grow their business. We want this group to directly benefit locals the most, so we invite everyone to come out and share with us what HCI can do for your business.
The Hudson Community Incubator website tells more about the initiative's philosophy:
While Hudson has been positively branded as a great tourism destination, there is a lack of resources helping Hudson grow to become a sustainable and welcoming community to everyone. . . .
In an effort to secure Hudson's financial future the city needs to consider developing other pipelines of tax revenues to remain solvent and not be so reliant on tourism.
Our community and collaborative team work together to make a modern Renaissance workshop that feels more like a home than a tradition working space. With no hierarchies and boundaries, every person, project and company in HCI must be united to create a collective masterpiece. HCI is a big family and can be home for everyone who shares our mission.
Those interested in attending the soft launch of the Hudson Community Incubator on Thursday are asked to RSVP here. The event is sponsored by Pineapple Strategy, Octarine Consulting, Barnfox, and Lawrence Park.

More News from City Hall

In his veto message on the vacancy study yesterday, Mayor Kamal Johnson stated, "I believe there are better ways to address concerns over affordable housing in Hudson." This apparently is what he had in mind.

Galvan Initiatives Foundation announced yesterday their plans to build a four-story, 80-unit mixed-income building, to be dubbed 100 Depot Street, at the corner of State and Seventh streets. According to the Register-Star, "Mayor Kamal Johnson has been collaborating on the proposed project. . . ." The full report about the proposed project can be read here: "Galvan, mayor announce 80-unit apartment project."

Friday, February 21, 2020

News from City Hall

Today, Mayor Kamal Johnson vetoed the resolution passed by the Common Council on Tuesday authorizing a vacancy study to determine the city's eligibility for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. In his veto message, Johnson explained:
Based upon a preliminary inventory of rent regulated housing stock prepared for the Housing Task Force in approximately 2018, an estimated 21% of Hudson's residents are already living in low-income, permanently affordable, rent regulated housing.
Specifically, most buildings with 6 or more units built before 1974 or financed with federal or state subsidies are already rent regulated/stabilized e.g. Bliss, Terraces, Providence, Terraces, Crosswinds, leaving only a handful of buildings that might be eligible for rent stabilization. Based on these numbers it is all but assured that Hudson's vacancy rate is far higher than the 5% required for participation in the ETPA program.
Accordingly, I cannot justify authorizing the expenditure of $15,000 not budgeted or planned for in the 2020 City Budget to document what we already know. I believe there are better ways to address concerns over affordable housing in Hudson and I am willing to work with the Council on this issue but cannot support this ill-advised use of taxpayer money.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Of Interest

Earlier today, the Daily Freeman reported the outcome of the vacancy study done in Kingston, which reportedly cost $33,000, to determine the city's eligibility for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act: "Kingston not eligible for rent control at this time, study finds." A resolution to conduct a similar study in Hudson was passed by the Common Council on Tuesday night with dissenting votes from Jane Trombley (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward). 

The Future of the Dunn

The draft request for expressions of interest for the Dunn warehouse, which was presented to the DRI Committee by Chris Round of Chazen Companies on Tuesday afternoon and shared with the members of the Common Council on Tuesday evening, is available for review by the public at the City of Hudson website. To access it, click here

Comments on the document can be submitted by email to mayoral aide, Michael Chameides Comments must be submitted by Sunday, February 23.

Special Meeting Next Week

The Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency) is holding a special meeting on Tuesday, February 25, at 11:00 a.m., to hear a presentation from 620 Hudson House LLC to convert the former Home for the Aged at 620 Union Street into a 50-room hotel. The presentation is expected to include information about the incentives the group is seeking from the IDA. 

The IDA meetings now take place at the offices of Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), One Hudson City Centre, Suite 301.

Why Are These Still Here?

This question was raised by a reader recently, and it has occurred to Gossips to wonder more than once. Why are there still public phones around the city?

The one on Front Street, in front of the Chamber of Commerce, has been vandalized and is completely unusable. The handset is missing! The ones next to the First Presbyterian Church and in front of City Hall are magnets for graffiti. The only one that looks like it might still be functioning is the one on Union Street near the courthouse, but it's unclear if anyone ever uses it.

In this day and age, when everyone carries a cell phone, it seems there is little need for public telephones. But what would it take to get rid of them?

Update: We are not alone. After reading this post, Alderman Dominic Merante sent me the link to an article about abandoned and nonfunctioning payphones that appeared in USA Today on November 3, 2014: "Forgotten payphone relics no talk, no action." It seems the first step in getting rid of them is establishing who owns them.

Watch for Yourself

Unfortunately, the first eighteen minutes are missing because of technical issues, but Dan Udell's videotape of the remaining forty-six minutes of Tuesday night's Common Council meeting is now available on YouTube.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Tourism Board Is Complete

Last night, the Common Council passed the resolution appointing its choices to the new Tourism Board: Hannah Black, Selya Graham, Sidney Long, and Kate Treacy. Today, Mayor Kamal Johnson announced his appointments to the board: Tamar Adler, Chris McManus, Kristan Keck, and Filiz Soyak. More can be learned about the mayor's choices here. Only two of the members of the new Tourism Board served on the previous board: Kristan Keck, who was appointed by Mayor Rick Rector in May 2018, and Sidney Long, who was appointed to the Tourism Board by the Common Council in September 2019. 

620 Union Watch

It was anticipated that the plan to convert 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, into a fifty-room hotel would come before the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for the needed area variances. That did not happen.

Gossips learned that the application had been withdrawn, and the plan would be presented at the ZBA's March meeting, scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 18. It is expected that the ZBA will hold a public hearing on the application at its April meeting. 

It's Always Something

Almost exactly a year ago, Gossips shared the news that a company called Wheelabrator Technologies was proposing to create a landfill for ash from burning trash in an abandoned quarry near Smith's Landing. Fortunately, three months later, in May 2019, that plan was abandoned.  

Now, something else of questionable desirability is being proposed for across the river, this time for the waterfront in the village of Athens: a construction and demolition debris processing facility. The story appeared yesterday on HudsonValley360: "C&D project proposed for Athens waterfront." 

Highlights from Last Night's Council Meeting

There were all of twenty-five resolutions and three local laws on the agenda for last night's Common Council meeting, but amazingly the meeting took less than an hour. Dan Udell was there to document the entire meeting. Gossips will only touch on the highlights of the meeting.

Among the communications was the resignation, for health reasons, of Wes Powell as dog control officer for Hudson. Powell's resignation is effective on March 1, 2020. Powell has come under scrutiny and criticism in the past couple of years from Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who believes he did not spend enough time in Hudson to merit the $7,200 the City paid him. Council president Tom DePietro said last night that he had asked city clerk Tracy Delaney to speak with neighboring municipalities about their dog control officers, with the idea that one of them might also serve Hudson. Garriga said she had someone in mind for the job. Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) pointed out that the City has, by state law, thirty days to find a new dog control officer.

The resolution supporting the sale of the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets passed with only two dissenting votes--from Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) and Merante. Since the informal meeting last week, the resolution was amended to define affordable housing as "housing costing 30 percent of area medium income." It is assumed that "area medium income" means "area median income," but it is unclear if the "area" is Columbia County, where, according to U.S. census data, the median household income in 2018 was $63,032, or the City of Hudson, where, according to the same source, the median household income in 2018 was $35,153. If the former, apartments could rent for $1,575 a month; if the latter, the rent could only be $878 a month. Before casting her no vote, Halloran questioned the wisdom of authorizing the sale. "We are doing a resolution to study vacancy, and we are already authorizing a sale of property." Garriga told her they were not selling it but rather, "We are claiming it for affordable housing."    

The resolution to do a vacancy study of buildings that would qualify for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act--that is, buildings with six or more units that were built before 1974--also passed. The goal of the study would be determine if there was a less than 5 percent vacancy rate in those buildings. Before casting her aye vote, Garriga read a written statement challenging her colleagues, which concluded, "If you are for affordable housing and housing justice, show it." The resolution passed with three dissenting votes: Alderman Jane Trombley (First Ward), Halloran, and Merante. 

Two resolutions were passed affecting the makeup of the Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency). The IDA board has up until this point been made up only of ex officio members: the mayor, the Council majority and minority leaders, the city treasurer, the assessor, and the chair of the Planning Board. The first resolution passed last night appointed Richard Wallace as the first and only community member of the IDA. The second appointed John Cody, a member of the Planning Board, to take the place of Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow on the IDA.

February meeting of the IDA
There were also two resolutions passed relating to the City's DRI projects. The first authorized the mayor to execute a contract with Starr Whitehouse for renovations and improvements to Promenade Hill. The second authorized the mayor to execute a contract with Arterial + Street Plans for connectivity and street improvements in the BRIDGE District. It is expected that once these contracts are in place, public engagement for both projects will begin.

Last night, the Council also passed a resolution to bring back The Grant Writers, now known as TGW Consulting.

Bill Roehr and John "Duke" Duchessi had been grant consultants for the City of Hudson since around 2004, but in the summer of 2017, it was decided that their contract with the City would not be renewed. LaBerge Group was chosen to replace them, but the aldermen have not been happy with LaBerge. 

When the resolution to hire TGW Consulting was introduced, Alderman John Rosenthal asked, "Why are we bringing them back?" Council president Tom DePietro explained that the mayor had interviewed three grant consulting firms--TGW, LaBerge, and Chazen Companies--and had chosen TGW. DePietro attributed past difficulties with TGW to their role as a shared resource with HDC and HCDPA and said they had promised to make presentations to the Economic Development Committee, adding "but they will not be accompanied by Sheena Salvino [former executive director of HDC and HCDPA]." Alderman Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) alleged there were "problems with some of the grant writing that happened," citing problematic language in the DRI application. DePietro told Wolff that TGW had nothing to do with the DRI application, but Wolff insisted, "I've heard some stuff," and cast the only no vote on the resolution. 

The Council also voted unanimously to increase the fees for parking meters along Warren Street. Soon a quarter inserted into a meter on Warren Street will buy 30 minutes instead of an hour, but the maximum time that can be purchased before the meter "expires" will remain two hours.

A resolution to extend the intermunicipal agreeement for the controversial Shared Services Response Team was, at the request of Garriga, referred to the Police Committee, which meets next Monday at 6:00 p.m.

Of the local laws, the Council voted to enact the moratorium on new short-term rental units and to move forward on defunding the Toursim Board. At the insistence of Garriga, who said, "This just came out of nowhere," the proposed law extending the mayor's term of office to four years was referred to the Legal Committee. At the end of the meeting, Garriga spoke about a city mayor and said she wanted the Council to research having a city manager instead of extending the mayor's term. Might this be an idea whose time has come?

Toward the end of the meeting, DePietro noted that he had distributed copies of the draft request for expressions of interest in the Dunn warehouse to the members of the Council and asked that they review it and submit comments to mayor's aide, Michael Chameides. It is not known when or if the public will get to see this document.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Help for the Dunn Builiding

This afternoon, at the meeting of the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) Committee, Peter Bujanow reported that three bids had been received in response to the invitation to bid issued on February 7 for immediate repair to the roof of the Dunn warehouse.

The lowest bid was $25,725, received from Tecta America WeatherGuard LLC in Schenectady. Along with the bid, they guaranteed that the work would be completed 21 days after receiving notice to proceed. Another company bid $31,000 with a guarantee to complete the work within 10 days. Michael Chameides, mayor's aide, asked rhetorically if saving $6,000 was worth waiting 11 more days. He indicated he thought it was. The committee voted to accept the lowest bid. A resolution to that effect is expected to come before the Common Council tonight.  

In pursuit of finding a nongovernmental partner for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Dunn building, Chris Round of Chazen Companies had prepared a draft request for expressions of interest, which he distributed and discussed with the members of the committee present: Tom DePietro, Council president; Heather Campbell, city treasurer; Peter Bujanow, commissioner for public works; and Michael Chameides, mayor's aide. At the outset, Round said it was his understanding that the City wanted to "turn the site back to active use," indicating that the desired use would not be residential but rather retail or office space. After some exchange with Chameides, it was clarified that a residential use for the building is a possibility. 

The schedule for the request for expressions of interest is that comments from the committee are due to Round by Monday, February 24, and a final document will be ready for the next meeting of the DRI Committee, which takes place on Wednesday, March 4, with the intention of issuing the request the following day.

At the next meeting of the committee, in addition to the request for expressions of interest for the Dunn building, the "Historic Fishing Village" is expected to be a principal topic of discussion, with the goal of defining "what it is we want to accomplish." Round indicated that he would "come with an outline" to help identify next steps for that project.

Martin Comments on 2019 Election

On the weekend after the Iowa caucuses, Virginia Martin, embattled "holdover" Democratic Commissioner of Elections, submitted to the Register-Star a letter to the editor commenting on the November election here in Columbia County. More than a week later, the letter was finally published yesterday. It is recommended reading: "Setting the record straight."

An Interesting Development

The Register-Star reports today that the Salvation Army will not be moving to 11 Warren Street, the former COARC building now owned by Galvan Initiatives Foundation, as previously announced: "Salvation Army still searching for new location." Michael Molinski, a member of the Salvation Army Board of Directors, is quoted in the article as saying, "We were under contract to have a brand new facility built out on lower Warren Street and the Galvan Foundation reneged on everything. They said, 'That's no longer on the table and we're going to try to find a spot for you in the future.'"

Galvan bought the building at Third and Allen streets, where the Salvation Army is currently located, in October 2014. In March 2016, Galvan announced it was creating a new home for the Salvation Army at 11 Warren Street. In March 2017, the Salvation Army launched a GoFundMe campaign to outfit the promised new kitchen. In 2018, the build out of the new kitchen at 11 Warren Street was one of the projects Galvan proposed, unsuccessfully, for DRI funding in 2018. Now the project is off the table.

The article reports that Galvan suggested 92 Union Turnpike, the building that was formerly the Noecker car dealership, which Galvan acquired last year. The article quotes Molinski explaining why that is not a "viable option": "Noecker is an old automobile garage; who knows what kind of chemicals have been spilled or soaked into the walls and foundations and stuff there? Do you want people cooking and preparing food in a place like that? Probably not."

While the building on Union Turnpike may not be the ideal location for the Salvation Army, situated as it is on the very outer edge of Hudson, where according to the article an estimated 21.3 percent of the residents live in poverty, it seems ironic to cite its former use as the reason. The Salvation Army's current location is a former car garage, as is the now vacant building across the street, until recently Ör, where the Salvation Army speculates they could move temporarily if they decided to renovate their current building, which they rent from Galvan for $1 a month.

The building that is now the Salvation Army in 1969| 
Until 2013, the building that was Ör was Harmon's Auto Repair

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Call for School Board Members

Last week, Gossips shared the news that there will be two openings on the Hudson City School District Board of Education and the process of securing signatures on petitions to get on the ballot has begun. A hundred signatures are required, and petition forms must be requested from BOE clerk Leslie Coons, who can be contacted by phone--518 828-4360, ext. 2100--or by email. The petitions need to be submitted by Thursday, April 30, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. 

Today, Gossips shares some information about the Hudson City School District, brought to my attention by a reader, which may or may not motivate people to want to get involved in the governance of our school district. The following information appears on SchoolDigger.    

Interesting takeaways are that, among the 820 school districts in New York State, HCSD ranks 736th. Also, the $49.8 million budget for 2019-2020 is educating 1,751 students.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

Tomorrow is Presidents Day, so there are no meetings scheduled, but there are plenty to make up for it in the following three days.
  • On Tuesday, February 18, the DRI Committee meets at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall. The deadline for submitting bids for immediate repairs to the roof of the Dunn warehouse is Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., so it is expected that the outcome of the second invitation to bid will be made known at this meeting. When this meeting was scheduled back on January 28, it was agreed that it would held at 3:00 p.m., but the calendar on the website indicates the meeting time is 2:30 p.m.
  • Also on Tuesday, February 18, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. and the regular monthly meeting of the Common Council takes place at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings takes place at City Hall. Among the things the Council will be voting are these proposed laws and resolutions: the six-month moratorium on new short-term rentals; defunding the Tourism Board; increasing the mayor's term of office to four years; selling the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets; undertaking a vacancy study as a first step toward imposing rent control; doubling the fee for parking at the meters along Warren Street.  
  • On Wednesday, February 19, the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting will begin with two public hearings on area variances required to convert an accessory building at 960 Columbia Street into a residential unit and to replace a deteriorated accessory building with an addition to the principal resident at 521-523 Clinton Street. After the public hearings, during the regular meeting, it is expected that the application for the area variances needed for the proposed addition to 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, will be presented.
  • On Thursday, February 20, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

The Intrigue at the Board of Elections

On January 23, Columbia Paper published a story by Debby Mayer on the situation that resulted in a replacement being sought for longtime Democratic Commissioner of Elections, Virginia Martin: "Dems: Help Wanted, full-time job, $65K." Yesterday, Enid Futterman published on an account of the circumstances, which she calls "dirty Democratic party laundry": "The Loss of Virginia Martin: The case against the ex-commissioner crumbles." In the article, Futterman calls Mayer's article "a Cliff Notes version that was, at best, incomplete; at worst, sprinkled liberally with errors." Futterman accompanied her article with this picture of Virginia Martin (right) with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.