Wednesday, February 28, 2024

How Is Hudson Like Wendy's?

The answer: Both are contemplating dynamic--or surge--pricing.

Yesterday, USAToday reported that the fast-food chain Wendy's was planning to experiment with dynamic pricing--when the price of a product increases in real-time as demand increases--as early as next year. The reports were based on a comment made by Wendy's CEO Kirk Tanner. Company executives have since denied that they are planning to hike prices during the busier times of the day. This report was aired a few hours ago on NPR: "No, Wendy's isn't planning to introduce surge pricing."  


Yesterday, dynamic pricing was also mentioned at the Common Council ad hoc Parking Committee meeting. The City is looking to upgrade the parking meter system to implement a digitized system that will accommodate credit and debit cards and mobile payment systems, as well as cash. One thing that seems certain to happen is that there will be paid parking of some sort the full length of Warren Street, from Front Street to Warren Street. Another thing being contemplated is dynamic pricing for parking--that is, the cost of parking will increase on weekends and during times of day when there is greater demand for parking. The goal seems to be to capitalize on visitors to Hudson and patrons of Warren Street restaurants. 

Council president Tom DePietro, who chairs the Parking Committee, said he had identified eight companies that can provide the equipment needed for the upgrade. The plan is to have those companies make presentations to the committee over the next few months, with the goal of having an RFP (request for proposals) ready by summer. DePietro also indicated that $400,000, which he identified as the proceeds of the sale of 429 Warren Street, has been earmarked for the project.
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The Agreement Sought by HudsonDots

Today at 6:00 p.m., the Common Council holds a special meeting to consider the Section 581-A regulatory agreement sought by HudsonDots for seven of its properties: 341 State Street, 14 and 16 Jenkins Parkway, 526 and 528 Prospect Street, 308 Columbia Street, and 520 Columbia Street. 

Since the Common Council meeting last Tuesday, the terms of the agreement have changed. The new resolution now specifies that 50 percent of the units in multifamily buildings (341 State Street and 308 Columbia Street are two-family houses) and 75 percent of units in single family buildings "will be rented for an amount not to exceed 30 percent of the area medium [sic] income for Columbia County." In the original resolution, the agreement applied to 50 percent of the units in all the properties. The new resolution also reduces the term of the agreement from five years to three years.

This map shows the locations of all properties currently owned by HudsonDots. The ones in red are those that are part of the proposed agreement.
According to calculations provided by Sara Black, former coordinator for Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA) who now works for HudsonDots, the agreement would save HudsonDots about $9,000 in city property taxes for the seven houses. There would be proportional savings in county and school taxes. All told, according to Gossips' estimate, the annual savings may amount to about $36,000. 

It is interesting to note that HudsonDots is described in the resolution as a QOZB LLC and, according to county tax records, each of the seven properties involved in the proposed agreement is owned by a different QOZB LLC. "QOZB" stands for Qualified Opportunity Zone Business. The IRS defines a Qualified Opportunity Zone as "an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment." One of the tax benefits provided by the Qualified Opportunity Zone statute, Gossips has learned, is that a QOZB can avoid 100 percent of the capital gains taxes on the sale of properties held for a minimum of ten years.

In contrast to Hudson's classification as a Qualified Opportunity Zone, in other words, "an economically distressed community," Hudson was recently identified as one of "7 Best Places to Live in Upstate New York in 2024" in WorldAtlas.com. The description there of our city begins: "Hudson, the heart of the Hudson Valley in Columbia County and its county seat, is an affluent town of just over 5,500. Boasting a median household income of $73,065, its median age is 40.1 years." Of course, WorldAtlas.com may not be the most reliable source. It also claims Hudson is "like a well-oiled machine, with the glue that holds it all together--its flourishing community spirit."

Today's special meeting of the Common Council, which begins at 6:00 p.m., is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Microsoft Teams. Click here to find the link to join the meeting remotely.

For those interested in reviewing the discussion of the proposed agreement that took place on Tuesday, February 20, the video of the meeting can be found here. The presentation and discussion begins at 40:00.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Return to City Hall

Last week, the Register-Star reported that the offices of city government would be returning to 520 Warren Street next week, on March 4 and 5: "City offices moving back to City Hall in March."


It has been a year since city offices decamped to the Central Fire Station while renovations at 520 Warren Street took place. The renovations, required by the City's settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over ADA compliance, involve the following:
  • Lowering the side doorway to street level and installing a lift
  • Creating a handicapped accessible parking space on Warren Street
  • Installing an accessible service counter
  • Removing the raised dais in the Council Chamber 
  • Installing new flooring throughout the first floor
  • Creating a handicapped accessible restroom
In addition, it was decided to use the opportunity to remove asbestos on exposed pipes in the basement of the building. All told, the renovations cost upwards of $700,000--$435,000 from a reserve that had been established and $337,933 in a loan from the General Fund, which was repaid by the proceeds of a bond.  

With all these changes, it would seem logical to include one more improvement: making the seating in the Council Chamber for meeting attendees more comfortable. In March 2020, a resolution was considered by the Common Council to reupholster the benches that provide seating for the public in the Council Chamber. The resolution read in part:

WHEREAS, the cushioned seats on the public benches in the Common Council chamber are in a significant degree of disrepair; and
WHEREAS, to allow that condition to continue and worsen would be disrespectful to members of the public who attend Common Council meetings and could be considered as acting as a disincentive to public participation . . . .
 

The resolution proposed that $3,200 be taken from the fund balance to reupholster the benches. The resolution was defeated 7 to 3 because it was the beginning of the pandemic, and councilmembers seemed to agree it was not a good time to spend the money. It's too bad that, in a project that cost way more than 200 times the amount needed to reupholster the benches, no one thought to include the benches in the scope of work.
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Monday, February 26, 2024

Meetings and Events in the Week Ahead

This week sees the end of February, the beginning of March, and Leap Day! . . . the day that happens only once every four years. As we more inexorably toward spring, here's what is happening this week.
  • For those readers following the progress of things in Stuyvesant, the Stuyvesant Planning Board meets on Monday, February 26, at 7:00 p.m. At this meeting, the Planning Board is expected to continue its review of the controversial proposal to construct "agro-tourism cabins" and other tourist amenities on 56 acres of farmland on Sharptown Ridge, resuming its consideration of the eleven questions in Part 2 of the SEQR Short Environmental Assessment Form. The board will also hear a presentation about a 3.25 megawatt solar project being proposed for a site south of County Route 46 and west of Route 9, with access from Route 9. The meeting takes place at Stuyvesant Town Hall, 5 Sunset Drive, Stuyvesant.
  • On Tuesday, February 27, the Common Council ad hoc Parking Study Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. No agenda or meeting documents have been made public, but it's likely the committee will be continuing its discussion of upgrading the city's parking meter system. The meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Microsoft Teams. Click here to find the link to join the meeting remotely. 
  • On Wednesday, February 28, at 6:00 p.m., the Common Council holds a special meeting to consider the resolution authorizing Mayor Kamal Johnson to enter into a regulatory agreement with HudsonDots, a housing program of The Spark of Hudson, that will result in a property tax abatement for a group of seven houses owned by HudsonDots. The meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Microsoft Teams. Click here to find the link to join the meeting remotely.
  • Coincidentally, also on Wednesday, February 28, at 6:00 p.m., at the same time the Common Council is considering a request from a Spark of Hudson initiative, Mayor Kamal Johnson will be at Hudson Hall for a screening and panel discussion of the film It's Basic, which profiles several universal basic income pilot programs, among them HudsonUP, the universal basic income program here in Hudson, funded by The Spark of Hudson and the Eutopia Foundation. Johnson will be appearing with HudsonUP and The Spark of Hudson cofounder Susan Danziger, HudsonUP ambassador and participant Lira Campbell, and Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood executive director Joan Hunt. For more information, click here. The event is free, but reservations are encouraged.
  • On Thursday, February 29, training for the Citizens Preparedness Corps will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Chatham High School Auditorium, 50 Woodbridge Avenue, in Chatham. The training, which is provided by the New York National Guard working with experts from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' Office of Emergency Management and Office of Fire Prevention and Control, is meant to give residents the tools and resources to prepare for any type of disaster or emergency, respond accordingly, and recover as quickly as possible to pre-disaster conditions. To register for the training, click here.
  • On Saturday, March 2, Oakdale Plunge 2024 takes place at Oakdale Lake, 132 North Sixth Street. Check-in for plungers begins at 11:00 a.m. The plunging begins at noon. Click here for more information.
  • On Sunday, March 3, at 2:00 p.m., the Hudson City Democratic Committee hosts the 2024 Ellen Awards at Hudson Hall. Click here to donate to the event and be added to the list of attendees.
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Sunday, February 25, 2024

HudsonDots Seeks Regulatory Agreement

Almost a year ago, in March 2023, The Spark of Hudson announced an affordable housing initiative called HudsonDots. Today, there are twelve properties in the HudsonDots program--six previously owned by Phil Gellert and six additional properties. The renovation of six of the properties has been completed, and another is in progress.

At the Common Council meeting last Tuesday, a resolution was presented, for the first time, authorizing Mayor Kamal Johnson to enter into a regulatory agreement with HudsonDots based on New York State Real Property Tax Law Section 581-A. Section 581-A allows the assessed valuation of real property used for residential rental purposes, where at least 20 percent of the units are occupied by tenants "who qualify in accordance with an income test," to be based on net operating income rather than the market value of the property. Section 581-a typically applies to multi-unit apartment buildings, but HudsonDots is asking that it be applied to a group of seven separate properties: 341 State Street, 14 and 16 Jenkins Parkway, 526 and 528 Prospect Street, 308 Columbia Street, and 520 Columbia Street. 


According to the agreement being proposed by HudsonDots, the rents for 50 percent of the units in these seven buildings will be limited to what is affordable for households with incomes that are up to 80 percent of the AMI (area median income). In exchange for this, the property taxes on these seven houses would be based on net operating income instead of market value. The agreement, as proposed, would continue for five years.

The deadline for entering into the agreement is March 1, and the resolution authorizing it came before the Council for the first time on February 20. During the discussion at Tuesday's meeting, it was mentioned the HudsonDots had been working on this for close to a year. It was also mentioned the information about the proposed agreement had been provided earlier to city assessor Cheryl Kaszluga and Council president Tom DePietro, but the full Council did not receive the resolution until Friday, February 16. At Tuesday's meeting, it was decided there would be a special meeting this Wednesday, February 28, at 6:00 p.m., to consider the resolution. The meeting is a hybrid, taking place in person at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and on Microsoft Teams. Click here to find the link to join the meeting remotely.
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Saturday, February 24, 2024

McKinstry Mansion to Be a Hotel After All

It's been four years since the hotel proposed for 620 Union--formerly the Hudson Home for the Aged and originally the home of Robert and Sally McKinstry--received site plan approval from the Planning Board, a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, and a PILOT from the IDA. 


The pandemic and rising construction costs put the project on hold, but now everything is back in place, and the project is ready to move forward. 

David Kessler, the owner of the building, and Mike Phinney, the architect for the project, appeared at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday, once again seeking a certificate of appropriateness. (Certificates of appropriateness expire after one year.) In his presentation to the HPC, Phinney stressed that the plan today is exactly what was proposed four years ago. 


Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, explained that the project would not have to go before the Planning Board again if there were no changes in the site plan that was approved in 2020. The HPC gave its approval pending code review to confirm that the site plan had not changed.
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Friday, February 23, 2024

Another Round of Restore New York Funding

Over the years, Hudson has been fortunate enough to receive three Restore New York grants. So far, none of the projects receiving this funding has been completed, and a couple haven't even started. Nevertheless, City Hall issued the following press release yesterday:
The City of Hudson seeks proposals for eligible development projects to apply for Round 8 of the Restore New York grant program administered by Empire State Development. The program supports municipalities' efforts to demolish, rehabilitate, and restore blighted structures and transform them into vibrant residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments.
Governor Hochul announced on February 21, 2024, that applications for this $60 million round of the Restore New York grant program will be opened February 22.
The City of Hudson has successfully obtained three Restore New York grants for projects in previous rounds of the program. Hudson was a recipient in Round 4 for the Dunn Warehouse ($500,00), then in Round 6 for the Crescent [Garage] Building ($1.3 million), and again in Round 7 for the Kaz Redevelopment Project ($1.5 million).
Interested parties with qualifying projects must submit their contact and project information to a web form on the City of Hudson website by March 15, 2024, at 5:00 p.m. EDT, in order to be considered a candidate project for a grant application submission. Project proposals are subject to review by the Mayor's office and Common Council President prior to submission of Intent to Apply forms for up to two projects by Monday, March 25, to Empire State Development. If two projects are approved for an application, both projects must be presented before the Common Council for a vote to proceed with a single application, followed by a public hearing.
Questions regarding this solicitation may be directed to Mayoral Aide & ADA Coordinator Michael Hofmann at 518-828-7217 of mayoralaide@cityofhudson.org. Information about qualifications for the Restore New York program is available on the Empire State Development website.

Where the City Ends

Facebook was all abuzz yesterday with the news that a search for a house in Hudson was featured in the Real Estate section of the New York Times: "Their Hearts Were Set on a House in Hudson. Could They Afford the One They Wanted?" Several people sent Gossips the link to the article. 

Following the formula of such pieces, the article presented three houses that had been considered, identified as "Updated Tudor-Style House," "Townhouse With Mountain Views" (Mount Ray Estates), and "19th-Century Brick Rowhouse" (one of the houses originally built for the sons of Elihu Gifford in the 600 block of Columbia Street). The buyers settled on "Updated Tudor-Style House." 

Photo: Zillow
The irony is the house is not located in Hudson. It's in Greenport. But, of course, since Greenport shares a zip code with Hudson, the house has a Hudson mailing address.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

New Exhibition Opening Soon at the Library

On Thursday, March 7, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m., the Hudson Area Library will host an opening reception and panel discussion for the exhibition A Dialogue Across Generations: Making Connections through the BLACC Collection, curated and programmed by Tanya Jackson, founder of the annual Columbia County Juneteenth archival exhibit and celebration, Who We Be! The exhibit will be on view through April. The Black Legacy Association of Columbia County (BLACC) Oral History Project collection was meticulously curated in the 1980s by volunteer researchers from Columbia Opportunities’ Retired Seniors Volunteer Program (RSVP). The collection was donated to the Hudson Area Library in 2018. It has since been digitized, archived, and made accessible online at blacc.hudsonarealibrary.org, with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Funding for this exhibition has been provided, in part, by a Humanities NY Action Grant.

Children from the Sunday school class, with their teacher, on the steps of the original AME Zion Church at Second and State streets, circa 1900

This exhibition is an effort to bridge historical knowledge gaps and foster a more inclusive community narrative. It will delve into the cultural, familial, economic, social, and religious history of Black people in the county, highlight long-neglected aspects of our local heritage, and spark vital conversations about representation, understanding, and unity. Jackson will also be utilizing recordings from the Oral History Summer School’s archive of local oral histories, The Community Library of Voice and Sound (CLOVS) www.libraryofvoiceandsound.org, to integrate oral histories across generations of Black families in Hudson.

In addition to the opening reception and panel discussion, the library will be holding two special programs in conjunction with this special exhibit. On Saturday, March 9, at 12:00 noon, the library will host a hands-on youth workshop for ages 7 and up, to introduce youth to this valuable local collection. On Saturday, March 23, at 11:00 a.m., the library will host an educator event, offering educators an opportunity to interact with the collection and explore ideas for how to incorporate the materials into their classroom lessons. To register for the youth workshop or educator event, email brenda.shufelt@hudsonarealibrary.org with the subject line: “Youth Workshop” or “Educator Event.”

Adding a unique and personal dimension to the exhibit, Jayden Cross, a young descendant of BLACC oral history participants, will engage in a conversation with the collection. Cross will showcase a curated personal experience, offering visitors an intimate glimpse into the collection and the broader historical context. This interactive element adds a layer of authenticity and personalization to the overall exhibition, allowing attendees to connect on a deeper level with the lived experiences embedded in the BLACC Collection.

The BLACC collection weaves together the compelling stories of Black individuals in the county, often told in their own words. Through a diverse array of images, documents, and personal narratives, the collection offers a profound glimpse into the lived experiences of the Black community over the last 120 years and more.

At the heart of this initiative is the desire to address a dearth of knowledge regarding local Black history contained in the library’s collection. The special exhibit and associated events will bring these valuable resources to the forefront of public consciousness, providing a unique opportunity for residents to engage with and learn from this rich tapestry of history.

The exhibit is designed not only to inform but also to foster a sense of connection, empathy, and respect among residents and visitors. By providing points of reference, the exhibit aims to contribute to a more complex, collaborative, cohesive, and just community ethos. The hope is that this newfound awareness will influence how visitors interact with the collection and one another, as well as shape expectations for local government, civic organizations, and business leaders as they plan for the future of all county residents.
The youth workshop will be facilitated by Jackson and two community holders of traditions that are discussed in many of the BLACC oral histories, Nkoula Badila and Zien-Celeste. Clips from the BLACC Collection and the more recent CLOVS oral history collections will be shared, followed by discussion that will ground the youth attendees in the collection and the theme of legacy. The workshop will then break into two sessions. One session, taught by Nkoula Badila, will focus on home remedies with a hands-on component. In the second session, Zien-Celeste will facilitate youth, using archival images, to choose a photo and transform its appearance through the cyanotype process. In this way, they will be able to have a creative conversation with the collection while adding to the exhibit themselves through their creations.

Finally, the library will offer an educator workshop to familiarize local public, private, home, out-of-school time, and community educators with the BLACC Oral History Project collection and help them discover how it can be used to support learning. Jackson will facilitate the event along with youth researcher Jayden Cross and Elaine Eichelberger and Brenda Shufelt, who are also assisting with research and curation for this project. The anchor for this workshop will be the information from a syllabus that was created in the 1980s as a culmination of the research and recording of oral histories for the BLACC collection. Participants will listen to clips from the BLACC and CLOVS oral histories and view examples from the research on local Black history included in the BLACC collection. Educators will then discuss how these resources can be used in their classrooms. Educators will also be introduced to various online resources, including the library's BLACC Image Collection on the History Room website, the BLACC Oral History website, the online CLOVS, the BLACC image collection on NY Heritage, and Consider the Source NY.

This program was funded in part by Humanities New York, with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed through this exhibition/programming do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.