Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who Lets the Cat Out?

The article "Noisy or not?" in this morning's Register-Star reports that, according to several witnesses, some of Hudson's volunteer firefighters brought out the department's giant ladder truck, the "AerialCat," last Saturday night to untangle the flag displayed on the restaurant American Glory, which had gotten wrapped around its pole. As restaurant owner Joe Fierro recounted it, "a volunteer fireman was at the restaurant, noticed the flag and offered to fix it." The article goes on to report that Chief Robert Pulver said he had no knowledge of the incident.

This raises a legimate question for Hudson taxpayers. What authorization is required to take a firetruck out of the fire station? Obviously when there's a fire, any volunteer firefighter trained to drive a firetruck does so to get personnel and equipment to the scene. But what about when there isn't a fire--or any other kind of emergency? Who decides what is an appropriate use of the City's firefighting equipment?

According to the article, Fierro has offered--"if people think something improper occurred"--to reimburse the City "for the diesel expended by the truck during the process." Whether or not the City takes Fierro up on his offer, it might be instructive--for the Fire Department and for the people of Hudson--to calculate and publish the cost of deploying the AerialCat (a.k.a. Tower 32) and all the other large emergency vehicles used by the department.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Touch of Galloway: Exhibit 1

Word has it that Eric Galloway is bidding on Basilica Industria, so we may have to go back to our "Galloway Gallery" series to add one more exhibit, but meanwhile we will begin our new series: "The Touch of Galloway." This series will look at buildings that Galloway has built, altered, or restored in Hudson but no longer owns. The exhibits will be presented in more or less chronological order, as memory serves. The purpose of the series, as with the previous one, is to explore the power--potential and realized--of one man with a lot of money at his disposal to influence and alter our little city of two square miles.

This building is on the northeast corner of Fifth and State streets. The black-and-white picture shows the building in the 1930s. The second picture shows the building today.

There had been a serious fire here at the beginning of this century. Around 2002, Eric Galloway purchased the building and reconstructed it as a Greek Revival inspired double house. Its present design has little relation to the original design of the building or to the surrounding neighborhood, since this area of Hudson was not developed until sometime after Greek Revival architecture had, according to architectural historians, fallen out of fashion.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hudson in Literature

Dinitia Smith, The Illusionist (1997)
I was recently reminded of this novel, set in a fictionalized Hudson. In the book, Hudson is called Sparta, but there's no mistaking that it's our city--not the Hudson of today but Hudson of the mid-1990s. Readily recognizable details of Hudson and Columbia County are found throughout the book. This excerpt from The Illusionist introduces the setting.

Washington Street, where my apartment was, was the main street in Sparta. It was paved in cobblestone, lined with false-fronted buildings of red brick and frame. Like everything else in Sparta, the street sloped steeply down to the river. Indeed, sometimes it seemed as if the whole place was slowly sliding down into the river, and that one day the entire town would just disappear into the water. . . .

Over the years, the town fathers had tried periodically to revive the fortunes of the city. These days, Washington Street was mostly antique stores, run by gay people who'd moved up from New York City. The city government had gotten federal loans, put up fake gas lamps to attract tourists, but it seemed that every day another store closed. A group of weekenders, including a famous poet who lived on Courthouse Square, were trying to raise funds to restore the old Sparta Opera House, with its gargoyles representing comedy and tragedy above the entrance, which had been boarded up for years now, and turn it into a cultural center.

But today as you walked through the streets of Sparta, you saw mostly the outline of the beautiful old buildings within the abandoned structures that stood there now, buildings with elaborate moldings and pilasters, and stained glass windows and fine, thick front doors.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sometimes Things Work Out Right . . .

Two years ago, the Battle of Washington Hose was in full pelt. Charlie Davi came to nearly every Common Council meeting, alternately wheedling and raging, driven by his frustrated desire to buy Washington Hose and turn it into a firehouse-themed ice cream parlor and fast-food restaurant. Four aldermen (Carrie Haddad, Chris Wagoner, Ellen Thurston, and I) steadfastly maintained that, because of the building's location at the entrance to Promenade Hill, the City needed to retain control of Washington Hose in order to realize its long-term goals for the waterfront. Called by some "the Gang of Four," we succeeded in blocking the sale to Davi and were vilified for it. One of us received hate mail so vicious it was turned over to the police. Another was pursued up Warren Street by a harsh-voiced former alderman who demanded repeatedly, even after an answer had been offered, "What you are going to do with it? Huh? Huh?"

But all's well that ends well. Two years later, Davi has opened his business in the old Dairy Queen building on Green Street, where he was the last franchise owner. Buying that building and readying it for business undoubtedly required far less of an investment than doing the same for Washington Hose, and the business doesn't face the challenge of having to be a destination all by itself. It's on the way to so many places. Now that summer's here, it's rare to drive by there without seeing people at the window placing orders or sitting under the tents enjoying their food. On a recent evening, Mayor Scalera was spotted there after a Common Council meeting.

And the future is bright for Washington Hose as well. The City will retain ownership of the building but is granting a long-term lease to HDC, which will use its resources to restore the building. Respected preservation architect Kate Johns has been engaged for the project. When the building is ready for occupancy--which is anticipated to be February 2011--HDC will share the space with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, and, in addition to office space for the two agencies, the building will become a visitors' center. The vision for Washington Hose includes turning the plaza area beside the building into a kind of pushcart mall that will attract visitors and give people with a good idea for a retail business or product the chance to try it out with minimum investment and risk.

Sometimes things do work out for the best.

Sometimes They Don't

On April 27, I reported with considerable relief that the persistent rumor that the last surviving building of the Hudson River Knitting Mill complex (a.k.a. River Lofts or the Bentley Meeker buildings) was to be sold and demolished had no foundation in fact. Questioned after the April meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee, Peter Markou, executive director of the Hudson Development Corporation, said there were no plans to sell the building and it was his intention to rehab the building and use it as perhaps a year-round indoor greenmarket, a business incubator, or both. He assured me that even if the building were to be sold, it would be sold with restrictive covenants that ensured its restoration and reuse and prohibited its demolition.

That was then; this is now. Last week, Markou told me that the HDC Board had, the previous day, voted unanimously to put the building on the market. The asking price is $499,000. When I asked about restrictive covenants, I didn't get a definitive answer.

The HDC Board is made up of Steven Anderson, Lori Selden, Seth Rapport, and the following elected officials: Mayor Scalera; Don Moore, Common Council President; Dick Goetz, Common Council Minority Leader; and Ellen Thurston, Common Council Majority Leader.

Getting It Right

It's been brought to my attention that I made a couple mistakes in my reports on meetings having to do with the LWRP last week, so I will endeavor now to correct them.

Legal Committee Meeting
When Sam Pratt brought up the October 2005 letter from Nancy Welsh, his point in doing so was to remind everyone that this document, which rejected the February 2004 draft of the LWRP and made very specific recommendations for revision, asserted that the LWRP needed to be revised in light of the 2005 Daniels decision on SLC's Greenport Project and the Common Council's rejection of the host agreement with SLC/Holcim. Here is the relevant excerpt from Welsh's letter. The entire letter can be found here.

Ch. 2 Pg 33, first full paragraph
In describing the SLC parcel, this section reads: "This entire area, which represents the largest single property in private ownership in the coastal area, is zoned for industrial use (I-1). The I-1 District permits a wide variety of industrial, wholesale and commercial uses. It does not permit public or commercial recreation uses, especially those which require a waterfront location, or residential uses which might be enhanced by such a site." This statement leads directly to questions about the compatibility of this zoning designation, as proposed, with the City's waterfront vision and goals. Indeed, the Hudson Vision Plan is clear about waterfront goals:

"The waterfront is currently zoned for industrial use. . . . The current zoning is far too broad and does not recognize the value of the waterfront as a historical, cultural, commercial and recreational resource for the City. The zoning classification also does not encourage the highest and best use of the land and thus reduces potential tax revenues to the City.

"It is recommended a new 'Waterfront Zone' be created that addresses the goals of the Vision Plan and the specifics of the Master Plan. The zone should be created immediately. To minimize conflict existing property uses could be grand fathered, but if they change ownership, the new owners would be subject to the new provisions. Permitted uses should include: recreation/open space, parking, residential (second story and above), retail, galleries, studios, office, restaurants, museums, outdoor markets, outdoor performances, street vending, marine stores, marine fuel and boat storage. Conditional uses could include: electronic transmission towers, public utility uses, transportation centers, railroad, ferry terminals. Accessory Uses should include: signs, outdoor cafes. Prohibited Uses should include: manufacturing, assembling, storing and processing products or facilities, outdoor storage of lumber, construction and building materials, contractor's equipment, trucks, vans, buses, retail or wholesale of vehicles or boats. Building heights should be limited to 45 feet from ground elevation to ridge or parapet line." (Hudson Vision Plan, pp. 85-88)

The related schematic concept plan depicts a waterfront park, recreational boating facilities, and mixed-use redevelopment of upland parcels, including restaurants, galleries, retail shops, museums, offices and residential space.

The LWRP must identify and provide for the following information: What uses, activities and infrastructure are needed to foster this vision of the waterfront? What uses/activities preclude this vision from being realized? What zoning category(ies) at what location(s) is(are) required to foster the uses, activities and infrastructure that implement the vision? What zoning will hinder them? What are the benefits and drawbacks that are being balanced? If the benefits are sufficient, how will the drawbacks be managed/minimized?

A similar analysis must be made with regard to water uses/activities, which may include recreational kayaks, power boats, charter and party boat trips, ferries, barges, the Coast Guard, and other uses. There needs to be some analysis of which of these different water uses make sense, given the characteristics of the Hudson waterfront and the articulated community goals. Can they all be managed in a way that fosters these goals? If so, how? If not, what changes must be made to existing conditions, or to laws and regulations, or through other mechanisms, in order to prevent conflict?

Ch. 2 Pg 33, first full paragraph, last sentence
"St. Lawrence Cement has proposed a major upgrade of its docking facilities and a new conveyor as part of a proposed manufacturing facility in the Town of Greenport (see following Dock Area Plan)." The Dock Area Plan must be removed from the LWRP (see comment below "Ch. 2 page between pg 33 and pg 34 Overall Dock Area Plan") and this reference to it revised. Further, all references to the SLC proposal will require revision in light of recent decisions by the Common Council, Department of State, and SLC.
South Bay Symposium
Erik Kiviat did not have misgivings about the Army Corps of Engineers carrying out a study of contaminants in the South Bay. Rather his concern was with having the ACE design an ecological restoration plan.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Robert Taylor House

This is one of the oldest surviving houses in Hudson, predating the arrival of the Proprietors and the founding of the city. The house is sometimes called the "Dutch house" because of its gambrel roof, but the original owner of the house--Robert Taylor--was English, and the design of the house is English vernacular. The house is one of Hudson's locally designated historic landmarks.

When the house was built, it was situated on the shore of South Bay. This painting by Henry Ary shows South Bay in the 1850s from a vantage point very near the front of the Robert Taylor House.

Today the house's context has changed dramatically. It sits on a little disconnected stretch of South Second Street between Cross Street and Tanners Lane, surrounded by abandoned Kaz warehouse buildings.

In 2004, before its designation as a local landmark, there was a fire in the house, right around Thanksgiving. After the fire, the people who lived there moved out, and the house was put on the market, for an unrealistically high price.

The house has been for sale for several years now. The owners have changed realtors a few times, but they have not, to my knowledge, changed the asking price. Over the years, there have been several reports that they've turned down quite reasonable offers, holding out for their price. Meanwhile, this important Hudson landmark is falling further and further into disrepair. There's a gaping hole in the roof. There's an ever widening crack in the southwest corner of the building. The building is not "zipped up," and anyone can get inside.

The fear is that, given a few more years of neglect, the Robert Taylor House will be declared a public safety hazard and ordered demolished--a fate suffered by so many other Hudson buildings in the past. The people ordering the demolition will wring their hands and blame the owners who allowed this to happen. Certainly the owners are culpable, but the City doesn't have to stand helplessly by.

The City of Hudson Historic Preservation Law, Chapter 169 of the City Code, empowers the City to step in to prevent "demolition by neglect." Quoting from Paragraph 169-13:

No owner or person with an interest in real property designated as a landmark or included within an historic district shall permit the property to fall into a serious state of disrepair so as to result in the deterioration of any exterior architectural feature which would, in the judgment of the Historic Preservation Commission, produce a detrimental effect upon the character of the historic district as a whole or the life and character of the property itself. Examples of such deterioration include:

A. Deterioration of exterior walls or other vertical supports;
B. Deterioration of roofs or other horizontal members;
C. Deterioration of exterior chimneys;
D. Deterioration or crumbling of exterior stucco or mortar;
E. Ineffective waterproofing of exterior walls, roofs, or foundation, including broken windows or doors; and
F. Deterioration of any feature so as to create a hazardous condition which could lead to the claim that demolition is necessary for the public safety.
What happens if someone allows a historic building to fall into wrack and ruin? Paragraph 169-15.B addresses that:
Any person who . . . permits a designated property to fall into a serious state of disrepair shall be required to restore the property and its site to its appearance prior to the violation. Any action to enforce this subsection shall be brought by the City Attorney. This civil remedy shall be in addition to and not in lieu of any criminal prosecution and penalty.
The City can act to arrest the damage from neglect to its historic architecture, and, in the case of this significant building, it definitely should.

Friday, June 25, 2010

South Bay Symposium

On Thursday, a symposium sponsored by the Hudson River Environmental Society and organized by Scenic Hudson took place at Space 360 in Hudson. The symposium was entitled "The Ecology of Hudson South Bay: Understanding the Past, Looking to the Future." The presenters were from the NYS DEC Hudson River Estuary Program, the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve, Hudsonia, and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies.

Gathered around the table were a group of people with disparate hopes and plans for the South Bay. Mayor Scalera was there, with City Attorney Cheryl Roberts. Common Council President Don Moore was there, along with Aldermen Ellen Thurston (Third Ward), Sarah Sterling (First Ward), and Geeta Cheddie (First Ward). George Super from the Greenport Planning Board was there. Kenneth Faroni, Director of Planning and Permits for O&G Industries was there, with Holcim attorney Donald Stever. Linda Mussmann, former chair of the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee was there, and so was Bonnie Devine, the Department of State staff member who worked with the WASC to develop the 2009 draft LWRP. Participants also included Peter Paden and Ellen Jouret-Epstein from the Columbia Land Conservancy; Sam Pratt and Peter Jung from The Valley Alliance; all the members of a citizens' research group calling themselves the LWRP Task Force (Patrick Doyle, Chris Reed, Meg Carlon, Timothy O'Connor); Susan Falzon from Friends of Hudson; Michael O'Hara from Sustainable Hudson Valley, as well as several staff members from Scenic Hudson: Seth McKee, Jeff Anzevino, and Mark Wildonger. There was also a representative from Congressman Scott Murphy's office, who stayed for only part of the two-and-a-half hour meeting.

Bob Daniels, vice president of the Hudson River Environmental Society who moderated the symposium, began by defining the event as "a forum for people to share information" in order that "issues can be resolved."

The first to speak was Fran Dunwell, Hudson River Estuary Coordinator. She defined the goal of the Estuary Program as finding "win-win situations for the environment and the economy" and talked about appreciating the unique resources of the South Bay, identifying its future role, and devising new management strategies for that future role.

Dan Miller of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve began his remarks by displaying this painting of the South Bay by Henry Ary, noting that there are lots of historic images of the South Bay, and cautioned that it is "very difficult to turn the clock back." He explained that in the 1850s the railroad had cut off bays all along the river, citing as another example Tivoli Bays. He talked about the activities of the Army Corps of Engineers, from Hudson northward, beginning in the early 1900s, which, in an effort to improve the shipping channel to the Erie Canal, had the effect of narrowing and deepening the river and altering 71 miles of shoreline. To document more recent changes in the South Bay, Miller showed two aerial images--from 1942 and 2005--which showed that tree growth has increased substantially in the past sixty years. There was a white spot in the 1943 picture, near 9G, which Miller suggested might be either "dredge spoil or fill." Many in the audience readily concluded that it was probably cement dumped there during the heyday of cement manufacturing in Hudson.

Miller provided this definition of ecological restoration: "the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that had been degraded, damaged, or destroyed." He explained that the first step in designing an ecological restoration project is identifying the "stressors" that must be addressed. For the South Bay, Miller identified the "causeway" as a "big stressor" and commented, "It's going to take a while to understand its impact on the bay." He said there is evidence that the "causeway is muting tidal effect" but explained that it is not clear what that means for the future of the bay.

Miller mentioned the Society for Ecological Restoration and its Ecological Restoration Primer, which includes a planning guide for restoration projects that assists in conceptualizing what is possible, and made the point that ecological restoration should improve the ability of an ecosystem "to do its thing."

Next to speak was Erik Kiviat of Hudsonia, Ltd., who noted that parts of the South Bay are very similar to the Meadowlands in New Jersey. He described the physical characteristics of the South Bay and identified some of the species of fauna that have been sighted there, including the rare smoky shrew. He suggested three studies were needed to help understand the South Bay: a moss survey, a bird survey, and a fish survey.

Kiviat also recognized the "causeway" as one of the stressors in the South Bay but said that, in thinking about the causeway, it was important to consider the way flora and fauna are using it now: plants grow on it; animals travel along it. He also mentioned a big dump in the South Bay--between two and four acres--which he said is probably an old municipal dump that was never covered. The presence of melted glass suggests that the dump had been burned repeatedly. He urged that this area too needs to be understood before moving forward.

Asserting that urban habitats like the South Bay are not the countryside, Kiviat defended phragmites, which many consider to be an indesirable invasive nonnative species. According to Kiviat, "most of what is said about phragmites is simply not true." He called phragmites a "consummate urban survivor" that supports many kinds of plants and animals, provides songbirds with food and refuge from predators, and anchors the soil against rising sea level. He speculated that the causeway too may have the beneficial effect of protecting the South Bay from rising sea level.

The final speaker, Stuart Findlay from the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies described the South Bay as a "wooded swamp," relatively rare in tidal wetlands. He returned to two of the topics discussed by Kiviat--phragmites and the causeway--to stress that, whatever one's opinion on these two subjects, it's important to know what the phragmites is doing before deciding what to do with it and to understand the impact of the causeway on habitat value.

Most of what Findlay had to say related to the railroad causeway that runs parallel to the river, which was a bit confusing for an audience focused on the abandoned railroad causeway that runs through the South Bay. The main message of his presentation: the railroad causeway along the river--in the South Bay and the North Bay--is working the way it's supposed to and is not impeding the tidal ebb and flow water between the river and the bays.

At the end of the meeting, Patrick Doyle reported that the LWRP Task Force had met with the Army Corp of Engineers and all that was needed for the ACE to conduct a study--similar to a Phase I environmental study--to see if there are contaminants in the South Bay was "a call from Scott Murphy's office." (Unfortunately, the representative from Scott Murphy's office had already left at that point.) Kiviat agreed that such a study "may be the most important thing that can be done" but expressed concern about the Army Corps of Engineers doing it. There was also some debate between LWRP Task Force member Timothy O'Connor and Kiviat about whether Target Ecosystem Characteristics, concepts based on the harbor estuary in New York City and New Jersey, were applicable to the South Bay or should be a model for a restoration strategy for the South Bay.

In the end, there was general agreement on at least two things: a fish survey to determine what fish are using what areas of the South Bay and where they are going should be a priority; and the group should continue meeting, with (as suggested by Sam Pratt) the inclusion of representatives of the DEC research unit, to talk further about the South Bay.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LWRP: At the Legal Committee

On Wednesday night, it was the Common Council Legal Committee's turn to hear about the six policy issues that had been presented to the Economic Development Committee the night before. Again it was Cheryl Roberts presenting the issues. Although the meeting went over essentially the same ground as the previous night's meeting, there were a few things that merit reporting.

In talking about the essential character of the waterfront, Cheryl Roberts introduced some new language, calling it first a "commercial shipping waterfront," then a "shipping/working waterfront," before settling back to the usual term "working waterfront." Roberts reminded the committee that "you [the Common Council] voted to move this document forward with a working waterfront," intimating that the Council had already made its decision and ignoring the fact that four members of the Common Council--Carrie Haddad, Ellen Thurston, Chris Wagoner, and I--had sent a letter to George Stafford at the Department of State denying that their votes to move the document forward signified approval: "Although the resolution to submit the draft LWRP for review was passed unanimously, our aye votes did not indicate our approval of the document in its current form. Rather, after two years of the document being out of the hands of the Common Council and out of the public eye while changes to the document continued to be made and changes we requested were ignored, we felt that moving it forward was the only way to bring it back into public scrutiny and the only opportunity to get necessary revisions made."

On the topic of the "working waterfront," Ellen Thurston, who chairs the Legal Committee, said, "If we were to agree to a working waterfront, there have to be some specifications about how this can coexist with the recreational uses." She went on to say that many of the comments about the draft LWRP suggest that Secretary of State Randy Daniels' decision, which brought an end to SLC's "Greenport Project," is being ignored in the LWRP. Roberts said she didn't think the Daniels decision is being ignored at all and pointed out that the person who wrote the Daniels decision will be reviewing the document.

The discussion of the road to the deep-water dock has taken an interesting turn. What's being called the "L&B road"--some unspecified variation of Alternative 3 from the DGEIS--is now emerging as the "preferred option." This doesn't mean that the idea of using the old abandoned railbed, regularly referred to as the "causeway," has gone away. The "causeway" would be the "short-term option"; the "L&B road" would be the "long-term goal." When Thurston questioned the wisdom of this proposal, saying that even as a short-term solution O&G will have to do work, Roberts expressed the opinion that "they can run trucks [on the "causeway"] given the permits they have been given [by DEC]." She also stated that she didn't think O&G would have to go to the Planning Commission to be able to use it as a road because "it's not a change of use." "They have," she said, "established a right to use that as a road."

There are some problems with Roberts' statements. First, the abandoned railroad bed now being called the "causeway" has only been used once as a roadway for trucks--other than small trucks used to access the old conveyor that followed the same path through the South Bay. The only time the "causeway" was used for truck traffic anything like what is now being proposed was in 2004, during the Niagara Mohawk cleanup of the site of the old gasification works, when the "causeway" was used to haul contaminated material from the waterfront. The notion that O&G doesn't need to come before the Planning Commission is also questionable. The stipulations of the agreement reached between Scenic Hudson and the DEC after Scenic Hudson filed an appeal with the Freshwater Wetlands Appeals Board make it clear that the permit issued to O&G is limited to select maintenance activities on the abandoned railroad bed and is not a substitute for any approvals required from the City of Hudson and Town of Greenport, and it does not exempt O&G from the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

At the end of the public meeting, Sam Pratt made reference to a twenty-page document sent to Charles Butterworth and more than thirty other Hudson officials in October 2005 by Nancy Welsh of the Division of Coastal Resources. The document commented on the 2004 draft of the LWRP, which was rejected by the Department of State. Pratt asserted that the current draft of the LWRP needed to be revised in light of this document, the Daniels decision, and the Common Council's rejection, in 2005, of the host agreement proposed by SLC/Holicm.

Don't Miss the Bindlestiffs

It's been a long week of meetings, talk, and worry about the LWRP, so come Friday night, we'll all need some diversion. You can catch Toy Story 3 anytime, but the unique magic of an all new Bindlestiff Family Cirkus Cabaret happens only once. You can be a part of it on Friday night at Club Helsinki. The fun starts at 9 p.m.; doors open at 8 p.m. There's a $5 discount for anyone who shows up in full clown makeup.

For tickets and information, go to Helsinki Hudson.

The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus--the folks who made it possible to run away and join the circus without leaving Hudson!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

LWRP: The Endgame Begins

Last night, a new round of discussions about the City of Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program began at the meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee. The committee is chaired by Common Council President Don Moore and is made up of Aldermen Sarah Sterling (First Ward), Abdus Miah (Second Ward), Ellen Thurston (Third Ward), and Richard Goetz (Fifth Ward). The spectator seats filled up early for what many considered an important meeting, but it took a while for the aldermen to assemble. Sterling, summoned by a phone call from Moore, arrived late; Miah never did show up. Alderman Geeta Cheddie (First Ward), although not a member of the committee, sat at the table as if she were--positioned beside City Attorney Cheryl Roberts.

[Since writing this post this morning, I have learned that Sarah Sterling was not summoned to the meeting by Don Moore's phone call. She was on her way back to Hudson from taking her daughter to the airport and was running late, which explains her late arrival at the meeting.]

After a brief summary by Moore of the process going forward, Roberts reviewed where things stand at the moment. She and the planners--BFJ--have all the comments submitted to the Common Council and the Department of State, and they are compiling a document that summarizes the comments and suggests responses, which the Common Council must then accept or reject. There were, she said, six public policy issues that required input from the Common Council.

I. Does the Common Council still support a mixed-use "working waterfront"? Moore made the point that it was less an issue of will there be a working waterfront and more an issue of how it works. Roberts reminded the committee that in a "straw vote" the Council had indicated a preference for a working waterfront over using eminent domain to seize the deep-water dock. Moore expressed the opinion that eminent domain should not be formally removed from the table.

II. Does the Common Council still wish to pursue the "causeway" as the preferred route to the deep-water dock? This is an interesting question since I don't recall Common Council ever supporting this in the first place. Moore called it an "admirable suggestion" that the causeway not by identified as the preferred route. Thurston lamented that, because of the focus on the causeway, other problems in the LWRP were being overlooked--for example, the plan to expand the Holcim dock. On the topic of dock expansion, Roberts surprised everyone by stating, "They have no plans to extend that dock 400 feet."

III. Should the state boat launch be moved to the south end of the waterfront or not? On this topic, it was pointed out that the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is concerned about submerged vegetation at the preferred site to the south.

IV. What action does the Council want to take on three zoning issues?
(1) Heinrich von Ritter wants his property on Tanners Lane to remain zoned industrial.
(2) O&G wants an "as of right" use for their activities at the waterfront instead of the conditional use permit granted them in the LWRP.
(3) O&G wants the Core Waterfront Zone to be extended the length of the causeway. In the LWRP now, the causeway is included in a Recreation/Conservation Zone.

V. Does the Common Council want to comply with Scenic Hudson's request to incorporate the findings of the Hudsonia study?

VI. Should the mayor have the option of appointing a harbor master? Moore said he would like someone to "monitor the activity down there" and raised the issue of a harbor management plan. Roberts said that the harbor management plan is "in there"--integrated into every part of the LWRP.

When the public was invited to speak, Peter Jung, co-director of The Valley Alliance, urged the Council to remove the language "supports the causeway" from the LWRP. He also pointed out that the 400-foot extension to the deep-water dock, proposed in the draft LWRP, would obliterate Sandy Beach and all the land that the City is hoping to acquire from Holcim. Roberts responded that the dock extension was "just an idea," but one wonders why, if this was not a serious proposal, it was included in the document at all. (Page 125: "Holcim's tenant has expressed the intention to possibly extend the existing dock approximately 400 feet to the south and modernize the port.")

Jung also asked what happened to the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee, pointing out that according to Coastal Resources guidelines a citizens' committee should still be functioning and should remain active throughout the process of adopting an LWRP and afterward to make sure the program is implemented.

Alan Hamilton asked why, since gravel truck traffic is such a critical issue, something hasn't already been done about it. Thurston said that the City should try to impose some regulations on the gravel trucks, and Moore called the issue of truck traffic "very frustrating." Bob Mechling pointed out that the deep-water dock is now being used to store salt that does not come in by water. It is trucked in over city streets and trucked out again. He also reported that no one from O&G is managing the dock area. Truck drivers have their own keys to the gates and can let themselves into the dock area at whatever time of the day or night they arrive.

Responding to Jung's question about a citizens' committee, Linda Mussmann, chair of the now disbanded Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee, explained that the committee had been tasked with moving the LWRP to a draft form that could be submitted to the Department of State and that task had been accomplished. Clearly unhappy about the spate of criticism the LWRP has been receiving, Mussmann said, "We can stop it and stop Hudson development." She made the point, as she had many times during her tenure as chair of the WASC, that "getting Holcim out of here is all about money." She questioned the focus on Holcim, asking "What about the boat club? What about Furgary?" She then made things personal by saying, "I am not the enemy that Sam Pratt imagines me to be." Although Moore tried to move the conversation along and recognize another speaker, Mussmann resisted being silenced, wanting to pursue her personal debate with Pratt.

When Moore was able to recognize the next speaker, Victor Mendolia expressed the opinion that "95 percent of the document is ready to go." He then advised that "if we can't get rid of heavy industrial use, we must minimize it and contain it."

Pratt, the other co-director of The Valley Alliance, pursued the question of a working waterfront, making the point that what was meant by a "working waterfront" had never been defined. It could mean, he said, the heavy industrial use of hauling gravel to the dock and loading it onto barges, or it could mean using the river to transport the produce of local agriculture to markets in New York City. He pointed out that seizing the dock and the South Bay through eminent domain had been the only option to having a working waterfront offered to the Common Council and argued that, although only extremes had been presented to the Council, undesirable activity and the causes of problems could be phased out over time.

Roberts responded by talking about amortizing and "takings," explaining that you "can't take someone's land by a taking without paying them for it." Pratt responded by suggesting that the City should "consult with someone who is an expert in takings law."

At the beginning of the meeting, Pratt distributed a handout explaining the goals and principles of The Valley Alliance. At the end of the meeting, Jung spoke about The Valley Alliance, explaining that the organization intended to be "as nonconfrontational as possible" but stating that the organization was "funded to litigate," if necessary. Both Mussmann and First Ward Supervisor John Musall reacted to this statement, declaring that it "sounded like a threat."

The LWRP will be taken up again tonight at 6:45 p.m., when a representative of BFJ Planning will make a presentation to the Common Council Legal Committee.

Oh, Those Homophones

Seen on the sidewalk while taking the day's first walk with William.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

UPDATE: Emanuel Lutheran Church

This morning, Tom Swope, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, called Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster to report that the board of Emanuel Lutheran Church was moving ahead with its plan to install vinyl siding on the church building, without a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. Wurster contacted the president of the church board and issued a conditional stop work order.

The church board appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission on October 9, 2009, seeking a certificate of appropriateness to vinyl-side the building. No certificate of appropriateness was granted for the project.

We're the Furgary

Last week, on June 17, a legal notice appeared in the Register-Star. The petitioners in the lawsuit are the members of the Furgary Boat Club, identified in the notice as "The North Dock Tin Boat Association Inc." The respondents named are the New York State Office of General Services, the City of Hudson, and "the descendants, heirs, or devisees" of the original Proprietors: Thomas Jenkins, Seth Jenkins, David Lawrence, Hezekiah Dayton, Shubael Worth, Joseph Barnard, Ezra Reed, Charles Jenkins, Benjamin Folger, Reuben Folger, William Wall, Nathaniel Greene, Samuel Mansfield, Cotton Gelston, John Thurston, William Minturn, Peleg Clark, and Titus Morgan.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the transfer of land on which the Furgary Boat Club is situated from the State of New York to the City of Hudson and to establish forever the "clear and vested rights" of the boat club "to use, occupy, and possess" the property without interference from any of the respondents in the case. The legal action calls upon the descendants, heirs, or devisees of the Proprietors to claim their property within a designated period of time, or the Furgary Boat Club will own it by adverse possession.

The petitioners are being represented by the Albany law firm of McNamee Lochner Titus and Williams.

Click here for the full text of the notice.

There's a slide show on Flickr of quite remarkable photographs of Furgary shacks by Tim Heffernan.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Emanuel Lutheran Church

If the members of the congregation who make decisions about the fate of the church building have their way, this lovely little Queen Anne church on South Sixth Street may soon be covered with vinyl siding. Earlier today, Lisa Durfee took concern for the building public on Facebook. According to Dina Palin, whose house is next door to the church, the church fathers claim to have all their "approvals" and signed a contract this afternoon. Work is scheduled to begin in two weeks.

The church is in a locally designated historic district. So where was the Historic Preservation Commission in all this? Circumvented, it would seem.

In May, Palin told me that the church was discussing putting vinyl siding on the building to eliminate the perpetual problem of peeling paint and the perpetual task of repainting. I assured her that the building was in a historic district and such a project would require a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission. After speaking with Palin, I contacted the HPC to let them know what was being contemplated. Tom Swope, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, responded, telling me that the church had come before the HPC last year with their proposal to put vinyl siding on the church. The HPC had discouraged them and had not granted them a certificate of appropriateness. The church has not appeared before the HPC again since that time. Whatever "approvals" the project has, it does not have the essential approval for a building in a historic district: a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission.

For the past few weeks, this display has been installed in the side yard of the church. It's meant, presumably, to demonstrate the vinyl siding contactor's ability to replicate the authentic fabric and detail of the church (note the vinyl shingles under the little window in the picture) and to reassure the congregation and the community that the church with vinyl siding will look almost the same as it does today. Sadly, even this picture reveals that the difference between what is authentic and the vinyl imitation is unacceptably great.

On the Waterfront

Promenade Hill Yesterday's enormously successful Hudson Pride Rally on Promenade Hill demonstrated what a wonderful (and underutilized) venue it is for this kind of event. While ascending the stairs to the Promenade yesterday, I overheard a voice somewhere in the crowd behind me say, "They just built this park." I looked around to see if I could identify the person who'd spoken, but I couldn't. If I had, I would have told her that Promenade Hill was more than 200 years old. Established in 1795, it is Hudson's oldest park, one of the oldest parks in the United States, and the first public space in the country to be set aside expressly for viewing the landscape.

The Valley Alliance The formation of a new group was announced this morning: The Valley Alliance. Co-directed by Sam Pratt and Peter Jung, heroes of the David-and-Goliath victory over SLC, the newly formed Valley Alliance will take up, as its first project, the work of Save the South Bay. To inaugurate its activities on behalf of the South Bay and the Hudson waterfront, the Valley Alliance has retained respected land-use attorney Warren Replansky of Pine Plains to analyze the draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and address widespread public concerns about the future of the waterfront.

In a statement released this morning, Peter Jung said, “We are very pleased to bring an attorney of Warren Replansky’s caliber and experience to the table. Warren will add his substantial professional expertise to the concerns which citizens have raised about the Waterfront plan. Residents’ detailed and heartfelt comment will now be backed up by expert legal counsel. Decision-makers at all levels of government will now have the benefit of a ‘second opinion’ on a draft plan which could shape the future of Hudson for generations to come."

Click here to view the entire Valley Alliance press release.

LWRP Hudson's Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan will be on the agenda of two Common Council committee meetings this week: the Economic Development Committee, which meets on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m., and the Legal Committee, which meets on Wednesday at 6:45 p.m.

Also on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Greenport Town Hall is the Greenport Planning Board meeting. For the past several months, the Greenport Planning Board has been wrangling with their portion of the proposed industrial haul road from the quarry to the river. The haul road, which would pass through the South Bay on the "causeway," would then continue into Greenport on the east side of Route 9G to Route 9, across Route 9, and on into the quarry.

It's always interesting to see how the Greenport Planning Board deals with the issues that come before it.

Hudson Pride Weekend

The parade was fabulous. Our historic Promenade Hill, with its glorious views, was the perfect setting for the rally that followed. The mood was festive. Everyone was happy and having a terrific time. I took lots of pictures and published the best of them on ccSCOOP. Have a look.

Congratulations to Trixie Starr, Victor Mendolia, and everyone who worked to make Hudson's first ever Pride Weekend a truly memorable event!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hudson Pride

Rainbow flags began appearing all over town today, in preparation for tomorrow's Hudson Pride Parade. Here are some I spotted on my early evening walk with William.

So Which Is It?

A headline in this morning's Register-Star caught my eye: "Murphy endorsed by Independence Party." I recalled that only a few days ago the Register-Star announced that the Independence Party had endorsed Scott Murphy's challenger for the 20th District congressional seat, Chris Gibson. Puzzled, I located the earlier article. It turns out that the Independence Party of New York has endorsed Murphy, while the Columbia County Independence Party has endorsed Gibson.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Galloway Gallery: Exhibit 14

It isn't over until it's over.
Yesterday I announced that, with Exhibit 13, Gossips had concluded its "Galloway Gallery" series, but I was wrong. Last night I learned from a reliable source that, within the past two months, Eric Galloway has acquired this house: 119-123 Union Street.

Probably since the 1930s, the house has been divided into four apartments. Colum Riley, who was an alderman for the First Ward from 2001 to 2005, used to live here, as did his brother Kieran. Christopher Froese, the pastry chef for Brandow's and brother of Tom Froese, president of the Hudson Opera House Board of Directors, also had an apartment in this building.

In its simple, symmetrical Georgian Colonial design, this house is similar to three others on lower Union Street--all built by Proprietors (the founders of Hudson) or sons of Proprietors: the Paddock House (117), the Worth House (211), and the Macy House (241). Eric Galloway now owns two of the four houses.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Galloway Gallery: Exhibit 13

This is 501-505 Union Street, the former "Apartments of Distinction," on the southeast corner of Union and Fifth streets. There was a fire in this building early in the present decade, and consequently the building was emptied of tenants. Soon after, it was purchased by Eric Galloway.

Galloway did some initial work at the building--stabilizing it after the fire damage and clearing the areas around it. There was talk at the time that he planned to turn the building into large and luxurious condominiums worthy of the building's former sobriquet, "Apartments of Distinction," but that plan--if indeed it was his plan--has not been pursued.

A few years after buying the building, Galloway sold it to the woman who owned the house kitty-corner across from it on the northwest corner of Union and Fifth. According to reliable sources, Galloway held the mortgage on the building, the new owner defaulted, Galloway foreclosed, and he now owns the building again--making this the third multiple-dwelling building in Hudson that he owns and is keeping vacant. This building--unlike the other two: 202-204 Warren Street and 354-356 Union Street--is probably not habitable because of the damage from the fire.

Exhibit 13 concludes the "Galloway Gallery" series. For those readers who have not been following the series from its beginning in April, an explanation of the rationale for the series is in order.

Back in March, a plan by Galloway's not-for-profit Lantern Organization to construct a building that would provide "permanent supportive housing" for the mentally disabled, the homeless, and those with substance abuse problems--on the southwest corner of Warren and Fifth streets, in the middle of Hudson's still developing commercial district--became public knowledge. On April 12, Jessica Katz, Executive Director for the Lantern Organization, made a presentation to the Common Council about the proposed project. A standing-room-only crowd turned out for that meeting, and Gossips reported on it. The overwhelming public sentiment expressed at the meeting was that the proposal was a remarkably inappropriate idea. In response to community opposition, the Lantern Organization, which was scheduled to take its proposal to the Planning Commission two days later, decided instead to withdraw the plan and to regroup and rethink its proposal.

No new plan has yet been proposed, and there's no word when one might appear, but the incident inspired Gossips to want to explore the potential of one man with a lot of money at his disposal to influence and alter our little city of two square miles. In the series "Galloway Gallery," Gossips looked at the properties currently owned by Eric Galloway, his LLCs and NFP. Next week a new series begins: "The Touch of Galloway," in which we will look at buildings that Galloway has already built, altered, or restored in Hudson but no longer owns.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Tale of Two Counties

Last week, the Register-Star reported that the Columbia County Board of Supervisors was planning to enter into a contract with CARE Inc. to complete a ten-year plan "on how to accommodate homeless and low-income populations in a more efficient way."

This morning, the Register-Star reported that Dutchess County has just released a ten-year plan to end homelessness, "focused on disturbing the status quo of homelessness for our poorest neighbors through innovative ideas and strategic solutions."

Am I missing something, or is the leadership of Columbia County setting the wrong goals?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Battle for Gotham . . . and Hudson

A couple weekends ago, Roberta Gratz was at the Hudson Opera House to talk about her new book, The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. Her book is about the clashing visions of Jane Jacobs, who valued the existing fabric of the city and believed it should be nurtured, and Robert Moses, who believed in tearing things down and starting over. In her comments, Gratz held the policies of Robert Moses responsible for the "torn-apart, fallen city of the 1970s." She also observed that "the most successful neighborhoods [in New York City today] are those Moses did not eviscerate; the most troubled are those he did."

Gratz, who is great fan of our city and featured Hudson in her previous book Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, noted that Hudson, like New York City, suffered from the Moses approach. She made the point that you can look at the housing projects in Hudson and figure out which year they were built and which HUD program funded them. Funding determined what we got. This is relevant to the conversation about Bliss Towers, for it seems we may once again be allowing federal funding to determine our city's future.

Gratz made some other points that have relevance to the decision about Bliss Towers. One of the presenters at the April meeting about Bliss Towers spoke of "de-densifying." On this topic, Gratz stated that "densification not de-densification is what revives cities." The stated goal of whatever is done with Bliss Towers is to make the project greener and more energy efficient. On the subject of "green," Gratz made the point that "the greenest building is the one already standing."

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Future of Bliss Towers

Bliss Towers is a perennial topic of conversation in political circles. Back in 2003, when HOPE VI funds were still flowing, Linda Mussmann's second mayoral run was put in jeopardy with some Second Ward voters by the suggestion that it was time for Bliss Towers, Hudson's 1970s era public housing project, to come down. Last year, presented by different messengers, Wanda Pertilla and Billy Hughes, the idea that Bliss Towers could be replaced by something else resurfaced, and this time it seemed more palatable.

There have been a couple of meetings about the fate of Bliss Towers and the future of its tenants since the topic resurfaced. In April, I got myself invited to the second of those meetings, which was described as a charette--"the beginning of an integrated design process." It was a puzzling meeting, since the goals didn't seem all that clear and there were as many presenters as there were presentees. Among the presenters were representatives from Omni Housing Development, an affordable housing development company headquartered in Albany; New Ecology, a Boston-based not-for-profit; and CK Dennis Architect, an architectural firm based in Loudonville. Among the presentees were Mayor Scalera, Billy Hughes, and a few other elected officials, as well as Jeff First, the executive director of the City of Hudson Housing Authority, and a handful of Bliss Towers residents.

The meeting went on all day, and I only stayed for the morning session, but here's what I learned in that time. It has been decided that Bliss Towers, which was built in 1973, needs either significant renovation or replacement. To take advantage of the next opportunity for funding, the decision to rehab or replace needs to be made by the end of the summer. The decision makers are the six City of Hudson Housing Authority Commissioners: Lyle Shook, former Second Ward alderman; George DeJesus, chair of the Hudson Republican Committee; and four tenants of Bliss Towers. Relevant to the decision, it would seem, is the fact that stimulus funds are currently being invested in Bliss Towers to renovate the lobby and the offices. Making it easier, perhaps, to decide to demolish a building in which public funds have just been invested is the conventional wisdom, shared at the meeting, that "renovation is more expensive than to build new" and that "it is easier to get HUD to fund a replacement than a renovation." It's interesting to note that in the early part of this decade, when the HOPE VI program was still active, HUD determined that Bliss Towers was not distressed enough to qualify for HOPE VI funding.

Although the decision to rehab or replace Bliss Towers has not yet been made, some are of the opinion the Housing Authority will take the new construction route. How that would happen and what would be built was fairly extensively outlined in the meeting. The process would involve four phases and would guarantee "no involuntary displacement." There were drawings displayed in the room of the proposed new buildings, and during a break, I took pictures of them.

The first phase would be the construction of a 37-unit senior building at some location other than the current Bliss Towers site. Currently 30 percent of the tenants in Bliss Towers are senior citizens, and the completion of this building would allow those tenants to be relocated immediately. The design approach for this building seems to be what has become standard for new construction in cities or neighborhoods known for their historic architecture: cobble together a few elements from the existing historic buildings and call it compatible. The presentation of this design even lets us know which buildings in Hudson they chose to imitate.

The next phase--which could happen concurrently with the construction of the senior building--would be to create temporary housing for the tenants in the remaining 95 units of Bliss Towers--both the high rise and the low rise. How or where this temporary housing will be created--or what will happen to it when the Bliss Towers tenants have been settled in new public housing--was not clarified.

Phase Three would be to demolish Bliss Towers and Phase Four to build on the site 22 duplexes, which would occupy not only the site of the high rise and the low rise but also the playground across State Street from the high rise.

This leaves, at the least, according to my math, seven units from the current Bliss Towers complex not accounted for in the new plan. They may be counting on some voluntary surrender of apartments, but there was some mention at the meeting of utilizing "in-fill lots within the city" to locate additional units.

Granted the decision to replace Bliss Towers has not yet been made and the plans displayed at the meeting in April were probably only preliminary, but they raise a couple of important concerns. What happened to the idea of mixed-income housing? The HOPE VI project revitalized distressed public housing projects by turning them into mixed-income developments, to the reported benefit of the low-income residents. What happened to the concept of scattered-site housing, promoted as an alternative to concentrating poverty and its problems all in one place? Unless I'm missing something, this plan disperses the tenants of Bliss Towers temporarily into the community and then moves them all back to the same place. There's also the question I raised before: What happens to the 95 units of temporary housing when the tenants of Bliss Towers move into their new duplexes?

I invite comments from those who have more information and insight into this than I do.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Local Self Portraits

Forget the midway and the fried dough down at the waterfront. Tout le monde was at the Hudson Opera House last night for the opening reception of Local Self Portraits. The exhibition, curated by Richard Roth, is made up of the self portraits of thirty-four artists from Hudson and the surrounding area.

The Center Hall Gallery at the Opera House was so jam-packed that navigating the room to view the art was nearly impossible. Gary Schiro reported that he'd never before seen so many people gathered in the space. But in spite of the press of people, I managed to single out three of Hudson's favorite artists and persuade them to pose with their self portraits.

Dan Rupe

Earl Swanigan

Tony Thompson

The other thirty-one artists whose self portraits are included in the show are Marina Abramovic, Richard Artschwager, Donald Baechler, R. O. Blechman, McWillie Chambers, Mihail Chemiakin, Lynn Davis, Judy Glantzman, Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat, Nancy Hagin, Phyllis Hjorth, Ellsworth Kelly, Dylan Kraus, Annie Leibovitz, Barbara Lehman, Reggie Madison, Gerard Malanga, Maria Manhattan, Richard Minsky, Sedat Pakay, Ken Polinskie, Lucio Pozzi, Eric Rhein, Edwina Sandys, Barbara Slate, Tim Slowinski, Ed Smith, Bill Sullivan, Benjamin Swett, Franklin Tartaglione, and Arthur Yanoff.

This is an exhibition not to be missed. Kudos to Richard Roth for putting it together. The self portraits can be viewed every day from noon to 5 through August 14.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hudson in Literature

The discovery a few days ago of a "football-sized" hole in the deck of the Ferry Street bridge, just in time for Flag Day (it's since been repaired), reminded me of how Samuel Shem (pen name for Hudson native son Dr. Stephen Bergman) characterizes Columbia, NY--the setting for his novel The Spirit of the Place and an only slightly fictionalized Hudson--as a "town of breakage":
At public events things would unerringly break. School microphones would consistently give out just after someone said, “Testing, testing.” On Memorial Days in Columbian cemeteries, just as the Gettysburg began, viewing stands would collapse. In deep summer at public tennis courts, water fountains were always going dry so that if, after a hot game of tennis on the asphalt courts, when your feet felt like grill-side-down burgers and your tongue like a bun, you went to the water fountain and turned the handle, the one thing you could be sure would not come out was water. Columbians learned to talk affectionately about past breakages, such as “the Great Breakage of ’37,” when, in the Thanksgiving Day parade, a massive five-axle Universal Atlas cement truck disguised as a turkey exploded in front of the Niagara Mohawk power station, knocking out lights and heat for weeks. Or “the Dinosaur Breakage of ’52,” when the Paul Jonas life-sized sculpture of the brontosaurus bound for the New York World’s Fair broke the back of its barge and sank, its neck poking out of the Hudson River in the most lifelike way.
The Spirit of the Place was published in 2008, and during that year Bergman made a couple of visits to Hudson to talk about the book. These events took place at the Hudson Opera House and tended to attract transplants to Hudson--myself included--who enjoyed this native son's ability--from the perspective of an adult life lived somewhere else--to see the humor of the city where he'd grown up and which we now embraced as our own.

Last year, the Hudson Area Library invited Stephen Bergman to be the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner to celebrate the library's 50th anniversary. He seemed the perfect choice. He was a native son. He was a bestselling author. He had been for three decades a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. And his mother, Rose Fuchs Bergman, whose spirit is a major character in The Spirit of the Place, had been a major force in founding the library back in 1959.

Bergman started out by reading the passage about breakage quoted above and followed it by telling how, when he first arrived at Harvard as a freshman in 1962, he noticed a broken fountain on campus. Coming from Hudson where it was his experience that broken things rarely got fixed, he was shocked to observe that the fountain was repaired within a week.

From breakage, Bergman segued into another theme from the recollections of his youth: bullying. He recalled how he was regularly beaten up until he made the varsity basketball team in high school and gained, by that association, the assumed protection of the African-Americans who made up most of the basketball team back then. At that point, taking their cue from one of their number who reportedly muttered, "If I'd been there, I'd have beaten you up," an entire table of library supporters--the siblings and their spouses of a now prominent old Hudson family--rose as one and left.

Old Hudson's outrage with its celebrated native son didn't stop there. The next Sunday, after services at a Hudson church, someone was overheard to say, “Our hardworking parents didn’t send us to Dr. Bergman [Stephen Bergman's father was a dentist in Hudson] so that his son could go to Harvard and come back and make fun of us.”

There are many famous quotations extolling the virtues of being able to laugh at oneself. Noted psychiatrist and author Thomas Szasz, for example, said, "When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him." Might not the same be true of communities?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Civic Pride

Eliminating half the lampposts on Warren Street necessitated pouring new sections of sidewalk where lampposts had been removed. These new sections have proved to be magnets for vandals, graffiti artists, and others who just couldn't resist sticking a hand or a foot into wet cement. A walk from Front Street to Fourth Street and back again this morning revealed that few of the new sections have escaped some level of defacement--whether accidental or intentional--but these examples are the most deliberate and extreme. I've provided the addresses of nearby buildings so that, if inspired to do so, readers can go and see for themselves.

117 Warren Street

213 Warren Street

223 Warren Street

229 Warren Street

241 Warren Street

244 Warren Street

310 Warren Street

322 Warren Street

330 Warren Street

346 Warren Street

364 Warren Street