Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Noteworthy Quote

From The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs (2010), by Roberta Brandes Gratz:
"Preservationists have long been in the vanguard of opposition to inappropriate change, since historically or culturally important resources are often in the way of misguided plans. Incorrectly, preservationists are often accused of being against all change and for freezing the city. In fact, they oppose the erasure, mutilation, and overwhelming of places of value."

Hudson Senior Center

An article in this morning's Register-Star provides a first glimpse of what the proposed senior center to be appended to the side of the Youth Center at Third and Union would look like: "$400K for a senior center." Unfortunately, the elevation drawing that accompanies the article doesn't give much sense of what this addition to the building, oriented toward Cherry Alley, would look like from Third Street.

This structure is proposed for a locally designated historic district. Will the Historic Preservation Commission be asked to weigh in on its appropriateness as a addition to a historic building and to the surrounding neighborhood?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hail and Farewell

Susan Falzon has written a wonderful tribute to Patrick Doyle, Catherine Dodge Smith, and their daughter, Dodge, on the occasion of their departure from Hudson. You can read it on the Friends of Hudson website. I recommend it to all and wholeheartedly endorse its sentiment.

Thank you, Patrick and Catherine, for your many contributions to Hudson, and fare thee well!

To See Ourselves as Others See Us

A blog called Walking Off the Big Apple has an account, posted today, about a recent trip to Hudson: "Day Trip: Up the River to Hudson, New York." It sure makes our city sound like someplace I'd like to visit--and maybe even live!

Note: I lifted this picture of the willow tree behind 32 Warren Street from the blog.

Bon Appetit!

Gossips doesn't often feature events. We leave that to Ellen's Picks, which now appears regularly on the Hudson Development Corporation website. Once in a while, though, something so intriguing is announced that Gossips wants to make sure its readers know about it. Such is the case with Bon Appetit!

The event brings together two favorite theater companies--Walking the dog Theater and Diamond Opera Theater, in collaboration with the Hudson Opera House--at a favorite arts venue--Basilica Industria--with our favorite food--chocolate cake! Here's how the event is described on WTD's website: "See, hear, taste Julia Child's arrival in France in 1948, and how she discovered her life's passion; Leonard Bernstein's recipe song cycle, La Bonne Cuisine; Lee Hoiby's one-woman opera based on a Julia Child cooking show--and a taste of chocolate cake from local pastry chefs." What could be better?

I do hope one of those local pastry chefs will be Sarah Lipsky, whose chocolate cake, in my opinion, sets the standard.

Bon Appetit! opens on Friday, September 10, for eight performances: September 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 22, 23, 24. Secure your tickets at wtdtheater.org.

Shown in the photo are Bon Appetit! artists Johnna Murray, Benedicta Bertau, Gili Melamed Lev, Mary Deyerle Hack, and Nina Fine. The photographer is Dan Region.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hudson's Cemetery

From Anna Bradbury's History of the City of Hudson, published in 1908.
In the autumn of 1784, Daniel Paddock and Cotton Gelston were appointed by the proprietors a committee to procure ground for a Cemetery. They called upon Col. Van Alen for advice and assistance and after viewing several different localities, settled upon the site of the present ground, owned by Col. Van Alen. When asked his price for four or five acres, the Colonel replied "that he would give that quantity to the proprietors to be used for a burial ground forever, and for no other purpose."

Additions have been made from time to time, and it is now of quite considerable extent, and greatly admired for the beauty of its scenery. The committee deserve credit for the selection of a spot, at once so secluded and so accessible.

The original ground is that portion first entered from the small gate, and well preserved stones mark the resting-places of Seth Jenkins, Gelston, S. Pomeroy White and many others, while beyond are scattered the brown moss-covered stones grown hoary with age, whose inscriptions are almost undecipherable.

The first person buried in this ground was Phebe, wife of Benjamin Folger, the first man who was buried there was Colonel John Van Alen, who died December 15th, 1784.

About the middle of the last century the city erected a substantial monument to his memory, bearing the following inscription:

"He was a man of strong mind and liberal heart. He took an active interest in the settlement of Hudson, was the donor of the original burying ground, and the third person buried therein."
Almost thirty years ago, in 1983, the Hudson City Cemetery--the original portion of the cemetery--was determined to be eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. This was confirmed in 2005 by William Krattinger, Historic Preservation Specialist with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: "[T]he portion of the cemetery located west of Paul Avenue and south of Columbia Turnpike was considered as the National Register-eligible portion, containing as it does a noteworthy collection of funerary art, ranging from typically late 18th century stones executed by a master carver--and embellished with winged effigies and other typical design vocabulary--to tombs, such as the Egyptian Revival-style tomb which is an outstanding reflection of American romanticism in the antebellum period and the interest in that period of utilizing Egyptian design motives in cemetery design. The cemetery would appear a virtual treasure trove for historians and enthusiasts of American funerary art, offering as it does a wealth of markers and crypts that illustrate various themes and styles within this genre."

Krattinger suggested that the State Historic Preservation Office assess the newer Cedar Park section of the cemetery because of "landscape design elements that might well have been rendered by an as-yet identified professional hand" and urged that the City of Hudson move ahead with the designation process for one or both areas, depending on the outcome of the evaluation of Cedar Park.

With the new attention to the cemetery being generated by the project to restore Sanford Gifford's grave, pursuing National Register designation for the Hudson Cemetery may be an idea whose time has come.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What's Happening in Other Places

Someone gave me an article that appeared earlier this month in the Westchester Journal News. The story it tells presents an interesting contrast to recent events in Hudson. The congregation of St. John's Episcopal Church in New Rochelle is in the middle of a $75,000 project to restore their historic church building. One of the first things they did when the project began two years ago was to remove the aluminum siding. Now they're at work replacing rotted wood, painting, and fixing doors and windows.

The Touch of Galloway: Exhibit 7

Eric Galloway's "Hudson Preservation Group" bought this house at 111 Union Street from Phil Gellert in November 2003. Although resisting the urge to add his signature columns to the house, Galloway did add the dormers, which one critic has said "look like headlights." The rehabbed building was sold to its current owner in September 2007.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An Appeal for South Bay

In his My View earlier this week, Mayor Scalera delivered this defeatist message: "It's time to put to bed this pipe dream that Scenic Hudson or the Open Space Institute would ride up to Hudson on white horses and pony up millions of bucks to buy the port in an eminent domain proceeding. They won't."

While it's true the two organizations cannot get involved in an eminent domain action, that doesn't mean that they cannot help us resolve the current waterfront conflict. A letter to Scenic Hudson and Open Space Institute, written by Jennifer Arenskjold on behalf of Hudson business and property owners, requests their help in a way that does not involve eminent domain. To read the letter and to sign a petition endorsing what it proposes, click here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bliss Towers Is Coming Down

It won't happen anytime soon, but according to Jeff First, Executive Director of the Hudson Housing Authority, the consensus of the HHA Board was to demolish Bliss Towers, which he called a "money pit" and a "maintenance nightmare." First was at the Common Council Legal Committee meeting last night seeking a resolution from the Common Council that would give HHA "site control" on a number of City-owned properties sought by HHA for its new "scattered site" housing units. The resolution would commit the City to holding the properties off the market for eighteen months or until HHA could buy them for "something close to fair market value." Site control is a requirement for a grant HHA is seeking from DHCR (Division of Housing and Community Renewal). The deadline for that grant application is February 2011.

In addition to City-owned properties, HHA is looking at properties owned by HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) and HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency), as well as some privately owned properties. Most of the sites are on Columbia and State streets, but Fourth Ward Supervisor Bill Hughes, who is a great supporter of this project, reported that he'd gone on a reconnaissance mission on the south side of town, from Sixth Street to Front Street, looking for empty and "demolishable" buildings. It was made clear that Omni would not rehab existing buildings; they would demolish them and build something new.

First stressed that the Hudson Housing Authority is committed to replacing all 132 units currently at Bliss Towers, but it is unclear how many of those units would be scattered throughout the city and how many would be built on the current site of Bliss Towers. At last night's meeting, Common Council President Don Moore explained that it was his understanding that all 132 units would be replaced by scattered site housing, and when Bliss Towers was demolished, that site could be used for another purpose. First, however, made it clear that the Bliss Towers site would continue to be used for low-income public housing. Moore then framed two questions that need to be answered but so far have not: "How many units can be built where Bliss Towers is now? How many infill units are needed?" He also indicated that a specific list of the City-owned properties sought by HHA was needed before the Common Council can draft a resolution, adding, "We do need to get this moving."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mayor's MY VIEW

Rick Scalera's op-ed piece in the Register-Star, which presumably was available online early this morning and then disappeared, is back online. If you haven't already read it, here it is: "MY VIEW: Naive or delaying LWRP passage?"

Last Night in Greenport

John Mason's report on last night's Greenport Planning Board public hearing on the O&G haul road is in this morning's Register-Star: "Truck route concerns raised."

Commenting on Gossips

The Gossips of Rivertown is changing its commenting policy. Henceforward commenters must register, and no one will be allowed to comment anonymously.

Some posts in recent months have elicited strings of anonymous comments. Anonymous responds to Anonymous. Anonymous engages in extended debate with Anonymous. Anonymous challenges Anonymous to reveal his/her identity while continuing to conceal his/her own. Anonymous calls me out and demands an answer. It's surreal and absurd--not to mention uncivil. Most disturbing is that a regular reader who is registered to comment confided to me yesterday that he now comments as Anonymous because he is uncomfortable in a forum where he is the only participant willing to reveal his identity.

When Gossips started accepting anonymous comments several months ago, I made it my unofficial rule of thumb to reject comments that seemed more appropriate to the Voy Forum than The Gossips of Rivertown. Recently a reader suggested that the only difference between Voy and Gossips was that Gossips commenters used bigger words and tended to be better spellers. Enough is enough. Please register to comment and take credit for your contributions to the ongoing community conversation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tonight in Greenport

Tonight at Greenport Town Hall, the public hearing on O&G's application to create a haul road from the quarry to Route 9G and the city limits of Hudson was scheduled to begin at 7:30, but it was nearly 8:30 before it actually got underway. Before that, the Greenport Planning Board accomplished some good things. They decided that they needed an updated wildlife study of the area and that the long EAF (Environmental Assessment Form) had to be to be completed.

When they got around to the public comments, four people commented: Bob Gagen, Mt. Merino resident and Hudson city attorney under Dick Tracy; Jeff Anzevino from Scenic Hudson; Sam Pratt for The Valley Alliance; and Peter Jung for The Valley Alliance. All spoke in opposition to the plan. After they heard those comments, the board voted to keep the public hearing open and to accept written comments for at least for another month.

Comments should be submitted to:

Greenport Planning Board
Don Alger, Chair
Greenport Town Hall
600 Town Hall Drive
Hudson, NY 12534

One thing heard tonight that hasn't been heard before in O&G's presentations to the Greenport Planning Board: If Hudson doesn't approve the use of the "causeway" through the South Bay, O&G will not pursue the segment of the road that goes through Greenport.

Of Fires in Hudson

Two recent fires in Hudson brought to mind a Hudson fire of the past that many of have heard of because it destroyed the top floor and the tower of 5 Willard Place, now the bed and breakfast called The Croff House.

The house was originally one of several examples of Second Empire design on Willard Place. With a mansard roof and a tower, 5 Willard Place was similar to 4 Willard Place next door and was the work of the same architect, G. B. Croff. The house was built in 1875 for Herman Vedder Esselstyn, a prominent attorney and surrogate court judge and one of the founders of Willard Place. A decade or so after taking up residence in his gracious home on Hudson's newly established private street, Esselstyn suffered a reversal of fortune and was forced, in 1887, to mortgage the house for $4,500. Five years later when the mortgage came due, he was unable to repay the debt. A lawsuit succeeded in postponing foreclosure for two years, but in 1894, the house was sold at auction on the steps of the courthouse for $5,166.73. Five years after losing his Willard Place home, Esselstyn died, leaving an estate valued at less than fifty dollars.

When the house suffered the damaging fire, it was was owned by another attorney, Samuel B. Coffin, who had been the city judge. Coffin wasn't at home when the fire occurred. He was in Rhode Island, about to embark on his annual cruise along the eastern seaboard in his yacht. But his wife, Frances Coffin, and his sister, Magdalen Coffin, were at home, along with a domestic named Alice Moore. At 2 a.m. when the fire started, they were all asleep--the Coffin ladies on the second floor, Moore on the third floor. Moore was trapped at the top of the house and had to be rescued by a young man named Francis Gannon, who was passing by on Third Street in the wee hours of the morning, on his way home from work, and heard her screams for help.

No one in the present day has been sure in what year the fire occurred. The history of the house on the Croff House website indicates it happened in 1939, but a Gossips reader recently discovered the account of the fire that appeared in the Hudson Register, which reveals that it occurred in early hours of May 29--Memorial Day--in 1941. Click here to read the detailed account of the blaze and of Francis Gannon's heroism.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fire on Warren Street

There was a fire early this morning at 211 Warren Street, a building that has been unoccupied for several years. By around 6:30, although backup units from across the river continued to arrive, and a Hudson firefighter remained poised at the top of the ladder, ready to break through the roof to fight the fire from above, it appeared that the fire had been extinguished, and all was again well.

"Desirable Houses in Hudson"

The article published on Friday from a February 1867 issue of The Daily Register made reference to "a large number of splendid and costly residences" recently erected in the city. The same newspaper contained the advertisement reproduced below, offering for sale these houses, then newly constructed on North Fifth Street.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Read About Sunday with Ruth Reichl . . .

and find out how often she comes to Hudson and for what, in this article from today's New York Times: "A Day for Food (Bears Not Invited)."

Passing the Torch

Hundreds of friends and well-wishers gathered at the Basilica Industria last night to bid farewell to Patrick Doyle and Catherine Dodge Smith, the owners and creators of Basilica Industria, and to celebrate their ten years of activism and contribution to the civic and cultural life of Hudson. The evening of tribute, music, clowning, and dance culminated with Doyle introducing the new owners--Nancy Barber and Bill Stone and their son Tony Stone--and engaging with Bill Stone in a ceremonial passing of the torch. The new owners intend to retain the name Basilica Industria and continue its use as an arts and entertainment venue.

The group then gathered in the courtyard north of the building for a bonfire--a feature of so many events at Basilica Industria over the years. No sooner was the bonfire ignited than the Basilica was descended upon by City of Hudson Fire Police, the Fire Chief, and Engine 30 from the Hoysradt Fire Station on Warren Street. The firefighters extinguished the bonfire.

It wasn't immediately clear to the spectators that the presence of the Fire Department wasn't part of the theater of the evening, but it became clear when Doyle was issued a citation. Doyle had contacted the Fire Department to arrange for a permit for the bonfire, but he was unable to reach anyone and his calls were not returned, so he decided to go ahead with the bonfire anyway. Doyle is scheduled to appear in court on September 8.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Touch of Galloway: Exhibit 6

This house at 13 South Second Street was constructed on what had been a vacant lot sometimes used for parking. It was built at roughly the same time as the two houses on Willard Place in the same imitation Greek Revival style. According to county tax records, Galloway's "Hudson Preservation Group" sold the property for $380,000. Its current owner is rarely in evidence.

Friday, August 20, 2010

UPDATE: First Presbyterian Church

Work at the First Presbyterian Church has been halted while the church and its architect try to sort things out in the matter of the mortar. Today, Rev. David McMillan, the minister of the church, sent the following note to the Session--the church's governing body--and to the Board of the Friends of the First Presbyterian Church explaining the situation.

Dear Friends:
We are having a problem with the mortar being used to repoint the pilasters at Fourth and Warren streets. Right now our architect, Joseph Lomonaco, is working to correct the situation. Until that is done, no further mortar will be applied to the church. We will make every effort to keep you informed.

Library Extends Its Hours

The Hudson Area Library is now open late two nights a week and stays open longer on Saturdays.

Tuesday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Wednesday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"Finished!"--No Sir!

A reader sent me the link to the February 25, 1867, issue of The Daily Register. Among other things of interest in this document is this editorial response to a statement made by the editor of the Catskill Examiner, which provides intriguing insight into how Hudson viewed itself two years after the end of the Civil War.

The Catskill Examiner expresses the sage opinion that “Hudson is finished,” and “should be fenced in.” The fact is, the Catskill editor, when he leaves his little village and gets up here, becomes bewildered at the neatness, activity, and thrift that he sees all around him, and contrasting it with his own ancient borough, he imagines in his artlessness that there is no room for further improvement, and that Hudson surely must be “finished and ready to fence in.” Now we assure him that we are growing very rapidly up here, but we have no thought of “putting up the bars” yet, although the Catskill fellows are very fond of some kinds of “bars” of which we have too many put up already, as the Examiner man knows by his own experience.

We find abundant room for improvements, even with all our present perfection. For instance, we find it absolutely necessary to erect several large blocks of magnificent stores, a large number of splendid and costly residences, to lay out new streets, build the Columbia and Dutchess, Boston, Hartford and Hudson, and Hudson and Kinderhook Railroads; clear out the dug-way, to accommodate the immense trade with Athens, ‘cause they can’t find nothing down to Catskill; and last, but not least, put a bridge across the Hudson River, so that the Central Railroad may have a depot here commensurate with its gigantic business--Albany, you know, has so kind ’o wilted and died out.

“Finished!” why bless you, man, we haven’t got even started yet on our career of advancement. We have more projects on the tapis now than will be “finished” in three centuries.

"It's Not Easy Being Green"

For years, this carriage house on Cherry Alley near Fifth Street was green--a kind of guacamole green not dissimilar to the background color of this blog or to Kermit himself. Painted that color the building was often the subject of photographs and paintings.

In recent months, the green has been covered over with white, to the disappointment of many. Yesterday, the building was once again painted green--but it's not the same.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

UPDATE: First Presbyterian Church

Some pretty savvy people expressed the opinion that the mortar mix being used at the First Presbyterian Church was inappropriate, including the person who discovered the bags of Quikrete at the work site and contacted the New York Landmarks Conservancy to register her concern. Today, the State Historic Preservation Office confirmed that the mortar mix is the one specified in the contract and hence the one presumably that they had approved.

Gossips will stay on this story and report any further developments.

Bad Summer for Churches

It’s been a bad summer for historic churches in Hudson. First, Emanuel Lutheran was vinyl-sided--with the knowledge and consent of its congregation. Now, there’s word that the masons at work on the First Presbyterian Church may be using an inappropriate mortar mix--without the knowledge and consent of the church’s small but very preservation-conscious congregation.

The church awarded the masonry repair project to the lowest bidder with the full expectation that the job would be done according to specifications. Since grant money is involved, strict adherence to established preservation standards is a requirement. The church even hired a project manager to oversee the work and make certain it was being done properly. But earlier this week, local preservation specialists not involved with the project reported to a church member that the mortar being used didn’t look right. Some surreptitious investigation at the work site discovered bags of Quikrete—a “just-add-water” mortar mix of sand and cement available at places like Lowe’s.

Mortar is critical in masonry repairs to historic buildings. New mortar needs to match the original mortar for aesthetic reasons--so that it’s the same color and looks the same as the original mortar--and for very important physical reasons. The mortar cannot be harder than the stone or brick it is used with. Historic masonry buildings were designed to absorb water and then release it. The mortar used in historic buildings was lime mortar, which allows water to pass in and out of the joints, so it doesn’t get trapped in the brick or stone. Mortar containing Portland cement, which wasn’t used in the United States until the 1930s, is very hard--harder than stone or historic brick--and it is less permeable than lime mortar. It doesn’t wick water out of the walls, so water gets trapped in the stone or brick, causing it to deteriorate. The bitter irony is that the masonry repairs being made on the church now are to correct the problems caused by repointing done with inappropriate mortar in the past.

Representatives of the church are investigating the situation.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Highlights of Last Night's Common Council Meeting

New Local Law A law making it illegal for truck drivers to practice engine braking--or "jake braking"--in the City of Hudson was passed unanimously by the Common Council. The law was the initiative of Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston.

PARC Park Megan Wurth of the PARC Foundation shared with the Council the plans for completing the linear park that was envisioned when the first stage of the park on Warren Street across from the Hudson Opera House was officially opened in 2007. The park will eventually extend from Warren Street to State Street in the 300 block, ending next to 325-327 State Street, the house now owned by Housing Resources.

The designs for the park will be on display at 330 Warren Street from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 21. Representatives from the PARC Foundation will be present to hear comments and suggestions from the community.

Army Corps Contaminant Study When the meeting was opened for new business, Alderman Geeta Cheddie (First Ward) brandished a copy of the Register-Star that contained the article about the proposed Army Corps of Engineers study of the contaminants in South Bay: "South Bay eligible for Army Corps water flow, contaminant study." Cheddie wanted to know: "Why are we doing this?"

When Common Council President Don Moore explained that the study proposed was a reconnaissance study, "a preliminary study to understand what development could happen down there," Cheddie said: "Most people who have lived here a long time will say South Bay is very contaminated. What will we do if we find out that it's contaminated, as we already know it's contaminated?"

Moore reiterated that the study was an essential first step in assessing how the wetland could be restored and for what use. Cheddie continued her questioning, making a point, it seemed, of referring to South Bay as "the swamp" and revealing her main concern about the study: "What does it mean for the LWRP and the O&G causeway? Will it stop or delay the LWRP?" Moore explained out that restoration of the wetland would have to deal with existing uses.

All That Salt Another item of new business: Alderman Sarah Sterling (First Ward) reported that in 1996 the Hudson Planning Commission had granted a conditional use permit for salt that was brought in by barge to be stored on the SLC dock. She suggested that since the salt was no longer coming in on the water but was being trucked in and trucked out that the use had changed and the parties involved needed to go back before the Planning Commission for a review of the activities now being conducted there.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Storm Clouds Over Hudson

Sarah Sterling shared this dramatic picture of the approach of Monday's midday storm.

Now on Demand on the Small Screen

The Valley Alliance's meeting, featuring Peter Jung and Sam Pratt, with the Hudson Business Coalition on July 26. Click to access.

UPDATE: Historic Preservation in Hudson

Two weeks ago, Gossips reported that Mayor Scalera had issued a call for new members of the Historic Preservation Commission. At the end of last week, those who feared the worst breathed a sigh of relief. The mayor had reappointed the three members whose terms had expired: David Voorhees, Andrew Rieser, and Tony Thompson.

A project that is currently before the Historic Preservation Commission illustrates how difficult the task of the Historic Preservation Commission is and how important it is to have people on the HPC who know what they're doing. This poor abused building at 226-228 Warren Street was one of the properties previously owned by Good Samaritan Housing and Land Corporation that was seized by the City in a tax foreclosure and sold at auction. Although abandoned for years, it was most recently an apartment building. The new owners want to convert it into a mixed-use building with storefronts on the ground floor and apartments above.

This is the kind of building that makes people think anything would be better than what it is now, but that's always an unfortunate attitude in Hudson. This building embodies Hudson's unusual history and its unique architectural heritage. As recently reappointed HPC member David Voorhees explained at Friday's meeting, the building started out as a three-bay Nantucket-style house--built very early in Hudson's history. At some point, a two-bay house was added to the west side of the building, and the roof was raised. The building is rich with the history of vernacular architecture in Hudson--a history that needs to be recognized and respected in its rehabilitation.

At an earlier appearance before the HPC, the owners presented plans to introduce Victorian-style storefronts similar to those found on other buildings in this block of Warren Street. There were some unnecessary pilasters and other ornamental details that the HPC asked them to remove, and the HPC requested detailed elevation drawings of the building with profiles of the proposed storefronts. The HPC also made it clear that they could not approve altering the placement of the windows on the upper floors and urged the owners to remove the siding from the building right away so they could assess the condition of the clapboard and better understand what they were working with. The siding has not yet been removed.

On Friday, one of the owners appeared before the HPC, with an architect and properly drawn plans. The problem was the plans showed something that was a radical departure from what had been proposed before. HPC member Nick Haddad commented, "This looks like a suburban building--attractive and cute but not historically accurate." Another member of the HPC commented that the new design created "something that doesn't exist" anywhere in Hudson.

Although the plans proposed are unacceptable, City Attorney Cheryl Roberts advised the HPC to deem the application complete, which they did. They now have 60 days to work with the applicant to arrive at a design they can approve. If that doesn't happen, they can at the end of the 60-day period deny the project a certificate of appropriateness.

Hudson's historic preservation law applies only to the facades of buildings--what is visible from the public way. It does not apply to building interiors unless they are the interiors of public buildings or interiors of particular historic significance that have been specifically included in the historic designation of the building. This is standard for historic preservation laws in New York State, but it seems to be causing most of the problems with this building. Because the HPC has no jurisdiction over the interior of the building, the interior work on the building already has a building permit and is moving forward, but the interior is being reconfigured to create symmetry within a distinctively assymetrical building. This is why the owner wants to change the placement of the second-story and eyebrow windows while the HPC steadfastly refuses to permit it.

The chimney is another issue. The building had a tall and distinctive chimney, which was characteristic of buildings of a certain period in Hudson and was a unique feature of the Hudson skyline. It's now gone. The interior changes were the reason for this as well. The fireplaces that fed into the chimney were removed, and since the chimney no longer had any use, it too was removed--without a certificate of appropriateness to do so. The owner has been ordered to rebuild the chimney.

In a perfect world, there would be the time and resources to document fully every building in every historic district in Hudson. There would be a file for each building that would contain available historic images, expert opinions about significant original details and details that have been added, and expert accounts of the building's evolution over time. Whenever a project like this was proposed, this information would be immediately available to the property owner and to the HPC to guide their planning and decision making.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program

Tomorrow--Tuesday, August 17--there will be two free "webinars" to review the basic guidelines for the New York State Historic Preservation Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program and answer questions about the application process. The session from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. will deal with commercial properties. The session from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. is for homeowners.

To qualify for this program, buildings must be individually listed in the State or National Register of Historic Places or be contributing structures in a listed historic district. They must also be located in an eligible census tract. A significant number of Hudson buildings meet these qualifications.

The program will cover 20 percent of qualified rehabilitation costs for owner-occupied historic houses, up to a credit value of $50,000. For commercial buildings, the program will cover up to 20 percent of qualified rehabilitation costs up to a credit value of $5 million. Commercial property owners must be approved for the federal historic preservation commercial tax credit, which offers an additional 20 percent credit on qualified rehabilitation costs. The commercial tax credit program includes rental housing.

To register for a webinar, send email to preservation@oprhp.state.ny.us and type “commercial webinar” or “homeowner webinar” in the subject line. Registrants will receive instructions for logging in to the appropriate webinar.

For further details about the webinars, visit the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation website. The webinars are sponsored by NYS OPRHP and the NYS Education Department.

Of Parks and Dogs

Once upon a time--and this goes back to the beginning of this century--someone complained at a Common Council meeting--or maybe it was a DPW Committee meeting--about dog poop in Seventh Street Park. In response to this, dogs were immediately banned from all city parks. With a speed amazing to people who've been trying for years to get better parking signs throughout the city, NO DOGS ALLOWED signs appeared, almost overnight, at the entrance to every park.

The problem was that what the signs proclaimed was unenforceable because the Common Council had never passed a law banning dogs from parks. As a consequence the police could not ticket people caught walking a dog in a park. The issue of making it the law came before the Common Council soon after the first section of Henry Hudson Riverfront Park was completed in about 2002. DPW workers in particular wanted dogs banned from the new park because dog poop was fouling the blades of the lawn mowers.

Dog owners appealed to the Common Council, arguing that better signage informing dog walkers of their responsibilities, better enforcement, and stiffer penalties were what was needed rather than simply banning dogs from parks. The most persuasive appeal was made by Margaret Saliske on behalf of her mother, who was then a familiar sight walking with her dog around the courthouse and on Warren Street. Saliske told the Council that her mother felt safer walking with her dog and often liked, on her walks, to sit in a park, but she couldn't do that if the parks were off limits to dogs. Doc Donahue was moved by this appeal to withdraw his support for banning dogs from parks, and a compromise was reached: Dogs would be allowed in all city parks except the new waterfront park.

When the first expansion of waterfront park was completed five or so years ago, many dog owners believed that the law prohibiting dogs applied only to the original part of the park--the area north of the path from the entrance to the gazebo, the "great lawn" where people sat on the ground for concerts and events--and felt they could walk their dogs with impunity--so long as they cleaned up after their pets--on the paths and on the grass around the inlets in the new part of the park. A sign that appeared recently offers tacit confirmation of that interpretation of the law.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Visit from the Half Moon

The replica Half Moon was in our part of the Hudson this weekend, moored at Peckham Industries across the river in Athens. This afternoon, word spread that the tall ship was on the river, training new crew members, and would fire its cannon as it passed our waterfront in salute to its historic captain's Namesake City. Gossips was there to capture the moment.

The More Things Change . . .

While tidying my desk this morning, I discovered an article someone had given me clipped from the July 20, 1989, issue of the New York Times. It was entitled "Summer Slice of City Life Up the Hudson," and it was written by James H. Roper.

To put things in perspective, early on in the article, the late Marion Harshman, a real estate agent and an early acquirer of Hudson property, was quoted as saying, "It's definitely a buyer's market in Hudson." To illustrate this, the following examples were cited: "a 'handy-man's special' in the $28,000 range; a $48,000 two-family saltbox that can be lived in while restoration work is done, and a late-Victorian house in need of extensive exterior restoration for about $135,000."

Three houses were featured in the article, with exterior and interior pictures: the late Bruce Hall's house on Warren Street, Jeremiah Rusconi's house at Front and Allen streets, and Tom Mabley's house in the 300 block of Allen Street.

The last few paragraphs of the article are especially interesting:

Preservationists see the city's architecture as the key to its revival. But Jeremiah Rusconi, an architectural designer who restored a Greek Revival house here, said it was difficult to make longtime residents realize the value of their architecture.

More than half of Hudson's buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But, [Bruce] Hall [author of Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District] said, the city fought the listing "tooth and nail."

[Neil] Larson [a former field representative for the New York State Historic Preservation Office] explained: "The local government was fearful of losing their control to make local decisions. The National Register designation did two things: it brought about more stringent environmental reviews, and it gave fuel to newcomers who had been cajoling the city to be more sensitive to preservation issues."

Mayor Michael Yusko Jr. says he applauds preservation but is wary of gentrification. "One of the biggest problems facing many of the old-time residents is that they can't afford to live here anymore," he said. "The value of property is escalating to the point where it's difficult for a local person to buy their own home and raise their family."

Alan Ferri, executive director of Hudson Housing Services Corporation, a nonprofit neighborhood housing services program, said while the "speculative frenzy" of the local real estate market seems to be declining, problems remain.

"Hudson is a very poor community," Mr. Ferri said. "The 1980 Census listed the median income at $9,900, and by 1985, that figure hadn't changed much." Mr. Ferri also noted the problem of homelessness; Columbia Opportunities Inc., a community action agency in Columbia County, has reported that 290 families in the county have no place to live.

Mr. Larson acknowledged "two separate populations" in the city, but said he thinks they interact fairly well. "It's a low-key kind of place, even with the city slickers," he said. "Hudson is accessible to city refugees of a different economic level. They seem to care; they don't want to just isolate themselves and 'get away from it all.'"

Mr. Mabley agrees: "What you hope is that a town like Hudson will be revitalized, not necessarily gentrified."

"Let's face it: Hudson is not a real slick community to hang out in," Mr. Larson said. "It's not glitzy, it's gritty. But that has a certain appeal: It's lively, more heterogeneous. It's more real."
It's interesting how little Hudson's "official" view of itself--articulated by city officials and agency directors--has changed in two decades, while Hudson's image to the outside world has gone from "gritty" to "cool." But, after all this time, preservationists still have to be proselytizers.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

325-327 State Street

An anonymous reader left the following comment on this morning's report about Don Pollack arriving safely in Washington yesterday. Since the comment has absolutely nothing to do with that post, and since I felt it required a response, I decided to use it as the starting point for a new post. What follows is the comment exactly as I received it; after that is my response to it.
Carole - This post is NOT about this item, but might be of interest to you and those who care about Hudson.

It looked to me this morning that the double building on the 300 block of State Street, righ tup the street from SUPERVISOR HUGHES' mother's house was being cleaned out.

The only interested party in that particular building has been Kevin O'Neill of Housing Resources.

Given the fact that the mayor admitted that HRCC still owes for VERY delinquent water and sewer bills, (Check it out Carole, we're talking half a dozen years.) at a time when EVERY OTHER RESPONSIBLE landlord is required to either pay their water and sewer bils on time or pay additional fees; while the mayor admitted (Notice how quiet Peter Markou, of HCDPA and HDC was on this subject.) that HRCC STILL owes (Again check it out Carole, it might be that same half half dozen years.)HDCPA and/or HDC loan repayment monies; that the mayor appartently never discussed with the NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal the requirement that either O'Neill exit, right, or the agency be shut down; it would boggle the mind to think that the mayor and the counsel would let HRCC NEAR another piece of property that won't be properly maintained.

The mayor knows all of this, as does Supervisor Hughes, COuncilmen Goetz and Donahue.

THe question becomes, why do all of these guys let Kevin O'Neill continue to misappropriate taxpayer money?
This comment seems longer on indignation than information, but on the assumption that other Gossips readers might be curious about this building, I'll share what I know about it.

The building, 325-327 State Street, is now owned by Housing Resources of Columbia County and has been for almost a year. Several years ago, it was seized by the City for nonpayment of taxes, and until last year, it was one of several properties owned by Good Samaritan Housing and Land Corporation that were the subject of protracted litigation. Back in 2006, the PARC Foundation wanted to acquire the building. It was an element in the PARC Foundation's 2 + 4 Project--a project that was shelved in 2008. In 2006, Kevin O'Neill, executive director of Housing Resources, also expressed interest in acquiring the building.

In 2009, 325-327 State Street was offered at a tax auction, but no one bid on it. Some said at the time that potential bidders didn't realize it was one of the properties being auctioned. Shortly after the auction, there were reports that Eleanor Ambos, owner of the Pocketbook Factory, the Allen Street School, and the former Elks Club at 601 Union Street, had offered to buy the house but for some reason had withdrawn her offer. At a special meeting on September 21, 2009, the Common Council authorized the sale of the property to Housing Resources for $33,603 and the payment of $4,370 in legal fees. Gossips has learned from someone on the Board of Housing Resources that the plan is to rehab the building and sell it to qualified home buyers, much as was done with the houses constructed on the 300 block of Columbia Street and on North Second Street by Housing Resources as part of the Hudson Homestead Program.

In 2009, it became known that Housing Resources had not paid its water and sewer bills for nine properties in Hudson since May 31, 2007. At that time, slightly more than $34,000 was owed the City. For most property owners, any amount due for water and sewer at the end of a calendar year is added to the next year's property tax bill, but since Housing Resources is a not-for-profit and its properties are not taxed, the City couldn't do this. So on July 21, 2009, the Common Council voted to levy a lien on all properties owned by Housing Resources to recover the $34,000.

A week or so ago, the Register-Star reported that Kevin O'Neill had been replaced as executive director of Housing Resources of Columbia County, a job he had held since 1994. According to the new executive director, Stephanie Lane, the organization intends to shift its focus from affordable housing development to housing counseling, asset management, affordable rental, home improvement, financial literacy, and home buyer education.