Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Historic Preservation in Hudson

According to this morning's Register-Star, Mayor Richard Scalera has issued a call for new members of the Historic Preservation Commission: "Mayor seeks applicants for three Historic Preservation openings." The terms of three members of the Historic Preservation Commission expired at the end of the July: David Voorhees, Andrew Rieser, and Tony Thompson. None of these members was a Scalera appointee; all joined the HPC during the two years (2006-2007) of the Tracy administration.

In the past, the mayor has sought recommendations from the Historic Preservation Commission and made his appointments based on those recommendations, but the article reports that Tom Swope, the chair of the HPC, was not informed of the mayor’s call for applicants and was hoping that Voorhees, Rieser, and Thompson would be reappointed. All three have expressed their willingness to continue on the HPC.

Scalera says he is looking for "individuals who are keenly interested in not only historical preservation but also helping people through the process.” Those may be the mayor's requirements, but Hudson's preservation law is quite specific about the qualifications of individual members and the overall makeup of the Historic Preservation Commission. This is Paragraph 169.3.A of the Hudson City Code:

The Commission shall consist of seven members to be appointed, to the extent available in the community, by the Mayor. All new members, but the architect-member, shall be residents of the City of Hudson and remain so throughout their term.

(1) At least one shall be an architect experienced in working with historic buildings; if there is no resident of Hudson who has these credentials and is willing to serve on the Commission, a nonresident may be appointed to the Commission;
(2) At least one shall be an historian;
(3) At least [one] shall be a resident of an historic district;
(4) At least one shall have demonstrated significant interest in and commitment to the field of historic preservation either by involvement in a local historic preservation group, employment, or volunteer activity in the field of historic preservation, or other serious interest in the field;
(5) All members shall have a known interest in historic preservation and architectural development within the City of Hudson;
(6) All members, but the architect-member, shall be residents of the City of Hudson;
(7) The Chairperson of the Planning and Land Use Committee of the Common Council shall be the liaison between the Historic Preservation Commission and the Common Council and shall report to the Common Council regularly on the actions and proposed actions of the Historic Preservation Commission.
The architect-member is the one person on the HPC who, according to the law, does not have to reside in Hudson. This exception was made in the law because the knowledge and expertise of an architect who has made a career of working with old buildings and understands their construction as well as the distinctive features of their design is critical to the work of the HPC, and it might not always be possible to find a person with this expertise residing in Hudson. So the concession was made in the law that a preservation architect may be recruited from elsewhere.

Until a few weeks ago, well-known and respected preservation architect Marilyn Kaplan, who lives in Albany, was the architect-member of the HPC. When Kaplan resigned because of scheduling problems, the HPC recommended and the mayor appointed--first to finish out Kaplan's term and then to a full term--Jane Smith, an architect and part-time resident of Hudson whose credentials in preservation architecture don't seem to go beyond the generally held opinion that she, to quote HPC member Nick Haddad, "did a nice job with her own house."

The historian-member of the HPC is important because local and regional history is woven through all of the requirements for individual landmark designation. Quoting from City Code 169.4.A:

The Commission may propose or may receive a proposal for an individual property, structure, park, work of art or statue as a landmark if it:

(1) Possesses special character or historic or aesthetic interest or value as part of the architectural, cultural, political, economic, or social history of the locality, region, state, or nation; or
(2) Is identified with historic personages; or
(3) Is the work of a builder, architect, or designer whose work has significantly influenced an age.
These requirements are also among those for historic district designation. Presumably with a historian on the HPC such past actions as demolishing Sanford Gifford's house to create a municipal parking lot (the one where the Hudson Farmers' Market is held) or demolishing the building on upper Columbia Street where Martin Van Buren once had his law office to expand the hospital parking lot would not happen in the future.

The original historian-member of the HPC was City Historian Pat Fenoff. Voorhees and Rieser are both historians. Although neither specializes in Hudson history, both have the conscientious mind-set to ask the right questions and do the needed research. Voorhees is on the board of the Columbia County Historical Society and is knowledgeable about the history of the Dutch in the Hudson Valley.

Item 7 in the list of qualifications for the Historic Preservation Commission may suggest just how little anyone is paying attention to the law. This amendment creating an official liaison between the Historic Preservation Commission and the Common Council was adopted in 2006. In 2008, Rob Perry, then Common Council President, did away with the Planning and Land Use Committee, eliminating too the liaison between the HPC and the Council.

In the Register-Star article, Scalera is quoted as saying, “The commission was established in the first place not only to help preserve historic property but to help people along, and when that commission stops helping people, that commission should be done away with.” The problems that we've seen with the Historic Preservation Commission don't seem to stem from an unwillingness to "help people along." In the Emanuel Lutheran Church fiasco, the HPC seems to have been guilty of trying to be too helpful and too nice.

Instead of making it clear at the outset that they could not grant a certificate of appropriateness to put vinyl siding on a historic church, they set out to help the church board understand why the paint was failing and why vinyl-siding the church wasn't a good idea and to assist them in getting a proper paint job that would last more than a couple of years. The problems arose not from unwillingness to help but from lack of follow-through and poor communication on the part of the HPC and Peter Wurster's apparent penchant for eluding the HPC.

Such problems could be avoided in the future if the HPC simply followed its law, made consistent decisions in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards, and kept written records of their decisions, which they shared with the applicant and the Code Enforcement Officer. The HPC should also be willing to hold special meetings. The Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals schedule special meetings when necessary. Only the HPC has steadfastly maintained that it is impossible to do so, even when a special meeting could facilitate the review process for a particular application or during the construction season when there are many applications before them.


  1. "more helpful" i.e. Does Tricky Ricks Bidding. This makes me very nervous. What does the Code say about voting? Could three very well placed appointments sway the board in the direction of outright malice towards preservation? It would seem the qualification requirements would make that scenario all but impossible, but I can't imagine Rick having any other motivation for this sudden interest, than politics. And I think its quite clear what his are on Historic Preservation.

  2. With this new development + bringing Grandenetti back into the mix of Hudson politics = Scalera is up to something, yet the new Hudson Dems believe he's on the way out. hmmmmmm

  3. This is the guy that created the commission and has stayed out of its' business ever since. Sounds like you are challenging him to involve himself more than I'm sure he cares to.

  4. Carole,

    Thanks for this wonderful explanation of the HPC law and its current precarious state. I hope we can preserve the preserve! --peter

  5. It is the mayor's right and responsibility to assign the members. I for one think it's not just appropriate but important that when opportunities open, others are given a chance to express interest. Hudson is a notorious compilation of closed mini-communities; it's nice at least to be made aware that these openings exist as opposed to finding out three weeks later courtesy of the RS that the same set of insular folks were reassigned before anyone else knew there was a chance to serve.

    This is the very reason why both extreme sides of the Hudson community have the clannish and offputting reputation they do -- whether it's a county job or a role on a committee, it's filled from a small insular insider group. As some squarely in the middle of both groups, I don't know how I'm ever supposed to get involved under this environment. I guess the last sentence answers itself, though -- as someone squarely in the middle, I'm probably not welcome in either camp.

  6. To Anonymous at 10:13AM - boy did you hit the nail on the head!! Either you're one of Ricky's boys that he played football with, or a newer one that simply quits his job and wants/needs a city one, OR you're one of the "smartest people on earth from The Big City", who opinions and taste in everything is well, just perfectly right. Exactly why nothing can get in a civil manner, in a timely fashion, minus sniping with bad language coming from one side, and snarkiness with a put on accent coming from the other. If you are squarely in the middle, I'm assuming you lock your bedroom door at night.

    The best thing for Hudson? Millions of descending locusts.

  7. Anon 10:13, 12:54. Get out more. Hudson is so much more nuanced than that. Perhaps your middling selves would be more comfortable in a town with few opinions, no ideas, and plenty of snipe-less debate at TGIFridays.

  8. Ah Dr. Zizmor,

    The fact that you equate "middle" with "middling" is precisely the problem.

    The middle is where both sides are heard, reasonable people may see merit in multiple points-of-view, and compromise can potentially occur.

    And please don't imply that those in the middle are bereft of ideas or opinions. An idea doesn't need to represent one extreme or another to be valid; and an opinion is arguably best formed when informed by all reasonable points-of-view.

    And the TGIFridays comment? Hmmm...I wonder why I think Hudson hads small-minded, insular, judgemental mini-communities.

  9. Correction: Jane Smith is a full-time Hudson resident.

  10. Sorry, most recent Anonymous--and Jane Smith. The Register-Star said Jane Smith was a part-time resident, and although I know that her partner is here all the time, I didn't realize she was.

  11. Anonymous, what is this imaginary middle and where does it exist? Give us an example of what you mean on a specific issue so we know what the heck you're trying to say. Most people who say they are in the middle just want to appear reasonable and superiror but they don't have any actual ideas. Let's hear yours, or are you just knocking other people who have real opinions based on facts?

  12. Anon, I meant the words I chose, the only thing I'm conflating is you and the closed circuit television you see the world thru. I thought your indignant bluster was going to produce a perspective worth baiting, but I was mistaken. Carry on, American BBQ will suffice as your TGIF stand-in.

  13. Proud to Have an Opinion, this subject, which prompted my response, IS an example.

    On one side we have a group of people up in arms that the mayor had the temerity to put out a call for people interested in serving on the HPC, and unable to imagine anything but a devious purpose; Dr. Zizmor's initial post captures that mindset perfectly.

    On the opposite but equally extreme side we have people calling for Wuster to run for mayor simply because they think he pulled off a coup against the HPC.

    My "middling" ground is the same that I first stated: the mayor did what he should have done. I have no doubt that if the circumstances were reversed, and (for example) the goals was to reinsitute the LRWP committee, the very same folks would be up in arms if the mayor just put the same people in place as last time.

    And to Dr. Zizmor, your debate skills clearly leave me in the dust. I cede the debate, and this forum, to you. Congratulations on your victory!

  14. Hmm, I guess most people don't find it extreme, they would call having a conversation about political machinations in a small town good community fun. Maybe its theatrical sometimes. I'm not sure where you get the sense of contempt you allude to, people love hudson, so they have opinions. The only thing extreme is your embrace of two camps, there's plenty more camp to go around than that.