Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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.

1 comment: