Thursday, March 31, 2011

Edward Scissorhands, Where Are You?

There may be the threat of snow in the air today, but tomorrow is the first day of April. As spring approaches, attention is drawn to the bushes and shrubs around town, watching for buds and new growth, and this in turn causes one to wonder why the DPW workers who wield the hedge trimmers in our parks find it desirable to carve bushes and shrubs of various species into a single brutally uniform shape.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Signs of Spring

LICK will soon return to 253 Warren Street, and our new passion, LOAF, will move upstreet to the 400 block to share space with SWALLOW.

A new artisanal bakery and bar is soon to open at 230 Warren Street. 

And there's a store for rent at 226 Warren Street.

This is the smaller of two shops in the building whose rehabilitation Gossips monitored throughout the fall and early winter. This store offers a unique projecting shop window, which, as one reader has suggested, would be perfect for displaying tropical fish, collector reptiles, or an exotic bird or two.  

On the Waterfront: About Docks

The project Gossips reported on back in October--to install docks for 20 to 25 kayaks and other small craft known as "car-toppers" in the old ferry slips at Henry Hudson Riverfront Park--has begun. This morning, the first step of the process--installing the piers in the riprap--was halfway complete. The next step, according to the process outlined by Mayor Rick Scalera in October, is to install the arms that extend out into the slips. Finally, the docks themselves get snapped into place. The docks project, which also involves doubling the length of the City dock, where the Spirit of Hudson is moored, is being funded by a grant for $250,000 and additional $76,000 appropriated by the Common Council last fall from the City's fund balance.

Also this morning, just a few yards away at the Holcim dock, a barge was tied up and being loaded with gravel.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Not to Be Missed

On his blog, Scott Baldinger weighs in on the project proposed for Union and First streets: "Between a Rock and a HardiPlank." Baldinger comes out strongly in favor of authentic materials, but the materials may not be the whole problem. Do the faux Greek Revival houses on Willard Place, which are sided with real wood, appear more authentic than the house at South Second Street and Cherry Alley, which is sided with Hardiplank? 

The Historic Preservation Commission should definitely prohibit the use of faux grained Hardiplank in Hudson's historic districts, but the old-growth timber from which houses were built in the 18th and 19th centuries is no longer available, and the inferior quality of the wood marketed today has prompted no less than Julian Adams, Community Liaison and Certified Local Government Coordinator for the New York State Historic Preservation Office, to suggest, a few years ago in a lecture sponsored by Historic Hudson, that historic preservation commissions may need to reconsider the acceptability of new materials, among them Hardiplank, in historic districts.

What's odd though is that Kevin Walker, who used the inferiority of the wood available today to support using Hardiplank siding on the houses proposed for Union and First streets, never had any qualms about replacing old wood windows, made from old-growth timber, with new wood windows, made from the inferior wood available today.   

More About 25 Railroad Avenue

How much time and how much money will be spent before the Board of Supervisors settles on a home for the Department of Social Services? In the Register-Star today, John Mason reports that the Board of Supervisors is now considering spending $46,000 for a Phase II environmental site assessment of the current DSS building at 25 Railroad Avenue: "Proposal made for site study at DSS."

Census Figures for Hudson

By now it's common knowledge that Hudson's population decreased by 10.8 percent in the past decade. Some peopleperhaps some of the same people who thought building the country's largest cement plant in Greenport would bring back the good old days of the 1950sthink this population decline is a death knell for Hudson. Fourth Ward Supervisor William Hughes promises that he, Mayor Scalera, and Common Council President Don Moore "are reviewing the 2010 census information to determine what the next move for Hudson should be."

Sam Pratt takes a more balanced view, warning that the knee-jerk reaction that population loss is bad doesn't take into account other factors that contribute to the economic health and well-being of a community: "Say a town's population goes down while its residents' average income or local sales tax revenues go upisn't that an improvement overall?"

A microcosmic example of population loss in Hudson occurred just down the street. A row of three houses began the decade divided up into apartmentsthree apartments in one building, two each in the other two houses. In 2000, more than 20 people lived in those houses, and one of the houses was known to the Hudson Police Department as a "notorious crack house." In 2010, only 6 people lived there--a population loss of 70 percentbut the houses had been impressively restored, they were owner occupied, and their assessmentsand consequently their contribution to the City's coffers in property taxhad trebled.   

Yesterday, Sam Pratt published the population changes for municipalities in Berkshire and Ulster counties. Berkshire County, generally perceived as being more prosperous than Columbia County, had an overall population loss of 2.8 percent. Most interesting to me is that Stockbridge, home of Norman Rockwell and the Red Lion Inn, had a population loss of 14.5 percent.

One wonders if the civic leaders of Stockbridge are reviewing the 2010 census information to determine what their next move should be. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shocking News

The owner of Half Moon Bar & Grill at Allen and Front streets was found dead in his establishment today. The Register-Star has the story: "BREAKING: Body found at Half Moon."   

Not to Be Missed

Debora Gilbert has an article in Columbia Paper about Rick Scalera and his county-level aspirations: "Hudson's mayor sets sights on county seat."

More About the Endorsements

Today, the Register-Star published its coverage of last night's fundraiser for the Democrats: "City Dems make endorsements." It contains one new bit of information: it was announced that Carmine Pierro, the mayor's aide, would be running for alderman in the Fifth Ward, although he has not yet been officially endorsed.

The article also contains this rather remarkable quote: "Mendolia said the name recognition of Scalera and Thurston and their well known political records gives [sic] the party a strong chance to unify all five supervisors under the same party banner—something he hopes will help Hudson be more strongly represented on the county level. With Goetz leaving as well, Mendolia said that as party chairman he is excited by the potential of his party holding every government seat in the city. 'What’s going on this time is huge,' Mendolia said, 'it’s a unified ticket. We will prevail.'” You have to wonder how Mendolia defines unified. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hudson Democrats Announce Endorsements

Tonight, at a fundraising event at Club Helsinki, the Democrats announce the candidates they are endorsing for some of the offices in Hudson city government. If you're not at Helsinki to hear them, Gossips brings them to you in the comfort of your own home.

Mayor: Nick Haddad
Treasurer: Don Moore
Common Council President: Sarah Sterling

First Ward
Aldermen:  Larissa Parks and Timothy Rodgers
Superinvisor:  Michael O'Hara

Second Ward
Alderman:  Abdus Miah

Third Ward
Aldermen: John Friedman and Chris Wagoner
Supervisor: Ellen Thurston

Fourth Ward
Supervisor: William Hughes

Fifth Ward
Supervisor: Rick Scalera 

"I've Made Up My Mind About His Case"

Time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. This passage is from Sketch the Fifth, which focuses on the men of Rivertown and reveals them to be as engaged in rumormongering as the women. The target of their gossip is Mr. Townsend, the melancholy pastor of the Congregationalist Church. 

The morning services were concluded. The day was oppressively warm, though it was yet early in the spring, and extempore fans, in the shape of pocket handkerchiefs and hymn-book covers, had been actively in motion throughout the sermon. Mr. Townsend looked even paler than usual when he descended from the pulpit, and stood in the centre aisle to speak with Deacon Whiting, who awaited him there. Placing his hand kindly on the head of the little girl who clasped her father's hand, he stood for an instant in earnest conversation, and then passed on, with a kind word for Maggie as he left her.
Deacon Morrison bustled through the crowd still lingering in the vestibule, and inquired officiously for his health.

"I was telling wife to-day," said he, "that I shouldn't wonder if you had a long spell of sickness, you 'ye looked so pale lately, and seemed so absent-minded—a brain-fever, or something of that sort," he added, consolingly.

A look of pain shot over the listener's face, but he said, "The weather has been so oppressive the past week, that it has unnerved me; particularly, as I have had many visits to pay, and several funerals to attend in the country. How are all your family?"—and Mr. Townsend made a movement to go forward.

"Well as common, I believe," was the reply; and Deacon Morrison stepped into a vacant place nearer the door, as if to bar the progress of his pastor.

There was a little quickness in the bow and farewell that followed, for Mr. Townsend seemed anxious not to be detained; and with a look of disappointment, Deacon Morrison turned to Mr. Whiting, and placing his arm familiarly in that of his good neighbour, began to complain of the "rudeness" he had just experienced.

"I did not see anything like that," said Deacon Whiting. "(Run on to your mother, Maggie.) Had you anything particular to say?"

"Why no, not exactly; I only thought I'd ask his opinion about Widow Haynes being able to get along without help from the church, and whether he thought Aunt Underwood would live the summer out, and what they were likely to do with young Allen—whether the church would take any action or not on his going to the theatre and the Long Island races the last time he was in New York."

"I think you are mistaken about the last, John"

"No, I ain't. James Farren was with him, and he told Harriet Harden, she told Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Smith told Miss Martin, and Miss Martin told me. Now, if that ain't straight, I don't know what is. But Mr. Townsend might have waited a minute, it seems to me."

"He was scarcely able to get through the sermon, John. I could see how his lips trembled, long before it was finished. And you held him here right in the hot sun. Then he 'a got to be in the Sunday School and preach this afternoon, besides the six o'clock prayer-meeting, and the sermon this evening. You surely would give him time to eat his dinner."

"As to the six o'clock prayer-meeting, he ain't obliged to come. It was my plan altogether, and I guess I'm able to lead. I knew how apt we were to let the mind run on other things just about sundown, when we can't read or anything, and I thought, particularly for the young people, 'twould be an excellent plan."

"Yes, particularly for those boys and girls who write notes to each other in the hymn-books, and turn all they have heard into ridicule going home together. . . . I never did like the idea of those prayer-meetings, . . . they do more harm than good. Besides, it don't allow us one minute in the day to 'commune with our own hearts and be still' as we are told to."

"Well, well," said Mr. Morrison, "every one's not gifted alike—my talent's for prayer and your'n for meditation, I suppose. But don't you think Mr. Townsend acts very strangely now-a-days?"

"I had not noticed anything, only that he did not look well."

"That's just it; I've heard more than one wonder what it could be. Sometimes he's all fire and animation, then again he 's so low-spirited you can't get a word out of him."

"We all have our ups and downs, John, and I'm afraid Mr. Townsend has too much care and labour upon him."

"He hard worked! Why, a minister don't know nothing about getting tired. What does he have to do but set there at home in his comfortable study, as he calls it, and write a little— maybe a sermon or two a week?"

"We defined a part of his labours just now. Our day of rest is the most wearisome of all the week to him. Then he has to visit among all of us. You know how hurt some feel if they don't see him at least once a month. Then there's funerals to attend, and he often goes miles into the country for that. And sermon-writing might be easy to you, but I 'd rather stand behind the counter or overlook apprentices from morning till night than write two sermons any week."

"You're always so unreasonable, Deacon Whiting; you're always defending everybody that's wrong. For my part, I haven't got so much charity for the whole world, and I 'm willing to confess it. I 've watched our minister a long time, and I've made up my mind about his case. I've been intending to speak to you, and I might as well out with it. It's as clear as daylight to me—he drinks!"

Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter II

More About the Public Hearing

Jamie Larson's account of Thursday's Historic Preservation Commission public hearing on the Galvan Partners' proposal for the corner of Union and First streets appears in today's Register-Star: "Historic Preservation weighs carriage house design."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Spotted in Hudson

A reliable source reports that Tom Swope, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, was seen at Strongtree this morning having a meeting with DeWayne Powell, representative of the Galvan Partners, whose proposal for Union and First streets is currently before the HPC. 

2010 Census: Numbers for Cities and Towns

A reader provided the link to this NYPIRG spreadsheet that compares 2000 and 2010 census figures for every city and town in New York. 

Time to Pursue a Good Idea

A while back, Scott Baldinger suggested that one way to ensure that infill houses in Hudson are compatible with their surroundings would be to move abandoned and unwanted 19th-century houses from their current locations. This house, at the fork where Columbia Turnpike splits off from Route 23B, seems to be a prime candidate for relocation.

According to an article in today's Register-Star, a plan is being promoted by Claverack resident Mary Mazzacano to demolish the house and replace it with "Greenport-Hudson Gateway Park": "Park would greet city, town visitors." The proposed park would include "an archway with the word 'WELCOME' [and] signs on either side saying 'This way to Hudson' and 'This way to Greenport' respectively." The problem is that both roads lead to Hudson, and very few drivers choose to enter Hudson by way of Columbia Turnpike. The plans for the park also include "hardy plants and flowers that could withstand the proximity to the road" and a large boulder to be contributed by A. Colarusso and Sons.   

Friday, March 25, 2011

Public Hearing on Union and First

The Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing last night on the project being proposed by the Galvan Partners for Union and First streets. It was standing room only at City Hall, but surprisingly few people made comments about the project, which will have a significant impact on the neighborhood. 

The project was presented by DeWayne Powell, who has replaced Kevin Walker as the public face of Eric Galloway and his several LLCs. In his opening comments, Powell described this part of the First Ward as an "increasingly nice neighborhood" but characterized the corner in question, which has been maintained for the past year or so by local stealth gardeners, as "vacant, forbidding, unsightly, and probably filled with vermin." 

Although the Historic Preservation Commission was only hearing public comment last night and will not be making a decision about a certificate of appropriateness for the project until its next regular meeting, Mark Greenberg, counsel for the Galvan Partners, lectured the HPC about its appropriate purview, reading relevant excerpts from the preservation law and reminding the Commission that the project "in substantially the same configuration" had been granted a certificate of appropriateness in 2007.

The first audience member to comment was First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie, who talked about complaints she had received about the corner from people who wanted the surviving house torn down. She expressed the opinion that the four houses that the Galvan Partners, operating under various names, have completed in the First Ward--presumably referring to 111 Union Street, 130 Union Street, 136 Union Street, and 34-36 South Second Street--are "fine examples of restoration" and seemed to imply that it was the HPC's fault that the houses now being proposed had not been built back in 2007.

Phil Forman, who lives at Warren and First, said that First Street between Warren and Union was "frightening at night" and complained that there were skunks and rats living in the abandoned house. He called the proposed project a "totally appropriate use" and dismissed concerns of density, obviously thinking those concerns had to do with too many people rather than too many houses crowded onto the lot.  

Three other topics were the subject of public comments: materials, the design of the carriage house, and Galloway's many vacant properties.

The topic of materials was introduced by HPC member David Voorhees. The plan is to side the buildings with Hardiplank, which Powell said had a "longer lifespan" than wood. Christabel Gough, whose wood-sided house on Union Street is more than two hundred years old, spoke in praise of "beautiful materials and craftsmanship" and suggested that "Hardiplank next to genuine wood is inappropriate." When Powell pointed out that the sale of Kevin Walker's seven-year-old house on Willard Place almost fell through because of cracks in the cedar siding, Gough countered, "I suggest that any board that cracks that quickly . . . somebody made a purchasing mistake."

The design of the carriage house, with the garage door accessing First Street rather than the alley, was a topic addressed by several people. Powell had come prepared with an alternative design that had the garage door at the back of the building, but he stressed this was only a possible alternative and one that sacrificed green space behind the house. He also had a display board with photographs of the following six buildings, which he offered as evidence that there was precedent in Hudson for garage doors in the street-facing facades of residential buildings.

Two of the buildings were houses whose facades had been inappropriately altered long before Hudson adopted a preservation ordinance; two were commercial buildings, one of which is currently being converted into a residence and the garage door eliminated; and two were garages--one inappropriately sited decades ago on Allen Street and the other located directly across First Street from the proposed carriage house. None of the six examples, Gabriele Gulielmetti and Gossips argued, provided adequate evidence that the design for the new house, with a garage door in the street-facing facade and the entrance along the side, was an appropriate configuration for a historic district.

Victor Mendolia brought up the issue of the large number of buildings in Hudson owned by Galloway that were being warehoused--in particular three buildings that had been multiple dwelling apartment buildings. Mendolia was told by Greenberg that his comment was inappropriate to the public hearing, and he should write a letter, although it wasn't specified to whom the letter should be addressed. Later in the hearing, Rachel Sanzone asked what the appropriate forum to bring up the issue of Galloway's abandoned and warehoused buildings would be, but no definitive answer was forthcoming. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold its public hearing on this project on April 20 at 6 p.m. in City Hall.          

Washington Hose Lease Signing

Today--Friday--at 2 p.m. there will be a lease signing ceremony at the former Washington Hose firehouse. The City of Hudson is leasing the historic firehouse to Hudson Development Corporation and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Work is currently underway to restore the landmark building for reuse as offices for the two agencies, a visitors center, and small business support center. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

2010 Census

The 2010 census figures for New York State were delivered at 2 p.m. today. Gossips has so far been unable to confirm this, but word has it that the population of the City of Hudson has declined by 800--a more than 10 percent decrease--in the first decade of the 21st century. There will be more information tomorrow. 

What Was There?

Today at 6 p.m., the Historic Preservation Commission is holding a public hearing on the new construction proposed for the corner of Union and First streets. On April 20 at 6 p.m., the Zoning Board of Appeals will hold its public hearing on the project.

A criticism frequently heard about the plan for this corner is that it is too dense: four houses are too many for what was originally only two lots. Given that, it's reasonable to wonder what the corner looked like in the 19th century. Maps of the First Ward in 1873 and 1888 both show a heavily built-up corner, with two houses facing Union Street and at least one house--larger than the surviving house--facing First Street. What did those houses look like and when did they disappear?

The aerial photograph below, taken in the 1960s, before Urban Renewal, shows the lot at Union and First streets already vacant and apparently being used to store some kind of heavy equipment.

Conversations with people who grew up in the First Ward suggest that Union and First was already a vacant lot in the early 1950s. Tomorrow the quest for evidence of what the corner looked like in the 19th century continues in the History Room of the Hudson Area Library. 

The Public Hearing on Greenport Crossing

Yesterday the Columbia County Industrial Development Agency held a public hearing on Greenport Crossing, Harbalwant Singh's plan to build a retail center, made up of a gas station, a liquor store, and an A & W drive-thru restaurant; a "bowling-anchored" family entertainment center; and a Comfort Suites hotel on Route 66 in Greenport, on the site of the old V & O Press building. Turnout for the hearing was smaller than expected, and the objections to the project and the PILOT less fervent than the opposition to the PILOT for Kohl's. Maybe it's because people see a greater need for a hotel in Columbia County than for a lackluster department store, or perhaps it's because this PILOT request seems so outrageous--a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years--that nobody thinks there's much chance the IDA will grant it. Whatever the reason, only seven people commented at the public hearing, and none spoke in support of the PILOT. 

Andrew Amelinckx was at the hearing, and his account of what happened is in today's Register-Star: "Officials not so hot in PILOT for new hotel." One thing Amelinckx doesn't mention, however, may be the most interesting revelation of the hearing. 

In a presentation to the IDA in February, Singh made reference to green cards, and yesterday at the public hearing, First Ward Alderman Sarah Sterling asked about that. Singh explained that the US Citizen and Immigration Service has a program that grants permanent residency--green cards--to foreign nationals who invest in a new commercial enterprise in the United States. The amount required to qualify is typically $1 million, but in areas where the unemployment rate in 150 percent the national average and in rural areas, the required investment is $500,000. It seems that Singh had been considering financing his project, which is estimated to cost a total of $20.8 million, with these kinds of investments, but Ken Flood, Columbia County Commissioner for Planning and Economic Development, was quick to point out that all the investors in the project are local. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DSS Rethinks Transitional Housing

Francesca Olsen reports in today's Register-Star on a new direction in planning for transitional housing by the Columbia County Department of Social Services to accommodate the City of Hudson's code requirements: "DSS mulls staffing at trans-housing."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Deja Vu All Over Again

Two weeks ago, on Wednesday, March 9, the Trustees of the Hudson Area Library held their annual meeting. At the meeting, the president of the HAL Board, Theresa Parsons, presented her report for the year 2010, which reviewed the goals set for 2010 and set new goals for 2011. The last two goals for 2011 are of particular interest: 
  • Begin in earnest the process of exploring within the City of Hudson, financially viable alternatives to remaining at 400 State Street.
  • If warranted by events, be in conversation with interested individuals or organizations regarding alternative uses for 400 State.
Is finding a new home to become a decennial event for the library?

Back in 2003-2004, the library board embarked in earnest on a similar search, motivated by the real possibility that the Hudson City School District, then the owner of 400 State Street, might evict its nonpaying tenant at any time.

The building and all the land around it (on which John L. Edwards Elementary School was built) had been given to the school district in 1958 when the orphanage, which had been operated there since 1881, closed. One of the conditions of the gift was that a library for children be maintained in the building, and in 1959, the Hudson Area Library, serving children and adults, was established there. At one time, HCSD had its district offices on the second floor of 400 State Street, but by the early years of this century, HCSD had removed all of its offices from the building and was wondering what to do with an architectural white elephant that school officials had never cared much about and no longer wanted.

An ad hoc committee of the library board worked quietly and diligently for months, identifying possible sites, making inquiries, exploring feasibility, but as the time to make a decision drew closer, quiet diligence turned into vocal angst and passion. There was a well-attended public meeting at John L. Edwards at which most of the community members present argued eloquently and ardently for the library to stay in its historic building. Although public sentiment seemed to favor 400 State Street, two alternatives were seriously considered: 98 Green Street, the former car dealership that now houses the medical offices of Ibrahim Rabadi; and 618 Warren Street, now Neven & Neven Moderne, which at the time was the location of the Finnish Line. Such was the support on the board for relocating the library to a pair of storefronts in the 600 block of Warren Street that it might have happened had the library been able to come up with the purchase price. 

When the chance to buy 618 Warren Street was lost, the library board decided to do what some of their number had wanted to do all along: buy 400 State Street from the school district. Some members of the community believed at the time (and still do) that, given the conditions of the original gift in 1958, HCSD should have given the building to the library as it had been given to them, but HCSD's legal obligation to do so wasn't clear. There were two documents connected to the transfer of the property in 1958. The first listed a number of stipulations attached to the gift, among them that a library for children be established and maintained in the building; a second and subsequent document--the one that actually conveyed the property--included only two of the stipulations, and the one about the library wasn't one of them. Since no document could be found that linked the two or explained their relationship to one another, the Board of Education took the position that if the library wanted the building, they would have to buy it at market value and the sale would have to be approved in a referendum.

Arriving at a price required some negotiation. The library had an appraisal, commissioned by Historic Hudson, that set the value of the building at $150,000. HCSD commissioned its own appraisal, which determined the value of the building to be $450,000. In the end, the price was set midway between the two appraisals at $300,000.

How the library got $300,000 to buy its building is a uniquely Hudson story. The City of Hudson had some leftover HUD money--money that had been awarded to redevelopment projects in the city but returned when the recipients decided they didn't want to use their buildings in the way required by HUD after all. Mayor Scalera, who had originally encouraged the library to relocate to 98 Green Street, suggested that this leftover HUD money might be used to buy 400 State Street for the library. It was reported at the time that a HUD official, on a visit to Hudson from Buffalo, stood on Fourth Street next to the post office with Mayor Scalera, looked to the left at the Columbia County courthouse and to the right at 400 State Street, was struck by the balance--both architectural and symbolic--between the two buildings anchoring either end of the street, and approved, on the spot, the use of HUD money to enable the library to purchase its building.

With the money in place, the library had one more hurdle: a school district referendum. The proposal to sell 400 State Street had to be approved by the voters in the Hudson City School District. The campaign to "Let the Library Buy Its Building" pulled out all the stops, and, as a result, the voter turnout for the school district election that year was the highest ever. The vote was 3 to 1 in favor of selling the building to the library. Unfortunately, many of the voters who came out to vote yes for the library voted no on the school budget, and that year the budget was rejected. 

So in the summer of 2005, the Hudson Area Library bought 400 State Street for $300,000 using HUD money. The way the deal was structured, Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA) gave the library a 100 percent mortgage on the building--a mortgage the library would never have to pay off so long as it continued to own the building and use it as a library.

The acquisition of 400 State Street was celebrated as a victory for preservation in Hudson. The Historic Preservation Commission designated it a local landmark. The Preservation League of New York State named it one of the Seven to Save for 2005. The NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recommended it for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The library board hired architects, initiated a capital campaign, and embarked on an ambitious plan to restore the building. As a first phase of the plan, the building got a new roof and the fanlight, long missing, was replicated and reinstated. 

Photograph by Willam Krattinger

Unfortunately the capital campaign foundered. An EPF grant for $250,000 awarded in 2007 to begin the masonry repair couldn't be matched. New leadership at the library had issues with the architects overseeing the restoration. The restoration efforts were suspended, the architects dismissed, and people who had made five-year pledges to the capital campaign were released from their commitments. Now the library board is looking for another building and for someone else to take possession of what many believe is Hudson's most significant historic building.   

Monday, March 21, 2011

UPDATE: 900 Columbia Street

A small group of advocates for 900 Columbia Street--Jane Smith, David Marston, Timothy Dunleavy, and I--met this morning with Jeffrey Rovitz, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties, and Susan Cody, who directs MHA's residential division, to explore how MHA might achieve its goals without demolishing this early Hudson building. It's premature to report on the details of the meeting or to predict an outcome, but the meeting went well, and the effort to save 900 Columbia Street continues. 

A Big Week for Public Hearings

The Columbia County Industrial Development Agency is holding a public hearing on Wednesday, March 23, at 9:30 a.m., to hear views on Greenport Crossings, the project proposed for the site of the old V&O plant on Route 66 in Greenport. The project, which involves an 80-room Comfort Suites hotel and a family entertainment center, is seeking a 100 percent property tax abatement for twenty years. Public comments can relate to the financial assistance sought by the project or the nature and location of the project. The public hearing takes place at Greenport Town Hall, at the end of Town Hall Drive, off Healy Boulevard.

On Thursday, March 24, at 6 p.m., the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing on the project proposed for the corner of Union and First streets by Eric Galloway's Galvan Partners. This public hearing takes place at City Hall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More About Union and First

The proposal to build four new houses at the corner of Union and First streets went before the Zoning Board of Appeals last Wednesday. A sizable crowd turned out for the meeting, including Mayor Rick Scalera, First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie, Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston, and Hudson Democratic Committee Chair Victor Mendolia. Presenting the proposal to the ZBA was Mark Greenberg, legal counsel for Galvan Partners LLC.  

In his presentation, Greenberg explained that Hudson's current zoning established "suburban standards" that are inappropriate for most of Hudson and pointed out that Hudson's comprehensive plan, adopted in 2002, recommends that new construction be consistent with the surrounding area. He also reminded the ZBA that the project, in virtually the same configuration, had been granted the needed area variances in 2007, but those variances have since expired. The project needs area variances for the proposed setback from the street, which will continue the existing street wall, and for the space between houses, which will be less than the space required by current zoning.

Reviewing the proposal, ZBA member Theresa Joyner asked why the garage in the fourth house, sometimes referred to as the "carriage house," opened onto the street instead of the alley. The answer given was the same offered to the Historic Preservation Commission: the alley was too narrow. The explanation, however, seems contrary to the evidence provided by the alley itself.

Cherry Alley is lined with garages. There's a garage directly across from the site of the proposed new house, and there are several more in the block between First and Second streets, on both sides of the alley. 

Historically, alleys were used for residential parking to keep the front of the house clear of cars. Garages were entered by way of alleys. After World War II, however, urban design grew progressively more autocentric. The first step was to make garages, which were still detached, subordinate to the house, and situated behind it, accessible by driveways from the street that intersected the sidewalks. In the late 1950s and '60s, garages started becoming part of the house, with the entrance to the garage on a plane with the main entrance to the house. The ranch house with its attached garage eventually evolved, in the 1980s, into the ultimate in auto-dominated house design: the "snout house," of which the house proposed for First Street and Cherry Alley seems to be some kind of bizarre hybrid.

A snout house has a front entry garage whose entrance dominates the street-facing facade. With a snout house, it's often not immediately clear where people enter the house. This characteristic of a snout house is shared by the house proposed for First Street and Cherry Alley. Members of both the Historic Preservation Commission and the ZBA have asked where the entrance to the house is. (It's somewhere along the right side the house, between this house and the next.) Another characteristic of a snout house, which makes it a configuration now discouraged in many communities trying to promote their walkable character, is that the walkway that leads to the entrance of a snout house does not connect with the sidewalk but with the driveway.   

The design proposed for the house at First Street and Cherry Alley seems inappropriate for its location, even though there's a garage directly opposite it on First Street, but the design problems might be resolved if the building were more like a house with a garage behind it than a garage with some house around it. So let's go back to the notion that the alley is too narrow for the garage to open onto it.  

A search of the city code online uncovered information about the maximum width (10 feet) and the maximum length (30 feet) of a residential driveway but no information about the minimum width of an alley or other roadway onto which a garage gives access. (That's not to say it's not there. I just couldn't find it.) But if there are specific clearance requirements for a garage, this information might be relevant. A few years ago, it was pointed out by a planner from Chazen Companies that the amount of space specified by our code for parking one car, on the street or in a parking lot, was more generous that what is required by current standards. This was true because in 1960s, when Hudson's code was adopted, the average car was longer and wider than the average car is today. This being the case, could it be that Cherry Alley would  be too narrow only if the car being garaged were a vintage 1960s car not a car of typical size for 2011? Is it possible that the problem of the alley being too narrow could be remedied by an area variance from the ZBA, thus allowing the garage to open onto the alley instead of the street?   

NOTE: The photograph I used to illustrate snout houses is not the best example of this architectural phenomenon, but I couldn't resist using it because it also demonstrates so well that a few architectural gewgaws--in this case, imitation Victorian Stick Style ornamental gable trusses--do not make new construction compatible with existing historic architecture. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

School Board Elections

If you're concerned that the Hudson City School District persistently rates near the top in per student spending and near the bottom in academic performance, here's your chance to be part of the effort to effect change. This year, there are three openings on the Board of Education: one for a three-year unexpired term; two for five-year terms. The current board members whose terms are expiring are Board President Emil Meister, Mary Daly, and Peter Rice.

Nominating petitions are available now at the office of Frieda Van Deusen, Clerk of the Board, located at Hudson High School. Petitions require 100 signatures, and completed petitions must be returned to the clerk's office by 5 p.m. on April 27. The school district election will be held on May 17. 

To qualify to be a member of the school board, you "must be able to read and write; must be a U.S. citizen, 18 years or older; and must have been, and continue to be, a district resident for at least one year prior to election, but need not be a taxpayer."

Holcim in Our Midst

In today's Register-Star, Jamie Larson asks some local players, among them First Ward Alderman Sarah Sterling, Mayor Rick Scalera, Sam Pratt, and Linda Mussmann, what Holcim's decision to close its Catskill plant might mean for the property owned by Holcim on Hudson's waterfront: "Holcim port's future cloudy."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Scalera "Not Terribly Pleased"

Yesterday, the Register-Star reported Mayor Rick Scalera's intention to run for county supervisor representing the Fifth Ward: "Scalera announces run for supervisor." Scalera spoke of his new political direction in an interview with Victor Mendolia and Register-Star reporter Francesca Olsen on the WGXC program @Issue. Jamie Larson picked up the news and reported it in the Register-Star. Frankly, Gossips considered it such old news that we didn't bother publishing a link to Larson's story. In the summer of 2009, Scalera promised the Democratic Committee, when seeking its endorsement, that this would be his last term as mayor. In October 2010, Scalera told a handpicked group gathered at Eric Galloway's mansion on Allen Street that he wasn't going to run to mayor again but would instead seek office at the county level. By this time, many have already figured out that the office he was planning to seek was Fifth Ward Supervisor. 

Today Larson reports that Mayor Scalera was "not terribly pleased" to have his intention to run to for Fifth Ward Suprvisor announced in the Register-Star and was concerned about being perceived as a "lame duck" mayor: "Scalera wants to move things forward." Could it be that Scalera thought announcing it on WGXC didn't constitute going public with his intention? And why, when most observers knew that he'd said on several occasions that he wasn't going to run for mayor again, would he suddenly become a lame duck when his plan to run for supervisor was reported in the Register-Star?    

A Clarification  Mayor Scalera contacted Gossips a couple hours after this post was first published to explain that the cause of his displeasure was not the announcement in the Register-Star of his intention to run for Fifth Ward Supervisor, which he acknowledged was generally known, but the expectation, on the part of the Register-Star reporter, that, seven months before the election, he was ready to start campaigning.