When a reporter shows up at a Historic Preservation Commission meeting, you have to wonder what he thinks is going to happen, but the explanation for John Mason's presence at yesterday's HPC meeting may simply be that it was a slow news day. Not much of interest happened at the meeting. The HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness to the alterations and expansion of the Columbia County Courthouse. They granted a certificate of appropriateness to Tony Thompson and Margaret Saliske's plan to build an artist's studio behind their house on Allen Street. And then, with no new applications before them, the HPC decided to catch up on some unfinished business, all of which Mason saw fit to report: "Hashing out some historical projects."
The situation with respected regional historian Ruth Piwonka requires more background than Mason provided. In early 2007, the Historic Preservation Commission received a Preserve NY grant from the Preservation League of New York State to do an inventory of historic properties on the north side of Hudson. All the buildings on Warren Street and those on the south side of town had been inventoried in 1985, but, except for 400 State Street and a few other notable buildings, nothing on the north side had been inventoried. Ruth Piwonka was hired to do this inventory.
At one or several points in this project, there was miscommunication and misunderstanding. When the project began, Jamison Teale was the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission; when Piwonka submitted her work, Teale had resigned, and Tom Swope had taken over as chair of the HPC. Apparently, information about this ongoing project was not passed along from Teale to Swope, and although Swope thought the work being delivered seemed of little value, he never questioned if it was in fact what had been commissioned. The work was accepted, and Piwonka was paid.
In May 2008, as First Ward alderman, I applied, on behalf of the City of Hudson, for a Preserve NY grant to hire landscape architect Robert M. Toole to do a historic landscape report for Promenade Hill. I had to withdraw that grant application because the City still had an outstanding grant from the same source--the grant made the previous year to the Historic Preservation Commission. Three years later, the situation is still unresolved.
This April, it became clear, with the changes and improvements proposed for the entrance to Promenade Hill, that a historic landscape report was needed to inform those plans and decisions. Since the City still had an outstanding Preserve NY grant with the Preservation League and was prohibited from applying for another until that one was closed out, it was decided, by the board of Historic Hudson, that Historic Hudson would apply for the grant, oversee the project, and turn over the historic landscape report to the City. Unfortunately, when I proposed the project to the Preservation League, I was told that Historic Hudson also had an outstanding Preserve NY grant, awarded in 2009 to complete a historic structure report on the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. Not long after that, Historic Hudson completed its historic structure report and submitted it to the Preservation League for approval but not in time to allow us to apply for this year's round of Preserve NY grants.