Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dredging on the Waterfront

Tuesday night's presentation of plans to dredge coal tar on the waterfront was advertised as a public meeting, but few members of the public showed up. The attendees, for the most part, were elected (or appointed) officials: Ellen Thurston, Third Ward Supervisor; Bill Hughes, Fourth Ward Supervisor; Mayor William Hallenbeck and mayor's aide, Eugene Shetsky; City Attorney Cheryl Roberts; Rick Scalera, Fifth Ward Supervisor; Don Moore, Common Council President; and Victor Mendolia, Democratic Committee chair. Even the Register-Star wasn't there; Tom Casey seems to have written his article based on conversations with some of the participants after the fact. 

For the audience it attracted, the presentation was disappointingly absent of hard information. Anthony Karwiel from DEC talked about Hudson and whale oil, explained what a manufactured gas plant (MGP) was and how it worked, detailed the characteristics of MGP tar, and defined the ARC (area of remedial consideration), which is in the river in the vicinity of Embayment 1 and Embayment 2. All most of the attendees wanted to know, however, was when the cleanup would happen and how long it would take. Hallenbeck, Moore, and Scalera seemed bent on outdoing each other in their concern about the negative impact on waterfront development. Even after Karwiel explained that Fish and Wildlife restrictions would not allow work to take place during spawning seasons for sturgeon and bass, limiting the window of opportunity to late fall and early winter, there was still talk of dredging interfering with waterfront events, which don't happen much after Columbus Day weekend.

At one point, former mayor Scalera demanded of Karwiel, "Why didn't you do everything in 2004? Who knew you were coming back?" The first is an interesting question. According to Karwiel, MGP cleanups are typically done in two phases: upland remediation first, then underwater remediation. The second seems disingenuous. It was generally known, at the time the 2004 cleanup was completed, that there was still coal tar underwater which would have to be removed.

The feasibility study for the project was completed in April 2011; the PRAP (Proposed Remedial Action Plan), which determines what will be removed, was completed on February 13, 2012;  but the design for the remediation, which determines how it will be done, has yet to be completed. According to Karwiel, creating the design takes a year. He speculated that the project wouldn't begin until the fall of 2014. Later in the meeting, when Scalera complained that the project demanded "a major concession from the City to have to sit and wait for two years" to move ahead on waterfront development, a representative of National Grid, which is actually doing the remediation, predicted that the project could probably begin in the fall of 2013. He also predicted that a hydraulic dredge might be used instead of the clam shell bucket and barge being used to remove PCBs farther upriver.  

A National Grid representative indicated that they are hoping to put the dewatering equipment necessary for the project on Holcim property, but if that's not a possibility, they'll put it in "the big parking area" by the southernmost embayment--in other words, "Rick's Point." He also indicated that contaminated sediment could be moved out of the area by barge instead by truck. One wonders why this couldn't be done in 2004 instead of using the Holcim "causeway"? 

Discussion at the meeting confirmed that the City is no longer interested in selling the old Dunn warehouse building as a separate parcel. Instead the hope is to sell all the land that the City owns, east of Water Street from Broad Street to Ferry Street, as a single parcel to a developer. That decision seems to be an unfortunate one. It eliminates the buyer who just wants to transform the warehouse into a destination restaurant or a maritime museum and encourages large scale development, like a chain hotel or a housing or shopping complex--plans which may or may not incorporate the historic building.     

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ear to the Ground

How serendipitous! No sooner had Gossips expressed concern about the state of the surviving Hudson River Knitting Mill building than word came that help may be on the way. Rumor has it that Rob Kalin, founder and former CEO of Etsy, is interested in the building for his next startup: Parachutes.    

What's Behind Door 19?

Door 19, near the northeast corner of the sprawling L&B building, gives access to the historic Hudson River sloop Eleanor. Tomorrow evening--Wednesday, February 29--Casson Kennedy, who is heading up the restoration of the Eleanor, invites all those interested in serving on the construction/restoration committee for the project to enter at Door 19 and join him at 6:30 p.m. for an overview of what lies ahead.  

The real work of scraping layers of paint off the Eleanor begins the following Wednesday, March 7, at 5 p.m. 

Another Delay for the Senior Center

Last week, Gossips reported that a vote in the Common Council  to proceed with plans to build a senior center as an addition to the Youth Center would be postponed until a special meeting scheduled for March 6. Today, the Register-Star reports that the March 6 special meeting has been cancelled. Council President Don Moore, who announced the cancellation, was not specific about when the Council would vote on the senior center, but he indicated that the discovery that the existing and proposed buildings were in a State and National Register-listed historic district (and have been since 1985) made the project, by law, a Type I action requiring the SEQR long form, and this was taking additional time.    

Monday, February 27, 2012

Culinary Achievement

Jeff Gimmel, chef and co-owner of Swoon Kitchenbar, is a semifinalist in the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards competition, in the category of Best Chef: Northeast.

Photo borrowed from the Swoon website.

The Lone Survivor

Early in 2010, Hudson Development Corporation took ownership of the one survivor from the complex of buildings that was once Hudson River Knitting Mill. In April 2010, HDC put it on the market, with an asking price of $499,000. The two years that it has been in HDC's possession seem not to have been easy ones for the building. Several windows that were not broken in 2010 are broken today--both glass and sash.
March 2010


More About That View

Inspired by yesterday's post about the panel discussion Framing the Viewshed: A Bend in the River, John Cody, who was the first chair of the Olana Viewshed Committee, sent me a copy of The Crayon, published by Friends of Olana, for Fall-Winter 1985. This issue of The Crayon, which was contemporary with an effort to prevent the siting of a trans-shipment plant in Cementon, reprinted a monograph by Carl Petrich, one of the participants in Saturday's discussion. The monograph is entitled "E. I. Scoping for Aesthetics: Hindsight from the Greene County Nuclear Power Plant E. I. S."     

Dog Walk Recollections

Walking William at 6 a.m. this morning, with the temperature in the teens, was a chilling experience, but nothing like last winter. Last winter--with all the ice and snow and intense cold--we never got much more than a hundred feet from our house before William's paws got too cold to go on. This winter, while my finger ends grow numb in my gloves, William always wants to forge ahead, to check out the next tree, shrub, or lamp post.

On our walk this morning, I was reminded of a particularly cold morning last winter. We left our house at first light, heading east. When we'd gotten maybe five doors up the block, William squatted to do his business. I pulled off my gloves and fumbled to get a poop bag out of my pocket. My fingers were already numb with cold, so, in my clumsy efforts to pick up after my dog, I didn't notice that I'd dropped the leash. When I did, I looked around in panic for William. He was nowhere to be seen on the snow-covered sidewalk before me or across the street. How could a big black dog disappear in seconds without a trace?

Finally, I looked behind me, and there was William, heading back home at a trot. He had almost reached our stoop. He had done what he came out in the bitter cold to do, and now he wanted to be back where it was warm. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Environmental History on the Hudson

On Saturday afternoon, J. Winthrop Aldrich, Carl Petrich, and Richard Benas, three men who, in the late 1970s, played major roles in the effort to prevent the siting of a nuclear power plant in Cementon (now called Smith Landing), gathered at Stair Galleries to share their memories of the experience. The panel discussion, entitled "Framing the Viewshed: A Bend in the River," was moderated by Dorothy Heyl, a member of the Olana Landscape Viewshed Committee, and sponsored by The Olana Partnership.

In her opening remarks, Heyl recalled a conversation with Aldrich at his home in Barrytown during which he remarked, "A painting at Olana saved us from a nuclear power plant." That painting was this one: Winter Scene, Olana, circa 1890. As one of the participants asserted, "This view and this painting changed history." 

The painting was evidence in the hearings before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board. Benas, who at the time worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, testified at those hearings. In his testimony, he quoted extensively from the book The Landscape of Frederic Edwin Church: Vision of an American Era, by noted art historian David C. Huntington, to make the point that "to lose the view from Olana would destroy the vision for America that existed at that time." The following excerpts from Huntington's book were part of Benas's testimony at the hearings: 
"Winter Scene, Olana, c. 1890 . . . is an accurate sextant reading taken at Longitude 74 degrees, Latitude 42 degrees, in January. In this view, Church's inborn optimism dictates his choice of nature's moment; here the sharp, cold atmosphere and the sullen hues of a winter day are rescued from gloom by the newly arrived cheer of high luminous sunstruck clouds. . . . Winter Scene, Olana, shows the view in cloudy winter weather. On a crisp clear day, ridges of mountains break the horizon some sixty miles away. It is the view of expansionist America, an earthscape."
Photo by Chas A. Miller III
Critical to the success of the effort to prevent the nuclear power plant from being sited in the Olana viewshed was the environmental impact assessment written by Petrich. The initial EIA was so deficient that local protesters made changes to the document necessary. Then fresh from graduate school, Petrich, who worked at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was assigned the task of revising the EIA. He knew nothing about Olana, so the first thing he did was to go to the library and consult what he called "the Google of the day": the Readers' Guide to Periodic Literature. That led him to a photo essay about Olana entitled "Must this mansion be destroyed?" which appeared in the May 13, 1966, issue of Life magazine. That was the beginning of two years of research and work, which included much time spent here in the community surrounding Olana. The result was a document that was received and approved, and, as a consequence, the recommendation was made that the project be blocked. 

The proposal for the nuclear power plant was rejected on March 23, 1979. It was the first time a project of this nature was rejected on the basis of environmental aesthetics. Five days later, the accident at Three Mile Island occurred. 

Imagine . . .

Gossips has published this link before, but after last week's news that Holcim is closing its Catskill plant forever, it seems appropriate to recall what Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill did nearly forty years ago with an abandoned cement plant near Barcelona. Click here to be reminded of the possibilities.  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lincoln's Inaugural Journey

Hudson was one of eighty-three stops on Lincoln's inaugural journey from Springfield, Illinois, to Washington, D.C., in February 1861. Albany was another. A few months ago, Gossips shared an excerpt from Carl Sandburg's biography of Lincoln describing a pleasing incident that occurred when Lincoln's train stopped in Hudson on February 19, 1861. In the Times Union today, we learn that Lincoln received a quite different reception in Albany. According to Harold Holzer, who has written and edited forty-one books about Lincoln, a riot broke out when Lincoln's train stopped there the day before: "Scholar reveals Lincoln's link to Albany."    

Of Assessments and Taxes

On February 23, the lawsuit brought by the Hudson Property Owners Coalition (HPOC) against the City of Hudson, the City Assessor, the Board of Assessment Review, the Hudson City School District, and Columbia County, alleging that Hudson's 2010 assessment roll was illegal and invalid and should be declared void, was dismissed in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, on a motion from the respondents. 

Two days earlier, on February 21, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing a property tax settlement with the owners of Hudson Fabrics. Hudson Fabrics, too, had brought a lawsuit against the City of Hudson, challenging their 2011 assessment, which set the value of their property at more than $2 million. The property, at the far north end of Second Street, in the midst of what had at one time been a county dump, has been on the market for some time. Recently, Hudson Fabrics entered into an agreement to sell the property for $770,000--a little more than a third of its assessed value. Approximately $104,780 was owed in back taxes, including interest and penalties, and the City had placed a lien on the property. In the proposed settlement, Hudson Fabrics would pay $85,000 for full satisfaction for the tax year 2011. The settlement was a condition of sale of the property to Premier Brands of America, the company that plans to open a facility there that will create twenty-five new jobs.  

The resolution authorizing the settlement passed but not unanimously. First Ward Alderman Larissa Parks voted nay; Third Ward Alderman Chris Wagoner abstained. In the discussion that preceded the vote, Wagoner commented that, considering the out of line assessments in Hudson in recent years, he feared this settlement was just the tip of the iceberg. When asked by Gossips why she voted to reject the settlement, Parks explained that she believed people needed to pay what they owed in taxes even if the assessment on which the taxes were based was in question.             

More About the Ferry Street Bridge

The Register-Star has taken up some topics introduced by Gossips yesterday: the possibility of the City replacing the Ferry Street bridge and Alderman Cappy Pierro's flareup at the last Common Council meeting. Tom Casey interviewed both Pierro and Alderman David Marston and has quotes from both of them about the issue and Pierro's displeasure with Marston: "Details of bridge project discussed."   

Friday, February 24, 2012

Of Interest

The Register-Star reported this afternoon that Holcim will close its Catskill plant permanently: "Holcim will not re-open." Wouldn't it be nice of they decided to leave the Hudson Valley altogether and wanted to sell their land on this side of the river?

The decision was reported in the Times Union on Thursday: "Catskill plant closure to be permanent." Note that the closing was announced in January in Zurich, Switzerland. The "announcement" in the United States took the form of notifying the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that they needed permission to dispose of cement production waste that remained at the plant.

The Register-Star's expanded coverage of the plant closing appeared on Saturday morning: "Holcim shuts down for good."

A Memorable Moment in City Hall

There was a time when a Common Council meeting provided some of the best entertainment in Hudson on a Monday or Tuesday night. Disputes would erupt; voices would be raised. One (unsuccessful) candidate for Common Council president went so far as to make the campaign promise that he would appoint a sergeant at arms to ensure civility in Council chambers. 

In recent years, Council meetings have gotten much tamer, but this past Tuesday, some of the fire was back. At the end of the meeting, Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) took it upon himself to scold Alderman David Marston (First Ward) for some unknown (to the audience) affront, saying that "someone who had been on the Council for all of eight weeks" should read the code book before criticizing the actions of others--namely him. Although Pierro chose to rebuke Marston in public, Marston's offense occurred in private--in an email sent only to Council members. For the benefit of a puzzled public, Council President Don Moore explained what Pierro was talking about.

It seems that at the last meeting of the Council's Economic Development Committee, the Ferry Street bridge was discussed, and the suggestion was made that, since the bridge provided principal access to the waterfront and CSX was doing a less than commendable job of repairing and maintaining it, the City should undertake to build a new bridge. Pierro took it upon himself to contact Colarusso to find out how much a new bridge might cost, and Marston, in an email, suggested that it would be a good idea to get a second opinion about the cost from another contractor. Pierro apparently took Marston's suggestion to be a veiled accusation that he was engaging in some kind of backroom dealing with Colarusso and took umbrage. Marston explained that he thought a second opinion would give a better sense of an "industry average" for the project and provide the City with a more accurate figure to use in thinking about possible ways to fund a new bridge.  

Moving Ahead with the Eleanor

Last night, the Board of Directors of the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration and Sailing Society held their monthly meeting. Now that the historic Hudson River sloop Eleanor is housed at the former L&B building, one of the principal topics on the agenda was establishing a work schedule for the restoration. For those curious about this project and interested in getting involved, your opportunity begins in March.

  • Saturdays in March  Beginning on Saturday, March 3, and for the next two Saturdays (March 10 and March 17), ship restorer Casson Kennedy will be working to document the boat by creating a "lines drawing." The work of "taking the lines" will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 3:30 p.m., at which time Kennedy will explain the process and the progress of the day and answer questions. People are welcome to come by at any time to observe the work going on. On the fourth Saturday, March 24, the Society is planning an open house from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. for people to stop in and check on the Eleanor's progress.  
  • Wednesdays in March  Wednesday evenings--March 7, 14, and 21--are opportunities for volunteers to roll up their sleeves and get to work on the Eleanor by scraping paint. Volunteers are asked to bring their own equipment: protective goggles, work gloves, a dust mask or respirator, and a paint scraper. The work sessions begin at 5 p.m. and continue until 8 p.m. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Vision for Hudson

Blouin Artinfo has an article about Marina Abramovic and her vision for the old Community Theater and for Hudson: "'It Reflects Her Obsession': OMA's Shohei Shigematsu on Building Marina Abramovic's Performance Palace."

What's It All About, Galvan?

An article that appeared in the Register-Star on the last day of 2011 celebrated the birth of a new not-for-profit--the Galvan Initiative Foundation: "Nonprofit's goal: city's improvement." In that article, Tom Swope, executive director of the foundation, defines the foundation's purpose in this way: "Our mission is to enhance the quality of life in Hudson through acquiring [an] architecturally significant group of houses, renovating them, returning them to the housing stock and renting them out at market rates. It will enable people who are gainfully employed to find decent places to live right in town." 

Recently Gossips, at the suggestion of a reader, took a look at the Galvan Initiative Foundation's registration documents in the New York State Charities Bureau database. The foundation's registration statement defines its purpose in this way: "To preserve the unique heritage of the City of Hudson, New York, by acquiring, interpreting, conserving and maintaining buildings of architectural and historical significance." That sounds like a mission statement that could belong to a preservation organization like Historic Hudson. The certificate of incorporation, however, expands on this statement of purpose to say: "It is their [the antecedent of their is Donors' and Trustees', both of whom are Henry van Ameringen and T. Eric Galloway] further intent that said Foundation direct its efforts specifically toward the promotion of affordable housing and related services to low-income and otherwise disadvantaged persons living in the vicinity of the City of Hudson, New York State, by: (a) sponsoring, planning, acquiring, developing, restoring and operating fee and leasehold properties in the area of the aforesaid City of Hudson; and (b) conducting any and all lawful activities which may be useful and desirable in furtherance of the foregoing."

So what are Galvan's rentals to be--market rate, affordable, or low income? Developers recognize these as three distinct categories of housing based on rents charged. Market rate housing has the highest rents; low income the lowest--significantly below market rate.  

Another Tree Downed

When you notice a tree coming down, chances are the doomed tree is located on a property owned by Eric Galloway. Such was the case yesterday, when the tree behind 356 Union Street, a vacant apartment building owned for several years by Galloway, was felled. 

What is it that Galloway finds so offensive about a tree?   

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Not to Be Missed

Peter Meyer's letter to the editor in today's Register-Star about the contract negotiations between the Hudson Teachers Association and the Hudson City School District entitled (by the editor): "Teachers need to sacrifice."

The Acquisition of Hudson's History Continues

The Register-Star announced this morning that it will be moving its offices. Its building at Fourth and Warren streets is being purchased by the "GalVan Initiatives Foundation": "Register-Star office will relocate." There is no indication of where the Register-Star intends to go, but publisher Roger Coleman says that the paper "will continue to maintain a strong local presence." 

Another of Hudson's most historic buildings will soon be owned by a group that has been criticized for its lack of sensitivity to authentic architectural fabric and historic design. 

The site of the Register-Star building, at Fourth and Warren streets, was the location of Hudson's first jail, constructed in 1785. In The History of Columbia County (1878), Captain Franklin Ellis has this to say about that first prison building: "It was a rude log structure, and, although a show was made of grates and bars at the windows and door, it is said to have been so insecure a place of confinement that one of its first prisoners, having by some means obtained an auger, found little difficulty in boring his way through its walls to freedom." 

The current building was constructed in 1805 and used as the jail until 1835. In that year, it was purchased by John J. Davis, "who fitted up within it a hall intended for public uses." The Common Council held its meetings there until the new City Hall, now the Hudson Opera House, was completed in 1855. Since 1862, the building has been a newspaper office. First the Gazette, the newspaper started by Charles R. Webster and Ashbel Stoddard in 1785, then the Daily Register, and most recently the Register-Star have had their offices in the building. 

According to Tom Swope, executive director of the Galvan Foundation, there are several ideas for what might be done with the building "but he could not announce them yet."    

Same News, Different Spin

Tom Casey's report about last night's Common Council meeting in today's Register-Star focuses on the reactions of some aldermen--primarily, Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) and Wanda Pertilla (Second Ward)--to postponing the vote on the project for two weeks: "Council delays senior annex decision again."  

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

News of the Senior Center

Last Monday, at the informal Common Council meeting, a resolution was introduced that (1) named the Common Council lead agency in the New York State environmental quality review; (2) declared that the proposed project would not have significant environmental impacts; and (3) authorized the use of $130,000 from the General Fund to make up the shortfall in grant funding if the new building were constructed with a second floor half the area of the first floor. Tonight, at the regular Common Council meeting, there was no vote on that resolution, and Council President Don Moore offered three reasons why: 

  • A commitment had been made to do a structural evaluation of the historic building that houses the Youth Center before money was spent to attach a new building to it, and that evaluation could not be completed prior to the meeting.
  • It was brought to the attention of City Attorney Cheryl Roberts that the proposed project was in a National Register-listed historic district and that status makes the project a Type I action, requiring a long form environmental review instead of the short form that was being used.
  • A new issue had been raised about the historic importance of the site which would require an opinion from the State Historic Preservation Office. 
Moore and Roberts did not explain the nature of the new issue that required an opinion from SHPO, but Gossips has an idea of what it might be. The Youth Center stands on the site of the original Friends meeting house in Hudson, built in 1794 by the city's Quaker founders. In 1853, the Quakers swapped properties with the Methodist Episcopal Church, which then owned a building on Diamond Street (now Columbia Street). Of this exchange, local historian Margaret Schram comments in her book Hudson's Merchants and Whalers: "What we do not know is whether the Methodists demolished the Quaker meetinghouse or remodeled it to meet their needs." 
Some who know of such things have suggested that the unusual configuration of the building and its dimensions are similar to those of Friends meeting houses in places like Philadelphia where there were large Quaker congregations. The historic significance of the site could require some archaeological investigation before a new building is constructed there. 

A special meeting for the purpose of discussing and voting on the resolution for the proposed senior center has been scheduled for March 6 at 7 p.m.               

A Reminder from Gossips

Since Marc Molinaro took his position as Dutchess County Executive on January 1, the 103rd Assembly District (that's us, for now) has been without representation in the New York State Assembly. A special election will take place on March 20 to remedy that. The two candidates hoping to fill the vacancy are Democrat Didi Barrett and Republican Richard WagerIf you need to register to vote, the last day you can mail in your registration form is this Friday, February 24, and it must be received at the Board of Elections by Wednesday, February 29. If you're going to register in person at the Board of Elections (401 State Street), you  have until March 9 to do so.

Food, Glorious Food

The Indoor Farmers' Market is returning to Christ Church on March 3, where it will be every Saturday until May 12, Mother's Day weekend, at which time the market will return to its regular location at Sixth and Columbia streets. Meanwhile, LICK The Market will remain open through the month of March, after which (we hope) the ice cream will return. Aren't these wonderful signs that winter--mild as it has been--is almost over?

Not to Be Missed

Jamie Larson, former Register-Star reporter now journalism student at NYU, has an article in today's Register-Star about the new restaurant, The Crimson Sparrow, which is expected to open in May in the former Keystone Antiques building on the 700 block of Warren Street: "Chefs move out of lab and up to the country." 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Little Known Part of the Historic Preservation Law

Why would someone spend thousands of dollars to restore the facade of a house and then deface it with a satellite dish? Unfortunately, that's what happened to this house at 246 Allen Street.

The same fate nearly befell 256 Union Street, but a vigilant neighbor intervened to prevent it. The bracket has been mounted on the roof of the enclosed porch, but the dish has not been attached.

Both houses are located in the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District and are subject to Hudson's historic preservation law, which requires a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission before a satellite dish can be installed. Section 169-5 of the City Code begins:
A certificate of appropriateness is required to carry out any exterior alteration, additions, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction, or moving of a landmark or property within an historic district, or to make any material change in the appearance of such a property or its windows, or install or move a satellite dish.
The idea is to position the satellite dishes where they cannot be seen from the street.

Not to Be Missed

Scott Baldinger, a newly appointed member of the Historic Preservation Commission, contemplates on his blog the news that Marina Abramovic has hired celebrated architect Rem Koolhaas to transform Hudson's 1930s Community Theater into her Center for the Preservation of Performance Art: "Synchronicity and Starchitecture."     

Highlights from Catwalk 2012

On Sunday night, Club Helsinki was packed with people eagerly anticipating Catwalk, the fashion show and auction to benefit Animalkind, and the resplendent parade of haute couture Hudson style--and live music provided by Musty Chiffon with Jenny Baldwin, Windle Davis, and Rob Caldwell--didn't disappoint. It was hard to believe that only a few months ago Hurricane Irene ruined all the designer garments that had been collected for the event. The organizers had to start over again, and they succeeded dazzlingly.