Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Assault on Historic Preservation

On Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness to the proposal by the Galvan Initiatives Foundation to move the Robert Taylor House, designated a local landmark, from its site on the shore of what was once South Bay to 21 Union Street. Yesterday afternoon, Gossips heard the rumor that Galvan intended to appeal that decision to the Common Council. Last night, at the informal Common Council meeting, Alderman "Cappy" Pierro (Fifth Ward), aide to former mayor Rick Scalera (now special adviser to the Galvan Initiatives Foundation), seemed to be trying to lay the groundwork for that appeal by introducing a litany of complaints against the Historic Preservation Commission.

When the meeting was about to adjourn, Pierro brought up the Historic Preservation Commission and recited alleged complaints against it. He claimed that the HPC had tried to eliminate parking for the proposed Filli's Fresh Market, when in fact they only made a recommendation to the Planning Commission that parking be accessed from Cherry Alley instead of Warren Street. He recounted the whole sad history of the Armory Houses as if that alone were adequate reason for the HPC to accept the proposal by Galvan to "Greek Revivalize" what Pierro called the "row house." He claimed that a homeowner's plan to add a second story to his building was rejected by the HPC when in fact a drawing had been presented informally to the HPC and they had advised the owner that the proposed design was not sympathetic to the design of the existing building and offered suggestions about how the goal might be achieved with a more compatible design. Pierro concluded with this unsubstantiated claim: "People are getting discouraged and not wanting to come to Hudson." He then reminded everyone that the historic preservation law had been passed during one of the previous mayor's many terms in office, giving Scalera the opportunity to say from the back row, "We all make mistakes."

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) said there are four components that contribute equally to the success of a city: historic preservation, arts and entertainment, public education, quality of life and public safety. He attributed this statement to the mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. Haddad called historic preservation "an easy whipping boy in this city" and attested that in the four years he served on the Historic Preservation Commission "we didn't cost anybody another nickel." He acknowledged that one person had purchased replacement windows for a building on Warren Street, windows that Haddad described as "the worst windows available," before applying for a certificate of appropriateness and was upset when the HPC denied a certificate of appropriateness for their installation.

When Supervisor Sarah Sterling (First Ward) spoke from the audience in defense of the historic preservation law and the HPC, saying that it "preserved the character of Hudson," Scalera countered by saying that when he was mayor he had "people in tears" in his office complaining about the HPC. He claimed that people in historic districts don't go before the HPC "because of fear of the expense." According to Scalera, "the problem with the commission is that we have had so many different commissions." He called upon the Common Council to "amend the law so people can understand the law."

Alderman "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) then took up the harangue. "Look what they tried to do with the Lutheran Church. [This was the rare wooden church on South Sixth Street whose parishioners circumvented the HPC in order to cover the building with vinyl siding.] They tried to make Robinson Street a historic district. Can this Common Council vote to do away with with the preservation law?" To the final question, Common Council President Don Moore responded, "In my opinion, it never will."

When it was pointed out to him that the not-for-profit organization Historic Hudson had proposed the designation of Robinson Street to the Historic Preservation Commission, Donahue said, "Historic Preservation, Historic Hudsonit's all the same."

Interestingly, Pierro, who initiated the attack on the Historic Preservation Commission, distanced himself from Donahue's stance by saying he was "not advocating doing away with the historic preservation law" but instead wanted "some clarity," claiming that the HPC can "quash any project."

City Attorney Cheryl Roberts, who serves as counsel to the HPC, agreed that the preservation law needed to be revised. (It should be noted that the law that was initially adopted by the City of Hudson was a model law created by the Preservation League of New York State and the State Historic Preservation Office.) Roberts also suggested that the City should think about a low-interest/no-interest loan program for homeowners making improvements to historic buildings and stated that there is "no doubt that [historic preservation] helps the city and attracts tourism."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who affirmed that "historic preservation adds tremendously to the city," said he appreciated calls for clarity in the law but cautioned that "the more we try to tighten it, the more we exclude options." Amending the preservation law, he said, is "something that has to be approached very carefully."

Alderman Chris Wagoner (Third Ward), who is the owner of a B&B, said, "People come here and spend their money just to see the architecture"a statement that drew derision from Donahue. Wagoner went on to assert that historic architecture is one of Hudson's biggest assets, possibly its biggest asset.

Moore concluded the discussion by saying that it would be "good to have an examination of the law."

These are dark days for historic preservation in Hudson. Seven years ago, in 2005, Scalera, then mayor, had the preservation law suspended and rewritten to take the power to designate landmarks and historic districts away from the Historic Preservation Commission and give it to the Common Council. Interestingly, all of the designations made since 2005 were made during the two years2006 to 2007when Scalera was out of office. Now, as special adviser for the Galvan Initiatives Foundation, which typically has the most proposals before the Historic Preservation Commission, Scalera appears to be the force behind a call for further revision to Hudson's historic preservation ordinance.


  1. "People are getting discouraged and not wanting to come to Hudson."

    He had "people in tears" in his office complaining.

    The real elephant in the room is not HPC but the property and school taxes. That is what is sending people away with tears in their eyes, literally, if anyone really wants to pay attention.

    For the umpteenth time I've overheard shock and disgust from potential real estate shoppers looking at the taxes on the Hudson properties in Real Estate windows on Warren.

  2. Thanks, Carole. It is beyond me, with so much blight and so much open space to worry about in Hudson, why some people choose to focus on the dwindling number of jewels we have and try to tarnish them. Mr. Pierro and Mr. Donohue should be using their considerable political powers to improve Hudson -- start a housing rehab program, get grants to improve poor neighborhoods, get a Youth Center where the youth are, encourage Galloway to do what he does best (housing for the poor), fix the assessment mess, which is killing our middle and working class -- and let historic preservations do what they have so ably done these last 20 years: revive this town by saving its unique and rich architectural heritage. I urge people who care about Hudson to recommit yourselves to historic preservation and community revitalization. We can do both!

    --peter meyer

  3. The idea of historic preservation is fine. How it's implemented can be problematical. A martinet HPC chair in Kinderhook would insult petitioners, make them stand to address him while he sat, had conflicts of interest ( in my view), and refused to entertain reasonable alternative suggestions on house improvement.

    The result was that the Village Trustees came within a whisker of abolishing the HPC. Looling at it from a distance, the proposal to designate Robinson Street in Hudson a historic district without talking to anyone who lived there seemed tone deaf to put it gently. Moves like that can do lots of long term damage to these bodies.

    -- Jock Spivy

    1. The historic preservation statute requires notifications, public hearings and a vote by the common council. This differs from when neighborhoods are nominated as a district to the National Register. In that instance, once a determination of eligibility is made by SHPO, the property owners in the proposed district vote whether or not to approve the designation. If a majority are opposed, no dice.

      Similarly, anyone qualified under 36 CFR Part 61 may nominate a privately owned property to the National Register. Once the SHPO makes a determination of eligibilty, the property owner makes the final decision to accept or reject the honor. And that's what being on the National Register is for the most part--an honor. Little protection is afforded by this status alone. Protection comes on the local level, when municipalities create local historic districts/landmarks.

      § 169-4. Designation of landmarks or historic districts.

      C. Notice of a proposed designation shall be sent by certified mail to the owner(s) of the property(ies) proposed for designation, provided that property owners are 10 or fewer in number, describing the property and announcing a public hearing by the Commission to consider the designation. Where the proposed designation involves more than 10 property owners, notice may instead be published at least once in a newspaper of general circulation at least 14 days prior to the date of the public hearing, and a notice by post card shall be sent to each individual property owner so designated at least 14 days prior to the date of the public hearing. Once the Commission has issued notice of a proposed designation, no building permits shall be issued by the Building Inspector until the Commission has made its decision. An aggrieved owner may make application, first to the Commission, and then to the Common Council, for a building permit based upon a proof of lack of historical significance or proof of compliance with the certificate of appropriateness standards.

      [Amended 10-18-2005 by L.L. No. 7-2005; 8-15-2006 by L.L. No. 11-2006]

      D. The Commission shall determine if the application is complete and then shall hold a public hearing prior to designation of any landmark or historic district. The Commission, owners, and any interested parties may present testimony or documentary evidence at the hearing, which will become part of a record regarding the historic, architectural, or cultural importance of the proposed landmark or historic district. The record may also contain reports by consultants, public comments, or other evidence offered outside of the hearing. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the Commission shall make a recommendation as to designation of any landmark or historic district within 30 days. This recommendation shall be forwarded to the Common Council, which shall vote on the historic designation within 75 days. The historic designation shall be adopted by a majority vote of the Common Council. The determination shall be made based on the same proof before the Historic Preservation Commission.

  4. 'Scalera, Galvan--it's all the same.'

  5. Last Sunday two thousand miles from Hudson five people in an arts workshop began an impromtu discussion about the historic charm of Hudson, its wonderful small galleries, shops and restaurants. We surprised one another with our mutual ties to Hudson. One of the five in the workshop had just returned from Hudson, another will go in September, two others were there over the last year. One workshop attendee had bought a building on Warren Street eight years ago and opened a gallery on the ground floor. The gallery owner sold and left due to what he called "tangled inbred politics" coupled with a "dicey economy." All five of us felt the steep property and school taxes were so out of sight that we could not consider purchasing either a permanent or second residence there. All five of us live in a city of 62,000 where historic preservation is a form of worship and draws people from all over the world. If those who care deeply about historic preservation in Hudson let Galvan shills whittle away at preservation guidelines then Hudson will lose its heart and just be another quaint overtaxed little town in the Hudson Valley.

    1. The GalVan shills are not whittling away at Historic Preservation Laws,
      they are taking a chainsaw to them.

    2. Hudson soon to be renamed 'Gallowayville' - now that hes taken the keys to the city and has the combination to the safe.