Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Collecting Hudson and Rearranging It

A few months ago, Debby Mayer wrote an article for Columbia Paper about Eric Galloway's vast real estate holdings in Hudson. The title was inspired by something that Tom Swope, executive director for Galloway's not-for-profit Galvan Initiatives Foundation, said of his boss in the interview with Mayer: "He 'collects' Hudson." (Galloway himself declined to be interviewed for the article.) Now it seems that Galloway not only wants to collect Hudson but also to rearrange it.

In May, the Galvan Initiatives Foundation announced its intention to move two historic houses in Hudson. One of them was the Robert Taylor House, considered by some to be the oldest surviving house in Hudson, located at the head of Tanners Lane. The Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness to the proposal to move the house twice: first on May 11, because the application was incomplete; and again on June 8, because the HPC determined that moving the house would have a deleterious effect on the neighborhood from which it was being moved and on the historic significance of the house itself. The original owner, Robert Taylor, was a tanner. His tannery was on the shore of South Bay, across the road from his house, which is how the road got the name "Tanners Lane."

Robert Taylor House in its original setting

Robert Taylor House is its proposed new location

Galvan is not taking no for an answer. On July 12, an inch-thick document requesting a review of the HPC's decision by the Common Council was delivered to Council President Don Moore, with a copy to HPC counsel Cheryl Roberts. On July 17, at the regular Council meeting, the request was accepted as a "communication" and copies of the hefty document were distributed to the aldermen. Gossips got a copy of it at this time as well.

Galvan requests a review of the decision on the grounds that "the Commission's determination lacks a rational basis, is erroneous, arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the public interest, inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Historic Preservation Law, and beyond the Commission's jurisdiction." It goes on to allege that the denial of a certificate of appropriateness constitutes a "taking of private property."

The document takes issue with the HPC's position that the Robert Taylor House is located in a historic district and is a locally designated historic landmark. (The latter argument is based on the fact that the designation of the house was made by the HPC before the preservation law was suspended in 2005 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.) Even if, document goes on to argue, the house were a local landmark, that status would not prohibit it from being moved because nowhere in the case made for designation is the significance of the house's location ever mentioned.

Galvan's application to the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness gives this reason for the proposed move: "To save a historic structure and put in a better location." The idea that moving the house is a prerequisite for saving it seems questionable. Since Galvan owns the house, it can be saved in its current location as well as anywhere else. To support the argument that the house needs a "better location," the application juxtaposes this Hudson River School painting, from the approximate vantage point of the Robert Taylor House (Galvan says the painting is by Arthur Parton, but it is actually the work of Henry Ary), with a photograph of the same landscape today, similar to this one taken by Gossips earlier this week.

It's interesting that Galvan chose this particular painting to illustrate what they believe to be the intended surroundings of the Robert Taylor House. If you look closely at what appears at first to be a bucolic landscape, you can see the Hudson Iron Works tucked discreetly behind the tree at the right and the railroad track, what is today the ADM spur, borne over the waters of the bay on a trestle. In actuality, the area surrounding the Robert Taylor House, even at the time Henry Ary painted the scene, probably looked more like this. (That's the Robert Taylor House in the middle distance on the right.)

When the HPC discussed this project on June 8, one of the members made the observation that, if restored in its current location, the Robert Taylor House could be a catalyst for change in that part of the Hudson. The Galvan document recalls that comment and alleges that such "a vision for future development of a neighborhood" is "not [an] appropriate basis for the Commission to exercise its power." In another place, the document accuses the HPC of acting "as if they are a super-common-council or super-planning-commission, vested with the power to halt development projects that do not comport with the members' subjective vision for the community."

This criticism of the Historic Preservation Commission and their alleged misunderstanding of their role calls to mind an incident that took place several years ago, when Tom Swope, now the executive director for the Galvan Initiatives Foundation, was the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission. It was January 2007, just days after Richard Cohen demolished a building on Warren Street near Fourth without a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. Rick Scalera (this happened during one of the rare periods in the last two decades when he was not the mayor) appeared at the HPC meeting and demanded to know how this had happened. Among the things Swope offered, by way of explanation, was the rather extraordinary statement that the purpose of the Historic Preservation Commission was not just to save old buildings but to "shape development."

There are 61 items in the application for review from Galvan's attorney, and 61st has a rather menacing tone: "It is submitted that the Commission should have applauded and approved this project, not condemned it. In so doing, the Commission may well have condemned the Robert Taylor House to an uncertain future."


  1. Galvan's position is so outrageous that it would almost be laughable, if it wasn't so tragic. Charging that the action of HPC denying a certificate of appropriateness amounts to a "taking" of private property is specious.

    If Mr. Galloway and company are not interested in restoring the many historic properties they own IN PLACE, perhaps he should divest himself of them and go build some brand new buildings (with columns of course) somewhere else.

  2. And what historical foundation that Galvan is allegedly emulating would approve of this ?

    Doris Duke just may return from the grave over this one.

  3. Perhaps Galvan can leave the Taylor house where it is in exchange for accepting the Kaz warehouse at the same price our previous Mayor acquired it.

    The principle condition of the arrangement is that the warehouse be properly removed for the exclusive purpose of establishing a dog park.

    This would relieve the city of an asbestos liability, remove downwind wards of a potential noxious industry finding a home there, give us the dog park we need, and return the Taylor house environs to a more pleasant setting.

  4. Since I'm the one who suggested that keeping the Taylor House where it is could be foundation for future development, I want to add a reminder (once again ad infinitum ) that the Supreme Court in 1976 upheld Landmark Preservation laws as a constitutionally justifiable extension of local City panning laws. (God knows what they would decide now, but luckily the precedent has not been legally challenged--unless Galvan wants to take it there. ) No doubt this decision would allow comment on future development plans as part of it decision making process.

  5. Oh come on. Tim....give it a break. The Kaz Warehouse is a pivotal building (property) on Hudson's waterfront. It may well be that the warehouse needs to be demolished and the toxics on site be remediated.
    But to assume that every proposal that comes forward is a conspiracy, is ridiculous.

    The plastic extrusion company came to HDC with interest in the KAZ building. HDC properly rejected them because under the LWRP, that use was not allowed.

    The KAZ warehouse could easily be a mixed use development which embraces residential and commercial which is consistent with much of what you hold dear. But to assume that everything that is proposed will be accepted is ridiculous.

    Victor Mendolia

  6. It is said that the Roman Emperor Augustus eager to leave a visible legacy for his reign, claimed that he found Rome built in brick and left it in marble. Galloway, Hudson's current de facto Caesar, will be remembered as the one who found Hudson real and left it fake.

  7. INCORRECT: "HDC properly rejected them because under the LWRP, that use was not allowed."

    Victor, you've just proved that you don't understand the LWRP!!

    Few do.

    Anyway, I don't see where I was suggesting a conspiracy. I think it's a good idea: create a dog park to give the Taylor house a nicer setting where it already is.

    1. "unheimlech"--I'm curious to know how your interpretation of the LWRP on this particular point differs from Victor's.

  8. The Kaz warehouse sits in the Residential Special Commercial District (R-S-C), which conditionally permits such "converting" processes as polyethylene extrusion.

    Far from asserting that such uses are "not allowed," the city's Zoning Code plus the consistency review language of the LWRP leave it open to judgement whether a particular "light industrial" use (i.e., a "facility which manufactures, designs, assembles, or processes a product") is "objectionable" or may be "incompatible with other uses of the district" (see the city's Zoning Code at "Definitions," under "Light Industry").

    The City of Hudson Zoning Code at §325-13 lists among the conditional uses in an RSC District "(9) Assembling, converting, cleaning or any other processing of products within a fully enclosed building. Such processing shall be confined to light industry only."

    As for the supposed protections offered by the LWRP (simply recall who authored the offensive document), the LWRP states that "[a]ctions to be undertaken within the coastal area shall be evaluated for consistency in accordance with the following summary of LWRP policy standards."

    Among the LWRP policy standards already listed in the City of Hudson Code are "(a)... redevelop deteriorated and underutilized waterfront areas for commercial, industrial ... and other compatible uses ....; (b) .... strengthen the economic base of the harbor area .... ; (e) Expedite permit procedures ....; (k) Safeguard vital economic ... interests in the coastal area  ..." (see §325-35.2-B(8)).

    When members of the HDC board aren't familiar with the city's Zoning Code or have no more than a passing familiarity with the LWRP, to whom are such decisions to be entrusted?

    The only way to decide whether I'm being unfair to the HDC board member - the one who was unfair to me above - is to fully understand the role of the Hudson Development Corporation, a quasi-political body, in making such judgements on taxpayer's behalves.

  9. Mr. Mendolia,

    As you are a member of the Board of Directors of the Hudson Development Corporation, please defend your claim - and the claim you allege was made by the HDC - that "under the LWRP, that use [plastics] was not allowed."

    I've dutifully provided chapter and verse of the Hudson Code and LWRP above. As a result, citizens are now in a better position to make their own evaluations about your claim vis-a-vis the corruptly accomplished waterfront document.

    If you really wish to serve this community and not only yourself and your friends, it would be advisable to refrain from insulting members of the public, at least until you know what you are talking about.

    The fact that you would use your position on the HDC board to insult Hudson residents is an embarrassment to the HDC and to yourself.

    I await your reply and an apology.

    Thank you,

    Mr. O'Connor

  10. The Collecting of Hudson also took place in the 1980's by two different groups both of which names do not recall. Is Galvan one?
    One of the "Hudson Collectors" actually purchased a historical home in Claverack on Rt23B and had it dismantled and moved.
    So here's an idea for your all of to consider.
    Galvan Group, HPC,City of Hudson, NY State, etc. restore the Taylor House & the area warehouse(s)to a City of Hudson Museum.
    Is the KAZ warehouse a site to restore sloops, to house whaling artifacts, to have revolving shows from other museums on whaling, Nantucket, private collections, etc.
    Why not join together & make something positive from the Taylor House & surronding area.

  11. The two Groups in the '80's had nothing to do with Galvan. The both went belly up and dumped all their properties in the early '90's. One group owned 38 buildings which were then selling for as little as $28,000 in 1993, ie, the now Cascades, Ca mea, Mexican Radio, Gottlieb Galllery, etc, owned by one, the Curtis House, Opera House, Galloways own house on Alllen Street, the Benson House, and 415 Warren, (formerly Jolene's Hat Shop), owned by the other group. How far they fell and how far they rose and now fallen again,
    In value I mean, but a long way fro '93. Galvan's future remains to be seen.

    The ones who have actually helped Hudson were, are, not the big groups, nor the politicians, but the individuals who have invested sweat equity in Hudson and they are the ones who deserve the credit and who will survive and overwhelm, because now they are many.

  12. @tmD, that's a good idea too, but many agree that the building will likely have to come down. (If you doubt that, go have a look for yourself and factor in the required asbestos remediation.)

    It's what Mr. Mendolio sees as a likely use of the site that irks me, once you totally ignore what he supposes I "hold dear." (We hardly know one another.)

    I've learned to be extremely wary of this fellow's pronouncements. Now that I've given the above tour, others may begin to feel wary too.

  13. Mr. Mendolio's failure to reply has revealed much about the nature of the Hudson Development Corporation itself.

    From whence does the HDC derive its authority to pronounce on such topics?

    Exactly why should Hudson taxpayers simply trust this entity?

    As a quasi-governmental body, to whom is it accountable?

    Do citizens risk being sued if they challenge the integrity of the HDC's citizen board members?

    To review, the HDC announces that any plan to house a plastics extrusion factory in the old Kaz warehouse is "not allowed" according to the city's new LWRP. Local residents breath a sigh of relief and the HDC appears to have our backs.

    But upon closer inspection the pronouncement is wrong, and maybe even dishonest.

    In fact, the amendments to the Zoning Code which were the principle action of the LWRP conditionally permit the "converting" of such materials in the zone where Kaz lies.

    As we see from the Society of Plastics Engineers, plastics extrusion is a variety of plastics "conversion":


    The Residential Special Commercial District confines such conversions to "light industry" only, thereby deferring decisions about the suitability of any specific manufacturing to some body other than the HDC.

    Where the LWRP is concerned, the mayor is to appoint a Consistency Review Board which would evaluate, for example, whether the manufacturing of plastics is consistent with the policy standards of the LWRP; such policies as the expediting of permit procedures for the redeveloping of deteriorated buildings for industrial uses.

    I hope I've made it abundantly clear that the HDC is in no way authorized to interpret the LWRP for anyone. The HDC not only has no role in any LWRP procedure, but by pronouncing on what the waterfront program does and does not allow the HDC is already usurping the role of a political body that has yet to be appointed (by the mayor).

    And now it appears that the unacceptable conduct of the seemingly unaccountable HDC is above public criticism.

    I'm afraid that we've still a long way to go before reaching that hopeful comment above, whereby Hudson's fate will be guided by "the individuals who have invested sweat equity in Hudson." If we don't pay close enough attention to how the place is actually run, the hope of overwhelming and surviving is little more than a pipe dream.

  14. The fact that the HDC has made a misleading judgement on the contents of the LWRP in advance of the document's properly assigned interpreters may represent some sort of an ethical breach. I intend to find out.

    Has the organization outstripped whatever limitations were placed on it at its inception?

    Even though the public barely knows what it is, the arrogance revealed in the above analysis suggests that the HDC should be disciplined.

    But to whom are they accountable? If to no one, then maybe Hudson is better off if the HDC is dissolved.

  15. After drafting a letter exploring the possibilities of unethical conduct at the HDC, a knowledgeable friend advised me to fear them and to not send the letter. He made a good case, and so I'll not pursue it further.

    Obviously this city does not belong to its taxpayers.

    Hudson is growing more vicious, not less.

  16. Unheimlich,
    Why should you"fear them"[HDC]? by "exploring the possibilities of unethical conduct at the HDC" ? What advise was given by your
    "knowledgeable friend" TO "FEAR THEM"?[HDC]
    That would be helpful for the rest of citizens of Hudson to know.
    What would make you,Unheimlich, of all people,
    be afraid and
    "not to pursue this further" and just back down and proclaim "Obviously this city does not belong to it's taxpayers.Hudson is growing more vicious ,not less"
    Not that, that is any earth shattering news,
    but the fact it shut you up and you backed down,
    when certainly you have done a great service to this community by NOT being intimidated
    by anyone in the "City" hierarchy before:
    I sincerely find this highly alarming.
    Would you be able to explain this further? Thanks.