Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Highlights from Last Night's Council Meeting

The Common Council held its informal meeting on Tuesday night, with Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) presiding, since both Common Council president, Don Moore, and Council majority leader Cappy Pierro were absent. Several things of interest were taken up at the meeting.

Furgary Boat Club  The meeting began with consideration of a letter from Mayor William Hallenbeck, asking the Council to move on plans for the site of the Furgary Boat Club. The following paragraph is from that letter:
Over the past few months there has been at least three attempts, and in some cases break-ins committed at a few of these shacks. The longer the City takes to decide the future of this area, the more dangerous I believe it becomes by the individuals committing these acts. I once again call on the Council as I have done in recent emails, to discuss with a sense of urgency the future of the shacks. I ask that you consider moving by way of resolution the next course of action for this North Bay area. 
Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) made the point that moving forward required a "game plan," and to his knowledge there was none. About the shacks, he asked, "How many will we preserve?"

Friedman suggested that the issue be taken up at the Economic Development Committee meeting, which is scheduled for October 18, and, since the Columbia Land Conservancy's plan for North Bay involves this area, that Peter Paden, CLC's executive director, be invited to the meeting. Responding to this suggestion, city attorney Cheryl Roberts said that "the lawyers"--for the City, Columbia County, and CLC--should meet first, since Columbia County owns the capped landfill and "doesn't want to take on the liability of having people in there," and the meeting of the lawyers won't happen until November.

Youth Director  The mayor's communication also requested that the Council consider his request to "by way of local law . . . remove from the Hudson City Code sections C24-5 and C24-7, all references to a 'Youth Director' thus eliminating the position of Youth Director from the Hudson City Youth Department." This request was prompted by the resignation last Friday of current youth director Mary Hunter, who had been hired only three months ago. (See Tom Casey's story in today's Register-Star: "Months into job, city's youth director resigns.") Hallenbeck's goal in abolishing the position seems to be to reappropriate the $27,000 now paid to the youth director to fund programs.  

By and large, the Council did not seem to share Hallenbeck's enthusiasm for abolishing the position. Alderman Wanda Pertilla (Second Ward) said she thought that the position had been filled too soon with Hunter's hiring and suggested that the Council needed "to take a good look at how we're going to proceed." Similarly, Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) said she didn't want to do away with the position but wanted to "take some time to find the right person and define the position better." The goal is to find someone who can plan and oversee programs both for youth and for seniors.

On the topic of funding programs, it appears that the only program that has not been funded is the karate program. During the discussion, Pertilla mentioned that the karate instructor is paid $500 a month. She went on to say that "kids who were utilizing the program could afford to pay, and some kids weren't from Hudson." These are the same issues that were raised two years ago about the very popular yoga program for seniors: the people participating could afford to pay, and some of them didn't live in Hudson. The solution in the case of the yoga program was to establish fees for participants--a slightly higher one for nonresidents. This could be the solution for karate as well, but one wonders if Hudson can have a vibrant and viable program for youth or for seniors if there is an underlying assumption that these programs should only appeal to and exist for the neediest members of our community.

Tax Foreclosure Sale  Two resolutions were introduced to sell two properties offered at auction on September 29--208-212 Mill Street and 66 North Third Street--for amounts less than what had been the minimum bids. After the first resolution was introduced, Roberts raised the question of whether the winning bids could be considered "fair market value" and indicated that she needed to check with the state comptroller's office to find out if it was legal for the City to sell the properties for these amounts. It should be remembered that the minimum bid for a property in a tax foreclosure auction is the amount of back taxes due on the property.

Comparing the numbers for these two properties is an interesting exercise. The highest bid on 208-212 Mill Street was $15,000. The minimum bid--i.e., the amount due in back taxes--was $17,942. In the final assessment rolls for 2012, the "full market value" of the property--the amount on which property tax is calculated--is $47,000. City treasurer Eileen Halloran described this property as being "full of water."

The comparative numbers for 66 North Third Street are similar: the highest bid was $22,000; the minimum bid (total of unpaid taxes) was $46,700; the "full market value" in the 2012 tax rolls was $68,000. Halloran described this house as having places in the walls where light came through. 

Halloran spoke in support of selling the properties to the highest bidders, describing them both as being in "terrible, terrible condition" and saying that she doubted that "any real effort went to assessing the properties" for 2012. 

Stewart made the point that if the Council authorized the sale of these properties for the highest bids, the City would be losing $27,000 in back taxes ($27,642 to be exact). Halloran countered by saying that overall in the foreclosure auction the City had recouped more than the total amount of owed in taxes on the seized properties. She didn't have the exact figures at hand, but Gossips reported them on September 29. If the City sells 208-212 Mill Street and 66 North Third Street for $15,000 and $22,000 respectively, the total amount recouped from the sale of all five foreclosed properties will be $121,809--$15,222 more than the total amount owed in back taxes, which was $106,587.


  1. The Furgary question dovetails with the Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA), but I cannot find anyone who is able to answer my specific questions about Hudson's BOA application.

    At least two BOA Steering Committee members who were approached had no idea that they were listed as members. One has since dropped out and the other has departed for the winter.

    Indeed, I continue to be met with a great deal of evasiveness in a process that is meant to be open and participatory.

    To wit, an unnoticed BOA-required public meeting was held late last month about which Gossips posted twice:

    A second meeting is planned for the near future, but a date has not yet been decided and no details are known about the status of public comments, if any, at that meeting. Getting an answer to the next meeting's status is only proving to be the latest difficulty in what is looking like a very closed affair.

    The public should be sensitive to any immediate or overarching plans for the Furgary site, even for those who are not Furgary sympathizers.

    Alderman's Haddad's comment was surely directed at the fact that, depending on the plan, there are a number of protocols which may be required at the site. Some will potentially overlap. Others will require public participation, a likely subject of conversation among the lawyers.

    The mayor seems less interested in the details, and apparently wants to the council to work it all out. But who does the council inevitably turn to for its legal advice?

    When I had informed attorney Cheryl Roberts that in any event the DEC will require an application for a Freshwater Wetlands Permit for removal of the Furgary shacks, she replied that she was unaware of the fact. I urged her to phone the DEC's Region 4 office for the clarification they had just provided me, but I did not hear from her again.

    Along with Furgary, a second concern of the BOA application is the specifically intended study area known as the "7 acres," at the southern end of the Holcim yard.

    On ecological and feasibility grounds, the South Bay Task Force, the Valley Alliance, and members of the Hudson Power Boat Association were highly critical of the 7 acres component of the LWRP.

    Last month, and apparently without any discussion, the Common Council voted in favor of allocating money for a preliminary environmental study at the site. Representatives at the DOS and the DEC made private comments to me which raised questions about the intention and intended parameters of the study.

    However, where was the invitation for Hudson residents to be involved in any of these deliberations? Where is there evidence that Hudson residents are ever supposed to be anything other than sheep?

    It always feels as if there's a "No Trespassing" sign over so many of the issues that will shape the city's future, notwithstanding state requirements for pubic participation.

    Whether it concerns the North Bay (Furgary) or the South Bay (7 acres), the public needs some questions answered before the next BOA meeting (unless the meeting has no official status and is only being held to assuage our hurt feelings).

    In South Bay we should be sensitive to the creeping eventuality of the LWRP's idiotic plan for the 7 acres site. Just because the LWRP was commandeered by a handful of people of bad faith does not mean that we are forever committed to their selfish motives or faulty conclusions.

    Are there others in Hudson who are willing to defend Hudson River ecology and the state's Coastal Management Policies? We shall see.

  2. Keep those shacks there! It is an amazing film set, and place for photo shoots if nothing else. And, a great area for Hudson to promote as part of a city-wide tour. I think that the city should allow the public to use the space as a kayak boat club too, and to perhaps even allow some businesses there, like a coffee shop, bar and other shops. I apply.

  3. Excellent suggestions Tortillaville! And ones that I can attest are agreeable to the Furgarians themselves.

    As someone who regularly monitors Furgary from off-property and by boat, the claim that vandalism is occurring at Furgary is exaggerated. Naturally the exaggeration serves a purpose.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree that the shacks at the Furgary should be preserved in a manner that honors the history and significance of the location. This was a fight many waged day and night for months this past summer. In the end, unless folks stand up and let the city of Hudson know that destruction of this truly unique treasure is short-sighted and simply unacceptable, we'll soon be looking at an empty plot of land on the north end of Front Street. The City of Hudson has a long history of making colossal mistakes and trying to appease the community after the fact with weak apologies. I urge everyone who is interested in saving the Furgary so it can be learned from and appreciated by all to speak up to your elected officials now!

  5. I believe that a number of the shacks -- 2 or 3 say -- will be preserved and the site preserved under a stewardship/docent program that the State permits. The Common Council's Economic Development committee is likely to discuss this issue at its meeting this month (10/18 at City Hall). As always, the meeting is open to the public and the public is encouraged to attend and participate.

  6. Why does Alderman Friedman "believe that a number of the shacks -- 2 or 3 say -- will be preserved and the site preserved under a stewardship/docent program that the State permits."
    Where is this information coming from?

  7. I get the information at the weekly cabal meeting where all public policy in Hudson is made (in private of course).

    Why not ask me? I'll tell you: It comes from conversations that I've had with fellow members of the Common Council, the Mayor and my read of applicable State law in light of the historic importance the community has invested them (the shacks, the club, the singularity, whatever) with. A number of ideas were discussed -- leaving them to sink into the mud, bringing them up to code and then renting them on a nightly basis, use them as the anchor of an interpretive site, etc. At this time, I believe the collective wisdom is that the last alternative is the best as it preserves the value of the site and provides a learning experience. It is contemplated, at least now I think, that this would be linked up in some way with the CLC concept of a city park encompassing the North Bay. State law provides for a municipality to use waterfront property in this way. If someone else has another idea/concept they shouldn't keep it under their hat -- put it on paper and/or come on down to the Economic Development committee when it meets and speak up. Or, if it's particularly good, smart, cost-effective and easy to implement and administer, send it to me so I can take credit for it.


  8. Alderman Friedman,
    I was asking you.It wasn't with any attitude.
    This information is most appreciated.
    I am genuinely concerned about the fate of Furgary,as many of Hudson's citizen's are.
    This is the first time I've heard from the" City", any real plans or ideas for Furgary,
    let alone positive discussions of saving the shacks
    and utilizing them and the river front, in a productive way.Hopefully this is encouraging news

  9. 1.

    A very good question Prison Alley.

    I want to be clear that I'm speaking for myself here, and for nobody else. I'm not much associated with Furgary anymore, though I really wish them the best of luck. After what I have to say below, they may not want any further association with me anyway.

    While I really do appreciate Alderman Friedman's invitation to the Economic Development committee meeting, as he describes the scene it is merely the public's moment to weigh in at the last. This may be the tail end of a discussion the length and depth of which are unknown to the rest of us.

    May I remind him that it was at a Common Council meeting in mid-July, on the occasion when the mayor narrated a highly disingenuous address on Furgary, that the public was not permitted to comment until all other business was finished. Even then, the atmosphere for commenting was most disagreeable. This all had a predictably deleterious effect and great bitterness resulted.

    If there are better ideas about what can be done with the cabins - and I have already communicated some of them to my alderman - the general feeling may be that it is already too late in the proceedings to make any difference. "Private" meetings were held, and everyone knows what that means.

    Try and recall the days before you were a public servant Mr. Friedman, and the ease - rightly or wrongly - with which cynicism seemed to offer the most sensible explanation of events. Whatever the reasons for the feelings, whether accurate or totally off-base, this is the atmosphere that plagues all politics and policy-making in Hudson. We will only get beyond it with a mutually concerted effort.


  10. 2.

    On a not unrelated point I'd like to ask whether a Furgary comment you made at Gossips on July 28th isn't something of a case in point.

    First, I must acknowledge that you provided the correct information at the time. That was not the problem. But it was your manner of doing so which made you judge and jury, and that is precisely the thing that needs fixing in Hudson.

    The emphases are yours, and so was the unnecessary tone of the impossibility of the situation.

    "As for the rationale for the City's actions: it is ILLEGAL for a NYS city (like Hudson) to sell or lease to a private individual or group any waterfront property that city owns without an act of the state legislature. Period. NYS GCL Sec. 20(2). Those are not 'crocodile tears,' but the law."

    Was that an example of what you are now calling a "read of applicable state law"?

    I would counter that such acts of "alienation" are a standard function of the New York state legislature. Even a hot dog stand in small park requires alienation from the legislature (and for effect, one might add the word "period" here).

    Fortunately, the city's new zoning in North Bay does not inhibit the rightful exercise of the state coastal management policies (nor for that matter did the old zoning).

    Despite the demonstration of confidence exhibited in the above quotation, a discussion about leasing must remain on the table. Whatever your feelings on the matter, you should stick to the facts of your quotation and let the public arrive at its own attitudes about them.

    It follows that if you were to conduct the upcoming meeting in an atmosphere of fairness, with less of your own desires infusing your delivery of facts, that less bitterness may be the result.

    I suggest that if you agree with me in your concern about the requirement of alienation from the state legislature before leasing waterfront parklands to private enterprises, that you assist me in requiring the city to pursue legislative alienation for the city dock at the waterfront park. Currently and for years an officer of the city, Guy Falkenheimer, has treated our dock as his private domain. He now takes up a full 75% of it.

    Every day the public trust is violated at our waterfront park, yet the Furgarians still struggle against the perception that as "squatters" they were the true violators. And then, wonder of wonders, it turns out that the city was a squatter too, even building its treatment plant on state land.

    Which way was the squatter story told which was more to your liking? With just the Furgarians as squatters, or with the city as a squatter also?

    How about making the field more level for now on, and help lessen city official's apparent need to treat these people like dirt.

    If you'd like to read about a community that did something about its own Falkenheimer problem, please see the matter of "Lake George Steamboat Co. Inc., et al., Appellants, v. Robert M. Blais et al, as Trustees of the Village of Lake George, et al., Respondents," decided 1972.

    30 N.Y.2d 48; 281 N.E.2d 147; 330 N.Y.S.2d 336; 1972 N.Y. LEXIS 1503