Sunday, December 2, 2012

The State of Historic Preservation Revisited

The Historic Preservation Commission held a special meeting on Friday, November 30, to approve a certificate of appropriateness for the storefront and facade renovation at 255 Warren Street and to discuss enforcement of the historic preservation law. The decision on the proposed restoration of 255 Warren Street had been held up by concerns, expressed by HPC architect member Jack Alvarez, that the design of the entrance to the commercial space was not ADA compliant. The discussion of enforcement was requested by HPC member Peggy Polenberg, who wanted the discussion to take place in a nonpublic meeting but was advised by HPC counsel Cheryl Roberts that meetings of the HPC had to be public.

After code enforcement officer Peter Wurster confirmed that the plans for the restored storefront at 255 Warren Street complied with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the HPC voted unanimously to approve the certificate of appropriateness, with the stipulation that, if the design had to be changed in any way for ADA compliance, it would be resubmitted to the HPC for review.
When the discussion turned to enforcement, it became clear that Polenberg was looking for another opportunity to complain about being cited for violating the historic preservation ordinance. In August, about ten weeks after she had been appointed to the HPC, Polenberg hung a sign for her real estate business on her building at 249 Warren Street. She had not applied for or obtained a certificate of appropriateness for the sign from the HPC, of which she was a member. Polenberg was cited for this violation by code enforcement. Instead of acknowledging that an HPC member should probably be above reproach when it came to the historic preservation law, Polenberg surveyed other businesses on the block, reported that none of them had received certificates of appropriateness for their signs, and argued that, if no enforcement action had been taken against them, none should have been taken against her. 

On Friday, Polenberg's husband, who was in the audience, took up cant that his wife had been unfairly treated, making reference to Ellen Thurston's report, in the Register-Star Winter Walk supplement, that 32 new businesses had opened in Hudson in the past year. "All these have signs," said Myron Polenberg, "but they have not come before the Historic Preservation Commission." Wurster admitted, "I have not been chasing people down," acknowledging that "probably more than 32 signs have gone up without permits or paying fees." Polenberg clarified that it was "not my thought to harass 32 new businesses"; rather he wants "the law"--it wasn't clear if he meant the law requiring a sign permit from the code enforcement office, the law requiring a certificate of appropriateness for signs in historic districts, or both--to be "generally ignored or eliminated."

The discussion of signage ended without clear resolution, but, in the public interest, it should be pointed out that there is an entire chapter in the city code--Chapter 244--devoted to signs. Any sign erected within the city limits of Hudson must conform with basic requirements that have to do with dimensions, overall size (i.e., square footage), materials, method of illumination, fixture, etc., and be issued an "erection permit" by the code enforcement office, for which a fee must be paid. Signs within a locally designated historic district also require a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, which considers the proposed sign's compatibility with the historic character of the building and the street on which it is located. There is no fee for a certificate of appropriateness.

A second issue discussed at Friday's meeting, which involved a question of compliance and members of the HPC, was the rose window at the First Presbyterian Church which was recently covered with plywood. HPC chair Rick Rector raised a question that had been asked of him: "Why didn't this come before the HPC?" The discussion revealed that not only had the church not approached the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness, but, according to Wurster, it had not approached him about a building permit. HPC members Phil Forman and David Voorhees are both involved with the church--Forman as the president of the Friends of the First Presbyterian Church, and Voorhees as a member of the FFPC board and a member of the Session, the church's board of governors. 

Calling it a "process oversight," Forman explained that the Friends had not been involved in the project to cover the window. It was, he explained, a project undertaken by the church. Voorhees said that the contractor was supposed to get a building permit but apparently had not done so. Roberts expressed her opinion that the HPC did not have jurisdiction over the project because it was not a permanent change to the building, but Jack Alvarez, architect member of the HPC disagreed.

Myron Polenberg, from the audience, reminded the HPC that his wife had been required to leave the room when the certificate of appropriateness for moving the Robert Taylor House was being considered (Peggy Polenberg had been the buyer's agent when the property was purchased) and wanted to know why Voorhees and Forman could participate in the discussion and weren't being asked to leave the room. Roberts explained that the difference was that no vote was being taken about the First Presbyterian Church. She also acknowledged that she had been mistaken when she told Polenberg that she probably needed to leave the room when the Robert Taylor House was being discussed; simply leaving the dais would have been adequate. Roberts said she had already admitted her error and apologized to Polenberg, but Polenberg told Roberts she wanted the fact that "you were in error throwing me out of the meeting" to go "on the record."

Two projects that have flouted the historic preservation law by proceeding without a certificate of appropriateness were mentioned: 82-84 North Fifth Street and 816 Warren Street. In neither case has any penalty been imposed. Wurster expressed the opinion that these projects should be fined. Roberts, however, explained that "every time there is a violation, we don't pursue and prosecute." According to Roberts, the decision to "pursue and prosecute" is the purview of the mayor, and she has not yet had the opportunity to discuss these matters with him.


  1. Cheryl Roberts recommending that a meeting be public?! Oh now I see my mistake: "meetings of the HPC had to be public."

    Had to be is not ought to be. Still, a person can always change. Shall we be charitable and continue to hope that the democratic spirit descends upon her?

    The issue of signage will get really interesting as soon as it dawns on everyone - city officials and residents alike - that we've been under a new zoning regime for exactly one year.

    Cheryl Roberts' new zoning was not dependent on the state's authorization of the LWRP as everyone seems to think. New signage restrictions (and other regulations) took effect last December!

    Too funny and typical: a year goes by and nobody in Hudson even knows.

    (For anyone else who sees the situation as absurd, have you ever wondered where the official Zoning Map is? There's an ordinance that says that it's supposed to be on file for the benefit of the people. It's Mr. Moore's responsibility, so let's ask him.)

  2. Does the Mayor direct the Police Chief about which cars will be held to our parking code & which will be given a pass?

    Are there other commissions whose members utilize their own offenses to weaken the very municipal law the commission is tasked with upholding?

    Our intellectual dishonesty around Preservation is still flowering...

  3. From the City of Hudson code:

    §325-3: ADOPTION OF MAP.

    "The boundaries of the districts and the waterfront boundary are hereby established as shown on the 'Zoning Map, City of Hudson, New York,' which map accompanies this chapter, and which, with all explanatory matter thereon, is hereby adopted and made a part of this chapter. A copy of said map, indicating the latest amendments, shall be kept up-to-date in the office of the Building Inspector for the use and benefit of the public."

    Already a year after the new zoning was passed into law and there's still no map. The council passed a law - an official Zoning Map - that was not and never has been drafted.

    One reason for this is because they never decided on the boundaries of the Core-Riverfront District.

    The strangest feature of the city's Core-Riverfront District is its mouse tail, which runs the length of the South Bay causeway from Route 9G to the waterfront. The odd gerrymandering should be understood as the city's gift to O&G and Holcim, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

    Since the text portion of the zoning law did not attempt to describe the width of the causeway portion of the Core-Riverfront District, presumably only a map can address the question of how wide the district should be there, and thus how wide the road may be.

    As citizens we still have an opportunity to make the Zoning Map reflect a predetermined width for the Core-Riverfront District at the causeway. And why should it be any wider than the width of the present road?

    Because the DEC's prohibition on "wetlands encroachment" in their Freshwater Wetlands Permit for O&G has been broken so many times in the last two years that the road has grown in multiples of feet and not inches, we should reject outright any convenient excuses about redundancy with restrictions at the state level.

    Anyway, why would we want to rely on the state in this matter when state bureaucrats have routinely exploited our right to self-determination as an excuse for their own negligence and laziness? (cf., the City of Hudson's LWRP).

    For once let's reserve the spirit of Home Rule to serve ourselves.

    And let's have no more gifts from the city (in our names!) for this unconcerned and uncaring mining company.

    (A discussion about other unresolved problems with the same district would require an accompanying graphic, which is precisely why zoning maps become laws in their own right.)

  4. Here here, Mr. Marston.

    When mentioning the Common Council I should distinguish between past councils and the present one.

    Not all previous aldermen have always agreed with idiotic legislation either, though most have.

    I would argue that passing a Zoning Map into law which had yet to be created was idiotic, but I guess that's just me.