Sunday, August 4, 2013

Five Easy Pieces

In the Middle Ages, it was common for cathedrals to be built over the course of generations. Here in Hudson, we have a condominium community that has already been in the works for a generation--from one millennium to the next--and it is still not complete.

Back in the 1980s, when affluence was everywhere and the revival in Hudson was in its most embryonic stage, someone had the idea to build a condominium complex on the hill above the reservoir, at the highest point in Hudson, with commanding views to the east of the city, the river, and the Catskills, and to the west of the cemetery, the quarries, and the Berkshires. Only the first block of three units had been completed when along came Black Monday and the market stock market crash of 1987. Since no one was clamoring to buy the first three units, plans for the rest of the buildings were put on hold.

For years, the three units huddled together, alone at the top of the hill. Then, around 1994 or 1995, someone had the stunningly bad idea of selling the property to a developer who wanted to build low-income "rent-to-own" housing there. News of this plan spread like wild fire through the community. This was the era of the Vision Plan and monthly meetings that brought together people who wanted to ratchet up the city's self esteem. These were people who had lived in other places and were astounded by Hudson's apparent willingness to sacrifice its choicest locations to subsidized housing. There was protest. There were petitions. People were particularly outraged that the local realtor who co-chaired the Vision Plan effort had brokered the deal. A hectoring lecture meant to rebuke the group for their lack of liberal sensibilities, from a woman who stood to gain financially from the deal, fell on deaf ears. There was a vocal new element in Hudson--property or business owners all--who did not want low-income housing on the hill overlooking the city, and this new force prevailed. The deal was abandoned, and the realtor at the center of it resigned in disgrace from his role in the Vision Plan.

Moving on to the next decade, in the aftermath of 9/11, the notion that New Yorkers might seek second homes or primary homes in places that were accessible but far beyond ground zero persuaded developers that there was a market for the condominiums first proposed in the 1980s. In 2002, although then city attorney Jack Connor expressed disbelief and some annoyance that a project that had gotten site plan approval almost twenty years earlier could move ahead without a new review, only one thing brought the condo project before the Planning Commission. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had, in the intervening years, changed its rules about impervious surfaces and storm water management, so the project had to be reviewed again for those considerations only.

In 2003, the construction of the remaining units went forward. Detractors, those who had been drawn to Hudson by its historic architecture and who valued authenticity, dubbed the new complex "Vinyl Village." Defenders of the Olana viewshed were stunned to discover that the condos constituted a greater intrusion into the view from Cosy Cottage than the abandoned Atlas Cement storage silos. People inhabiting the old city below bemoaned the fact that the condos broke the ridge line and spoiled the perfect collar of green that surrounded the city--something that previously was done only by the Oliver Wiswall House on Mount Merino.

Plans for Phase II
With the two facing rows of condos complete, the complex was given a name: Mount Ray Estates. This, however, was just Phase I. In 2005, Phase II came before the Planning Commission for site plan review. Residents of Rossman Avenue, concerned about increased traffic on their steep little street and increased problems with storm water runoff, organized the Rossman Avenue Association and hired a lawyer to try to stop Phase II. They were joined in their efforts by historic preservationists concerned about how the condos would encroach on the oldest section of Hudson's historic cemetery.

In a bizarre turn of events, the Rossman Avenue Association's lawyer, Jeff Baker, who had achieved hero status as the attorney for Friends of Hudson during the protracted battle against St. Lawrence Cement, was appointed by the Tracy administration, at the beginning of 2006, to be legal counsel to the Planning Commission, and as a consequence, he could no longer represent the Rossman Avenue residents. At what may have been their first meeting in 2006, the members of the Planning Commission, the majority of whom were Rick Scalera appointees, voted four to three to adopt a negative declaration, thus eliminating a higher level of review, which would have looked at, among other things, the impact of the expanded condo project on the National Register-listed Rossman-Prospect Avenue Historic District and the National Register-eligible Hudson City Cemetery and involved the State Historic Preservation Office. The vote broke similarly on giving site plan approval to Phase II.

As before, not all of the buildings in Phase II were constructed at that time. Only the nine units on the west side of what is called Academy Hill Drive were completed.

Early last week, Gossips received reports from readers who live on Rossman Avenue of "incredible, loud, and constant truck traffic carrying away debris from the top of the hill." Gossips investigated and discovered what appeared to be activity in preparation for construction.

The photograph below was taken on Tuesday, July 30, from the cemetery, just beyond the monumental tomb (shown at right) of Fred W. Jones, the man who gave us the railroad through South Bay that evolved into the "causeway."
Either they've decided to contour and landscape the slope between Academy Hill Drive and the cemetery or the construction of Phase II has resumed. If it's the latter, we should probably celebrate the fact that the developers of Mount Ray Estates think the Great Recession of 2009 is over. If they have resumed construction on Phase II, it is not clear at this point if they intend to complete the entire complex or just to build the nine units planned for the east side of Academy Hill Drive--the fourth of what would be a total of five pieces.



  1. Not sure if those units in Vinyl Village have city sewer or septic tanks. But I'm sure that the archeologists of the future will be amused to discover that the civic leadership in Hudson, NY in the early 21st century was OK with the notion of huge quantities of human excrement being dispensed immediately adjacent to and above their water supply.

  2. The development connects to Hudson City water & sewer systems.

  3. The overflow ponds which were sited in the Phase II review as being adequate for storm water run off (and are not, as those on the North side of Rossman can attest, having had to build retaining walls) are presently choked with weeds. Also the the fire chief had concerns after Phase II was completed, that the roof contruction would not support fireman and said so at a Council Meeting. (Where he was before construction I don't know). The desecration of Rossman continues daily. But, as Gossips contends, the economy is booming - and I say, is this progress? And how long do Planning approvals last - I believe it was about 2006 that the infamous negative declaration planning meeting took place, giving them the go ahead.

  4. As a resident and the President of the Homeowners Association of Mt. Ray Estates, I find it appalling that people can write articles, and respond with comments, without knowing, or asking for factual information.

    Your article ends leaving the impression that there is some wrongdoing up on the time it would be more helpful and insightful for all if you asked questioned and reported answers.

    I also remind you that Mt. Ray Estates is a thriving community filled with families of all kinds. These are not merely buildings with vinyl siding; these are our homes and we are proud of them.

    Best Regards,
    Scott J. Hillje
    President - Mt. Ray Estates

  5. I thank “The Gossips of Rivertown” for its informative history of Mount Ray Estates. However, it left out an important part of the history: that we are a vibrant community, with an even mix of full time and part time homeowners; that we care deeply about the city of Hudson, make significant financial contributions in terms of paying taxes and frequenting restaurants and shops, and attending community events such as parades, Winter Walk, Taste of Hudson, community meetings, etc. We do not live in isolation above the city, but are part of the fabric of this wonderful city, with its mix of urban life and rural charm. We too are affected by the truck travel on Academy Hill, Van Winkle, and Rossman and eagerly await the completion of the next phase of development. The Mount Ray Board of Directors has and will continue to work with the city, residents of Rossman, and community groups to ensure that the developer meets its obligations to the city and its residents and to complete development in an manner consistent with all of our environmental concerns.

    Alan Sadovnik
    Board of Directors, Homeowners Association Mount Ray Estates
    Professor of Education, Sociology and Public Affairs
    Rutgers University

  6. As a professor of the history of urban education, resident of Mount Ray and a new reader of "The Gossips of Rivertown", I hope you have or will address Hudson's other problems, many more important to the city than the problematic but hopefully short lived truck traffic up and down Rossman, Van Winkle, and Academy Hill, which also negatively affect the residents of our development. These problems include the growing "tale of two cities" with affluence on and around Warren Street and its positive effects contrasted with the sometimes pernicious poverty in areas a distance from the downtown business and artistic districts; problems of crime and drug sales and use; problems related to the paucity of livable wage jobs; and educational problems consistent with those in other cities. My husband,a sociologist of education,and I understand that although we are part time residents, we have a civic duty to contribute to solving these problems. As part of this, we are offering our expertise to the school superintendent as she, the Board, and the district's dedicated teachers and administrators work to ensure all of Hudson's children receive an excellent education.

    Susan Semel Resident, Mount Ray Estates Professor of Education and History and Chair of the Department of Leadership and Special Education, The City College of New York

  7. I realize this thread is almost a decade old, but thank you Susan Semel. Hudson is indeed the tale of two cities, and that divide has become dramatically more apparent during the last year. Real estate prices are through the roof and the job market is that same as it’s been for decades. My grandmother has lived in her house for over 70 years and the value of her home has pretty much quadrupled this year. Hopefully the increased taxes she’ll most likely need to pay won’t kick her out of her own home. It’s sad that the people from Hudson can’t afford to stay and are being pushed out by new money that isn’t contributing to the economy. There’s virtually no employment for anyone with a college degree, so if you have gone to college, you almost have to leave in order to find work. If you haven’t received a college degree, there are some minimum wage jobs around but who can afford to live on minimum wage in a community where the average cost of a home is now $600,000?