Friday, November 8, 2013

The Fate of the Garden

Last night, it was standing room only at City Hall as Hudson Urban Gardens (HUG) and Habitat for Humanity presented their proposals to the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency, represented by executive director Sheena Salvino and three of its five board members (Cappy Pierro, Ohrine Stewart, and Don Tillson; Mayor William Hallenbeck and Lyle Shook were absent). John Mason reports on the meeting in today's Register-Star: "Compromise sought in garden dust-up."

Gossips took Salvino at her word when she said, after the presentations and the brief public comment period, that the meeting would move on to other agenda items. Mason didn't and was there to hear Salvino refer to the people in the community who came out to support the garden as an "excited mob," to hear Tillson (chair of the Planning Commission) use the term "mob mentality" at least twice, and to hear Pierro characterize citizens' desire to be involved in the decisions that affect them as "They love to battle." They must have not realized the press was still in the room.

Late in the brief period set aside for public comment, Victor Mendolia questioned how exhaustive the search for alternative building sites had been and mentioned the lot at the corner of Fourth and State streets, which the City has owned since 1994 and which a year ago the Common Council agreed to sell in order to close a gap in the much touted zero increase 2013 budget. Amazingly, as Mason reports, the HCDPA board seems to have glommed on to that as an alternative site for Habitat's single family passive houses--no matter that the site could more appropriately be used for a more substantial building that would provide affordable housing for more than just three or four families.



  1. I'm not understanding something.

    In yesterday's Gossips thread, Alderman Friedman - a Board Member with the Columbia County Habitat for Humanity - stated that "the Common Council has nothing to do with this land."

    If that is true, then in what conceivable capacity did Mr. Moore participate in last night's dialogue? Was he standing with his fellow citizens? If he was in the audience, then that was entirely appropriate; yet he seems to have stayed on after the public was dismissed.

    Can someone clarify? I was ill and could not attend.

  2. It's unfortunate that the abandoned buildings in the city can't be renovated for housing. A few blocks from the garden site, on the corner of 2nd and Warren, is a boarded up apartment building that has been empty for years, and another abandoned house a couple of doors from that. These would add a lot of needed housing if restored to use.

    I'm a big fan of more open space and parks, but the argument that the garden can't be moved is a bit hard to believe. My back yard was covered with asphalt and in one season I tore it up and made a nice garden there. Seems to me setting up another garden wouldn't be that hard if a location was available.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Carole. Otherwise I would have never read the jump . . .

  4. Thanks, SlowArt. It's absolutely crazy to be taking open space off the map while dozens of old houses need help. What can Habitat possibly be thinking? Of course, the garden can be moved. But why? Why can't "habitat" do what it is supposed to do: provide homes for the poor. Don't take airable, breathable, sustainable land from them in order to do it! C'mon, Habitat. Don't forget your roots!

  5. Has Columbia County Habitat for Humanity decided to no longer refurbish vacant houses? They used to, on Allen Street for example.

    Alderman Pierro keeps alluding to some agreement whereby the disputed lots must be used for housing. If true, and the lots are spoken for, then you can't wish away a binding contract. The sooner the issue is addressed the better, but the claim is not making much news. If it actually has legs, then who renegotiates the terms, and with whom?

    1. Habitat purchased old buildings for re-habbing when the prices were lower - now the prices are too high. The most recent constructions were on donated land, so the Habitat financing system was able to function properly.

    2. I see. I too have been priced out of areas before, then moved on.

      Any idea what Mr. Pierro was talking about? If he's tipped off the public to a previous and binding agreement, then a situation may be unfolding that we've seen before: public officials knowing exactly how a story would end, but who nonetheless keep their counsel in order to exhibit their fine feelings instead. Saw it countless times with the South Bay; saw it in lesser degree at Furgary.

      For their part, the aldermen can counter that the city has nothing to do with the gardened land, but that's not the same thing as saying that it can't.

      So what did Alderman Pierro mean, if anything any of these official say can ever be believed?

    3. It's my opinion, unheimlich, that Pierro was not talking about any formal, binding agreement but of the intention of Rick Scalera when the City acquired this land. A lot of land was acquired by the City during Scalera's many terms as mayor. Some of it was turned over to HCDPA, some to HDC, some was kept by the City. If it went to HCDPA, it was intended to be used for housing. If it went to HDC, it was meant for some kind of commercial development. I could be wrong. The City/HCDPA acquired the lots that are the community garden before I was paying much attention and was still trying to figure out the alphabet soup of Hudson's quangos.

    4. Acknowledging that you're probably right, and that Alderman Pierro was way off by suggesting that anything was ever formalized, here's how the matter appeared in the RS:

      "Alderman Carmine A. 'Cappy' Pierro, D-5th Ward, an HCDPA board member, said the original agreement stipulated that if the possibility of turning the land into housing ever appeared, 'that’s what would go there.'”

      If it was my garden, I'd want to nip that question in the bud immediately, and also get it corroborated three different ways.

      These people (gardeners) may get hurt owing to something that someone didn't tell them.

      Beware folks, it's Hudson's stock, greasy way of handling "mobs" who obstruct "progress."

  6. From an op-ed in a national publication today:

    "[I]n American government ... too many of our rulers and their enforcers reflexively see the citizenry primarily as a threat."

    "An excited mob" - Sheena Salvino

    "A mob mentality” - Don Tillson

    “They love to battle” - Carmine Pierro

    “It’s a mob mentality ... These two women are being inundated with opinions” - Don Tillson

    Consider that if the "stipulation" cited by Alderman Pierro - an HCDPA Board Member - is legitimate, which is to say that without altering course the garden is required to become a building site, then the following messages are precisely what we could expect from our officials:

    "Members of the board of the [HCDPA] decided to feel out Habitat on the possibility of moving their plans ... to the city’s long vacant lot at Fourth and State streets" [Register Star synopsis].

    "[Asked] if there would be a public hearing, [Sheena Salvino] said, 'We can meet as many times as you want to'.”

    "The Common Council has nothing to do with this land: it's owned by HCDPA, not the City" [Habitat for Humanity Board Member and Alderman John Friedman].

    “If you don’t sell it to Habitat for Humanity ... keep it for the city” [HCDPA Board Member and Alderman Carmine Pierro].

    For fun, compare the last two quotations for a Sunday thought experiment. Then ask whether the phrase "the Common Council has nothing to do with" is the same as "cannot or won't have anything to do with"?

    For too few officials wearing too many hats, overcoming a reflexive fear of the citizenry is a perennial challenge.