Friday, December 20, 2013

A Garden Divided

The Solomon like resolution to the controversy over the lots at Second and Columbia streets, developed over the past twenty years as a community garden and now sought by Habitat for Humanity to complete its "build out" of Columbia Street, was predictable: 202, 204, and 2o6 Columbia Street will go to Hudson Urban Gardens (HUG); 208 Columbia Street--a lot slightly larger than the other three lots combined--will go to Habitat for Humanity. Sheena Salvino, executive director of HCDPA (Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency), made those recommendations at the outset of last night's HCDPA meeting, but it took the board more than an hour, part of which was spent in executive session, to decide to act on those recommendations.

Mayor William Hallenbeck, who sits on the HCDPA board, seemed persuaded that such a compromise could not be reached. He talked about the amount of effort and time, especially "the mayor's time," that had been devoted to the issue and complained that HUG had rejected every alternative offered--among them plots in Charles Williams Park, across State Street from Bliss Towers, and at Montgomery C. Smith School. "What sense would it make," he asked rhetorically, "to offer a motion to split the lots, if the garden won't accept it?" 

Responding to Hallenbeck's question, Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), also an HCDPA board member, surmised, "What you're telling us is the garden wants it all or nothing." He then spoke of the City's "obligation" to Habitat for Humanity. "We're running out of space," he said. "We have to come up with more space so Habitat can fulfill their mission."

To Pierro's comment, Salvino responded, "We don't need to be beholden to Habitat," and suggested that solving Hudson's housing issues required a much larger housing strategy than "piecemeal putting houses in."

When Vanessa Baehr, director of the community garden, who repeatedly tried to be recognized to respond to Hallenbeck's characterization of HUG's position, finally got a chance to speak, she denied, "just for the record," that HUG had taken an "all or nothing" position. She also commented on what seemed to be the board's favorite alternative location: a strip of land behind the Habitat houses on Mill Street, which is part of Charles Williams Park. She noted that, although the location was being described as just a seven-minute walk from the garden's current location, the walk involved negotiating the very steep hill on Second Street, which would be difficult for people carrying children, gardening tools, and garden produce. [Gossips Note: The foot path down to Charles Williams Park from the north end of Third Street, involving lots of switchbacks to make it suitable for wheelchairs, which was part of the original plan for developing the park, has never been constructed.] Baehr also pointed out that the proposed alternative used to be a clay mine and "you can't grow vegetables very well in clay."

Hallenbeck, who seemed determined to resolve the problem at that meeting, became annoyed when city attorney Cheryl Roberts began quoting Section 507 of New York State General Municipal Law, which deals with the disposal of publicly owned property. One of the requirements specified in the law is notice in the newspaper that you wish to sell a property. Roberts observed, "In the past, what you have done is just given the property away"--something not permitted by General Municipal Law. Hallenbeck wanted to know why this discussion had not happened two weeks ago and at one point petulantly made a motion to adjourn the meeting. The motion was not seconded, and the meeting continued, but when conversation moved toward determining fair market value for the lots, the board went into executive session.

Twenty minutes later, when the meeting was reopened to the public, the HCDPA board voted on two resolutions. The first dealt with 208 Columbia Street and determined that sealed bids for 208 Columbia Street must be submitted before noon on December 24. The assumption seems to be that Habitat for Humanity will be the only bidder, but presumably anyone can submit a bid for the lot. John Mason reports in the Register-Star that Salvino told him after the meeting, "We are accepting the most responsible bid that coincides with the mission of this agency." The second resolution was an agreement to lease 202, 204, and 206 Columbia Street to Hudson Urban Gardens for one year, from January 1, 2014, through December 31, 2014, for an annual payment of $1,000. It was not clear if the lease agreement will contain the option to buy the property, which HUG seeks.


  1. According to Pierro, the community garden sits on lots that "were always slated for development".
    So, for 20 years the garden occupied a spot that may, someday, be used for housing.
    Given that, its hard to believe that after all these years, the best the city can come up with for that land is a plan for two small housing units (five, if the whole garden had been demolished).
    If we're going to lose our only community garden, or in this case, half of it, the HCDPA should put a lot more effort into devising a housing strategy that includes that lot, and plan for something with more density. After all, Bliss Towers won't last much longer.
    Its a shame. And another lost opportunity.

  2. "After all, Bliss Towers won't last much longer."

    An amazing grasp of the obvious.

    Since the late 70s the plan of these 'development' corporations was to fill Bliss with the miserable and gentrify the ghetto with "Dinks". Then take down the tower of Bliss...

    In the best of all possible worlds, with two incomes and no kids, there is no need for gardens or playgrounds, much less a wharf for county fishermen.

    1 Riparian