Friday, December 6, 2013

Deciding the Garden's Fate

At last night's meeting of the Board of HCDPA (Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency), executive director Sheena Salvino began by stating the goal: to explore "the spectrum of practical options" in the controversy between the Hudson Community Garden and Columbia County Habitat for Humanity over the parcel of land at Columbia and Second streets that has been a community garden for twenty years.

After making the point that he had "made himself available" to all the parties involved, Mayor William Hallenbeck, who sits on the HCDPA board, said he was "taken back" by reading in the newspaper that the community garden had gotten a one-year lease from HCDPA. He said he, "as a board member," had not agreed to the lease. In the same vein, Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), also a member of the HCDPA board, declared that he "almost went through the ceiling" when he read the article. He told the representatives of the garden present, "You have no standing there," and accused them of "trying to pressure this board" and "bully this board and the City."

Garden director Vanessa Baehr apologized for releasing the information to the press, explaining that she believed that, because the garden directors had been asked to sign a lease, it was HCDPA's intention to renew their lease for another year.

Not far into the meeting, Salvino's "spectrum of practical options" seemed to get narrowed down to three: the community garden gets the land; Habitat gets the land; the garden and Habitat split the land. 

There are four lots involved: 202, 204, 206, and 208 Columbia Streetthe fourth lot being larger than the other three combined. Although the fence, erected by HCDPA in 1995, encloses all four lots, and the garden shed, the frost-proof pump, and the raised beds are all located there, 208 Columbia Street was never included in the land leased to the community garden. Asked if this lot, which is 75 x 120 feet, would be sufficient to build on, Brenda Adams, executive director for Habitat, acknowledged that they could build another pair of houses there but later explained that their original plan was to "engage an urban planner to determine the best build-out of the [entire] site"from three to five houses. Asked if the garden could vacate the site, Baehr indicated that it would be asking them to "give up the most crucial part of the garden."

It was generally agreed that there were "open-ended questions" that needed to be answered before the board could make a decision. The lots need to be appraised, a process which could not commence until today. Salvino has in mind an alternative space for the garden on property connected with Bliss Towers but apparently has not yet spoken with Jeff First about the possibility. The board wants data about the families being served by the garden--Do they rely on the garden for food or is their participation "recreational"?

Hallenbeck, who was absent from the HCDPA meeting in November, suggested that the board "consider all these issues over the next month and make a decision in January." Interestingly, in January, the board, which is made up of only five people, will very likely have three new members. Cappy Pierro, the Common Council majority leader, will no longer be on the Council; Ohrine Stewart will no longer be the Common Council minority leader since there will be a Republican on the Council; and there will probably be a replacement for Lyle Shook, who resigned from the board last month. 

In response to the proposed postponement, Adams pointed out that Habitat had "an issue associated with time." It seems that they have applied for a grant, the deadline for which was sometime in September. Habitat has gotten extensions on this grant pending an "acquisition decision," but they will lose $50,000 to $60,000 in grant money "if there is no decision made now." Although audience member Timothy O'Connor suggested that this "might be perceived as Habitat trying to bully the board," it was decided that the HCDPA board hold a special meeting on Thursday, December 19, at 6 p.m., to decide the fate of the parcel.

Before the meeting moved on to other things, Baehr made reference to the City's Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2002. She pointed out that "Cultivate the Development of Community Gardens" is the third recommendation under "Plan Goal 2: Protect & Strengthen Hudson's Sense of Community." Although it's not clear that recommendations are listed in order of importance, it's curious that "Develop a Housing Strategy" is the eleventh recommendation under "Plan Goal 3: Promote Economic and Cultural Vitality," after such things as "Improve the Pedestrian Streetscape" (2), "Develop a Fully Integrated Bike & Pedestrian Trail Network" (6), and "Develop a Community Newsletter and Web Page" (9). Here is the text of the recommendation:
While many of New York State’s urban communities are struggling with strategies to attract middle-class residents, Hudson has already started to attract this group. Hudson’s continuing revitalization is likely to coincide with increases in the cost of housing (including housing values and rents). For the most part, this increase in value will be a very good thing for Hudson. However, the challenge for local decision-makers, the business community and neighborhood residents will be to ensure the benefits of Hudson’s resurgence are shared among all community members. Consequently, a coordinated, multi-tiered approach must be developed involving the City, the private sector and not-for-profit organizations such as Housing Resources.
For those who have never read Hudson's eleven-year-old visioning document and for those who haven't read it in a while, the Comprehensive Plan, available on the City website, makes very interesting reading.


  1. On the very last page of our Comprehensive plan - scroll all the way to the bottom - a table breaks down the priorities which the City of Hudson is to heed:

    Listed first under the title "IMPORTANT (1 - 5 years)" is:

    "Encourage Development of Community Gardens."

    Listed second-to-last at the bottom of the page under "SECONDARY IMPORTANCE (within 10 years)" is:

    "Address Need to Protect Affordable Housing."

    Long before Sheena Salvino was on the scene, and guided by our established planning principles, the HCDPA engaged the community garden in accord with its "policy and purpose" as defined by the General Municipal Law.

    In the wording of the law, there's no mention of housing being either prioritized or privileged. This is the same law which enables the existence of the HCDPA, and defines its function:

    "In order to protect and promote the safety, health, morals and welfare of the people of the state and to promote the sound growth and development of our municipalities, it is necessary to correct such substandard, insanitary, blighted, deteriorated or deteriorating conditions, factors and characteristics by the clearance, replanning, reconstruction, redevelopment, rehabilitation, restoration or conservation of such areas, the undertaking of public and private improvement programs related thereto and the encouragement of participation in these programs by private enterprise."

    (Article 15 - Urban Renewal - § 501)

  2. Thank you, Unheimlich. It seems clear that if there is any bullying going on here, it's on the part of Habitat's allies in city government. I don't get it. Habitat is a great program, but it's meant to take over derelict property, not land that is cared for and productive! When did Habitat become another agent of destruction?

    1. A heartfelt thanks, Peter. You've hit the nail on the head.

  3. This tidbit will be the subject of a great deal attention later on, but for now the following proposal's creepy potential to intimidate people who are already dependent on social services - and for anyone else too - should concern us all.

    (That is, unless you're happy to subsume actual human beings into some sort of methodology, in which case you and I will never be friends.)

    I also appreciate Gossips having put the HCDPA's following term "recreation" in scare quotes, and ask that people recognize that the staff of Habitat apparently acquiesced to this planned indignity for the people that the organization ostensibly wishes to be seen helping. J'accuse!

    "The board wants data about the families being served by the garden--Do they rely on the garden for food or is their participation 'recreational'?"

    Pretty fascistic, don't you think? The idea that these bureaucratic twerps believe they're even qualified to make such assessments chills me to the bone, but the fact that they intend to pursue their inquiry has already been brought to the attention of the Department of State.

    So neighbors, are we friends?

  4. Thanks to the jobs created by the successful lords of stimulus, the inner city poor will have little need for common gardens or fishing shacks left over from the great depression.

  5. ...let's turn the tennis courts into basketball courts and build a habitat house in that vacant lot at the end of joslen place. how far would that idea get? ...basically the same thing though, people who don't live in a neighborhood deciding it's fate...