Friday, January 31, 2014

Just Beyond Our Borders

Arthur Cusano reports today on the plans for the Greenport School on Route 66. Mark Salomon and John Perri of JMS Construction, who renovated 77 North Fifth Street and 816 Warren Street as apartment buildings, are proposing what sounds like a rather grand apartment complex for the site: "Developer unveils new plans for school."

The plan, which would create 116 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, involves retaining the original 1920s school building as a "community center" and administrative offices for the complex, demolishing the 1960s addition, and constructing three new buildings, in the style of the early building. The proposed apartment complex is expected to have lots of amenities: an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis court, and 18 garage parking spaces that tenants can rent.

Also in today's Register-Star, Joe Gentile reports on last night's meeting of the airport committee, which took place in Ghent: "Airport committee moving from Meadowgreens plan." The majority of the committee, chaired by Art Bassin, seems poised to recommend to the full Board of Supervisors the alternative known as the "Porreca plan," a solution originally suggested by Greenport supervisor John Porreca. This plan would achieve the recommended runway safety area by shortening the runway from 5,350 feet, its current length, to somewhere between 4,900 and 5,000 feet.

One member of the committee, however, New Lebanon supervisor Mike Benson, has declared his opposition to any plan that would shorten the runway. Benson wasn't at the meeting last night and reportedly has missed all but one of the committee meetings, but Bassin read his written statement, which included this dire warning: "We have an opportunity to shape the future of Columbia County by providing and sustaining an asset that will pay dividends for many years to come. On the other hand, a reduction of any kind (runway length, safety, operational flexibility, or otherwise) would be, in the long term, a devastating blow and a lack of vision that can never be undone."

It's not clear exactly what Benson's vision is for the future of our green and bucolic county, but it seems to be shared by the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC). Gossips has heard the CEDC board intends to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that a plan be pursued to bring the runway safety area into compliance without shortening the runway.

An important point, brought up by Ghent resident Patti Matheney last night, which seems to get lost in all the sturm and drang about the airport, is this: There are two runways at the Columbia County Airport. One of them is already compliant with the FAA's requirements for a runway safety area. All the angst is over the second runway.

The Market Comes Back Tomorrow!

Don't forget! The indoor version of the Hudson Farmers' Market returns to the Parish Hall at Christ Church Episcopal tomorrow, February 1. Between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., come to 431 Union Street, to buy winter greens, cheeses, eggs, bread, nuts, flowers, prepared food and everything you need to celebrate Groundhog Day . . . or, if you're so inclined, to watch Super Bowl XLVIII.

The market at Christ Church happens every Saturday from now until the Hudson Farmers' Market returns to its outdoor location at Sixth and Columbia streets on the first Saturday in May.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Acquisition of Hudson: First Ward

The confirmation earlier this week that the Galvan Initiatives Foundation was buying the COARC building, which takes up almost an entire block on Warren Street, inspired Gossips to ponder just how much of the city has been acquired by the mysterious and mercurial T. Eric Galloway and to what extent he can now affect what city looks like and how it develops. There have been counts of the total number of parcels owned by Galloway, estimates of the percentage of all Hudson property that are Galvan holdings, and illustrated lists of Galvan properties, but a map may be the best way to appreciate the impact.

We'll start with the First Ward, because the greatest concentration of Galvan properties seems to be in the First Ward. On the map above, red indicates properties currently owned by Galvan Partners or the Galvan Initiatives Foundation; gold marks properties that Galloway or some iteration of what is now Galvan Partners LLC owned, renovated and/or subdivided, or built new and then sold to someone else.

Not marked on the map is the Allen Street School, which was purchased by Galvan in June 2013 and then sold soon thereafter to the owners of Basilica Hudson.

The map used as the basis for the above map is from the 1888 Beers Atlas. The property lines have not changed since 1888, or at least not for the purpose of this map, and, for the most part, neither have the footprints of the buildings. Credit goes to Timothy O'Connor for putting the pieces together to make a map of the First Ward on which I could mark the Galvan properties.

The Mayor's Goals

In today's Register-Star, John Mason reports on an interview with Mayor William Hallenbeck, at the start of his second term in office: "Mayor's goals: Hotel, parking garage and college bus routes." At the risk of being counted by the mayor among "those who continue to criticize me for personal or political gain," Gossips finds it hard to get behind two of the mayor's more ambitious objectives: a "substantial hotel" built on "the three acres where the Dunn's warehouse is located" and a four-tier parking garage constructed behind City Hall to accommodate the "influx of traffic from all directions" that he expects will descend on Hudson "if a casino goes to the Catskills."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Turn Your Radios On

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., on WGXC, Tom DePietro hosts a discussion about the EPA plan to treat and discharge contaminated groundwater and leachate from the Dewey Loeffel Superfund site in Nassau into Valatie Kill. DePietro's guests will be Valatie mayor Diane Argyle, Dan Spilman of UNCAGED (United Neighbors Concerned About the GE Dewey Loeffel Landfill), and Philip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper. Listen at 90.7 FM or online.

Who Can You Trust?

This isn't strictly speaking Hudson news, but, in different ways, it affects us Hudsonians. There are two agencies we would like to believe we can trust: the Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Historic Preservation Office. Recent news, however, shakes our faith in both these agencies.

On Friday, with the EPA's blessing, treated toxins were released into the Valatie Kill from a new plant designed to treat contaminated groundwater and leachate from a Superfund site in Nassau. Barbara Reina reports in today's Register-Star that the EPA failed to inform officials in Rensselaer County and Columbia County of the plans, bypassed the Columbia County Environmental Management Council, and ignored requests for a comprehensive public health study before making the first release: "Officials in the dark about EPA's discharge plan."

And then there is SHPO. According to reports, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation decided, in a closed door meeting, that it would be OK for the New York Public Library to pursue its "Central Library Plan" and demolish the stacks in its McKim, Mead & White building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street provided that they document "via photography and archival evidence" what they intend to destroy. The seven levels of stacks, designed by Carrère and Hastings, were considered "marvels of engineering" when the library building opened in 1911.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Community Event a Hundred Years Ago

The post card images of the Elks Club, when it was located at 231 Warren Street, published on Gossips yesterday inspired Paul Barrett to bring to our attention this account of plans for Ladies' Night at the Elks Club. The item appeared in the Evening Register on February 25, 1915.

From 8 o'clock this evening the women will be in possession of the Elks' club of Hudson, the entire building being thrown open and placed at their disposal. The men members will be present, but only to act as guides to the ladies as they go through the handsome home or as dancing partners when the orchestra strikes up some of the latest dancing melodies. Light refreshments will be served and a most pleasant evening is anticipated. The card room and the red room have been set apart for the ladies, where a maid will be in attendance with mirrors, brushes and all the essentials for the final touch to the toilet.
The big living room will be a fine place for visitings, and the new grill will be open all evening and the "mans row" by the bowling alleys will be set aside for dancing. Upstairs the pool and billiard room will be ready for use, and cards can be indulged in by those so inclined.   
This illustration for McCall Patterns gives an idea of how the ladies of Hudson might have been dressed for this occasion.

Rumor Confirmed

The Register-Star reports today what Gossips reported a month ago: "Galvan to buy Promenade Hill Center from Coarc." 

The report in the Register-Star is based on a press release from COARC, but confirmation was sought from Eric Galloway, whose email response is quoted: "The availability of the property came to our offices as a surprise, and while we see more than one opportunity that is in keeping with Galvan's mission, we do not have a specific plan. However, it is unlikely that we will keep the structure as it is in the long run."

According to the article, Rick Scalera, special adviser to Galvan, indicated that Galvan was first "interested in it as a site for the Alternative Learning Program of the Hudson, Catskill and Berkshire Union Free school districts." Indicating that locating the ALP at 364 Warren Street was "always 'a short-term solution,'" Scalera is quoted as saying, "I know they were looking at alternative locations, whether Promenade Hill or Seventh Street." Presumably by "Seventh Street" Scalera was referring to the building behind the original orphanage at 620 State Street, which was originally a car dealership and was purchased by Galloway from Cappy Pierro in 2003.

On January 8, Galvan attorney Joe Catalano presented a proposal to the Planning Commission that involved adding two stories on top of this building to create a "multi-purpose building for educational and community service use." Catalano did not define any specific use for the building.

And then there's the rumor, unsubstantiated for now, that Galvan plans to demolish the ill-fated strip mall that was COARC and re-create the buildings that where once there. Wouldn't that be grand?

Another Loss

While the City of Hudson mourned the tragic death of Officer Bill Wrigley, the Hudson River Valley experienced another stunning loss. Pete Seeger died yesterday, at the age of 94.

Photo credit: Poughkeepsie Journal

Monday, January 27, 2014

Post Card Images of a Building Lost

Once upon a time--from 1869 until about 1936--this amazing building stood at 231 Warren Street. 

It was built, in 1869, as Hudson River National Bank. In 1907, the bank moved to its new building at 520 Warren Street, now City Hall, and this building became the Elks Lodge. 

Today, Gossips had the good fortune of receiving digitized copies of two picture post cards-- one mailed in 1911, the other in 1914--that show the building during the time it was the Elks Lodge.

Thanks to Chip Keil, who owns the post cards, and Joe Herwick for sharing them with Gossips.

The Folks Across the River in 1871

In the 19th century, Hudsonians seemed to have had a rather superior attitude toward the people who lived across the river. This item, which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register on June 19, 1871, is evidence of Hudson's sense of moral rectitude.

Honoring Officer Wrigley

Funeral arrangements have been announced for Hudson Police Officer William Wrigley, who died tragically early Friday morning. The wake takes place today, Monday, January 27, from 4 to 9 p.m. at Raymond E. Bond Funeral Home, 1015 Kinderhook Street, in Valatie. The funeral service will take place on Tuesday, January 28, at 11 a.m., at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church at East Court and East Allen streets in Hudson.

Common Council president Don Moore has announced that out of respect for Officer Wrigley the Police and Fire Committee meetings, scheduled to meet tonight, have been cancelled and rescheduled for Monday, February 3. Mayor William Hallenbeck has announced that all Hudson offices and departments will be closed on Tuesday, January 28, and flags on City flagstaffs will remain at half mast until 8 a.m. on Wednesday, January 29.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Idling Train Update

The annoying idling train pulled out of the ADM spur, where it had been parked for more than 48 hours, and onto the main track heading north at shortly after 12 p.m. today. Peace and quiet again reign in the First Ward.

Don Moore on CSX

Common Council president Don Moore made this statement this morning, at about 10:30 a.m., on the topic of CSX and the idling train:
Regarding the CSX train, a crew is on the train now. They will move about Noon after they complete their inspection routine on the engines and cars. I believe we can conclude that among the principal issues are general corporate insensitivity to the community, and broken relations in scheduling between CSX and Amtrak, which now controls the main line. There is reason to believe this will happen again, and that being likely, we will need to develop an aggressive  strategy to convince them they can't continue the practice.

ETD for the Idling Train

The latest word from Council president Don Moore is that the train is expected to be moved off the ADM spur at around noon. When I expressed wonder that they could turn the engines off now when they hadn't been able to do that previously owing to the extreme cold, Moore told me they were still on but making less noise because of a reduction in RPMs. Whatever. All is now quiet on the city's southwestern front.

Down by the Station

PLEASE NOTE: This post, which was written this morning, is followed by an important update.

Gossips is hyperlocal news, but this post is HYPERlocal. It reports on something that happened (literally) in Gossips' backyard.

There's a train idling on the ADM spur. It's been there since Friday morning. The sound issuing from the idling diesel engines (there are two) meets the description of unreasonable noise found in Chapter 210-3 of the City of Hudson Code: "Any excessive, unusually loud or offensive sound which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of a reasonable person of normal sensitivities." Chapter 210-4 of the code states that "No person shall make, continue, cause or permit to be made or continued any unreasonable noise." The engines are also emitting diesel fumes containing particulate matter which the EPA warns poses significant health risks.

Early on Saturday morning, waking to realize the train was still there after almost 24 hours, I called the CSX emergency number to report the situation. It was first explained to me that, because of the extreme cold, the engines could not be turned off without doing serious damage to them. Then, after being asked to wait twice while the woman on the phone contacted district personnel, I was told that the track the train was on--remember, it's the ADM spur, used exclusively for freight--was owned by Amtrak not CSX, and therefore, even though the idling engines had CSX emblazoned on them, CSX wasn't responsible.

I then emailed Common Council president Don Moore, hoping that, because he had been in discussion with Amtrak and CSX about the acquisition of the Ferry Street bridge, he might have a Amtrak contact. (Unlike the CSX website, which has contact numbers, the Amtrak website seems exclusively designed for people planning a train trip.) Moore then took up the task of getting the train to move. Two hours after I sent my email, Moore reported that he had visited the ADM plant at the northern end of the spur and the Amtrak office at LB, and representatives in both places confirmed that the offending train and the track on which it sat belonged to CSX.

Moore also contacted the Hudson Police Department, since the idling train is in violation of Hudson's noise ordinance, but the officers who went down to the train could not locate any employees in or near the idling engines.

Moore then called the same CSX emergency number that I had called earlier and was told by someone with the title "dispatching supervisor" that because of the weather--extreme cold and blowing snow--they could not assemble a crew to move the train--an explanation that seems to confirm that the train had been left there, abandoned, with its engines running. The dispatching supervisor was unable to tell Moore when we could expect the train to be moved.

Now, on Sunday morning, the train remains, engines idling. It's a clear day, it's not snowing, it's a relatively warm 13 degrees, but, based on yesterday's information, CSX still seems unable to muster a crew to move that train.

Thanks to Sam Pratt for providing the EPA link.

UPDATE: At 9:45 a.m., just as I was getting ready to publish this post, the noise stopped! I called Don Moore on his cell phone to report that the engines had been turned off and found that he was down where the engines were parked, a crew was present, and it appeared that the train might soon be on its way.   

In Memoriam: Officer William Wrigley

Lance Wheeler has published on YouTube his video of last night's candlelight memorial for Hudson Police Officer William Wrigley, who died in a car crash early Friday morning.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Friday Morning at the HPC

It was probably predictable that, after the public hearing, during which only two people made comments, the Historic Preservation Commission would approve granting a certificate of appropriateness to the house proposed for 215 Union Street, and they did--unanimously.

As we've seen before, Galvan is starting to use its own creations to make the case for the compatibility of new proposals. In April 2013, Galvan representative Ward Hamilton suggested that the presence of cast iron (or maybe cast aluminum) railings on 102 and 104 Union Street made similar railings proposed for a portico on 113 Union Street compatible with the neighborhood.

In that case, the Historic Preservation Commission was having none of it. The railings on 102 and 104 Union Street had not been approved by the HPC and therefore could not be used to support the appropriateness of similar railings on a nearby building. On Friday, Dick Clements, standing in for Charles Vieni, explained that the roof of the proposed new construction be "shingles similar to those on the General Worth House," a building that Galvan reimagined in 2011.

When justifying the appropriateness of the unusually high foundation already built at 215 Union Street, Clements did not reference 211 Union Street but rather the Queen Anne house to the east and the house of uncertain vintage to the west.

The high foundation, atypical of the Federal style house they seem to be trying to replicate at 215 Union Street, is also offered as the reason why the house must set back farther than the other houses on that part of Union Street. If the house were not set back five feet, breaking the street wall, the steps required to get to the entrance would have to encroach on the sidewalk.

The placement of the house on the lot was the subject of two comments from the audience during the public hearing. Helen Arrott, who asked to see the site plan, was concerned if anything else could be built on either side. Out of character with most of the rest of the block, the house will sit in the middle of three lots, leaving a yard about half the size of a buildable lot on either side. 

During the public hearing, Gossips asked if the HPC had seen a site plan in May 2012, when a certificate of appropriateness had been granted to move 900 Columbia Street intact to this site in a historic district. At the time, the HPC requested a site plan, but there is no record that one was received or that the certificate of appropriateness applied to the site plan. Although HPC chair Rick Rector asserted "we have a site plan," HPC member David Voorhees said he did not recall seeing one in May 2012, and Rector seemed to acknowledge that the site plan now in hand had not been received when the proposal to move the building intact into a historic district had been granted a certificate of appropriateness.

The discussion on Friday of code requirements and setbacks made it clear that the footnote appended to the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations for Residential Districts is inadequate to protect the historic character of neighborhoods. Galvan attorney Joe Catalano was quick to point out that only the Planning Board can approve setbacks that conform with the prevailing setbacks, and it is something that they may do but don't have to.

In the regular HPC meeting that followed the public hearing, HPC architect member Jack Alvarez asked for evidence that the changes the commission had requested to the cornice on the gable ends of the roof would be made. He was told that the changes would appear on the new drawings, which were expected to be ready for the HPC's first meeting in February.

Prior to calling for a vote on the project, Rector reiterated that the building, even though it will use salvaged materials from 900 Columbia Street and was originally described as the "reassembling" of that building, was a new building. He then read from design guidelines for new construction that he had found online, which may have been this document published by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia. It identifies four approaches to new construction in a historic setting: (1) literal replication; (2) invention within the same or a related style; (3) abstract reference; (4) intentional opposition. Though many people would be inclined to call what is proposed for 215 Union Street invention within a style if not literal replication, Rector chose to call it abstract reference. According to the Preservation Alliance publication, which may or may not be the document Rector was quoting, abstract reference "seeks to make reference to the historic setting while consciously avoiding literal resemblance or working in a historic style. This approach seeks to balance differentiation and compatibility, but with the balance tipped toward the former. This is a difficult strategy to execute it requires an artistry and skill that are not often available."

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Well-Kept Zoning Secret

Ever since Hudson instituted zoning back in the mid-1960s, the city has been saddled with bulk and area regulations that made it impossible, in the oldest parts of Hudson, to rebuild a house in its own footprint or to build a new house that conformed with the rest of the street without seeking an area variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The disconnect between the city as it exists and the city as the zoning regulations envision it is often explained by saying that the city fathers back in the day adopted what was basically a suburban model for zoning. Someone who had been on the Planning Commission when the zoning was adopted, however, once explained that in the 1960s the planners figured that in time all the old houses in the First and Second wards would be destroyed by fire or demolished by neglect or intent, as most of them soon were in the Second Ward, and with the new houses set back 15 feet, they could widen the streets.

For almost fifty years, Hudson has lived with its inappropriate setbacks. Any new construction (fortunately there has been very little) routinely had to seek an area variance in order to achieve the most basic compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. The zoning for the Waterfront Revitalization Area, which is part of the LWRP, was meant to correct the setback problem. Most of the neighborhoods for which 15-foot setbacks are inappropriate are in the Waterfront Revitalization Area. The problem is nobody seemed aware of this amendment.

Earlier this month, when the Historic Preservation Commission was agonizing over the inappropriate setback of the foundation at 215 Union Street, HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck delivered the standard recitation about setbacks and how the project would have to get an area variance from the ZBA in order to conform with the rest of the street wall. Although the LWRP--including this zoning amendment-- had been adopted by the Common Council in November 2011, city attorney Whitbeck admitted to having no knowledge of it existence.

When Gossips went looking for the setback amendment in the LWRP, what was found was Appendix G, a Design Guideline Template for the Waterfront Revitalization Area. Last Wednesday, when at its meeting the Legal Committee took up the discussion of making changes in the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations for Residential Districts, Gossips, from the audience, suggested that a priority should be amending the setback requirements. City attorney Cheryl Roberts pointed out that this had already been done and directed attention to footnote 4 on the bulk and area chart, which reads: "The Planning Board may approve a front yard setback that conforms with the prevailing building setback for the respective street on which a property is located."

If the goal is to protect the character of Hudson's historic neighborhoods, it seems the verb in this statement should be shall not may, and the statement should appear someplace more prominent than a footnote.

Disappointment in the Garden

Andrew Weil, the doctor and writer who established the field of integrated medicine, had this to say about gardens:
In the world at large, people are rewarded or punished in ways that are often utterly random. In the garden, cause and effect, labor and reward, are re-coupled. Gardening makes sense in a senseless world. By extension, then, the more gardens in the world, the more justice, the more sense is created.
On Thursday night, the board of the Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency (HCDPA) demonstrated not only their narrow understanding of "community development" but also their commitment to injustice and senselessness by offering Hudson Urban Gardens a one year lease on half of what had been the community garden at Second and Columbia streets for $1,000 (they sold the other half to Habitat for Humanity for $5,000) and refused to give HUG an option to buy the property. John Mason has the story in today's Register-Star: "Garden gets another year added to lease."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

In Case You Missed It

WAMC is running a news feature about the informational meeting on the proposed power lines through Columbia County being hosted by Farmers and Families for Claverack on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Churchtown Firehouse on County Route 27. You can listen to it here

It has been announced that State Senator Kathleen Marchione and Assemblymember Didi Barrett will speak at Saturday's meeting, and a representative from Congressman Chris Gibson's office will read a letter of support for the efforts of citizens opposed to taking homes and farmland by eminent domain for high voltage power lines. Also speaking at the meeting will be Claverack supervisor Clifford Weigelt; Marion Mathison, a member of the Livingston Town Board; Will Yandik, a member of the Livingston Town Board; environmental advocacy attorney Hayley Carlock; Ian Solomon, leader of Farmers and Families for Claverack; and several Claverack residents. A question and answer session will conclude the meeting, and attendees will have an opportunity to submit comments to the Public Service Commission.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Scofflaws No More

The picture below, which shows William with his "cousin" Turner (cousin by adoption and twice or thrice removed), was taken in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park summer before last. Whodathunk that these sweet dogs and the upstanding humans who accompanied them (pockets stuffed with poop bags) were breaking the law? 

Chapter 70-4 of the Hudson City Code states: "It shall be unlawful for an owner of a dog in the City of Hudson to permit or allow such . . . to be present at any time at the Riverfront Park." Strictly speaking (or so it seems from the placement of that prepositional phrase), I, "an owner of a dog in the City of Hudson," was breaking the law. My niece, visiting from Michigan with her husband, son, and Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy, may not have been. But soon, all dogs on leashes, accompanied by humans prepared to pick up after them, will be free to enjoy riverfront park legally.

At their meeting on Wednesday night, the members of the Common Council Legal Committee present (John Friedman [chair], Don Moore, Bart Delaney, and David Marston) unanimously agreed to move forward a resolution that would strike Chapter 70-4 from the code and "authorize people to lawfully walk dogs at Henry Hudson Waterfront [sic] Park." The resolution would also bring the city code into conformity with the Americans with Disabilities Act "by prohibiting the City Clerk from charging a person with a disability a fee for licensing a service animal or from requiring documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal or inquiring as to the extent or nature of a person's disability prior to issuing a license for such animal."

The resolution will be introduced on Monday, February 10, and be voted on by the full Council on Tuesday, February 18. February 2014 may be a great month for the law-abiding dogs of Hudson!

Tuesday Night at City Hall

Not everything that happened at last night's Common Council meeting was newsworthy, but a few things were--one of them being the discovery, revealed in the Finance Committee meeting which preceded the regular meeting, that five items had been left out of the budget for 2014. 

The first was a shortage in the Police Department's "Personal Services" account (i.e., salaries) of $48,397.68. According to the resolution passed to transfer funds, the shortage "was caused by the retirement and incentive payments made to police retirees." In discussion at the meeting, it was explained that funds for the position of someone who was retiring had been eliminated from the 2014 budget even though the position had not been eliminated.

Then there was an additional $20,000 needed for the city attorney's office. The resolution authorizing the transfer of funds and the amendment of the budget began: "WHEREAS, the Mayor desires to reorganize the City Attorney's office and provide for establishment of an office and staff for the City Attorney within City Hall. . . ." In August, city attorney Cheryl Roberts left the law firm of Rapport Meyers and moved into an office somewhere in City Hall. In speaking of the resolution, Council president Don Moore explained that "we did not fully anticipate what [having the city attorney resident in City Hall] would mean and did not adequately budget for it." Of the $20,000, $5,000 is a negotiated raise for assistant city attorney Carl Whitbeck, and $15,000 is for "support staff." Moore assured the aldermen that, with the additional expenditures, "the Council will have more direct legal service than we've had in the past."

The third item omitted from the 2014 budget was the mayor's health insurance buyout. The mayor, as do all elected officials, has the option of not accepting the health insurance offered by the City and taking instead the money the City would have spent for it, which according to Moore is $2,000.

The fourth item left out of the 2014 budget was the money needed to keep the heat and the electricity on at 701 Union Street until work on rehabbing the building for the police department and city court begins in May or June.

The fifth item was parking meters for the new parking spaces created in the 700 block of Columbia Street and a few other places that it seems need meters.

One of several other new resolutions before the Council authorized the superintendent of Public Works to sell at auction a number of vehicles and pieces of equipment "that are no longer used by the Department of Public Works." Of the sixteen items on the list, one caught the eye of Alderman David Marston (First Ward): a 1999 BMW 323i. What, Marston wanted to know, was the Department of Public Works doing with such a car?

The answer was provided by Gary Graziano, the police commissioner. It seems the police had seized the car at some point, in connection with an arrest, and had been using it--presumably for undercover operations. The police department no longer has use for the car and so has turned it over to DPW to be sold at auction. [NOTE: The car in the photograph is a 1999 BMW 323i, but it is not the 1999 BMW 323i to be auctioned by DPW.]

Since November, a local law has been on the aldermen's desks that would replace Hudson's Planning Commission with a Planning Board. Moore announced that there will be a public hearing on the law at 6:30 p.m. on February 10, prior to the February informal meeting of the Common Council.

Before calling for a motion to go into executive session to discuss "the settlement of a foreclosure issue," Moore entertained questions from the audience. Marie Balle wanted to know if the Common Council was going to vote to approve the sale of half the community garden to Habitat for Humanity. Without acknowledging that misinformation had originally been reported in the press, Roberts indicated that the Council did not have to vote on the sale because the property was owned not by the City but by Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency, and that board had already approved the sale.

After the topic of the sale of half the community garden to Habitat for Humanity had been introduced, Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) expressed the opinion that it was time for the Council to begin a conversation with Habitat for Humanity about being more "county-centric" rather than "city-centric," pointing out that the organization is Columbia County Habitat for Humanity not Hudson Habitat for Humanity.

Moore was quick to say that he did not wish to chair such a discussion. (Moore's wife is a member of the Habitat staff.) Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) also declined to chair the discussion, although he said he was no longer on the Habitat board. Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) also declined, saying that he, as minority leader, was on the HCDPA board. Finally, Marston volunteered to chair the discussion. Haddad went on to say that he thought Habitat needed to be "more reflective" going forward and should be urged to rehabilitate existing houses in Hudson rather than always building new. He reiterated his suggestion that the Council should "start a conversation with Habitat."

Marston requested that a discussion with Habitat for Humanity be added to the Council agenda for February, and Moore agreed to do so.

Hudson Canine Trivia

City clerk Tracy Delaney submitted her report for 2013 to the Common Council at the last night's Council meeting. The document, which is more than a half-inch thick, is an accounting of the year's financial activities in the city clerk's office. Among the many statistics were the number of dog licenses issued in 2013, which we assume represents a reasonably accurate census of Hudson's dog population.

  • Exempt dogs (i.e. service dogs)    2
  • Spayed female dogs                      118
  • Unspayed female dogs                     6
  • Neutered male dogs                      114
  • Unneutered male dogs                   26

About North Bay

Peter Paden, executive director for the Columbia Land Conservancy, addressed the Board of Supervisors County Government Committee on Tuesday night, presenting CLC's proposal for the North Bay Recreation and Natural Area, a plan that would create a network of trails around the base of the capped landfill to connect North Bay to the Greenport Conservation Area and conservation areas farther north along the river. Joe Gentile reports on the meeting in today's Register-Star: "County supervisors look at proposed North Bay recreation area."

An element to be considered in any plan to make the North Bay a recreation and natural area is the presence of the industrial building that was once the Emsig button factory and most recently and briefly the location of Phoenix Hudson, which was supposed to manufacture plastic fencing. At the meeting, Gallatin supervisor John Reilly is reported to have asked Paden if the project could be approached "from both conservationist and commercial angles." Gentile reports that "Paden could not account for the principal property owner's plans." According to, the building is currently for sale for $1 million.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Progress at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House

Because it's tucked away on the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility, not visible from any street, it's hard to keep tabs on what's happening at the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, Hudson's only National Historic Landmark, but the stabilization of the earliest surviving example of the Hudson River Bracketed style continues.

Historic Hudson announced today that the removal of hazardous materials in the house has been completed. Asbestos was discovered in three distinct areas of the house. In addressing the problem, Crawford & Associates developed the scope of work, Op Tech Environmental of Duanesburg, NY, removed the asbestos, and Alpine Environmental Services of Albany did the air monitoring and testing.

Historic Hudson is now ready to proceed with Phase II of its work on the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, which involves stabilizing the south side of the house and demolishing the "goiter kitchen," a 20th-century addition that destroys the house's symmetry. Davis's original design intent, which has been obstructed by that protuberance, will finally be revealed. Historic Hudson needs $135,000 in matching funds to complete Phase II, and they are committed to raising it.

For readers not familiar with the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, it was originally built in 1812 for Captain Samuel Plumb, probably by master builder Barnabus Waterman. The house and estate were purchased in 1838 by Dr. Oliver Bronson, who hired Alexander Jackson Davis, the sought-after architect of the time, to "refit" the house in new romantic Picturesque style. Ten years later, Davis was commissioned again, this time to expand house. He added a new west facade overlooking South Bay, which featured a deep veranda, a three-story tower, and an octagonal center vestibule connecting matching semi-octagonal parlors. 

After Dr. Bronson, the house had a series of owners, until 1915 when it was purchased by the State of New York. It became the residence of the superintendent of the New York State Training School for Girls and remained so until 1972, when that institution closed. The house was then abandoned, threatened with demolition, and left vacant and deteriorating until 1997, when Historic Hudson began advocating for the house and its restoration. In 2003, the house and grounds were designated a National Historic Landmark. In 2008, Historic Hudson entered into a thirty-year lease with the State of New York and became the legal steward of the house to restore it for public use.

Share Your Thoughts About Historic Preservation

The New York State Historic Preservation Office has launched an online survey about historic preservation in individual communities and in the state. The information gathered will inform the State Preservation Plan. You can participate in the survey by clicking here.

Meetings of Interest Happening This Week

The coming days are chockablock with meetings. The Common Council has its first Finance Committee meeting of the new year tonight at 5:30 and its first regular meeting of 2014 at 7 p.m. Tomorrow night there is a Public Works Committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. and a Legal Committee meeting at 6:15 p.m. 

Beyond the Common Council meetings . . . today at 3 p.m., there's a meeting of the Columbia County Airport Committee in the committee room at 401 State Street. For those wonder why the airport needs to expand its safety zone or question why Columbia County needs an airport where "big jets" can land, this meeting is expected to provide information about the airport's profitability and the "economic development impact and value" of the airport. Some important background information for the meeting is provided by Sam Pratt on his blog, from which the Bing map detail below was borrowed: "Airport Algebra: How busy is Ghent, really?"

On Thursday, at 6:30 p.m., the annual meeting of the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society takes place in the back room at Wunderbar, where it all began three years ago. In addition to the business that typically happens at an annual meeting (nomination and election of board members and officers, review of the budget), there will be hors d'oeuvres and an update on the progress and next steps in restoring the historic Hudson River racing sloop Eleanor. Attendees are invited to stay after the meeting for a "Dutch Treat Dinner" at Wunderbar.

On Friday morning at 10 a.m., the Historic Preservation Commission holds a public hearing on the application to construct a new house at 215 Union Street, using the bricks, limestone sills, and Italianate door surround from 900 Columbia Street. HPC chair Rick Rector has indicated that a maximum of one hour will be devoted to hearing public comment about the proposed project, after which the commission is expected to vote on whether or not to grant the project a certificate of appropriateness.

The period for scoping comments has been extended indefinitely, and on February 20 the Public Service Commission is expected to issue new siting standards for the "energy superhighway" that's expected to run through Columbia County, and that gives everyone who will be directly or indirectly impacted by this plan to get informed. On Saturday, January 25, at 11 a.m., at the Churchtown Firehouse on Route 27 in Churchtown, Farmers and Families of Claverack are hosting a Power Line Community Meeting. It's an opportunity for Hudsonians to learn about the issues, to support our neighbors, and to protect the farmland that contributes so richly to our rurban life here in Upstate's Downtown.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gossips Is Four Years Old!

Four years ago today, on January 20, 2010, The Gossips of Rivertown published its first post. Four years and 3,566 posts later, Gossips continues to be valued for its unique brand of hyperlocal news.

As always, the anniversary of Gossips is the occasion for celebration and thanksgiving. On Gossips' third anniversary, we were celebrating days that saw more than 2,000 pageviews, bringing the total for the year to more than half a million. This year, we look back on a year when more than 2,000 pageviews a day was the norm, and daily totals edged up close to 3,000, exceeding that number twice. In its fourth year, Gossips logged close to three-quarters of a million pageviews.

Gratitude goes to all the readers who have made Gossips perhaps the best read blog in Hudson and William certainly the most recognized dog, but very special thanks are reserved for the 122 readers who set their own subscription rate--anywhere from $5 to $300--and became "voluntary paid subscribers" to The Gossips of Rivertown and to the 42 businesses, organizations, and events who, in the past year, used Gossips to get their message to the community of Hudson and beyond.

Gossips invites you to join the celebration of four years of sharing news, history, and gossip about the events, machinations, and trouble right here in our little river city by adding your name to the list of 2014 Subscribers. Just click on the "Donate" button in the right column. Your support--in any amount--is enormously appreciated and keeps Gossips going. Next year's goal: a million pageviews!

Gossips' extraordinary fourth anniversary cake is the creation of The Hudson Cake Studio. The top of the cake features Gossips' iconic ear trumpet. The sides of the cake echo the mountains and the river as they appear in W. H. Bartlett's 1840 engraving of Hudson, which is used as Gossips' masthead. The cake (which underneath all that artistry is chocolate) will be at the Red Dot tonight (321 Warren Street). Starting at 7 p.m., the first twenty people dining at the Red Dot who mention Gossips to their server will get a piece of the anniversary cake for dessert, compliments of The Gossips of Rivertown.

Managing What Can't Be Eliminated

The state truck routes through Hudson were the subject of extensive discussion at the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting last Thursday. Accepting that it will almost certainly not be possible to outlaw trucks passing through Hudson, the committee is looking for strategies to encourage them to avoid the city.

One of the strategies involves training and empowering Hudson police officers to enforce the rules and regulations that apply to trucks. Inspection stops for trucks are typically conducted by the state police, but there are only two units that do truck inspections throughout the entire state, so it's impossible for one of these units to spend enough time in Hudson to be an effective deterrent. As Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) pointed out, "Every one of these stops takes about an hour, so it might make truckers avoid Hudson."

Mayor Bill Hallenbeck, present in the audience, worried that this would be "profiling truckers." He asserted that "the majority of the time, you're going to see truckers are abiding by the rules." Friedman encouraged the mayor to think of the inspection stop as a speed trap, explaining that "truckers talk to each other" and the "potential inconvenience" would encourage truckers to avoid coming through Hudson. The mayor persisted in his objections, saying that "law-abiding truckers will be detained as well as offenders." The mayor's apparent support for truckers provoked Friedman to declare, "I wasn't elected to worry about the truckers. I was elected to work for the people of the Third Ward, and so were you."

Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) questioned the premise that most truckers are law-abiding. Stewart, who lives on a truck route, as does Friedman, affirmed that there are problems with trucks exceeding the speed limit on Columbia Street and racing through yellow lights. Council president Don Moore commented that Hudson police officers will not pull trucks over for such violations "because the rules are different for trucks than for cars."

Throughout the discussion, Moore stressed that there is not a single solution to Hudson's truck problem. Other strategies being pursued have to do with altering navigation programs. It will be remembered that five or six years ago there were complaints about eighteen-wheelers barreling through the village of Kinderhook in the middle of the night. It was discovered that GPS was routing the trucks on Route 9, through the village, instead on Route 9H, which had been constructed on purpose to bypass the village.

The plan is to contact UPS and the big box stores and franchises who create their own navigation systems for their trucks and ask them to alter their routes so that trucks not making deliveries in Hudson bypass the city. GPS providers will also be contacted with a similar goal. Mentioned too was a plan to erect signs directing trucks to follow routes around Hudson.