Friday, February 28, 2014

The Way Things Should Work . . . and Sometimes Do

One of the many projects that came before the Historic Preservation Commission at last Friday's three-hour meeting was 431 Warren Street. The building, which for many years was the location of the law offices of Couch & Deily, has a new owner, who wants to use the first floor as retail or office space and renovate the upper floors, which have been unoccupied since 1952, for residential use. The proposal requiring a certificate of appropriateness was to replace all the windows in the building with new windows.

Jack Alvarez, architect member of the HPC and a staunch advocate for the preservation of original wood windows, was justifiably concerned about the impact of replacement windows on the integrity of the building's facade. Because the windows are significant to the character of the building, Alvarez recommended that they be repaired rather than replaced. The architect representing the building owner asserted that the windows were not older than the 1950s and claimed there was no way they could be repaired. Alvarez wanted proof--either photographic documentation that the windows were deteriorated beyond repair or the opportunity to see the windows for himself. Remarkably, HPC member Peggy Polenberg objected to Alvarez's request, contending that the applicant's representative was an architect, too, and therefore his judgment should not be questioned.

Fortunately, Polenberg's was the minority opinion, and Alvarez was granted a site visit, which took place this Friday morning, just before the HPC meeting. On the walk-through with the contractor and the architect, Alvarez brought with him, for a second opinion, his wife, Kimberly Konrad Alvarez, also a preservation architect, who served on the Boston Landmarks Commission. At the HPC meeting, Alvarez reported on the outcome of the site visit. All the windows on the first floor and the windows on the facade of second floor will be restored. It was agreed, however, that, because of the negative impact of a previous roof replacement, the windows in the dormer will have to be replaced.


Hudson on TV

Gossips just got word that the Food Network is filming this morning at Verdigris Tea & Chocolate Bar.

A Difficult Moment in the Cemetery's History

There is an effort underway to get the Hudson City Cemetery listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The New York State Historic Preservation Office determined it to be National Register eligible back in 1983, and now, thirty years later, Alderman David Marston (First Ward) is pursuing the nomination.

A few months ago, a reader brought to my attention this letter to the editor, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register on September 2, 1889.

Shall we build up the streets of a living town,
Or buy up a grave-yard instead?
That's the popular question, so write it down--
Query: "The Quick or the Dead?"
Apropos the cemetery question, our Hudson cemetery is one of the resorts of the town, green and shady and less melancholy than beautiful. The Sunday afternoon strolls of our people tend, from long established custom, toward Academy Hill, where, terraced by winding roadways, shaded by tall trees, crowded with grave-stones and carefully attended by loving hands, lies the great flower-garden of graves--the Hudson cemetery.
Near the main entrance is the oldest part of this ancient burying-ground, consisting of a group of tombstones almost covered with long grass, black and crumbling with age, their inscriptions worn away save for a letter or a date here and there remaining, to make us realize more fully that here lies the city of the past.
The place is hallowed with memories, and, at each turn, reading familiar names upon head stones, names once upon all lips, in all ears, in the business and social life of Hudson, one sees the ghost of the dead and gone town of years ago, resurrected by the magic of memory. Next to an old newspaper file an old burying ground is the most interesting historical record. From the highest elevation of the cemetery grounds, gazing toward the Berkshire Hills and the smoke from the many chimneys of Philmont and adjacent villages which marks their site, is a birdseye view of the great map of nature, bounded only by the horizon in the distance and the green slopes at our feet.
Turning toward the west we overlook the housetops of Hudson and beyond them lies the river and above the river rise the Catskills.
This is the cemetery endeared to us as the resting place of our dead, where, with common sentiment, we wish to rest near them in kindred dust, that our Common Council would have us abandon for a new site, for a new burying ground, which would bring many thousand dollars of debt upon the city.
Until, in some distant future, we are forced to the hygienic measure of building a crematory to incinerate our dead because of the encroachments of burying lots into the city streets--until then, let us, for the double sake of economy and associations of "auld lang syne," be content with adding to the old cemetery from purchases of surrounding property.
The letter is appealing for its description of the cemetery and for the insight it provides about how the cemetery was regarded at the end of the 19th century, but it also raises the question: What was "the cemetery question" anyway?

It seems that in 1889, the cemetery was running out of space. The map of the Third Ward from the 1888 Beers Atlas shows the boundaries of the Hudson Cemetery at the time.

In June 1889, an ad hoc committee of the Common Council was formed to study the cemetery problem. The committee's report, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Evening Register on August 26, 1889, summed up the problem:
It has long been apparent that more land would be required for burial purposes and three years ago attention was called to the question of its immediate purchase. At present we have but six lots unsold which can be in any sense considered desirable, the balance being rendered substantially worthless by reason of the large stone drains running through them. The Poor-ground is full to overflowing, bodies having been buried two and three deep. Numbers of people have felt compelled to buy elsewhere, and very many have waited for the acquisition of more land by the city before purchasing family burial plots.
During the summer of 1889, the committee considered a number of different parcels of land, in Hudson and in nearby Greenport--farms identified by the names Parsons, Storm, Brooksbank, Simmons, Cooper, Ten Broeck, Guertin, and McIntyre. What the committee looked at principally was the suitability of the soil for use as a burial ground. After three months of study, the committee made its recommendation to the full Council: the City should purchase the McIntyre farm. The report speaks of the property's "shrubbery, ornamental trees and many natural advantages," which the committee predicted would make it "one of the handsomest cemeteries in the State, which would attract non-residents."

Courtesy Historic Hudson
It would seem that the committee's cemetery location of choice was none other than the estate of Dr. Oliver Bronson, at that time owned by Elizabeth and Matilda McIntyre. Their brother, John F. McIntyre, had purchased it for them in 1883. Could it be that six years later the sisters were willing to sell all or part of it to the City of Hudson for use as a cemetery? Was it the McIntyres who had already sold the western half of the original estate to the State of New York for the Women's House of Refuge, which opened in 1887?

The committee had made its recommendation, but the mayor and the people of Hudson were having none of it. At the Common Council meeting that followed a week or so after the recommendation had been made, the mayor declared his intention to veto any resolution to purchase the McIntyre farm, and a "remonstrance . . . largely signed by taxpayers" was read aloud at the meeting:
To the Common Council of the City of Hudson
We, the undersigned citizens of Hudson, most earnestly protest against the purchase of "The McIntyre Place" for the purposes of a cemetery. . . .
Among other objections, we would urge that it would create a new cemetery entirely separate from the present cemetery, the consequence of which would be the disuse and neglect of the present cemetery.
Most of us have lots, and friends and relatives interred there, and deeply feel the necessity of getting land contiguous to the old cemetery and maintaining it as the cemetery of the city.
The city's population and wealth will not warrant the owning and maintaining of two cemeteries. The old one would be neglected.
The city cannot now afford the outlay required for the purchase and laying out of the proposed new cemetery.
The purchase of the Cooper place (seven acres at $2,000) would meet immediate needs and make accessible other lands at reasonable prices, suitable for burial purposes.
In spite of the remonstrance from citizens and the mayor's promised veto, the Common Council narrowly passed the resolution to purchase the McIntyre place, with five aldermen voting for it and four voting against it.

We know, of course, that the City of Hudson did not acquire "The McIntyre Place." The eastern grounds of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House remain intact. We also know that, in the end, the cemetery was expanded onto land contiguous with the cemetery as it was in 1888, creating Cedar Park Cemetery. How that came to pass is a story for another day. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This Saturday

The observance of Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday, which was last Saturday, continues this Saturday, March 1, with a poetry reading by Gerard Malanga at McDaris Fine Art, 623 Warren Street. Malanga is the recipient of the 2014 Steepletop Poet of Distinction award and is the official poet for the Glasgow International Arts Festival to take place on April 4. The reading, which begins at 5 p.m., is presented by McDaris Fine Art and the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society     

Meetings Friday Morning

Once again, the special Common Council Legal Committee zoning workshop conflicts with the Historic Preservation Commission's regular second meeting of the month. Once again, the solution to the conflict is different meeting places. The HPC will meet in the Council chamber at City Hall starting at 10 a.m.; the Legal Committee workshop will happen in the meeting room at the Hoysradt Firehouse across the street, beginning at 11 a.m. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Word on the Snow Budget

Next week, we may or may not be hit with the biggest snowstorm of the year, but at tonight's Public Works Committee meeting, DPW superintendent Rob Perry reported some facts about the City's current situation vis-à-vis snow.

During our most recent snowstorm, Pax, it had been forecast that between 10 and 14 inches of snow would fall. In fact, there were nearly 20 inches of snow, and 12 inches of it fell in the early hours of Friday morning, February 14.

Looking ahead to future snows, during the end of this winter and the beginning of the next, here's the situation. In the 2014 budget, about $104,000 was budgeted for the things required by snow emergencies--overtime, salt, etc. To date, $60,000 has been spent. That leaves only about $44,000 for the remainder of this winter--which could go on for a bit--and the start of next winter--November and December 2014. 

And then there's salt. It seems we have only enough salt left for four to maybe eight more winter storms, depending on the severity and duration. According to Perry, the last three salt deliveries were a third short. The reason given: "The pile is almost gone." Spring can't come soon enough.

A Survivor in the Garden

We all know the fate of the American elm. Once upon a time, residential streets in cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest were lined with elm trees, and ordinary neighborhoods were made stately and elegant by the trees whose branches formed a green arch high over the roadway.

Photo credit Joseph O'Brien/USDA Forest Service
Alas, Dutch elm disease all but wiped out the American elm and altered the way trees are planted in cities, eliminating forever the beauty created by the uniformity of trees in streetscapes. Here and there in Hudson, however, there are American elms that survived the blight of Dutch elm disease, some only to succumb in more recent years to a disease called elm phloem necrosis, also known as "elm yellows."

Two survivors of the epidemic of Dutch elm disease--and so far resisting elm yellows--are in the community garden at Columbia and Second streets, both in the part of the garden that will continue as a garden. One of them--the larger one--has been identified as a particularly good example of healthy survivor.

Photo credit Timothy O'Connor
Gossips has learned that this elm tree has a chance to become a very important tree. The USDA Forest Service has a program to develop a large group of naturally occurring American elms that are tolerant to Dutch elm disease. To this end, they are cloning healthy elms. So far, the USDA has identified eight trees they want to clone. The elm in the community garden could be the ninth, making this tree that grows in Hudson a very important tree indeed.

There's a downside though. Small clippings from the tree would have to be taken at the beginning of March, when the tree is starting to bud, and submitted to the program. The problem is that trimming the tree at this point would cause the tree to emit a scent that could attract the elm bark beetle that carries the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease. Given the risk, no decision has been made on whether or not to pursue the idea of cloning the tree.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Farewell, Cottonwood Tree

A reader delivered the news today that a cottonwood tree, perfectly healthy and of significant size, was felled recently along the railroad tracks, presumably in the railroad right of way.

There's a white plastic disposable lighter sitting on the stump in the last two pictures, which gives a sense of the size of this tree.

The Hudson as a "Virtual Pipeline"

Two weeks ago, there was an informational meeting in Albany about the plan to turn the Port of Albany into a major transportation hub for crude oil derived from fracking. Last week, Sam Pratt reported on his blog that the Center for Biological Diversity intends to sue the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to address the risks posed by the transport of fossil fuels by rail and barge along the Hudson River. Now Riverkeeper is encouraging the public to demand a complete environmental impact review of the risks presented by this "virtual pipeline." Read more about it here

Photo credit John Carl D'Annibale/Times Union

EPA Cleanup and Valatie Kill

After 80,000 gallons of treated toxins from a Superfund site in Rensselaer County have already been released into Valatie Kill, the EPA has finally scheduled its first information session in Columbia County about the cleanup project. The meeting, which is to be a question-and-answer session with members of the EPA Project Team will take place on Monday, March 3, from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 6 Sylvester Street, in Kinderhook. Click here for more information.   

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Nuts and Bolts of Zoning

The Legal Committee of the Common Council, chaired by Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), held a three-hour workshop meeting on Friday to discuss possible amendments to the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations for Residential Districts. Gossips was present only for the last hour of the workshop, but at that point, after two hours, it didn't seem that very many if any decisions had been made. John Mason, who arrived at the workshop after Gossips did, published a report in yesterday's Register-Star, which gives some sense of the inclusive and wide-ranging nature of the conversation, which started out with the goal of amending the minimum area requirements for dwelling units in multifamily houses in R-4 districts: "Density and setbacks preoccupy zoning workshoppers."

Setbacks, which have been a problem in Hudson probably even since the zoning was adopted back in 1968, were the topic of considerable discussion. The current regulations require a new building to be set back 10, 15, or 20 feet, depending on the particular residential district. (There are four.) There wasn't clarity among workshop participants, however, if the setback was measured from the edge of the sidewalk, the curb, or the middle of the street. What does seem to be clear though is that, were a building to be destroyed, it would be impossible to rebuilt it on its own footprint without an area variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

There are a couple of explanations about why this is true. One is that in 1968 Hudson adopted a zoning model that was typical of suburban communities and better suited to the more recently constructed neighborhoods between Harry Howard Avenue and the Boulevards.

Another explanation, once offered by someone who was on the Planning Commission when the zoning was adopted, is that it was imagined all the houses in the older parts of Hudson would eventually be demolished or destroyed by fire, and if they were replaced by buildings set farther back, the streets could be widened. It was an autocentric era. 

Whatever the reason for the setbacks as they exist, it is generally agreed that they need to be changed, but whenever the topic of setbacks comes up, it always seems to be complicated by the fact that the existing setbacks are different in different parts of the city. Indeed, they seem to be different on almost every block, reflecting the changing ideals of domestic architecture as the city developed from the river east throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. There can be no "one size fits all" setback for the entire city or even for an entire zoning district. That being the case, the only reasonable thing to do is what city attorney Cheryl Roberts suggested: to require that new construction on now vacant lots comply with the prevailing setback of the surrounding properties to preserve a continuous street wall. This seems both simple and logical. If people want to build a house that is not compliant with the overall character of the immediate neighborhood, they need to get a variance.

To elaborate on Roberts' suggestion, exceptions to the prevailing setback found elsewhere on a block should not be used to justify introducing more inconstancy and more breaks in the street wall. Also, in the event that some disaster strikes, and a house must be rebuilt, the new construction should be on the footprint of the original house.

The question arose on Friday of whether or not the Historic Preservation Commission has any jurisdiction over setbacks. Obviously they cannot grant an area variance. That's the purview of the ZBA. But the HPC is charged with protecting the historic character of buildings and neighborhoods, and setback is a critical element when considering the compatibility of new construction in a historic district. The HPC should have the power to deny a certificate of appropriateness if the proposed setback is not in compliance with the prevailing setback of the street or immediate environment.

The Legal Committee's zoning workshop continues this Friday, February 28, at 11 a.m., in the Council chamber at City Hall. It is a public meeting, in that the public is welcome to attend and observe, but there is no opportunity for the public to give input unless invited to do so by the chair.

Breaking News

Today at 2 p.m., at Art Omi, the Preservation League of New York State will announce that the historic and cultural resources of Columbia County have been named one of the Seven to Save for 2014.

Inclusion in the League's list of the most threatened historic resources in New York State comes in response to the proposed high voltage power line that "would cross agricultural land, run through family farms and land under conservation easement, along the Omi International Arts Center's sculpture fields, and through a community rich with historic homes." The entire press release can be read here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Historic Presevation Conundrum

Back in 1994, Steward Brand, whom Baby Boomers will remember as the author of The Whole Earth Catalog, published a book called How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built. The illustrations on the cover of the book show two Greek Revival townhouses on St. Charles Street in New Orleans, built around 1850, as they appeared in 1857 and in 1993.

I was reminded of this book by a situation that arose at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday.

The owner of 430 Warren Street appeared before the HPC seeking a certificate of appropriateness to replace the windows on the third story of his building and to install shutters on the second and third story windows. The shutters he intended to use were salvaged shutters, from the 1880s, he had purchased in Sheffield, MA. He had one of the shutters with him. He told the HPC that although the shutters would not be functional, they would be installed with vintage shutter hardware--hinges, pintels, and dogs. He also produced this picture, taken in the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1888, as evidence that shutters had originally been part of the building's facade.

He must also have provided a picture of the building as it appears today with the shutters drawn in, as required for the application, because HPC chair Rick Rector noted that it appeared the shutters encroached on the adjoining building. The applicant acknowledged this was the case and said he had gotten permission from the owner of the adjacent building for his shutters to extend beyond the edge of his building onto the next building. HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck said that permission wasn't enough, an easement was required. It was decided that the HPC would grant a certificate of appropriateness for the replacement windows, but the applicant would have to come back to the HPC, presumably having secured an easement, to get approval for the shutters.

There seems to be something wrong with this situation, and the fact that the building was originally one building but is now two is not an adequate explanation of why shutters that are the correct width for the windows would extend beyond the edge of the building. If the building next door also had shutters would the shutters of the two buildings overlap each other? Not likely. A side by side comparison of the building/buildings in 1888 and 2012 reveals the problem.

The height of the windows in both buildings has been reduced since 1888, in different ways. The height of the third story windows at 430 Warren appears to have been reduced from the bottom, whereas at 432 Warren, the height of the windows seems to have been reduced from the bottom and the top, but the width of the windows seems not to have changed. The critical clue to the shutter problem is the cornice and the corbels.

The cornice of the original building had seven corbels, and there are still seven corbels. Had the facade of the building been divided equally into two parts, the division would be in the middle of the center corbel, but it's not. With paint on the cornice and blue vinyl siding, the owner of 432 Warren Street claimed the entire center corbel as his own, and that is what's causing a problem today for the owner of 430 Warren Street.

One wonders when, how, and why this building got subdivided in the first place, but that's probably far in the past. One also wonders on what basis the owner of 432 Warren Street decided that the downstreet side of the center corbel marked the edge of his building. That, too, is probably a couple of decades in the past. The question for the present is this: Should the restoration efforts of the owner of one of these buildings be handicapped by the past actions of the owner of the other?

Granted, it would look weird to have shutters extend beyond the apparent edge of a building, but the owner of 430 Warren Street seems to be more encroached upon than encroaching.

Another Stage in the Building's Evolution

On Friday, at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting, the plans were unveiled for the next stage in the life of 364 Warren Street, now owned by the Galvan Initiatives Foundation.

The building was originally constructed in 1805, and early pictures show it with a front gable.

The picture above includes the First Presbyterian Church across the street, appearing as it did between 1837, when it was constructed, and 1876, when it was expanded and redesigned in Gothic style, as we know it today.

It is not known when the gable on 364 Warren Street was removed. Carl Whitbeck, counsel to the Historic Preservation Commission, gave the impression that it happened in 1980, when, according to him, the building was "completely rebuilt," but giving that impression may have been unintentional. 

An observant reader and researcher extraordinaire brought to Gossips' attention the photograph below, which appears on The Cascades website. 

The photograph shows 407 Warren Street, the location of The Cascades, at the left, and at the right, in the background, is 364 Warren Street, with its flat roof and cornice and what appears might be a row of eyebrow windows.

If those are eyebrow windows, they appear to be closer to the cornice than the ones now being proposed for the building.

There's a date written in the lower right-hand corner of the picture, which is cropped off in the photograph that appears on The Cascades website but is there on the image in the Historic Hudson digital archive: Aug. 12, 1938. The picture is evidence that the gable was gone and the cornice was there in 1938, but it is still not known when the transformation took place.

Historic photographs courtesy Historic Hudson

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Steepletop Comes to Hudson

Today is Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday, and if you're looking for an appropriate way to celebrate the day, this is it. Beyond the Poetry: Treasures from Steepletop, an exhibit of rare photographs, art, and artifacts curated from the collection at Steepletop, Millay's country house in Austerlitz, is having its debut tonight at McDaris Fine Art, 623 Warren Street. The opening reception is from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., and tickets for the event, which cost $25, may be purchased at the door. During the reception, there will be a silent auction of a print by international photographer Glynnis McDaris.

Proceeds from the opening reception and silent auction benefit the restoration and conservation of historic Steepletop, its collections, natural grounds, and gardens.

Community Forum on Education

Tomorrow--Sunday, February 23--an important event is taking place at the Hudson Opera House. It is a forum on education options in the Hudson area--something that should be of interest not just to the parents of school age children but to everyone concerned with the quality of opportunity in our community. The featured guest at the forum is Michael Strong, author, educator, and co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of FLOW. Strong will be speaking at the forum and leading a panel discussion with Maria Suttmeier, superintendent of the Hudson City School District, Martin Ping, executive director of the Hawthorne Valley Association, and Kaya Weidman and Ruth Adams of Kite's Nest.

The forum, which is free and open to the public, begins at 2 p.m. with a reception and information tables. The keynote address and panel discussion are from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., followed by a Q & A session. The information tables will also be available in the final hour of the event, from 4 to 5 p.m.

The groups expected to participate in the forum include Children's Community Circle, Hawthorne Valley Association, Hudson Afterschool Program (HCSD), Hudson Area Library, HATCH (Hudson Area Teaching Cooperative for Homeschoolers), City of Hudson Youth Center, Hudson Opera House, Hudson Reads (HCSD), Indian Mountain School, John L. Edwards Enrichment Initiative, Kite's Nest, Operation Unite, Perfect Ten Afterschool, Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, Staley B. Keith Social Justice Center, TALC: The Alternative Learning Center, Udell School Advocates, and Youth Employment Services (HCSD).

Friday, February 21, 2014

News from the HPC Meeting

The Historic Preservation Commission had a meeting this morning that lasted for a record-breaking three hours. The last projects to be considered in this marathon session were facade renovations to 364 Warren Street and a facade revision of 366 Warren Street--both buildings owned by the Galvan Initiatives Foundation.

The plan involves separating the two buildings completely and using them for different purposes. The building at 364 Warren Street is currently the site of "The Bridge," an alternative learning program for students from the Hudson City School District and Catskill Central School District. That use is expected to continue through the 2014-2015 school year. What it becomes after that is unknown. The building at 366 Warren Street is being prepared for retail use.

Much of the discussion of 364 Warren Street had to do with, as HPC member Phil Forman put it, the "target period." John O'Connell, the architect for the project, described the proposed renovation as "something that would be considered a 19th-century building." HPC member Tony Thompson called the time period evoked by the design "ambiguous," to which criticism O'Connell countered, "The building has some eccentricities to it already."

The building, which dates from 1805, originally had a gable. At some point, the gable disappeared, and the cornice was introduced. According to HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck, 364 Warren Street was "completely rebuilt" in 1980.

When the HPC voted on whether or not to grant a certificate of appropriateness, two members (Thompson and David Voorhees) voted no, and other four (Peggy Polenberg, Rick Rector, Forman, and Jack Alvarez) voted yes. Work on this building is expected to happen during the summer, when school is not in session.

[Note: The motion before the commission was to waive a public hearing and direct counsel to draft a certificate of appropriateness. Voorhees has since informed Gossips that he voted no to waiving the public hearing, because he felt the building was too important historically not to allow the public to comment on the proposed alterations.]

Although the historic photograph of 364 Warren Street shows a building to the right, the building now at 366 Warren Street is constructed of concrete blocks with an applied texture to make it appear to be brick. HPC architect member Jack Alvarez pointed out that textured concrete block like this was common in the 1920s and noted that the double windows proposed for this building were also typical of that era.

Alvarez asked if the fence shown in the renderings, which appears to be iron, was really going to be iron. There was no definitive answer. Although there is now a fence, which likely is iron, O'Connell said that they wanted to move the openings in the fence and indicated that the existing fence would probably be replaced.

The HPC voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness for the facade revision of 366 Warren Street.

Seeing the renderings of these two buildings devoid of trees no doubt strikes terror into the hearts of all who treasure the pin oaks on this site and know Galvan's penchant for felling trees. To allay these fears, Gossips reports that O'Connell explained it's hard to make trees look good in SketchUp.

Historic photograph of 364 Warren Street courtesy Historic Hudson

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Hudson's Historic Districts

Someone emailed me today to ask if a particular address was in a locally designated historic district. While I was happy to provide the answer, it occurred to me that the map of the historic districts, while on the City of Hudson website, is not the easiest thing to find, so I have decided to put a permanent link to the map on this blog.

Look for it in the right-hand column, just above the Blog Archive. Clicking on it will take you to a PDF of the map below, which shows the historic districts and lists the individually designated buildings.

The Twenty-Sixth Police Officer

On Tuesday night, the Common Council unanimously approved transferring $25,420.76 from the General Fund to the Police Department Personal Services account "to cover the estimated shortage . . . caused by the hiring of a 26th Police Officer." This action was necessary because the salary and benefits for this officer, hired to replace an officer who had retired, had been inadvertently omitted from the 2014 city budget.

Being reminded that our tiny city of less than two square miles with a population of 6,684 has a police force of twenty-six officers raises the question of whether this is not an unusually high ratio of police officers to residents. A search for comparative data discovered a table on that gives the number of police officers per capita in the one hundred largest cities in the United States. These are cities with populations in the hundreds of thousands, if not the millions, so the table gives the number of officers per 10,000 residents. By applying a little math, we get the number of officers per 6,684 residents--the population of Hudson. 

Our chart includes only the ten cities that have the highest ratio of police officers to residents. Of the ten, only seven have a higher number of police officers per capita than we do in Hudson. Based on the numbers alone, it does seem that Hudson has an unusually high ratio of police officers to residents, but the numbers alone provide insufficient basis for speculating about whether the number of police officers in Hudson is unnecessarily high or inappropriately high.

Protecting the Views from Olana

The Register-Star reports today that a report by a telecommunications engineer commissioned by Scenic Hudson finds that the proposed tower replacement on Blue Hill, in the Olana viewshed, "does not need additional width" and "can actually be constructed smaller and shorter than what is already there" and still achieve the goal of increasing emergency communication services and wireless communication services: "Report challenges tower replacement."

Photo courtesy Jonathan Simons

The News of My Departure Is Greatly Exaggerated

Someone posted on Facebook this morning that "Carol from the Gossips of Rivertown is moving to Catskill." That may be some folks' wishful thinking, but it is not true. I'm not going anywhere.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Disappointment for Dogs

The proposed amendments to the laws that apply to dogs in Hudson hit a roadblock at Tuesday night's Common Council meeting. The proposed legislation would accomplish two things: bring the City's dog licensing procedures into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and abolish the ban on dogs in Henry Hudson Riverfront Park.

Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) was first to express concern about "giving dogs access to the park." He spoke of constituents and DPW and suggested, "We need to pursue the dog park idea." Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) agreed with Delaney, commenting, "We don't have the policing power to oversee this."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee which drafted the amendments, countered, "The reality is that people use the park now with their dogs," and warned against "limiting citizens' freedom based on one branch of government not wanting to enforce the law."

Delaney reported that "DPW says, before the law was enacted, the place was really a mess, and it's much better now." "Before the law was enacted" was more than ten years ago, when the park was in its very first stage of development. Back then, it was pretty much just a big grassy field, and the people who took their dogs there were in the habit of letting them run free. More than a decade later, however, the park is quite different. It has been expanded twice. There are paved paths and picnic tables and benches. It is the setting for all manner of community events--concerts, festivals, flea markets, craft fairs, circus performances. It is regarded differently today than it was back then, and the higher value that citizens place on the park is reflected in the way people and their dogs use the park. As Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) said last night, "People are acting very responsibly, and the law should reflect that."

It was decided that the Council would discuss this amendment further at the informal meeting in March, after the proposed changes to the law had "ripened." In the meantime, a couple of ideas were suggested on Tuesday night that merit consideration. 

Council president Don Moore suggested a "sunset clause." The ban on dogs in riverfront park would be suspended for a year to see what happens. Those opposed to lifting the ban seem to think this action would result in the park being inundated with dogs whose owners, although law abiding citizens when it came to "No Dogs Allowed," would be flagrant scoff laws when it came to the City's leash and pooper scooper laws. What seems more likely to happen if the ban were suspended (or abolished altogether) is that nothing would change.

Another idea worthy of consideration came from former mayoral candidate Victor Mendolia, who suggested establishing a "dog free" area within the park, noting that, although dogs are allowed in Central Park in New York City, there are some parts of the park that are off limits to dogs. His suggestion was dismissed as impracticable, but the rejection was too hasty and unfair. There is a part of riverfront park that could logically and very easily be designated a "dog free" zone. It is the large grassy area to the right of the entrance--what was the park when dogs were originally banned more than a decade ago. Most of the events in the park take place here. This is where the gazebo--the "stage" for all manner of performances--is located. This is where people spread blankets and sit on the ground. This is where parents let their children run and play. This is an area it makes sense to keep dog free, but not the entire park.

The behavior of many dog owners during the evolution of riverfront park supports the notion that this lawn could be designated a dog free zone. When the park was nothing more than this lawn (and there were "No Dogs Allowed" signs posted at regular intervals on the fence), many dog owners never brought their dogs to the park. But when the park was expanded to include the first two embayments, and the paved walks were introduced, these same dog owners felt free to walk their dogs on the paths, down along the river and around the slips. In fact, the signage introduced by the City suggested that walking a leashed dog in this part of the park was totally acceptable, so long as you picked up after your pooch.


Turn Your Radios On

Right now--from 10 to 11 a.m.--on WGXC, Victor Mendolia and his co-host Debora Gilbert are interviewing Ancram supervisor Art Bassin, who chairs the Airport Committee. Listen at 90.7 F.M. or online. 

A Hudson Institution Comes to an End

John Mason reports in today's Register-Star that the last residents of the Home for the Aged have been moved out of the building at Union and Seventh streets: "Home for the Aged closes its doors." It seems Mason suspected that the now vacant historic house might be another Galvan acquisition. The article quotes an email from Eric Galloway that states the Galvan Initiatives Foundation "does not own the Home for the Aged and is not in contract to purchase it." 

The Home for the Aged, which was founded in 1883, had occupied the building at Union and Seventh streets, which had previously been the residence of Robert and Sarah McKinstry, since 1896.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Update on Friday Morning Meetings

Last Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission meeting, at which alterations to the facade of the former Register-Star building at Warren and Fourth streets were to be considered, was cancelled because of snow. That meeting has been rescheduled for this Friday, February 21, at 10 a.m. in the Council chamber at City Hall.   

Because the HPC will be meeting in the Council chamber, the Common Council Legal Committee special workshop meeting to discuss changes to the Schedule of Bulk and Area Regulations has changed venues. The workshop, which begins at 11 a.m., will take place across the street from City Hall, at the Hoystradt Firehouse, 515 Warren Street.