Sunday, September 28, 2014

Approvers Remorse

Friday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting was the second meeting of the month--one at which the language of certificates of appropriateness is read aloud and the official vote is taken to grant or deny a certificate of appropriateness. There were nine such votes on the agenda on Friday, and in every case but one the HPC voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness. The exception was the train-themed proposal for 22 North Seventh Street.

Two weeks ago, when the HPC directed counsel to prepare the certificate of appropriateness, they did so with five contingencies. They wanted to see a photo of the back of the building with the newly (illegally) installed door in place, a photo of the iron gate as it is now and rendering of the proposed reworked gate, a sample of the Hardiplank to be used, and a design for a new sign, because the sign originally proposed involved neon, and, according to city attorney Carl Whitbeck, neon signs are verboten in Hudson.

The applicant, former Germantown supervisor Roy Brown, supplied only two of the five things the HPC had requested, which should have been enough to table the application until the items were provided, but there were bigger issues. HPC chair Rick Rector confessed that, since the meeting on September 12, he had been "obsessed with this building." He shared his opinion that "extending the roof over nothing makes no sense." Rector went on to say, "I do not understand the 'train station' roof. I don't see the reasoning for it, except that it is a decorative object."

HPC member David Voorhees, who had voted against authorizing counsel to prepare the certificate of appropriateness, commented, "This design does not follow any of the criteria set forth in the law."

HPC member Miranda Barry, who had voted with Voorhees at the previous meeting, said it was unfortunate that the commission hadn't discussed these issues at the September 12 meeting. She said she understood the design and its reference to the train but called it "faux, ersatz, and different from anything else we have done in Hudson." She pointed out that the project involved "building something that was never there before" and spoke of the "theme park aspect" of the design.

The newest member of the HPC, Chris Perry said that "theme" had also come to his mind. He called the proposal "antithetical to historic preservation, playing off a sort of superficial aspect."

HPC member Phil Forman defended the design, calling it "very creative" and saying he didn't think it was "untoward" but rather "different and kitschy." Responding to Voorhees and referring to chapter in the city code that is the preservation law, he said, "If we stopped at 169, none of us should be here. . . . If you leave it at 169, hire a cop." He seemed to be saying that the job of the HPC was to help people get through the requirements of the law in order to do what they want. He concluded by saying, "I don't think what we do on Seventh Street will destroy Hudson anytime soon."

Seeming to take her cue from Forman, HPC member Peggy Polenberg called the corner of Union and Seventh streets "an atrocious corner" with "ugly things all around." Polenberg's judgment will undoubtedly come as a surprise to the owners of the Gothic Revival house at 619 Union Street, the new owners of 620 Union Street, originally the home of Robert and Sarah McKinstry, and the architect and the members of the Common Council who are working on the new facade design for 701 Union Street, soon to be the police and court building.

Later in the discussion, Polenberg made the judgment that 22 Seventh Street had "absolutely no historic significance."

Nicole Sacco-Brown, who was at the meeting with her husband, said that the train theme was "not a new theme for that area," citing the Iron Horse Bar, whose name is being co-opted for the "cigar depot." Perry observed that it was a different thing "when a theme becomes visualized." (Historic Note: Before 1993, the Iron Horse Bar was known as the State Grill. It was renamed the Iron Horse Bar for the filming of the movie Nobody's Fool. The owner liked the new name and decided to keep it.)  

HPC member Gini Casasco repeatedly stressed that the HPC should be considering the whole concept. The HPC should be looking not only at the front of the building but also at the back, which is visible from the street in a historic district. One of the contingencies was that Brown provide a picture of the back of the building, similar to the one below, which showed the (illegally installed) door in place. Brown provided a picture of the back of the building before the door had been installed (which also showed the first floor windows that have been eliminated) and a photograph of only the door.

In the end, Rector suggested that the application be tabled. The HPC voted 6 to 1 to do so. The single dissenting vote was cast by Polenberg.

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