Sunday, September 14, 2014

Report on Friday's HPC Meeting

When Gossips arrived for the Historic Preservation Meeting shortly before 10 on Friday morning, the doors of the Council Chamber were closed, and various people, several with drawings and plans tucked underneath their arms, stood waiting in the lobby. Word was that a wedding was going on inside. Shortly after 10, applause was heard, the doors opened, and the wedding party emerged. The people there for the HPC meeting filed in, and the meeting convened at 10:07. Later it was learned that the wedding had been scheduled for 9:30, but it was after 9:45 when the mayor came down from his office to officiate.

The mayor may have been late for the wedding, but he has lately given a flurry of attention to the Historic Preservation Commission. At midsummer, it was feared that he might be trying to accomplish by attrition what his predecessor often threatened: eliminate the HPC by rendering it powerless. Almost a year had passed since Scott Baldinger resigned, and the mayor had not appointed his replacement. At the end of July, the terms of three HPC members (David Voorhees, Tony Thompson, and Jack Alvarez) would expire, and with only three members left, the HPC could not function, since four affirmative votes are needed to take any action. In the face of that possibility, city attorney Carl Whitbeck advised those members whose terms were expiring that they could, if willing, continue on the commission until the mayor appointed their replacements. 

At the beginning of August, the mayor finally appointed someone to replace Baldinger: Miranda Barry. Also at the beginning of August, David Voorhees and Tony Thompson asked to be reappointed. Voorhees' request was immediately granted, but the mayor put off making a decision about Thompson. Meanwhile, Thompson continued on the commission. Yesterday, it was announced that the mayor had replaced Thompson, one of the most knowledgeable, conscientious, and committed members of the HPC, with Virginia Casasco.

It was also announced yesterday that the mayor had appointed a new architect member. Jack Alvarez, the highly respected preservation architect who had served on Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission since March 2012, has been replaced by Chris Perry, the husband and partner in the interdisciplinary design studio Pneumastudio of Cathryn Dwyre, who proposed the controversial "re-imagining" of Seventh Street Park.

There's no doubt that Perry is an architect. He has a master's degree in architecture from Columbia University and teaches architecture at RPI, but there is nothing in his bio that suggests he has any expertise in preservation architecture, which is what the law requires: "At least one shall be an architect experienced in working with historic buildings" [Chapter 169-3. A (1)]. Although his appointment was announced on Friday, Perry was not present at the meeting.

No fewer than nine new projects came before the HPC on Friday. This post will focus on the ones of greatest visibility and impact.

On August 22, the HPC officially denied a certificate of appropriateness to the storefront proposed for 134 Warren Street. Even before that happened, Bruce Steinberg of Danian Realty, the owner of 134-136 Warren, made known his intention to appeal the HPC's decision to the Common Council.

On Friday, however, Rick Rector, HPC chair, read a communication from Danian Realty informing the commission that they were dropping their appeal and would instead submit a new plan. This new plan was presented at Friday's meeting.

When the original plan for 134 Warren Street was presented to the HPC on July 28, a proposal to lengthen the ground floor windows in the facade of 202-204 Warren Street to make the space more conducive to commercial uses was given a certificate of appropriateness. The ease with which the proposal to alter the windows in the Brousseau Building was approved may have inspired the new proposal for 134 Warren Street. Instead of adding a storefront, they are making the windows extend to the interior floor.

The HPC voted unanimously to waive a public hearing on the new proposal and to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

Preservation purists sometimes fear that Hudson is losing its authenticity with historic buildings being renovated to look like new and new buildings being constructed to imitate old buildings. The phenomenon is called by some "Disneyfication." It seems Hudson is moving one step closer to theme park quality. Plans were presented on Friday to transform this house at 22 South Seventh Street into a "railroad themed" cigar store called "The Iron Horse Cigar Depot."

The aluminum awning over the front door is to be replaced by a roof supported by brackets which will extend the width of the building and continue, supported by columns and brackets, over nothing in particular, across the width of the vacant lot next door, which is destined to become a asphalt covered parking lot. This roof is meant to evoke a historic train station. Also, the iron gate at the gangway on the north side of the building is to be reworked to include the name of the business and make it reminiscent of the front of a historic locomotive. It is through this gate that customers pass to reach the entrance to the cigar store, which will be at the back of the building, where the entrance doors have already been installed.

The HPC wanted some things that had not been included in the application: a picture or drawing of what the completed back entrance will look like; the rendering of the proposed "locomotive" gate; a statement that there are no plans to replace the current windows and doors; a statement that the vinyl siding now on the building will be replaced with Hardiplank clapboard (although no specifications were offered or requested for the width of the courses); a plan for the revised sign (the sign now proposed involves neon, which, since 1985, has been verboten in Hudson). 

Although they requested five things that were not part of the original application, the HPC unanimously voted that the application was complete, and then voted to waive a public hearing and grant a certificate of appropriateness, provided that they are satisfied with the additional materials requested. Only David Voorhees and Miranda Barry voted against granting a certificate of appropriateness.

One proposal before the HPC on Friday was cause for relief and rejoicing. The presence of scaffolding around the church building at 448 Warren Street had raised many questions about the plans for the building. The good news is that a complete and accurate restoration of the building is being planned. The plans presented on Friday were for Phase One, which involves re-pointing the brick and rebuilding a window opening that had at some point been enlarged and turned into an opening for a door.

The masonry contractor for this project has restored the masonry at Olana and has won awards for his work. The applicant assured the HPC that all work will be "absolutely in kind." Wonderful!

Historic photograph of the Universalist Methodist Church courtesy Historic Hudson


  1. What's the intended use of the building any one know? "The good news is that a complete and accurate restoration of the building is being planned."... really? ...steeples and all?

  2. Obviously the new owner of the church is not EG.

    Thank God.