Monday, December 12, 2016

News from Friday's HPC Meeting

The Historic Preservation Commission held a marathon meeting on Friday, which began with a public hearing and lasted more than three hours. The public hearing was about the application for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish 718-720 Union Street. Oddly, although there was much discussion of the proposed demolition during what was supposed to be a public hearing, there were no actual comments from the public, either in support of or in opposition to the proposal. Kristal Heinz, attorney for the applicant, offered the only thing that came close to a public comment when she told the HPC that Henry Haddad, who owns a building adjacent to this one, was eager to see the building demolished.

Rick Rector, HPC chair, opened the public hearing by making a statement intended to clarify that the requirements set forth in Paragraph 169-8 B of the city code--that demolition be permitted only after new plans for the site have been submitted and approved by the HPC, including a timetable and guarantees, and that new construction on the lot begin within six months of the demolition--applied only in the situation of a hardship application for demolition. He went on to say, "Demolition is the most serious thing we consider."

Craig Haigh, Hudson code enforcement officer, told the HPC that he and Ray Jurkowski, the engineer retained by the City, had inspected the property and found that it did not present any life-threatening issues for the public, but there were code compliance issues that rendered the building uninhabitable. Haigh also estimated that restoration of the building would require that 80 percent of it be destroyed and rebuilt. He said he would hold off making a decision about the building until Jurkowski's final report had been received (the code enforcement officer can order a building demolished for public safety reasons without a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC) but stated of the building, "It's in bad, bad shape."

When the public hearing was closed and the regular meeting began, a decision on 718-720 Union Street was postponed to the end. The first new application to be considered was the ramp at Promenade Hill, presented by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton. The ramp is a city project and hence does not require certificate of appropriateness from the HPC, but it is required to go before the HPC for a recommendation.

Hamilton explained that the material chosen for the retaining wall would be block meant to replicate the historic stone retaining walls rather than the red brick walls that are a part of the 1970s redesign of the park entrance. This choice was made because the ramp is meant to be permanent, and in all public discussions about a redesign of the entrance to Promenade Hill there has been agreement that the red brick walls should be eliminated.

Kate Johns, architect member of the HPC, asked if poured concrete retaining walls with a veneer of natural limestone had been considered but admitted that would be more costly than the block being proposed. The estimated cost of the ramp already far exceeds the funds that have been allocated for it. When Rector called for a vote, the HPC voted unanimously to approve the plans for the proposed ramp and grant a certificate of appropriateness.

The proposal for changes to the facade of 306-308 Warren Street came back before the HPC. At its previous meeting, the HPC had asked the applicants to reconsider their plans for eliminating the original double front doors, replacing the brownstone stoop with a new limestone stoop, replacing the railings, putting a limestone veneer on the foundation, and replacing all the original wood windows. There was also concern about the awning to be installed over the entrance.

On  Friday, the applicants told the HPC they had complied with all but one of their requests: the original exterior doors would remain; the brownstone stoop would be repaired; the iron railing would be restored; the foundation would be parged to look like brownstone; but, for considerations of "cooling and acoustics," the original wood windows would be replaced with new wood windows that replicated the originals. HPC member Miranda Barry, who had been most concerned about the awning obscuring the door surround, conceded, "Restoring the door is such a step in the right direction that the awning becomes less important."

The HPC voted unanimously to grant the project a certificate of appropriateness.

Another application of interest that came before the HPC on Friday was the proposal to alter the facade and construct two additions to the house at 21 Rossman Avenue.

The house, which was built in 1924 for William Wortman, a former Hudson mayor (1915-1916 and 1938-1939), was designed by prolific Hudson architect Michael O'Connor, who designed the original Firemen's Home, the Allen Street School, the Sixth Street School, the Brousseau Building at 202-204 Warren Street, and numerous private homes, including 39 West Court Street, 8 Willard Place, and 339 Allen Street. O'Connor's design for the house is Dutch Colonial Revival. The architect who has designed the proposed alterations to the house described the design as "an eclectic collection of different revival styles" and said the changes proposed were meant to "tone that down a little bit."

The proposed alterations involve eliminating the original entrance to the house and building a new entrance with a courtyard on the east side of the house, extending the existing porch on the west side of the house, and adding "two glass boxes" at the back of the house.

Johns was the first to object to the removal of the front door. John Schobel expressed the opinion that "the changes to the original building were more troubling than the proposed additions to the building." David Voorhees concurred. Barry also said she wanted to keep the door, but added, remarkably, "because it is revival it doesn't count as much. If it were a real Dutch door, we would care more."
HPC vice chair Phil Forman made a motion to waive a public hearing and move forward on deciding whether or not to grant a certificate of appropriateness. No one seconded the motion. It was then agreed that a public hearing on the proposed alteration to 21 Rossman Avenue would be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, December 23.

The proposal to create a hotel at 214-216 Warren Street, until recently the location of the Savoia, was one of the projects that was supposed to have a Planning Board public hearing on Thursday but didn't because there was no quorum. On Friday, the HPC reviewed the project and proceeded to waive a public hearing, conducted by the HPC, and grant the project a certificate of appropriateness.

After considering two more applications--one for window replacement at 608 Warren Street and another for the installation of windows and a French door at 226 Allen Street--the HPC returned to the matter of demolishing 718-720 Union Street. It seemed clear that some members of the HPC wanted code enforcement to take the decision off their plate by ordering the building demolished for public safety reasons. Rector suggested that they might postpone making a decision until the engineer's report was received. 

Barry posited that, in focusing on the condition of the building, they were discussing the wrong issues. What they should be considering is "whether or not the building itself is significant enough to defend." But she continued, "Our law gives us no criteria [for making a decision about demolition, so we cannot rule on it."

In the end, when a roll call vote was taken on whether to grant or deny a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building, every member of the HPC voted to deny except Schobel, who abstained.


  1. Ahhh, the smell of low interest rates.

  2. Small point of clarification on the Wortman house, I did not mean to imply that the door would be more important if it were a "real Dutch door." What I meant to say was that the extent of renovation and re-design to the house should be considered in the context of a house that was, itself, a 20th Century design that referenced earlier styles. So the combination of modern and traditional elements was more welcome than they would have been on an older Dutch house. But I do think Kate was right about the door!