Friday, July 21, 2017

Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear in Hudson

On Thursday night, when Michael LeSawyer was recounting of his sixty years living at the corner of Fairview Avenue and Green Street, he told what had preceded Stewart's Shops on the site across the street. I thought he said, "William Tecumseh's Mobil station," but that seemed a bit bizarre, so after the meeting I contacted LeSawyer and asked if he had indeed said William Tecumseh, as in William Tecumseh Sherman, as in Sherman's March to the Sea.

LeSawyer's response: "Yes, indeed." William Tecumseh Sherman, known to his friends as Bill Sherman, owned a Mobil station at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue back in the day. He claimed to be a direct descendant of the famous Union general who terrorized Georgia. According to LeSawyer, "He had a sassy southern accent, reminiscent of W. C. Fields, sorta." Every winter, he would close the Mobil station and drive down to Miami for the season in his red Cadillac convertible, with the vanity plate "WTS."

"Quite a colorful character," LeSawyer recalled. "Loud, boisterous, smoked cigars, and always wore thick, dark prescription sunglasses." 

A search of revealed that, in 1990, Hudson's own William Tecumseh Sherman lived at 25 Virginia Avenue in Greenport, a.k.a. Lorenz Park. He died in 1992, at the age of 83, and is buried in the Ghent Union Cemetery.

Hudson Fifty or More Years Ago

Today, while reorganizing the files at the Youth Department, Nick Zachos came upon these pictures, which he sent to me, and I share them with you.

This picture gives the best sense of any I've ever seen of Promenade Hill the way Frederick Law Olmsted described it in 1886: "a queer little half-public place, half-domestic back-yard, from which the river may be overlooked if any one cares for it."

Here's another pre-urban renewal view of Hudson: the northwest corner of Second and Columbia streets. I believe the houses that appear in the background, facing north, were on Chapel Street, the street that ran between Columbia and State streets and parallel to both. Chapel Street was totally obliterated to create Bliss Towers and Schuyler Court.


Get Used to It

Gossips warned you about this back in March, but now time is running out. In less than a month, on August 19, you will have to dial 10 digitsarea code + numberto make any phone call, even if the person you are calling has the same area code you do. That's because, starting on September 19, new phone numbers will be issued with a new area code: 838. The part of New York that was once the 518 area code will now have two different area codes. You can read all about it here: "Local calls in 518 require dialing ten digits, in less than a month." 

Stewart's and Hudson

Last night, the Common Council Economic Development Committee held an "information session" about the request from Stewart's Shops for the City of Hudson to amend its zoning to accommodate their desire to build an bigger and better gas station and convenience store at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue.

Gossips has reported the details of that proposal before, notably when it was presented to the Common Council Legal Committee in March and when consideration of the request was, at the suggestion of Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, handed off from the Legal Committee to the Economic Development Committee in June, so only a few of the details from the presentation made last night by Chuck Marshall, real estate representative for Stewart's Shops, will be included here. 

Marshall started out by saying that his predecessor at Stewart's Shops had built 300 stores, and he was charged with making each of those 300 stores bigger. (Stewart's actually has 337 stores in upstate New York and southwestern Vermont.) He said he didn't expect much more gas would be sold at an expanded Stewart's because "the market is fixed," but he then said that 1,250 gallons a day were currently sold and speculated that would go to up 2,000 gallons--a more than 50 percent increase. At one point, he talked about a 15 percent increase in overall business, but later it seemed the anticipated increase was 25 percent.

Before members of the public were given a chance to speak, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the committee, offered his own opinions. "In a vacuum, I have no problem with this project, but seven families will be dislocated, and that to me is a big problem." He went on to say, "Forgetting about whether there are spot zoning issues, [changing the zoning to accommodate this project] will devalue property throughout that corridor."

Eileen Halloran, who lives on Bayley Boulevard, was the first member of the public to speak. She said is was "generally in favor of the project," because she saw it was a way to improve the intersection, which she said was "among the worst," and to address hydrology issues plaguing that part of the city, although she didn't explain how introducing more impervious surface on that corner would mitigate water issues. She also suggested that landscaping at a new building could "absorb the schmutz that comes from truck traffic." 

In his response to Halloran's comments, Marshall stated that "post-development discharge cannot exceed what happens now," not exactly the improvement Halloran was looking for. He also brought of the subject of a host benefit agreement, which he said could be used to mitigate impacts, and asserted that an improved Stewart's would benefit the city more than seven units of housing.

The next member of the public to speak was Michael LeSawyer, who lives directly across Fairview Avenue from Stewart's. LeSawyer began by asking rhetorically, "How will Stewart's correct the safety issue?" He told the committee that he has lived at that corner for sixty years, and "accidents are no more or less than they were sixty years ago." On the issue of pedestrian safety crossing the street, he recalled that there was once a pedestrian signal at the corner, which is no longer there, but concluded, "Stewart's will not do anything for safety unless they put in a pedestrian overpass." He predicted, "A bigger, better Stewart's will be more traffic."

LeSawyer took issue with Friedman's statement in the press release announcing the meeting that "Stewart's has been a good neighbor . . . for many years." He complained that litter from Stewart's ends up in his yard all the time, and nobody from Stewart's has ever picked it up. He also pooh-poohed the idea of landscaping, recalling a past effort at landscaping was four marigold plants. (Currently, the "landscaping" at Stewart's consists of a lone hosta.)

Gossips has more than once noted the irony of the committee that is working on legislation to ban formula businesses in the City of Hudson giving serious consideration to a request to change city zoning and ignore the intent of the Comprehensive Plan to accommodate a plan to expand an existing formula business. LeSawyer cited his own irony: "They can't park oil barges on the Hudson River, but we can double the size of a gas station in Hudson."

LeSawyer asserted that the project had no benefits for Hudson but only benefits for Stewart's. "Am I going to tell my son, 'We're getting a new Stewart's, just like the one in Chatham'? That's something to aspire to!"

LeSawyer also complained about the degradation of Green Street, once lined with handsome and substantial late 19th- and early 20th-century houses, many of which survive, along with three former car dealerships and other mid-century commercial intrusions. "Green Street doesn't get any better," he lamented, citing the former Dairy Queen building now adapted for use as a laundromat. "Why don't we share the rebirth of the city with Green Street?"

After quoting the City's zoning code, "The City is committed to the gradual elimination of nonconforming uses," LeSawyer concluded, "It's ridiculous to even think about this unless you bring in Frank Gehry to build us a beautiful gas station."

Next to speak was Keith Kanaga, who confessed not to live in that part of Hudson but said he drove by there often. He called Fairview Avenue and Green Street a dangerous intersection and said, "It was a mistake to allow them there in the first place." He predicted that "it would only get worse with a larger facility."

Wint Jackson, who lives on Green Street, asked, "What does the City expect to get in return for allowing this?" He had surmised from Marshall's presentation that the gain would be one full-time job and the loss six housing units. He went on to suggest, "The liabilities far outweigh the benefits. If Stewart's were gone, and there were houses there, we wouldn't have the problem [with the intersection]." He called the Stewart's in Hudson "the worst Stewart's Shop I've ever been to" and told Marshall, "You could make the building more attractive. . . . I don't think you've been a particularly good neighbor." 

When Marshall protested that, because it was a nonconforming use, they couldn't make any changes to the building, Jackson did a little on the spot fact-checking and informed Marshall that being a nonconforming use only prevented the building from being "enlarged, extended, or put on a different portion of the lot." There was nothing to prevent Stewart's from making cosmetic improvements to the building.

Finally, a volunteer from WGXC who had been dispatched to the meeting to ask a question got the chance to do so. She wanted to know if the City of Hudson would take responsibility for relocating the people who would lose their homes if Stewart's were allowed to carry out its plan. Friedman's answer was terse: "Of course not. The City is never responsible for that sort of thing."

The committee plans to continue exploring the issue. Friedman expressed the intention to have "someone from [Assemblymember] Didi Barrett's office and someone from the Department of Transportation at the next committee meeting, presumably to discuss the possibility of improving safety at the intersection.

A Bargain at Twice the Price

Richard Moody reports today in the Register-Star that the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has agreed to purchase a tract of land in the Gerald R. Simons Commerce Park for a new training facility for fire fighters. The property is assessed at $438,300; the asking price was $935,000; and, after negotiation, the County is buying it for $840,000. You can read all about it here: "Columbia County to buy Gerald Simons Commerce Park property for fire training facility."

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Fear of Change

Those of us who own houses in Hudson fear change when it comes to our property assessment. Some of us, who have lived through a few assessors, also fear change when it comes to assessors. But we are going to have to deal with the latter before the former, because Cheryl Kaszluga, our current assessor, has announced her resignation.

In a letter to the Hudson residents, Kaszluga, who was appointed to the position by Mayor William Hallenbeck in November 2013, explains that she has accepted a new full-time position in Dutchess County. The letter continues:
I have put many hours of thought into this decision. I want to thank all the residents of Hudson for their warm welcoming. I really enjoyed working as your assessor, and I have high hopes that you will be treated with respect and fairness in the coming years. Hudson will always have a soft spot in my heart. My mom grew up in Hudson after my grandmother settled here from England. I am excited for my new endeavor and sad to say goodbye.
We wish Kaszluga success in her new undertaking and Mayor Hamilton success in appointing a new assessor for Hudson.

Footnotes on a Post from Tuesday

Yesterday, a once regular now only occasional reader of Gossips commented in an email on the post "Houses Back from the Edge." He reminded me that rescuing houses some considered not worth saving started in Hudson back in the 1980s. He cited the notable example of 611 Union Street.

Back in 1984, the Elks wanted to buy this Gothic cottage, built in 1851, and demolish it to expand the parking lot next to their lodge, which was then located in the Richard Upjohn designed Italian villa at 601 Union. Fortunately for us, Cassandra Danz and Walter Brett bought the house instead and restored and preserved it.

From this reader I also learned something I didn't know about one of the houses that was included in my Before and After gallery of rescued houses: 327 State Street.

Sanford Robinson Gifford's sister Mary, who was the artist's constant companion, moved to 327 State Street when Sanford Gifford married in 1877. This is where she was living in 1880, when Sanford Gifford died, and many artists, her brother's friends and colleagues, visited her there. 

Meeting Reminder

Tonight at 6 p.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall, the Common Council Economic Development Committee is holding an information session to hear from Hudson residents about the proposal by Stewart's Shops to expand its gas station and convenience store at the corner of Green Street and Fairview Avenue, a proposal that requires a change in Hudson's zoning and the demolition of two houses.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Watch It for Yourself

Dan Udell's video of Tuesday night's Common Council meeting is now available on YouTube. Along with the discussion of the resolution authorizing the redemption of 424 Union, you will see, among other things, the Council discussing and then passing a resolution requesting from the mayor a report on the status of the ramp project and Sheena Salvino, executive director of Hudson Development Corporation, explaining how an EPF grant for $250,000 for improvements to the entrance to Promenade Hill would be spent if the application is successful. 


An Update on the Escarpment

On Monday, Gossips reported that the city attorney and the code enforcement officer had determined that there was nothing the City could do to prevent or regulate the removal of foliage from the escarpment below Promenade Hill and Hudson Terrace and the ultimate application of shotcrete to the prehistoric wall of Ordovician shale. That's when Historic Hudson decided to take the concerns about what's happening on our riverfront to another level.

Since it's Amtrak, our national passenger rail service, Historic Hudson contacted our elected officials in Washington: Senator Charles Schumer, who last December interceded for Hudson with CSX; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand; and Congressman John Faso, who sits on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Historic Hudson also reached out to allies who share a concern for the river and the scenic vistas along the river: the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Scenic Hudson, the SS Columbia Project, and Riverkeeper.

Scenic Hudson’s Director of Land Use Advocacy suggested yesterday that because the escarpment falls within the Front Street-Parade Hill-Lower Warren Street Historic District, a historic district that has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1970, and because New York State's Coastal Management Policy 25 advises against clearing vegetation and modifying natural land forms, the City may want to notify the NYS Department of State and the State Historic Preservation Office. The mayor and the city attorney have been made aware of this suggestion, but Gossips does not know if they have acted on it. Meanwhile, today Congressman Faso's office indicated an interest and concern about the situation.

One sad fact in the current circumstance is that the appearance of our city from the river, including the natural land forms, would be protected if Hudson had an approved LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Program), but regrettably, it does not.

The pictures accompanying this post were taken this morning shortly after 7 a.m. Since then, the clearing has extended farther north and more pink and yellow dots have been painted on the rock face.

    Foreclosure and Redemption

    Last night, Reverend Ed Cross came to the Common Council Finance Committee with several of the members of his Endless Love Temple to ask for help in their predicament: the building where they worship, which they have rented for the past eight years, has been seized by the City for nonpayment of property taxes, and the church is locked out of the building.

    Once the foreclosure occurred, the owner of the building had thirty days to pay all the back taxes, penalties, and fees, which in this case amount to around $35,000, and redeem the property. This was not done. Now, it seems, Endless Love Temple is hoping the City will allow them to enter into a payment agreement to pay the taxes and fees and take ownership of the building. Cross made the appeal at the informal Common Council meeting last Monday and was encouraged by Council president Claudia DeStefano to make his case at the Finance Committee, which he did with no different outcome. The window of opportunity for redeeming the property has passed. The church's choices, it seems, are bidding on the property in an auction, where the back taxes due will be the minimum bid, or buying it from the City for fair market value.

    A similar but different foreclosure story came before the Council at its regular meeting, when they were asked to vote on a resolution authorizing the redemption of 424 Union Street.   

    In this case, the owner had paid the back taxes, penalties, and fees, with a certified check, within the thirty-day period, as prescribed by the law, to redeem the property, but the tenant, Donna Graziano, who has lived in the house for thirty years, was at the Council meeting to tell her story and seek the Council's help. She alleged that the money to redeem the property, although paid to the City by the building owner, had come from Eric Galloway or the Galvan Foundation, and the owner had agreed to sell the house to Galvan once it was redeemed. (Galvan already owns another house farther up the block, 438 Union, acquired in 2012 and vacant.) She told the Council that the owner had rejected an offer on the house made by a neighbor, who would have allowed her to stay on as tenant. She explained to the Council that she was in ill health and other members of her household had serious health problems. She had no car, and she needed to stay in Hudson where she was close to her doctors and the hospital. When the City seized the property, she had received an eviction notice, giving her 30 days to vacate the property. The mayor had extended that time to 90 days. Graziano was appealing to the Council to let her stay in the house, "whoever takes it over." "I paid my rent for thirty years," she told the Council, "but the owner did not pay the taxes."  

    Andy Howard, counsel to the Council, reminded the aldermen, who were sympathetic to Graziano's plight, that the owner had the statutory right to redeem the property and "how the owner gets that money is not your role to investigate." He also explained to the Council that "the level at which the City owns [the property] is subject to the right redemption" and advised the aldermen that there would probably be a lawsuit against the City if they did not act on the resolution.

    Reluctantly, the aldermen voted. Before voting yes, DeStefano said, "We have no choice." Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) said, "I'm confused; I want to see that lady stay there," but then voted yes. Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward) told the woman, "I hope the City can help you," before voting yes. Rick Rector (First Ward) said, "It may be time to talk to the potential new owner" (although he didn't indicate who he thought should talk to the potential new owner), before voting yes. The resolution authorizing the redemption was approved without the votes of the Third Ward aldermen (the house is located in the Third Ward): John Friedman abstained; Henry Haddad voted no.

    Tuesday, July 18, 2017

    Houses Back From the Edge

    On Thursday, the Common Council Economic Development Committee will hold a public information session about the request from Stewart's Shops for the City of Hudson to amend its zoning on Green Street and Fairview Avenue to permit them to build a larger gas station and convenience store and in the process purchase and demolish two houses: 162 Green Street and 17-19 Fairview Avenue.

    Some, in comments on this blog and elsewhere, have expressed the opinion that the houses in question are in such bad shape that they aren't worth saving. The most compelling argument for saving them is that they provide homes for six families. Also compelling is the fact that they, like so many other buildings in Hudson, can be rescued and restored, but once they are gone, they are gone forever, and the neighborhood is forever transformed. 

    In support of sparing the houses from demolition, I have assembled a brief gallery of Before and After pictures showing houses that in recent years have gone from "not worth saving" to desirable. The gallery could be larger, but these are enough to make the point.

    66 North Third Street

    325-327 State Street

    545 State Street

    61-71 North Fifth Street

    102-104 North Fifth Street

    There is no reason it couldn't happen eventually for 162 Green Street and 17-19 Fairview Avenue as well.

    I Love the Sound of Chainsaws in the Morning

    Even before the crew on the escarpment below Promenade Hill got busy denuding the rock wall of all foliage, DPW workers were busy taking their chainsaws to two little ornamental trees at the entrance to the park.

    It appears from the state of things when they had cleaned up the site and were ready to go that what they were doing was not tree removal but extreme pruning.


    Monday, July 17, 2017

    An Anniversary Observed

    Metropolitan Diary in the New York Times, of which Micropolitan Diary is both homage and shameless imitation, features exclusively entries submitted by readers. Today our imitation is complete. This entry was submitted by a reader.
    Dear Diary,
    This morning, I noticed a man sitting near his car parked at Rick's Point, with a boom box playing the most beautiful classical music. I didn't realize what it was until I got home and read that today, 7.17.17, is the 300th anniversary of when Handel's Water Music was first played on the Thames River. So wonderful that someone in Hudson was thoughtful enough to honor the anniversary by our river.
    Susan Simon
    The 300th anniversary of the first performance of Handel's Water Music was the subject of a story on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon: "300 Years of Handel's 'Water Music,' with a Splash of Politics."

    No More Ms. Nice Girl

    In a letter to Ed Stiffler, published this afternoon on Imby, Julie Metz takes the Greenport Planning Board to task: "Greenport Shirks Responsibility Under SEQRA, re Colarusso Hail Road." 

    Hudson's Face to the River

    Last Tuesday, thanks to Richard Wallace, Gossips reported on a project, which had just begun the day before, to clear the entire escarpment below Promenade Hill of all vegetation, soil, and loose rocks.  

    Photo: Richard Wallace
    According to information received, once the rock face has been completely cleared, it will be covered with shotcrete, a kind of mortar that is applied with pressure hoses to stabilize slopes. The picture below is an industry photo showing shotcrete being applied to a rock face somewhere in the world.

    Alarmed by the prospect, after publishing the post, I contacted the mayor, the Conservation Advisory Council, and the chair of the Waterfront Advisory Committee, wanting to know what, if anything, the City could do to prevent this escarpment--the face of Hudson to the river--from being disfigured in this way. To her credit, the mayor immediately passed my concerns along to the city attorney and the code enforcement officer. On Friday, I learned the outcome from the code enforcement officer. 

    The railroad right of way extends all the way up to the edge of the cliff--a situation that has probably existed since 1851, when the railroad blasted away the base of the escarpment to make way for the railroad tracks. That being the case, the City of Hudson has no jurisdiction. If, in the zoning that is part of the 2011 Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, this area had been made part of the Core Riverfront District, the Planning Board would presumably have had to approve any work proposed, but, alas, the escarpment is not part of the Core Riverfront District. Below Promenade Hill and Hudson Terrace on either side, from Ferry Street to Dock Street, everything west of the railroad tracks is in the Core Riverfront District, and everything east of the railroad tracks is in the Riverfront Gateway District--ironic name since it is our riverfront gateway that is now being defaced. No one anticipated this.     

    The project is expected to take six weeks. They started at the south end and are working their way north. This is what the escarpment looked like this morning, one week after the work began.


    Vending Machine Update

    As I did last Monday morning, I made a trip to the glowing blue vending machine early today to buy a blue bag in which to set out my garbage. I am happy to report that the slot for ATM and credit cards has now been uncovered and appears to be working. I didn't try it, though. Instead I inserted two $1 bills and watched with relief as the blue bag dropped and then heard my change--two quarters--fall. Success! My trash is now at the curb, awaiting the arrival of the garbage truck.

    Sunday, July 16, 2017

    Primary Primer

    Yesterday, Gossips published the list of candidates that have filed designating petitions to run for local office. It appears from the list that the election could be as good as over after the primary, which takes place on Tuesday, September 12. In most races, Democrats are challenging Democrats--some with cross endorsements from the Republicans or third parties, some without. The Republicans have their own candidate in only two races: Martin Martinez, who is running for alderman in the Second Ward, and Robert "Doc" Donahue, running for reelection as alderman in the Fifth Ward. 

    Donahue, a longtime Democrat, switched his registration to Republican in 2015. He has held the position of Fifth Ward alderman continuously since 1994. This year, the ward he seeks to represent is considerably smaller--both in geographic area and population--than it has been in the past. The maps below show the ward divisions as they had been since 1886, when the Fifth Ward was first created, and the new ward divisions created by last year's successful Fair & Equal referendum.

    The new ward boundaries have the greatest impact on one candidate for alderman: Henry Haddad. Haddad is currently in his second term as Third Ward alderman, but in 2017 he is running in the First Ward, where there are three other candidates vying for the two seats. To achieve equal population in all five wards, a great deal of what had been the Third Ward is now part of the First Ward.

    It is important to stress that the new boundaries create wards that are equal in total population not an number of registered voters. Notwithstanding a letter to the editor in the Register-Star claiming that Fair & Equal has not been achieved because the First Ward now has more voters than any of the other wards, that is not what is required by law. In a series of cases in the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that legislative districts must be of equal population. The Public Mapping Project explains it this way: 
    The court held that the 14th Amendment requires "one person, one unit of representation." That is to say that every person--irregardless if they are unable to vote due to their citizenship status or voting age--is afforded equal representation. Districts are therefore drawn on equal population, not on equal votes.
    In a city that has just declared itself to be "welcoming and inclusive," that distinction seems particularly significant.

    Here's more information relevant to the primary on September 12. In two races, Common Council president and Fourth Ward supervisor, the Independence Party filed an OTB (Opportunity to Ballot) petition. This means, as I understand it, that members of the Independence Party can go to the polls on September 12 and write in the name of a candidate--any candidate--they want to represent their party for that office in the November election. The person receiving the most votes gets the Independence Party line on the November ballot.

    Eyesore or Memories Gone

    It has been more than six years since Jeremiah Rusconi presented to the Historic Preservation Commission, in April 2011, his proposal to demolish the abandoned buildings he owned at the corner of Front and Cross streets.

    He told that HPC that the buildings had been constructed in the 1920s, after this amazing Stick Style house, which stood near the end of Cross Street, had been destroyed by fire.

    He explained that prior to the 1920s the site had been an open space--lawn and garden extending down from 52 South Front Street--and he intended to return the site to what it had been. 

    The HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition, but years passed, and nothing happened. Last week, however, a temporary fence went up around the buildings, and the demolition began.

    Photo: Peter Jung
    This morning, nothing remains of the buildings but a pile of rubble.