Friday, March 2, 2018

What Happens If . . .

Last night, at the final meeting of the DRI Local Planning Committee, the objective was to adopt the list of projects recommended by the ten-member project development subcommittee. That didn't happen, and, at this point, it's not entirely clear if it will.

When things got to the point of voting, well after 8 o'clock when the meeting was supposed to end, only 17 of the 23 members of the DRI Local Planning Committee were present--some had left early, two had not been there at all. A majority was required to adopt the list of projects in the draft DRI Investment Plan to be submitted to the Department of State. LPC member Jeff Hunt asked if it was a majority of the members present or a majority of the full LPC. The answer was the full LPC, and votes would be solicited from the members not present. Colin Stair voiced the opinion that it would be unfair to take a vote with only the members present, because the list might be adopted without giving the absent members the chance to vote. To this observer, that hardly seemed likely. A majority of 23 is 14, and it was not at all clear that 14 of the 17 members present were going to vote to adopt the list. It was decided that all members of the LPC would submit their votes to Steve Kearney by Monday, March 5.

The biggest sticking point for some members of the LPC and the public were the projects proposed for DRI funding by the Galvan Foundation. Five project proposals were submitted; only one--260 Warren Street--had been eliminated and that was because it was outside the BRIDGE District. Three projects--the Robert Taylor House, 22-24 Warren Street, the Salvation Army kitchen at 11 Warren Street--were recommended for DRI funding, totaling $842,570, and one--59 Allen Street--was to remain in the DRI Investment Plan without receiving DRI funding.

Stair was the first to express his opposition to the inclusion of Galvan projects in the recommended plan, saying that taking public money to award Galvan is wrong. "I don't know how they ended up staying there." When the public was allowed to make statements, which happened before the vote instead of after as the agenda indicated, Victor Mendolia said he was appalled by the notion that DRI funding would go to Galvan projects, calling the Galvan Foundation "bad actors." He noted that one of the principals of Galvan, Henry Van Ameringen, was "one of the richest people in the country." Mendolia attributed the affordable housing shortage in Hudson to the Galvan buying up properties and warehousing them and alleged "what they've done at Housing Resources is a real scandal." Linda Mussmann seconded what Mendolia had said, saying that Hudson was "losing housing stock rapidly."

LPC member Sara Kendall had a problem with $2 million of DRI funds--more than 20 percent of the total--going to the Kaz redevelopment project. Her concern was that the project was being managed by HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) and worried that it would not be "aligned with DRI goals." She spoke of "issues of community trust with HDC" and said she was "in an uncomfortable position because I cannot judge it in terms of our DRI goals and strategies." She asked if the LPC could have "some way to have input and know that it meets our goals." LPC member Seth Rapport told Kendall she was "operating from a place of distrust" which he said was "no way to function." LPC member Joan Hunt suggested that the LPC should be able to specify how much housing and what kind of housing--low income, workforce, market rate--is part of the Kaz redevelopment.

Early on in the meeting, LPC member Peter Jung, who left before the meeting reached the point of voting, asked, "What happens if approved projects cannot go forward as intended?" Someone from the Department of State answered, "That hasn't happened yet." The question to be asked now is: What happens if the LPC doesn't adopt the DRI Investment Plan? That probably hasn't happened yet either.


  1. Huge thanks goes out to all who have spoken out about Galvan projects being included in the DRI. As a property owner and taxpayer business here since 1990, I find this Galvan inclusion very troubling and insulting. Galvan could personally afford to restore the whole town according to their alleged Doris Duke commitment. But that is obviously a front to get away with their gov't subsidized ego. Consideration of Galvan by the DRI is tainting the whole apple barrel. imho

    1. Bravo Vincent. Well said and exactly how I feel. But the barrel holds other rotten apple deals, too. Corporate welfare...

  2. Was it an expectation that the LPC subcommittees maintain secrecy? If so, then the members have done a great job.

    But that's not a criticism. To all appearances the individuals appointed to the LPC are diverse enough to frustrate oligarchical tendencies, and that's good enough for me. In this and other ways it seems that the LPC has functioned properly, running roughly parallel to our republican (small "r") form of government.

    But at some point there was bound to be a log-jam between competing interests. Because it's natural for interest groups to form, sometimes I wondered if racing the process was a technique to forestall the inevitable.

    Either way, to meet with such disorganization at this late stage indicates a flaw in the process itself. For instance, I'm astounded that Ms. Kendall's representative remark of distrust for the HDC wasn't hashed out long ago. That's not a criticism of Ms. Kendall (I happen to agree with her), or it's not necessarily a criticism since we don't know what was discussed in the subcommittees, but it may be an indication of a certain naivety in the DRI process itself. Plenty of NY State programs and policies are founded on simplistic notions about human nature, such as the State's waterfront program, and the State Environmental Quality Review Act. (SEQRA assumes that municipal governments will always act in the best interests of their constituents, rather than cater to special interests.)

    Inasmuch as all Progressive politics are founded on a hidden premise of alienation and "distrust," an apt word that Ms. Kendall's colleague used to characterize her equally apt remark, LPC administrators should anticipate and seek to mitigate such predictable divisions early on.

    It's possible that a more organized framework for welcoming public comments, one which works in tandem with the closely guarded subcommittees (perhaps a discrete depository?), would have been a useful means to settle obvious divisions early on. (Case in point: HDC.)

    Perhaps in future, a system which collates public comments but remains internal to an LPC would be useful to manage the predictable divisions of this or that community.

  3. The end is much like the beginning; the LPC acting as a group has reservations. I represent one of the proposals, Hudson-Creative. Our application was dozen of pages long. We are one of the few proposals that will act to add job training for the community. I wish there was a more comprehensive representation of each project on the DRI website. There will be $9.7 million spent in the Bridge District with State/Taxpayer dollars. Can Hudson find a common ground to decide objectively to move forward?

    1. Thanks CW, very well said. I like your proposal for job training, too.

      I also represent one of the proposals. But when I submitted a request to see someone else's proposal, I was taken aback when it proved a bit difficult.

      When I was finally able to scrutinize the text, I discovered willful cheating in the DRI's second-most expensive proposal. Had there been a "more comprehensive representation of each project on the DRI website," as you say, then the actual circumstances would have been more generally understood.

      I'm asking the same question as you, whether or not Hudson can "find a common ground to decide objectively to move forward?" But to be fair to ourselves, some of our more valid differences might have been anticipated. In other words, some of the blame for the friction is structural, the least example of which is the difficult access to actual proposals that we both noticed.

      I touched upon a more complicated example above when I agreed with the chastisement of one LPC member by another for perfectly stating objections I'd want to make myself!

      In such a quick-moving process, it's plausible that the only disagreement between the two members related to the sequence of events, particularly if the issue at hand was already thoroughly discussed. But it's just as plausible that the process failed a legitimate complaint by moving along too quickly at the expense of coordination. That would be consistent with the other complaints we're hearing which are themselves consistent with the lack of ease I discovered in accessing the actual proposals.

      The DRI program is on its own learning curve, and hopefully it will learn from Hudson's example. No doubt it learned something as a result of our affordable housing debate, but if it really wants to help communities like ours that have abbreviated Comprehensive Plans, then maybe the program needs better tools (or a tighter self-definition) to resolve those divisions which are utterly predictable, and indeed universal.