Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Common Council Takes Aim at HDC

Toward the end of Monday night's informal Common Council meeting, when Council president Tom DePietro asked the aldermen if they had any new business to bring before the body, Alderman Rob Bujan (First Ward) said he had "a lot of First Ward concerns," identifying specifically as matter for concern the proposals for the redevelopment of the Kaz site. Since DePietro, who as Council president is an ex officio member of the board of Hudson Development Corporation, Bujan asked if he could comment. DePietro said it was "a disconcerting process" and expressed the opinion that HDC was "a quasi-agency that is outdated and should probably no longer exist." By quasi-agency he may have meant "quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization," or quango, but whatever his meaning, the statement was greeted with Amens and applause. He went on to say that the HDC board "called executive sessions with reckless abandon" and asked city attorney Andy Howard to "look into how does one get rid of an LDC." (In this context, LDC stands for "local development corporation.")

Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), who served on the HDC board prior to becoming an alderman, was called upon to comment on the previous RFP (request for proposal) process, which selected a developer and then was put on hold in March 2017 and subsequently abandoned. Responding to DePietro's comment about executive sessions, Halloran attested that she had never seen "the executive session abused" and urged "if we are going to pursue dissolution, we need to understand the intent of the legislation that put it there and the work that they do."

DePietro spoke of redundancy, citing HDC, IDA (Industrial Development Agency), and the Common Council Economic Development Committee and suggesting, it seemed, that the Economic Development Committee made HDC unnecessary. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who as majority leader served ex officio on the HDC board until the board amended its bylaws at the end of 2015 to limit the elected officials serving ex officio to the mayor and the Common Council president, voiced the opinion that the Council should "do away with HDC" and made reference to "backdoor meetings."

DePietro, who explained that he'd had no input into the drafting of the current RFP because it was done before he took office, said he didn't know why there should be a single developer. He suggested the property should be divided up into smaller parcels so there could be different, perhaps local developers. He then read a quote from Jane Jacobs (1916-2006), the great journalist, urbanist, and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities
These projects will not revitalize downtown; they will deaden it. . . . They will be stable and symmetrical and orderly. They will be clean, impressive, and monumental. They will have all the attributes of a well-kept, dignified cemetery.
What DePietro failed to make clear was that what he quoted was written by Jacobs in 1958 and is generally understood to present her main criticism of urban renewal, the national initiative that wiped out large swathes of American cities and here in Hudson demolished acres of houses and commercial buildings and created such projects as Bliss Towers, Hudson Terrace, and Schuyler Court. Jacobs advocated for community-based approaches to urban planning, which allegedly is what was being implemented in the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) process and what we've been told will be the process going forward for the redevelopment of the Kaz site. 

Then it was time for the public to weigh in. Fourth Ward supervisor Linda Mussmann called HDC "outdated and outmoded" and declared, "We have lost control." She enjoined Howard, "Get it back. Stop everything."

Julie Metz spoke of the "highhanded manner in which HDC handled the DRI application" and alluded to the language in the DRI application that implies support for Colarusso's activities on the waterfront. She called HDC "the definition of corruption and lack of transparency" and called for the City to "take it back." 

Karla Roberts complained that the HDC board was, on April 4, going to select a developer "without any visual presentation." They didn't, and DePietro pointed out that "visuals are part of the process," but he also commented that the three developers being considered "have no intimate connections with Hudson."

Melissa Auf der Maur asserted that Hudson, as a consequence of the DRI process, has "for the first time ever" a vision for its future and lamented, "it would be devastating to give it away," suggesting the possibility that it could be given away "to a developer from Saratoga." She told the aldermen, "You guys should be doing this." Garriga heartily agreed, declaring, "We represent the city; we represent our constituents." 

Remaining the only voice in defense of HDC, Halloran warned, "If we propose to get rid of it, we need to know exactly what we're dismantling."

Dan Udell's video of Monday's meeting is now available on YouTube. The discussion of the Kaz project and HDC begins 44 minutes in.


  1. How will the State funnel the taxes paid (63c/gal) by motor boaters to Don Moore's kayakers, without a Development Corporation?

  2. Readers might be interested in an essay by Jared Green in Dirt, the blog of the American Society for Landscape Architects. He makes the case that the “well kept cemetery” image appeared in Jane Jacobs’ earliest published writing on urbanism, an article in Fortune Magazine, and that the concerns it communicated were central to her thinking right up to her last attempts to mold public opinion, such as her address to the World Bank in 2002. The passage quoted could not be more relevant now, and unfortunately, into the future, absent widespread governmental reform. Christabel Gough