Sunday, June 24, 2018

HPC Holds a Second Public Hearing

On Friday at 5 p.m., the Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing to receive comment on the proposal to amend the southern and western boundaries of the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District, Hudson's largest locally designated historic district, encompassing most of the city south of Warren Street. (It's the orange area on the map below.) The reason for the amendment is a discrepancy between the intent of the members of the HPC who did the inventory for the district and the actual description of the district that accompanied the resolution that created the district passed by the Common Council in 2006.

The intent was that the district extend to the river on the west and Power Avenue to the south, to include such significant historic properties as the Robert Taylor House, the train station, the Dunn building, and Basilica Hudson.

The HPC has been discussing the discrepancy on and off for years. It caused a problem back in 2012, when the Galvan Initiatives Foundation wanted to move the 1790 home of the tanner Robert Taylor from its location at the head of Tanners Lane to a site on Union Street. It was argued at the time by Galvan that the house was not in a historic district and nothing in the documentation for its individual designation specifically addressed the historic significance of its location. What has prompted the HPC to take action at this time is the imminent development of the Dunn building and the redevelopment of the Kaz site. 

The original historic preservation ordinance, adopted in 2003, gave the HPC the power to designate individual properties and neighborhoods as landmarks and historic districts, a status that protected the historic character of buildings and neighborhoods from inappropriate alterations and incompatible development. When the HPC started exercising this power, however, the law was suspended by then mayor Rick Scalera and rewritten to require the Common Council to approve all historic designations. The amended law went into effect in June 2005. All the historic districts that currently exist were created during a two-year window of time2006-2007when supporters of historic preservation had enough votes on the Common Council to pass the resolutions creating the districts. Since that time, no new historic districts have been created.

A resolution to amend the south and west borders of the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District came before the Common Council in April, but it was tabled by Council president Tom DePietro, who alleged that the HPC had not prepared the resolution and the accompanying documents properly and had not notified some of the property owners affected by the boundary amendment. The problem stemmed from an error in the map that accompanied the resolution, showing the new boundaries. The map used Worth Avenue as the eastern boundary, setting off a wave of rumors that the HPC was trying to pull the properties on Worth Avenue into the district. 

So the HPC started over: a new map, a new round of written notification (the first round had been letters instead of the prescribed post cards), a new public hearing, held at 5 p.m. instead of at 10 a.m., which is the HPC's usual meeting time, to convenience the architects and contractors who typically represent the building owners in presenting applications. Despite the efforts, the public hearing on Friday was poorly attended. In addition to Gossips and DePietro, there were six people in the audience. After an introduction by Phil Forman, chair of the HPC, in which he tried to dispel some of the misperceptions about the HPC"We don't opine on paint colors; we're not involved in everyday repairs; we don't opine on like for like changes; we don't dictate building use"and give assurance that the HPC exists "to protect what is" and that historic designation was "a bit of an insurance policy for current homeowners from inappropriate demolition and the construction of new buildings in your face, blocking the view," comments from the public were invited. Forman had even provided comment sheets and pens for people who wanted to share their thoughts but were reluctant to speak in a public meeting.

The first to speak was Peter Tenerowicz, who didn't make a comment but asked a question on behalf of the Hudson Power Boat Association. He wanted to know if historic designation would interfere with repairs to the building or prohibit change of use. Forman told him that only demolition or significant changes to the exterior of the building would fall into the purview of the HPC.

The next person to comment was Heinrich von Ritter, who owns vacant property at the end of Tanners Lane. He complained, "I've been trying to sell my property, and all I get is blackballed." When last Gossips checked, in February 2016, von Ritter was asking $6 million for the property. He proposed a project in the DRI process to be called "Tannery High Rise," which was rejected because it was not a stand-alone project but sought to be part of the Kaz redevelopment project.

The next person to comment was Cross Street resident Ed Csukas. His statement was simple: "Historic designation can't come fast enough as far as I'm concerned." He wanted to know if there was anything residents could do to make it happen, and Forman answered, "Talk to your aldermen. They them you are a constituent, and you think this is a benefit." Fellow Cross Street resident Teresa Meza wondered how things were moving forward "with that mysterious area behind Cross Street," referring presumably to the Kaz site.

Sophie Henderson, deputy director of Basilica Hudson, presented a letter from Basilica founders Melissa Auf der Maur and Tony Stone declaring their full support of the boundary amendment and the protections it provides.

Tenerowicz then asked about the time frame. Forman first referred the question to DePietro, who was seated beside Tenerowicz, but then said that the HPC would vote on pursuing the proposal at its next meeting on July 13, and it would be another month and possibly two before the proposal would be taken up by the Common Council.


  1. HPC needs "teeth" to uphold their decisions and to hold owners responsible when they don't comply. And I'd like to see some stricter rules. We are too rapidly losing the character of our town. There are heinous exterior colour decisions, like black and orange, which are inappropriate and unsightly. The reason the French Quarter and other historic areas retain their original character is that they are strictly maintained. That's why people like them and come to visit. It's something that needs to be thought about in Hudson a lot more seriously.

  2. 1.

    This story calls to mind the discrepancy between the documented intent of the Common Council when fashioning the Core Riverfront Zoning District and the same district's description and mapping in their respective Council resolutions.

    Thanks largely to then-Council President Don Moore's management style, these text and map blunders were ratified over the public's protests. Notwithstanding the nearly brain-dead Aldermen of 2011, it was predominantly Mr. Moore's disdainful attitude about public participation which had preserved a safe space for [the mayor's] corporate council to draft something so poorly that today the City is already in the awful situation some of us warned was inevitable 7 years ago.

    But whether it's a zoning district or a historic district, gaps between legislative intent and the actual drafting of laws are generally traceable to the carelessness of attorneys.

    Then later on, in the midst of some determination that pivots on these self-same gaps, a justifiably confused ZBA or Planning Board will readily cede its authority to any interpretation at all from its nearest and latest legal advisor.

    In this hazardous way our attorneys inevitably create and/or drive the City's policies, albeit unconsciously. Call it an inadvertent professional hazard - one which may or may not be accompanied by work-making legal consequences.

    Culturally, it seems we're too fatuous and dull in Hudson to challenge this nearly automatic machinery. Somehow, there are always plenty of people appointed to policy and planning positions who are content to accept the merest opinions of any lawyer or of anyone who can claim "planning" bona fides. And if the latter are autocratic personalities, then any institutional memory of whatever had given rise to this or that policy becomes redundant.

    For example, more than any other City official the attorney now advising the Planning Board and ZBA is sealing the fate of the South Bay. By compounding the initial Code and Zoning Map blunders engendered under (and by) the jealous supervision of Mr. Moore, today's legal advisor to these ever-impressionable Boards is putting 15 years of herculean planning efforts at risk.

  3. 2.

    But what's the alternative to our endless unconscious stumblings through these much-needed planning efforts? And how can we defend our best efforts from the commandeering autocrats and oligarchs who tend to drive these processes, if only unconsciously, towards their own preferred conclusions? (I hasten to express my gratitude to Council President DePietro who recently asked HDC Treasurer Don Moore why the rfp for the Kaz site framed its own foregone conclusion? That's exactly what I'm talking about, and kudos to Tom.)

    The alternative to boss rule plus collective stumbling must begin with a renewed vision. An update to the City's Comprehensive Plan is long overdue, though in the meantime we've learned to avoid the kind of cookie-cutter planning firms we've hired in the past (BFJ, Saratoga, even Randall & West), and also learned to avoid anyone who's so dull to still recommend them!

    Instead, let's learn from the recent examples of the Hofstra Law School (2015), and the graduate-level landscape class from Cornell (2016), both of whom made astounding contributions to City planning.

    Events are now practically forcing Hudson to look beyond the tired templates of the usual conventional planning firms whose designs are so often driven by the profit-motive, and/or the convenience of each firm's long-associated engineering firm (a professional class not unlike lawyers).

    In proper order, the waterfront program should be finished only after the Comprehensive Plan is updated, and particularly if a proper LWRP is to have its long-awaited HMP (Harbor Management Plan). With an ever-expanding gravel industry at our waterfront (see "City attorney" above, no. 1) the waterfront will require an HMP sooner rather than later. For this reason alone our waterfront planning should be premised on the kind of comprehensive vision which informs a Comprehensive Plan.

    To achieve this effectively, we must free the City from the clutch of its incompetent egoists who always (always!) screw up the best planning efforts. Watching the contortions of the HDC, maybe we're finally beginning to learn.