Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Beyond Buildings

Fifteen years ago, when Hudson's preservation law was first enacted, the primary concern was for the preservation of the authentic design and architectural features of buildings. In the law, the notion of preserving the character of a historic district seems to have all to do with preserving the historic character of individual buildings and ensuring that any new construction in a historic district be compatible with the historic character of the neighborhood as a whole. These are the principal tenets of the law:
  • Properties that contribute to the character of the historic district shall be retained, with their historic features altered as little as possible;
  • Any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district; and
  • New construction shall be compatible with the district in which it is located.
The preservation law has been interpreted to apply to fences, but on a couple of issues, which are turning out to have significant impact on historic neighborhoods, the law seems to be silent. Those issues are curb cuts and retaining walls.

In a comment on this blog, former First Ward alderman David Marston sharply criticized a neighbor for his "suburban curb-cut driveway on one of Hudson's oldest blocks." On Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission accepted as a communication a complaint from another neighbor about the same curb cut and driveway and its inappropriateness in a historic district.

Although this particular curb cut has raised objections from the neighbors, it's hardly the first curb cut to be introduced into a historic district to provide off-street parking for a resident. According to Chapter A331-1 of the city code, all that is required to create a curb cut for a driveway or parking pad is permission from the Department of Public Works.

Because the assistant city attorney, who is counsel to the HPC, was not present on Friday, discussion of the complaint and how the HPC might respond was postponed until its next meeting, on August 10. If the HPC is going to consider the impact of curb cuts and driveways or parking pads in historic districts, it should also include retaining walls in that consideration.

When work on this retaining wall on Prospect Avenue at the end of Rossman Avenue commenced a month or so ago, I asked code enforcement Craig Haigh why it hadn't come before the Historic Preservation Commission. It was being constructed in a historic district and was affecting the character of the neighborhood. Haigh explained that retaining walls were considered landscaping, and landscaping was not within the purview of the HPC. He advised me that the preservation law would have to be amended if retaining walls were to require a certificate of appropriateness.

Curious, I searched Chapter 169 of the city code and located the words landscaping and wall. Each appears only once, in a seldom referred to section of definitions (Chapter 169-2) which was added in 2005, when the preservation law was "amended in its entirety." The word landscaping appears in the definition of the term exterior. (The underscoring is mine.)
EXTERIOR  The architectural style, design, general arrangement and components of the outer surface of an improvement, as distinguished from the interior surfaces enclosed by said outer surfaces, including but not limited to the kind of texture of building materials and the type and style of windows, doors, lights, signs, sidewalks, landscaping and other exterior fixtures.
The word wall appears in the definition of improvement. (Again, the underscoring is mine.) 
IMPROVEMENT A building, structure, pavement, parking facility, fence, gate, wall, sign or awning, work of art of other object constructed by humans.
The defining statement in the preservation law about certificates of appropriateness begins (again the underscoring is mine): "A certificate of appropriateness is required to carry out any exterior alteration, additions, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction. . . ." Could the two definitions cited, particularly the definition of exterior, be used to argue that retaining walls as well as curb cuts and parking pads should be the purview of the HPC?

Monday, July 30, 2018

Not Until Next Week

If curiosity drove you out to the intersection of Routes 9G and 23 today to see what was happening, and you discovered nothing, Bill Williams of 98.5 The Cat provided the explanation this afternoon on Facebook: "Roundabout Construction, Where are all the workers?" Apparently the actual work won't begin until later this week or next week, which should come as no surprise. After all, when the project was announced, it was said it would begin in August, and August doesn't start until Wednesday.


Another Faso Misstep

Back in 2013, the Livingston Planning Board approved a 190-foot communications tower--a taller, bigger, and more visually intrusive tower than the one that's there now--to be built by Eger Communications on Blue Hill, in the Olana viewshed.

Photo: Jonathan Simons
The Olana Partnership and Scenic Hudson filed a legal challenge to overturn the approval and succeeded in getting a ruling that the FCC review the proposed tower under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservatioon Act of 1966. That review has not yet been completed. Now, the Register-Star reports that Congressman John Faso is calling for the construction of the tower to proceed: "Faso calls for FCC to move forward with Eger tower replacement in Livingston; almost three years of waiting for a proceeding."

An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Last week, Hawthorne Valley announced the installation of six destination charging stations for electric vehicles located on lamp posts in the middle of the school parking lot. The stations are available for public use, free of charge, and were installed in partnership with Tesla.

It may be time for the City of Hudson to consider installing electric vehicle charging stations in some of its parking lots. There was talk of doing so a year ago, when then First Ward alderman Michael O'Hara wanted the City to apply for a NYSERDA Clean Vehicle Infrastructure grant. Installing the charging stations was to be one of the four "High Impact Action Items" that would qualify Hudson to become a Clean Energy Community and get some grant money.  

Last year, the EV charging station initiative stalled, as did the effort to make Hudson a Clean Energy Community. But this year, Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) took up the cause, and, at the July Common Council meeting, he announced that the City had completed four of the ten "High Impact Action Items" and would now be considered a Clean Energy Community by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Agency). EV charging stations were not among the four items that qualified Hudson for this status.  

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

During the dog days of summer, meetings are likely to be canceled for any number of reasons but most commonly for want of a quorum. This week, there are only three meetings scheduled, and they all fall on the same day: Wednesday, August 1.
  • At 3:00 p.m., the mayor will hold a public hearing on Proposed Law No. 4 for 2018. The law would require owners of vacant buildings to register those buildings and pay an annual fee for each year a building stands empty. The hearing takes place in the Council Chamber at City Hall.
  • At 5:30 p.m., the Common Council Youth, Education, Seniors, and Recreation Committee meets at City Hall. At this meeting, youth director Nick Zachos and Sher Stevens, who directs programming at the Senior Center, typically report to the committee. Beyond this, no agenda is available for the meeting.
  • At 6:45 p.m., the Common Council Housing and Transportation Committee is scheduled to meet at City Hall. This committee has not met since its chair, Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), broke her ankle in late May. There is the possibility the meeting for August 1 will be cancelled as well.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Great War: July 30, 1918

One hundred years ago, the front page of the Columbia Republican reported that the Allies were pushing ahead through France, American troops received an ovation when they arrived in Italy, and a recommendation was before Congress to raise the upper age for eligibility for the draft from 26 to 45. The front page of the paper also included this item, reporting the words of the commander of the German military.

The item in the news for July 30, 1918, that gives the best insight into life at home during World War I, however, appeared on page six, where it was reported that a Kinderhook woman, with the unfortunate name of Newcomer, was caught hoarding sugar and flour.

During the war years, the limit for purchasing sugar was two pounds per person per month. Today, it is estimated that the average American consumes more than six pounds of sugar each month, although it's somewhat rare to see people actually buying bags of sugar in the supermarket.

More Land for Sale

In recent days, Gossips has reported on the City's land swap with HCDPA and HCDPA's possible sale of all its property and the actual sale of 213 Columbia and 214 Prison Alley. Now there's more land for sale, and the City, it seems, is being viewed as a potential buyer. The land in question is three parcels on the north side of Strawberry Alley, which runs behind Robinson Street. The County is looking to sell the three parcels and is offering them to the City of Hudson before they are auctioned off. There's a story behind how the County came to own the land, but it's not entirely clear why it still does.

Once upon a time, these parcels belonged to the Hudson School District, decades before the consolidation that created the Hudson City School District in 1966. They were part of the grounds of the Charles Williams School, which opened in 1924. 

The building ceased being used as an elementary school in 1970, a little more than a decade after John L. Edwards Elementary School was built, and in the late 1970s, Columbia County started using the building as an office building. The Sheriff's Department, the Planning Department, the Health Department, the Office for the Aging, and the Mental Health Department all were located there. Signage that still exists indicates that the parcels now for sale were used for parking when the building was a county office building.

In 2003, ownership of the school building was transferred from the County to the City of Hudson. The County needed a parcel of City-owned land in the 300 block of Columbia Street in order to build its new office building at 325 Columbia Street, so the City took ownership of the school in exchange for the land on Columbia Street. For reasons unknown, the three parcels on Strawberry Alley were not part of the swap, although a fourth parcel closer to the school building, on which there is a garage structure, was conveyed to the City. 

In 2011, when the City sold the school to Steven Johnson and Walter Sudol, who established the Second Ward Foundation there, it retained ownership of the parcel where the garage is. It is not known if the City actually uses the garage for any purpose. Now the County wants to sell the three parcels west of the garage and is looking to the City as a potential buyer.

Dunworth Mews, Notting Hill, London|Wikipedia
Given the current interest in promoting infill housing and developing new housing on vacant or underused sites within residential areas, these three lots might be the perfect place to create a little row of houses whose design would mimic that of a mews. How charming would it be to have an address on Strawberry Alley? The people in the neighborhood might not be very enthusiastic about it, though, since they seem to have claimed these lots as a parking and vehicle storage area.  

Photo: Linda Mussmann

Photo: Linda Mussmann


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Not to Be Missed

Yesterday, Brownstoner published an article about our own beloved National Historic Landmark: "From Ruin to Restoration: Saving the Picturesque Legacy of Hudson's Dr. Oliver Bronson House."

Photo: Susan De Vries|Brownstoner

Change on the HPC

Yesterday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting was the last for David Voorhees, who has served on the commission for twelve years, during some of those years as its chair and for most of them as the historian member of the commission. At the end of yesterday's meeting, Mayor Rick Rector commended Voorhees for his years of service on the HPC, saying Voorhees could be proud, driving up and down the streets of Hudson, of the good work he has done in preserving the city's architectural heritage and historic character. Rector indicated he had begged Voorhees to stay on the commission for another term, but Voorhees declined. Responding, Voorhees explained, "It's time for me to move on. I have my institute [Jacob Leisler Institute for the Study of Early New York History], and I want to devote my whole time to that."

As someone who has been watching the Historic Preservation Commission from its beginning, first as concerned citizen and since 2010 as The Gossips of Rivertown, I too wish to commend and express my gratitude for the knowledge and uncompromising judgment Voorhees brought to the HPC.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Has Hudson Outgrown Alphabet Soup?

The relevance of the two alphabet soup agencies, HDC and HCDPA (Hudson Development Corporation and Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency respectively), which originated during those thrilling days of Urban Renewal, is increasingly being questioned. In May, Common Council president Tom DePietro, who is ex officio a member of the HDC board, called HDC a "quasi-agency" and asked city attorney Andy Howard to "look into how does one get rid of an LDC." What provoked this was HDC's handling of the redevelopment of the Kaz site, which was perceived to lack transparency. 

Since then, the Kaz project has stalled, four members of the HDC board resigned, the board was advised not to enter into a contract to buy a parcel of land from CSX--a parcel needed to give the Kaz site access to Front Street--because of contamination, new board members have been interviewed but only one new appointment has been made public, and it was proposed that the management of HDC be handled by CEDC (Columbia Economic Development Corporation) until a replacement for executive director Sheena Salvino is found. (Salvino announced her resignation at the end of March. Her last day is August 3.) In the midst of this all, an HDC board meeting that was supposed to take place this past Tuesday was canceled and no new meeting was scheduled. The next regular meeting of HDC is scheduled for Tuesday, August 28, at noon.

Yesterday, the other alphabet soup agency, HCDPA, held its last meeting before Salvino's departure. Unlike the HDC board which has only two ex officio members (the mayor and the Common Council president), all the members of the HCDPA board serve ex officio. They are the mayor (Rick Rector), Common Council majority leader (Tiffany Garriga) and minority leader (Eileen Halloran), Planning Board chair (Walter Chatham), and Hudson Housing Authority board chair (Alan Weaver). 

After some discussion of the agency's financial state, its shared services agreement with HDC, and the recent appraisals done on the land owned by HCDPA, Chatham, who chairs the HCDPA board, declared, "If we're broke, we have this property, we have no means to move forward, why not sell it all?" "This property" consists of vacant lots at 202, 204, and 206 Columbia Street (what remains of the community garden), 238 Columbia Street, 2 through 12 State Street, and 4 Warren Street, half of which was acquired from the City of Hudson earlier this week through a land swap.

202, 204, and 206 Columbia Street

238 Columbia Street
2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 State Street
4 Warren Street
DePietro, who does not sit on the HCDPA board but was present at the meeting, reacted to Chatham's suggestion by asking, "If you sell off all the property, how are you going to enact all these good ideas?" He was referring, presumably, to the recommendations in the recently adopted Strategic Housing Action Plan. Chatham responded by saying that HCDPA was "land rich and cash poor." He went on to say, "We have no way of operating. We don't own enough to make a difference."

After more discussion, during which Rector said he wanted properties back on the tax rolls and Salvino clarified that HDC was about creating jobs and HCDPA was about affordable housing, Chatham made a motion that the board "seriously consider selling off the property and asking the city attorney to investigate the dissolution of HCDPA." Salvino said she had misgivings about dissolving the agency, warning, "If you get rid of the agency altogether, it would take so much to get it going again." She suggested that HCDPA might be "put to sleep" or "mothballed." Chatham hailed the notion of mothballing as "brilliant." 

DePietro, who has called for the dissolution of HDC and the strengthening of HCDPA, protested, "No one wanted to shut down HDC." He asked the board, "So you're actually considering shutting down a government agency that is all about low- and moderate-income housing?" Chatham noted that HCDPA "facilitates. It does not create." (In the past quarter century, that facilitation seems to have amounted to selling vacant land at four locations along Columbia Street to Columbia County Habitat for Humanity for the construction of eight single-family houses.) Weaver asked DePietro, "We have low-income housing. Where do you see creating more?" Weaver went on say that Hudson Housing Authority was "on schedule" to create 60 to 80 new units and to rehab the low-rise units that are part of the Bliss Towers complex.

The original motion by Chatham was never seconded. In the end, Rector moved that the board invite the city attorney to the next meeting to discuss HCDPA. That motion was seconded, voted on, and passed. Chatham then reiterated, "The agency is broke, we don't have much of a track record, and the political climate does not favor this type of agency." It was noted that the Strategic Housing Action Plan recommends having a housing commissioner and that office could take over the role of HCDPA.  

Ten minutes after the regular meeting of the HCDPA board was adjourned, a special meeting was called to order. The meeting was for the purpose of opening the sealed bids for 213 Columbia Street and 214 Prison Alley. There was only one bid for this narrow strip of land, received from Shanan Magee. The minimum bid set in the invitation to bid was $20,000. Magee's bid was $31,110. Chatham moved to accept the bid; Weaver seconded; it was unanimously approved. According to the city's current zoning, this parcel of land is too small for anything to be built on it. Magee acquired the adjacent property, 209-211 Columbia Street, in December 2016 and has since built a new house there. He intends to establish a community garden on the parcel acquired from HCDPA.

If You Plan to Venture South or West . . .

Bill Williams of 98.5 The Cat is announcing on Facebook that work on the roundabout at the intersection of Routes 9G and 23 will begin on Monday, July 30.

Construction will continue for several months, with the expected completion of the project in December. The published objectives of the roundabout are:
  • Correct safety deficiencies using cost-effective accident reduction measures
  • Provide a pedestrian connection between the Rip Van Winkle bridge and Olana to reduce the need for pedestrians to cross high speed traffic highway lanes.
  • Increase recreational parking.


Thursday, July 26, 2018

In Memoriam: Cyndy Hall

The sad news was shared earlier today that Cyndy Hall died last night. I knew Cyndy only as the chair of the Columbia County Democratic Committee. She was indomitable and indefatigable, able to persuade you, in the most powerful yet unintimidating way, to do things that you really didn't want to do--like carrying petitions or canvassing your neighborhood for Democratic candidates you didn't know much about or marching with the Columbia County Democrats in the Flag Day Parade. The picture below of Cyndy was taken in 2014 when I was, at her urging, marching in the Flag Day Parade.

This afternoon, Enid Futterman published a lovely tribute to Cyndy on imby.com, but the tribute I want most to share is one posted on Facebook by Charlie Ferrusi, and with his permission I do so. It reminds us that Cyndy was for thirty-seven years a music teacher in the Hudson City School District:
Cyndy Hall, my beloved middle school music teacher, who I later learned was a fierce Democratic leader and progressive activist, has passed away. I remember when my friends and I used to call her home phone growing up when we were about 11-14 years old, just to chat about life. There would be up to five of us (Christine, Marissa, Emily, Catherine) calling her. I can still remember her home phone number. She was a friend, teacher, leader, role model, and had the most uplifting spirit. I am so grateful for people like Ms. Hall, who fought like hell to make Columbia County a better place for kids like me.
To quote another of her students, Justin Weaver: "Rest in peace, dear, sweet Cyndy Hall. You taught us all Dona Nobis Pacem as our beloved music teacher. . . . Fly high with the chorus of Angels now."

A memorial service for Cyndy will be held at Bates & Anderson Redmond & Keeler Funeral Home, 110 Green Street in Hudson, on Saturday, August 4, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

How Buildings Survive

In 2010, Gossips published its "Gellert Gallery," a pictorial inventory of all the buildings in Hudson that were at the time part of Phil Gellert's "Northern Empire." Since that time, Gellert has been selling some of his properties in Hudson, and from time to time, I like to report on how the buildings are faring with their new owners. The news recently that 514 State Street has a new owner and is to be rehabbed provides the occasion to review the fate of other former Gellert buildings.

514 State Street
The first building featured in our 2010 inventory was 451 State Street.

In 2015, the house was purchased by someone who cleaned out the interior and began fixing it up but eighteen months later sold it to an LLC. Even though there are historic images that show how the house was meant to look, the house is now being completely reimagined.

451 State Street appears in this early 20th-century photograph of the cannon at the Hudson Armory
First, the inappropriate 1950s picture windows on the ground floor were replaced with equally inappropriate windows.

Now, the house is getting an elaborate front porch that it never had before, and all of the original hood molding on the second-floor windows has been stripped away.

Needless to say, this house is not in a historic district.

The next building in the 2010 inventory is 102-104 North Fifth Street.

From 1893 until the first hospital building on Prospect Avenue was constructed in 1900, this house, "properly prepared for hospital purposes," was the first Hudson City Hospital. Three years ago, this historic house acquired a new owner who meticulously restored it.

This house is located in a historic district.

The next house from the 2010 inventory is 339 State Street.

This modest vernacular house got a new owner a little more than a year ago and is now looking significantly better.

Another building that is enjoying a better life since it was acquired by new owners at the end of 2012 is 408-410 Warren Street.

The restoration of the storefront of this building uncovered all of the original millwork and detail.

Some buildings that have left the Northern Empire haven't fared as well. The building at 718-720 Union Street, believed to have been the stable for the Silas W. Tobey estate, was demolished by its new owner in February 2017.

At last report, the site was being marketed as "buildable land in Hudson's core commercial district."

Another building that once was but is no longer owned by Gellert is 432 Warren Street.

The building has had a new owner since 2014, but it is still waiting for someone to restore it to its former glory, as it appears in this photograph taken after the Blizzard of 1888.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Meeting Cancellation

If anyone was planning to attend the Common Council Legal Committee meeting tonight, Gossips has received word that the meeting has been canceled.

More News from the Greenport Planning Board

Last night, East Light Partners made an initial presentation of their proposed solar project to the Greenport Planning. What is planned is a 5-megawatt community solar project to be installed on Vapor Trail, beside Route 9, just over the border in Greenport and adjacent to the Dr. Oliver Bronson estate, which is both a National Historic Landmark and the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility.

Two approvals from the Greenport Planning Board are required. The first is to subdivide the open meadow from the wooded area at the back of thr tract. During the discussion of the subdivision, some interesting information emerged. Genevieve Trigg, attorney for the Greenport Planning Board, pointed out that there were deed restrictions that could be problematic for the proposal. Apparently, at some point in the recent past, probably around the time the factory, which is now Flanders, was built, there was thought that the whole area--once orchards--might be developed as an industrial park. Among the deed restrictions, as revealed during last night's discussion, are the requirements that any buildings proposed for the site be approved by an architectural review board and that all utility lines be underground. There is a question of whether the deed restrictions remain in place with the subdivision of the property. Toward the end of the meeting, Planning Board chair Ed Stiffler said, speaking of the deed restrictions and the solar project, "If the covenants aren't settled through subdivision, this goes away."

The second approval needed from the Greenport Planning Board is for the solar panel project itself. The discussion of the project started out with Stiffler chiding Jamie Fordyce and Wendy DeWolf, the East Light Partners, for holding an informational meeting at the Hudson Area Library without notifying any of the members of the Greenport Planning Board. He reminded them that Greenport, not Hudson, is the location of the project and the municipality from which they must get approval for their plans. 

The site for the project is 25 acres, and two arrays are proposed--one on either side of a wetland. Stiffler asked about PILOT negotiations, indicating that a PILOT agreement must be in place before the Planning Board can make a determination. What concerned the members of the Planning Board most were visual impacts. Fordyce indicated that National Grid is requiring the project to have six utility poles. Board member Robert MacGiffert told him, "The last solar field brought to the town gave us the same spiel," citing a solar project where one pole ended up being eleven poles. He warned, "Poles will be a big no-no for this project." Board member Paul D'Onofrio concurred, "We're not going to be burned twice." He alluded to the solar array behind Hudson High School, which evaded review by any planning board, and its impact on property owners in Greenport. Speaking of the possibility of poles at the proposed solar project being within the view of property owners, he predicted, "You're going to have one hell of a public hearing."

The applicants spoke of existing vegetation acting as a visual buffer, but the board wanted more screening--berms, trees, landscaping. Stiffler said he would "like to see screening wherever it's necessary to block the view of this." 

Ray Jurkowski, the consulting engineer for the Greenport Planning Board, asked if SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) had weighed in on the project, noting that it was in the viewshed of Olana, adjacent to the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, and across the street from the National Register listed Henry A. and Evanlina Dubois House. The applicants indicated they had met with representatives of Scenic Hudson, Historic Hudson, and Olana. Jurkowski asked for letters from Historic Hudson and Olana confirming this.

Jurkowski suggested that there be a technical meeting on site, which was agreed to but not scheduled. The review of the project will continue at the Greenport Planning Board's next meeting, to take place on Tuesday, August 28.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Surprised by Good News in Greenport

Sometimes, when you least expect it, you learn something good. It happened to me tonight at the Greenport Planning Board.

At the beginning of the meeting, Planning Board chair Ed Stiffler announced that Greenport Land Partners (TRG) had asked that their project be deferred until August. The project in question is the new retail development to be located at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and Healy Boulevard, with a new McDonald's as its centerpiece and a new location for Aldi's as its anchor. The development as proposed involves the demolition of the Gothic Revival house once known as "The Pines," which was the home of Joseph Farrand and later of his youngest son, Arthur, who helped to create the section of Hudson we now know as "the Boulevards" and the man-made, spring-fed Oakdale Lake.

Photo: Paul Barrett

Having said the project was deferred, Stiffler shared the good news. SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) has determined that the Gothic Revival house is eligible for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. SHPO is asking TRG to incorporate the historic house into the design for the retail development. If they cannot do this, they must, in the words of Stiffler, "build a very strong case for demolishing it."

The Greenport Planning Board doesn't allow the public to speak until the end of the meeting, and, regrettably, by that time I didn't have the presence of mind to ask if the SHPO determination also applied to the little Gothic Revival structure--a cottage or some other kind of accessory building--located behind the current McDonald's. I suspect it doesn't, but I hope it does.