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.


  1. It was only two years ago that Michael Tucker advised us not to dissolve the IDA. He was right, too. Once demolished, such institutions are difficult to restore.

    Along with our general readiness for more intelligent planning, there's now this growing appetite to restructure the alphabet institutions. Knowing Hudson, though, we should be on guard against our own haphazardness.

    As a contrast, it was my impression from the first that President DePietro never really intended to dissolve the HDC. At any rate, the resulting shakeup was priceless, and also healthy. To my thinking, it wasn't a lack of transparency that plagued the HDC as much as its cloistered lack of imagination (not necessarily the same thing).

    But this latest talk about dissolving the HCDPA is somehow different. We should ask if it's intended to affect some modest improvement merely, as with the HDC shake-up, or whether it's an actual recommendation which may appear haphazard in two year's time?

    Rather than find out what's advisable, there are those who'd prefer to task the city's attorneys to explore only what is possible. When the answer comes in the form of advice, however, nobody considers whether or not the attorney in question knows or cares a whit about Hudson. Then, officials who are not only new to government but also new to the city are free to pursue their own - or their attorney's - policies with no regard for local history or place. (And if you don't see that as a pathology of Progressivism, then I'm afraid you don't understand anything.)

    Considering the self-inflicted damage this year alone at both the ZBA (re: the "correct" Zoning Map), and the Planning Board (re: SEQR-cheating, plus an adjudicated conflict of interest), maybe the best way forward is to depend less on our fallible attorneys and to seek more formalized advice elsewhere.

    I'm always astonished that each generation of city officials makes such poor use of the free advice available from the NYSDOS Division of Local Government. In Hudson, and probably everywhere, those elevated to public office tend to believe the honor has transformed them overnight into rarified policy and planning experts. In the end, these are probably the same individuals who most rely on their attorneys to supply the imagination that was lacking all along. But if we're so unaware of these patterns, how will we ever correct a situation which practically begs our attorneys to create and steer our policies?

  2. Six years ago, when City developers dislodged the stewards of North dock, they reduced access for all county motor boaters.

    County motor boaters continue to pay at the pump, 14c to the Fed's and 45c to Albany for "improved" access, yet when those tax dollars return they are redistributed by the managers of Hudson's decline to cronies who don't pay the tax .

    The tax remains intact while use is reduced. Mr. Moore's "Development Tax" has resulted in more tax, less use and fewer users.

    A prime example of what's wrong with these quasi governmental agencies.