Thursday, December 13, 2018

South Side, North Side Redux

Three months ago, in September, Gossips marveled at how a development project proposed for the south side of town had been halted by members of the community who thought process was moving too fast and without sufficient community input, while a project on the north side of town was moving ahead apparently without input from the community beyond the residents of Bliss Towers. I spoke too soon. Amanda Purcell reports today on HudsonValley360 that Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), former resident of Bliss Towers and long-time critic of the Hudson Housing Authority, is raising questions about the RAD conversion: "Officials raise concern about the future of public housing in Hudson." At last night's Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting, questions were raised about future ownership of the building, the design of the proposed new buildings, and the entire process, which many felt was moving too fast and without sufficient community input.  

Since the public design charrette in October, the design for the two new buildings has changed. No more will they be all brick, meant to be reminiscent of the old Union Mills building, a.k.a. the Pocketbook Factory, at North Sixth and Washington streets.

The revised design involves "a more clapboard type finish for a portion of each building." 

When asked if introducing the "more clapboard type finish"--probably vinyl siding or Hardiplank--had been the result of value engineering, Peter Clements, director of design and construction for PRC, HHA's development partner in the project, acknowledged that the "clapboard like finish" would be less costly than brick but maintained that the change had been made in response to comments at the charrette that the original design for the buildings looked "too monolithic," and the clapboard would make it look "more residential."

Also on display at last night's meeting was a preliminary design for an exterior makeover of Bliss Towers, which involves a combination of brick--"to relate to the buildings across the street"--and some other material yet to be determined.

Clements reported that recent borings disclosed there was "not a lot of integrity to the soil" around Bliss Towers and that "may limit the load of what can be done." HHA commissioner Marie Balle asked, "Since there is a structural integrity issue with Bliss, could it be exacerbated by construction across the street?" Clements dismissed that as not a potential problem.

Some comments at the meeting addressed the design of new buildings. Rebecca Wolff asked about energy considerations--the color of the roof and using geothermal to provide heating and cooling. Matthew Frederick said the ground floor units in the buildings should have their own separate entrances, to make the building feel more like townhouses and create a sense of safety. Most of the comments, however, had to do with the process.

Luisa Burgos-Thillet complained that the residents and the public had been promised they could have continuing input into the planning, but now it seemed the time for input was over. Clark Wieman noted that the ideas from the charrette should be presented and the public should be told how each had been incorporated into the design or why it had been rejected. HHA executive director Tim Mattice said Clements had compiled a list of all the comments from the charrette and seemed to suggest that accounting for how each had been addressed would be part of the Planning Board's review of the project. 

Frederick alleged that the RAD plan was "contrived to send money out of the community," saying that with the proposed co-ownership of the building, "$60 of every $100 in rent leaves the city." Mattice maintained that the developer made its profit only from the development fee. Dan Hubbell, the attorney representing HHA in the RAD conversion and the development project, said the project had gone through a public RFP process, and no Hudson developer had submitted a proposal. He went on to say that RAD was a program, conceived during the Obama administration, to get private money into public housing. He explained that housing authorities could not get a loan from a bank. To do a project without a co-developer would involve bonding. Frederick insisted the public should have seen the possibilities "side by side"--doing RAD or pursuing other financing. 

Wolff asked about other designs or concepts. It was explained that other concepts had been considered and rejected. "You guys did the process," said Wolff, "but we didn't see it." Frederick concurred, "We got the solution, but we didn't see how you got there."

Council president Tom DePietro stated that "nothing in the Strategic Housing Action Plan [adopted by the Common Council in July] said anything about senior housing," and he wanted to know where that came from. "Nothing [in the document] asked for something this big." The following is quoted from the Strategic Housing Action Plan:
Hudson Housing Authority--40 units
The Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) submitted a proposal to construct a mixed-use, mixed income rental housing project on vacant land currently owned by the HHA. This rental housing development is targeting households with incomes ranging from 30% to 120% of the area median income. The project would also include retail and community space on the first floor. The DRI funds will be used for soft costs and construction. . . .
The project was awarded $800,000 in DRI funds. The following is quoted from Capital Region Downtown Revitalization Initiative: Hudson Awards:
Construct Mixed-Use and Mixed-Income Housing on State Street
Develop a vacant parcel of land on State Street for mixed-use and mixed-income housing. The project will include retail and community space on the first floor and approximately 40 units of mixed-income rental housing targeting incomes between 30% and 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI). ($800,000)
What's being proposed now is nearly double that size--33 units in the "senior building" and 40 units in the "family building"--and this is just Phase 1. There is a Phase 2, which involves demolishing the low-rise buildings, a.k.a. Columbia Apartments, and replacing them with three new buildings of unknown size. DePietro alleged that the plan was being driven by the developer, PRC (Property Resources Corporation). Alan Weaver, chair of the HHA Board of Commissioners, and Hubbell responded: "We have to build a project that can be financed."

DePietro also questioned constructing four-story buildings when Hudson code prohibits buildings higher than three stories. Hubbell said the site was in a G-C district and claimed there were "no bulk regulations" in a G-C (General Commercial) district. Gossips raised the issue of zoning and this project back in October, when Mattice claimed there was no zoning in that part of the city. I was in touch with code enforcement officer Craig Haigh yesterday, who said he was in the process of reviewing the project with the attorneys and told me: "It appears the height will be OK. They are preparing to go to the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) as well."

Tonight, the project--both Phase 1 and Phase 2, to avoid segmentation under SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review)--will have its initial presentation to the Planning Board. The Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall.


  1. What is the AMI for Hudson, and what is the zone from which it is calculated?


    1. "AMI is calculated from all households within Columbia County. In Hudson, HUD calculates the Area Median Income (AMI) for a family of four as $76,100"

  2. this all seems very South Bronx to me -- 19th century Hudson meets yesterdays ideas about housing by the state.
    is this really good for Hudson's future ?
    where are these people going to find jobs ? etc. ??