Friday, April 19, 2019

Assessment Angst: Part 3

Earlier today, Mayor Rick Rector vetoed the resolution passed by the Common Council on Tuesday, authorizing him to terminate the contract with GAR Associates. His veto message reads in part:
I believe that it is our City’s mission to proceed in a transparent, equitable manner so that issues important to all City residents are addressed in a rational, fair and open manner. I also believe that all of us need time to investigate the allegations set forth in the resolution to determine their accuracy and merit.  By way of example, while the resolution’s conclusion is that the City’s contract with GAR should be terminated and the City should commence legal action against GAR seeking monetary damages for negligence and the failure to uphold professional standards, the resolution itself fails to cite any specific actions and/or omissions on the part of GAR that would support such legal action. The Common Council apparently recognized this fatal problem with the resolution in scheduling a special meeting for Wednesday, April 24, 2019 to discuss this matter further. 
The entire veto message can be found on the City website by clicking here.

Hudson: The Sixth Borough

This morning, Lisa Durfee shared this image with me, which she discovered on Instagram.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to check out Big Onion Walking Tours. On its website, I discovered that Big Onion Walking Tours has been in existence since 1991, leading people on "innovative and exciting tours through New York's ethnic neighborhoods and historic districts." Among the tours offered are "Historic Harlem," "Upper East Side: A Clash of Titans," The Annual Easter Sunday Jewish Lower East Side Tour," "Brooklyn Distilled Walking Tour," and now, its first walking tour outside of New York City, "Historic Hudson." 

Tours of Hudson are scheduled for every Saturday this spring and early summer, from May 4 through June 29, all beginning at 2:00 p.m. from the gazebo in Courthouse Square. Here's how the tour of Hudson is described:
Our walking tour will explore the diverse social history, architecture, and people of this Upstate urban center. Stops could include: Promenade Hill, Nantucket Houses, sites associated with the Underground Railroad, the most notorious Red Light district north of Times Square, and locations associated with Thomas Jefferson, Ma Brown, Charles Dickens, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack “Legs” Diamond, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Lieutenant William H. Allen, who was killed by pirates.  
Because I'm eager to know what sites in Hudson are associated with the Underground Railroad and how Ma Brown, Charles Dickens, and Legs Diamond are connected with Hudson, I've reserved a spot for myself on the first tour, happening two weeks from tomorrow.

Another Piece of the Taxation Puzzle

On Wednesday night, at the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, Bill Huston asked about plans for painting crosswalks and stop lines. Rob Perry, superintendent of the Department of Public Works, told him the budget item for crosswalks had been "defunded." There was money to repair the zebra stripes for existing crosswalks but no money to create crosswalks in new locations. 

In the effort to hold the 2019 city budget increase to just 3 percent, while raising the minimum wage for all city employees to $15 an hour and increasing the Youth Department budget by 47 percent, cuts had to made elsewhere. One of those places was the DPW budget, and what was sacrificed, it seems, was more crosswalks. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Could There Be a Mistake in the Zoning?

Three years ago, when Redburn Development wanted to create a hotel in an old industrial building on Cross Street, many were surprised to learn that the zoning adopted in 2011 for the Waterfront Revitalization Area, as part of the LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Program), did not recognize hotels as a permitted use in the RSC (Residential Special Commercial) District--a new district created by the LWRP zoning.

Another surprise about those LWRP zoning amendments was revealed on Monday night at the meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals. The FASNY Museum of Firefighting wants to build a 33,000 square foot addition to the museum building, but the zoning imposed in 2011 does not recognize a museum either as a permitted use or as a conditional use. 

In the LWRP zoning, a new district called IRC--Institutional Residential Conservation--was created to apply to the Hudson Correctional Facility to the south and the Firemen's Home to the north. (Hudson High School and the Elks Club are also located in the IRC district.) Permitted uses in the IRC district are single-family dwellings, public or private parks, and recreation facilities "including but not limited to walking and biking trails, information kiosks, restroom facilities, snack bar or cafe, swimming pool, athletic fields." In the conditional uses for the IRC district, the code seems to acknowledge what was already there: hospitals, sanitariums, philanthropic or eleemosynary institutions and convalescent or nursing homes, congregate housing, or homes for the aged (the Firemen's Home); and annual membership clubs (the Elks Club). But it leaves out this conditional use: libraries, museums or art galleries or antique centers. Did the person writing the specifics of the code overlook the fact the a museum had existed since 1927 in the area now being zoned IRC?

Photo courtesy Historic Hudson
Was it really the intention of the 2011 LWRP zoning to make the FASNY Museum of Firefighting a nonconforming use, given that, to quote city attorney Andy Howard, "something is designated a nonconforming use with the notion that eventually it will go away"? I think not.

Whether or not the Zoning Board of Appeals sees its way clear to grant a use variance, the Common Council should amend the code to correct this obvious error and make "libraries, museums or art galleries or antiques centers" conditional uses in the IRC district.

Where the Wild Things Are

In the past year, we've had a moose trotting along Worth Avenue and a bear climbing a utility pole on Columbia Street. Yesterday, a raccoon was spotted hanging out in a maple tree on Union Street.

Thanks to Walter Chatham for sharing this picture

Assessment Resources

At Tuesday night's Common Council meeting, Kristal Heinz mentioned a resource that could be of use to homeowners seeking to identify alternative comparable properties to those used by GAR Associates to determine the value of their property. It can be accessed through the City of Hudson website: Click on the tab "Click Here for Public Access" at the upper left. Enter your name or address to locate your property. On the "Tax Map ID/Property Data" page, there is a column of tabs at the left. Click on the last tab, "Comparables." You can then search using a number of different variables to identify properties you believe to be the best comps for your house.


This Just In

The Economic Development Committee meeting scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. has been canceled.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sorrowful News

This evening, Abdus Miah shared the sad news that Fardush Sultana passed away today. The Zanazah (funeral prayers) will be held at Hudson High School on Friday, April 19, at 1:45 p.m.

To quote Miah, "Words cannot express the loss of such an untimely death. May Allah bless her with Jannah. Our deepest condolences and prayers for her family and loved ones."

Recognizing 225 Years of Service

Today, Mayor Rick Rector honored the 225th anniversary of the creation of the Hudson Fire Department with a proclamation, read on the steps of City Hall, declaring this day, April 17, 2019, "a day of recognition and celebration of the Hudson Fire Department’s long history and grand tradition and of acknowledgment and appreciation for the selfless service to the community rendered by our firefighters today and by all the generations of firefighters that came before them." 

Rector presenting the proclamation to First Assistant Chief Anthony DeMarco (left) and Fire Commissioner Timothy Hutchings (right)
Current apparatus of J. W. Edmonds Hose Co., Hudson's first fire company, founded on April 17, 1794, as Fire-Engine Company No. 1

Watch for Yourself

Dan Udell's video of last night's Common Council meeting--more than two hours of it--is now on YouTube and can viewed by clicking here.

Assessment Angst Continued

Last night, the Common Council passed a resolution "authorizing the mayor to terminate the City's contract with GAR." Three members of the Common Council--Rob Bujan (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward)--abstained from the vote, giving as reasons for their abstentions not knowing the ramifications of halting the assessment process, needing more evidence before moving to terminate the contract, and not seeing how terminating the contract would solve the problem. Although with seven aye votes, the resolution had sufficient votes to pass, Council president Tom DePietro, who makes a point of not voting unless there is a tie, voted aye. 

On the advice of city attorney Andy Howard, the resolution was amended prior to the vote to strike the part about rejecting the preliminary assessment rolls. Howard cited New York State statute and case law to assert that neither the Common Council nor the mayor has the authority to set aside an assessment roll and reinstate a previous roll. That authority resides solely with the assessor, and the means to rectify problems and inequities is through the grieving process. Howard cautioned, "The legislative body cannot substitute its judgment for that of the assessor." One possible reason for this seems obvious: the assessment of real property should be a kind of abstract process and not subject to political pressure, but here we are in an election year, and it seems the assessments are becoming a campaign issue. Kamal Johnson (First Ward), who is challenging Mayor Rick Rector in the Democratic primary, seemed skeptical of Howard's legal opinion, asking to see the statutes and case law being cited. He also requested a second attorney's opinion on the issue. Linda Mussmann declared that the Council needed its own lawyer, claiming that Howard "represents the mayor."

Some interesting information emerged last night, not the least being that the resolution had not been written by any member of the Common Council nor did it come from any committee. It was generated by members of the public who wished to remain anonymous because, according to DePietro, they feared retribution from GAR Associates or from the Board of Assessment Review (BAR). Rather than going through a committee, as most resolutions do, this resolution was brought to the Council by DePietro.

There were many allegations, from aldermen and from the public, of incompetence in making the assessments. It was alleged that the asking price for a house currently on the market had been used as the assessment--an asking price being aspirational and likely not what the house will actually sell for. It was alleged that two identical Habitat houses had been assessed differently: the assessment for one house stayed the same, while the other tripled. It was alleged that houses on State Street were being compared with houses on Union Street. It alleged that the highest sales were being "cherry-picked" as comparables. Speaking of the comparables she has seen, Nicole Vidor declared, "All were bogus. None were on the mark."

Claudia Bruce complained that information about all comparables had not been provided, although in fact it has. The problem is that it's not presented in a very user-friendly format.

Kristal Heinz pointed out that the goal of reassessment was to bring values up to full market value and noted that dramatic increases are to be expected because "the city has not been keeping up revaluing its property." She asserted that "if everybody comes up as they should," property owners who see an increase in their assessment will not necessarily see a similar increase in their property taxes. That being said, she said she saw "no rhyme or reason" to some of the preliminary assessments and concluded that GAR "has not done a good job."

Of relevance to the idea of "everybody coming up as they should," last month Gossips asked city assessor Justin Maxwell for the assessed value of all the real property in Hudson before and after the current revaluation. In 2018, the total assessed value was $628,816,467. The total assessed value in 2019, before anything was challenged or changed, was $1,030,155,758. That's a little less than $629 million compared with a little more than $1 billion. According to my math, that is a 64 percent increase. It's no wonder people whose assessments have doubled or tripled feel that they are being unfairly assessed and fear they will be unfairly taxed or taxed beyond their means.

Steve Dunn raised several questions that went unanswered. "Let's assume," said Dunn, "the work of GAR is incompetent. What is the remedy? What is the implication of abandoning the reval process? Does it put the City in breach of state law?"

Most aldermen seemed to feel that it was critical to stop the revaluation process before May 1, which is the day that the preliminary assessment roll is presented. But if the process is halted before May 1, there will be no way of knowing if the process is actually working--if challenges have been successful and egregious errors have been corrected. Still it's understandable that people would fear the errors will not be rectified to their satisfaction, leaving the grieving process as their only recourse, and, if that fails, a lawsuit. 

After passing the resolution, the Council agreed to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, April 24, at 5:00 p.m., in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, to discuss a remedy for the problem.   

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Struggling with the Question of Compatibility

The owners of 211 Warren Street, who are planning to build a new structure on the footprint of the building that was demolished last October, met with the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday in a workshop session to discuss the design for the new building. The following renderings were presented to the HPC for consideration and discussion.

In the discussion of the proposed design, the word most often used by HPC members to describe it was jarring. HPC member John Schobel noted that the design of the building overall did an excellent job of achieving appropriate scale but suggested that "the steel element is going to look disruptive." Architect member Kate Johns agreed that adding the corten steel "makes it not compatible."

Elaborating on the subject of compatibility, Johns spoke about the need for differentiation to avoid slavish imitation of historic buildings and creating a kind of Disneyland but noted that the thinking about compatibility "is moving away from the idea that differentiation necessarily means modern." She cautioned that differentiation should not mean "incongruous appearance" or "ruptured integrity" and spoke of "continuity of character through time." She also suggested that the concern should not be for creating "architecture of our time" but for creating "architecture of place." She maintained that "Warren Street is not a place to make a statement." Schobel concurred, saying of Warren Street, "It's a place to apply our most rigorous standard of compatibility."

HPC chair Phil Forman started the discussion by saying, "Modern introduces a complexity because there is not a dictionary [of architectural style], yet there is still a sense of place," and later told his colleagues, "We don't have to take the code as a trap. There is room to interpret the sense of place." He expressed the opinion that, in terms of disrupting the streetscape, the proposed design was "nothing compared with the Polenbergs' orange house."

The workshop concluded with the applicants being asked by Forman to ruminate on what had been said and "come back with what you want." HPC member Hugh Biber asked, "Is there a way to come back with a few alternative solutions?" The applicants indicated they would be agreeable to that.

Planning for a Makerspace

Gossips was at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last night, but Dan Udell was at the Hudson-Creative forum on creating a makerspace in Hudson. His video of the meeting can be viewed here. For more information about the initiative, go to


Celebrating Our Firefighters

While the world is still reeling from the news of the catastrophic fire that severely damaged Notre-Dame Cathedral yesterday, the City of Hudson prepares to celebrate its own long history of fire fighting.

The first structure fire in Hudson occurred in 1793. The properties destroyed by the fire were a bookstore and the office of the Hudson Gazette, both owned by Ashbel Stoddard. Franklin Ellis, in his 1878 History of Columbia County, says of the fire:
There were then no engines, nor any organization of firemen in the city, and, still worse, no available supply of water. Under these circumstances the fire was left to rage without check, and almost without an attempt to subdue it. Fortunately, however, the night was calm and still, and the flames did not spread beyond the premises on which they originated.
After this conflagration, the citizens of Hudson were motivated to raise money for a fire engine, and on April 17, 1794, the Common Council passed a resolution appointing nineteen firemen "to superintendent the Fire-Engine Number One." That first fire company became J. W. Edmonds Hose Co. No. 1.

Tomorrow, April 17, 2019, Mayor Rick Rector will honor the anniversary of the creation of the Hudson Fire Department and celebrate its 225 years of service at 12 noon in a brief ceremony on the steps of City Hall. All are encouraged to attend.

City Business Tonight

Tonight, there are three City meetings happening in two different places. The Common Council Finance Committee meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m., and the public hearing about the ongoing stormwater separation project, scheduled for 6:45 p.m., are both taking place at City Hall, but the regularly monthly meeting of the Common Council, which begins at 7:00 p.m., will happen a few blocks away, in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library, 51 North Fifth Street.

It should be a full house tonight for the Council meeting. Under consideration will be a resolution to halt the citywide revaluation process, terminate the City's contract with GAR Associates, reject the preliminary assessments, and "adopt those valuations of real property set forth on the City's 2018 Assessment Roll as 100% valuations of all said real property in the City of Hudson as the City's 2019 Assessment Roll." The existence of such a resolution has been known since Friday, when Peter Meyer, who has been leading the protest against the revaluation, announced in an email "some very good news." Late yesterday, the resolution appeared for the first time among the documents on the agenda for tonight's Common Council meeting. Initial reasons set forth in the resolution are these:
WHEREAS, the City of Hudson has an obligation to its taxpayers to ensure fair and transparent assessments (and thus taxation), which obligation was one of the principal bases on which the American Revolution was prosecuted; and
WHEREAS, the City's fulfillment of this obligation is particularly important in a time of financial stress on both residential and commercial property owners as well as their tenants, all of whom will be adversely affected by unfair and unsupported assessments. . . .
The resolution goes on to allege that "GAR has failed, to date, to provide data supporting its valuations of properties (other than providing four comparables it used for individual residential property assessments to the individual owners of same, and then only upon such property owner's request, and on two days' advance notice via email) included in the aforementioned 2019 Assessment Notifications. . . . " 

It is expected that the resolution will not only be introduced but also voted on at tonight's meeting.

Election Season Begins

Of the 4,147 voters registered in Hudson, 2,441 of them are registered as Democrats, so the primary on June 25 is likely to be a deciding moment in Hudson politics for the next two years. The campaigns leading up to the primary are now getting launched. 

Today, Rob Bujan, First Ward alderman, who is challenging Tom DePietro in the primary for Common Council president, launched his website: Bujan for Hudson: Working for Our Future

The site describes Bujan's background and outlines his priorities: Community Governance, Hudson's Future, Fiscal Responsibility, and Modern Communication.

Monday, April 15, 2019

More About Those Nudes

My post on Saturday about the Bruce Gagnier sculptures at the train station proved more provocative than anticipated. John Davis, whose gallery represents the sculptor, canceled his ad on Gossips, and there were a spate of comments, most from people declaring their fondness and admiration for the sculptures. This morning, Linda Mussmann helpfully provided the answer to the question--or at least part of the question--that was the principal intent of the post: How is it being determined what art gets displayed at this site and elsewhere in Hudson? Her statement follows:
I take responsibility for the art work at the train station.
I have had a long time relationship with the Amtrak station, and they have been generous to permit me to place things at the station. I have worked with John Davis Gallery to make this happen. So this can make all complaints and compliments go in my direction.
Mussmann can be contacted at

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

The week, which begins, for those procrastinators among us, with filing tax returns, is filled with meetings, right up until Friday, which is Good Friday and hence meeting free. For those who may have read Gossips' earlier post about HDC but not the comments, the special HDC meeting scheduled for today at noon has been canceled. Here's what remains on the schedule for the week.
  • On Monday, April 15, the Zoning Board of Appeals will hold public hearings on two projects: a garage to be constructed on Partition Street behind 230 Allen Street, which requires area variances for setbacks and lot coverage; and the restaurant and grab-and-go cafe proposed for 60 South Front Street, which requires area variances for offstreet parking. The public hearings begin at 6 p.m. in City Hall. 
  • Also on Monday, April 15, Hudson-Creative is holding a public forum to discuss its makerspace project and how to make it happen. The forum takes place at 6 p.m. in the Community Room at the Hudson Area Library.  
  • On Tuesday, April 16, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The agenda for that meeting is available here. At 6:45 p.m., there is a Common Council public hearing on the City's current Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project: the ongoing $600,000 stormwater separation project. At 7 p.m., the Council holds its regular monthly meeting. Where the public hearing and the Council meeting will be held has not yet been announced. The informal meeting last Monday took place in the Community Room at Bliss Towers because Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) has had further surgery on the ankle she injured last spring and is once again in a wheelchair.
  • On Wednesday, April 17, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:15 p.m. The location of the meeting has not been announced.
  • On Thursday, April 18, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6 p.m. The expectation is that this meeting will take place in City Hall. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Rosanne Cash in Hudson

On Saturday, May 4, four-time Grammy Award winner Rosanne Cash, one of the most notable singer/songwriters of her time, will be at Helsinki Hudson to perform a benefit concert for the Hudson River Historic Boat Restoration & Sailing Society.

The proceeds from the concert will support the final stages of the restoration of the historic Hudson River "raceabout" Eleanor. Built in 1903, Eleanor has been restored and newly outfitted over the past eight years by an all volunteer crew. Now the sloop is almost ready to return to the Hudson River. Once back in the water, Eleanor will serve as a waterborne classroom, providing guided, hands-on experiences for people of all ages to access the Hudson River, to witness the beauty of the river's shores from the intimacy of Eleanor's cockpit, and to learn how to sail.

On Saturday, May 4, the doors of Club Helsinki will open at 6 p.m. The evening's entertainment begins at 7:30 p.m. with a program of Hudson River Sailing Lore and Tales of the Sea, followed at 9 p.m. by the main event: Rosanne Cash, accompanied on guitar by her husband and co-writer/producer/arranger, John Leventhal.

For more information about the event and the Eleanor restoration project, click here. To purchase tickets to the benefit concert, click here.

Read, Read, Books, Books

Two weeks ago, the Hudson Literacy Fund held its seventh annual fundraising cocktail party. Since its inception, the Hudson Literacy Fund's principal mission has been to ensure that every student in the Hudson City School District can purchase a book from the author of his or her choice at the annual Hudson Children's Book Festival.  

The idea of providing books for local kids is catching on. During the month of April, The Maker is having a book drive to benefit the students at Montgomery C. Smith Elementary School. They are looking for donations of books appropriate for children aged 5 to 12. All kinds of books are welcome. Books can be dropped off at The Maker Cafe, 302 Warren Street, or at The Spotty Dog, 440 Warren Street. If you buy the books you want to contribute online, have them shipped to The Maker, 302 Warren Street, Hudson, NY 12534. (If you're at The Spotty Dog, you can buy them right there.) The books don't have to be new, but they should be in good condition.

More Scrutiny for HDC

Striving to soldier on without an executive director or much of a budget, the beleaguered Hudson Development Corporation board just can't seem to catch a break.

Reading Gossips' report about the board's annual meeting on March 26, at which the board voted to approve four new members, caused former city attorney Ken Dow to suspect that the method of voting had been improper. Acting on his own initiative, he made a FOIL request for the ballots and the voting results. He received a tally of the votes for each candidate but no information about how members of the board had voted. It was explained that the voting had been anonymous and no records existed to establish how individual members had voted. Dow investigated the matter and confirmed that, as he suspected, secret voting by the HDC board was a violation of New York State law.

On Thursday, April 12, Dow sent a letter to board president Bob Rasner and the other members of the HDC board informing them of his findings, supported by case law, that "a body subject to FOIL may not vote by secret ballot." Dow's letter concludes:
Even more significantly than any concern for liability, I would expect that as a body formed to serve the interests of the citizens of the City of Hudson, the HDC and its members are committed to earning and keeping the confidence and trust of the people, and to operating in an exemplary manner in full compliance with applicable laws. Going forward, I hope and anticipate that the HDC will operate with the transparency that is not only warranted and appropriate for a body with its powers, duties, and purposes, but also mandated by the laws of the State of New York. 
HDC has called a special meeting at noon tomorrow the purpose of which, in part, is "to discuss board officers."

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Colarusso and the Planning Board

The Planning Board seems to have entered a new era of detente with A. Colarusso & Son. At last Tuesday's meeting, Planning Board chair Walter Chatham opined, "If the public had the use and enjoyment of the wetland, it would be a good thing." Paul Colarusso responded, "Our primary concern is to do our business there. Beyond that, we are open to any ideas." Among the ideas put forth by Chatham and Planning Board member Betsy Gramkow was improving the appearance of the abandoned cement silo and of the rare industrial building with concrete buttresses, now commonly referred to as the "salt shed." Chatham also expressed the opinion, based on his research, that "paving a haul road is better than not for dust issues and environmental issues."

As Gossips has reported before, there are two issues involving Colarusso before the Planning Board: the repairs already made to the dock without obtaining the required permits from the City of Hudson and the proposed changes to haul road through South Bay. The former--the dock--was the subject of a lawsuit brought against the City by Colarusso and dismissed by acting Supreme Court Justice Michael H. Melkonian in January. The significance of that judgment and the conditions the Planning Board is allowed to impose on Colarusso still seems to be a matter of debate. 

Colarusso's lawsuit against the City, which was dismissed by the court, challenged the determination that making unauthorized repairs to the dock ended the grandfathered nonconforming use status of the dock operations and triggered the need to seek a conditional use permit from the Planning Board. The lawsuit also sought relief "regarding a laundry list of complaints." Those complaints--eleven of them--were enumerated in Footnote 1 of the decision. (The "respondents" are the City, the Planning Board, and the Hudson Development and Planning Agency; the "petitioners" are A. Colarusso & Son and Colarusso Ventures LLC.)
  1. vacating and annulling respondents' determination to conduct a second SEQRA review of the Erosion Repair Project;
  2. prohibiting respondents from imposing excessive fees on petitioners in connection with respondents' review of the Erosion Repair Project;
  3. prohibiting respondents from imposing excessive fees on petitioners in connection with respondents' review of the Truck Traffic Diversion and Haul Road Improvement Project;
  4. prohibiting respondents from further regulating the intensity of petitioners' use of their commercial dock and haul road;
  5. vacating and annulling respondents' determination that petitioners require a development permit pursuant to Chapter 148 of the Code of the City of Hudson before they may resurface their haul road;
  6. declaring that neither the City nor any of its Boards or Agencies, including respondents, may in any way regulate interstate commerce by decreeing any limit upon the number of trucks that may travel by any route between petitioners' Greenport quarry and petitioners' dock on the Hudson River;
  7. declaring that respondents lack the power or authority to recommence SEQRA review of the Erosion Repair Project;
  8. declaring that the fees demanded by respondents in connection with their review of the Erosion Repair Project are excessive and unlawful;
  9. declaring that the fees demanded by respondents in connection with their review of the Truck Traffic Diversion and Haul Road Improvement Project are excessive and unlawful;
  10. declaring that petitioners' use of their commercial dock is permissible under the Code of the City and [sic] Hudson and that respondents may not lawfully further regulate the intensity of such use;
  11. declaring that petitioners' efforts to resurface their haul road are not subject to floodplain review pursuant to Chapter 148 of the Code of the City of Hudson.
At the March Planning Board meeting, board member Clark Wieman suggested that Footnote 1 outlined what the legal decision empowered the board to examine and described it as a "road map for conditions we can impose." When Wieman repeated this sentiment on Tuesday, John Privatera, attorney for Colarusso, corrected him, asserting that Footnote 1 was simply a list "of what the court declined to address." City attorney Andy Howard said he wasn't aware that the significance of Footnote 1 was an issue and indicated he needed time to consider it. Chatham then remarked, "We are going to do what things we can do to mitigate this use on the waterfront." He went on to talk about the "need to focus on quality of life issues" and reiterated, "The board is going to do everything it can to make this a win for Hudson." It remains unclear what constitutes "everything it can."

On Tuesday, Wieman suggested that the Planning Board should go through the legal decision "line by line" to see "what it clarified relative to board's role." Had this been done, attention might have been paid to this statement on pages 7-8:
Here, respondents rationally concluded that the erosion repair project was one of the "actions of events specified in Section D" [of City Code §325.17.1] triggering the termination of petitioners' right to continue to operate the commercial dock without conditional use permit and the SEQR review for continued commercial dock operations is necessary.
And to this statement in Footnote 3 on page 5:
The rational [sic] of this zoning ordinance (according to respondents' counsel) was that "it allows the dock owner & operator (Petitioner since 2014) to carry on its commercial dock operations as such operations existed in 2011, as a nonconforming use, as long as the owner/operator did not seek to make improvements, expansions, or changes. As soon as the owner/operator sought to make an improvement, enhancement, expansion, or change, the right to operate as a nonconforming use ceased."
The Planning Board has not yet granted a conditional use permit, which seems to be a requirement for the continued commercial use of the dock, still there has been no cessation of use since the decision was handed down in January. The picture below was taken just this morning.


About Those Nudes

With the work going on around the train station, the pair of mildly grotesque nude sculptures disappeared for a while amid the chain link fence and the other trappings of construction, but last evening they were right up by the curb, as if waiting to hail a cab.

Passing by on the way to riverfront park for a walk with Joey, I was reminded of an email exchange I had with a reader back in November. It began with her asking: "What about the two unpleasant statues at the Hudson station? They are certainly attention getters. Everyone I have talked to has had a negative reaction to them. Who exactly decides on the public art there?"

I had to confess I had no idea how those sculptures came to be at the train station, but the reader went on to say, "The conductor at the station told me he thought (he wasn't sure) that the statues were chosen by our arts council."

Now this is curious, because Hudson has never had an arts council, and Columbia County hasn't had an arts council for a few years now. Since 1982, however, the Greene County Council on the Arts has maintained display cases inside the train station.

Can it be that the public art for Hudson--at least for the Hudson train station--is being selected by the Greene County Council on the Arts? If that's not the case, just how is it being determined what sculpture gets displayed at this site and elsewhere in Hudson?

Friday, April 12, 2019

Of Interest to Dog Owners

Ever wonder how many dogs in New York City share your dog's name? It's probably not a question that keeps you up at night, but nonetheless it's fun to find out. Now you can. 

New York City has a database of the names of all the dogs licensed there. Click here to access it. Just type in your dog's name to find out how many dogs with that name live in the New York City.

I tried it last night. There are 153 dogs named Joey in the Big Apple. Needless to say, my Joey is happy to live in Hudson, where, to his knowledge, he's the only Joey in town.

Of Interest This Weekend

This Sunday, April 14, from noon to 5 p.m., Basilica Hudson, in partnership with SunCommon and CYCLEffect Regenerative Ventures, is presenting a Green Energy Fair, an afternoon of presentations and discussions about sustainable energy.

With a focus on exploring community solar and bioenergy, the generation of energy from food waste and similar organic materials, the first annual Basilica Green Energy Fair will combine panels, discussions, and conversation with a marketplace of green and sustainble organizations, sharing the tools we need to protect our future and serve, inspire, and care for the region we live in. Basilica co-founder and director Melissa Auf der Maur said of the event, "Moving toward our ten year anniversary in 2020, Basilica's commitment is to enter a more sustainable means of running our building. . . . Basilica will move the climate and energy crisis to the top of our mission and agenda by offering access to information and solutions while transforming our building into a model of what is possible." 

For a complete schedule of panels and presentations happening throughout the afternoon, including a screening of Jon Bowermaster's new short film Growing with the Grain, click here

To listen to Auf der Maur, CYCLEffect director Chris Lindstrom, and Jeff Irish of SunCommon speaking with Joe Donahue about the event on WAMC's The Roundtable, click here.

The Green Energy Fair takes place at Basilica Hudson, 110 South Front Street, It is free and open to the public.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Tragedy Touches Hudson

Earlier today, 98.5 The Cat reported that Fardush Sultana, a 2016 graduate of Hudson High School, had been found critically injured in her dorm room at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. According to the report, she suffered a traumatic brain injury believed to have occurred on Saturday night. State police and campus police are investigating.

Gossips just received this message from Abdus Miah:
One of our Bengali community girls, Fardush Sultana is in very critical condition from brain injury. She is on life support right now in St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Utica, NY. . . .
Due to this sorrowful incident, our Bengali community is very downhearted at this moment. We seek everyone's earnest prayers for Fardush Sultana and her family.
Addendum: Since Gossips published this post last night, 98.5 The Cat has provided the following update: "Police are saying Fardush Sultana experienced a 'medical event' Saturday night that has led to her injuries. She was not the victim of a crime. She continues to be listed in critical condition."

Stewart's: Public Hearing Ends

Matthew Frederick's thirteen improvements to the proposed Stewart's expansion have come to define the standard the Planning Board would like Stewart's to meet. At one point on Tuesday night, late in the discussion which took up the first hour of the three and a half hour Planning Board meeting, board member Betsy Gramkow asked the engineer from Stewart's who was standing in for Chuck Marshall if there was anything in Frederick's plan that was an absolute no. Frederick's thirteen suggestions are an effective way to organize what we now know about the Stewart's plan.

  1. Frederick's recommendation was for full-sized street trees (his drawing shows eight), ground cover, and hedges. The Stewart's landscaping plan involves four trees and flower beds against the building and at the corner. Stewart's did agree to plant one more tree and to investigate the possibility of using perennial ground cover instead of flowering plants.
  2. Responding to the recommendation that they use tinted concrete to reduce glare, the Stewart's spokesman said they never used tinted concrete. It seems, however that most of the surface is meant to be asphalt not concrete.
  3. The canopy over the pumps will be 14½ feet. The Stewart's spokesman denied that it was ever to be 16 feet high.
  4. Bollard lighting is one of the things that was an "absolute no," because "bollards get hit."
  5. The material for the retaining wall remains Versa-Lok, with plantings only on one side--the side facing the adjacent property on Green Street not the Stewart's parking lot and Fairview Avenue.
  6. Stewart's readily agreed to install a cedar fence on top of the retaining wall instead of the white vinyl fence they had proposed.
  7. Stewart's stated they would plant twenty-four arborvitae "on the neighbor's side of the fence." To this statement, Frederick responded, "Well, then we need more."
  8. The Stewart's spokesman said they would consider planting hedges and ground cover around the building instead of the flowers they were planning.
  9. A true second story was also an "absolute no." The opening in the parapet. which exposes the mechanicals on the roof, will face the delivery area.
  10. It is not clear what the signage and branding on the building will be
  11. Stewart's has added three picnic tables and two park benches but maintains that the interior layout of the store will not accommodate a walk-up ice cream window. Planning Board members Gramkow and Clark Wieman were not taking no for an answer and asked for further explanation of why an ice cream window would not be possible.
  12. A bike rack has been added to the plan.
  13. There was no discussion of widening the sidewalks.
Frederick criticized Stewart's for only providing only engineer's plans to show what they are proposing. The plan below, which was presented more than a year ago, is an example of the drawings presented by Stewart's, from which the Planning Board must imagine what the completed project will look like. Board member Ginna Moore asked Stewart's to produce "something other than engineering drawings," renderings of what is proposed that were more like those Frederick had created.          

Concern remained that the proposed site was "more oriented to people gassing up than to people living in the area." Kurt Wehmann, who lives on Fairview Avenue, expressed the opinion that what is proposed was "still not a very neighborly approach to a business with a neighborhood." He also questioned how often the picnic tables would be used if they were far away from the entrance to the building. In contrast to those advocating for a more neighborly building that could be a gathering place for people in the neighborhood, a woman who also lives on Fairview Avenue expressed concern about people congregating at the picnic tables after hours. (The store will be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

Planning Board chair Walter Chatham reminded the board that it operated within "a box" that defined its purview and commented, "Stewart's has been very nice entertaining what falls out of that box." Wehmann commented that the plan was "still so open-ended, it could be anything," but Chatham's assessment was "we are close." 

Although board member Wieman wanted to keep the public hearing open and "discuss among ourselves," the public hearing was closed, and Chatham noted that the board now has sixty days to make its determination.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Once Upon a Time

OutHudson has announced the theme of this year's Pride Festival: "Faerie Tales."

The subject of fairy tales provides an excuse to share some favorite quotes about fairy tales.
If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.
Albert Einstein 
Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.
G. K. Chesterton

So, remember your favorite fairy tales and get ready. The parade happens on Saturday, June 15.

What Was Old Is New Again

People in Hudson used to play bocce in a dusty vacant lot at 235 Warren Street, but for the twenty years or more now, that lot has been the pocket park known as Thurston Park, where people congregate and relax and children play on the swings, but no one plays bocce. Now there's a plan to bring bocce back to Warren Street--to 347 Warren Street to be exact.

Last night, Zak Pelaccio and Kevin Pomplun appeared before the Planning Board to present what Pelaccio jokingly called "the annual upgrade to BackBar." Last year at this time, BackBar sought an amendment to its previous site plan approval to extend the hours of operation for its outdoor space. This year they are seeking to reconfigure the outdoor space, enlarge the seasonal bar, build pergolas to guide people from the street to the entrance, and introduce "family fun games"--bocce, shuffleboard, cornhole--in the open space nearest the street, once occupied by food trucks.

The proposal was the last item on the agenda in a meeting that lasted three and a half hours. It was nearly nine o'clock when the Planning Board turned its attention to this proposal, and it seemed the board was more interested in discussing if BackBar had met the conditions that had been set last year. What was in question was a fence with sound-absorbing material designed and constructed in consultation with a professional acoustician. Pelaccio and Pomplun attested that the fence had been built. Code enforcement officer Craig Haigh avowed that he had never been asked to confirm that the work had been done. The site plan approval granted last April gave BackBar one year to implement the proposed sound mitigation, and one year will be up tomorrow, April 11. It was agreed that Pomplun would provide Haigh with the manufacturer's specifications for the sound-absorbing material used, without which Haigh declared "the fence is unapprovable," and Haigh would inspect the fence by April 11.

The proposed alterations require a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, and it's likely the project will be presented to the HPC at its meeting this Friday morning, April 12. For its part in the approval process, the Planning Board agreed to schedule a public hearing for Tuesday, May 14.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Monday Night's Informal Council Meeting

Gossips has already reported on what seemed the most interesting item in this month's informal Common Council meeting. Now, you can experience the entire meeting, which took place not at City Hall but in the Community Room of Bliss Towers. Dan Udell's video can now be viewed by clicking here.


The Future of the Tourism Board

The scrutiny and criticism that the Tourism Board has been subjected to in recent months has had its effect. Last night, at the informal Common Council meeting, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, brought up "the need to address the language in the lodging tax law" as it pertains to the Tourism Board. It seems reasonable that the language stating the mission of the Tourism Board--"The Tourism Board is hereby empowered to take all reasonable steps it determines desirable, necessary and proper to market the City of Hudson as a destination for overnight and daytrip visitors"--might be amended so that the task of the board is not so narrowly interpreted as branding and marketing--two terms that have been the lightning rods of criticism for the Tourism Board--but the changes the Council has in mind seem to be quite a bit different.

Council president Tom DePietro spoke of an amended law being crafted by city attorney Andy Howard which would put all funds from the lodging tax under the control of the Common Council, eliminating the percentage of those funds now set aside for use by the Tourism Board. That amount currently is 50 percent of the first $250,000 of revenues from the lodging tax; 25 percent of the second $250,000; and 10 percent of revenues above $500,000--never to exceed $250,000 in any given year. DePietro noted that the proposed amendment would stipulate that "the Tourism Board needs to make a proposal to get any of the money." Rosenthal opined, "The Council is a better forum for allocating funds from the lodging tax." Not everyone may agree with that statement.