Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Help for the Dunn Builiding

This afternoon, at the meeting of the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) Committee, Peter Bujanow reported that three bids had been received in response to the invitation to bid issued on February 7 for immediate repair to the roof of the Dunn warehouse.

The lowest bid was $25,725, received from Tecta America WeatherGuard LLC in Schenectady. Along with the bid, they guaranteed that the work would be completed 21 days after receiving notice to proceed. Another company bid $31,000 with a guarantee to complete the work within 10 days. Michael Chameides, mayor's aide, asked rhetorically if saving $6,000 was worth waiting 11 more days. He indicated he thought it was. The committee voted to accept the lowest bid. A resolution to that effect is expected to come before the Common Council tonight.  

In pursuit of finding a nongovernmental partner for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Dunn building, Chris Round of Chazen Companies had prepared a draft request for expressions of interest, which he distributed and discussed with the members of the committee present: Tom DePietro, Council president; Heather Campbell, city treasurer; Peter Bujanow, commissioner for public works; and Michael Chameides, mayor's aide. At the outset, Round said it was his understanding that the City wanted to "turn the site back to active use," indicating that the desired use would not be residential but rather retail or office space. After some exchange with Chameides, it was clarified that a residential use for the building is a possibility. 

The schedule for the request for expressions of interest is that comments from the committee are due to Round by Monday, February 24, and a final document will be ready for the next meeting of the DRI Committee, which takes place on Wednesday, March 4, with the intention of issuing the request the following day.

At the next meeting of the committee, in addition to the request for expressions of interest for the Dunn building, the "Historic Fishing Village" is expected to be a principal topic of discussion, with the goal of defining "what it is we want to accomplish." Round indicated that he would "come with an outline" to help identify next steps for that project.

Martin Comments on 2019 Election

On the weekend after the Iowa caucuses, Virginia Martin, embattled "holdover" Democratic Commissioner of Elections, submitted to the Register-Star a letter to the editor commenting on the November election here in Columbia County. More than a week later, the letter was finally published yesterday. It is recommended reading: "Setting the record straight."

An Interesting Development

The Register-Star reports today that the Salvation Army will not be moving to 11 Warren Street, the former COARC building now owned by Galvan Initiatives Foundation, as previously announced: "Salvation Army still searching for new location." Michael Molinski, a member of the Salvation Army Board of Directors, is quoted in the article as saying, "We were under contract to have a brand new facility built out on lower Warren Street and the Galvan Foundation reneged on everything. They said, 'That's no longer on the table and we're going to try to find a spot for you in the future.'"

Galvan bought the building at Third and Allen streets, where the Salvation Army is currently located, in October 2014. In March 2016, Galvan announced it was creating a new home for the Salvation Army at 11 Warren Street. In March 2017, the Salvation Army launched a GoFundMe campaign to outfit the promised new kitchen. In 2018, the build out of the new kitchen at 11 Warren Street was one of the projects Galvan proposed, unsuccessfully, for DRI funding in 2018. Now the project is off the table.

The article reports that Galvan suggested 92 Union Turnpike, the building that was formerly the Noecker car dealership, which Galvan acquired last year. The article quotes Molinski explaining why that is not a "viable option": "Noecker is an old automobile garage; who knows what kind of chemicals have been spilled or soaked into the walls and foundations and stuff there? Do you want people cooking and preparing food in a place like that? Probably not."

While the building on Union Turnpike may not be the ideal location for the Salvation Army, situated as it is on the very outer edge of Hudson, where according to the article an estimated 21.3 percent of the residents live in poverty, it seems ironic to cite its former use as the reason. The Salvation Army's current location is a former car garage, as is the now vacant building across the street, until recently Ör, where the Salvation Army speculates they could move temporarily if they decided to renovate their current building, which they rent from Galvan for $1 a month.

The building that is now the Salvation Army in 1969|PhotobyGibson.com 
Until 2013, the building that was Ör was Harmon's Auto Repair

Monday, February 17, 2020

A Call for School Board Members

Last week, Gossips shared the news that there will be two openings on the Hudson City School District Board of Education and the process of securing signatures on petitions to get on the ballot has begun. A hundred signatures are required, and petition forms must be requested from BOE clerk Leslie Coons, who can be contacted by phone--518 828-4360, ext. 2100--or by email. The petitions need to be submitted by Thursday, April 30, 2020, at 4:00 p.m. 

Today, Gossips shares some information about the Hudson City School District, brought to my attention by a reader, which may or may not motivate people to want to get involved in the governance of our school district. The following information appears on SchoolDigger.    

Interesting takeaways are that, among the 820 school districts in New York State, HCSD ranks 736th. Also, the $49.8 million budget for 2019-2020 is educating 1,751 students.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Meetings of Interest in the Week Ahead

Tomorrow is Presidents Day, so there are no meetings scheduled, but there are plenty to make up for it in the following three days.
  • On Tuesday, February 18, the DRI Committee meets at 2:30 p.m. at City Hall. The deadline for submitting bids for immediate repairs to the roof of the Dunn warehouse is Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., so it is expected that the outcome of the second invitation to bid will be made known at this meeting. When this meeting was scheduled back on January 28, it was agreed that it would held at 3:00 p.m., but the calendar on the website indicates the meeting time is 2:30 p.m.
  • Also on Tuesday, February 18, the Common Council Finance Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. and the regular monthly meeting of the Common Council takes place at 7:00 p.m. Both meetings takes place at City Hall. Among the things the Council will be voting are these proposed laws and resolutions: the six-month moratorium on new short-term rentals; defunding the Tourism Board; increasing the mayor's term of office to four years; selling the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets; undertaking a vacancy study as a first step toward imposing rent control; doubling the fee for parking at the meters along Warren Street.  
  • On Wednesday, February 19, the Zoning Board of Appeals meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting will begin with two public hearings on area variances required to convert an accessory building at 960 Columbia Street into a residential unit and to replace a deteriorated accessory building with an addition to the principal resident at 521-523 Clinton Street. After the public hearings, during the regular meeting, it is expected that the application for the area variances needed for the proposed addition to 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, will be presented.
  • On Thursday, February 20, the Common Council Economic Development Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.

The Intrigue at the Board of Elections

On January 23, Columbia Paper published a story by Debby Mayer on the situation that resulted in a replacement being sought for longtime Democratic Commissioner of Elections, Virginia Martin: "Dems: Help Wanted, full-time job, $65K." Yesterday, Enid Futterman published on imby.com an account of the circumstances, which she calls "dirty Democratic party laundry": "The Loss of Virginia Martin: The case against the ex-commissioner crumbles." In the article, Futterman calls Mayer's article "a Cliff Notes version that was, at best, incomplete; at worst, sprinkled liberally with errors." Futterman accompanied her article with this picture of Virginia Martin (right) with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.


Saturday, February 15, 2020

A House Built Before There Was Greenport

A couple of weeks ago, Gossips reported that the Joab Center House, also known as the "Turtle House," was for sale. Yesterday, an article about the house and its history appeared in Brownstoner: "The Quirky, Federal-Style 'Old Turtle House' of Greenport Can Be Yours for $450K."

The house in 1934, from Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress


Data About Hudson

A reader posted the link to DataUSA in a comment. It provides some interesting statistics about our little city--some of which are no surprise, but others are. 

For example, most of us, if we've thought about it at all, realize that the biggest industry in Hudson, the one that employs the most people, is Health Care & Social Assistance, but we probably did not know that the income inequality--that is, the gender pay gap--is greater here than the national average. The average income for males in Hudson is 1.3 times higher than the average income for females.

The statistics are from 2017, so things have undoubtedly changed some in our ever evolving city, but there is much of interest and of relevance for community discussions and planning to be found here. To access it, click here.

A Conversation About Digital Media

Three weeks from today, on Saturday, March 7, at 2:00 p.m., as part of its Conversations with Neighbors series, the Spencertown Academy Arts Center presents "The Impact of Digital Media in Our Region." Seth Rogovoy, editor and publisher of The Rogovoy Report, will moderate a panel made up of Enid Futterman, co-founder and editor of imby.com; Brian Mahoney, editorial director of Luminary Media, which publishes Chronogram, Upstater, Rural Intelligence, and several other online magazines; David Scribner and Marcie Setlow, editor-in-chief and publisher respectively of The Berkshire Edge; and me, Carole Osterink, creator of The Gossips of Rivertown. Whodathunk it?! I'm certainly honored to be included in this esteemed company. 

Top row, left to right: Seth Rogovoy, Enid Futterman, Brian Mahoney; bottom row, left to right: me, David Scribner, Marcie Setlow

In the press release announcing the event, Lisa Bouchard Hoe, chair of the Spencertown Academy Conversations with Neighbors Committee, is quoted as saying:
With digital press taking over, news about our community is delivered in an instant. How has that changed how we communicate and interact? This is an opportunity to find out from the folks on the front lines. We are excited to be bringing together for the first time all these local media luminaries on one stage. Attendees will have a chance to get up close and ask questions of their favorite personalities, and find out what really goes into the publication of online media.
Conversations with Neighbors is an occasional series designed to spark neighbor-to-neighbor conversations and celebrate the richness and diversity of the Columbia County community. Spencertown Academy Arts Center, housed in a landmark 1847 Greek Revival former schoolhouse, is located at 790 State Route 203 in Spencertown. For more information and to secure tickets for the event, click here.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Outcome at the Board of Elections

Melanie Lekocevic reported yesterday in the Register-Star that on Wednesday Ken Dow was appointed and sworn in as Democratic Commissioner of Elections: "Dow appointed Democratic election chief." Dow served previously as Democratic Commissioner of Elections, from 2005 to 2008, and was city attorney in Hudson during Mayor Tiffany Martin's administration.

Cross Over the Bridge

In his 2020 Executive Budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed merging the New York State Thruway Authority with the NYS Bridge Authority. The Bridge Authority oversees five Hudson River bridges: Bear Mountain, Newburgh-Beacon, Mid-Hudson, Kingston-Rhinecliff, and our own Rip Van Winkle Bridge.

Catskill approach to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, 1937
Speaking with Alan Chartock on WAMC on February 5, Cuomo explained the rationale for the proposed merger:
Savings, efficiency, economies of scale, two agencies doing the same thing. Why do we have two agencies, two heads, two cars, two offices, two Xerox machines, two of everything? Why not save the taxpayer money--do it better, do it faster, do it more efficiently?
Assemblymember Didi Barrett opposes the merger. Earlier this week, Barrett released the following statement:
The Governor's 2020 Executive Budget proposes eliminating the New York State Bridge Authority and merging it with the NYS Thruway Authority. I join my fellow Hudson Valley colleagues to oppose this proposal and to urge the Governor to remove it as part of the 30 Day Amendments and keep the highly efficient and effective Bridge Authority independent as it was originally intended.
The Bridge Authority was established in 1932 by Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure smooth and affordable travel across the Hudson River and to keep these bridges, which function predominantly as local roads for the Hudson Valley, independent from the fiscal stresses of the state's finances. Since then, our bridges, which serve tens of thousands of commuters, have been maintained in top notch condition by the New York State Bridge Authority. Funded solely by the modest tolls collected on its five bridges, the Bridge Authority keeps these Hudson Valley landmarks operating safely and efficiently, consistently earning top bond and quality ratings. This system keeps the tolls we pay on the bridges right here in the Hudson Valley, employing a staff of 190 local workers and linking both sides of the Hudson River for residents and others who travel back and forth to school, work, doctor's appointments, religious services, family visits and more. This is a true case of "if it's not broken, why fix it." Indeed, abolishing the Bridge Authority runs a real risk of leading to increased tolls for drivers and a seriously negative impact on our Hudson Valley economy and communities.

Monday Night at City Hall: Part 3

During the informal meeting of the Common Council on Monday, the two resolutions that originated in the Housing and Transportation Committee were introduced: the resolution to sell the lot at the corner of Fourth and State streets, and the resolution authorizing a vacancy study to establish the criteria for adopting rent stabilization legislation.

Before the resolution authorizing the sale of the lot was introduced, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) said she wanted to change the language in the resolution. Alderman Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) then provided the specifics of the change. The undefined term affordable housing was to be replaced with "30 percent of the AMI." It was clarified that AMI meant "adjusted median income," presumably not "area median income." According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the adjusted median income (AMI) in 2019 was $75,500. HUD describes incomes of 0 to 30 percent of the AMI as "extremely low income." 

Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) advised against selling the parcel. He told his colleagues, "To use this parcel right now is unwise. We know we need a parcel for a new youth center." He suggested approaching a developer to repurpose St. Mary's Academy for housing or approaching the Firemen's Home for land to develop housing. "This location," he urged, "should be held on to."

Garriga argued, "We have a housing crisis. We have people being pushed out of the city. If we have the opportunity to sell this lot, we should do so to show we hear the cry of the people, to keep people in the city or bring them back."

Alderman Eileen Halloran maintained, "This is a big project to propose without more information." She suggested that the "housing crisis" had not be defined. She noted that the Strategic Housing Action Plan had determined that the vacancy rate was 7 percent and later noted that "a housing emergency is defined as less than a 5 percent vacancy in the county." She cautioned, "We need to define what is meant by a housing emergency."

Responding to Halloran's objections, Council president Tom DePietro advised, "There are plenty of contingencies. We don't even know if this [lot] is buildable," alluding to the unverified accounts that the Fourth Street School had been demolished in 1994 by bulldozing the building into its cellar and an undrained fuel oil tank had been left in the ground.

On the subject of the vacancy study, Merante wanted more detail to determine how many properties would be affected. The criteria for a municipality adopting rent stabilization is a 5 percent or less vacancy rate in buildings built before 1974 that have six units or more. The purpose of the study would be to determine the vacancy rate in those buildings. Merante pointed out that the landlords would have to be willing to participate and provide information. 

When Halloran suggested there needed to be more public engagement, DePietro responded, "There's been a lot of time to think about this. . . . You say we should compile data, and now you're saying we shouldn't collect data."

Audience member Peter Meyer called affordable housing a "permanent crisis" and asked rhetorically, "What is the primary cause of lack of affordable housing?" He suggested that assessments should be part of the discussion and asked, "Why not put it back on the tax rolls and bring in more money?" DePietro talked about PILOTs, and Meyer suggested, "Let's do the research on that, too." In the past, Gossips has provided some information about PILOTs for housing. Hudson Terrace has a PILOT that was initiated in 2010. In 2018, the full property tax on the apartment complex would have been $228,248. What was actually paid that year was about 73 percent of that amount: $167,404. Hudson Housing Authority also has a PILOT. The annual tax payment for Bliss Towers and the low-rise buildings is, according to HHA executive director, "$30,000 and something." These PILOT payments include county and the school district property taxes not just taxes paid to the City of Hudson.

Hudson Terrace under construction, 1973
Audience member Kristal Heinz advised, "Land decisions should not be made on an ad hoc basis. We need a comprehensive plan." 

Meyer and former First Ward alderman Rob Bujan both spoke of the need for a housing commissioner or housing coordinator, a position recommended in the Strategic Housing Action Plan (page 12):
The success of the SHAP would drastically be improved with the creation of a Housing Coordinator (HC) position. In order for a fully integrated approach to address the housing needs of the City of Hudson and Columbia County, a full time coordinator is needed. The HC would have the responsibility of managing, tracking, and providing technical assistance and coordination of housing services among community based organizations in Hudson to ensure implementation of the SHAP. The HC would also act as a single point of contact and facilitate applications for state and federal grant opportunities. The HC would also monitor housing conditions and act as a liaison between the City of Hudson, Columbia County and community based agencies. The role of the HC may also include the responsibilities of the Fair Housing Officer.
At the Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency (HCDPA) meeting yesterday, DePietro, who is not actually a member of the HCDPA board, said there was a plan to make Joe Czajka, of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, who guided the task force that created Hudson's SHAP, the housing commissioner for Hudson. Presumably the role of housing commissioner would be significantly pared down from what is described in the SHAP. Wolff, who as minority leader of the Common Council is on the HCDPA board, objected, saying, "Czajka takes a very market-oriented approach." DePietro responded, "It needs someone who understands the balance. You can't create all low-income housing. It just doesn't work."

Thursday, February 13, 2020

"Decades in the Making"

You can now watch Sam Pratt's presentation to the Planning Board, "The Hudson Waterfront: Decades in the Making," on YouTube by clicking here. The review it provides of close to a half century of Hudson history, focusing on the waterfront, is important information, and for that reason, Gossips is reproducing, with his permission, the slides from Pratt's PowerPoint presentation. The comments interspersed are Gossips'.

Pictured in the slide above is John Cody, who was the president of SHOW (Save Hudson's Only Waterfront) and now serves on the Planning Board. An article about the proposed oil refinery and the push back against it, which appeared in Hudson Valley Magazine in December 1984, can be found here.

The entire Hudson Vision Plan document can be accessed on the City of Hudson website by clicking here.

The citizen activism that stopped Americlean was the beginning Friends of Hudson, the citizens' group that lead the charge against the "Greenport Project" proposed by St. Lawrence Cement.

The Comprehensive Plan, adopted by the Common Council in April 2002, can be viewed by clicking here.

The Local Water Revitalization Plan, adopted by the Common Council in November 2011, can be viewed here.

The Gossips report on this outcome can be found in this post from October 16, 2013: "The Word on Those 4.4 Acres."

Watch for Yourself

The part of Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting that had to do with the conditional use permits needed by A. Colarusso & Sons was videotaped by David McIntyre. That video record is now available in four parts on YouTube.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Bit of Gossips Pedantry

Yesterday, I sat through two presentations about the plan to convert 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, into a 50-room hotel, and heard the west wing of the building described as an 1870s addition. It is not. Also, at the Planning Board meeting, the architect for the project said the original house, built in 1835 as the home of Robert and Sally McKinstry, became the Home for the Aged in the 1870s. It did not.

To correct the history, for readers who care about such things, Robert McKinstry died in 1870, predeceased by his wife, Sally, who died in 1862. The McKinstry estate was in dispute for decades after Robert McKinstry's death, and it wasn't until 1895 that the Home for the Aged purchased the house. After improvements were made to ready the house for its new function, it was occupied by the residents of the Home in 1896. The addition to the building was constructed in 1906. Much of this information is found in a history of the Home for the Aged presented by Henry M. James, which appeared in the Hudson Daily Star on December 11, 1939.

This morning, John Knott, who purchased the building after the Home for the Aged ceased to exist in 2014, sent me this historic photograph of the 1906 addition, with its porches as they were originally.

The plans for the proposed hotel would locate a new restaurant space where the original porches once were.


Monday Night at City Hall: Part 2

There were two public hearings held on Monday night: the first on the six-month moratorium on registering new short-term rentals (Local Law A of 2020); the second on defunding the Tourism Board (Local Law B of 2020). In both cases, there seemed to be an equal number of people speaking in opposition and in support of the proposed legislation.

Photo: Julien Capmeil|CN Traveller
Opposing the moratorium, Kristal Heinz called it a "bad decision," arguing that the Council has not done the research to establish the need or to understand the impact of such action. Jay Neuschatz questioned if regulating short-term rentals would have any positive impact on affordable housing and urged, "We need to find a balance." Steve Dunn said he had written a memorandum opposing the moratorium when it was proposed previously and called it the "wrong remedy." He also expressed disappointment that the Council has not made more progress in drafting regulations on short-term rentals. Myron Polenberg asserted that the housing shortage would not be solved by doing away with B&Bs and asked rhetorically, "What business other than tourism can the city attract?" He said the problem should be "solved and studied" but maintained "a moratorium is not the way to go."

Speaking in support of the moratorium, Claudia Bruce, who spoke of the "avalanche of short-term rentals," and Linda Mussmann both characterized the moratorium as providing time to "get all the facts." Alana Hauptmann said Airbnb was "unraveling our community," complaining that her employees cannot find a place to live in Hudson and the "regular person" cannot find a place to stay. The latter situation, she suggested, "has a lot to do with weddings." Another commenter spoke of the "excessive proliferation" of short-term rental units. Hauptmann later lamented, "The whole thing is about money. It's changing so much here. The city has lost its soul." Matt McGhee cautioned, "Tourism can be a good thing, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing." He went on to advise, "Tourism needs to be regarded with a jaundiced eye."

In opening the public hearing on defunding the Tourism Board, Council president Tom DePietro reminded those present that more than $300,000 in revenue from the lodging tax had already been earmarked for use by the Tourism Board. 

First to speak, Dunn pointed out that the allocation of a portion of the revenue from the lodging to the Tourism Board was "a deal cut to get it passed" and called it "not a prudent expenditure of funds." Michael Chameides, mayor's aide, said earmarking money was "not typical" and expressed the opinion that "it makes sense to give the City other options for spending the money." Hauptmann complained about the high property taxes and declared, "We have tourism. We are not not known. Give me some money back." Bruce opined that the money should "run through the Common Council." McGhee warned about taking property off the tax rolls and declared that "the solution was not making the city a [tourist] trap and making it not livable." Nick Zachos said he didn't realize the Tourism Board already had $300,000 and complained that whenever he tries to get more money for the Youth Department he is told there is no money. Mussmann wanted the money invested in her ward, the Fourth Ward. She claimed, "Tourists ask, 'What's so different about the north side of town?' We need sidewalks, lights, and garbage cans." Dunn concurred, calling the north side "the stepchild." 

Among those in support of keeping the money allocated for the Tourism Board, Heinz said of tourism, "This is what we have. This is our economic engine." Kane argued that tourism brings in tax revenue and cautioned, "We are not arrived yet [as a destination]; we are still a weekend town." Polenberg opined, "Tourism doesn't have to be beds. Maybe you get a visitor who becomes a businessman here." Neuschatz advised, "If we have any chance of attracting other business, they want to see a vibrant main street." Kane expressed the opinion that it might be a good idea "to hold off until the new Tourism Board has a chance to decide what it wants to do." Peg Patterson concurred.

On the subject of the Tourism Board, at the informal Common Council meeting that followed the public hearings, a resolution was introduced naming the Council's four appointees to the Tourism Board. They are Hannah Black, co-owner of Lil' Deb's Oasis; Selya Graham, co-manager of Rolling Grocer 19; Sidney Long, who was appointed to the Tourism Board by the Council last year; and Kate Treacy, second vice chair of the Hudson City Democratic Committee. So far, Mayor Kamal Johnson has not made public his appointments to the Tourism Board. The board will be chaired by Alderman Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), who also chairs the Common Council Economic Development Committee.

The Council is expected to vote on enacting the Local Law No. A and Local Law No. B at its regular monthly meeting which takes place on Tuesday, February 18, at 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

First News from the Planning Board Meeting

Despite the announced intention that the four presentations would take only ten minutes each, the Planning Board meeting tonight went on for three hours. Clark Wieman, who was sitting in for Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow, decided to change the order of the agenda, allowing the presentation of the plans for 620 Union Street to go first. That presentation took a full hour. 

When the meeting finally got around to the Colarusso issue, much of what was presented rehashed things that have things that have been said many times before. That's no surprise. The format of the meeting was designed to bring the new members of the Planning Board up to speed. Two statements, however, crystallized the dilemma for the Planning Board and may give a little hint about how this could all play out. 

During the Colarusso presentation, the company's attorney, John Privitera told the Planning Board, "We have the right to a conditional use permit. You have the right to decide what conditions will be imposed." Later in the meeting, Stephen Steim, one of the new Planning Board members, asked, "Do we have authority to approve or deny conditional use permits, or just the power to impose conditions?" Unfortunately, Jeff Baker, counsel for the Planning Board, tends to speak only loud enough to be heard by the person to whom he is speaking, and so, seated toward the back of the room, I have no idea what he said in answer to Steim's question. The next audible thing came from Larry Bowne, another of the new members of the Planning Board, who said, with the intonation of a question, "We have the actual authority to deny?"

Update: Stephen Steim contacted Gossips this morning to say that, in answer to his question, Jeff Baker, counsel to the Planning Board, confirmed that the Planning Board has the power "to deny the permit application, not only to decide what conditions should be placed on it."

A Preview of What's Being Proposed

At the Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency) meeting this afternoon, a proposal was received for a new project seeking the IDA's support: the conversion of the former Hudson Home for the Aged at 620 Union Street into a 50-room hotel, with a restaurant, bar, and event space.

The project as proposed involves the restoration and renovation of the original 1830s house, the home of Robert and Sally McKinstry, and of the 1870s addition to the house, and the construction of a new addition, referred to a "modern sister," which would  double the size of the building. Accompanying the application were these renderings of what is proposed. 

The project will be coming before the Planning Board tonight--presumably after all the presentations about the Colarusso issues--to begin the process of site plan approval. On Tuesday, February 25, at 11 a.m., the IDA will hold a special meeting to consider the application. On Friday, February 28, at 10:00 a.m., the project will go before the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness.

Planning Board Meeting Tonight

Gossips just received a reminder from The Valley Alliance that the Planning Board was meeting tonight at 6:00 p.m. at the Central Fire Station, 77 North Seventh Street, and that they--Sam Pratt and Peter Jung--would be making a presentation. The reminder was accompanied by this image, which was created last spring to mark the opening of Hudson River Skywalk, linking the Thomas Cole House and Olana. 

The caption Pratt and Jung added to the image pointed out something I hadn't noticed before: "State visualization of the Hudson River above Hudson and Catskill. . . . Notice what they did not include at the Waterfront?"

If you can't see it, here's the detail. 

Of course, the visualization doesn't include Henry Hudson Riverfront Park either.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Monday Night at City Hall: Part I

Someone once speculated that Register-Star reporters wrote several articles about the same Common Council meeting because they were paid by the article and wanted to make the most of every meeting they attended. Such is not the case for Gossips, obviously, but I do appreciate that tackling one issue at a time is more effective and less daunting than trying to report sequentially everything that transpired during more than two hours at City Hall. And so I begin, reporting first what happened last.

It will be remembered that back in October 2019 Mayor Rick Rector proposed a local law that would increase the terms of the mayor, Common Council president, and treasurer from two years to four years. That proposal had to pass through the Legal Committee before was considered by the full Council, and in committee, at the insistence of Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), the proposed law was amended to increase the terms of the aldermen and supervisors as well. In December 2019, the proposed law was defeated in the Common Council by a vote of 6 to 5. Several of the aldermen who voted against the proposed law stated that they did so because they thought increasing the term of office was appropriate for the mayor and city treasurer but not for the aldermen.

Tonight, a new local law was introduced that would increase the term of office for the mayor, and only the mayor, from two years to four years. The proposed law came from the mayor's office and did not pass through the Legal Committee. In support of proposed law, Mayor Kamal Johnson, now in office for all of forty-one days, argued that the office of mayor "needs some continuity and leadership."

Predictably, Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) argued that the terms of the aldermen should also be increased. As they did before, Ronald Kopniki and Matt McGhee objected to increasing anyone's terms, maintaining that the more elections there were the better. John Kane suggested that the City "should look at having a city manager instead of a mayor." He went on to observe that it was "ironic that someone who wanted to replace the last mayor after two years now wants his term extended." 

Kane's suggestion reminded me of a little study I did back in 2007, when I was an alderman. Looking at the governmental structure of the municipalities that had, up until that point, won the National Trust's Great American Main Street Award, assuming that these were places Hudson would like to emulate, I discovered that the majority of these cities had city managers to provide the continuity and expertise needed, and the mayors, if they existed at all, served a more ceremonial function.

The Future of the Church

It's been a long time coming, but in what Ronald Kopniki called "the new Hudson we are celebrating in 2020," the African American community has decided to honor its long history in Hudson by preserving a building associated with that history. It is a welcome change from what has been the case in the past.

Back in 1998, when Historic Hudson tried to stop the demolition of the Chicken Shack and restore it as an education and community center, the late Estocia Berry, whose family history of making lemonade when life hands you lemons was represented by the building, vehemently opposed our efforts. She wanted the building demolished and once accosted a group from Historic Hudson in the middle of Columbia Street, suggesting that we wanted to keep her neighborhood down by standing in the way of development.

In 2011, when Historic Hudson tried to designate Robinson Street, an enclave of working class houses and the only neighborhood on the north side of the city to survive urban renewal intact, there was vehement push back led by Rev. Ed Cross, then Second Ward supervisor. Despite the fact that historic designation was meant to celebrate and preserve a neighborhood that in the early 20th century was home to African Americans, as well as Irish, Hungarian, and Polish immigrants, the residents of the houses in the early 21st century wanted nothing to do with any effort to protect and preserve the unique character of the neighborhood.

Later that same year, Gossips had only one ally in exploring the story of the Colored Citizens Club at Columbia and Third streets and advocating for the buildings believed still to exist beneath the windowless walls of the structure--one of which was a historic African Methodist Episcopal Church. The City and the neighborhood were committed to getting rid of what was considered an eyesore and a magnet for layabouts, and so the building went down, without any attempt to discover or preserve its origins.

Things have changed, and now the loss of the Colored Citizens Club is being mourned as the loss of one of the vestiges of African American history and culture in Hudson. What inspired this change of heart is the church building just down the street from the former Colored Citizens Club, which was the original house of worship for Shiloh Baptist Church and was for eight years, from 2009 to 2017, rented by Endless Love Temple, the congregation whose pastor is Rev. Ed Cross.

Gossips has told the story of the church's recent history: its seizure by the City for nonpayment of property taxes (the building was not owned by Endless Love Temple) and its sale at auction, in November 2017, to someone who planned to restore and develop it as a wedding venue. Last summer, the building was sold to someone whose plans for it are unknown. A hole in the roof inspired Cross to seek landmark status for the building, and last Friday, Cross appeared at the Historic Preservation Commission with the goal of getting the protection of historic designation for the building. 

The case for designating the building was made by Ronald Kopniki, who read aloud an extensive history of the Baptist Church and, in particular, the tradition of black Baptist churches. Cross was also there to talk about his life growing up in the church, "when 'in God we trust' meant something and 'one nation under God' meant something." He went on to say, "It saddens me that I can't take my grandchildren and show them where their great grandfather had gone to church," and argued, "It should be declared a historic site because it is part of all of us."

Second Ward alderman Tiffany Garriga was present to argue for designation as a way of "showing the community of African Americans what they mean to the community and what the community means to them." Mayor Kamal Johnson was also in the audience and rose to assert the designation "celebrates the diversity of the city." Matt McGhee declared the designation would "gladden the hearts of our neighbors and celebrate their humanity by celebrating their house of worship."

At the outset, HPC chair Phil Forman cautioned, "If this is designated, it doesn't mean that all problems will be solved, but it would make it significantly more difficult to demo it." Later, he told those pressing for designation, "To me, this is going to happen. The question is how well we will make it happen." Forman spoke of the designation as "a unique opportunity to talk about black history in Hudson" and of the desire to "capture anecdotes of people's memories." Christabel Gough, who seemed convinced the building was in imminent danger of demolition, said designating the building was an emergency and urged the HPC to move forward with all haste. The problem was no one had prepared an application for the designation, which is required by law, and no one, not even the members of the HPC, knew where the form for the application might be found. (It's understandable. No new historic designations have been made in the past fourteen years.)

Gossips informed the body that the application form for individual historic site designation was available online at the City of Hudson website. At first, it was decided that Paul Barrett, historian member of the HPC, would take the information provided by Kopniki and complete the application. Garriga demanded that the HPC complete and accept the application immediately, so the process could move forward, the owner could be notified, and any action to demolish the building would be prevented. Meanwhile, Kopniki went out to the lobby and asked the city clerk to print out the application, which he then filled out on the spot, attaching the packet of materials he had earlier distributed to HPC members. 

A public hearing on designating the building a local landmark has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Friday, February 28, at which time it is expected the HPC will have the opportunity "to capture anecdotes of people's memories" Forman spoke of.