Saturday, February 29, 2020

Chickens Coming Back to Roost

At the Legal Committee meeting on Wednesday night, after discussion of sidewalk legislation, short-term rental regulations, and extending the term of office for the mayor, audience member Adam Weinert rose to make the case for keeping backyard chickens in Hudson. Weinert spoke of the benefits of chickens--pest control, soil fertilization, not to mention more nutritious eggs. A woman from Kite's Nest seconded Weinert's request, talking about environmental and food justice. John Rosenthal, who chairs the Legal Committee, said he thought allowing chickens was "a great idea."

The notion of making it legal to keep backyard chickens is nothing new. Up until 2004, when Section 70.16 of the city code was adopted, it was legal to keep chickens in Hudson. The law prohibiting chickens was a response to a specific incident that occurred in the city. A dog got into a chicken yard and killed some chickens. The owner of the chickens took his revenge by shooting the offending dog with a gun. To avoid such problems in the future, chickens were banned from the city.

In 2013, a law permitting people to keep backyard chickens was proposed by the Legal Committee. The legislation was crafted by John Friedman, then chair of the Legal Committee, whose wife wanted to raise chickens in their backyard. The law passed in the Common Council by the skin of its teeth. Back then, with the weighted vote, a simple majority required 1,011 aye votes. The chicken law got 1,020 ayes and 1,008 nays. Seven members of the Council--the Council president, both First Ward aldermen, both Third Ward aldermen, one of the two Second Ward aldermen, and one of the two Fourth Ward aldermen--voted in favor of the law. Four members of the Council--one Second Ward alderman, one Fourth Ward alderman, and both Fifth Ward alderman--voted against. (That's how the weighted voted used to work.)  

Although it passed in the Council, the chicken law met its swan song when it was vetoed by Mayor William Hallenbeck. In a veto message that was five pages long, Hallenbeck cited seven reasons why, in his opinion, the legislation as proposed was a bad idea.
  1. The law was not equitable. People who did not own their own homes with backyards would not benefit.
  2. Chickens attract rodents and such predators as raccoons and hawks, which can problematic in an urban setting.
  3. The law did not specify how far the chicken coop should be from a property owner's dwelling.
  4. There was nothing in the proposed ordinance to ensure the humane treatment of chickens.
  5. The law prohibited slaughtering chickens but made no mention of killing chickens.
  6. The law did not require banding chickens so they could be identified if they wandered out of their yard.
  7. There were questions about how the law regulating backyard chickens would be enforced.
There was no attempt by the Council to override the mayor's veto.

In his argument for raising backyard chickens, Weinert claimed that 93 percent of cities in the United States permitted raising backyard chickens. I set out to confirm this statistic, but the first thing my search yielded was this article, published last year in CityLab: "Have Backyard Chickens Gone Too Free-Range?" It suggested that chickens may have become "the new status symbol for Silicon Valley elites," but its thesis was that "urban poultry laws need to be stricter about public health and animal welfare." The article posits that "the majority of the municipalities that allowed backyard fowl were missing standards around permits, veterinary care or vaccines, or animal abuse protections."

On the issue of public health, the article states:
Although urban poultry-keepers often believe that their birds, and eggs, are safer and more nutritious than products of commercial farms, many municipal regulations do not address sanitation, vaccination, or disease control. Indeed, urban poultry is linked to hundreds of salmonella cases each year in the United States. In Egypt, 70 percent of the people who came down with H5N1 bird flu in a 2015 outbreak reported exposure to backyard poultry.
The article concludes: 
If we're going to have chickens in our cities, it's common sense to make sure we have the right system in place to protect the birds as well as their owners, neighbors, and the city as a whole.
The law proposed in 2013 can be found here, following the minutes from the mayor's public hearing on the law, which took place on June 28, 2013.

Across the River Watch

A couple of weeks ago, Gossips brought attention to a proposal by Athens Stevedoring & Environmental Development LLC to bring 8,400 tons of construction and demolition debris every week from Long Island to a site on the Athens waterfront. Yesterday, HudsonValley360 provided an update on this questionable idea: "Heritage to play key role in C&D proposal." 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Reminder and Correction

The Historic Preservation Commission holds a public hearing on the designation of 241 Columbia Street as a historic landmark this morning at 9:30 a.m at City Hall.

The certificate of appropriateness application for the conversion of 620 Union Street into a 50-room hotel is not on the agenda for the HPC meeting that follows the public hearing. 

Wanted: Dog Control Officer

Wes Powell
Come Sunday, Hudson (and several towns in Columbia County) will be without a dog control officer because Wes Powell is retiring. According to state law, the City has thirty days to hire a new dog control officer.

The subject of the dog control officer was discussed briefly at the Police Committee meeting on Monday. An unnamed alderman had contacted Chief Ed Moore asking if the Hudson Police Department could take over the duties of the dog control officer. Moore said HPD could do so in the interim but not long term. Police commissioner Peter Volkmann outlined the requirements for a dog control officer--a rabies shot, a properly equipped vehicle for transporting dogs, and three to five days of training--and estimated that the upfront costs would be $1,500 to $2,000 without training.

Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) has always maintained that Powell was not active enough in Hudson to earn the $7,200 the City paid him each year and the job should go to someone who lives in Hudson. I was reminded of Garriga's complaints when I read this story in the Altamont Enterprise about an overzealous new dog control officer in a town west of here: "Berne's new dog-control officer was overly aggressive, says resident." The new dog control officer in Berne was favored because he is a resident of the town. The person he ousted, who had been the dog control officer in Berne for nearly thirteen years, lives in Rensselaerville.

What a Difference a Day Makes

On Wednesday, DPW superintendent Rob Perry reported to the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee that progress on the new Ferry Street Bridge was being delayed by CSX wanting to do its own review of the plans for the bridge, in addition to the review by Amtrak. On Thursday, the Register-Star published an article with the optimistic headline, "Ferry Street Bridge back on track." That's not exactly the case. 

According to the original schedule, construction of the new bridge was supposed to happen this year. Now it seems construction will not happen until 2021.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Crossing Swords Over Crosswalks

Last night, at the Public Works and Parks Committee meeting, it was revealed that water and sewer rates were going up $5 a quarter and that CSX's decision to review the plans for the new Ferry Street Bridge, in addition to the review by Amtrak, was holding up progress, but the topic of heated discussion was crosswalks.

It seems Alderman Shershah Mizan (Third Ward) has requested a crosswalk on Prospect Avenue for the benefit of hospital workers going to their cars parked on Rossman Avenue. He cited a $5,000 grant for new crosswalks as evidence that there was plenty of money for this crosswalk. The grant money is actually two grants, one for $1,500 received in 2019 and another for $2,500 received this year, both the result of efforts by Mayor Rick Rector, for a total of $4,000. DPW superintendent Rob Perry cautioned that, once a new crosswalk was created, it had to be maintained, and there needed to be adequate money in the budget for perpetual maintenance of new crosswalks. He said his budget for materials was regularly cut by the BEA (Board of Estimate and Apportionment), and the thermoplastic product needed to maintain the crosswalks that now exist costs $15,000 a year.

When asked how many new crosswalks could be created with the $4,000 in grant money, Perry cited a figure for crosswalks at a single intersection which DPW critic Bill Huston claimed was incorrect, saying he had checked the prices online and found that the cost was significantly less. 

Perry argued that there needed to be some kind of process for determining where crosswalks should be installed, asserting, "It's not like ordering a pizza." He said the consent of the neighborhood was needed, because crosswalks eliminate parking spaces. It was finally suggested by Peter Bujanow, the commissioner of public works, that he and the police commissioner should go out and survey the crosswalks and intersections and make recommendations.

Whenever there are these passionate conversations about crosswalks, it always seems that the people advocating for crosswalks think that white lines on the street have some magical power to stop cars and protect pedestrians. I am reminded of the crosswalk at the Hudson Opera House, which the late Christina Malisoff  wanted so desperately. A woman, not playing attention, had walked into the street in front of the opera house and been struck by a car and seriously injured.

During my four years on the Common Council, I tried to make that crosswalk happen, at first encountering opposition from then police chief Ellis Richardson, who argued that local residents had the right to drive along Warren Street unimpeded by having to stop many times for pedestrians crossing the street, but finally succeeding in 2009, only to have Malisoff tell me that the crosswalk put people in greater danger. They stepped into the crosswalk confident that cars would stop, and they didn't.

Recently, a reader, reacting to a previous Gossips post about crosswalks, suggested that Hudson might address the problem as they do in Kirkland, Washington, with pedestrian flags, or Pedflags, "intended to assist pedestrians in gaining the attention of motorists." The flags are kept in holders installed on utility poles at intersections, and pedestrians crossing the street are expected to take a flag, carry it as they cross the street, and deposit it on the other side. Pedestrians can be ticketed for crossing the street without a flag in hand. The maintenance of the system is carried out by volunteers, who "monitor, replace, and redistribute the flags." But even with this system, which the reader, who has visited Kirkland, attests is taken very seriously, the Kirkland website cautions, "Pedflags are not intended as a substitute for the vigilance and safe crossing techniques that pedestrians must use for crossing any street, whether it has crossing treatments or not." 

HPD in the Community

At the Police Committee meeting on Monday night, Alderman Malachi Walker (Fourth Ward) spoke of community policing and recommended "officers getting involved and doing different things." The implication that HPD officers were not involved in the community inspired Chief Ed Moore to say he wanted to "publish a list of charitable acts officers do." That list appeared today on the Hudson City Police Department's Facebook page.

Chief Moore and Hudson police officers participating in last year's Oakdale Plunge

The list and a slideshow of other images can be viewed here.

Ear to the Ground

Some of the members of the current Tourism Board were quite brutal in their criticism of the previous Tourism Board. So they seem to have found a way to avoid scrutiny and possible criticism of their own work: hold meetings that are not announced to the public. Gossips has learned that the first meeting of the Tourism Board, which is chaired by Alderman Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), took place last Friday, apparently with no notice given to anyone but the eight members of the board.

Urban Renewal in the 21st Century

Toward the end of the meeting of the HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) Board on Tuesday, board member Nick Haddad reported on a meeting he and other board members had with representatives of Empire State Development (ESD) regarding the $486,000 awarded to HDC in the DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) for the remediation of the Kaz warehouse site. Haddad described the meeting as a "come to Jesus moment" and reported that the message from ESD was: "You better get your act together, or the money might not be there." ESD wanted HDC to get back on track and develop a timeline for a new RFP process. They wanted a "game plan" within sixty days. It was suggested that HDC talk to the developers who made proposals in 2018--Bonacio Construction, Kearney Realty & Development, and Redburn Development--and see if, two years later, they were still interested.

Bob Rasner, president of the HDC Board, proposed appointing a small group to start the process of planning, a group that would include someone from the Planning Board. He suggested they consider how the 80-unit apartment building being proposed by Galvan Initiatives Foundation might affect the development of the Kaz site. He also shared what he had been told by a developer recently that "people cannot make residential properties work [financially] with only three stories." Board member Steve Dunn observed that HDC would need the City's cooperation with zoning changes. Haddad indicated that Mike Yevoli of ESD had made the point that "a group of volunteers cannot do this." Martha Lane suggested hiring a consultant.

When Rasner said he would be "chatting with people he hopes will serve on the ad hoc committee," Mayor Kamal Johnson, who is an ex officio member of the HDC Board, volunteered. He said he had been talking with Darren Scott of NYS Homes and Community Renewal about hiring Joe Czajka of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress to create a master plan for development. As Gossips reported on February 14, Council president Tom DePietro said at the last HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency) meeting there was a plan to make Czajka the housing commissioner for Hudson. Now it seems the plan is to hire Czajka as a consultant, and Johnson proposed that HDC chip in $5,000 of Czajka's $25,000 fee. Responding to the proposal, Rasner said, "We need more conversation before committing to the Czajka plan."

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The Hotel Proposed for Union Street

Yesterday, the Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency) held a special meeting to hear more from 620 Hudson House LLC about the proposal to convert 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, into a 50-room hotel that will be "art focused, as well as history focused."

David Kessler, who is the developer for the project, assured the IDA that he was committed to hiring locally. He explained that rather than bringing his team from New York City to Hudson, he was creating a team locally. The landscape architect is located in Hudson; the engineer is from Chatham; the architect is from Troy. He also talked about his commitment to staffing the new hotel with local people, explaining that although he was looking to hire everyone from Hudson he could not commit to that. What he would commit to was 30 new jobs, 14 of them for people in Hudson, 16 for people in Columbia and Greene counties. When asked why all the jobs could not go to Hudson people, Kessler cited the 4 percent unemployment rate in Hudson, which he said was lower than the national average. (Gossips research found that the unemployment rate for New York State was 4 percent, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics sets the unemployment rate for the entire country at 3.6 percent.)

Kessler also outlined what he called a "robust training platform," which would involve hands-on training and "deep background in the property's history." There would be a two-week training program for non-managerial positions and a six-week training program for managers. Mike Tucker, who serves as the administrative director of the Hudson IDA, noted there have been discussions with the Hudson Business Coalition about developing training programs in hospitality and retail and suggested that this project could be the impetus for an expanded program.

Christine Chale, counsel to the IDA, asked about construction jobs. Kessler said it was not possible at this point to determine the number of construction jobs, but his goal was to have 25 percent of the work done by Hudson firms, 25 percent by firms in Columbia and Greene counties, and 50 percent by firms in the Albany area. Chale also outlined the benefits available to the project:
  • Sales tax exemption on materials for the hotel
  • Exemption from mortgage recording tax
  • PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement   
Chale went on to explain that, according to the uniform PILOT policy agreement, the recipient of a PILOT for a commercial project pays 50 percent of the property tax on the assessed value in the first year, and the amount increases by 5 percent each year until it reaches 100 percent. She noted that The Wick had asked for a deviation from the uniform PILOT policy to pay only 20 percent in the first year and to have the amount of annual increase be greater to achieve 100 percent within the same ten year time period. Chale told the members of the IDA that this project would probably also be looking for a deviation. She went on to advise, "You need an exact proposal laid out before you can make a decision."

The next meeting of the IDA will take place on Tuesday, March 10, at 1 p.m.

Shared Services and Community Policing

At the last Common Council meeting, the resolution to renew the agreement with Columbia County and Greene County for the Shared Services Response Team was referred to the Police Committee. On Monday night, the issue that got the most attention in the Police Committee meeting, which lasted for close to ninety minutes, was the Shared Services Response Team.

For a bit of background, since 2015, the Hudson has been part of the Shared Services Response Team, made up of select officers from the Hudson Police Department and the sheriff's departments in Columbia and Greene counties. It is a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. Prior to 2015, the City of Hudson had a de facto SWAT team for twenty years and an official SWAT team for thirteen years. Soon after Chief Ed Moore took his position with the HPD in March 2013, he suspended the HPD's SWAT team because it was not operating in accordance with New York State regulations for SWAT teams and having a SWAT team that did not meet the state standards would jeopardize the HPD's accredition. The Hudson's participation in the Shared Services Response Team is a way for the HPD to have access to a properly trained, equipped, and commanded SWAT team if and when on is required in the city, and in the past five years, there have been a few occasions when the Shared Services Response Team has been deployed in Hudson. Moore told the Police Committee on Monday that since 2018, there have been three deployments: in 2018, on the 200 block of State Street; in 2019, on Frederick Street; in 2020, on Union Turnpike. Moore stressed that a situation had to meet a certain threshold, typically involving people with a history of violence, for the Shared Services Response Team to be deployed.

Moore noted that although the public is most aware of the Shared Services Response Team in the execution of arrest warrants, they are also involved wilderness rescue and mass crowd security, and it would be the Shared Services Response Team that would go in if there were ever an active shooter situation anywhere in Hudson. 

Moore explained that Hudson cannot afford to maintain a SWAT team on its own. If the City did not participate in the Shared Services Response Team, the state police tactical team would come in if the situation required. Moore told the committee, "My concern is the response time." It would take much longer for the state police tactical team to arrive at the scene. Lieutenant David Miller reminded the committee that now the chief and the police commissioner have control of the team when it is deployed in Hudson. That would not be the case with the state police tactical team. Moore add, "Here I have to come before you and defend our actions." He went on to say, "There is an issue with illegal guns in Hudson. We don't want a SWAT team, but there are instances when it's needed for safety." 

The discussion touched on law enforcement issues beyond the Shared Services Response Team. Alderman Malachi Walker (Fourth Ward) asserted, "The need for community policing is huge," and advocated for "officers getting involved and doing different things." Miller told him police officers were involved in the community. "Eight-five percent of us graduated from Hudson High School." Moore said he wanted to publish a list of the charitable acts Hudson police officers do. Alderman Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) wanted to know why police officers were not on foot. Miller said there was an officer on foot patrol every day. Police commissioner Peter Volkmann offered to provide the committee with records of the hours of foot patrol.

Alderman Dewan Sarowar (Second Ward), who chairs the committee, spoke of trucks going off the truck route and asked for more signage. Volkmann suggested a sign with the message: "Don't follow GPS; follow the city signs." The process of getting such a sign is complicated, however, because the truck route through Hudson is a state route. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who was in the audience, complained about the use of the boot as a penalty for excessive unpaid parking tickets, arguing, "It makes it extra hard for people with low incomes."

Returning to the topic of the Shared Services Response Team, audience member Claire Cousin spoke of "community distrust of SWAT" and made reference to "a raid that took place when kids were getting on the bus to go to school." She asked Volkmann where he stood on the issue of the Shared Services Response Team. Volkmann told her a SWAT team was a necessary component to community policing. He suggested that the reaction of the community was one of not understanding. "Two days out of 365 days are separating the community," said Volkmann. "We have the responsibility to collaborate better."

Cousin urged, "The reality is [the targets of such police action] are some kids' parents," and said she wanted HPD to be sure "people are talking with kids about what happened." Volkmann promised to work toward better communication. "Let the struggle begin," he said. "Community conversations will lead to community solutions. Let's have these hard conversations."

Walker claimed that, in one of the raids, a little girl had had a gun pointed at her. Miller responded, "What you're telling me now, this is the first I'm hearing it." Volkmann told Walker, "Let's make a verbal contract. If something like this happens, I need to know, the chief needs to know. If it was a tactical error, they need to retrain."

On policing in general, Walker and Garriga had similar recommendations. Walker suggested "training some officers to smile once in a while," and Garriga said she "wanted police officers to be friendlier."

It is unclear what the outcome for the resolution will be. The committee did not take a vote to move the resolution to the full Council.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Defining the Economic Development Committee

Some of the Common Council committees have existed for a more than a hundred years. Council minutes for 1895 list three standing committees that continue to exist today: Finance, Fire, and Police.

Interestingly, the Legislation Committee, which I take to be the antecedent of the Legal Committee, was a special committee in 1895. Several of the committees that existed in 1895--Street, Burying Ground, Lamp, and Public Buildings--are now merged into one committee: Public Works. Other Common Council committees that exist today are of more recent origin--one of them being the Economic Development Committee. 

The Economic Development Committee was initiated in 2010 by Don Moore, who was then in his first term in office as Common Council president. Moore chaired the committee during his three terms as Council president. Recently, Gossips asked Moore what his understanding was of the committee's purpose when he created it and during the years he chaired it. This is what he said:
I formed an Economic Development Committee in 2010 to concentrate more on the city government's economic development opportunities. After consulting with Council members, the Mayor and the Hudson Development Corporation board, the benefits became apparent of a more active HDC, a very Hudson specific partner for the city in economic development, as did a regular forum for the Common Council to discuss where the city might put its energies in clarifying priorities, plans and strategies. The purpose was to stimulate practical economic development projects that could yield more diverse local business, jobs and tax revenue. These priorities were and always will be of a core concern of city government, as is the opportunity to regularly discuss potential developments with the public, welcome additions in carrying out the Council's evolving responsibilities.
For the first eight years of the committee's existence, there was an executive director of HDC, and a report from the executive director of HDC was a central feature of Economic Development Committee meetings. Since the departure of Sheena Salvino in August 2018, the purpose and goals of the committee and the structure of its meetings seem to be left up to the alderman who chairs the committee. 

At the first meeting of the Economic Development Committee in 2020, the committee's new chair Calvin Lewis (Third Ward) identified job creation as principal focus for the committee. There was discussion about groups and initiatives in Hudson that were already involved in job creation, and it was decided that representatives of these groups should be invited to the committee's next meeting to brief the aldermen on their work. This happened. At February 20 meeting of the Economic Development Committee, Carlee Drummer, the new president of Columbia-Greene Community College, was there talk about the college's economic impact on the area and a "gap analysis" study undertaken by C-GCC to identify where needs for workers exist and what associate degree programs might address the needs; John Lombardi, who heads up the Construction Technology Program at C-GCC, was there to talk about the program and its focus on historic preservation; Jay Neuschatz, representing the Hudson Business Coalition, was there to make the point that the positive change in Hudson has happened "because of the input of local entrepreneurs," to note that "a lot of expertise and experience has come into this town," and to ask how business owners, who feel disconnected from city government, can work better with City Hall; Randall Martin, now chair of the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, was there to talk about the HUD Section 3 program, which provides "training, employment, contracting, and other economic opportunities to low- and very low-income persons"; and Jeff Hunt, president of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, was there to talk about the workforce preparedness education and opportunities for internship offered by the Chamber.

All the presentations at the last week's Economic Development Committee meeting to share a common theme of job creation, with the exception of the first one. Betsy Miller, the marketer and publicist of PR4You, was there to pitch her ideas for "some kind of community involvement with places of worship." She cited Ed Cross's efforts on behalf of the old Shiloh Baptist Church building at 241 Columbia Street as the inspiration.

The three ideas Miller presented for consideration were a "Battle of the Choirs," an event in which gospel choirs performed ten-minute concerts in different churches throughout the city; "Church Lady Suppers," where each church would offer a tour of their building and a buffet banquet; and a walking tour of houses of worship for which the information about each site would be written by the people who worshiped there. The idea was to build on the walking tour of churches that was developed in 2017 by HDC and is available on the GeoTourist app.

The walking tour idea seemed to get traction with the members of the committee. Miller explained, "The idea is to get visitors to see more of the city." She offered to handle the organization and promotion of the event and conjectured, "I think it would be possible to do one of these this summer or fall." (At the beginning of the presentation, Miller made it clear that she was not doing this pro bono but was seeking to be paid for her services.) 

Committee member Jane Trombley (First Ward) urged that the tour should not be restricted to churches and commented, "Even the mosque that is under construction has a wonderful story." Eileen Halloran, also a member of the committee, opined, "This would be a correct use of some of the funds the Tourism Board has." Randall Martin suggested the project could be a "summer employment activity for youth." Halloran added, "They could get involved with the research. They could be the voice on the app."  Trombley asked, "How would we move forward from here?" Miller responded, "I would submit a full proposal." It would seem that is what will happen.

Meetings and Events in the Week Ahead

It's the final week of February, the start of daylight saving time is only two weeks away, and there is much to do in the next seven days.
  • On Monday, February 24, the Common Council Fire Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. and the Police Committee meets at 6:00 p.m. Both meetings take place at City Hall. Last Tuesday, the resolution to extend the intermunicipal agreement for the Shared Services Response Team was referred to the Police Committee, so at Monday's committee meeting it is expected that there will be talk about "militarized raids" and appeals for the police to be "guardians not warriors." It will be interesting to see if the new police commissioner Peter Volkmann will be at the meeting and what he will have to say about the Shared Services Response Team. 
  • On Tuesday, February 25, at 11 a.m., the Hudson IDA will hold a special meeting to hear a presentation from 620 Hudson House LLC to convert the former Home for the Aged at 620 Union Street into a 50-room hotel. The presentation is expected to include information about the incentives the group is seeking from the IDA. The meeting takes place at the offices of CEDC (Columbia Economic Development Corporation), One City Centre, Suite 301. The meeting will be livestreamed and can be viewed here.
  • Also on Tuesday, February 25, the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) meets at noon at 1 North Front Street. The HDC board is expected to continue its pursuit of new members, revisions to its bylaws, and a plan for the Kaz warehouse site.
  • At the end of the day on Tuesday, February 25, Christ Church Episcopal holds its annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper from 5 to 7 p.m. at 431 Union Street.  
  • On Wednesday, February 26, the Common Council Public Works and Parks Committee meets at 5:00 p.m. and the Legal Committee meets at 6:15 p.m. Both meetings take place at City Hall. The proposed law that would extend the mayor's term of office to four years was referred to the Legal Committee last Tuesday, so that will be added to the long-term agenda items: legislation to regulate short-term rentals and legislation to address the problem of substandard and nonexistent sidewalks in the city. 
  • On Thursday, February 27, the Hudson Community Incubator has its soft launch from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Barnfox, 320 Warren Street. 
  • On Friday, February 28, at 9:30 a.m., the Historic Preservation Commission holds a public hearing on the designation of the church building at 241 Columbia Street, originally the location of Shiloh Baptist Church, as a local landmark. The hearing takes place at City Hall.
At 10:00 a.m. on Friday, February 28, the Historic Preservation Commission holds its regular meeting. It is expected that the plans for expanding the Home for the Aged into a 50-room hotel will be presented to the commission at this meeting.
  • On Saturday, February 29, it's the third annual Oakdale Plunge. The Costume Contest, with celebrity judges, begins at noon, and soon thereafter the plunging commences. It all happens at Oakdale Lake, appropriately on Leap Day!

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Reminder: Deadline Today

If you want to submit comments about the draft request for expressions of interest in partnering with the City for the restoration and adaptive reuse of the Dunn warehouse, the deadline for submitting comments is today, Sunday, February 23.

The document can be accessed here. Comments should be submitted by email to mayor's aide Michael Chameides

Just Amazing

The Columbia County Board of Elections has this notice on its webpage.

Voters have to change their party enrollment months in advance if they want to vote in a primary. That is what is required by New York State election law. But similar rules seem not to apply to elected officials.

Late last night, Enid Futterman exposed something that Gossips also learned recently. 
UPDATE! Prior to the CCDC vote in favor of Martin, the voting members of the Democratic caucus numbered eleven. Kathy Eldridge, Greenport Town Supervisor and Independence Party member caucused with the Democrats but couldn’t vote with them until she changed her registration to the Democratic Party two days after the CCDC vote to recommend Martin’s reappointment. Had there been only eleven votes, Martin’s path to reversing the full BoS vote against her would have been a lot easier. She would have needed only six votes, not seven, and she already had four, and a probable fifth and sixth. (If you are wondering if Eldridge’s sudden desire to become a Democrat was tied to the commissioner vote, wonder no more. She changed back to the Independence Party once she was no longer needed to vote against Martin.)
Kathy Eldridge
Greenport Town Supervisor Kathy Eldridge changed her registration from Independence Party to Democrat to vote against Virginia Martin and then changed it back to Independence Party as soon as her vote was no longer needed. We're reminded of those Hudson aldermen who decided to "identify" as Working Families Party members in an effort to elect Rebecca Wolff as Council minority leader. There is no indication if they are still identifying as Working Families now that a different means of designating Wolff was adopted.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Happening Next Week

On Thursday, February 27, from 6 to 9 p.m., the Hudson Community Incubator is having a soft launch at Barnfox, 320 Warren Street. 

The invitation to the event on Facebook explains:
A group of us met at Future Hudson, and thought our town could benefit from having its own startup incubator. So we launched the Hudson Community Incubator (HCI).
For those unfamiliar with startup incubators, they are essentially resource centers for people looking to start and/or grow their business. We want this group to directly benefit locals the most, so we invite everyone to come out and share with us what HCI can do for your business.
The Hudson Community Incubator website tells more about the initiative's philosophy:
While Hudson has been positively branded as a great tourism destination, there is a lack of resources helping Hudson grow to become a sustainable and welcoming community to everyone. . . .
In an effort to secure Hudson's financial future the city needs to consider developing other pipelines of tax revenues to remain solvent and not be so reliant on tourism.
Our community and collaborative team work together to make a modern Renaissance workshop that feels more like a home than a tradition working space. With no hierarchies and boundaries, every person, project and company in HCI must be united to create a collective masterpiece. HCI is a big family and can be home for everyone who shares our mission.
Those interested in attending the soft launch of the Hudson Community Incubator on Thursday are asked to RSVP here. The event is sponsored by Pineapple Strategy, Octarine Consulting, Barnfox, and Lawrence Park.

More News from City Hall

In his veto message on the vacancy study yesterday, Mayor Kamal Johnson stated, "I believe there are better ways to address concerns over affordable housing in Hudson." This apparently is what he had in mind.

Galvan Initiatives Foundation announced yesterday their plans to build a four-story, 80-unit mixed-income building, to be dubbed 100 Depot Street, at the corner of State and Seventh streets. According to the Register-Star, "Mayor Kamal Johnson has been collaborating on the proposed project. . . ." The full report about the proposed project can be read here: "Galvan, mayor announce 80-unit apartment project."

Friday, February 21, 2020

News from City Hall

Today, Mayor Kamal Johnson vetoed the resolution passed by the Common Council on Tuesday authorizing a vacancy study to determine the city's eligibility for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. In his veto message, Johnson explained:
Based upon a preliminary inventory of rent regulated housing stock prepared for the Housing Task Force in approximately 2018, an estimated 21% of Hudson's residents are already living in low-income, permanently affordable, rent regulated housing.
Specifically, most buildings with 6 or more units built before 1974 or financed with federal or state subsidies are already rent regulated/stabilized e.g. Bliss, Terraces, Providence, Terraces, Crosswinds, leaving only a handful of buildings that might be eligible for rent stabilization. Based on these numbers it is all but assured that Hudson's vacancy rate is far higher than the 5% required for participation in the ETPA program.
Accordingly, I cannot justify authorizing the expenditure of $15,000 not budgeted or planned for in the 2020 City Budget to document what we already know. I believe there are better ways to address concerns over affordable housing in Hudson and I am willing to work with the Council on this issue but cannot support this ill-advised use of taxpayer money.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Of Interest

Earlier today, the Daily Freeman reported the outcome of the vacancy study done in Kingston, which reportedly cost $33,000, to determine the city's eligibility for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act: "Kingston not eligible for rent control at this time, study finds." A resolution to conduct a similar study in Hudson was passed by the Common Council on Tuesday night with dissenting votes from Jane Trombley (First Ward), Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward), and Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward). 

The Future of the Dunn

The draft request for expressions of interest for the Dunn warehouse, which was presented to the DRI Committee by Chris Round of Chazen Companies on Tuesday afternoon and shared with the members of the Common Council on Tuesday evening, is available for review by the public at the City of Hudson website. To access it, click here

Comments on the document can be submitted by email to mayoral aide, Michael Chameides Comments must be submitted by Sunday, February 23.

Special Meeting Next Week

The Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency) is holding a special meeting on Tuesday, February 25, at 11:00 a.m., to hear a presentation from 620 Hudson House LLC to convert the former Home for the Aged at 620 Union Street into a 50-room hotel. The presentation is expected to include information about the incentives the group is seeking from the IDA. 

The IDA meetings now take place at the offices of Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), One Hudson City Centre, Suite 301.

Why Are These Still Here?

This question was raised by a reader recently, and it has occurred to Gossips to wonder more than once. Why are there still public phones around the city?

The one on Front Street, in front of the Chamber of Commerce, has been vandalized and is completely unusable. The handset is missing! The ones next to the First Presbyterian Church and in front of City Hall are magnets for graffiti. The only one that looks like it might still be functioning is the one on Union Street near the courthouse, but it's unclear if anyone ever uses it.

In this day and age, when everyone carries a cell phone, it seems there is little need for public telephones. But what would it take to get rid of them?

Update: We are not alone. After reading this post, Alderman Dominic Merante sent me the link to an article about abandoned and nonfunctioning payphones that appeared in USA Today on November 3, 2014: "Forgotten payphone relics no talk, no action." It seems the first step in getting rid of them is establishing who owns them.

Watch for Yourself

Unfortunately, the first eighteen minutes are missing because of technical issues, but Dan Udell's videotape of the remaining forty-six minutes of Tuesday night's Common Council meeting is now available on YouTube.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Tourism Board Is Complete

Last night, the Common Council passed the resolution appointing its choices to the new Tourism Board: Hannah Black, Selha Graham, Sidney Long, and Kate Treacy. Today, Mayor Kamal Johnson announced his appointments to the board: Tamar Adler, Chris McManus, Kristan Keck, and Filiz Soyak. More can be learned about the mayor's choices here. Only two of the members of the new Tourism Board served on the previous board: Kristan Keck, who was appointed by Mayor Rick Rector in May 2018, and Sidney Long, who was appointed to the Tourism Board by the Common Council in September 2019. 

620 Union Watch

It was anticipated that the plan to convert 620 Union Street, the former Home for the Aged, into a fifty-room hotel would come before the Zoning Board of Appeals tonight for the needed area variances. That did not happen.

Gossips learned that the application had been withdrawn, and the plan would be presented at the ZBA's March meeting, scheduled to take place on Wednesday, March 18. It is expected that the ZBA will hold a public hearing on the application at its April meeting. 

It's Always Something

Almost exactly a year ago, Gossips shared the news that a company called Wheelabrator Technologies was proposing to create a landfill for ash from burning trash in an abandoned quarry near Smith's Landing. Fortunately, three months later, in May 2019, that plan was abandoned.  

Now, something else of questionable desirability is being proposed for across the river, this time for the waterfront in the village of Athens: a construction and demolition debris processing facility. The story appeared yesterday on HudsonValley360: "C&D project proposed for Athens waterfront." 

Highlights from Last Night's Council Meeting

There were all of twenty-five resolutions and three local laws on the agenda for last night's Common Council meeting, but amazingly the meeting took less than an hour. Dan Udell was there to document the entire meeting. Gossips will only touch on the highlights of the meeting.

Among the communications was the resignation, for health reasons, of Wes Powell as dog control officer for Hudson. Powell's resignation is effective on March 1, 2020. Powell has come under scrutiny and criticism in the past couple of years from Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who believes he did not spend enough time in Hudson to merit the $7,200 the City paid him. Council president Tom DePietro said last night that he had asked city clerk Tracy Delaney to speak with neighboring municipalities about their dog control officers, with the idea that one of them might also serve Hudson. Garriga said she had someone in mind for the job. Alderman Dominic Merante (Fifth Ward) pointed out that the City has, by state law, thirty days to find a new dog control officer.

The resolution supporting the sale of the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets passed with only two dissenting votes--from Alderman Eileen Halloran (Fifth Ward) and Merante. Since the informal meeting last week, the resolution was amended to define affordable housing as "housing costing 30 percent of area medium income." It is assumed that "area medium income" means "area median income," but it is unclear if the "area" is Columbia County, where, according to U.S. census data, the median household income in 2018 was $63,032, or the City of Hudson, where, according to the same source, the median household income in 2018 was $35,153. If the former, apartments could rent for $1,575 a month; if the latter, the rent could only be $878 a month. Before casting her no vote, Halloran questioned the wisdom of authorizing the sale. "We are doing a resolution to study vacancy, and we are already authorizing a sale of property." Garriga told her they were not selling it but rather, "We are claiming it for affordable housing."    

The resolution to do a vacancy study of buildings that would qualify for rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act--that is, buildings with six or more units that were built before 1974--also passed. The goal of the study would be determine if there was a less than 5 percent vacancy rate in those buildings. Before casting her aye vote, Garriga read a written statement challenging her colleagues, which concluded, "If you are for affordable housing and housing justice, show it." The resolution passed with three dissenting votes: Alderman Jane Trombley (First Ward), Halloran, and Merante. 

Two resolutions were passed affecting the makeup of the Hudson IDA (Industrial Development Agency). The IDA board has up until this point been made up only of ex officio members: the mayor, the Council majority and minority leaders, the city treasurer, the assessor, and the chair of the Planning Board. The first resolution passed last night appointed Richard Wallace as the first and only community member of the IDA. The second appointed John Cody, a member of the Planning Board, to take the place of Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow on the IDA.

February meeting of the IDA
There were also two resolutions passed relating to the City's DRI projects. The first authorized the mayor to execute a contract with Starr Whitehouse for renovations and improvements to Promenade Hill. The second authorized the mayor to execute a contract with Arterial + Street Plans for connectivity and street improvements in the BRIDGE District. It is expected that once these contracts are in place, public engagement for both projects will begin.

Last night, the Council also passed a resolution to bring back The Grant Writers, now known as TGW Consulting.

Bill Roehr and John "Duke" Duchessi had been grant consultants for the City of Hudson since around 2004, but in the summer of 2017, it was decided that their contract with the City would not be renewed. LaBerge Group was chosen to replace them, but the aldermen have not been happy with LaBerge. 

When the resolution to hire TGW Consulting was introduced, Alderman John Rosenthal asked, "Why are we bringing them back?" Council president Tom DePietro explained that the mayor had interviewed three grant consulting firms--TGW, LaBerge, and Chazen Companies--and had chosen TGW. DePietro attributed past difficulties with TGW to their role as a shared resource with HDC and HCDPA and said they had promised to make presentations to the Economic Development Committee, adding "but they will not be accompanied by Sheena Salvino [former executive director of HDC and HCDPA]." Alderman Rebecca Wolff (First Ward) alleged there were "problems with some of the grant writing that happened," citing problematic language in the DRI application. DePietro told Wolff that TGW had nothing to do with the DRI application, but Wolff insisted, "I've heard some stuff," and cast the only no vote on the resolution. 

The Council also voted unanimously to increase the fees for parking meters along Warren Street. Soon a quarter inserted into a meter on Warren Street will buy 30 minutes instead of an hour, but the maximum time that can be purchased before the meter "expires" will remain two hours.

A resolution to extend the intermunicipal agreeement for the controversial Shared Services Response Team was, at the request of Garriga, referred to the Police Committee, which meets next Monday at 6:00 p.m.

Of the local laws, the Council voted to enact the moratorium on new short-term rental units and to move forward on defunding the Toursim Board. At the insistence of Garriga, who said, "This just came out of nowhere," the proposed law extending the mayor's term of office to four years was referred to the Legal Committee. At the end of the meeting, Garriga spoke about a city mayor and said she wanted the Council to research having a city manager instead of extending the mayor's term. Might this be an idea whose time has come?

Toward the end of the meeting, DePietro noted that he had distributed copies of the draft request for expressions of interest in the Dunn warehouse to the members of the Council and asked that they review it and submit comments to mayor's aide, Michael Chameides. It is not known when or if the public will get to see this document.