Sunday, May 31, 2020

Catching Up With the DRI

The DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) Committee maintains it is not subject to open meetings law, so although before the COVID-19 State of Emergency the public could attend the committee's meetings, the meetings now happen as conference calls with no provision for the public to hear or participate in those calls. The only way to keep up with what is happening is to read the summaries of those meetings when they are posted on the City of Hudson website, which happens regularly but not in a very timely fashion. In the past day, the meeting summary for a meeting that took place on May 20 was finally made available. The most compelling news contained in the summary has to do with the Dunn warehouse.

Sometime in March, the DRI Committee issued a request for expression of interest in developing the Dunn warehouse for adaptive reuse. Proposals were due on April 10, and it seems that only one proposal was received--from Bonacio Construction in Saratoga Springs. Bonacio was one of the three developers that submitted proposals for the Kaz site in 2018. A sense of the company and its work may be achieved by visiting its website and by reading this article about the company's founder that appeared last year in Saratoga Living: "Sonny Bonacio, President of Bonacio Construction, Wants to Make Saratoga 'Cool Again.'"

The meeting summary for the DRI Committee's May 6 meeting reports:
The Committee decided to advance discussions with Bonacio, which does not represent a commitment, but will assist in getting an idea of what is possible at the site and further the City's relationship with this firm.
The meeting summary of the most recent meeting of the DRI Committee, which took place on May 20, reports that several members of the committee (Michael Chameides, Rob Perry, Tom DePietro, Peter Bujanow, along with Chris Round and Caren LoBrutto of Chazen) had a conference call with two representatives of Bonacio on May 13. The meeting summary notes:
During the call, Bonacio expressed interest in the project, but wanted greater clarification on how this project fits with other development and revitalization efforts being undertaken in this part of the City. In particular, they inquired as to the status of the KAZ project noting that this project and the completion of the Ferry Street Bridge project would be critical in addition to other projects to the successful transformation of the waterfront area.  
It is reported that during the call Bonacio also expressed interest in the City-owned parcels north of the Dunn warehouse and, in a follow-up call, "explained that the additional parcels would be needed to round out the Dunn redevelopment site and make a potential investment viable."

Back in 1996, before Henry Hudson Riverfront Park existed, the Vision Plan imagined a nearly solid row of buildings along the east side of Water Street, but more recent thinking has tended toward expanding the green public space of the park rather than constructing buildings. If memory serves, the buildings proposed in the 1996 Vision Plan were mixed used commercial and residential. 

The DRI Committee seems willing to act on Bonacio's assessment that developing the additional parcels is critical to the successful redevelopment of the Dunn warehouse. The meeting summary reports:
The committee decided to 1) Approach the City Council regarding potential redevelopment of the City-owned properties. 2) Pending the outcome of 1) Peter and Chris will solicit responses from firms previously contacted where there was no response/interest and inform them of the potential for redevelopment of the additional parcels. . . . 
Among the "Next Steps" listed in the meeting summary is this: "Michael Chameides to approach the City Council on the appetite to redevelopment [sic] the three City-owned parcels north of Dunn." If this has happened since May 20, it has not happened in any public manner. The next meeting of the DRI Committee, to take place as a conference call, is scheduled for this coming Wednesday, June 3.


  1. Is it a surprise to learn that government claims immunity from transparency?

    Because the City is expected to pony up DRI project funds with taxpayer money on the faith that completed projects will be reimbursed by the state, is it really credible that these same taxpayers are excluded from the proceedings?

  2. Meanwhile, a project awarded a modest grant in the DRI thanks to public enthusiasm expressed throughout the DRI workshops is being snuffed out by the same city officials who for ten years have repeatedly tried and failed to destroy the historic resource in question.

    As the DRI “Fishing Village” project is now reassessed far from the public’s view, the meeting notes show that these same individuals who disregard the DRI workshops (in which they didn’t participate) are commandeering the conversation and poisoning the ears of their fellow committee members.

    Without public access to the process, the Committee is free to make decisions on the basis of these few members’ prejudice and ignorance alone.

    The notes reveal that the DRI Committee has the flimsiest understanding of the local and state laws and requirements regarding the proposal. In fact, we who proposed the project had already researched all the legal requirements years ago, and then incorporated them into the project’s expectations.

    But the meeting notes reveal that between May 6 and May 20, the Committee had made no progress understanding the state’s permitting process, and even made claims which betrayed the member’s ignorance of the City Code.

    Unfortunately, the good-faith members of the Committee don’t grasp the intentions of the few bad eggs among them who’ll do everything they can to prevent the project going forward. Such an outcome is only possible thanks to the secrecy of the meetings.

    In the meeting notes from May 6, the same attorney who opposed us since 2009 observed that the fishing shacks ”appeared to be in bad shape/condition.” But on what basis does she make that claim? Is she now a building inspector too? Is it on the basis of her opinion that she goes on and on about liability issues?

    For his part, the city’s building inspector submitted an appraisal after he was misled about the project’s objectives. Despite Chris Round’s (Chazen’s) good effort to address the misunderstanding in the notes from May 6, that same appraisal remains the Committee’s only site analysis vis-à-vis the City Code. (The inspection was based on the erroneous assumption that the shacks must satisfy “occupancy” standards.)

    Had there been public access to the process, these shenanigans would have been stopped in their tracks.

    Instead, even though the May 6 notes state that “the Committee decided to move forward with further research,” the May 20 notes reveal the Committee’s astonishing discovery that the cost of repairs to the shacks is greater than the cost of demolishing them. What a breakthrough.

    It was in that context that the Committee discussed “how the NYS DOS indicated the DRI grant money could be moved around among other DRI projects.”

    While no one’s able to see, the DRI Committee is preparing to cannibalize the proposal!

    Lastly in the May 20 notes: “5) Set a demolition date.”

    Having exploited the virus lockdown to shield their actions from public view, the DRI meeting notes reveal that the same individuals who have always hated the shacks and their former occupants are now bending the ears, and the process, of our newer officials. They are achieving privately what their visible efforts failed to accomplish in more than a decade of bad faith efforts.

    1. WOW. Amazing - yet unfortunately not surprising - piece of research !