Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Transformation with Little Information

Last night, at the Common Council meeting, Hudson resident Ronald Kopnicki complained about the lack of transparency surrounding the DRI Committee and its efforts to implement the four city projects funded by the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Before the pandemic canceled all public meetings, DRI Committee meetings were open to the public. They are now being carried out in conference calls, to which the public has no access. Meeting summaries are posted on the City of Hudson website, often a week or more after the meeting occurs, and because meetings of the DRI Committee no longer appear on the city calendar, monitoring the meetings and their progress is a challenging task. Today, for example, there is a meeting of the DRI Committee, to take place by conference call, at 2:30 p.m., but the only way someone would know about it is by looking at the meeting summary for the meeting that took place on June 3.  

Last night, Council president Tom DePietro, who is a member of the DRI Committee, told Kopnicki he didn't know why the meetings ceased to be public. He then asked Jeff Baker, counsel to the Council, for an opinion. Baker said, "The DRI Committee cannot take any action, so it is not subject to open meetings law." Let's consider that statement in light of some of the things the DRI Committee has done, in particular regarding the Dunn warehouse.

For years, there has been an ongoing but inconclusive discussion of the best adaptive reuse of the Dunn warehouse, one of the last remaining historic structures on the Hudson waterfront. In all those discussions, one thing seemed very clear: people wanted the building to have some public use, something that would benefit and be accessible to everyone in the city. Even the notion that part of the building might be a wine bar with outdoor seating was pooh-poohed by some who felt a wine bar was too exclusive and elitist. The idea of developing the Dunn warehouse or any part of the area adjacent to Henry Hudson Riverfront Park for housing was never suggested much less embraced.

Back in February 2020, when the DRI Committee was getting ready to draft a request for expression of interest for the Dunn warehouse, Chris Round, the consultant from Chazen Companies who chairs the DRI Committee, asked about housing. He said that, in the past, housing had not been identified as one of the desired uses of the Dunn building, and asked if that were still the case. Mayor's aide, Michael Chameides expressed the opinion that all possibilities should be considered. As a consequence, the REI gives no direction about the desired uses of the building, beyond saying: "The City's goal is to activate the space with uses that will complement the City's current improvements to the BRIDGE district as part of the City's DRI."

The REI (request for expression of interest) was issued at the beginning of March. Responses were due on April 10, and the only one received came from Bonacio Construction in Saratoga Springs, which seems to do far more residential development than commercial development. On May 13, several members of the DRI Committee had a conference call with two representatives of Bonacio. During that call, Bonacio expressed interest also in the three City-owned parcels north of the Dunn warehouse. In a follow-up call, Bonacio "explained that the additional parcels would be needed to round out the Dunn redevelopment site and make a potential investment viable."

Last night, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to issue "an expanded request for expression of interest" for the Dunn warehouse and the three parcels north of the site--everything east of Water Street, from Broad Street to Ferry Street.

Although many have had the fantasy that riverfront park might be expanded to include the land east of Water Street, now essentially a giant parking lot, conceptual planning exercises seem always to put buildings there. The 1996 Vision Plan did.

So did the feasibility study on the Dunn warehouse done by Saratoga Associates in 2015.

Although the idea of populating the waterfront with buildings is not new among planners, one wonders at what point the people of Hudson will get a chance to weigh in on what's being considered by the DRI Committee for the waterfront.


  1. Those parcels are City parkland. Or City garden land. Or barren gravel patches people park on to watch the sunset.

    What they are not, and should never be, are development parcels. Water Street will be the water line before then next set of PILOTs expire. City Hall, don't sell out our Waterfront, Poughkeepsie we are not.

    1. In 2013, city officials who are now intimately involved with the DRI process argued to transform those Water Street gravel lots into public lawns.

      That sounded all wonderful and green, except what they really wanted to do was to restrict parking on Water Street and boost the idea of a marina and parking lot at the 4.4 acres. (Thus the requirement of the Holcim land transfer which later fell through).

      At that same time, two city officials who were eager to advance the marina idea in any way possible misrepresented the history and the circumstances of the southern acreage in their SEQR Environmental Assessment Form. That was a Class D felony for false filing, but NYS Attorney General Schneiderman gave them a pass.


  2. “[Jeff] Baker said, ‘The DRI Committee cannot take any action, so it is not subject to open meetings law.’"

    Is Mr. Baker speaking on behalf of the DRI Committee, or is any attorney’s opinion sufficient as long as the desired opacity is achieved?

    Speaking of the Fishing Village project alone, we only learn from the meeting notes how the Committee continually adds new expenses to the original proposal, the latest being a $7200 charge to remove several concrete pads which the DPW was prepared to do on its own in 2015.

    These decisions made by persons unknown (!) are deliberate. They’re designed to bleed the project dry, but whatever you, do not call that an “action.”

    So if the Committee really is committing no “action” as attorney Baker has explained, then I wonder what he’d say of the following:

    “The comprehensive definitions of the Open Meetings Law essentially mean that any group organized to perform a governmental function must make all of its meetings open to the public and must give proper notice of such meetings. The statute defines a meeting’, not by the nomenclature attached to it, but by the facts: any time a public body gathers for the purpose of conducting public business (regardless of whether the body intends to take any action) the proceeding must be convened open to the public.”

  3. I don't like the sound of all that at all. It reminds me of prior days when everything was behind 'closed doors' and one had to write a letter to the council president with one's question in advance to be able to speak at a meeting. Is history starting to repeat itself? Covid is a good excuse. Thanks for staying on top of things, Gossips.