Sunday, December 6, 2020

Friday Morning with the HPC

Two projects of interest came before the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday morning: Promenade Hill and 241 Columbia Street. 

The plans for Promenade Hill appear not to have changed significantly from what was presented to the Common Council in October. The only change seems to be the addition of picnic tables in the play area and on the historic upper Promenade.  

Gail Wittwer-Laird from Starr Whitehouse, who was presenting the project to the HPC, noted that the budget was inadequate to address the whole site, so Phase I will focus on improvements to the lower plaza, primarily to provide universal access to the promenade, a significant feat in itself, since the grade change from the street to Promenade Hill is 14.5 feet. Wittwer-Laird also noted that the current plaza, with its badly patched paving and maze of meaningless retaining walls, was "not a suitable front door to the historic promenade."

Starr Whitehouse is currently getting cost estimates on stone. Some stone block seating is being proposed, as well as bluestone treads and curbing for the stairs. Wittwer-Laird suggested that concessions may have to be made with the materials for budget reasons, for example, using poured concrete and concrete unit pavers instead of natural stone. The HPC was concerned about the need to make budget concessions to a public space that Wittwer-Laird called "a Hudson piazza," and HPC member John Schobel suggested money might be raised from private sources to ensure the desired materials were used.

Because the materials have not been determined, the HPC could not grant a certificate of appropriateness to the plans for Promenade Hill, but they did give approval to the concept. A public hearing was tentatively scheduled for Friday, January 8, at which time it is expected that the issues of budget and materials will have been resolved, and the HPC will have the specific information needed to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

The proposed restoration of 241 Columbia Street was also before the HPC in Friday. It will be remembered that the owner of the building, Victoria Milne, said she would sell it if it was designated a local landmark, but it would seem she has had a change of heart. Interestingly, although the building was granted historic designation because it was the original house of worship for Shiloh Baptist Church, Milne has chosen to call the project "Columbia Lodge," acknowledging its use as the headquarters of Mount Carmel Lodge after Shiloh Baptist Church moved to the former synagogue on Warren Street in 1967.

As part of a weatherization project approved by the HPC in September, the vestibule, which was rotting and not original to the building, was removed. Now a certificate of appropriateness is being sought to do five things to the building:
  1. Lower the front entry door.
  2. Move the basement door to the left.
  3. Install windows in the cupola in the openings where there are now louvres. 
  4. Add a greenhouse at the rear, which will provide ADA access to the building.
  5. Cover the stucco base of the building with wood siding.
Of the five things proposed, the HPC seemed to have no problem with greenhouse at the back. Chip Bohl, architect member of the HPC, commented that moving the entry doors "is not respecting the design, but it works." He was concerned, however, about covering the stucco foundation with wood and recommended restoring the stucco, commenting, "The aspiration of verticality is confused by the siding." Bohl was primarily concerned with the windows in the cupola. He suggested that if windows were installed they be covered with louvres. He also suggested that a second basement door be added at the right to maintain symmtery.

Regarding covering the stucco with wood siding, HPC member Miranda Barry commented, "Part of the history of this building is that it is a simple aspirational building build in a kind of impossible spot." The high exposed foundation is testament to that.

Milne admitted that she was "on the fence" about the wood siding over the stucco, noting that "cladding the masonry humanizes the basement and makes it feel less like a clammy basement." She told the HPC that she felt strongly about the glass in the cupola and spoke of "celebrating one big gesture in this humble building." She also noted that louvres were used for temperature control and the windows proposed, which could be opened and closed remotely, would similarly be passive temperature management.

HPC member Hugh Biber spoke in support of the windows in the cupola, saying they would not only bring light into the interior but also emit light at night.

After the presentation, HPC chair Phil Forman allowed comments from three members of the public--Ronald Kopnicki, Matt McGhee, and Christabel Gough, the three people who have been the most outspoken and eloquent advocates for the historic significance of this building. Kopnicki requested that there be a public hearing before the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness. McGhee protested that moving the basement door violates the original design of the building and suggested there was a window on the side of the building that could be converted into a door to the basement. He called lowering the entry door "an unfortunate move" and argued there was no code requirement that made it necessary to move the door. He suggested the stucco on the foundation be removed to reveal the local stone beneath. He too called for a public hearing. Gough wanted more detailed drawings of the front of the building as proposed.

Bohl raised the question of whether the applicant wanted concept approval or construction approval for the greenhouse. Forman noted that a "higher level of specs" would be needed before the HPC could consider granting a certificate of appropriateness. "We'll figure out the public hearing when they get more specificity." Milne argued that the meeting was a public hearing because members of the public had been permitted to speak. There was some talk of scheduling a public hearing on January 8, but code enforcement officer Craig Haigh said, "I don't know why a public hearing is even being discussed; it is an incomplete application." In the end, it was decided that the project would come back to the HPC at its next meeting on December 18.


  1. I don't get it. If the point of historic preservation is preservation, why can't projects be judged, first and foremost, on their ability to preserve the buildings' architectural history.

  2. My apologies for not giving credit to Ronald Kopnicki, Matt McGhee, and Christabel Gough for trying to do what I had suggested the HPC should do.

  3. Any large stones placed or stacked is an invitation for children etc. to climb and explore with a good possiblity for personal injury resulting in lawsuit to Hudson City and all other parties involved in the bad design.
    Let's keep the entrance simple.
    Park and entrance benches similar to NYC central park.
    May I suggest the entrance circle contain a ground level fountain with jets of water shooting towards its center. Basic plantings should include Dutch bulbs.
    I would like to see fountain each paver include the name of an individual Proprietor on the circumference too. I could not attend previous mags due to employment.
    As always thank you gossips for your great blog and energy, but most of all allowing me to add in my two cents.