Once upon a time, 317 Allen Street was the dream house of Morgan Jones, a young man who had inherited a fortune from his father's manufactured soap company. Jones, who was born in Pittsfield, graduated from Williams College in 1901. He had traveled in Europe, and the buildings he saw there shaped his taste in architecture. In 1903, Jones commissioned the architect Marcus Reynolds, a fellow Williams alumnus ten years Jones's senior, to design a house for him to be built in Hudson. The Jacobean and Dutch inspired mansion, which was completed in 1906, is thought by many to be Reynolds's richest and most successful design.
Fleming of Buffalo to design the gardens for the house, which extended back toward Willard Park.
Around 2002, after the Martin Residence had ceased to exist, Eric Galloway, then operating as Lihtan Inc., purchased the property. He owned it for only a couple of years, but during that time he demolished the institutional wing on the building and subdivided the property--separating the carriage house from the main house and making the southern end of the property into a separate lot. On that lot, two houses, of different sizes but of nearly identical Greek Revival design, were constructed.
The problem was that the two houses did not have access to the street that passed in front of them. There was a strip of land, an embankment, separating them from the paved roadway. That strip of land was part of Willard Park, the cul de sac which had been deeded to the City of Hudson in 1969 when Willard Place, originally a private street, became a public street. To remedy this problem, Galloway requested the right to buy the land from the City. The price was arbitrarily set at $3,000, and in August 2004, the Common Council voted unanimously to sell the property to him. Don Christensen, who then owned 8 Willard Place, across the park from the two houses, sued the City for selling parkland, which cannot be sold without an act of the state legislature. Gossips has told the story of Christensen's legal battle with the City elsewhere, but the upshot was that the parcel of land was sold with covenants to ensure the parcel would remain intact and green, and the stairs installed in the slope would provide access to both houses.
Fast forward to 2021. On April 9, a proposal came before the Historic Preservation Commission from the new owner of 9 Willard Place, the larger of the two houses.
The proposal involves replacing the wooden balustrade on the upper balcony with a decorative wrought metal balustrade, removing the balustrade from the porch and replacing the stairs with stairs that extend the width of the building, moving the stairs that lead down to the street to line up with the entrance to the house, and carving out a space in the embankment for offstreet parking.
The HPC reviewed the proposal on April 9, during a meeting whose agenda included fourteen certificate of appropriateness applications, and decided to approve it. The final vote on the certificate of appropriateness was to happen this past Friday, but attorney William Hurst, representing the owner of 10 Willard Place, the smaller of the two houses, intervened. He asserted that restrictions put in place by the City when the parcel was sold to Galloway in 2004 would be violated by the plans being proposed. He explained that the lots on which the two houses are sited were, at the time of their construction, a single parcel. When they were subdivided, the 163-square-foot parcel of parkland sold to Galloway by the City was appended to 9 Willard Place, but it was still subject to all the constraints put in place when the parcel was sold in 2004. Hurst stated that the intent of the conditions imposed by the City was to hide parking behind the houses and not have it encroach on Willard Park to "preserve and protect the historic character of the cul de sac." He concluded, "This information should lead to a denial [of a certificate of appropriateness]."
HPC member John Schobel asked, "Was parking presented to us?" Responding to Schobel's question, Victoria Polidoro, counsel to the HPC, said that offstreet parking was mentioned in the application, but it was not presented to the HPC. She advised, "If the restriction was imposed by the City, the HPC must abide by it."
Phil Forman, who chairs the HPC, opined, "This is something that is not quite appropriate for us," and recommended that further consideration of the application be deferred until the HPC's next meeting, which will take place on Friday, May 14.
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