Thursday, July 15, 2021

Another Chapter for the William Ball Place

At the Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, the board heard a proposal to convert 258-260 State Street, which Gossips discovered was once known as the "William F. Ball place," into eight apartments--four studio apartments for short-term rental on the first floor and four market rate apartments for long-term rental on the upper two floors.

Among the changes proposed for the building are replacing the original slate on the mansard roof with asphalt shingles; replacing the vinyl siding with something whose description sounded like Hardiplank; replacing the double hung windows with black casement windows; transforming the corner commercial entrance, discovered under the vinyl siding in 2018, into something described as a "Juliet balcony" for the apartment to be created in that space. 

Aside from the fact the Hudson's recently adopted short-term rental law (§ 325-28.3) prohibits the four short-term rental units being proposed (there can be no more than three in a building, and the owner must reside there), the Planning Board had other issues with what was proposed. Planning Board member Larry Bowne told the applicant, who was an engineer representing the owners, "Everything you are describing removes what is important." He went on to advise, "Tell your client they are doing a bad thing. . . . Following the parameters of historic preservation is the right thing to do." He identified what's proposed for the windows and the mansard roof as "most egregious." The applicant responded, "The owner wants something modern."

In his comments about the proposal, Bowne wondered why the entire city wasn't designated a historic district. Those of us who have been around for a while know why all of the south side of the city is designated and most of the north side is not. It has nothing to do historic preservation advocates valuing the vernacular architecture on the north side less. It has everything to do with the pushback historic preservation has experienced in Hudson over the years. 

Hudson's historic preservation law, Chapter 169 of the city code, was first adopted in May 2003. It took a great deal of work and consensus building on the part of one alderman at the time, Judy Meyer, with support from Historic Hudson, to get it done. The Historic Preservation Commission, created by the law, started out by designating individually all the historic firehouses, which at that time were in the process of being sold. In May 2004, the HPC created the Willard Place Historic District. When the HPC went to designate the Columbia County Courthouse and 400 State Street as individual landmarks, there were letters of protest from the then chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors and the then superintendent of schools (400 State Street was owned by Hudson City School District at the time). Strangely, both letters were worded exactly alike. It was then clear that the elected officials of Hudson had read the law and realized that Chapter 169 in its original form gave the Historic Preservation Commission the power to designate individual buildings and districts, without the say so of the mayor or the Common Council. The law was suspended.

There was fear that the preservation ordinance, then suspended, would be rescinded altogether, and in the winter of 2004–2005, the Preservation League of New York State worked with the HPC and Historic Hudson to assemble a panel of preservation advocates, including representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to make the case for historic preservation to the public and the Common Council at a gathering that took place in the central hall of the still partially restored Hudson Opera House. The effort succeeded, and instead of being rescinded, the law was "amended in its entirety" and reenacted in June 2005. One of the most significant changes in the law was that the HPC no longer had the power to designate landmarks or historic districts. It could only make recommendations to the Common Council, and it was the Council that made the designations.

Given how controversial the preservation law was proving to be, the HPC followed the recommended best practice of designating first areas of the city where the majority of property owners looked favorably upon historic designation--indeed, considered it desirable for their neighborhoods. The Rossman Avenue/Prospect Avenue Historic District was designated in February 2006; the Warren Street Historic District and the Armory Historic District were designated in April 2006; the Union–Allen–South Front Street Historic District, which encompasses just about everything south of Warren Street, was designated in December 2006. All of the current historic districts, with the exception of Willard Place, were designated in 2006, when there was a Common Council in place that supported historic preservation. 

The plan was to start with the neighborhoods that embraced historic preservation and move on from there. In early 2007, the HPC received a Preserve NY grant from the Preservation League to do an inventory of properties on the north side of Hudson, a necessary prelude to designating northside neighborhoods. That inventory was completed by respected local historian Ruth Piwonka later that year, but owing to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and a change of leadership on the HPC, the document was never used as it was intended to be: to support the creation of new historic districts on the north side of town.

In February 2011, Historic Hudson initiated an effort to make Robinson Street a historic district. The effort was notoriously unsuccessful. The heated opposition and acrimony encountered by this initiative is reported here and here by Gossips. 

Photo: Peter Frank|Historic Hudson
Since 2011, only one new designation has been made: the church building in the 200 block of Columbia Street, constructed from 1920 to 1924, that was the original Shiloh Baptist Church. The building was designated a local landmark earlier this year. Interestingly, former Second Ward supervisor Ed Cross, who was most strident in his opposition to historic designation for Robinson Street, was equally strident in his demand that the church building be designated a local landmark. 

Perhaps what is now being proposed for 260 State Street will persuade people that it is time to afford some protection to the historic structures on the north side of town and may motivate individual property owners and the HPC to pursue historic designation for those neighborhoods.


  1. I have said it before,make the 2 sq miles of Hudson a Historical District and work backwards.New building owners should be made aware of what they are getting into when they buy in Hudson. Some realtors are bad actors in property selling. Hudson can not have different rules for different owners.If you want histotic,then keep it history, and issue plenty of enforceable fines.Enlarge the code enforcement staff and make the property owners pay and pay.

  2. A good historic recap, Gossips. Good to refresh memories and also inform those who don't know. It was a long battle to achieve what has been achieved but it was unfortunate that the HPC lost it's teeth when the decision was made to hand the power of designation to the Common Council. But at least we do have a Historic Preservation Law. And new owners should be held to it, which indeed the Commission has tried to do. I mostly applaud their diligence. Now is the time to go after designation for the rest of the town.

  3. “Owner wants something modern”?
    Why didn’t they buy something modern?

  4. How about starting a Historic Preservation Fund to help people pay for the way you think their buildings should look. Historic preservation is incredibly expensive and not everyone who owns property in Hudson is wealthy. Not yet anyway! And yes, educate potential buyers about what they are getting into.

    1. Historic preservation is NOT necessarily "incredibly expensive." There are historic tax credits and other opportunities to help with costs.

  5. While I certainly agree that historic preservation is an important and laudable goal, I sympathize with property owners who have to endure a sometimes very long and expensive process to restore buildings. This does put a number of properties out of reach for first-time homebuyers, and well as low-to-middle income households who wish to be a part of the Hudson community.

    Working with HPC to try to streamline the process, identifying grant opportunities for property owners, encouraging business development that might lower the cost of historic rehabilitation without sacrificing quality (with the added benefit of generating jobs and developing Hudson's local economy) or incentivizing new homeowner development that doesn't have such stringent requirements and might be more accessible to those without deep pockets would all help, individually or in concert, to solve these problems.

    Sadly, I have faith neither in the Common Council as it is currently run nor the Mayor's office to execute any of these plans effectively.

    As to Mr. Bowne's opining on the appropriateness of the suggested changes (and with the caveat that I'm pulling this from the post above and might be missing some context)-it is certainly his right as an individual and as a member of the Hudson community to express himself and his opinions freely. As a Planning Board member in a Planning Board meeting on a Planning Board issue, the Hudson community might be better served if adjudication was kept to the issues relevant to the application. This building isn't in a historic district, and it's unfair to the applicant to treat them as though they bought the property with such expected encumbrances. Still, if the thing needed to be said, at least the message got out there.

  6. I know when I think "modern" I think of asphalt shingles. What's next? Aluminum siding?

  7. Replace the slate?? Unless the stone is deteriorating overall, no, please! If a scattering of shingles are damaged, those can and should be replaced individually. The roof should last many years if maintained properly. Slate is the premium roofing material. That the new owner wants to replace it, says a whole lot right there!

  8. Hopefully the owner will come to the realization that restoring the house as opposed to making it "modern" will make good economic sense in the long-run never mind being more esthetically pleasing. Hudson's value is increasingly tied to preserving the best of what is already here.