Saturday, February 26, 2022

What to Do with $3 Million

On Tuesday, we learned that the long-awaited sale of the Kaz site was scheduled to close on Friday, March 4. The Hudson Development Corporation is soon to have $3 million in cash from that sale.

On that same day, Peter Spear of Future Hudson sent a letter to all the members of the HDC board offering advice on how they should use the money. A couple of days later, he sent the letter to Gossips, with the request that it be published. So, in the interest of transparency and community engagement, I share, unedited, the body of the letter, which sets forth Spear's proposal and the arguments in support of his proposal. 
The best use of the Kaz funds is to solve this Planning gap and transform how the City of Hudson makes decisions.
(TL;DR: Let's teach ourselves to fish, instead of buying fish.)
The lack of a planning function within the City is a root cause of our difficulties, divisions and limits our future growth.
I propose that the HDC close the planning gap by investing in three things:
A Comprehensive Plan Planning Process done by a best in class urban planning & design firm. Inclusive, Participatory, Equitable.
Establishing a Planning Capacity within City Government.
Fund the salary for a newly created position for an experienced urban planning the City.
Fund an operating budget for 3 to X years for sustained community engagement and communication to develop a meaningful relationship between residents and their government.
Now, because stories help make these abstractions real, here is mine.
A few years ago, you may remember that Ed Cross, Linda Mussmann and Claudia Bruce and I spray-painted crosswalks at State and Third Streets.
This is an intersection that has never had a crosswalk.
I had been attending DPW Committee meetings for months. I was advocating for the adoption of a Complete Streets Policy. But others were asking directly for the City to crosswalks at that intersection.
To no avail.
Always because of two things:
First, money.
The city has none, and getting it is hard. Who does this?
Second, the Planning Gap.
No one can agree on what is needed where, and there is no one whose job it is to identify community needs, set priorities, and manage improvements.
Nothing connects to anything else, because nothing connects to a Plan. So any decision is valid, and nothing is necessary.
Let's look at parks, for example.
The DPW is currently responsible for management of city parks. Except for Oakdale (the largest and potentially most important), which is with the Youth Department.
Neither has professional expertise in parks management.
Meanwhile, there is an independent dog park group, an independent Friends of Oakdale, another Friends of Public Square, and Historic Hudson's plans for the Bronson House. We have concepts for Oakdale. We have concepts being developed for a climate resilient waterfront park. And, we have an LWRP in perpetual limbo.
All of these are worthy, but each is forced to develop their own understanding of priorities independently, because there is no overarching parks strategy.
I want to stress that what I am most interested in is the PROCESS.
The plan promises to make decision-making easier for the City by providing strategic clarity, and bring coherence to disparate activities.
But it is the promise of a community engagement of identifying needs and defining priorities together that is most powerful.
This legacy of mediocre planning is what people talk about when they talk about Planning Fatigue, and has sowed tragic levels of distrust and apathy. And it is likely why you may be rolling your eyes when I talk about planning or a plan. 
Solving the Planning Gap will transform how the City engages with its residents, and make it easier for all of us to understand where we are and where we are going.


  1. Spear is dead on, but to get to that end, I think, will require a nearly impossible effort because the system (city hall, the council, all the outside interested parties) is in no place to handle it. It might be better just to start over and BUILD something that is not dysfunctional (if that is even possible). So I say GOOD FRIGGIN LUCK, WE ARE GOING TO NEED IT.

    My story: Today I walked into Oakdale Park thru the main entrance. The DPW actually plowed the entrance and lot yesterday (not a given!), didn't lift the plow at all and took out BOTH SPEED BUMPS. They are both gone. Then I noticed all the snow melt dripping off the roof of the entire south side of the bathhouse accumulating at the base of the wall in pools of water, and, of course, seeping into and around the building's old foundation. Anyone paying attention to their surroundings knows that if you want to destroy a building, DO NOT PUT ANY GUTTERS ON IT OR ANY MEANS OF DIVERTING WATER OFF THE ROOF. 3 years ago at a CC meeting I asked the Director of The Youth Department, Nick Zachos, why there were no gutters or downspouts diverting water from the bathhouse (where Youth had an office) and he replied "THE OSHA RULES PREVENT OUR DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEES FROM USING LADDERS." I am not making this up. When dysfunction and confusion reign, this is what we get for our tax dollars to live in a city. Nick didn't say WE HAVE ASKED DPW TO INSTALL GUTTERS AND DOWNSPOUTS AND IT WILL HAPPEN. He said that he wasn't allowed to and could not fix the problem (a problem which he acknowledged). 3 years later and the old building is still being inundated with water from the roof as if it didn't matter one bit. This level of dysfunction is rare in other municipalities, but we should not be proud of the distinction.

    Useless questions: So City Hall, what's the PLAN this year with gutters for the bathhouse? Or are you okay with speeding up the building's inevitable demise and an interior full of mold that sickens those who work there?
    Bill Huston

    1. Addendum: "When dysfunction and confusion reign ... AND AMATEURS ARE IN CHARGE ... this is what we get." If we had a professional planner or a city manager with a degree in something applicable, the situation at Oakdale and so many other ignored issues would more likely be solved. Or at least attempted to be solved, efficiently and professionally.

  2. While it’s true city government is both amateurish and impoverished, handing such an entity $3m guarantees only that it will be misspent. Moreover, $3m is woefully inadequate to meet the goals outlined in Peter’s letter for more than probably 3 years and, unless there is a revolutionary increase in the City’s managerial abilities, at the end of that time we’d be right back where we are now. And, beyond all that, there’s the fact that such a gift is neither in HDC’s remit nor it’s responsibilities.

    The answer to the completely dysfunctional place the city finds itself in is replacing City leadership. Absent the election of qualified leaders we will remain in the current quagmire for the foreseeable future. Looking for one time gifts isn’t planning. It’s pointless.

    1. John,
      Thanks for taking a look.
      To your first point, I am not proposing that the HDC gift $3m to the City of Hudson. I am proposing that the HDC as a Local Development Corporation do what its website claims:

      “The Hudson Development Corporation will accomplish its mission by…collaborating with local government to strengthen Hudson’s tax base and to plan for the future.”

      I do not understand your second point. Can you help me understand what you mean when you say $3m is woefully inadequate to fix the Planning Gap?

      For my response to your final point about whether or not my proposal is within the HDC’s remit, I refer you to the language above, which I found on your website.

  3. Start with replacing the mostly useless Mayor's office with a city manager and assistant. Unelected positions. Someone who is allowed to TELL department heads what is to be done. It would be money better spent than on a Mayor and aide that we never hear from and have little or no authority to get much of anything done or corrected and, worst of all, only stick around for two or four years.

  4. Peter, the most important part of you memo is "how the City of Hudson makes decisions." And what you propose for the planning process is what Hudson City government can never get right from the get-go: "Inclusive, Participatory, Equitable." I've been here 30+ years and have never seen it at the City government level. Fix that -- beginning with how the HDC makes its decisions -- and then you can implement the planning process that as you propose it. Hate to be jaded, but very few government-led projects in Hudson are participatory, equitable, and inclusive. But good luck and thanks. --peter meyer

  5. the HDC should not spend the money on more planning. Hudson's plan is fine now.

    the HDC could lend 1.25 million to Bliss Towers to get it fixed. then the apartments could be used.

    I am sure that is too practical a solution, but a good one.

    Put the apartments back on line with a low cost loan to be paid back over 10 years.

    Help the poor for a change, rather than talking about it anymore.

    1. Hudson has done more than any other town along the river to help the poor. And confining them in a structure like Bliss Towers is exactly the kind of urban planning mistake that was made by so many American cities in the 1970's. So now they are turning to new, innovative housing plans and doing it better. The last thing we need is to return to a failed model of the past.

  6. Hudson is about to receive about $3 million from the sale of one of its capital assets. Does it really make sense to rush to spend it on an operating expense -- a planning function? The answer to that question may not be an automatic no, given the obvious need for better planning, but I wonder whether we should tread slowly on spending this money until we have some concrete idea of what we are trying to achieve. Part of the problem with our incoherent city planning is not simply that we don't have the right structures in place, but that different constituencies in Hudson want different things. Hiring a consultant (or City employee who is essentially a consultant) can't solve or paper over fundamentally political issues. We have to address them head-on, come up with compromises, and only then move forward.

    1. Hudson isn’t about to receive anything. HDC is about to receive $3m due to the sale of one of its assets.

    2. I advocate for a Comprehensive Plan because it is as heads-on an approach that I am aware of.

      It requires a citywide community engagement process to help all the communities in Hudson identify our needs and define our priorities for the future.

      But it is not enough.

      We need a Planning function in the City empowered to make this vision a reality by taking action: fundraising, grant writing and project management capacity.

      We share a view of the real problem: Hudson has no shared vision.

      And, because the City has no shared vision, everything the City does is in conflict with our individual visions.

      We then use these individual conflicts with the city’s actions to reaffirm our divisions, increasing our confusion and animosity.

      This is the death spiral we are in, and have been for as long as I’ve been here. Little gets done, and what does get done drives neighbors apart.

      All the while, we no longer trust the institutions that used to give us a shared understanding of the story of our community.

      So, for me, any conversation that is not about how we get to work developing a shared vision is a waste of time.

  7. HDC should not waste the money on planning. Use the money for something concrete, like as a down payment to buy John L. They could lease the property out for conversion to a high end hotel and luxury lofts. This long term investment would bring income to the city and reduce the tax burden for decades to come.

  8. Before you blow alot of money on yet another comprehensive plan, why don't you spend some time evaluating how the last one was followed through on?

    #1 Rule of windfalls that come to governments is to piss away the money as fast as possible on ludicrous projects that do nothing to improve the life of the average citizen. For example - the tobacco settlement monies???

  9. All I can say is before millions are spent on planners and proposals, take a walk up and down the streets and alleys of Hudson. Look at how many streets need paving, corners need curb cuts and crosswalks, parks that need repairs,sidewalks and wrecked houses in need repairs, signage that needs replacement. We do not even have pedestrian crossing lights. The idea that public money would be spent on more ridiculous plans, like building weird intersection plazas that look like something out of a NJ shopping mall when you can't even safely cross the street because there are no crossing lights, or park your car without getting a ticket because there is no signage in town anywhere explaining the rules, is insane. 3 million is a drop in the bucket to fix any of this, but if it was actually used to fix something at least it wouldn't be wasted.

    1. Who in City Hall do you think feels that any of the quality of life issues which you raise are worth lifting a finger for? Money won't change their minds. Bill Huston

    2. This response, submitted by email, is from Peter Spear:

      I completely agree with you.
      This is what I mean when I say we have a Planning Gap.
      We all know these issues are real, but nothing ever seems to get done.

      I am asking you to consider that they don’t get done because there is no one whose job it is to make sure they get done. And there is no system in place for guiding the decision-making -
      Which intersection first?
      Which lights?
      Which ward?
      Is a crosswalk the ideal solution?
      With what money?

      So, I am advocating for a Comprehensive Plan because it is the only mechanism we have as a city to make these kinds of changes possible.

      And, I am advocating for a Planning function within the City government to to raise money, write grants and manage projects to make them a reality.

      Our current Comprehensive Plan sits completely ignored because there is no one whose job it is to apply it to any of the City’s decision-making.

      Even the Commissioner of the DPW and the President of the Common Council didn’t find it necessary to reference a very long history of planning for the North Bay before they proposed building a solar farm on it.


      The solutions you are seeking require the planning that I am asking for.
      And I am asking for this planning, because I have attempted to have these changes made without them. And failed.

      My entire journey as the guy advocating for Comprehensive Planning began with a horrifying discovery that the intersection of Third & Warren is designed for increased visibility of truck drivers - at the expense of pedestrians.

      A newcomer to Hudson is completely within their rights to interpret the crosswalk there as a right of way, and often step into oncoming traffic.

      Please watch a few minutes of this video I recorded of pedestrians attempting to understand this intersection in 2016.

      It makes for chilling viewing:

      I also encourage you to peruse the links I share from my FUTURE HUDSON instagram account to get a better sense of where I am coming from.

  10. I agree with the spirit of Mr. Spear's letter, but I ultimately think that the city needs charter reform and a city manager. All of these things are just symptoms of the larger problem with our government structure. Until we fix the systemic flaws in City Hall, giving them more money is akin to tossing it in a bonfire.

    As, as pointed out by others, it's the HDC's money, not the city's government. Also, for better or worse, it seems the HDC doesn't have much confidence in the current administration, which is probably why they have discussed removing their vote on the board.

    This status quo of nothing getting done is so very disappointing. Nonetheless, new residents and businesses continue to invest in Hudson and ultimately I think the city will become "too big to fail" in their interests. Many of us on here like to gripe about the anti-business and anti-homeowner agenda of some of our elected officials as well as their adjacent astroturfed "community" groups, but they really haven't been that successful at keeping out new hotels, STRs, real estate investment, etc. More retail and hospitality businesses will open with increased demand. This will all happen with or without the guidance of our elected officials. It would be nice if there's some organized effort and planning involved to avoid the growing pains.

    We really need to start from scratch and get some professionals in City Hall. Just having someone on top of the dept heads would make a world of difference. It seems many (but not all) of the long time civil servants in Hudson are just coasting along and picking up paychecks. They don't feel accountable to mayors and alders who blow in and out with the breeze of every city election.