Tuesday, April 30, 2024

The Outcome of Last Night's Meeting

Last night's special meeting of the Common Council ended, perhaps predictably, with the approval of the resolution supporting Hudson Housing Authority's application for a Restore New York grant. The vote was 9 to 2, with only councilmembers Margaret Morris (First Ward) and Rich Volo (Fourth Ward) voting against it.

The resolution had been amended since the previous meeting to add this statement:
WHEREAS, the Hudson Housing Authority agrees to hold future public meetings concerning the design of this project and will remain in communication with the Common Council by appearing regularly with updates at Council meetings.
The resolution was further amended last night to add this clause to what was already a run-on sentence: "and will not take this resolution as an approval of the draft plan."

Although the outcome seemed predictable, it took two hours to get to the point of voting. After opening comments from Council president Tom DePietro, in which he assured the councilmembers that the resolution does not imply "anything beyond what's in the resolution," and the project will be "subject to much discussion" in the future, Morris read a statement that summarized her concerns about the proposed project. The statement follows:
The resolution we are voting on is to approve an application for Restore NY grant money for the demolition of Bliss towers. This is part of a larger project to build replacement housing for Bliss Towers, and then to demolish Bliss Towers and build additional housing on the site. The project as presented to us at the regular meeting of the Common Council expands the public housing capacity from 135 units--104 of which are currently occupied--to 315. Placing this volume of public housing in one location is not consistent with the Strategic Housing Action Plan, which specifically speaks to locating affordable housing in multiple locations within the city, rather then concentrating them in one location.
Restore NY guidelines state: 
Projects should be architecturally consistent with nearby and adjacent properties or in a manner consistent with the municipality’s local revitalization or urban development plan.
It is further anticipated that the improved community and business climate will result in an increased tax and resource base thereby improving the municipal finances.
What was presented to us at the Common Council does not meet these criteria.
Additionally, the building categories listed by Restore NY are vacant, abandoned, surplus, and condemned.
Currently Bliss Towers does not fit into any of those categories.
Priority is given to projects based on feasibility and readiness. To quote: "Applicants that can demonstrate that plans are in place, project financing has been committed, and that the project is expected to start within a year of a Restore NY award will be considered more competitive
The demolition of Bliss Towers will not begin within one year. We have been told that this application is only for demolition, so the demolition of Bliss IS the project.
Further, the application requires submission of a Project Proposal which we have not seen. Nor have we seen any analysis of the financial impact on the municipality as a whole.
The application also requires evidence of public hearings which have not yet occurred.
Given the dearth of information provided to the Common Council, I do not believe that voting to approve an unseen application for a component of a project that has not undergone input from the community at large is responsible or in the best interest of the city.
Finally, given how this demolition project appears to meet few of the criteria for Restore NY, what is the urgency? It is my belief that a vote in favor of this resolution will be used as a signal to future investors and to the State that the residents of Hudson are in favor of the overall project--a project, mind you, that has not been presented to them. Almost all of the comments I have received have urged me to vote no on this resolution. That is how I will be voting this evening.
Councilmember Dominic Merante brought up the Strategic Housing Action Plan (SHAP), wondering why it was not mentioned in the resolution. (The 2002 Comprehensive Plan and the 2017 Downtown Revitalization Initiative Plan are cited as justification for the proposed project.) Nick Zachos, who sits on the HHA Board of Commissioners and whose company, Build Hudson, is rehabbing houses for HudsonDots, maintained that SHAP tasked specific agencies with specific things, and HHA was exempt from having to have "scattered site" housing as its goal. He argued that the plan being pursued by Kearney Realty & Development, to build on three City-owned parcels, was taking on the "scattered site" component.

John Madeo of Mountco, HHA's development partner, claimed that including the three parcels now owned by Hudson Community Development & Planning Agency made the proposed HHA plan "scattered site," overlooking the fact that all of the parcels are adjacent to existing subsidized housing or, in one case, houses built by Habitat for Humanity. 

Eu Ting-Zambuto, also of Mountco, maintained there would be an "income mix" within the proposed project. Bliss Towers currently has extremely low income tenants. The new development would combine extremely low income tenants with "working families," households with incomes between 50 and 80 percent of the AMI (area median income). For this reason, she argued, the project would not be concentrating poverty.   

The question of the appropriateness of seeking Restore New York funds for the project brought forward some interesting information. DePietro alleged "the State" had already determined the project to be eligible based on the letter of intent submitted in March. It was also revealed that NYS Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which apparently is expected to be an important source of funding for the $220 million project, suggested they should go to Restore NY, a program of Empire State Development, for money to demolish Bliss Towers. When it was suggested that they might be seeking Restore NY funding prematurely, since Bliss Towers cannot be demolished until a new building has been constructed to house the tenants currently residing there, Madeo told the Council, "This city is competing with housing authorities all over the state. We want to get on the state's radar." Later, when asked what would happen if the Council did not support the grant application, Madeo said, "We have to go back to the State, and that's not going to look good," confirming what Morris had predicted, that the Council's support of the application "will be used as a signal to future investors and to the State that the residents of Hudson are in favor of the overall project." 

At one point, Mayor Kamal Johnson chided councilmembers who complained they had inadequate information about the project, telling them there was an opportunity every month to learn about the project, referring to the monthly meetings of the HHA Board of Commissioners. As regular readers know, Gossips attends all of those meetings, virtually or in person, and I can attest that very little information was made public at those meetings (and what was has always been reported here). Plans were once handed out to commissioners during the meeting, never shown to the audience, and collected at the end of the meeting, lest they fall into the wrong hands. At another meeting, a presenter from Mountco hid a drawing she was holding up when I tried to take a picture. A councilmember who requested digital copies of the master plans received them but was asked not to share them with anyone. Despite Jeffrey Dodson's protestation that they weren't trying to "hoodwink" anybody, this group has hardly been forthcoming, and there is good reason to be skeptical that anything will change, no matter what amendments were made to the resolution.

One concession that has been made to the concerns of the greater community is this. Typically, a housing authority project can circumvent review by a municipality's regulatory boards. It was announced last night, however, that HHA and Mountco have agreed "voluntarily" to subject the project to site plan review by the Planning Board.


  1. The entire process surrounding this project exemplifies how our antiquated charter and code are being used to force the council's hand. These "hurry up and do it with no information or we'll loose the 'free' money" cons are little more than the bum's rush for the public. And the mayor's reliance on formalistic, legal excuses ("if you want to know the information all you have to do is attend the meetings") only underscores how weak the government's official position is. Since when did the public become beholden to their representatives? It's supposed to work the other way around. This goes for the council when it's being asked to give the public's blessing to a third-party proposal as is happening here. It's the third-party that should be spoon feeding its plans to the council and the public.

    Thank you to Aldermen Morris and Volo for being able to see this for what it is, and for not being bullied into rubber-stamping a plan which the council and the public are entirely in the dark on.

    A modern approach to information dissemination would require proactive steps by the agency that seeks the people's backing when it comes to our collective credit. What we have is 18th century, maybe 19th: the consultant is worried how the application will look to the State -- he should be worried how it looks to us but he patently doesn't care. What we need is a 21st century charter and code.

  2. Thank you Gossips for this in depth accounting. Reading it, all I could think was, "Something isn't right here." Why are Tom and Kamal pushing this so hard? Do they want to make it seem like they have accomplished something during their tenure? Jeffrey Dodson's comment is misguided; they ARE trying to hoodwink someone. Who? The disinterested citizens of Hudson.
    Here's what my crystal ball is telling me: Mountco will get the money to demo Bliss. Then, like the Ferry Street bridge, Dunn Warehouse, Furgery, et. al. nothing will happen due to lack of funding. Hudson will have an eyesore years from now. A vacant lot will sit idle, waiting for a miracle that won't appear. Let's make sure that all those CC members who supported this have their names listed at the demolition site.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. After last night's meeting, Mayor Johnson's behavior at City Hall left me astounded. To say he merely chided the common council is generous; it felt more like a tantrum verging on a fit of rage, not befitting the elected official of Hudson. I honestly was embarrassed and felt humiliated for the council. In my professional experience, it was pretty horrible and hard to watch. No matter how frustrated you are as a leader, you should never let these situations get the best of you.

    Both City Hall and the HHA seemed unwilling to take responsibility for their communication shortcomings. They simply claimed that information was available and plans had been proposed at HHA public meetings. However, with multiple people feeling uninformed at the special session, City Hall's emotional response felt more like a reaction to their lack of preparedness. We need to do better at looking at our communication channels to identify the disconnect and fixing it to better keep citizens informed and engaged; it's not the other way around. Side note: I challenge you all to be innovative and creative versus abrasive and self-righteous.

    Communication channels, such as the HHA website and our government website, lack and still lack any information about this project. Like I said above, we were essentially directed to attend HHA meetings for any information. This lack of coordination between bodies seems unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

    As for the developers, when asked about tax implications and infrastructural concerns like increased traffic, the team evaded the questions entirely. Furthermore, the plan to demolish the towers was presented without any consideration for the current residents' relocation (at least that's what is sounded like). It took an actual Bliss tower resident to ask where they would go, yet no satisfactory response was provided.

    The tough but honest question that I encourage the community to ask themselves and continue asking throughout this process is who is really benefiting from this project with the information we have, aside from the developers and their investors.

    In conclusion, I was happy to see that everyone in Hudson really wants to create more housing for those who truly need it, and for that, I am proud of our community for wanting something that, in my opinion, is right. But shame on City Hall and HHA for creating an environment that felt combative, unsafe, and where taxpayers were made to feel incorrect for asking necessary questions.

    Jeremy Finkel

  5. Thanks to Margaret Morris and Rich Volo for voting "no" and thanks Gossips for your persistent documentation. This project is bad news and the consultant is not helping one bit. "Scattered housing" - I don't think so. Margaret Morris's clear response says it all.

  6. Glad to see the "concession," but the idea that a housing authority project could circumvent the Planning Board is ridiculous in the first place.