Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Zoning Change Proposed for Hudson Avenue

In March of this year, a proposal was presented to the Planning Board for site plan review by architect Walter Chatham, who described himself as a New Urbanist. What Chatham proposed was to build four rowhouses in the west side of Hudson Avenue, across the street from Galvan Field. 

Because half the site of the proposed structures was zoned R-3 (residential) and the other half was zoned I-1 (industrial), the project was referred to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance. The ZBA, at its March meeting, after granting a use variance for the hotel proposed for 41 Cross Street, denied a use variance to this project, recommending instead that the applicant to ask the Common Council to amend the zoning.

Tonight, such an amendment to the zoning code, authored by Third Ward alderman John Friedman, was presented to the Common Council Legal Committee for consideration. Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, explained that the proposed amendment would change the zoning along the west side of Hudson Avenue from Industrial to Residential Special Commercial, the same zoning as on Warren Street, which would allow certain kinds of commercial enterprises to be carried out on the ground floors of the proposed buildings.

The Legal Committee agreed to bring the proposed amendment before the full Council in September.

That Was the Way It Was

Lately, I've been spending some time reading the Common Council minutes for 1969. (For anyone who is not aware, the Common Council minutes from 1895 through 1983 are available on the City of Hudson website. Just click on History in the left column of the home page.) 

Some pretty heady stuff was going on in Hudson in 1969. That was the year that the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the Hudson Urban Renewal Agency to acquire real property in the Urban Renewal Area and another executing a contract for a "Demolition Grant under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949." Accompanying these resolutions was the following boundary description for the Urban Renewal Area.

From the description, it appears that the north side of the first two blocks of Union Street, as well as everything on Warren Street west of Second, was part of the original Urban Renewal Area. Obviously--mercifully--much of Warren Street and all of Union Street were spared.

Also in 1969, the struggle to save the General Worth Hotel was also at its height. Gossips has devoted many posts to the General Worth, notably this one which quotes an article by Ada Louise Huxtable that appeared in the New York Times on September 14, 1969. Two days later, on September 16, 1969, Lilian Reineck, a local champion of the General Worth, appeared before the Common Council. What follows is the account of what happened after she was "granted the privilege of the floor," quoted in its entirety from the Common Council minutes.

The day before Reineck appeared before the Common Council, there had been a public hearing on the fate of the General Worth Hotel at which James Marston Fitch, from the Columbia University School of Architecture, gave testimony in support of preserving the building. The following year, however, despite all the efforts to save it, the General Worth was demolished.

The picture above, taken shortly before the 1837 Greek Revival building was demolished, is part of the Historic American Building Survey at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What's Next for 400 State Street?

Last week, a new sign appeared on 400 State Street, replacing the one that identified it as the Hudson Area Library. 

Although it seemed odd to see a sign with the red Galvan logo on the very building that inspired the logo, 400 State Street was not the library anymore. It was Galvan Foundation headquarters. So, of course, they would want to put a sign on it. A closer look at the sign, however, revealed that it is not there to identify the building as the location of the Galvan Foundation; it is there to provide contact information for someone who might be interested in developing or maybe even in acquiring the building.


Passive Fundraiser for Animalkind

Paintings by beloved local artist Dan Rupe are now being exhibited in the dining room at the Red Dot Restaurant & Bar, 321 Warren Street, and every one of them is for sale.


Were you to buy one of these paintings, not only would you acquire a valuable work of art but you would also be helping abandoned and stray cats in Hudson. One half of the price you pay will be donated to Animalkind.

Time to Get Ready for Bed (Races)

The fondly remembered Hudson Bed Races are scheduled to return on Saturday, September 24. In the meantime, to get folks ready for the bed races and to raise some money for the event, the organizers are throwing a Pajama Party at The Half Moon on September 4, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

Girlgantua and Trixie Starr will co-host the event, which begins at 10 p.m. There will be drag performances at midnight and prizes for the best pajamas. So get out your finest Dr. Dentons, or whatever, and make plans to attend. 

For more information about the pajama party and the bed races, visit

As Long as They Spell My Name Right

Over the years, this quote has been attributed to P. T. Barnum, Mae West, George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, and W. C. Fields: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." In today's Register-Star, Roger Hannigan Gilson went a little beyond spelling my name wrong. In an article about Radio Woodstock DJ Jimmy Buff coming to Hudson to interview local luminaries, Gilson's list of interviewees begins with: "former alderwoman and the author of the blog Gossips of Rivertown Ellen Thurston." Ellen Thurston is a woman of many accomplishments, but one of them is not writing The Gossips of Rivertown. Gossips is my creation.

Just to be clear, Ellen Thurston and I are not the same person. The picture above offers evidence of that fact. Thurston is at the right; I am at the left. (In the middle is our friend Scott Baldinger, former editor of Rural Intelligence and author of the blog Word on the Street.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bad Idea That Didn't Happen

Whenever there is talk about improvements to the city, Seventh Street Park, originally known as the Public Square, is typically mentioned. Two years ago, an unsuccessful grant application may have been the only thing that stopped an unpopular plan to re-imagine our beloved but shabby park. 

Recently, Gossips stumbled upon reference to another plan for the park apparently proposed in the late 1960s. It was mentioned by Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler in his annual address to the Common Council on May 1, 1969. Reviewing the state of the city, Wheeler told the aldermen:
Twenty trees were planted in the 7th Street Park. Additional trees and shrubs will be planted within the next few weeks. Several other diseased trees will be cut down shortly. New trees will be planted in their stead. A new lighting program will be instituted shortly which will bring more light to this park area by means of new ornamental fixtures.
Let me say at this point that I will disapprove any attempt to make this most lovely park, which is enjoyed by hundreds of young and old alike, into a market or parking space.
Forty-seven years later, we can all be grateful the plan to turn the park into a market (which given it was 1969 was probably a supermarket not a farmers' market) and/or parking space never happened.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Profound Loss

Sedat Pakay, the brilliant photographer who studied with Walker Evans, photographed such American icons as James Baldwin and Abbie Hoffman, and made Columbia County his home and Hudson his city, died this morning.


John Isaacs has published a lovely tribute to Sedat Pakay on Imby.

Photo: John Isaacs

Git 'Er Dunn

At the July meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee, Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward), who chairs the committee, proposed two initiatives for the committee: the development of the Dunn building, the last surviving historic building on the waterfront; and legislation to ban "formula businesses" from the city. On the subject of the Dunn building, there was talk of a special meeting to discuss preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for the Dunn building, but no such meeting was scheduled. Instead, the committee devoted its meeting on Thursday exclusively to moving forward with plans to develop the Dunn building. Rector told his colleagues on the committee--John Friedman (Third Ward) and Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward) were present; Henry Haddad (Third Ward) was not--that Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton was "aware and supportive of the Economic Development Committee's initiative."

The meeting went on for more than an hour and a half, and much was discussed. With the three committee members on the dais were Sheena Salvino, executive director of HDC and HCDPA, and Bill Roehr from TGW Consultants. The only people in the audience were Damara Stolfo, who is spearheading the Hudson Praxis initiative; Don Moore, former Common Council president and now Third Ward supervisor; and Gossips. 

Roehr, who, it was determined, will write the request for proposal (RFP), was enthusiastic about the project, stressing how useful the Saratoga Associates feasible study will be in attracting interested developers. "All the ducks are in a row," he declared. Roehr explained that there were two ways to approach an RFP: (1) to indicate the uses the City is looking for; (2) to indicate the uses the City does not want. He, however, recommended a third approach: "present a sense of what you are and are not looking for, but don't box the developers in. . . . Keep the use part open but give them some bounds. . . .not so tightly locking someone in as to stifle creativity." The committee seemed to agree that the third approach should be taken.

A number of decisions about moving forward were made at Thursday's meeting, which were summarized at the end of the meeting by the chair, Rick Rector:
  • The City will contract with Hudson Development Corporation to have Sheena Salvino administer the project while the City retains control. Salvino and committee member John Friedman will work on the contract between the City and HDC for Salvino's services.
  • The City will obtain three appraisals for the property: the Dunn building alone; the building with the four acres of vacant land to the north; the four acres of vacant land alone. There was also talk of the RFP giving those three options for proposals. [Gossips Note: Although appraisals will be done, the City does not intend to sell the property. Rather the plan is to enter into a long-term (thirty years or more) triple net lease with a developer.]
  • The Economic Development Committee will seek National Register designation for the building so that the project can benefit from historic preservation tax credits
  • When the draft RFP has been prepared, there will be a public hearing, which will be the community's opportunity to critique the RFP and provide input.
  • The four aldermen who make up the Economic Development Committee will make the ultimate decision about which if any of the proposals received will be accepted. 

When an audience member reminded the committee that whatever happened with the Dunn building would be the catalyst for future waterfront development and suggested that the committee was moving forward with inadequate opportunities for public input, Don Moore, who chaired the Economic Development Committee for the six years that he was Common Council president, argued that the RFP would not depart from the feasibility study, and there had already been "considerable input" on that document. If memory serves, there was a "kickoff meeting" with Saratoga Associates at the end of March 2015, which did not involve the public, and two meetings in the summer of 2015, after the study had been completed--one on July 1, to which the public was not invited, and another on August 5, which was open to the public. 

At the moment, there seems to be no community consensus on one of the biggest questions for the waterfront: What should be done with the four acres of vacant land between the Dunn building and the Ferry Street Bridge? Should it be additional parkland and green space? Should it be used primarily for parking? Should additional buildings with as yet unknown uses be constructed there?

The 1996 Vision Plan proposed mixed use residential and commercial buildings for this vacant space along Water Street.

The Dunn Warehouse Adaptive Reuse Study proposes essentially the same thing.

It  was never clear that this was the kind of waterfront development the people of Hudson wanted in 1996, and it is not clear today. A community conversation on the subject of this vacant land seems to be in order.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Congressional Candidates to Debate

Matthew Hamilton reported yesterday in the Albany Times Union that debates are planned for 19th Congressional District candidates Zephyr Teachout and John Faso: "Faso, Teachout to debate on WAMC Sept. 15." 

The debate on Thursday, September 15, will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Linda, WAMC's performing arts center, and will be broadcast on WAMC.

A second debate, to take place on October 13, will be televised on WMHT.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

It Wasn't Hudson

Governor Andrew Cuomo has been awarding $10 million to cities in the ten regions of the state in his Downtown Revitalization Initiative since the beginning of July. Today the winner in the Capital Region--our region--was announced. Eight cities--Albany, Rensselaer, Cohoes, Troy, Schenectady, Glens Falls, Mechanicville, and Hudson--and two villages--Castleton-on-Hudson and Hudson Falls--were competing for the $10 million. Many had predicted that the money would go to one of the big cities--Albany, Schenectady, or Troy--but that didn't happen. It also didn't come to Hudson. The winner was Glens Falls

Recommended Reading

Yesterday, there was an article in the Register-Star about Zephyr Teachout's challenge to super PAC donors Paul Singer and Robert Mercer to debate with her: "Teachout challenges billionaires to debate." Yesterday, too, there was an article about Teachout's challenge in the New Republic: "Debate the Billionaires!"

Andrew Burton|Getty Images

A Common Council Meeting Short and Sweet

The regular Common Council meeting for the month of August lasted only a little more than half an hour and involved no dissension or raised voices--although there was a burst of applause from the audience, made up largely of immigrants and immigrant advocates, when the Council passed unanimously a resolution in support of issuing driver's licenses to New York residents regardless of immigration status.

Early in the meeting, the Council voted to receive the communications. Among them was a copy of a letter from the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the plans to replace the bulkhead and stabilize the shoreline at the dock used by A. Colarusso & Son. The letter contained the following information: "In accordance with General Condition Number 41 of the Nationwide Permits, since more than 45 days have passed since our receipt of the complete Nationwide Permit verification request without a response from this office, you may proceed with the proposed activities in waters of the United States as described in the above referenced submittals." The letter later cautions: "Please note that this determination does not eliminate the need to obtain any other Federal, State or local authorization required by law for the proposed work, including any required permit or Water Quality Certification from the New York State Department of Environment Conservation (NYSDEC)."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) asked Council president Claudia DeStefano, as he had at the informal meeting on August 8 when the Council first received the letter, what permits were required for the dock project. DeStefano told him she did not have that information. When asked when she would have it, she declined to state a time.

Also among the communications was an Opinion of Counsel from city attorney Ken Dow regarding the Council's custom of voting to put legislation on their desks. Dow questioned the legitimacy of a Council vote to consider legislation at the July meeting, when the Council voted 1,383 to 550 not to lay on their desks the proposed legislation to amend the ward boundaries and do away with the weighted vote. Addressing the Council on Tuesday, Dow explained it was a requirement of state law that members of the Council must have proposed laws for at least eight days before voting, but "there is no decision to be made to lay a proposed law on the desk." He went on to say, "A vote to deny the fact carries no weight."

At that point anyone on the Council could have brought the proposed legislation forward for a vote, but no one did. No one needed to. The Fair & Equal campaign had already gathered the additional petition signatures required to take the proposed amendment directly to the Board of Elections to be included as a referendum question on the November ballot.

To view Dan Udell's video of the entire meeting, click here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gardens in the Height of Summer

The Garden Conservancy is having another Open Day featuring gardens in Columbia County this Saturday, August 20. Four gardens will be open to visitors, including one in Hudson. The garden at Steepletop, Edna St. Vincent Millay's home in Austerlitz, will be open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.; the garden of Margaret Roach in Copake Falls will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; the gardens of Kevin Lee Jacobs in Valatie will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Versailles on Hudson, the formal garden at 5 Rossman Avenue, will be open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Admission is $7 at each garden. Click here to learn more.

Versailles on Hudson

National Politics Closer to Home

John Mason reports in today's Register-Star that Zephyr Teachout, Democratic candidate for New York's 19th Congressional District, has challenged two New York City billionaires--Paul Singer and Robert Mercer--to a debate. Singer, a hedge fund manager, gave $500,000 to the New York Wins PAC (Political Action Committee) on May 13 and another $100,000 on June 15; Mercer, a former computer scientist and investment manager, gave $500,000 to the New York Wins PAC on January 29. The information about their giving comes from the Center for Responsive Politics. Mason reports that the New York Wins PAC has so far spent 90 percent of its funds to aid the primary campaign of John Faso, Teachout's republican opponent. Read more about it here: "Teachout challenges billionaires to debate."