Saturday, January 31, 2015

On This Day in 1865 . . .

the House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which stated: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The vote was 119 to 56. The amendment had come before the House of Representatives before, on June 15, 1864, and was defeated. The vote then was 93 in favor, 65 opposed, and 23 not voting.

Finessing the Design

The last time Gossips published a rendering of the design for the new police and courts building, it caused quite a brouhaha. According to Mayor William Hallenbeck, as reported in the Register-Starit led to "an outcry of opposition" and inspired him to complain that he and his assistant, Gene Shetsky, whom he had designated "clerk of the works" for the project, had been "left out of the loop on recent decision-making regarding the design of the building." He called for a public hearing on the design. 

After a meeting in early January, at which the "task plan schedule" adopted in September was reviewed, the mayor backed off the idea of a public hearing and seemed satisfied that the review by the Historic Preservation Commission would provide sufficient opportunity for the public to comment on the design.

The rendering that caused all the kerfuffle was not, according to Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward), who is the point man on the Council for the project, the final iteration. This one is.

Haddad told Gossips that final decisions about exterior material and color have not yet been made and a series of mock-ups will be done, to assist in decision making, before materials and a color scheme are determined and any exterior finishes are applied. This process, Haddad said, will probably happen sometime in July.

It is expected that the design for the police and court building will come before the Historic Preservation Commission at its meeting on Friday, February 13. The HPC meets at 10 a.m. at City Hall. 

The existing building is a noncontributing structure in a locally designated historic district. The preservation law specifies that the HPC's review of the design be based on its compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Chapter 169-6 B of the city code lists the factors the HPC must consider when applying the principle of compatibility.
  1. The general design, character, and appropriateness to the property of the proposed alteration or new construction;
  2. The scale of the proposed alteration or new construction in relation to the property itself, surrounding properties, and the neighborhood;
  3. Texture, materials, and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood;
  4. Visual compatibility with surrounding properties, including proportion of the property's front facade, proportion and arrangement of windows and other openings within the facade, roof shape, and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback; and
  5. The importance of historic, architectural, or other features to the significance of the property.

Art Before Restoration

Isidro Blasco bought this early house at the corner of State and Third streets in November.

Before beginning the renovation of the house, he decided to invite fourteen artists to apply their ideas to the structure. The fourteen artists are (in alphabetical order) Beth Campbell, Clare Churchouse, Andrew duPont, Max Goldfarb, Laetitia Hussain, Mala Iqbal, Laura King, Tom Kotik, Jaime Munarriz, Ivan Navarro, Ruby Palmer, Karina Skvirsky, Grace Sullivan, and Dannielle Tegeder.

Blasco says of the event: "We are investigating how the architectural elements of a house might turn out differently from what is generally accepted an normal. We are implicitly rejecting the status quo of the standardized home, where decisions are based on economical or aesthetic factors and not through real perceptions of space and emotions. We look for a new path. An outcome more connected to contemporary inhabitants and users of a home. In doing so, familiar outcomes may find other solutions."

The project, called Interventions II, opened yesterday and continues today and tomorrow from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. There is a reception today at 1 p.m. The house is located at 257 State Street.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Defending North Bay . . . Continued

Timothy O'Connor has been waging a lonely war against the Hudson's $600,000 Community Development Block Grant project which would separate storm water runoff from the sanitary sewer system at Front and State streets and direct the storm water runoff into North Bay. 

Last Wednesday, January 21, O'Connor outlined his concerns about the plan in a "My View" in the Register-Star. Of particular concern is that the project will bypass environmental scrutiny because it has been determined to be a Type II action, one not requiring further State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) or the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). 

This past Wednesday, O'Connor was at the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting offering to make himself available "to explain why the City is flirting with a lawsuit" because of this project. He challenged the Type II exempt action, made reference to "big guns," and warned, "An Article 78 is coming, and the City will lose." (An Article 78 proceeding appeals a decision of a government agency to the New York courts.)

North Bay is part of the state-designated "Significant Fish and Wildlife Habitat" known as Stockport Creek and Flats. Storm water runoff contains salts, oils, trash, sediments, and other pollutants that can harm the ecosystem of North Bay and the Hudson River. 

The pictures that accompany this post, documenting the poor water quality in North Bay on June 21, 2014, are from O'Connor's blog, Hudson Meets Hudson.

More About Parking Permits

The mayor has more to say about parking permits for residents on his Facebook page.

Another Mayoral Initiative

It all started in June 2014, when Mayor William Hallenbeck proposed a plan to ameliorate the parking problems around the hospital: resident parking permits. In the usual course of things, the proposal went to the Common Council Legal Committee to be turned into a law.

Two months later, the mayor was complaining bitterly to the press that the Legal Committee was turning his proposal "into a monster." One of the things the Legal Committee had done was to expand the proposal to include additional streets--Warren Street from Eight Street to Worth Avenue, Frederick Street, and Worth and Rossman avenues. "It seems now," the mayor grumbled, "that my proposal is not my proposal anymore; it's becoming the proposal of the Legal Committee, who have the option of changing things and bringing it to the council."

Now, in January 2015, the law is ready to move forward. It is anticipated that the law will be in its final form, with a map showing the areas affected, for the February Common Council meeting. The next step is for the Council to pass a "home rule message" and to submit the law to the Hudson and Columbia County planning boards for review. But there's a new wrinkle. The mayor wants the law to be expanded to include all of Hudson, requiring every resident who does not have offstreet parking to have a permit to park on the street in front of his or her home. Read all about it in today's Register-Star: "As parking plan heads for home, mayor looks citywide."  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

About the Lodging Tax

The concept of a lodging tax--a tax levied on room rates in hotels and B&Bs--was first suggested in a public meeting back in September by Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward). The rationale for the tax was explained by Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) in a press release issued a few weeks ago by the Common Council Finance and Legal committees. (Friedman chairs the Legal Committee; Haddad chairs the Finance Committee.) "The Finance Committee has challenged itself to replace $1 million of the roughly $4 million property owners contribute to the City budget each year by broadening the tax base." A 4 percent lodging tax is one of the strategies for achieving that goal.

Haddad goes on to say: "We've been very sensitive to how such a tax might harm our lodging sector. But all of our research indicates--and we can't find anything to contradict it--that consumers expect to pay a lodging tax and so adding one where there is none has no effect on demand for rooms." Friedman added that the national average for a room tax is 14 percent. What is being proposed is a 4 percent tax, which combined with the existing 8 percent sales tax will be 12 percent--below the national average.

The proprietors of the established B&Bs, inns, and hotels in Hudson are not sanguine about the proposed lodging tax. The fear is that an additional 4 percent tax will drive visitors from the traditional lodging to the many apartments, houses, and guest rooms being marketed on AirBnB and VRBO and an "informal hotel" that Friedman says is "operating under the radar" where the lodging tax may not be charged.

To make the case for the lodging tax, which Haddad stresses "is financed by visitors not locals and in a manner the research shows doesn't affect demand," the Finance and Legal committees have scheduled a public hearing to take place on Thursday, February 12, beginning at 6 p.m., at City Hall. Friedman explains, "This hearing will be a forum for the Committees to hear from members of the community on the various issues surrounding a lodging tax and how it is applied, as well as the impact of short-term stay services on the lodging industry and neighborhoods."

Ice Skating in Hudson

Ice skating on Oakland Lake (and Underhill Pond a hundred years ago) has been a grand tradition in Hudson. This year, although it's certainly been cold enough for the lake to be solidly frozen over, the ice has not been cleared of snow and no flag has gone up to signal that it's safe to skate.

Last night, at the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting, DPW superintendent Rob Perry shared the back story of why there is no skating on the lake this year. 

It seems that a representative of the City's insurer was visiting the mayor's office, where the mayor has displayed on the wall a picture of people skating on Oakdale Lake. The insurance guy commented about the good old days when people skated on frozen water bodies. The mayor told him that the picture had been taken just last winter, occasioning the insurance guy to inform the mayor that the City's liability insurance would not cover ice skating on open water.

To compensate, the Department of Public Works is at work creating an ice rink at Oakdale. Progress has been stalled awaiting delivery of a white tarp to be placed under the ice (the asphalt absorbs heat from the sun and melts the ice) and weather that will free up DPW workers from snow plowing duties so work on the rink can proceed.

Photo: Rob Perry

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A New Initiative from the Mayor

According to the Register-Star, Mayor William Hallenbeck is proposing that, twice a year, residents be allowed to put junked appliances, furniture, mattresses, old tires, and other "bulk items" at the curb for the Department of Public Works to pick up free of charge: "Mayor looks to start up bulk item day." Currently, such items are picked up only once a year, and anyone who wants DPW to haul these things away must make arrangements in advance and pay a fee. The mayor wants this service offered twice a year, and he wants it to be free.

The mayor sees this as a quality of life issue. "The charge for the service reduces the amount of participants, allowing for the items to be dumped illegally in alleys and yards, creating unsafe and dangerous conditions." DWP superintendent Rob Perry is quoted in the article as saying "he imagined the service would be 'extremely expensive,' possibly $10,000 to $20,000, because of the large amount of dumping to be expected if there were no threat of punishment."

The mayor, however, in a statement quoted twice in the article, thinks the City can well afford it because of our healthy fund balance: "We have generated a lot of revenue and increased our fund balance substantially over my terms as a mayor. It's time we give a little relief to our residents."
That statement raises some questions. The mayor makes much of his success in holding the line on property taxes--"keeping our taxes low," as some of his supporters like to put it, although most Hudson property owners would complain that our taxes are hardly low. The mayor fought mightily to prevent the Common Council from raising an additional $70,000 in property taxes in 2015 to help create a capital reserve fund to pay for anticipated expenses not far down the road--replacing the Ferry Street Bridge and buying a new ladder truck for the fire department. So how, in three years of the current mayor's administration, did we end up with $1 million more in the fund balance? Were property owners in Hudson taxed $1 million more than was actually needed to run the City? That hardly seems likely.

During the discussion surrounding the 2015 budget and the capital reserve fund at a Common Council meeting in November, city treasurer Heather Campbell explained that a fund balance "is not a pool of money just sitting there." She equated a fund balance with shareholders' equity. "If you sold everything you had and paid all that you owed, what would be left over is the fund balance." If you Google fund balance, you find the same information. This from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board: "Most simply, fund balance is the difference between assets and liabilities in a governmental fund."

It's probably a mistake to think that the City has an extra million dollars someplace, burning a hole in the municipal pocket, but even if it were true, does it make sense to spend even a small part of the money in this way? How much "relief" would this actually provide the property owners of Hudson? How often does the average household find it necessary to discard a refrigerator or a mattress or tires? And would the people who dump such things in out-of-the-way places around town really wait until the designated day to put it out on the street, even if that day happened twice a year and the discarded item would be hauled away for free?

According to the article, "The mayor said he's asking the Common Council to do a feasibility study prior to approving the cleanup days."

Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear?

Winter Storm Juno, which didn't live up to its hype, inspired Bob Tomaso to share with Gossips these pictures of the memorable post-Christmas snowstorm of 1969 and to explain that, back then, before robo calls and texting and email, school closures were announced by ten blasts of the fire alarm. All the pictures that follow were taken on Eighth Street.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"It's Been a Long Time Coming . . . " Continued

About a month ago, Gossips reported about an article that appeared in the Register-Star on March 4, 1999. It was about a Minority Task Force proposed for Columbia County. One problem to be addressed by the task force was the relative absence of minorities in law enforcement. At that time, Ellis Richardson, an African American, was the chief of the Hudson Police Department and would continue in that position until his retirement in February 2013. The article reports:
Richardson said he would like to see more active recruitment of minorities for local law enforcement agencies. He said he thinks there are only three minority officers in the HPD, the county Sheriff's Office and the locally based state police combined.
"Is there a real commitment to go out and actively recruit minorities?" Richardson asked.
Today, sixteen years later, the Register-Star reports on a new program that "aims to develop a pool of minority candidates that are able and willing to take advantage of openings for police officers": "Program looks to up police minority hiring."

Recalling Great Blizzards Past

The New York Times is comparing Winter Storm Juno with the blizzard that occurred on December 26 and 27 in 1947. 

Photo: Museum of the City of New York
Gossips doesn't know what the effects of the 1947 blizzard were on Hudson, but we do know about the blizzard of 1888. Here's what was reported in the Evening Register on March 12, 1888, on the second day of the storm, which began on March 11 and ended on March 14. 
The Snow-Drift.
. . . The boy with his snow shovel became discouraged early this morning.
The snow storm raised the d--- with the telegraph wires to-day.
Business along the wharves, piers and slips was suspended to-day.
It is a cold day when it snows in bed.
If you don't get your REGISTER this evening, we shall say the carrier boy knows his "biz."
"Did you blow in?" is what the business man said to-day to his customers.
The boys postponed their games of marbles to-day, on account of the weather.
The "little German band" did not "spiel" on the streets to-day.
Milkmen who came to this city this morning with wagons, had a hard time getting home.
A colored woman passed down Warren street this morning during the blizzard, with a paper box of ice cream.
This was a good day to take inventory of stock.
The railroad officials in this city refused to take freight to-day.
The members of the police force were anxious to lose a day, rather than face the storm.
There is no more need of directing the policemen to strike their clubs on the curbstones, for "they can't do it, you know."
The firemen and policemen should do their duty nowor never.
A March Storm.
A terrible storm of wind and snow set in last evening and continued throughout most of the day. The snow was light and dry and flew through the air like smoke. The streets and highways are drifted, and the storm was the most severe of the season. Trains and mails were delayed and out-door business generally suspended. Why not let Dakota into the Union and stop all this bluster?
Accident on the Hudson River Railroad.
A dispatch to this office this morning says at 8 o'clock this morning in a blinding snowstorm the Atlantic express bound south on the Hudson River railroad, ran into the rear of another Atlantic express at Dobbs Ferry, demolishing the cars. Four persons are known to have been badly injured. Both tracks are badly obstructed. All south-bound trains are held at Tarrytown.
The snowstorm commenced yesterday afternoon is the heaviest in several years. It is still in progress with a heavy wind. The snow is between twelve and eighteen inches deep. All trains on both the West Shore and Hudson River railroad are much behind.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Parking Option

Don't want to worry about digging your car out and moving it from one side of the street to the other during the snow emergency? Mayor William Hallenbeck and the Hudson Development Corporation have announced an option. You can take your car down to the parking lot at the state boat launch and leave it there until Wednesday.

If you elect to park your car at the boat launch, it must be parked in a designated parking space so that paths through the lot can be plowed. When the snowstorm is over, owners are responsible for shoveling their cars out. No assistance will be provided. If you don't get your car out of the lot before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, it will be towed. The invitation comes with this additional caveat: "If your vehicle does not have sufficient tires for driving in the snow, you should not consider using this lot at this time."


The first flakes of snow have started to fall. Two hours ago, the mayor declared a snow emergency and laid out the parking rules for the rest of the week, beginning at 8 p.m. today and continuing through until midnight on Friday.

The actual snow emergency ends of 12 noon on Wednesday. Snow removal will take place, after midnight, on Thursday and Friday mornings.  

Winter Storm Juno is predicted to be of historic proportion. The picture below shows the 400 block of Warren Street after the the Blizzard of 1888.


The First of the Snow Cancellations

Winter Storm Juno, the predicted blizzard of historic proportion, isn't due to begin until sometime Monday afternoon, but already it's being cited as the reason why the mayor's interview on WCXG is being put off until some unspecified date. The WGXC website explains: "Due to the inclement weather expected Wed., Jan. 28, the show featuring Hudson Mayor William H. Hallenbeck, Jr. has been postponed. Tune in on a future date when Hallenbeck will be in the studio to discuss local law enforcement, economic development and local politics."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ear to the Ground

A Gossips informant was at the New York Times Travel Show today and attended a seminar called "Northeast Weekend Getaways and Day Trips." The first destination mentioned by Paul Brady, deputy consumer news editor at Condé Nast Traveler, was our own quirky little city, Hudson. The message was, although it can no longer be considered undiscovered, Hudson has changed so much recently that it deserves to be visited again.

Not Even Six Degrees of Separation


"Micropolitan Diary" is Gossips' homage to and blatant imitation of "Metropolitan Diary" in the New York Times. The term micropolitan was coined because Hudson is a metropolis in microcosm.
Dear Diary,
Truth be told, I am not a great fan of Facebook. I rely on it to keep up with my nieces and nephews in Michigan but use it mostly to post pictures of my dog. The more Facebook friends I acquire, the more posts I have to scroll through, often wondering how they ended up on my home page. Today the social networking paid off. I got to see a picture of First Lady Michelle Obama stepping off Air Force One in India wearing a Bibhu Mohapatra ensemble, because, I discover, Bibhu and I have sixteen mutual friends!

Music News

Hudson's own Faux Meek (Rob Williams, Josh Miesmer, Damara Rose, and Gabe Schaftlein) has self-released a new album.

It's called More or Less Resilience, and it's available on iTunes. You can hear some of the songs from the album on YouTube.