The Gossips of Rivertown--a blog of news and commentary exclusively about Hudson

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Final Election Results

The Board of Elections recently released the final results from the November 4 election. It turns out that 298 of the 378 registered voters in the First Ward came out to vote--almost 79 percent! Good for us!

As it happens, however, there were not a hundred or so First Ward voters who came to the polls to cast their ballot only in the Congressional race. The preliminary tallies for that race were wrong.

Now that the vote has been recanvassed and all the absentee and affidavit ballots have been counted, here's how the First Ward voted:

President/Vice President
Obama/Biden 227
McCain/Palin 60
McKinney/Clemente 2
Barr/Root 1
Nader/Gonzales 2

U.S. Congress
Gillibrand 234
Treadwell 39

State Senate
Dow 172
Saland 82

State Assembly
Rubin 155
Molinaro 90

City Judge
Koweek 154
Colwell 34
Herman 29
Leaman 63

What's Going on with Rogers Hose

Incited by some incomplete reporting and a comment made by Common Council President Rob Perry about aldermen voting out of spite, there’s been an orgy of outrage recently on the op-ed page of the Register-Star about the Common Council. So let’s set the record straight about Rogers Hose, the deed restrictions, the resolutions that failed, and who among us voted out of spite.

At the October 22 Legal Committee meeting, attorney William Spampinato, who represents the current owner or the prospective buyer (it’s not clear which) of 342 Warren Street, the former Rogers Hose firehouse, came before the committee with a number of requests. He wanted ideally to have the building’s individual designation by the Historic Preservation Commission rescinded. That action was completely unnecessary to accomplish his client’s goal of having freedom to redesign the interior of the building to accommodate a restaurant, and the committee did not entertain it. There were, however, restrictive covenants written into the deed when the firehouse was sold by the City to its current owner several years ago which would hamper or prohibit the kind of interior renovation now being contemplated.

The Legal Committee agreed to recommend to the full Council that the restrictive covenants that applied specifically to the interior of the building be removed from the deed. On November 10, at the Common Council’s informal meeting, a resolution was presented which specifically outlined three restrictive covenants to be removed from the deed. After reading the resolution, I asked President Perry, “Is this all they want?” His answer was, “This is all they’re getting.” Given that assurance, I introduced the resolution.

I was quite surprised when a new version of the resolution appeared on our desks at the formal meeting the next week. This resolution had no specificity. Instead of removing three protective covenants, it removed them all. No one on the Council had ever seen the deed, so we had no way of knowing what protections for this historic building were being forfeited. I objected to the resolution on these grounds and refused to support it.

President Perry suggested that the Council vote on both resolutions—the original one, which removed three specific covenants, and the new one, which removed all the covenants. The resolution that removed all restrictive covenants from the deed was soundly defeated, but so was—remarkably—the resolution that removed only the three specific covenants. The alderman who voted out of spite was Robert Donahue, who actually said to me before voting, "If you're for it, I'm against it." Mr. Donahue seems to operate on a simple principle whenever things get a bit complicated: Vote against anything Osterink is for.

The November 25 Legal Committee meeting shed some light on the problem. There were six restrictive covenants that Spampinato and his client wanted removed from the deed. For some reason, only three were written into the original resolution. It can be inferred that when the omissions were brought to the attention of the Common Council President and/or the City Attorney, they decided that instead of adding the three covenants that had been left out, they would delete the ones that had been included and create a resolution that eliminated all the restrictions.

A new resolution that specifies the six restrictive covenants being removed from the deed will come before the Council at its December meeting.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

If the First Ward Had Its Way . . .

Ken Dow would be our state senator and Anne Rubin would represent us in the State Assembly. But alas, in those two races, we didn't have our way.

Congratulations, First Ward voters! Preliminary results from the Board of Elections indicate that, of the 387 voters registered in the First Ward, 378 of you voted in Tuesday's election--although, curiously, that number was only achieved in the Congressional race.

Here are the results for the First Ward as they are currently being reported by the Board of Elections--before recanvassing and before counting the absentee ballots.

President/Vice President
Obama/Biden 201
McCain/Palin 58
McKinney/Clemente 2
Barr/Root 1
Nader/Gonzales 2

State Supreme Court Justice
McGrath 204
Carpinello 109

U.S. Congress
Gillibrand 305
Treadwell 73

State Senate
Dow 193
Saland 168

State Assembly
Rubin 137
Molinaro 84

City Judge
Koweek 136
Colwell 32
Herman 24
Leaman 58

You exercised your right as citizens of the United States, First Ward voters, and I am honored to serve you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Streetlights

This morning, Wednesday, October 22, the Register-Star printed the alarmist headline “City has 60 days to replace street lights.” It seems that phone calls made by Carrie Haddad and Howard Brandston to the Public Service Commission, seeking information, caused the PSC to put pressure on National Grid to remedy the sorry state of our streetlights (two have toppled over because their bases had rusted out), which in turn is putting pressure on the Common Council to make a decision about new streetlights if we don’t want simply to have our current streetlights replaced and to continue on with our current contract with National Grid. You are about to learn more than you ever wanted to know about the streetlights in Hudson.

The streetlights in question are the decorative streetlights along Warren Street, on Promenade Hill, and in Seventh Street Park. These have been a topic of conversation as long as I have been on the Common Council—in other words, since the beginning of 2006--and all of us in the First Ward, especially the residents of the 100 block of Warren Street, are well aware of the sorry state the lamp posts are in. They were installed more than 30 years ago, and over the years, most have been repaired with metal plates at the bases and more recently with duct tape.

Since 1975, when the current streetlights were installed, the City of Hudson has had a contract with first Niagara Mohawk now National Grid. Under this contract, the utility owns and maintains all the equipment—the poles, the wiring, the luminaires (that is, the fixtures at the top of the poles)--and the City leases the equipment and buys the energy from the utility. This arrangement is currently costing the City $74,012.40 a year.

In June 2007, the City received a report on streetlights from the New York State Comptroller’s office. The report encouraged us to explore municipal ownership of the street lighting system, which would mean that the City’s contractual relationship with National Grid would be limited to buying energy from them. That would reduce our costs, since we would not be renting equipment or paying for a service agreement and maintenance of the streetlights would be carried out by our own Department of Public Works. In 2007, when Mike Sassi was heading up DPW, this was a course of action that made sense to many of us on the Council. There would be an initial investment to buy all the equipment, but it could be paid off in somewhere between five and ten years by the money we’d be saving not having a service agreement with National Grid.

A month or so ago, after a streetlight in the pocket park next to Mexican Radio fell over (another has fallen since then), Mayor Scalera assigned the task of resolving the streetlight issue to his aide, Carmine Pierro, and at the informal Common Council meeting on September 8, Pierro made his report. He presented essentially two choices:

(1) Because they have done such woeful job of maintaining our lamp posts over the years, National Grid has offered to replace them with lamp posts of similar design at no charge. The new lamp posts would be fiberglass or aluminum. If we accepted this offer, it would obligate us to enter into a 15-year contract with National Grid--an arrangement that is currently costing the City $74,012.40 a year.

(2) We can buy our own poles and lease the rest of the equipment from National Grid. If the City owned its own poles, we would save $28,000 annually. Money would be borrowed to make the initial purchase, and the amount saved each year would be used to pay off the debt. It is anticipated that the debt could be paid off in 6 to 7 years, depending on the type of lamp post we select.

Because Pierro’s second option, were we to pursue it, involved lots of decisions about the material and design of the poles and the style of the luminaires, and these decisions would have a significant impact on appearance and character of our main street, I suggested to Rob Perry, Common Council President, that he appoint a committee to study this and make a recommendation to the full Council. He did so, appointing a committee headed up by Carrie Haddad and including Chris Wagoner and me.

Our study of the lighting issue ended up involving two people of national stature when it comes to main street design and lighting: Norman Mintz, coauthor of The Living City and Cities Back from the Edge, known in some circles as “Mr. Main Street”; and Howard Brandston, the lighting designer who designed, among many other things, the lighting for the Statue of Liberty. Norman Mintz pointed out that there were too many streetlights on Warren Street—something that I never saw until he pointed it out. (His wife described the lights on Warren Street as “runway lights.”) Howard Brandston agreed that we could eliminate half the streetlights and still have the same level of ambient light on Warren Street. In fact, he assigned some of his RPI students to do a study that confirmed it.

On Tuesday at the Common Council meeting, Carrie Haddad presented the following options, along with the committee’s recommendation:

Option 1
The City leases everything from National Grid, but instead of the carriage lamp streetlights we currently have, we change to fluted cast aluminum poles with Acorn luminaires. The number of streetlights on Warren Street, Promenade Hall, and Seventh Street Park would remain the same. The cost for leasing the poles, the luminaires, and the high-pressure sodium bulbs and purchasing the electricity would be $95,000 each year.

Option 2
The City buys its own poles and leases the luminaires and the bulbs (as well as all the wiring we can't see) from National Grid. The purchase price for fluted cast aluminum poles would be $182,250. Because owning our own poles would reduce the amount of money the City pays to National Grid, the investment would be recouped in less than four years. It has not been determined how much the cost of installing the new poles would be, but putting the installation costs aside, Option 2 would cost the City $86,645 a year for the first four years while we are paying off the cost of the poles, and after that, the cost would be $41,083 a year.

Option 3
This is essentially the same as Option 2 except we follow the recommendations of Norman Mintz and Howard Brandston and reduce by half the number of streetlights on Warren Street, on Promenade Hill, and in Seventh Street Park and increase the bulbs from 100 Watt to 150 Watt. The cost of buying the poles is now $91,125. The cost of electricity and leasing the luminaires and bulbs would be $24,150 a year. However, there would be an additional cost of from $30,000 (if DPW does it) to $80,000 (if an independent electrical contractor does it) for capping off the pole bases where poles have been removed. Again we have not factored in the installation costs, but Option 3 would cost $54,431 in the first four years if DPW does the capping off or $66,931 in the first four years if an independent contractor is hired, and after that the annual cost would be $24,150.

This is the recommendation of the committee:

We buy fluted cast aluminum poles.
We lease the Acorn luminaires.
We use 150 Watt high-pressure sodium bulbs.
We eliminate half the streetlights.

(NOTE: I and the other members of the ad hoc committee are advocating for cast aluminum poles because they are recyclable. The fiberglass poles that people say are "maintenance free" [which to me just means that they can't be repaired] cannot be recycled and would end up intact in a landfill.)

Now here’s really more information than you need. Howard Brandston recommends that instead of the Acorn luminaire, we use the Battery Park luminaire, which was designed for Battery Park in NYC, and instead of high-pressure sodium bulbs, we use metal halide bulbs, which produce a white light instead of the amber glow of the high-pressure sodium bulbs. The problem is that neither of these is currently available from National Grid, but Howard Brandston is hoping to persuade National Grid to make the Battery Park luminaire and the metal halide bulbs available to us. Should this happen, and we agree that we want the Battery Park luminaire, it would cost about $5,000 a year more to lease these luminaires.

So here’s my opinion--beyond agreeing with the recommendation of the committee of which I am a part. I’m perfectly comfortable with the Acorn luminaires, even though you see them everywhere these days—in Saratoga Springs, in my hometown of Holland, Michigan, at Catskill Point, at the Firemen’s Home. I’m comfortable with them because Hudson really had streetlights like this at one point in its history. The Battery Park design quite frankly reminds me of something I might have seen in a shopping mall with valet parking in Dallas.

Historic Hudson owns a vintage streetlight from the City of Hudson that predates the acorn-shaped lights. I've never actually seen that streetlight (it's been in storage since the organization acquired it in 2000), but if someone who has seen it tells me that it's similar to the Battery Park luminaire, I might rethink my support for the Acorn luminaire. But that won't be an issue unless National Grid decides to make the Battery Park luminaire available to us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Adult Use Law Update

Tonight--Tuesday, September 16--the Common Council finally voted on the adult entertainment law. The legislation was adopted, with only Abdus Miah of the Second Ward and Robert Donahue of the Fifth Ward voting against it. I can only imagine that both aldermen, in spite of every effort to help them understand the intent and importance of the legislation, still believed that it was somehow "enabling" legislation rather than restricting legislation.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Adult Use Law

Some of you have been very concerned about the adult use law that the Common Council was scheduled to vote on this evening, August 19. The vote on this legislation was postponed for reasons having to do with SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review), but the public hearing was held. The Council will to voting on this legislation at its formal meeting in September.

In response to some of your concerns, let me first assure you that this law will not alter the existing zoning in the First Ward or anywhere else in the city. Areas that are currently zoned residential will remain residential. Areas currently zoned commercial will remain commercial. The only areas impacted by this amendment to Hudson's zoning law are the areas that are zoned industrial. In the current zoning, which has been in place for decades, the industrial zone in the First Ward begins on the south side of Cross Street and extends across the South Bay to the southern boundary of the City. When we adopt the draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), this will change--for the better for First Ward residents. The zoning revisions that are part of the LWRP greatly reduce the size of the industrial zone in our ward.

The adult use law, which is an amendment to the City's zoning ordinance, prohibits adult entertainment venues from locating anywhere in Hudson except in the areas that are zoned industrial. The law also imposes a further restriction that prohibits adult venues from locating within 1,000 feet of any church, school, public park, or residential neighborhood. This is a significant restriction and a significant distance. A mile is 5,280 feet. In the First Ward, according to my calculations, 1,000 feet from Waterfront Park, from the south end of Hudson Terrace, from the houses on Tanners Lane and Montgomery Street consigns adult entertainment to a location beyond Basilica Industria, beyond where Front Street ends, to the spot now used as the staging area for the Flag Day fireworks. Not a likely place for such a business to locate, since there are no existing buildings and no water or sewer lines.

Some people believe that if the City designates an area for adult entertainment venues we are somehow welcoming or paving the way for such establishments to locate in Hudson. Nothing is further from the intent of this legislation. Without this law, there is nothing in Hudson code to prevent an adult bookstore, adult entertainment venue, or a "sex shop" from opening in any part of Hudson's commercial district. It is not possible to ban such businesses from Hudson altogether. There is extensive case law establishing their right to exist under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and expression. It is typical for responsible city governments, therefore, to designate specific areas for such establishments, where they will have the least possible adverse impact on the quality of life and economic health of the city as a whole. Failing to do this leaves the entire city vulnerable, which is the situation that Hudson is in right now.

I believe that zoning for adult entertainment is necessary for Hudson. Back in the early 1990s, there was talk of an adult bookstore opening somewhere in Hudson. The Common Council at the time passed a year-long moratorium on such businesses, but when the moratorium expired, the Council failed to take the next step of putting zoning in place to control the situation. Consequently, in 2006, the Lone Wolf--totally naked girls pole dancing--opened on Seventh Street Park. The Lone Wolf was shut down on a technicality, and it would probably still be operating if it had been better capitalized. The city attorneys at the time determined that turning what had been a restaurant into a strip club constituted a change of use which required a site plan review by the Planning Commission. The owner of the Lone Wolf was cited and fined for operating without a valid permit. Rather than deal with the fines that would accrue daily if he continued to operate, he decided to shut down and leave Hudson.

We can't count on this happening again. Without an adult use law in place, Maxie's could reopen as a strip club, and the city government could do nothing to prevent it.

I am committed to improving the quality of life in Hudson. In the fifteen years I have lived in the 200 block of Allen Street, I have witnessed and been part of the positive changes that have taken place in our First Ward neighborhoods. It is certainly not my intention to do anything to jeopardize or reverse that progress. I believe that the adult use law is necessary and equitable and limits to the fullest extent legally possible the areas where such businesses can locate, and I support it. This legislation is necessary to protect our city and our quality of life.