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

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Licorice Lampposts

Warren Street will soon be graced by fiberglass composite lampposts, which to my eye look a bit like giant straightened licorice twists. The "licorice lampposts" are the unsatisfactory conclusion to a process that, considering the effort and people involved, should have turned out better, but it didn't. (See my October 23 post, "New Streetlights.")

The Common Council and the City had a choice between cast aluminum and fiberglass composite poles. Cast aluminum poles were what celebrated lighting expert Howard Brandston recommended for the City. Some of us on the Council also preferred cast aluminum poles for several reasons: they can be recycled, the fluting has more definition, and they can be repainted if the color chips or fades. Fiberglass poles are touted to be "maintenance free," but in this case that mostly means they can't be repaired. Fiberglass poles will fade, and once that happens, there is nothing that can be done about it. Fiberglass poles also cost more--in the case of our poles, at least $30,000 more.

The Council should have had a choice, but the process seemed from the beginning to want to deny the Council that choice.

First, there was the resolution to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for the poles. As it was originally presented to the Council at the informal meeting on November 10, the resolution contained language--notably the stipulation that the poles be "maintenance free"--that would have prevented anyone from submitting a bid for anything other than fiberglass poles. Fortunately, Carrie Haddad and I, advocates for cast aluminum poles, read the resolution, recognized the restrictive impact of the language, and insisted that the resolution be changed to allow bids for cast aluminum poles to be submitted.

Then, there was the whole conflict of interest issue, which was not raised by anyone until it was too late. Three bids for the poles were submitted: one from an electrical supply company in Kingston, one from Red Hook Electric, and one from Hudson Electric. Two bids were for fiberglass poles; one for cast aluminum poles. The problem is that Red Hook Electric and Hudson Electric are both Haddad family businesses, and the only bid for cast aluminum poles came from a Haddad business.

Carrie believed that conflict of interest was not a problem so long as she recused herself from the vote. The fact that her husband would be bidding on the poles was a secret to no one. She had picked up the bid packages herself from Cappy Pierro, and reportedly then Common Council President soon-to-be interim DPW Superintendent Rob Perry was present when she did. Nobody suggested that it was a conflict of interest for Nick Haddad to bid on the project until the bids came in. It was only after the bids had been received--and presumably opened--that it occurred to Cappy Pierro and Jack Connor that the bids from Red Hook Electric and Hudson Electric had to be rejected. As a consequence, there remained only one bid--for fiberglass poles.

On December 16, a resolution to accept the one remaining bid was presented to the Common Council. We never got to see any of the bids, and it was never clear who had opened them or when. I objected to a resolution that stated we had "received the bids" when we hadn't. My colleagues in the First and Third Wards and I objected vehemently to being denied a choice. We wanted to reissue the RFP to be sure that we got at least one bid for cast aluminum poles.

Jack Connor, city attorney, told us if we didn't accept the single bid before us, the company submitting that bid "could sue the City." The only recourse we had was to bring the resolution to a vote and vote it down, which we succeeded in doing the first time, primarily because Abdus Miah, in the midst of a heated discussion about conflict of interest, municipal law, sole source bidding, and threats of lawsuits, decided to abstain, which--with Carrie having to recuse herself and the rest of the "southside gang" voting against it--meant that the resolution did not have the votes required to pass.

We had dodged another bullet, or so I thought. Defeating the resolution had bought us some time to persuade our fellow aldermen that cast aluminum was not only more attractive but less expensive. (How often does that happen?) It was reason for celebration, but then at the end of the meeting, just as I was about to move to adjourn, Mayor Scalera stood up and requested--maybe it was more like demanded--that we reconsider the resolution.

In my opinion, this request need not and should not have been entertained, but Wanda Pertilla, who was chairing the meeting in the temporary absence of a Common Council president, thought otherwise. For a motion to be reconsidered, someone who voted on the prevailing side--in this case the nays--has to make the motion to reconsider. Abdus Miah, who had abstained and therefore technically had voted with the prevailing side, moved to reintroduce the resolution. By this time, for reasons not disclosed, Abdus no longer felt he needed to abstain. He voted in favor, and the resolution passed, authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract to purchase 158 fiberglass lampposts for Warren Street.

Before casting her vote, Wanda Pertilla said, "We've spent enough time talking about streetlights. It's time to move on." Alas! In my opinion, there are few things that impact the appearance and character of our main street more than street lamps. Selecting new ones should be done thoughtfully and carefully--soliciting and following the advice of experts. But that's a minority opinion.

What will go at the top of the licorice lampposts has not yet been determined. You can view the options--Acorn, Aspen Grove, and Williamsville--in Council Chambers at City Hall. Go in anytime that City Hall is open. They are all sitting there on the floor.

I am unclear about how it will be decided which of the three is chosen, but I invite you to share your preferences with me. I do want to assure you, however, that lighting experts have offered the opinion that "light pollution" does not need to be a huge concern in making our choice. Given the relatively short height of our poles and the overall light production, the difference in amount of light spilling into the atmosphere from Aspen Grove, which has a "hat," as compared with Acorn and Williamsville, which do not, is inconsequential. Apparently, we have the luxury of deciding purely on aesthetic considerations.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Hudson Terrace

Let me start off by saying that what AIMCO and Evergreen Partners are proposing for Hudson Terrace, as reported in the Register-Star, is something that the Waterfront Advisory Steering Committee did not anticipate. We knew that in 2012 the development would be fulfilling its forty-year federally subsidized mortgage agreement, which provided tax breaks on all levels, but we imagined that we needed to prepare for the possibility that the property would be sold to someone looking to redevelop this prime site overlooking the river into high-end condominiums. Because of that expectation, the new zoning for the Waterfront Revitalization Area designates the area surrounding Promenade Hill as the only section of the city where there will be mandatory inclusionary zoning, to ensure that a percentage of the units will be affordable. We discussed establishing limits on the height of any new buildings constructed there and gave expression to our desire that, instead of being a wall separating the city from the river with a moat of asphalt further segregating the people who live in Hudson Terrace from the rest of the city, the configuration of any new development would re-establish the continuation of Union, Columbia, and State streets to Promenade Hill and re-integrate this part of Hudson with the rest of the city, as it originally was.

My first hint that we were preparing for the wrong scenario came several months ago, in a meeting of a committee created to define how we would implement inclusionary zoning in Hudson. Present at that meeting were Bruce Levine, developer of Crosswinds, and Kevin Walker, representing Eric Galloway. In the meeting, I learned from Bruce Levine that what is considered “market rate” in Hudson is too low to allow the construction of new rental units to be profitable. In order to make sense economically (according to Levine), new units had to be built in accordance with some kind of income-based program so they can qualify for state and federal aid for construction and tax credits after construction. I also learned from Kevin Walker that Eric Galloway is considering making all the apartments in the giant building he is proposing for the corner of Fifth and Warren “low income” so that he can qualify for state and federal grants to build it.

In this meeting also, I got my first hint that it might be occurring to Mayor Scalera that more subsidized, low-income housing would not increase the City's tax base and did not translate into adequate tax revenues for the City's future.

Last summer, City Treasurer Eileen Halloran announced that she had made contact with the owners of Hudson Terrace and invited the aldermen from the First and Second Wards--the two wards in which Hudson Terrace is located--to participate in a conference call with a representative of the owners. She had made contact not with the owners but with AIMCO (American Investment and Management Company), and the person we all gathered in her office on August 5 to talk with was Jesse Curll, Vice President for Northeast Asset Management for AIMCO.

In that conversation, the talk was all about Tompkins Terrace in Beacon as the model for what could happen with Hudson Terrace. Tompkins Terrace, to quote its website, is “not far from the Hudson River”--just south of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. This development is a contemporary of Hudson Terrace and of strikingly similar design. In the case of Tompkins Terrace, they rehabbed the old buildings-—installing HVAC systems, redoing the kitchens and bathrooms with new fixtures and appliances, “redesigning” the porches, replacing the windows and the exterior siding. To do the same for Hudson Terrace, they were looking for assistance from HAP (Housing Assistance Program), IRS tax credits, the opportunity to issue tax-exempt bonds, and an extension or reinstatement (for another 30 to 40 years) of the PILOT/Article V agreement that Hudson Terrace currently has with the City of Hudson.

After that teleconference, there was no further word from AIMCO until just before Christmas. On December 16, Eileen Halloran received a call from Charlie Allen, representing a new player: Evergreen Partners. On December 22, the same group met—-this time with the mayor as well—-to hear what Charlie Allen had to say.

Eileen reported that Evergreen Partners is entering into a joint venture with AIMCO to “acquire the interest in the property,” provided that they succeed in getting various tax credits and “an extension of the current PILOT with the City of Hudson.” First order of business, Evergreen is submitting an application to the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) for funding, and they want a letter of support from the mayor. The application is due on February 11, and I suspect that the presentation on January 12 means that they’re also looking for a resolution of support from the Common Council.

This time out, Tompkins Terrace was not mentioned as the model. The new exemplar is Henry Hudson Town Houses in Glens Falls, now known as Village Green Apartments. Here the “rehab” was a bit more dramatic. They demolished the 1971 buildings, which looked a lot like Hudson Terrace, and constructed new buildings, which look a lot like a big version of Crosswinds. According to the Evergreen Partners website, “the comprehensive redesign of the property features a community center, playground, and new site layout.”

Interestingly, Charlie Allen told Eileen Halloran that Evergreen “may have an interest in turning Washington Hose into a community center” for the property. Yikes! This is exactly the outcome that the four aldermen who opposed selling Washington Hose feared. We believe that Washington Hose, positioned as it is at the entrance to Promenade Hill, needs to remain a public building in the control of the City of Hudson. Now we have this group of “national housing specialists,” who are looking to acquire “the interest in the property,” suggesting that they might like to acquire Washington Hose as well to remedy what they see as a shortcoming with Hudson Terrace: the lack of "community space.”

Washington Hose

After two resolutions to lease the building--one to Historic Hudson, the other to Charlie Davi--were rejected by the Common Council at a special meeting on December 8, Washington Hose has moved off the radar screen--temporarily. In the weeks following the meeting, Victor Mendolia, Chair of the Hudson Democratic Committee, tried to negotiate a lease agreement for Charlie Davi that the First and Third Ward aldermen would be comfortable with--one that allowed Davi to establish his business but also preserved the City's ownership of the building and protected the historic integrity of the building and entrance to Promenade Hill. Even though he had suggested that Mendolia find out "what we wanted" and try to mediate a compromise, the mayor scoffed at Victor when he presented the proposed solution. Davi was equally disinterested in compromise, declaring that he was content to wait until the four of us--Carrie Haddad, Chris Wagoner, Ellen Thurston, and me--were voted out of office, which he fully expects will happen in November.