Public weighs in on Bliss plans at public hearing



HUDSON–This spring the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) and its redevelopment partner are applying for an Empire State Development (ESD) Restore NY Communities Initiative grant to demolish the 135-unit income-restricted Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments. Meanwhile, the City of Hudson Common Council voted – on the second try – to support the ESD application before holding a public hearing on it. Residents of the targeted buildings asked about details of their promised new apartments, and members of the general public have spoken out for and against the ESD application and the redevelopment plan that includes the demolition.

Last year the HHA, which runs the targeted buildings, partnered with Mountco Construction and Development Corporation of Scarsdale to redevelop its land. Together with Alexander Gorlin Architects, they drew up an ambitious vision to build in two phases. Phase 1 would erect buildings on property that now has no buildings. Phase 2 would redevelop the land where Bliss and Columbia Apartments stand. Redeveloping that land requires first demolishing the current buildings. Demolishing the buildings, by law, requires first rehousing their residents, in Hudson. Phase 1 would create enough new apartments to hold all the displaced households. They could move into its buildings. Currently, the development partners are concentrating on getting the demolition grant and putting in place financing and permission for Phase 1.

Architect Alexander Gorlin’s schematics of most of Phase 1. Site B has the apartment buildings. The relevant streets are State, Second, and Lombard. Not shown are two additional town house sites, one on the corner of Columbia Street at 2nd Street, one on the corner of Warren and Front Streets. Photo by Jeanette Wolfberg

Phase 1 plans envision erecting two apartment buildings on property the HHA already owns and several townhouses on property the City of Hudson has offered to sell to the HHA at half price. The HHA’s already-owned land lies across State Street from Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments. It currently holds a basketball court, a handball court, and a playground. The buildings replacing them would stand five and seven stories tall and together hold up to 138 apartments, underground parking, and street-level commercial space. The townhouses together would have about 15 apartments. Phase 1 would build up to 153 apartments.

Once the state gives the “green light” for Phase 1, it will take about a year before construction begins, and Phase 1 construction should take about two years, Mountco’s Development Director Eu Ting-Zambuto has estimated.

On April 25, Hudson’s Common Council voted on a resolution to support HHA’s application for the ESD grant but did not get enough yes votes to pass it. On April 29, the council held a special meeting, with more members present, and this time the resolution passed. On May 7, Mountco and HHA officials met with HHA’s residents. On May 16, the City Common Council held a public hearing on the resolution.

At the May 7 meeting, people discussed visions for the new buildings. “You deserve a nice place to live,” HHA Executive Director Jeffrey Dodson told them. “You deserve good living conditions. We want to be attractive. We are part of the community like everybody else.”

When asked the reason for seeking funds for demolition before funds for new construction, Ms. Ting-Zambuto said that the demolition grant is the money that is available now. Furthermore, if the project gets funding from one source, it will be easier for it to get funding from additional sources, Mr. Dodson added.

HHA residents asked about specific details about the new apartments and their move into them. Topics included furniture, storage space, dishwashers, and laundry. Commissioner Mary Decker, who is both a HHA tenant and on the board, suggested washing machines on every floor to make it easier for the disabled. Ms. Ting-Zambuto said there have been requests for a larger laundry room. Somebody asked why so many of the new apartments would have only one bedroom since so many families with children live in Bliss and Columbia Apartments.

“Your new apartments will be bigger,” Mr. Dodson said. But any modification to add an amenity “will take away from your living space.”

Still, Mr. Dodson added, “We want the new buildings to last. Let’s take care of what we will have. Let’s preserve it.”

At the May 16 public hearing, people from all parts of Hudson spoke.

Robert Rasner brought up procedural points. He questioned the legal validity of a resolution supporting an ESD grant application that was passed before the public hearing. He told Hudson “elected officials, you have shown no concern for the views of the people.” Besides, he added, the grant will have “nothing to do with building new housing; it’s for clearing away redundant housing.”

“Redundant?” asked Janice Beckles. “That means nobody exists in Bliss.”

Alan Weaver, who was on the HHA’s governing Board of Commissioners for several years, the last two and a half years as chairman, said, “Hudson already has affordable housing.” Examples he gave included Skyler Court, Crosswinds, and Providence Hall. “We don’t say Bliss shouldn’t be replaced. But does it have to be replaced by this?”

Ms. Beckles said, “You make the case for tearing down. But they don’t want to put up new buildings.”

HHA Commissioner Nick Zachos said, “Everybody says we need affordable housing, but when anything concrete comes up, they oppose it.”

Carole Osterink reminded people that the grant will be for demolition that is “years off.”

Somebody said, “We should prioritize housing equity over beautification and bureaucratic efficiency. “

Somebody else asked, “Is the plan strategic? Are we working the smartest?”

Some people expressed concern that the project would bringing new people to Hudson. Mr. Weaver and Ms. Osterink asked how could they “block off State Street” and reconfigure the street grid.

The whole project’s maximum build vision would result in up to 315 apartments and closing a part of State Street. But when one subtracts the number of replacements for current HHA apartments, the number of new apartments falls to 180. And only 18 of the 180 would come from Phase 1.

Closing part of State Street to most vehicular traffic would also be part of Phase 2, said Mountco’s Executive Vice President John Madeo.
Phase 2 can start only after the demolition, which is expected to happen only after HHA residents can move into Phase 1 buildings, which could be three years after Phase 1 gets needed permissions. And before Phase 2 starts, it would need its own set of hearings, financing, and approvals.

Still, somebody declared that supporting the HHA getting the demolition grant means supporting the whole project, maximum build, including Phase 2.

Bliss residents also spoke. Ms. Decker said, “We need more housing. Come live in Bliss for a month and see what we go through.”

Debra McPherson, the other HHA Commissioner who also lives in a HHA building, said, “We want to live in a good place, like God wants us to live in.”

Another resident said, “We don’t want to move out of Hudson. Something needs to be done. We can’t just talk talk talk.”

The proposed project would actually open more routes to vehicular traffic. It envisions extending First Street from Columbia to State Street (separating HHA land from Schuyler Court). And it envisions restoring Lombard Street, which disappeared in urban renewal, between State and Mill Street, between planned new townhouses.

The Phase 2 maximum build vision proposes adding three buildings with 162 apartments, more commercial space, trees, gardens, and a new basketball court. It would “pedestrianize” State Street between First and Second Streets, between the Phase 1 and Phase 2 apartment buildings.

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