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Nw York Times looks at icebreaking on the Hudson

on Tue, 02/24/2015 - 21:09

NBC aboard Coast Guard Cutter breaking ice off Rhinecliff

on Tue, 02/24/2015 - 20:48

Rhinebeck Zoning and Planning Boards approve new Blackwood proposal

on Mon, 02/09/2015 - 10:51

The Rhinebeck Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board have both unanimously approved the new plans for an addition and other modifications to Carolyn Blackwood's house at 64 Grinnell Street.  

The ZBA had denied Mrs. Blackwood’s initial request for an area variance in August.  She then withdrew the application from the Planning Board and filed a new application and a new design with both boards in November.  

The new proposal, as Mrs. Blackwood's attorney, George Rodenhausen, told the ZBA in a presentation back in November, is totally redesigned.  (The site plans are here, and the minutes to the ZBA meeting are here.)

In the original plan, the house was 4,096 square feet — much more than twice the Rhinecliff average of 1,640 SF, and significantly more than the 2,300 SF permitted by Rhinecliff zoning.  The size was one of the main issues cited by the ZBA when it denied the first request for an area variance.

The new design calls for a house with a floor area of 2,962 square feet.  That is still about 660 square feet more than permitted by zoning, so the applicant again requested an area variance from the ZBA.  This time around, the ZBA granted the variance with a unanimous vote on December 17. 

As noted in the ZBA's resolution, "unlike the last application where there were many opposed to the prior application, there was no person opposing the application outright."  Robert Heywood voiced concerns about the possible effect on the views from his parents' house to the south, but everyone else who spoke at the meeting expressed support.  

Another of the main changes from the first plan is that there is no longer a long, tall hedge running from the house to the garage.  The hedge would have blocked a view of the river from Grinnell Street, and it was one of the main points of controversy about the original plan. 

As with the first proposal, the new design involves removing a 1997 addition to the nineteenth-century house and restoring the exterior with new siding and traditional windows. The applicant has requested and received a demolition permit in order to do this work, which will also require jacking the house up while work is done on the foundation and basement area.

Like the old plan, the new plan features an addition located a slight distance from the original house, but with a difference.  In the first plan, the original house and addition appeared as independent structures, and they were connected by a hallway in the lower level (largely below street grade).  In the new plan, the house and addition are connected by an above-ground hallway.  

The goal, explained Mr. Rodenhausen, is to fit in with the traditional Rhinecliff grouping pattern, with a two-story structure connected to a one-story structure.  Connecting the two structures this way, rather than through the lower level, is also more efficient in terms of the space needed for circulation.  That's one of the reasons the new plan involves less square footage than the original proposal.

The side of the hallway facing the street will be be made of etched glass. The new addition will have stone-clad walls on the south and east sides, and a gabled roof, not the flat roof of the original design.  The front entrance will be visible from the street, as opposed to the first design, which hid the entrance behind a hedge as part of the "hidden pavilion in a garden" scheme.

The new design thus addresses nearly all of the issues that had been raised concerning the first proposal with respect to size, design, and relationship to the neighborhood.  In its letter to the ZBA, Hudson River Heritage reviewed these changes and then stated the following: "Given all of these modifications, as well as the demonstrated sensitivity both to the concerns of Ms. Blackwood's fellow hamlet residents and to the spirit and intent of the standards described in the town comprehensive plan and zoning law, Hudson River Heritage is pleased to endorse the current applications."

Rhinebeck considers historic structures law

on Sat, 11/15/2014 - 16:03

The Rhinebeck Town Board will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Nov, 18, 2014, at 5:00 p.m. at Town Hall, 80 East Market Street, to discuss a proposal to add an ordinance to the town law governing historic structures.  A draft of the ordinance is here.  

As stated in this draft, the new law is intended to identify and protect the historical and archaeological resources that represent distinctive elements of Rhinebeck's heritage; foster education and civic pride in the accomplishments of the past; protect and strengthen Rhinebeck's attractiveness to residents and visitors, thereby providing support and stimulus to the economy; and ensure the harmonious, orderly, and efficient growth and development of the Town, in accordance with the goals and objectives of the Comprehensive Plan of the Town of Rhinebeck.

To accomplish these goals, the ordinance would create a Rhinebeck Historic Preservation Advisory Board.  The Board would have the following responsibilities:

  • develop an annual budget for the Board for approval by the Town Board;
  • administer rules and regulations as necessary to carry out the duties of the Board;
  • adopt criteria for the identification of significant historical, archaeological, architectural, and cultural resources;
  • conduct surveys to identify significant historical, archaeological, architectural, and cultural resources within the Town;
  • recommend to the Town Board that it designate structures and/or resources identified as Local Landmarks, Historic Districts and Zones of Archaeological Sensitivity;
  • recommend to the town government or appropriate non-profit organizations, easements or other interests in real property as necessary to carry out the purposes of this law;
  • increase public awareness of the economic value of historical, archaeological, architectural, and cultural preservation by developing and participating in public education programs, which include tax credits and identification of funding resources;
  • make recommendations to Town government

Rhinebeck Planning Board to review new proposal for Blackwood property on Grinnell

on Sat, 11/15/2014 - 12:00

On Tuesday, Nov. 17, the Rhinebeck Planning Board will consider a presentation about the new plans for the Carolyn Blackwood property at 64 Grinnell Street in Rhinecliff.

The Board’s agenda describes the session as “Sketch Plan Conference / Initial Presentation of Application,” so it’s not clear if this is a continuation of the public hearing on the applicant’s original plan or if the process is starting over. 

According to the agenda announcement, the applicant plans to merge two of the lots she owns on Grinnell — the southern-most lot (which now has a garage) and the lot with the house.  During the review of the previous application, the applicant had offered to merge these two lots with the northern lot, which would be kept open under an easement.  The new description says nothing about the northern lot.  It also doesn’t encompass the property across the street, which Mrs. Blackwood purchased recently; it too includes a parcel on the river side of Grinnell.  

The agenda also indicates that the applicant wants to remove the 1997 addition to the dwelling — which comprises 1030 square feet on the south side of the original historic structure.  She wants to replace it with a larger addition, resulting in a net increase of 637 square feet, for a total of 2,962 SF.  This is a considerably smaller addition than originally proposed, which would have brought the total square feet to 4,096.  It is still more than the 2,300 square feet maximum for Rhinecliff, however, so the applicant will apparently also be requesting an area variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to the agenda, the applicant will also ask the Planning Board for a Certificate of Removal of Demolition in order to remove the 1997 addition.  This seems to be a new twist, since such a certificate was not part of the process the first time around.

The Planning Board has other items on the agenda as well.  The meeting begins at 6:30 in Town Hall.

(Photo credit: 64 Grinnell Street as it

Zoning Board denies Blackwood variance request

on Thu, 08/21/2014 - 21:40

The Rhinebeck Zoning Board of Appeals has rejected Carolyn Blackwood’s request for an area variance.  The variance would have permitted her to build a house of 4,096 square feet in Rhinecliff, where the zoning limits houses to 2,300 square feet.  While the case is still before the Planning Board, this decision by the ZBA effectively means that the applicant and her designer Steve Mensch will need to go back to the drawing board.

The ZBA’s decision is articulated in a 3-page resolution summarizing the Board’s findings, but it is supplemented by a 23-page document (written with the help of Town attorney John Lyons) that reviews the facts of the case and the rationale for denying the variance.  The resolution is here, and the long document is here.  It contains an appendix listing 44 letters that were submitted by the public and documents that were part of the record reviewed by the ZBA.  Most of them are available on this website here.

The ZBA’s decision to reject the application was not unanimous.  Three board members voted in favor of the resolution denying the variance; two members, including ZBA chairman Michael West, opposed the resolution and said they would have granted the variance.

From the beginning back in February when the Blackwood application was first submitted, it has been the subject of controversy.  Many people in the community have opposed it, while many others have supported it.  Even experts on the comprehensive plan, zoning, and Rhinebeck history have found themselves on opposite sides of the issue.  Sally Mazzarella, for example, came out in support of the plan, while Hudson River Heritage wrote a letter expressing disapproval.

The Planning Board, which is reviewing a special use permit and site plans for the Blackwood project, also appears to be divided.

Fire commissioners to meet with Rhinebeck supervisor

on Fri, 07/25/2014 - 11:25

The Rhinecliff Fire Commissioners will be holding their next meeting on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 7 p.m. at the Rhinecliff Firehouse.  Town Supervisor Elizabeth Spinzia will be there to discuss possible changes to the Rhinecliff Fire District with the fire Commissioners.  The changes could involve expanding the size of the district and raising rates for property owners. 

This is will be an informational meeting but not a public discussion. Rhinecliffers are encouraged to attend the meeting to learn how these changes may affect the hamlet and its surrounding fire district.

A Tale of Two Hamlets

on Mon, 06/30/2014 - 06:09
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.…

The fireworks resume this week over the controversial plan to develop Carolyn Blackwood’s property at the top of Grinnell Street in Rhinecliff.  On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals will continue the public hearing on the application for an area variance, which is necessary since the house would be expanded to nearly 4,100 square feet, well in excess of the 2,300 square feet limit set by the zoning code for the hamlet.

Proponents of architectural designer Steve Mensch's plan for the property have taken to describing the hamlet with terms like “eclectic,” “diversity,” "quirky" and “maverick individualism.”  The idea is to make it seem that Rhinecliff isn’t really very “historic,” so it can easily accommodate a very large and very modern-looking new house.  It’s an interesting strategy but very ominous for the future of the hamlet.


Preserve and protect

There is some truth, of course, to seeing Rhinecliff as a mix of old and new.  Homeowners are always modifying their houses with additions and improvements, and there’s not much chance that the place is going to be frozen in time.  Rhinecliff is never going to be a “living history museum” like Old Sturbridge, Mass., and it’s not an authentic eighteenth-century New England village like Deerfield, Mass. 

But Rhinecliff is definitely a historic place.  In fact, as Cynthia Owen Philip puts it in Rhinecliff: A Hudson River History, the hamlet, "by Hudson River standards, is ancient.  Not only is it the oldest hamlet, but it preceded by many years the Town of Rhinebeck of which it is a part.”  Its origins go all the way back to 1686.  

The architecture and unique topography of Rhinecliff make it one of the great examples of nineteenth-century Hudson River vernacular, and the hamlet’s houses, modest though they may be, are important historic structures.  As Philip notes, Rhinecliff’s dwellings may not be comparable in grandeur to the estate mansions or some of the houses in Rhinebeck Village, but they are just as historic — and in some cases even more historic.  “Moreover,” writes Philip, “each is an authentic expression of the generations who have lived in them.”

Of the 160 or so houses in the Rhinecliff Overlay District — the hamlet and the gateway along Rhinecliff Road — nearly one hundred were built before 1900.  One of the criteria for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places is that a property be at least fifty years old.  All but a dozen houses in Rhinecliff satisfy this criterion.  (A list and map of the houses in the district are here.)

Rhinecliff is also one of the contributing hamlets to the Hudson River Historic District, which is listed on the National Register as a National Historic Landmark District.  Most of the houses in the hamlet are thus contributing structures to the National Register.

In the section on the Rhinecliff Overlay District in the Rhinebeck Zoning Code, the term “historic” appears a couple of dozen times in the space of just a few pages.  Many people worked for nearly a decade writing the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Code, and when it comes to Rhinecliff, their message is clear: preserve and protect the hamlet’s historic character and make sure that everything that gets built here, whether it’s a new house or a simple addition, is “in harmony,” “sympathetic,” “consistent,” and respectful of “the architectural character and fabric.”

Hamlet Yard & Book Sale

on Sat, 06/21/2014 - 10:57

Rhinecliff Hamlet-Wide Yard Sale and Morton Book Sale & Electronics Sale

June 28 at 9 a.m.  The event is rain or shine.

Morton Memorial Library, 82 Kelly St., Rhinecliff, and other locations throughout the hamlet

Signs will be up and maps will be available. More than 15 will be selling a wide variety of treasures. Park legally where you can.

At Morton, there will be blow-out book sale. Fill a bag for only $3.

Used computers and other electronics will be for sale by Morton’s tech guru. Some are free — while supplies last! Apple laptops, Apple desktops, Apple monitors, PC laptops, PC desktops, PC monitors, printers, computer speakers, wireless keyboard and mouse, IPhones, IPod speakers, wireless routers, cordless phones, Kindle, Nook and more.

Sales at Morton benefit the library.

CONTACT: Visit or call (845) 876-2903

ZBA Meeting on Blackwood proposal pushed back to July 2

on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 15:28

The Rhinebeck Zoning Board of Appeals has changed the date for the continuation of the Public Hearing about the Blackwood proposal yet again.  The ZBA had originally set the hearing for July 2.   Then it changed the date to June 18.  Now it’s back on for July 2, at 7:35 at Rhinebeck Town Hall.  We’ll keep you posted on any new developments.  The Public Hearing Notice for the July 2nd meeting is here.