By Maury Thompson

Building a Future

John Finch's hair is a little grayer now than in the photograph that appeared on the front page of The Post-Star in May 2000.

The headline over the news story reads, "It's home to them -- Townhouse residents wouldn't welcome bulldozers."

John Finch and his wife, Elizabeth, keep a framed copy of the article on the wall of their apartment at the Henry Hudson Town Houses complex.

The couple took the article off the wall Tuesday and brought it to a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Village Green apartments, which will replace the townhouse complex between Hudson Avenue and Broad Street.

It was the Finches' way of celebrating the end of more than seven years of controversy and uncertainty about the future of the 136-unit, low-income housing complex in Glens Falls.

"I'm overjoyed at it," Elizabeth Finch said.

Hudson Avenue Housing Associates, a joint venture between Evergreen Partners and Marathon Development Group, will demolish the dilapidated townhouse buildings in phases over a two-year period and replace them with new apartment buildings.

"Is there anybody here who's not convinced something is really going to happen?" Charles Allen, a principal in Evergreen Partners, asked as he stood before a crowd of residents, government officials and local business leaders.

"No hands," he beamed, after no one in the audience raised a hand.

Still, some in the audience marveled as state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, and Glens Falls Mayor Roy Akins picked up gold-painted sledgehammers and took a few ceremonial swings at a building scheduled to be demolished in the next two weeks.

Two buildings already have been demolished in preparation for construction, which is scheduled to begin shortly after Labor Day.

"I never thought I'd live to see this," Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan said to Glens Falls 2nd Ward Councilwoman Judy Villa-White, as the two officials watched the ceremony.

Residents watching the events also were amazed.

"They had been talking about it for years, but I never thought it would happen," said Hazel Richardson, who has lived at the complex for 16 years.

Townhouse residents have been at the center of controversy since the city's master plan in 2000 recommended relocating residents to other housing units elsewhere in the region, so the townhouses could be demolished to make room for commercial development.

Over the years, various redevelopment or renovation plans were floated before officials settled on the plan to replace all of the units at the same site.

Ike Farr, a Henry Hudson resident for seven years, attended numerous community meetings and urged city officials not to split up the neighborhood.

"I'm glad to have a new place and some security," he said Tuesday. "All these people who have been here for years are my friends."

Several residents said the atmosphere is already changing, even before new apartments are built.

"It's become a better environment," said Jackie Allen, a tenant for 11 years.

Allen and others said the new owners, who took over management at the beginning of the year, have enforced rules more strictly.

"There's been a lot of cleaning out, shall we say, of some of the problem areas at the complex," said Becky Grinnell, who has lived there for about three years.

The change residents are noticing likely is due to a combination of the new management and stepped-up police patrols at the complex, said Hogan, the district attorney.

"The townhouses have improved somewhat, but it's still a far cry from where it should be," she said.

Elizabeth Finch said she hopes new apartments will improve the neighborhood's reputation.

"For too long, Henry Hudson -- which is now Village Green -- has had a bad reputation because of a few," she said.

John Finch said he is looking forward to having a new apartment, but he will miss the flowers and trees he has planted and tended to outside his townhouse for 14 years.

"Change is good," he said. "You have to move along with time. That's part of nature."

Tenants will have space outside their new apartments where they can plant flowers, if they like, said Mark Soja, president of Marathon Development Group.

Government officials speaking at Tuesday's ceremony said the new apartments will improve the appearance and quality of life in the neighborhood.

"Affordable housing is something that is very, very important," Akins said.

"It's been the work of a lot of people," Little said. "It takes a lot of discussion and a lot of compromise and a lot of people working together."

Lisa Manzi, an aide to U.S. Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-Greenport, also spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony.