Peggy King, President of the Schenectady City Council, has done it again: Used a “tight deadline” as an excuse for rushing the vote on important legislation, without allowing time for the Council or the public to gather important facts, consider alternatives, and evaluate the likely effects.
The legislation this time is the [choose the most appropriate adjectives] novel, complex, radical, extreme, capitulating, over-generous, risky, under-researched, fawning, naive proposal to amend the provisions governing the Schenectady “C-3″ Waterfront Mixed-Use Residential Zoning District”. The deadline is the two years that the New York State Gaming Commission gives a gaming facility licensee to be operating its casino (which, by the way, we think is a soft deadline, since the Gaming Board is not about to restart a multi-year process due to construction slippage of a couple of months).
The Tight Deadline Excuse [TDE] is a very weak justification even when the deadline could be met on an important action with only a bit more hard work by all involved. But TDE is not even a flimsy excuse when, as here, there is no deadline yet, much less a tight one that could justify rushing to pass such important and radical changes without knowing key facts. For example, before voting, Council members should want to know what the Casino Group plans to do with permission:
- To build 110′ buildings (i.e., how many buildings, where, effects on the view of the river? on future development nearby);
- to use 19,000 sq. ft. of signage on the casino portion of Mohawk Harbor (what sizes, how bright, what content, and how they use signage at their other casinos)
- to erect a 90′ pylon (what line of sight profile will it have, placed where, what content)
- to construct a bike-ped path without the current provision requiring permanent public access to the waterfront, or a similar guarantee
The two-year deadline for completion of the project starts when the actual gaming license is granted, and no one knows how long the “vetting” process will take and the license be granted. Meanwhile, the developer still brags about how far along the site is (they had already spent $100 million there over a year ago and much more since), and how they already have their approved Environmental Impact Statement, with brownfield mitigation near to conclusion. Furthermore, Rush Street was chosen (and touted by the Mayor and Ms. King) because it has significant experience operating casinos, and has already designed casino facilities that are much like the one they will put in Schenectady. It goes without saying that the Galesi Group, the Capital Region’s largest developer and manager of commercial property, has the experience to get the job done as quickly as possible. In addition, if any hotel chain can get a hotel designed, constructed and launched within a two-year window, Sheraton can. Moreover, Mohawk Harbor faces none of the sort of local opposition that can tie the project up in court or administrative proceedings for long periods.
Ms. King told the Times Union that “I’m putting my trust in the developer that they are going to do what’s right.” (“Public supports Schenectady casino at hearing,” by Paul Nelson, Feb. 28, 2015) Trust them why? Because their renderings of the casino hotel and gaming facility buildings are much smaller in scale than the 110′ they now want? Because they want the permanent easement for public access to the riverfront removed from C-3? Because they’ve told us the old factory buildings at ALCO were so high that people never really had a view anyway; which is a silly argument when developing scarce waterfront, but also untrue, as the vast majority of the buildings were very long and about 50′ high, with an occasional tall, narrow section that did little to block the overall view. Because they have asked for much more in the amendments than they told Metroplex they would need or do? (such as pylon size, square footage of signage, setback from the river, and more).
Why would Peggy King risk looking gullible or irresponsible, or like the godmother of a gaudy, permanent circus along the River and Erie Blvd.? Just who does she want to please so much? We’ll let the reader speculate.
One possibility: Tight Deadline Excuse has become a chronic and infectious disease at City Hall.
Here is our concise list of amendment changes:
Highlights of Changes:
- public access to riverfront: the requirement of a permanent easement granting a right to public access to the riverfront has been deleted; developer must build a bike-ped path (which it might have built anyway for those living in its condos and apartments), but there is no longer guaranteed public access, as seen here:
- the provision granting a right to 10% of dock space reserved for public use in the daytime is deleted (current C-3 guarantees the public dock access:
- maximum building height would be 110′ with no special use permit needed; the exception is a 56′ height limit within 100′ of a residential district (current law is 56′ permitted in C-3, with special use permit needed for higher)
- setbacks are a minimum of 50′ from the river’s mean high water mark (had been 40′ from the high water mark)
- Article IX – Signs, which contains rules, limitations, sizes, etc. for signage of all types, no longer applies to the casino and attached uses, but continues to apply to all other zoning districts and outside the casino compound in C-3 (Art. IX does apply to the district under the current C-3 ordinance)
- 19,000 sq. ft. of signage is permitted, with review Site Plan review, which looks at colors, style, location (currently, Art IX limits aggregate square footage to 150 sq. ft., with 25% more if owner has a single lot with more than one principle building).
- directional signs do not count as part of the signage limitations and may have the logo of the establishment (Art. IX does not allow logos on directional signs)
- Multi-sided pylon signs are permitted, with a height not to exceed 90 feet. (Article IX now allows one freestanding sign with a maximum height of 7′ in C-3)
- electronic message board may change every 8 seconds; Planning Commission may reduce the minimum interval (currently, a CEVMS may only change every 60 seconds, and a special use permit is needed, with a public hearing and demonstration that there is no significant impact on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic conditions, health and safety; 8 seconds is the minimum standard now at NYS DOT; a City may increase the interval, but contrary to the provision in the Amendment, it may not reduce it).
- the embayment (man-made bay) may now be included in calculating how big the aggregate footprint of the casino compound may be, with 50% of the size of the embayment added to the total allowable footprint of the buildings (the subject not in current version of C-3; if the embayment is 5 acres in size, 2.5 more acres of footprint allowed; many, perhaps most, jurisdictions would not allow a body of water on a site to count toward the footprint allowance)
For an extensive list of questions that should be answered before a vote is taken on the C-3 Amendments, and a description of the inadequate consideration given by the Planning Commission to the Amendments, see: “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a company town?“.