zoning vote hands Casino Gang a blank check. . .

. . . for a pig in a poke

(in a New York Minute, with a Rubber Stamp)

approved-CityCouncilWe need some new cliches and metaphors to describe the way Schenectady’s ever-grateful and gullible City Hall has again kowtowed to every wish and whim of the Casino Gang (The Galesi Group, which is the owner/developer of Mohawk Harbor & Rush Street Gaming, the erstwhile operator of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor).  The links in our righthand margin will take you to posts describing the issues raised and the questions never asked (much less answered) by the set of amendments to our C-3 Waterfront Mixed Use District, which were passed into legislation last night (by a vote of 4 yes, 0 no and 1 Abstention (Vince Riggi [I]).  They are said to be what the Gang at Mohawk Harbor needs to make their/our dreams a reality. You can read news reports in the Times Union, “City Council approves new waterfront zoning: Rules let buildings be up to 10 stories tall” (by Paul Nelson, Feb. 9, 2015), and in the casino-smitten Schenectady Gazette, “Schenectady council OKs zone change for casino site” (by Haley Vicarro, Feb. 10, 2015).

Rather than use thousands of words to discuss the potential harmful effects of the needless rush to push through the C-3 amendments. I’ll remind you that:

  • “Trust”. Council members insist they didn’t need more facts or discussion before passing the C-3 amendments, because they trust the Galesi Group and Rush Gaming, especially their chief spokesman, David Buicko, and his promise that “it will be tasteful”; and,
  • “Minor Clarification”. Galesi COO David Buicko has said often that the C-3 amendments are minor, and mostly “clarification”, and not even really focused on the casino.

City Council is, therefore, putting its trust in the Casino Gang to protect the interests the zoning law is meant to serve, despite the fact they have pitched the following changes as just “minor clarification” of the existing ordinance:

  • deletion of the requirement of an easement to permanently guarantee “public access and enjoyment of the waterfront,” and of the provision granting a right to 10% of dock space reserved for public use
  • changing the maximum building height allowed to 110′ as of right; C-3 had required a special use permit for any building over 56′
    • By the way, Galesi told Metroplex the buildings around the embayment would be 3-4 floors, and that they wanted a 110′ gaming facility.  Buicko now says he wants the 110′ maximum to use around the bay-marina, if the market looks like there will be a lot of demand. How many buildings will be over 100 feet?
  • increasing the minimum setback from the river to 40′, from 50′
  • making Article IX-Signs of the Zoning Code, which contains the rules everyone else must follow when using signage of any kind, inapplicable to the casino and its related structures
  • permitting the casino and its hotel and parking structure, etc., to have 19,000 sq. ft. of signage, when under Art. IX it might need an area variance to have more than about 200 sq. ft.
  • allowing one or more multi-sided pylon signs, with a height not to exceed 90 feet, when under Article IX freestanding signs with a maximum height of 7′ are allowed

dice It might be better to put your trust on a pair of dice, because the only thing the amendments clarified is that the Casino Gang is in charge of this Company Town.

Finally, through ignorance, incompetence or cunning, the City Council did one more favor for the Casino Gang last night: At the request of Councilwoman Porterfield, they amended the proposal in order to remove from §264-61(I) mention of the new 8-second minimum between changes in electronic message boards.  Ms. Porterfield said that would make it easier to change the Zoning Code, by having all mention of the subject in one place, §264-61. [Sadly, only in Schenectady is changing a number in two places of a Code somehow considered to be difficult or risky.] What she may have forgotten, along with apparently everyone else in the room, is that §H of the amendments to C-3 states: “Article IX-Signs shall not be applicable to a casino facility and attached uses.” Therefore, because §264-61,the electronic message board provision in the Zoning Code, is part of Article IX, it is not applicable to the casino.  The casino’s use of electronic message boards is left totally unregulated under the Schenectady zoning code. At the public hearing last week, I had asked the Council to specifically make the protections in §264-61(2) applicable to the casino. Under§264-61(2), every other business in town must demonstrate, at a public hearing that the proposed sign

“shall not substantially impact upon the nature and character of the surrounding neighborhood, upon traffic conditions and any other matters affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”

The one business most likely to fail that test, the Casino, does not have to take the test. At this point, I’d like to see the requirements of §264-61(2) applied to the Casino by a change in section H of the C-3 ordinance, or by drawing the Casino back into §264-61, even though it is part of Article IX.

Note: This reminds me that I have never heard the City Council or the Planning Commission mention why our signage regulations have been made inapplicable to the Casino, much less the potential ramifications. Was it so that no one would notice how much more generous Council has been to the Casino than to any other Schenectady business erecting a sign when they redid the Art. IX Signage Schedule?

Because the 8-second interval is the NYS Department of Transportation minimum for changes on electronic variable message signs, the casino will not be allowed to adopt a shorter interval, as long as DOT monitors and enforces its rule. Let’s hope that DOT also monitors and enforces its spacing requirement along the Mohawk Harbor stretch of Erie Boulevard. The spacing rules states that CEVMS signs must be spaced at least 300 feet apart, “if more than one CEVMS sign face is visible to the driver at the same time on either side of the highway.”

prayinghandsS If I were a praying man, I’d be asking St. Thomas (known for Doubting) and St. Nicholas (who is said to protect folks from Misunderstandings, Robberies, and Wolves) to take special care of Schenectady, especially along Mohawk Harbor.

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