BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!

 

30ftPylonCompare This evening (Thursday, Nov. 16), with virtually no discussion among themselves, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals granted Mohawk Harbor’s request for a large, strip-mall style pylon sign, 30’ high, 220″ wide, with a 6′ x 12′ LCD screen and 22 lighted tenant signs. Brendan Keller, the Board member who had moved its rejection on October 4, moved its acceptance this time, noting that bigger [than the 22′ pylon approved on November 1] was better and that it was “not a significant” variance. The Code of Signage Regulations calls for a limit of 7′ h on a freestanding sign, with an area of 25 sq. ft if not a shopping mall, and 75 sq. ft. for a shopping mall.

This renewed Application was virtually unchanged from the October 6 version — except:

  1. It went from 221″ wide to 220″ wide [Really! Click on image to the Left above];
  2. The Applicant gave up wanting only a 1′ setback from Erie Blvd., rather than the required 3′ setback in the Zoning Code [which, of course, assumes a much-smaller sign so near a road]; and
  3. The Applicant now claims the LCD screen, which it pointed out would be clearer and brighter, would be “dimmable” [There is no promise of whether or when it would be dimmed or what its normal illumination will be; and, no explanation of why the prior, high-tech and surely expensive version would not also have been dimmable. Mr. Fallati mumbled so much that I could not hear most of his presentation to the Board. But the Minutes of the meeting state: BZA Member “Connelly asked if the previously approved electronic message board could also have an adjustable screen. Mr. Fallati responded that he is not certain if the smaller screen is available in the higher quality.” Ignorance is bliss around BZA.]
  • Neither the setback nor the dimmability issue were mention by the Board on October 6, when the original 30′ pylon was rejected. The focus on October 6 was the size of the pylon structure and the brightness and glare of the screen and lighted signs.
  • By the Way: Using the Applicant’s figure, BZA called this a 265 sq. ft. sign each time it was before the Board.  The actual dimensions of the sign portion of the structure (without its base) suggest, at 27′ and 18′ 4″, an area of 495 square feet. [see discussion at the bottom of this posting on computing the Area of a Sign under the Schenectady zoning code.]

update (Nov. 18, 2017): This morning’s Gazette article  (“30-foot sign approved for Mohawk Harbor: Detractor cites city code, fears distracted motorists”, p. A1, by Stephen Williams) has a pithy summary of the decision (emphasis added):

honest Zoning Board Chairman James Gleason said the application was modified from the one the board rejected on Oct. 4, and the board collectively determined the variance was not significant. Board members who opposed the sign in October were primarily concerned about its size, according to meeting minutes.

update (Nov. 19, 2017) BZA Minutes: Much more quickly than usual, the Board has posted the minutes for the November 16, 2017 BZA Special Meeting to review Mohawk Harbor’s pylon sign Application. (E.g., the Minutes for its Nov. 1, 2017 regular meeting are not up as of this morning, Nov. 19.) I’d like to make a few points about this summary of the Special Meeting:

  1. The is no mention that the “prior variances” permitting a 22′ h structure, 122 sq. ft., with an 8′ LCD screen took place only 15 days earlier (Nov. 1, 2017).
  2. There is no mention that a virtually identical 30′ pylon was requested and rejected by BZA only 6 weeks earlier, on October 4, 2017).
  3. There is no mention of the significant discussion in my submitted Comments of the Traffic Safety Issue and Lack of Evidence of Safety, and of the Self-Created Hardship issue, or my summary of them at the meeting.

Here are the conclusions in the Minutes, which I believe should embarrass each member of the Board of Zoning Appeals:

CONTINUED DISCUSSION

Mr. Keller stated that he believes that the bigger sign looks better and is more in keeping with the scale of its surroundings. Mr. Connelly and Mr. Gleason agreed.

AREA VARIANCE APPROVAL

NoEvil-see Motion by Mr. Keller, seconded by Ms. D’Alessandro-Gilmore, to approve the Area Variances based on the following findings of fact:

1. No undesirable change will be produced in the neighborhood.

2. The benefit sought by the applicant cannot be achieved by another method.

3. The variance is not substantial.

4. There will be no adverse effect on physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood.

5. The alleged hardship is not self-created

To use a legal term I remember from law school, these findings are a joke. They surely do not pass the “blush test” — whether an assertion can be made without blushing. Of course, the scariest thing may be that the members of this Board and of the Planning Commission in Schenectady can no longer blush when asked to ignore the law and common sense by a special few members of the business and development community.

This quote from Wikipedia on “Variance (land use)” is a good summary of the variance issue:

     In either case [an area/dimension variance or a use variance], the variance request is justified only if special conditions exist on the lot that create a hardship making it too difficult to comply with the code’s normal requirements. Likewise, a request for a variance on a normal lot with no special conditions could judiciously be denied. The special conditions or hardship typically must arise from some physical configuration of the lot or its structures. The financial or personal situation of the applicant normally cannot be taken into consideration. Under most codes governing variances, approval of the variance must not result in a public health or safety hazard and must not grant special privilege to the property owner. In other words, when a variance is granted, any other property owner with similar site conditions should be able to obtain a similar variance; this criterion is often addressed by citing precedent.

There are many other points that could and need to be made, but I will stop now by citing interested readers to the Zoning Board of Appeals guidelines published by the NYS Department of State (2005, reprinted 2015), and reminding BZA of this quote (at p. 19, emphasis added):

Minimum variance necessary

The statutes codify what the courts had previously held: When granting either a use or an area variance, a zoning board of appeals must grant the minimum variance that it deems necessary and adequate, while at the same time preserving and protecting the character of the neighborhood and the health, safety and welfare of the community. Thus, the board need not grant to an applicant everything he/she has asked for. Rather, the board is required to grant only the approval that is absolutely necessary to afford relief.

. . . and this passage from page 18 (emphasis added):

Substantiality

percentsignBlackRed It is difficult to quantify “substantiality.” The board should, however, make a reasoned judgment as to whether the nonconformity being proposed is too great, as compared to the lawful dimensions allowed by the zoning law. Some courts have looked favorably upon a board’s application of a simple mathematical analysis. In Heitzman v. Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals , the court upheld the 67 denial of a variance based in part on the showing that construction would have exceeded the allowable lot coverage by 15%.

[original posting continued]

Just seventeen days ago, after virtual begging by Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, BZA granted a variance to permit a 22’ tall, 122 sq. ft in size, at the same location, in a spot where the City’s Sign Regulations limit such signs to 75 sq. ft and 7’ tall.

The motion to grant this newest application states that the variance is not significant. Other businesses in Schenectady may take this as a good precedent for larger, more distracting signs, with larger and brighter LCD screens.

Only Paul Fallati, on behalf of Mohawk Harbor, spoke in favor and, only I [David Giacalone], spoke in opposition. I started by reminding the Board that the Intention provision of our Signage Code, §264-59, states that the article is intended:

“to reduce sign or advertising distractions and obstructions that may contribute to traffic accidents, reduce hazards that may be caused by signs overhanging or projecting over public rights-of-way, provide more visual open space and improve the community’s appearance.”

I also pointed out:

  1. the rendition board displayed by Mr. Fallatti showed the LCD screen much duller than it will be when in use, reminding them of the Lighthouse screen at Freeman’s Bridge and the LCD screens on the Casino.
  2. the total lack of evidence presented by the Applicant to show that such a large and bright sign so close to Erie Blvd., placed there to attract the close attention of motorists, will not be a safety hazard.
  3. that Mohawk Harbor is promoted as an up-scale, planned community and neighborhood, not a shopping mall, and there are many better ways for the public to learn about the bars and restaurants and shops that are along a City street than slowing down on a busy road to check out the tenant signs and the show on the LCD screen
  4. this is a “self-created” problem, with Mohawk Harbor’s owners knowing very well the limitations on signage in the Code, and this point further weighed against the Application.

This afternoon (Nov. 16, 2017), after receiving a copy of my Comments, Camille Sasinowski, President of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, sent the Board an email saying:

My neighborhood association is in complete agreement with Mr.Giacalone’s comments and recommendations.

I would also add that, now that the trees are leafless, additional bright and glaring light will further contribute to our neighborhoods further erosion. Perhaps the lighting should be planted nearer the new harbor housing. What kind of reaction would be expected? The tenants certainly would not tolerate such an intrusion. However, residents that have been paying taxes and keeping this City running are being treated like 2nd class citizens.

The breaks have to be put on.

Camille A. Sasinowski,President of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association.

By the way, this surprise “Special Meeting” of the Board was called with two days’ notice. Despite my prior significant interest and contribution in this matter, I was not given notice by the Board’s staff of tonight’s meeting, nor of the Nov. 1 regular meeting.

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-- follow-up re Area of the Sign (Nov. 16, 2017, evening): I started wondering this evening why the Board of Zoning Appeals, like the Planning Commission this summer, accepted the figure of 265 sq. ft. for the proposed 30′ tall pylon sign that was given to them by the Applicant, Paul Fallati for Mohawk Harbor.  Not counting its 36″ high base, the pylon is 27′ by 18′ 4″, which seems to yield an area of 495 square inches.  Click on the image to the right to see the sketch provided by the Applicant showing the dimensions; I have repeated the main numbers in red in a larger font to make them easier to read.

This is how the City’s zoning code defines the Area of a Sign, §264-60:

AREA OF THE SIGN The area of all lettering, wording, and accompanying designs, logos, and symbols, together with the background on which they are displayed, whether open or enclosed Where the sign consists of individual letters, designs or symbols attached to a building, awning, wall, or window, the area shall be that of the smallest rectangle which encompasses all of the letters, designs, and symbols. The structure supporting a sign shall be excluded unless the structure is designed in a way to form an integral background for the display. Only one face of a double-faced sign shall be counted as surface or area of such a sign.

The LED screen, called “ECM” by the Applicant, is of course a sign within the above definition.

Although BZA thought the variance it granted to be “not significant”, two hundred and sixty-five is significantly more than 75. And, 495 is, in my estimation, scandalously more than 75.

  • By the way, while checking the signage Code, I was reminded of the definition of a pylon sign: “PYLON SIGN — A sign that has a base that is a minimum of three feet wide and a maximum of five feet wide. At no time can the message portion exceed eight feet wide.” No further comment needed.

 

Luck Ain’t No Lady: 38th week the worst yet at Rivers Casino

LUCKNOLADYhonest  According to the NYS Racing Commission revenues page for Rivers Casino, its 38th week (ending October 29, 2017), was the WORST week yet for the Schenectady Mohawk Harbor Casino. That’s despite having the Ellis Foundation’s big Women’s Night Out “Luck Be a Lady” event there on October 26, preceded by a prep-day of Table Game education in September. Of course, we can only guess the effect of several weeks of Mayor Gary McCarthy appearing in ubiquitous (and, for many of us, tacky and dispiriting) Fuccillo Auto ads shot at the Casino. Nonetheless, last week’s, take, $2,039,456, was perilously close to dipping below the $2-million mark. 

plungegraphsmY DOLLARS. This comes after Gazette columnist Sara Foss called this week for a review of the inflated revenue projections we got from the three new casinos in New York State. While this site was temporarily called “Stop the Schenectady Casino”, we pointed out the practice of over-promising revenues. That included, as even the Gazette reported prior to endorsing the Casino, that “In Philadelphia, for example, SugarHouse was projected to generate $320 million in gross revenue its first year but only generated $212 million.” 

casinowalkers BODIES. We hope that Foss or another journalist will look into the promises Rush Street made about how many people the Casino would bring to Schenectady. It projected 2.8 million a year. The fact that we have never been given any attendance numbers past the first couple of days suggests that the projected body-count was another cynical exaggeration. 

 

red check For those readers who are wondering how, after the Gazette endorsement of Porterfield, Farley and Mootooveren for City Council, to choose between John Mootooveren and Mohamed Hafez when using their third vote, I’d like to point out the following, regarding each man and the Casino:

Incumbent Councilman John Mootooveren:

  • JMootooverenHas acted as if Schenectady were a Supplicant, and a Second-Rate City, during the casino license application process, and thereafter, rubber-stamping the Mayor’s Supine Schenectady position, giving the Casino applicants their every wish, while making no demands. In contrast, all other potential casino locations use their leverage, to assure additional income from the casino, including mitigating its added expenses for infrastructure, public safety, and social problems; seeking guarantees of minimum revenue payments; and demanding local preference for jobs, and a buffer period in which property assessments would not be challenged by the developer.
  • Never questioned any claim made by the Casino applicants prior to voting to approve their Application for a Casino License in Schenectady as to projected revenue and the absence of likely negative effects.
  • Never sought an independent study of potential negative effects and realistic benefits, despite his claims of financial expertise.
  • And, never questioned or challenged any of the drastic changes in our zoning ordinance, demanded by Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. As a result, the Council and the Mayor took away the guarantee of public access in perpetuity to enjoyment of the riverbank when the harbor was developed, and the requirement that 10% of residential boat dock space be reserved during the day for the public.

In contrast, Candidate Mohamed Hafez:

  • MHafez Was a leader in the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, pointing out the many problems raised by locating a casino in an urban area and the need to fully consider likely problems and realistic benefits.
  • Demanded over and over, at City Council meetings, and in writing to the press, that the City use its leverage to demand/negotiate the best possible agreement with the Casino to maximize revenues and local employment, and minimize and offset added financial and social costs.
  • Wrote a letter to the editor we reprised here: “wise words from Mr. Hafez“; and
  • Asked the Mayor directly about host community agreements at a City Council meeting on May 11th, and at subsequent meetings, leading to the Mayor writing a guest column in the Gazette debunking the notion of having an HCA or needing to ask for any moneys in addition to required taxes, and our responding at length at this website. E.g., “the Lago Casino HCA and the Mayor.”

Empty Chair. One final note about the two candidates: Mohamed Hafez, a registered Democrat running on the Republican and IndependenceParty lines, attended every candidate forum during the current City Council election campaign. John Mootooveren, the incumbent Democrat who is 1/4th of the Mayor’s 4-person rubberstamp majority on the Council, failed to appear at the League of Women Voters forum, the Gazette Candidate forum at Proctors, the Woodlawn neighborhood association forum, and the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association meet the candidates event.

despite Billy Fuccillo, no HUGE casino revenues yet

 

 

. . above: Billy Fuccillo & Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in a Fuccillo Automotive Group tv ad from the Rivers Casino, and Gary and Billy saying “H-u-u-ge!” . . 

September should have been a huge month for revenues at the Schenectady Rivers Casino, due to all the developments, hoopla and free press all summer, and a big push from extra-huge car salesman Billy Fuccillo since late August. The revenue stream should have been surging all September, given:

  • the mid-July opening of the Casino’s Landing Hotel, with lots of publicity for the Grand Opening, including the Vegas-style magical illusions of Steve Wyrick
  • arrival of the first “live-and-play here” tenants at River House
  • Billy Fuccillo getting the Keys to the City on July 20, and about a month later starting a series of ubiquitous tv ads, and related promotions, located at Rivers Casino and its The Landing hotel
  • the end of the Saratoga Racing season and any resultant loss of casino gambling in Schenectady
  • a sold-out first boxing event on September 23rd
  • the insistence of Rush Street officials and local political leaders that all of the above would result in greater revenues after the summer doldrums. See, e.g. the Times Union article “Schenectady still hopeful casino will pay off” (by Paul Nelson, Sept. 24, 2017)

 Nonetheless, despite that confluence of reasons to expect a great September, revenues declined all month — four weeks in a row, according to the Gross Gaming Revenues statement submitted yesterday (Oct. 7) to the NYS Racing Commission by Rivers Casino. [click on image to the right]

The actual revenue numbers did not prevent (or maybe they inspired) most candidates for the three contested seats on the Schenectady City Council to remind Gazette Forum audience that it takes three years for a casino’s revenues to stabilize and to make projections more accurate. [They do not say whether industry experience suggests the trend is for a higher or lower level of revenue stabilization after three years.]

 If you haven’t done so already, please see the two Times Union Sunday articles on disappointing casino revenues, published on September 24, 2017: Lauren Stanforth’s “Some bets are off at New York casinos: State’s three new gaming centers millions of dollars behind their first-year revenue projections”; and Paul Nelson’s local focus article (referred to above).

 Of course, David Giacalone, his friends and like-minded folk are not the likely targets of Rivers Casino promotions and ads. Nonetheless, I have to wonder how the Rush Street folks could think that opening their tv onslaught early this year with a Russian-mob impersonator, and now counting on Billy Fuccillo (who I have grown to value over the decades for his auto ads, but not for lifestyle advice) to broaden their appeal. Adding the un-telegenic presence of Hizzonner Gary McCarthy also seems unlikely to help turn Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor into a regional (much less national) tourist destination.

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  •  Food For Thought (Regrets Category):  Have you noticed how much money nearby counties are getting without having to deal with the problems of having an urban casino in their midst? Or having the fear of their casino failing, or the embarrassment of their politicians bending over backwards to please the Casino or find misleading reasons for optimism? Those of us who thought the risks of an urban casino were too great to warrant gambling that a Schenectady casino would yield the promised revenues would be pleased to merely take the trickle-down payments given to nearby counties.

     Thus, even with the disappointing revenues to date, Rensselaer County had already received $403,750 by the end of July — approximately what Schenectady County would have received already, since it has a very similar population. And, if the Casino had gone to the much more deserving Howe’s Caverns applicant in Schoharie County, Schenectady would have been the closest significant source of employees, and the State would have a commercial casino sans the extra risks that urban casinos bring.  Here’s a look (from the August 21, 2017 Gazette) at how much Rivers Casino has meant to local municipalities from its state gaming tax dollars through July, according to state Gaming Commission numbers:

    • Education: $17.9 million
    • City of Schenectady: $1.1 million
    • Schenectady County: $1.1 million
    • Albany County: $770,388
    • Fulton County: $140,630
    • Montgomery County: $127,178
    • Rensselaer County: $403,750
    • Saratoga County: $556,148
    • Schoharie County: $82,936
    • Washington County: $160,092

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied

Yesterday evening, October 4, 2017, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals denied the request of Mohawk Harbor’s Paul Fallati for a variance to permit a 30-foot-tall pylon sign alongside Erie Blvd, at Mohawk Harbor Way, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. BZA did grant a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, on the south side of the intersection. The variance is needed because the Zoning Code only permits freestanding signs 7′ tall in the C-3 Waterfront district for signs that are not casino-related. 

For more details and discussion of the issues see our earlier posting “updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs“.

update (Oct. 5, 2017): According to the Daily Gazette, “The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition,

The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.

great news about the Old Pump House

  . . . 

Yesterday (Friday, September 29, 2017), several representatives from the Stockade neighborhood, including Stockade Association president Carol DeLaMater and Schenectady Heritage Foundation chair Gloria Kishton, met with Mayor Gary McCarthy, Operations Director Paul Lafond, and members of the Pump Station engineering and architectural design team to learn about the latest design of the North Ferry Street sewerage pump station project. In the meeting, they were told and shown that the new plan includes preservation of the Old Pump House, and that the NY State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) is in fact requiring that the historic 1913 building be retained and reused.

blue skies for the Old Pump House

 As recently as this Spring, I was told by a high-level City Hall official that the City had no plans or funds for maintaining or converting the Old Pump House, and that perhaps “preservationists” could find the necessary money. It appears, once again, that concerted effort by Stockade representatives and residents — fueled by passion, focused lobbying, and research — can turn around or motivate City Hall to protect important buildings and parks-capes, and listen to genuine neighborhood opinions. Of course, we also first need to be informed in a timely manner, to do our homework, and then to find people in the Administration and on City Council willing to listen with an open mind. 

Thanks are warranted to the core Stockade Pump House Gang (which also included Larry Schmidt, John Samultulski, and Suzy Unger), who “worked” the Mayor’s office, City Council members, SHPO, and others to help preserve an important part of the Stockade and Riverside Park scenery and history. Similarly, input from SHPO, and openness and flexibility on the part of the McCarthy Administration, Mike Miller and the CHA engineering and entire design team, and City Council are much appreciated.

As I said last July, in a posting here titled “questions about the future of the old pump house“:

To me, it is a unique sight from the river and the park, beloved by many (some of whom do not even know what purpose it serves), and is a special structure from a time when industrial architecture had style.

I also noted that “Some of my favorite photos include the old pump house.” This collage contains quite a few of them. Enjoy.

OldPumpHouseCollage

  •  Of course, Constant Vigilance is nonetheless a very helpful state of mind, and I am quite pleased we have that symbolic cannon to help protect the Old Pump House from future threats, whatever the source.
  • Speaking of vigilance, and its handmaiden, public participation, the City will soon set a date for an Open House to be held in October to unveil the new pump station design, including a 3D model, present information, answer questions, and solicit input.

guardrails to boulders: a bad process leaves many concerns

The Boulder Bunch Design Committee

BoulderGate! BoulderDash!  Frankly, I’ve been virtually seething over the process used by the officers and board of the Stockade Association [SA} to achieve the replacement of old metal guardrails with boulders where Riverside Park meets the dead-end parking/turn-around areas of three Stockade streets. The deliberate decision* of SA leaders not to inform members and neighbors of the boulders-for-guardrails project, specifically because they expected strong opposition, shows a great disrespect for the Stockade community, and disregard for their obligations.

*follow-up clarification (Sept. 23, 2017):

  1. red check SA President Carol DeLaMater sent me an email yesterday morning (Sept. 22), saying “David, very disappointed in your assumption about Board behavior regarding support for a proposal to improve the area at the end of North St.  It had none of the deliberate motivations you describe.” Please Note: My information on the reason the Board failed to inform the community comes from a person who attends SA Board Meetings, has no apparent axe to grind, and who I have always found to be most trustworthy and reluctant by nature to foment controversy. The account also rings true, because Board fear of opposition to the boulders is about the only reason that seems to explain the failure to request or allow “outside” input over perhaps a period of two years. I do not believe that responsible Board members and officers considered this major change in the appearance of the Park and streetscape to be too trivial to bring to the membership.
  2. SpySept2016p7 In addition, SA Recording Secretary Suzy Unger wrote yesterday evening (Sept. 22) to myself and the 400+ members of the Stockade Yahoo email list, to point out that, in the September 2016 Stockade Spy, in the section with the minutes of an August 3, 2016 SA Board meeting : “The boulders and the letter to the city are referenced, clearly contradicting David’s assertions.” I, of course, checked out Suzy’s claim, and discovered that the Spy states, regarding the boulders: “Board approved . . . letter to City requesting replacing battered guardrails with decorative boulders at end of North St. and others ending at Riverside Park.” (screen shot of page at left) After considering that fact, I replied to Suzy and the Yahoo email list, thanking her for the clarification, and noting that:

checkedboxs “(1) The Board acted to ask the City to replace the guardrails with boulders without first informing the membership or neighborhood about the issue. And, (2) Although the initial request to the Board by residents was only about North Street, the letter expands the request to other streets along the Park, without notifying residents of the other streets.” 

back to Original Posting

Perhaps more importantly, the failure to inform members and the community about the requested boulder project demonstrates why any substantial proposal needs the input of “outsiders” (people other than the proponents of a plan and their close friends) to assure that significant concerns are raised, unintended consequences pointed out, alternatives offered (and expensed), and the thoughtful wishes of the neighborhood heard. Nonetheless, I am attempting to write in a civil tone, and keep my sense of humor (see the Boulder Bunch Design Committee, to the right of this paragraph).

  • There may be reasonable responses to the concerns discussed below, but we were never allowed to raise the issues or test the responses before 110 tons of rock were deposited in Riverside Park.
  • Why am I so upset at the process?  To better focus on facts, research, and common sense concerns relating to the use of the boulders, I expand on my reasons at the foot of this posting*. I also explain why even non-members of the Stockade Association have the right to be concerned and to point out failures in the process and outcome.
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In case you are not aware of the situation at Riverside Park, here are some images (and, note, none of the photos has been staged; I found the situation and snapped the picture):

  . . 

. . above: [L] a car parked at North St. boulders; [R] a toddler about to climb a boulder at the end of Governor’s Lane . . 

. .Also, a portion of the end of North Street near the playlot, showing the old guardrails:

  ..  

. . and, the same portion with the new boulders: 

For a fuller picture at each location, click on the collage thumbnails below to see both the prior green guardrails and the new boulders at the end of Ingersoll Avenue, North Street and Governor’s Lane:

 . .North Street

 . . Ingersoll Avenue

 . . Governor’s Lane

  •  CONDITION of GUARDRAILS: I have no argument with the assertion that a sufficient number of the green metal guardrails are old, dented and rusted to warrant replacing all of them. The question, of course is “replacement with what?” (see below).City Engineer Chris Wallin told the Times Union last month that the price for removing the guardrails and purchasing the gray limestone boulders was $16,000. We have no idea what other options might have cost, because they were never pursued
  • Google Map North Street 2011

    NORTH STREET Focus: To simplify the discussion, this posting will focus on the situation at the end of North Street. According to SA President Carol DeLaMater, it was North Street residents who first suggested replacing the old green, bumper-high metal guardrails with large rocks or boulders, where the street dead-ends at Riverside Park, in a small, circular, paved area used for parking and turn-arounds. The street is one block long starting at Front Street, north to the Mohawk River. There is only one travel lane, which must be used by two-way traffic, making turn-arounds important and requiring the accumulation of snow at the dead-end or the Park. The Park’s playlot, aimed at young children, and almost totally renovated by the City in November 2016 for safety reasons, is located about 25′ from the parking area.

North St. parking area seen from Playlot (Aug. 2106)

  • Repair/Replace ASSUMPTIONS. We Stockade residents are used to the principle that you replace things in a historic area with something as close as possible to the original material and without a drastic change in appearance [e.g., Sch’dy Code. §264-76]; that more and bigger are not always better; and that maintaining longstanding streetscapes, park-scapes, and scenery are important goals that should only be circumvented or ignored for very good reasons.  Such principles may not be a legal requirement in this instance, but they reflect important historic district values and expectations. Here, no alternatives were discussed (for example TimBarrier LotGard), and no reason given for the drastic change, other than “the old guardrails are ugly”, “the boulders are beautiful and natural”, and “the City has a grant.” Others boulder supporters have waffled a bit, “we only asked for lower, large rocks, wanting them to be smooth and useful for seating, too.”

REPLACEMENT WITH WHAT?

When replacing a utilitarian element like guardrails, we should probably start by asking what purposes the guardrails serve, whether they have been serving those purposes well, and whether some performance factor can be improved at a reasonable cost. We surely need to ensure the replacement situation is just as safe and effective, and hopefully adds no new maintenance worries or costs.

  • CompPlan2020-ParkPlan Note, however, that in support of his boulder proposal for North Street, Dennis Meyer told the Times Union that “boulders would also satisfy the city’s 2020 comprehensive action plan to “remove guardrails from parking areas and install a more appropriate barrier”. That, of course, begs the question of what constitutes an appropriate barrier at the particular location.

GUARDRAILS vs. BOULDERS

As Parking Barriers: NEEDS of DRIVERS When PARKING

No driver that I know of has ever been intimidated by bumper-high metal or wooden guardrails. It seems, however that a significant number of drivers fear getting too close to the Riverside Park boulders when parking:

  • boulders are unforgiving. they will beat your doors, fenders, bumpers and side-panels every time you engage them. also their non-uniform shape means you cannot always tell how far away the vehicle is from the boulder merely by seeing its top.
  • the boulders are much higher than passenger car bumpers. drivers backing in have to worry about being able to open their rear doors.
  • parallel parkers very much need to have full control of their doors when exiting and returning to the vehicle.

 . . 

NEEDS of DRIVERS When TURNING AROUND

Because drivers often do not park as closely to the boulders, there is considerably less space to maneuver when pulling out of a parking space or turning around at the dead-end.

 

SNOW REMOVAL
We know how the guardrails serve snow removal needs, but we have to wonder how  major snowfalls will be handled, and what major accumulations will mean. Guardrails permit some snow to be pushed under them and are low enough for plows to dump snow over them.  Boulders seem to have neither characteristic. One SA officer wrote that snow can be pushed between the boulders. Maybe by hand, but the suggested process seems to be a great way to break a plow blade or push boulders onto the park lawn.
SAFETY
It seems highly likely that small children will be attracted by the boulders, which do not offer the foot and hand holds of artificial climbing boulders certified for playgrounds. Instead, these unpainted, rough limestone boulders have many sharp edges, and splinters chipping off, and those falling will not have the required surfacing found on playgrounds (which mandate 6′ of such buffered ground around the entire climbing element).
Even with a parent readily at hand, small children will likely have mishaps, and older ones will challenge each other and themselves in hazardous ways. It seems clear that the City, especially where it has put boulders between parking and the playlot only 25 – 30 feet away, may be liable for creating an “attractive nuisance.” For example, see this legal discussion:
An “attractive nuisance” is any condition on someone’s property that would attract children, who are fascinated by it but don’t understand its dangers. If a child is injured or killed by an attractive nuisance, the property owner could be held liable for damages in a personal injury case.

INSTALLATION

The Parks Department appear to have ignored basic elements for safe installation of boulder, making them dangerously unstable. For example, see Vehicle Barriers: Their Use and Planning Considerations (USDA Forest Service, June 2006):

  Construction techniques: Bury one-third of the rock for stability, anchoring, and a more natural look. [see sample sketch]

Similarly, a Best Management PracticesToolkit for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has a number of pointers related to Parking and Vehicle Barriers. Included are (emphases added):

  • DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

    Parking barriers shall be treated as potential visual features and shall have consistency with neighborhood and regional character and with other landscape elements such as lighting, adjacent building details, and street furniture.

    Cluster and stagger boulders to mimic natural conditions.

  • INSTALLATION CONSIDERATIONS

     TahoeAnchorBoulders Boulders shall be greater than 3 feet in diameter and be keyed in to the soil a minimum of 6 inches. [see figure to the left, which suggest that one-half to one-third of the boulder should be below the surface]

    Shrubs and vegetation can be used as parking barriers.

  • INSPECTION AND MAINTENANCE:  Ensure parking barriers are sized and spaced correctly so they remain intact. Yearly maintenance may be necessary to repair damage from snow removal activities.

TAGGING-GRAFFITI

DSCF3363 According to Paul Nelson’s Times Union article,  “The city engineer said he is not overly worried about the rocks being spray-painted because they can be power- or sand-blasted without being damaged.” (“Boulders make a big difference at Riverside park in Stockade neighborhood,” August 16, 2017) . That seems rather optimistic. The rocks are already flaking away; they are soft, limestone. Also, they are oddly-shaped, not smooth granite-type rocks, or already painted, and are not securely anchored. Because there are so many crevices, the idea of power cleaning, especially near parked vehicles and playing children, seems unrealistic.

FLOODING

 We know the guardrails stay put in a flood. Can we say the same for the poorly anchored boulders? Where might they end up if there is a flood? What about with ice-jam-related flooding? A FEMA training material states that flash flooding can move very large boulders, and then states (at 2-9).

boulderNorthStCrevices

North St. boulder

 Flooding caused by ice jams is similar to flash flooding – the formation of a jam results in a rapid rise of water both at the point of the jam and upstream. Failure of the jam results in sudden flooding downstream.

AESTHETICS

Many in the Stockade community appear to disagree with the notion that the boulders are “beautiful” and look “natural”. Aesthetics are a matter of subjective evaluation, but the opinion of a significant, and perhaps majority, element of a neighborhood should not be ignored, and should at least be solicited. That is especially true when several years ago a similar boulder proposal for the Park inspired strong opposition when presented to an SA membership meeting.

When we are dealing with Riverside Park, which has been called “perhaps the finest thing of its kind” by the editor of Architect Forum, “nice”, “I’ll learn to live with it,” or “better than those old, dented guardrails”, is simply not good enough.

IMG_4341 . . beautiful and natural?

The Forest Service Vehicle Barrier Guide also states in its section on the use of Large Rocks and Boulders (emphasis added):

How to use: Mimic nature by planting rocks in clusters of one to five and varying space between the rocks and the clusters. 

Where to use: Use where large rocks occur naturally. If large rocks are not common, do not use them; they will appear out of place.

  • Furthermore, I have not been able to find even one example of analogous boulders of similar size being used as barriers along parking spaces — that is, none are in places where drivers must pull or back up to a boulder to park. The City Engineer told the Times Union last month that the rocks in the Stockade are similar to the ones in found in Collins Park in Scotia and Indian Meadows Park in Glenville. My investigation suggests the contrary.
  1.  I could find only one “boulder” in all of Collins and Freedom Park, and it is nowhere near a road or parking space.
  2. DSCF3395 There are many boulders at Indian Meadows Park in Glenville, but not one is next to a parking space and, especially, none are along the parking spots at the playground. Also, the Glenville boulders, which are really homely when in large groups, are there to keep vehicles off of the lawns, and have plenty of open space available nearby for depositing plowed snow.

DSCF3384 . . IndianMeadows1 . . DSCF3374

above: Indian Meadows boulders: [L] none are near the parking spaces for the playground; [M] used along no-parking road to keep vehicles off lawn; [R] along driveway to Park Dept. garage to protect lawn. [click on an image for larger version]

Glenville follow-up DSCF3423 (added Sept. 26, 2017): While leaving a medical appointment at Socha Plaza today, I noticed how they use boulders at that parking lot. The decorative boulders are quite a bit smaller than those at Riverside Park, preventing visual assault, and present none of the parking issues caused at our Park. With the boulders set on medians, there are curbs and additional space between vehicles being parked or driven in the parking lot and the boulders. (see photo at right and collage immediately below)

SochaPlazaBoulders

I hope the main points made above will help ensure a far more open process within the Stockade Association, and may help the City decide to find a better solution for the Park and a more appropriate home for the costly boulders.

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why are Ellis Medicine and MVP promoting Casino Gambling?

 Have you seen this ad, which has been appearing recently in the Schenectady Daily Gazette?

As you can see above, Rivers Casino is offering hour-long “Gaming Lessons” for those wanting to “Learn Table Games: Craps, Roulette, Blackjack, Poker.” That is, of course, not at all surprising. Nor, despite its motto “reinvent your life,” is it surprising that 50+Living, a Gazette subsidiary, is “presenting” the Gaming Lessons Program, and featuring it on their website. (The Gazette has been part of the Casino’s primary cheerleader squad since our City Council voted to approve the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group for a gaming license in 2014.)

 What is both surprising and rather sad, however, are the other pillars of our community that have apparently joined the Casino’s harem: There are only two other Sponsors for the Gaming Lessons in addition to Rivers Casino: Ellis Medicine and MVP (f/k/a Mohawk Valley Physicians’ Health Plan). That’s right, Schenectady County’s two leading health care institutions are lending their reputations and stature, and their reach into the community through affiliated physicians and other practitioners, thousands of employees, and hundreds of thousands of patients/subscribers, to the promotion of gambling in Schenectady.

LessonsSponsors15SepPG-LessonsAdCollage  update (Sept. 15, 2017): The ad for Gaming Lessons in today’s Daily Gazette has removed the Ellis Medicine and MVP Health Care logos from the sponsors section of the ad. See the detailed update at the bottom of this posting.

 It seems fair to ask, “What ever are they thinking?!”. And, giving them the benefit of the doubt, what kind of pressure have MVP and Ellis received from the City, County and Metroplex to enhance the Casino’s status in our community, and perhaps bolster its flagging revenues? It seems unlikely to me that sponsoring gaming lessons is an initiative that originated within Ellis or MVP’s hierarchy or health care staff.

Organizing “Gaming Lessons” was not exactly the sort of education we had in mind during Problem Gambling Awareness Month, earlier this year, when we wrote at this site:

 Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope was that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever.

As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity.

      Our goal was, and is, not to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create an informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than an acceptable high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.

Unfortunately, in the past year, our local government leaders have not stepped forward to put Problem Gambling Awareness [“PGA”] programs into place in time to inoculate our community from casino fever.

 . . click for Sara Foss’ Gazette column (Feb. 5, 2017)

For two years, I have been waiting for Schenectady’s public and private sectors to start making problem gambling prevention a serious priority, through educating the community (and not merely settling for feeble intervention efforts at the Casino itself). Given the explicit commitment of both Ellis and MVP to Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention, sponsorship of Problem Gambling Prevention Education seemed like a likely path for both institutions. 

  • MEB [Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral] health disorders include but are not limited to: substance use disorders, mental illness, suicide, and problem gambling.

 Just last month, MVP appointed a new Vice President for Mental Health in order to “further MVP’s commitment to more holistically integrating behavioral health into traditional medical models and creating the best possible outcomes for MVP’s members with behavioral health diagnoses.”

 More specifically, in response to Schenectady County’s highest in the region male suicide rates (2nd highest for females), and highest in the region Emergency Department visits and hospitalizations for mental disease and disorder, Ellis has announced, as a cornerstone element of its Prevention Agenda, an “Ellis Implementation Strategy . . . with a simultaneous emphasis on suicide prevention and on broad support for Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health services.” See “New York State 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment and Improvement Plan and Community Service Plan for Schenectady County”, at 30. 

“A friend in need”- C.M.Coolidge.

 Furthermore, according to its Alliance for Better Health Care project workbook, Ellis Medicine also aims to “Participate in Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral (MEB) health promotion and MEB disorder prevention partnerships.” That includes efforts to “Support collaboration among leaders, professionals, and community members working in MEB health promotion to address substance abuse and other MEB disorders. Prominent sponsorship of Gaming Lessons may be a community partnership, but it does not appear likely to advance Ellis’ stated MEB goals. 

 Certainly, the leaders of the Ellis and MVP organizations are aware of the issue of Problem Gambling, and especially its increased prevalence when an urban community gets its first casino, making repeat visits much easier, and social pressure to participate stronger, as casino gaming is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity. [For a discussion of the issues and research, with links to many programs and resources, see our posting at http://tinyurl.com/ProbGambSchdy.] Rather than helping to combat problem gambling before it infects a gambler and family, by sponsoring training to familiarize and glamorize casino table games, MVP and Ellis seem to be casting an aura of good health upon Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. What are they thinking?

  •    50+Living has a catchy tagline, “reinvent your life.” But, the meaning of that phrase seems compromised when its website has a large ad for the Gaming Lessons program at the top of every page, in its right margin, with a link to its registration form. We might even wonder just what that woman is wishing for when she blows the seeds off a dandelion. Retirement, aging, and loneliness can often amplify the risk of gambling becoming a problem that upsets the lives of many seniors and their families. Shouldn’t 50+Living use its forum to help its target audience avoid those risks? See, e.g., this Guide for Older Gamblers.

“Problem Gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. [See New York Council on Problem Gambling] In additional to its impact on the gambler herself or himself, problem gambling can especially affect the gambler’s family and friends. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kidsadolescents and college students) and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk. [click on each topic link for a brochure prepared by the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)]

If Ellis Medicine, MVP, and 50+Living would truly like to help our community’s education regarding the existence of a full-service casino in our midst, they should take advantage of an impressive trove of materials already already in existence about preventing and treating problem gambling, and nurturing healthy attitudes and low-risk behaviors relating to gambling. For example:

  1.     Click the thumbnail on the left for a full-page pdf poster created for physicians and other health care providers by the National Council on Problem Gambling, suggesting three simple questions to ask a patient to help determine if there might be a gambling problem, with contact information for resources.
  2.  The New York Problem Gambling Council has put together a very useful Toolkit, with helpful one-page Action Sheets for Youth, Parents, Senior Citizen Caregivers, School Personnel, and School Administrators to assist in “having the conversation” with friends, employees, family, etc., about problem gambling. See and download the Have the Conversation Toolkit.
  3. Youth are thought to be particularly at risk of developing problem gambling disorders. And, Rush Streets seems particularly interested in attracting younger gamblers. See our posting,“what will the casino mean for Union College students?“; and a Union College handout on college students and gambling. Both MVP and Ellis should consider joining forces with the New York Council on Problem Gambling, with public school districts in the City and County, and with Union College to utilize existing materials aimed at adolescents and youth, or to create programs tailored to the Schenectady area and Capital District.
  4. And, click these links to find more problem gambling resources, on this website, “snowmen at the gates,” and on Facebook: NYCouncilonProblemGambling,  KnowTheOddsYouthDecideNY

If you feel that our community deserves more appropriate action by Ellis and MVP with regard to gambling education and partnerships with Rivers Casino, please let them know. You might ask whether they have better ways to spend their resources and lend their reputations.

To Contact Ellis Medicine, click here; to contact MVP, click here; and to contact 50+Living, click here.

. . share this post with this URL: http://tinyurl.com/EllisMVPGambling . .

Postscript By itself, the decision by the Foundation for Ellis Medicine to hold its 2017 Women’s Night Out celebration dinner at Rivers Casino & Resort may be harmless, even if the “Luck Be a Lady” slogan is a bit condescending. However, in conjunction with the Gaming Lessons project, this “premier networking environment” among Schenectady’s upper crust, seems like an unnecessary additional signal that the Rivers Casino is a glamorous and civic-minded part of our community.

deskdude Update (September 15, 2017): Around noon today, I sent the following email message to Capital Region Media members and others interested in the topic, relaying the good news that Ellis and MVP were no longer listed as Sponsors of the Gaming Lessons project at Rivers Casino.

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Gazette covers half-year Casino revenues

Today’s Schenectady Daily Gazette has an informative article headlined “A look at Rivers Casino’s gaming numbers 6 months after opening” (by Brett Samuels, August 21, 2017). It includes a “look at how much Rivers Casino has paid out to local municipalities in state gaming tax through July.” For Casino Realists like myself, here’s the core of the article:

 If business continues at its current pace, the city and county would each get a little more than $2 million in gaming money at year’s end. As has been the case from the start, the casino appears poised to fall well short of what was expected by each government entity.

In budgeting for 2017, the city and county both used the low-end projection from the casino’s application and pro-rated it to a March opening. That leaves each government expecting about $2.75 million in gaming revenue for 2017. Gaming revenue is expected to stabilize by 2019.

 Of course, we need to ask: “Stabilize” at what level? And, we might also ask what Schenectady County spokesman Joe McQueen means when he says that “thanks to the infusion of casino money, . .the county is now expecting to see about $855,000 in annual savings.” Is this figure based on some sort of “netting out” of revenues received due to added expenses and reduced receipts from other sources, such as sales or property taxes because of the Casino’s Substitution Effect?

  • As we wrote here more than three years ago, research by the successful citizens’ group “No Downtown Casino” in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, led them to conclude in their Position Statement

    Greater negative financial impact on nearby businesses – the good numbers go down.

    Studies show that property values near a casino decrease by 10% or more once the casino opens. Part of the reason for that is because the casino never closes. It operates 24/7. Commercial buildings, apartment buildings, condominiums, etc. decrease in value which means over time they pay lower property taxes. Research also shows that 60% of businesses that existed before the casino opens, go out of business within 2 years of the casino opening. Lost jobs. Lost taxes. Failed entrepreneurs. Empty storefronts.

It may be too early for such effects to be apparent in Schenectady, but we need to be vigilant when speaking about how much the Casino has enhanced our tax coffers.

updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs

questionmarkkeyoverRed BZA follow-up (November 16, 2017): Click for a copy of David Giacalone’s Comments to BZA regarding the Special Meeting today to review another Mohawk Harbor variance application for a 30′ pylon.

(November 15, 2017): I learned today that on November 1st, 2017, Board of Zoning Appeals granted Mohawk Harbor variances that would permit it to install a pylon sign 22′ tall and 122 sq. ft., at the location involved in the discussion below. The Zoning Code permits a sign 7′ tall of 75 sq. ft. at that location. Had I known of the application, I would have strongly opposed it as presenting the same problems as the 30′ pylon rejected by BZA on October 6, 2017.

  • Mohawk Harbor was apparently so shook up by the rejection on October 6, that Galesi sent Big Guns, to literally beg BZA to permit the pylon application. Dave Buicko, Galesi Group CEO and Ray Gillen, Chairman of Metroplex, came to press the Board members. I am told that Mr. Gillen said, “I have never asked you for a favor, but please, please, please grant this variance.”

disbelief-foreheadsmack Moreover, I learned late yesterday afternoon (Nov. 14), thanks to TU reporter Paul Nelson, that BZA had announced a special Meeting to be held tomorrow, November 16, in which Mohawk Harbor has resubmitted its previously rejected application for a 30′ pylon of 265 sq ft. The only difference is that it has given up asking for a 1′ setback instead of the required 3′ setback from the right of way. Click here for the Resubmitted 30′ pylon application.

 post BZA update (10 PM, Oct. 4, 2017)This evening, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals granted a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor at Mohawk Harbor Way and Erie Boulevard, but denied the request for a variance to permit a 30’ tall pylon sign along Erie Blvd, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. 

 . . variance denied . .MH-pylonrenderingOct2017

  • MH representative Paul Fallati had asked BZA to allow a 265 square foot pylon sign, with a height of 30 feet, a message board 12 feet wide, and a 1 foot setback from the NYDOT right-of-way. 
  • A variance was needed because the sign schedule in the City Zoning code for the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District only permits a 75 square foot sign, with a height of 7 feet, a message board 8 feet wide, and a setback of 3 feet. (Larger sizes are permitted for Casino-related signs but not for non-casino signs.)
  • The Board found that the requested variances were significant, not justified, and could adversely impact close properties.  BZA refused to merely accept the Planning Commission’s actions in support of a 30′ design. Click to see the odd and inadequate Variance Application for the Pylon Sign; also, the Variance Application for the Monument Sign, and a Site Plan illustration of the signage location and setbacks.
    •  A co-owner of Sev’s Luxury Used Car, located directly across the street from the proposed pylon on Erie Boulevard, pointed out to the Board the potential negative effects on nearby properties that desire to upgrade to more attractive uses, and asked if the large cement wall behind the proposed pylon was meant to protect Mohawk Harbor tenants from the glare of the bright pylon lights and screen.
    • deskdude David Giacalone, proprietor of this website, stated that BZA should have made its own independent review of variance issues before the Planning Commission spent two months helping MH design a 30-foot sign for a 7-foot sign location. He also stressed that (1) Mohawk Harbor is asking for a shopping-mall-style sign despite touting the development as an upscale mixed-use residential and commercial neighborhood; he presented a collage (seen below) to make the point; (2) a large, bright sign so close to a busy, complicated roadway presents many safety issues, including distracting drivers (intentionally) and creating major glare; and (3) the Applicant could not show that its difficulty under the zoning code is not “self-created”, because Mohawk Harbor was intimately involved with drafting the revamping of the C-3 District rules two years ago, and specifically left the original C-3 signage limitations for non-casino signs.  These and additional issues are more fully discussed below.
  • update (5 PM, Oct. 5, 2017): According to an article in the Daily Gazette posted this afternoon,The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition, “The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.”

MH-pylonOct2017 [Earlier] BZA Update (October 4, 2017): This follow-up relates to the requests by Paul Fallati, on behalf of Mohawk Harbor, for area variances to permit the two signs at the Mohawk Harbor Way entrance to the complex. The matter is before the Board of Zoning Appeals for the first time this evening, October 4, 2017. (Click to see the Variance Application for the Monument Sign, the Variance Application for the Pylon Sign, and a Site Plan illustration of the signage-intersection location and setbacks.) The issues are basically the same as discussed below regarding the appropriateness of the sign for the location, but the Board of Zoning Appeals should, I believe look closely at the statutory and code requirements for granting an area variance, and not let the Planning Commission preempt variance decisions, which places BZA in a rather awkward position.

 The PYLON VARIANCE PROPOSAL: On behalf of Mohawk Harbor PAUL FALLATI requests Area Variances for 220 Harborside Drive located in the C-3 Waterfront District 

  • to allow for a 265 Square foot pylon sign, with a height of 30 feet and a message board of 12 feet wide and a 1 foot setback, 
  • where a 75 square foot sign with a height of 10 7 feet, a message board of 8 feet wide and a setback of 3 feet is allowed. 

The Application for the Pylon Sign in no way meets the criteria for granting a variance.

As in my August 2017 letter to the Planning Commission, a key issue is whether a giant pylon sign is appropriate, given the goals of the C-3 Waterfront District and the claims of the developer that this is a unique and upscale mixed-use residential-commercial neighborhood. As this updated collage suggests, the 30′ pylon, with its 22 lighted tenant signs and large LCD screen along a busy road is far more appropriate for a strip mall or shopping plaza. (click on the collage for a larger version)

compareshoppingmallsigns

This this update will be completed after this evening’s BZA meeting.  Until then, please  Click here  for an 8-page set of Comments submitted on August 16, 2017, to the Planning Commission by David Giacalone regarding the Mohawk Harbor signs, which starts with the following summary: 

 SUMMARY: First, the proposed signs are far larger than permitted for non-casino signs in the C-3 zone, and area variances must be obtained.  On the merits, the placement of a large LED screen so close to a busy intersection and complicated roadway system is particularly worrisome from a safety perspective [from driver distraction and confusion, and glare], and the use of a shopping-center/strip-mall type pylon is contrary to the stated upscale aspirations of the developer and the goals of the City’s Waterfront zoning provisions. It cheapens the image of the Harbor Area, lessens the quality of life of residents in the vicinity, and reduces the attraction of adjacent property for higher use.

 

 BELOW is a set of Updates to our post on August 4, 2017, “another sneaky pylon ploy“, on the proposed Mohawk Harbor pylon-style sign (14′ W by 32′ H, with an LED screen on top, 12′ W by 6′ H) and monument sign (40′ W by 10′ H), which are on the Schenectady Planning Commission agenda for August 16, 2017. In the Aug. 4th post, I argue that the signs are too large to be allowed in the C-3 district, because they are not casino-facility-related, and must comply with the normal regulations of Article IX of our Zoning Code. . .

share this post with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/MHsigns

 Commission Meeting Follow-up (Aug. 17, 2017): Important points, in addition to delaying making a decision until next month:

  • As expected, the Commission declared itself the Lead Agency for purposes of SEQRA environmental review and adopted a negative impact statement.  Interested Federal and State agencies, and the public may comment — e.g., statements about the impact of the signs on traffic safety, and nearby residents — over the next 30 days. In addition, the Commission correctly demanded detailed renderings showing the appearance, exact location, and orientation to the roadways, of the signs.
  •  Despite the statement to me by the Principal Planner earlier this week, Mohawk Harbor did not reduce the size of its proposed signs in deference to the need to seek a variance for each, which State law says must be the minimum increase required to meet the valid needs of the applicant. More worrisome, no Commission member spoke of the need for a variance, nor reminded Mohawk Harbor that only casino facility signs were exempted from the Zoning Code’s Article IX restrictions on the size of signs.
  • Paul Fallati of the Galesi Group stated that one reason for such a large monument sign was to help screen out the sight of STS Steel.
  • Commissioner Bradley Lewis correctly pointed out that the proposed large pylon does not actually have the name Mohawk Harbor prominently displayed, so as to alert drivers they are approaching the development.
  • CrosstownPlazaSign-Aug2017

    Crosstown Plaza pylon

    David Giacalone [proprietor of this website] stated that variances were needed, and that a large pylon with signs for 22 tenants would make upscale Mohawk Harbor look like any old shopping mall. [image to the right is Crosstown Plaza’s sign; with $480 million to spend, I am pretty sure the Lupe family would have developed a very tasteful plaza at Crosstown.] Giacalone reminded the Commission that they need to consider the safety elements of having a large LED screen, plus the lighted tenant signs, just a few feet from a busy road.

    • To my argument that the miSci sign on Nott Terrace is adequate as a branding sign at 12′ W by 10′ H (see discussion and images below), Mr. Fallati said the traffic is much faster on Erie Blvd. so drivers could not see 22 little signs on such a small structure. See “Decision on Mohawk Harbor signs put on hold” (Gazette, by Brett Samuels, Aug. 17, 2017). He apparently missed my argument that we do not need to have a cluster of tenant signs at all, and that 22 tenant signs would not be very informative no matter how large the pylon is — i.e., the Crosstown Plaza pylon is 14′ W and 50′ H (grandfathered in at that height) and passing traffic surely does not become well-informed about the tenants..

 

ORIGINAL POSTING:

Schenectady’s Principal Planner, Christine Primiano, gave me some helpful information this morning (Aug. 11, 2017), with a quick reply to a few questions about the Mohawk Harbor signs and process. She wrote that “The signage below the LED screen [on the proposed pylon] are panels with the business names and they will be lit. The LED screen will change message, advertising events and businesses within the MH complex.” Individual products or sales will not be advertised on the screen. In addition, Ms. Primiano wrote that “The [monument sign] is intended to name the complex and provide some visual screening of the STS Steel site, however, they are already talking about making it smaller because there are size and setback issues.”  Christine also wrote that:

  • On 8/16 the Planning Commission will declare Lead Agency for the SEQR review which starts a 30 day window for interested parties (i.e., Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway) and involved agencies (NYSDOT and Sch’dy BZA) to comment on the proposal. 

  • The Planning Commission will not take any other action on 8/16 other than to give their feedback on the design. 

  • It’s anticipated that on 9/20 the Planning Commission will take action to either issue denial or conditional approval of the proposal. If they issue approval, it must be conditioned upon approvals by NYSDOT and Sch’dy BZA.
  • 10/4 Board of Zoning Appeals to review the area variances needed to allow the signs.

DSCF3299  . . DSCF3294

. . above: proposed locations on either side of Mohawk Harbor Way at Erie Boulevard for the proposed monument sign [L] and pylon sign with LED screen atop. Click on each  image for a larger version. Click here (for the Monument Sign) and here (for the pylon sign) to see the two Special Use Permit applications.

  MHMonumentSketchDetail . . . MHpylonsketchAug2017  For additional details, please see our Pylon Ploy posting about the two MH signage applications, including the submitted sketch images of the Pylon and Monument signs, and legal discussion of the need for variances due to the excessive height and square footage. The Planning Commission staff appears to agree that variances will be needed unless there are significant reductions, and is therefore contemplating referring the final proposals (relating to allowable dimensions) to the Board of Zoning Appeals for variance review, with possible action by BZA in October.

ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

Here is the Schedule I list of signage regulations in the various districts. Mohawk Harbor is, of course, in the C-3 Waterfront Mixed Use district, and Schedule I and all Article IX provision on Signs apply to the applications before the Commission, because they are not covered by the 2015 Amendments, which exemption granted to casino-facility-related signage.

Sched1SignReg

.

SIZE & STYLE: Given the City of Schenectady’s goals for its mixed-used waterfront district, how much leeway should Mohawk Harbor’s owners have when it comes to the size and design of its freestanding roadside signs?

Here’s how Mohawk Harbor describes itself on the homepage of its website:

Mohawk Harbor is a 60 acre master planned community that integrates luxury living, high-tech offices, restaurants and retail along one mile of the Mohawk River. When complete, Mohawk Harbor will consist of over 1 million sf including 206 apartments, 50 condominiums, 15 townhouses, 2 hotels, 100,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining, 74,025 SF of Class A Office space, and  one of New York State’s 1st licensed casinos, Rivers Casino & Resort.

And, River House, the residential element of the project, is said to offer, “a new style of living in the Capital Region with its a one-of-a-kind, resort-style residences. ” And,

 Situated along the new “Mohawk Harbor”, the Riverhouse provides a unique urban lifestyle that is one-of-a-kind in Upstate New York. Featuring 206 waterfront apartments that overlook the Harbor, it provides the perfect balance of serenity and vitality with its scenic river and mountain views in combination with the vibrant energy of downtown Schenectady

THE PYLON STRUCTURE and SIGNAGE

MHpylonrequest . . . close to River House and future homes

MHpylonsketchAug2017 Given its stated aspirations and pretensions, it is difficult to understand why Maxon Alco Holdings LLC would want to put what is basically a “shopping center” pylon on Erie Boulevard as its branding sign, with twenty-two internally lighted tenant signs shown in the sketch submitted to the Planning Commission. The following collage (click on it for a larger version) asks: If Mohawk Harbor is an upscale, mixed-use “neighborhood”, why does it need a mall-style pylon with tenant signs and large LED screens?

shoppingmallsigns-002

Of course, such things are a matter of taste, but in my experience, it seems that the most “tasteful” shopping plazas and galleries, and mixed-use developments (such as Wisconsin Place, in Chevy Chase, MD, a couple blocks from District of Columbia’s northwest border) do not place tall tenant signs, much less huge LED screens, along their entrances. A kiosk inside the complex is far more palatable.

miSciPylon How large does an effective Branding Sign have to be, especially for a destination-establishment that constantly receives boatloads of free media exposure, for the entire complex and for each new “tenant” business? MiSci, the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science, gets far less publicity, but its branding pylon sign on Nott Terrace seems to do the job well, at 12′ W and 10′ H, with an LED screen about 9′ W and 3.5′ tall. See the image at the right. The following collage shows what a Mohawk Harbor sign of the same size might look like at miSci’s Nott Terrace location, and what it would be like at the 32′ by 14′ dimensions requested the the Applicant, including a 12′ by 6′ LED screen. [click on the collage for a larger version]

miSci-MH-signs2

Similar questions need to be asked about the appropriate size of the monument sign at the entryway to Mohawk Harbor. Just a block to the east, on Nott Street, the Golub Corporation has its headquarters, for its Price Chopper and Market 32 chains of supermarkets, in a building developed and owned by the Galesi Group. As you the see in the next collage, it does rather well making itself known to passersby with a freestanding branding sign no larger than 8′ H by 18′ W.

golub-MHsigns2

The desire of Mssrs. Galesi and Buicko to block the view of STS Steel is silly and inappropriate, and the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals should say so, especially given the brazenly excessive application for a monument sign that would be 40′ W and 10′ tall. For many of us, the STS Steel factory and complex is at least as attractive as most of Mohawk Harbor (especially its boringly ugly Rivers Casino neighbor), and symbolizes much of what was best in Schenectady’s history and desired for its future. The Planning Commission cannot simply trust the taste and good intentions of the Applicant. It must do its job, along with BZA, to assure that the size and design of Mohawk Harbor is consistent with the goals of the C-3 district, and the best interests of our entire community. That includes people who will soon be living at Mohawk Harbor or across the Boulevard in new homes, and those investors the City hopes to entice to take a chance on new businesses across from Mohawk Harbor.

One final thought: We are well past the time when the Galesi Group or Rush Street Gaming can be allowed to rush applications past our City officials and boards with exaggerated deadline claims. The Planning Commission, and then the Board of Zoning Appeals, must demand detailed descriptions and renderings of the proposed signs, especially the pylon that will be tall, very close to Erie Boulevard, and topped by a frequently-changing, high-intensity, LED screen. Crucially needed is a precise description and depiction of the location of the pylon and its orientation to the road and to residences in Mohawk Harbor. [Please see our discussion of safety issues relating to the use of electronic message displays along urban roadways at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors.] 

first lap of the Casino Horse Race

Rivers Casino in Schenectady is doing a lot of advertising in Saratoga to try to capture prospective gamblers arriving in the area for the Saratoga racing season. Nonetheless, its take for the first week of the Saratoga meet is one of its worst yet, adding up to only $2,563,000, down 7% from the mediocre prior week. (Saratoga Racing and Hotel had a modest increase for the first week of racing season.) With its relative paucity of charm, and cultural and retail offerings (and virtually no clothing stores, art galleries, or museums of note), and even with the opening of casino’s The Landing hotel, it is difficult to see how Schenectady can compete for business from outsiders attracted to Saratoga Springs and its ambiance, especially after they see actually experience the Schenectady that Dave Buicko calls a “Destination”.

casinodesignactual As I have asked before, with an unattractive casino exterior, and more attractive casino/racino competitors, who will choose Schenectady (more than once)? This is perhaps more of the Snowman Effect that we at this weblog have feared. Having failed to demand a quality product from Rush Street Gaming worth the designation as a tourist destination, and failed to make Erie Boulevard the least bit appealing as an introductory entryway to Schenectady, newcomers used to real cities with real Renaissance downtowns, can only be let down by what they find in Schenectady.

  • crimescene-casinoWe are, of course, wondering when the Gazette will cover a story posted at the Times Union website on Friday, August 4, 2017: “Schenectady County had N.Y.’s highest crime rate in 2016” (by Emily Masters).” Schenectady County Sheriff Dom Dagostino told the TU, “We are a stopping point for the drug trade (from) downstate,”  and the Sheriff added “that Schenectady, Albany and Rensselaer counties serve as a distribution hub for the rest of upstate New York. The other two counties’ crime rates came in as No. 5 and 12, respectively, out of 62 counties statewide.”
    • Meanwhile, Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford “wondered if Schenectady’s geography tipped the scales.” Sorry, Chief, I do not think the Governor’s plans to move some Stockade properties out of the Mohawk floodplain can expand to move the whole City off of upstate New York’s Drug Trade Highway.
  • Speaking of a comparison with Saratoga, “Saratoga County, which also borders Schenectady, ranked No. 50. Compared to its northern neighbor, Schenectady County is more diverse, less affluent and [more] densely populated.”
  • update (August 8, 2017): This afternoon, the Gazette posted online the article “Schenectady County had the highest crime rate in the State in ’16,” by Steven Cook. The article looks at various ways to look at the numbers.

 

another sneaky pylon ploy?

WHAT? Mohawk Harbor (Maxon Alco Holdings) is asking the Schenectady Planning Commission for permission to put up a 32′ by 14′ pylon (including an LED screen atop it 12′ by 6′ in size), and to construct a “monument sign” 40′ wide and 10′ high. WHERE? One on each side of the entryway of Mohawk Harbor, on Mohawk Harbor Way, at its intersection with Erie Boulevard. WHEN? On the Planning Commission Agenda, August 16, 2017, August 16, 2017, at 6:30 PM, in Room 110, City Hall, 105 Jay Street, Schenectady, NY 12305.

For Issues and Analysis, please see: “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs” (Aug. 11, 2017)

 I spent the past few days trying to get a look at Mohawk Harbor’s new application to the City of Schenectady Planning Commission to put a pylon sign structure and a so-called monument sign at the Mohawk Harbor Way entrance from Erie Boulevard into Mohawk Harbor. Maxon Alco Holdings, which is part of the Galesi Group of companies, is the official owner of the land at Mohawk Harbor.  I started looking when I saw this agenda item on the Planning Commission’s Agenda for August 16, 2017:

B. MAXON ALCO HOLDINGS LLC requests a Special Use Permit and sign approval pursuant to Section 264-61 I and 264-89 D of a proposal to install a pylon style sign with an electronic message board at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, tax parcel # 39.49-2-1.2 located in a “C-3” Waterfront Mixed Use District.

 Items are not supposed to be placed on the Commission agenda until staff determines that the application is complete. Therefore, I expected it to be easy to take a look at the Pylon Application. After being told for a couple days that, “of course” they had the submission since the item is on the Agend, but it could not be found, I learned today that the submission did not arrive until today, Friday, August 4. The applications — one for a “monument sign” and one for a pylon sign — were actually dated yesterday, August 3, including the technical drawings. And, in fact, late in the afternoon, a corrected replacement sketch of the pylon sign was submitted by Saxton SignCorp and Mohawk Harbor’s representative Paul Fallotti. The top portion of the pylon sign sketch was changed from an LED screen showing the casino floor to a screen merely saying “Mohawk Harbor.” (See image to the right of this paragraph.) I do not know if or how often the “branding sign” will vary its message or how animated its images will be.  The signage below the LED screen on the proposed pylon are panels with the names of business at MH and they will be lit. The LED screen will change message, advertising events and businesses within the MH complex.

  •  update (Aug. 11, 2017): Christine Primiano gave me some helpful information this morning about the applications and likely timing and process. See “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs.” The Commission or its staff apparently concur with the arguments below about the need for variances due to the excessive size of the signs, and there will be no approval or denial of the applications at the August meeting. The Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to have needed variance requests on its October agenda.

Principal City Planner Christine Primiano, who would surely have explained the situation to me and others seeking to see the submission sooner if she were not on a much-needed vacation, wrote to submission seekers this afternoon, after being contacted by her staff. Christine explained that she had posted the Agenda before leaving on vacation rather than waiting until today, to get it up in a timely manner. However, Maxon Holding had not yet submitted its application, but promised to do so by Monday July 31, in her absence. Unfortunately, the Applicant took until today to finally submit an application (which I personally consider to be inadequate, for reasons given below). Christine does not plan to review it until back on Monday, August 7, and I hope she enjoys the weekend.

 . . . proposed pylon at entrance to Mohawk Harbor at Erie Blvd. and Mohawk Harbor Way. Dimensions: 32′ H and 14′ wide, with an LED screen 12′ wide by 6′ high. Click for the pylon portion of the Aug. 3, 2017 Application.

Readers of this weblog might recall that its proprietor has not been pleased over the past couple years with the handling of the casino pylon issue at Mohawk Harbor by the Galesi Group and the Casino Gang at Rush Street, nor by the Planning Commission and City Council. So, I started out a bit doubtful when I heard of a new pylon submission, having predicted in March 2016 that we had not seen the end of the zombie pylon at Mohawk Harbor. But, the tardy submission of the application materials is not the real problem here, as I see it, except that it continues to show that Galesi Group seems to get special treatment by the Planning Office. Why the “rush” again? There is no “deadline” of any sort any different than that facing any business wanting to put up new signage. More important, it seems yet again clear that the Galesi Group/Maxon Alco Holding does not give sufficient respect to the responsibilities of the Planning Office and the rights of the public.

Sched1SignReg The more substantive issue raised by the application for a pylon sign and a monument sign (click for that application) is symbolized by the last-minute correction to the LED screen at the top of the pylon: This is not a casino-related set of signage applications. Therefore, although it is within the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District, it does not benefit from the exemption to Article IX of the Schenectady zoning code (Chapter 264), which sets forth signage regulations for all (non-casino) Schenectady businesses, including specifications for allowed signage in the various zoning districts, in §264-61(K), Schedule I. Click on the thumbnail image at the left of this paragraph to see Schedule I.

 In 2015, Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, led by Galesi CEO David Buicko, pressured City Hall to eviscerate its Waterfront C-3 zoning. A major component of the nearly-felonious amendments (which stole the public’s guarantee of access to and enjoyment of the riverbank) was the granting of signage amounts, including the height of pylon signs, far greater than the original C-3 limits, and the exclusion of “a casino gaming facility and ancillary uses” from application of Article IX’s signage regulation.  Here’s the actual wording (as seen also in the Code section printed above), with emphases added:

C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District (as amended 2/2015)

http://www.ecode360.com/documents/SC0901/source/LF957479.pdf

H. Supplemental C- 3 Regulations.

 Notwithstanding anything contained within this Zoning Chapter to the contrary, Article IX – Signs shall not be applicable to a casino gaming facility and ancillary uses. 

1) Maximum allowable signage shall be 19,000 square feet for a casino gaming facility and its ancillary facilities, attached hotel, parking garage and pylon signs. Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C- 3 District shall be reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Plan Approval process. Multi – sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet. Square footage for a multi -sided pylon sign shall be the square footage of its single largest side. Signage on any one side of a pylon sign may not exceed 70% of the face of the pylon sign, on that same side. 

This means that even in the C-3 zoning district, non-casino-related signs must comply with the requirements, definitions, and restrictions of Article IX, including the specifications in Schedule I. Mohawk Harbor signage has limits similar to businesses throughout the City that do not happen to be in the Favored Casino Business. This detail from Schedule I shows the most relevant portion:

ScheduleI-detail

That means, for example, that the following definitions apply to the Mohawk Harbor signage applications now before the Planning Commission:

Schenectady Code §264-60 Definitions http://www.ecode360.com/8692182#8692226

FREESTANDING SIGN — A self-supporting sign standing alone on its own foundation.

MONUMENT SIGN — A freestanding sign attached to a brick, stone, or masonry wall or structure that forms a supporting base for the sign display.

PYLON SIGN — A sign that has a base that is a minimum of three feet wide and a maximum of five feet wide. At no time can the message portion exceed eight feet wide.

SHOPPING CENTER — A group of three or more retail and commercial units on a single site, constructed and managed as a total entity, sharing a common on-site parking area.

[Editor’s note: “Pylon signs” and “monument sign” are considered “Freestanding Signs” in the sign industry (examples here and there) and fit into the definition of that term in the Schenectady Code.]

Therefore, a non-casino pylon sign may have a base with a maximum width of five feet and its message portion may not be more than 8 feet wide. The requested special use permit for a 32′ by 14′ pylon structure, with its LED screen of 12′ by 6′, must therefore be rejected by this Commission, as inconsistent with the zoning code. An “area variance” is needed before a special use permit may be granted. Under NYS GCT Law §81-b, an Area Variance is “the authorization by the zoning board of appeals for the use of land in a manner which is not allowed by the dimensional or physical requirements of the applicable zoning regulations.” For the factors to be considered before granting an area variance, see the quotes and discussion at the foot of this posting.*

  • red check It is the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the Planning Commission, which is authorized to hear a request for an area variance. This same Area Variance requirement also applies to the Monument Sign application. Click here to see the Area Variance Application form at Schenectady’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

  . . . proposed “monument sign” for the entryway to Mohawk Harbor Way; click to see the Application.

As for the Monument Sign proposed by Maxon Alco Holdings, at 40′ W and 10′ H, it exceeds the 7′ maximum for a freestanding sign in the C-3 district, and with its great width, also greatly exceeds the maximum square footage permitted in Schedule I. As such, the application belongs before the Zoning Board of Appeals, not the Planning Commission.

As always, I hope the Planning Commission and the Planning Office will step up and enforce the Schenectady Zoning Code in a manner that preserves public safety, aesthetics, and the general public interest.  A casino may be a special kind of business that arguably needs extra hoopla and lights and action, or City Hall might have felt two years ago that it must do everything asked of it by the Mohawk Harbor/Casino Gang. But, there is nothing about condos, office buildings and regular retail and bars that calls for allowing signs multiples larger than other businesses are permitted.

Nor should the Commission ignore the public safety aspects of placing an often-changing LED screen in a place where it can be a distraction or cause glare for drivers or residents. The special findings required before an electric message sign is permitted everywhere else in the City, therefore, must also be applied to the current application:

§264-61(I)(2). A special use permit must be approved upon a showing by the applicant at a public hearing of the City Planning Commission that the proposed electronic message board 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.

For a discussion of “Variables for evaluating the safety of electronic message displays along urban roadways” see my posting at  tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors

We will keep you apprised as the applications proceed in the Planning Commission, or perhaps Board of Zoning Appeals, process. For example, see “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs” (August 11, 2017).

_______________________________________________

*Factors for Granting an Area Variance, per NYS GCT Law §81-b:

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is Bike-Share our newest sacred cow?

 . . .  The CDPHP/CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program started operation today, July 27, 2017. (see TU article)

 There are far too many “sacred cows” in our local politics and culture — that is, persons or things ”considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.” If you are treated as a sacred cow, you can graze wherever you want with impunity, and your acolytes, magically, believe that even your cow chips do not stink. With a sacred cow, 90% support for its goals and activities is insufficient, and even constructive criticism to help achieve its goals is viewed by Believers as blasphemy. (Some folks use the alternate idiom “sacred bulls“, which are icons that naturally produce sacred b.s.)

CDPHPCYCLElogo CDPHP’s bike-share program, “CYCLE!”, has apparently been blessed with a trinity of factors that in this century and City most often create sacred cows: It is (1) championed by a political boss or Party; (2) paid for by someone else; and (3) acclaimed as “healthy”.  I naturally worried about goring this sacred bovine earlier this week, when I raised concerns to my Stockade neighborhood Yahoo! email list about locating a CYCLE! station in Schenectady’s Riverside Park. I pointed out that not only was the hardware for an 8-stall bike-share station attached to our lovely, serene, and expensively built, Overlook/Esplanade, but such a Station seemed to be encouraging use of bicycles on the Park’s only paved path, despite a Municipal Code that appears to restrict cycling on park paths like ours.  The reaction was rather lopsided.

Bike-Sharesample Maybe I should have added, or dropped a reassuring footnote, that my favorite Christmas present as a child was a red Schwinn bicycle that I used to escape our neighborhood and to deliver newspapers; that I bought another one while away at college; went to Plaine’s Bikes my first week living in Schenectady, almost 30 years ago, and got a hybrid mountain bike; and even in my 60s bought a used bike to enjoy with a friend who loved taking her small grandson on bike trails. Judging by the negative response of my Stockade neighbors, being a mere fan of leisure biking would not have tempered their reaction. What I got was a litany of platitudes about how “nice” the bike-share program is, how healthy cycling is, and how popular it is with younger generations. 

Not only was I nearly excommunicated from the Stockade by Bike Share Believers, but skeptics who I knew were also worried about the safety of pedestrians in Riverside Park were silenced (self-censored) by the fervor for the Program and made not a peep in support of my concerns.  Such indifference perhaps would have silenced many a Schenectady gadfly, but I made the “mistake” of going downtown yesterday (Wednesday), where I saw the “Proctor’s-area” CYCLE! station and the Central Library station, and I knew I needed to continue a campaign that asked just how the particular locations were chosen, and if they were sanctioned (blessed) by anyone in authority at our City Hall.

  • the Slideshow below has images of the CDPHP CYCLE! stations at Schenectady’s Riverside Park, across from Proctor’s, and at the Central County Library. (it has been updated with additional photos since first posted)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Feeling that the first three CYCLE! stations I visited in Schenectady were in poorly-chosen locations, and that the safety and convenience of many Schenectady residents and visitors were inadequately considered, I wrote the following email message (dated July 26, 2017) to City Leaders and the press. [click here for a pdf version of that email, including attachments] I will forego any additional comments at this point, but ask that you leave your own (hopefully, civil and thoughtful) comments in our Comment box. Thank you.

From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>

Subject: loco Bike-Share locations in Schenectady

Date: July 26, 2017 at 6:17:32 PM EDT

To: cwallin@schenectadyny.gov, Leesa Perazzo <lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov>, Vincent Riggi <v_riggi@verizon.net>, Marion Porterfield <mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov>, gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov

[note: as of Aug. 5, not one of the City Leaders has responded to this email]

Cc: swilliams@dailygazette.net, “Nelson, Paul” <pnelson@timesunion.com>, Sara Foss <sfoss@dailygazette.net>, gettingthere@timesunion.com, bill@dailygazette.com, Mark Mahoney <mmahoney@dailygazette.net>, CDPHP Cycle <cdphpcycle@cdta.org>, Karen B Johnson <kjohn113@aol.com>

Dear City Leaders

Who’s in charge of where the Schenectady Bike-Share location stations are being placed? Did some one at City Hall (in Planning, Engineering, or the Mayor’s Office) give advice or have veto power over where CDTA and CDPHP are placing the Bike Share stations? I’ve only run into three Downtown locations out of the seven in Schenectady so far, but I’d say they get a mark of Zero for Three:

1. They put a station “near Proctor’s”, that is actually across State street at the end of the Jay Street Pedestrian Walkway (see 1st attachment). Two problems: (a) Bike-Share patrons will be obtaining and returning the CHPHP green bicycles at the end of a block where bicycles are specifically banned in the Municipal Code, with appropriate signage at each end. (see 2nd attachment); (b) cyclists will be maneuvering their bikes (hopefully walking, not riding) either on the sidewalk of the busiest pedestrian block in the City, or on the roadway that is one of the zaniest, most hazardous blocks for driving, parking, crossing, letting out and picking up Proctor’s audience members, and otherwise traversing in the City.  Doesn’t behind Proctor’s make more sense, or on one of the City’s downtown parking lots?

2. They put a station at Riverside Park (which Bike-Share calls Riverfront Park). Two problems: (a) as the BikeSchenectady master plan affirms, the Municipal Code does not permit bicycles on (most) City Park paths, and would need to be changed to allow bikes access to park paths (see 3rd attachment); placement at the Park encourages using the only path in Riverside Park for cycling, interfering with current users of many kinds, and raising liability issues; and (b) with 6 acres to choose from, they place it on the most expensive real estate in the Park — the specially designed Overlook (a/k/a Esplanade), with its quiet space, and fancy pavers and brick. See 4th attachment). With 8 bikes parked at the Riverside Park Bike Share station, a large percentage of the Overlook will be commandeered and lose much of its quiet grace. 

BikeSchdy-BikeShareSystemMap follow-up (Aug. 2, 2017): I discovered yesterday that the draft of the Bike Schenectady plan issued last month has an Appendix on the topic of bike sharing. Appendix C lists recommendations for bike share stations in Schenectady, and neither Phase 1 or Phase 2 has a proposed station at Riverside Park. Click on the thumbnail to the left of this blurb for the full-system bike share map recommended by Bike Schenectady, which shows no such station in Riverside Park. The discussion mentions that Commuters and Tourists are most likely to use bike-share and suggests that stations should be placed to serve such folks.

3. DSCF3256They put a station at the Central County Library, which has a large parking lot and wide space alongside the building. Nonetheless, the rack is not out of the way, but is instead taking up space right at Clinton and Liberty Streets, so close to the curb, that passengers in cars at the curb on Clinton Street might not be able to open their doors, and sidewalk space is narrowed.   (see 5th attachment) follow-up (Aug. 2, 2017): I did a little experiment of my own to see if passengers trying to exit the legal parking space alongside the Library bike-share station could readily do so. See photo to the right and two others added to the Slideshow.

I understand the virtues of a program like Bike-Share, but that should not mean the program cannot be criticized, and does not have to be monitored to assure the safety and convenience of pedestrians, park users, and other traveling our streets. Please phone me at 518-377-9540 (home) or 496-5093 (cell), if that is a more convenient way to 

thank you for your time and consideration, 

David

[click on an image for a larger version]

BikeShareSchdyState-Jay

JayStNoBicycling

SchdyCode-Bikes-ParksPaths

BikeShareRiversidePk

Riverside Park BikeShare

 

BikeShareSchdyLibrary

Central Library BikeShare

 

IMG_4181-001

. . above: Riverside Park CDPHP CYCLE! Station, on the Overlook-Esplanade at the end of North Ferry Street, first day of operation, July 27, 2017 . . 

new high (big rush) at Rivers Casino

 Lucky Coincidence? Just as the Schenectady Gazette ran an editorial urging that we “Give it more time for revenue from Rivers Casino” (July 17, 2017), Schenectady’s Casino was ending its best week ever for Gross Gambling Revenue. The week ending July 16, 2017, its 23rd week in business at Mohawk Harbor, saw GGR of $3,882,454. That is the best week since its first full week in business back in February.

  • Oddly, although the take last week was up 36.8% from a relatively good prior week, both Slots GGR and Poker Table GGR were down. All of the impressive increase came from Table Games, which had a GGR of $2,039,456. It was the first time Table Game gross gambling revenue was over two million dollars. Did a party of high-rollers (maybe the Bluhm Clan in town for the Casino’s Hotel opening) show up last week to let the good times roll?
  • Or, did Billy Fuccillo show up to throw a huuuge party at the craps tables?

Whatever the reason, after giving space to the many poor GGR weeks at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, I thought we should spotlight today it oddly good news. I’m not sure, however, if even six more months of weeks like Week 23 would meet Rush Street’s happy projections or even the County’s sober first-year hopes.

 follow-up (Aug. 6, 2017): See “first lap of the Casino Horse Race.”

 

Questions about the future of the Old Pump House

defending our Park

                  . . reprinted from “suns along the Mohawk” (July 17, 2017)    

update (September 30, 2017): See great news about the Old Pump House”. It seems that the current, “old”, pump station will be preserved and converted to a new use. 

 . . 

above: Pump House on Labor Day 2009 [R] and on the day of the Irene Flood (August 2011)

The Old Pump House

  . .above: from the collection of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Grems-Doolittle Library

Many people in the Stockade and Schenectady had hoped that the Old Pump House would be retro-fitted and rehabilitated instead of building an entirely new pump station. That battle was lost. However, one issue that I believe will need a considerable amount of deliberation very soon is the fate of the Old Pump House.  That may be especially true in a City that recently “lost” the Old Nicholaus Building, and thereby angered many of its residents. Furthermore, consideration of the future of the Old Pump House, which was constructed in 1913 (see rendition above), is logically interwoven with the design of the New Pump Station and its lot. The next stage in the creation of the new pump station is, of course, its architectural/exterior design. It would seem strange to decide upon the exterior design of the New Pump Station without knowing whether the Old Pump House is likely to still be standing beside it, just a couple of feet away and sharing the same “parkscape”.

  • pumpstationjun2017views1 If, for example, the east wall of the new pump station abuts the old House (as in the sketch to the left of this paragraph), it would probably be unadorned, without windows, etc.  But, if the Old Pump House is coming down, we would replace a quaint and attractive scene from the park and river with the nearly blank side of the 125 North Ferry Street, a two-family dwelling, and the larger New Pump Station facility, which would be in full view on all sides.

 Frankly, I do not know “how popular” the Old Pump House [“OPH”] is among various segments of the Schenectady community and its leaders. Nor do I have any idea what it would cost to keep it adequately maintained, and to remove pumping apparatus and otherwise convert it to some new community or park use. One reason given by the City’s engineers for needing a separate, new pump station is that the Old Pump House has “shifted” off its foundation. Requests for proof of this claim have not been answered. The City has stated that the old structure shifted about a foot, but others say it was less than an inch and the shift might have been decades ago. Any necessary stabilization of the structure is, of course, one required expense, if OPH is to be allowed to stand.

As you can see from the original 1913 rendering above of the “Concrete Pumping Station”, it had a Bandstand on top when it was built. Of course, at that time, it was only a water-pumping station. [In the Narrative to its application in 2000 for a grant to refurbish the Old Pump House and make park improvements (creating an overlook with trees, period lighting, brick pavers, etc.), Synthesis Architects gives a short history of the old pump house and describes needed cosmetic work on the structure, which was accomplished in the resulting Waterfront and Pump House Project.]

Given many decades dealing with sewerage, the facility and the grounds around it may need to be “remediated” in some form to remove any toxic substances before it can be removed. [Could Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group (Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor) continue their reputation for removing brown-fields by offering to fund the refurbishing of the Old Pump House as a community grant program, on the scale of Rush Street giveaways in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Des Plaines?]

One very big problem with retaining the Old Pump House is the current lack of any plan by the City for maintaining it and making sure that it is a secure building in any period in which it is empty and not used for a new purposes. The lack of a plan or set of alternatives presented to the public by City Hall, despite the Mayor having decided at least three years ago to build a new pumping station, suggests there is little will within the McCarthy Administration to spend — or seek from preservationist sources — funds needed to care for the Old Pump House appropriately. Furthermore, Assemblyman Phil Steck is already a vocal proponent of taking it down, and has offered to submit a bill to the NYS Legislature taking the lot and the structure out of the Stockade Historic District.

 Despite my personal fondness for the Old Pump House, I need to learn much more about the options, pros and cons, and costs of alternatives, before giving its survival a thumbs up or down. I believe many people feel strongly about OPH, while others are indifferent, or think another park use could be made of that part of the current pump station lot if it is removed. To me, it is a unique sight from the river and the park, beloved my many, some of whom do not even know what purpose it serves, and is a special structure from a time when industrial architecture had style. Some of my favorite photos include the old pump house. But, I would like to hear a focused debate about the pros and cons of keeping or demolishing or relocating the exterior of the structure, including relative cost of each viable option, before having to come to a conclusion. 

  • If you have an opinion on the future of the Old Pump House, or questions you, too, would like answered, please let the Stockade Association know, and the Mayor and City Council, along with the media. Click for City Council contact information.

 

 . . share this post with the shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/OldPumpHouseQQ

. . or, click on this thumbnail for a 4-page pdf version OPHQQcover

update (July 25, 2017):  An article posted this afternoon at the Times Union website, “Progress made on Schenectady Stockade pump house plan” (by Paul Nelson), had this to say about the Old Pump House:

NewOldPumpStation Once the new structure is up, it will complement the old historic one, said [CHS engineer Mike] Miller, adding there have never been any real discussions about tearing it down.  

“We’ve always worked to try to protect and preserve it, that was always our intention, ” said Miller, explaining that goal is consistent with the stance of city and state officials as well as preservationists.

We will have to see whether Mr. Miller’s statements are accurate. Click here for more on the revised design for the new pump station.

good at gaming the system: from cash cow to cow chips

When it comes to gaming the political system for tax breaks and special perks, it’s hard to beat the gaming industry. In New York State, there are different rules and tax rates for its full-blown casinos, video-gaming racinos, and Indian casinos. Such factors help complicate the casino industry’s tax-gaming game, making for increased melodrama, campaign contributions, and lobbyist income.

. . share this post with a shorter URL: http://tinyurl.com/CashCowChips

Last week, the Times Union reported, in Harness tracks, racinos, feel the heat from casinos” (by Rick Karlin, June 18, 2017), that:

 Jeff Gural, majority owner of the troubled Vernon Downs harness track and video lottery game “racino” in Vernon, Oneida County, said he would have to close his doors this fall if he didn’t get a tax break. [note: Mr. Gural is a major contributor to Gov. Cuomo.]

And, today, the Schenectady Gazette published “2 harness track racinos look to state for relief“ (by John Cropley, June 19, 2017), and noted:

Two harness racing tracks that host electronic casino operations are looking to the state for help amid increased competition from the proliferation of casinos across upstate New York.

One piece of legislation would allow Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs to use 4 percent of its net win for capital improvements.

Another would increase the percentage of the net win retained by Vernon Downs Casino Hotel in Vernon, near Utica.. . .

Both bills have been approved by the state Senate but have been sitting in committee in the state Assembly. The 2017 legislative session is scheduled to end Wenesday.

In response to this year’s crop of Gaming Groveling and Gambits, the Times Union published a Sunday editorial, “No subsidies for the casinos” (premium online content).

The Issue:

Citing financial problems, an upstate gaming venue seeks a tax break.

The Stakes:

Taxpayers should not have to support cash cows that morph into albatrosses.

“Lets be clear what a tax cut means: A loss of revenue that other taxpayers have to make up. It will be what casino proponents insisted would never happen: state taxpayers subsidizing gaming halls that were supposed to be cash cows.”

The TU editorial concludes: “Certainly it’s fair to find equitable ways to spread the benefits so that hard-pressed local economies like Oneida County’s don’t suffer. What’s unfair is to ask taxpayers to continually cover venues for the bad bets they’re proving to be.”

No matter what happens in this Legislative session, I’m betting that billionaire Neil Bluhm’s Rush Street Gaming minions here at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor are already looking into ways to reduce their gaming and property taxes and gain advantages over their casino and racino competition. That is what they have always done at other casino venues, in good times and bad.  Best bets for Boo-Hooing from Rush Street:

  • using the failure to meet their revenue projections as the justification for seeking a reduction in the gaming tax revenue rate
  • pointing to lower gaming tax revenue rates at racinos and at other casinos (under Legislative compromises meant to aid locations in less populated or poorer areas) as “unfair” competitive advantages for their competitors
  • challenging property tax assessments whether or not they are having financial success

Unlike casino owners elsewhere, Rush Street has made no promise in Schenectady about putting off challenging property assessments. Here’s what the Worster Massachusetts VoteNoSlots group said a couple years ago about Rush Street and taxes:

At each of their four casinos, Rush Street Gaming has either fought to have its property assessment reduced, or threatened to reduce it:

  • As soon as Rush Street opened Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi, it fought to have its property assessment reduced from $78 million to $30 million.
  • Almost as soon as they opened Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, they began lobbying to have their property assessment HALVED, and have continued to do it every single year.
  • The city of Philadelphia also was involved in a legal dispute with Sugarhouse Casino over property tax.
  • If the state (of Illinois) approves a Chicago casino or slots at horse tracks, then Bluhm wants to be able to add more slot machines and pay lower tax rates in Des Plaines. “We absolutely need both,” Bluhm said when asked whether he would accept one without the other. “We couldn’t possibly survive. The numbers won’t work. If we just lower tax rates and couldn’t expand, we would be crushed.”

As we reported here when arguing against naming the primary road into Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street,” after failing in their campaign to achieve the 60% reduction in their property tax assessment they had sought in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Rush Street sold their Riverwalk Casino, in 2012, just four years after it opened.

But, Rush Street Gaming doesn’t have to be doing poorly to try to avoid taxes. As reported in some detail just last year at BetterGov.org, in “Rivers Casino’s Jackpot: $1 Million Property Tax Break” (by Chuck Newbauer & Sandy Bergo):

RiversDPCasinoWindfall

Rivers Des Plaines

The owners of the wildly successful Rivers Casino in Des Plaines have received more than $4 million in property tax cuts since opening nearly five years ago, by aggressively arguing that the property was worth tens of millions of dollars less than it cost to buy and build on.

Since 2012, Rivers has reported annual revenues of more than $400 million, after winnings, state records show. Its revenues are twice as large as any of the other nine Illinois casinos.

Despite their success, the Rivers owners claim the value of the casino and parking garage has declined, justifying tax relief. . . .

Tellingly, several successive reductions by the elected Cook County Review Board (from $104 M to $88 M each year) “is not enough” for Rivers Casino in Des Plaines: “The owners have gone to court seeking refunds of taxes paid in three previous years, arguing the assessments are still too high.” Rush Street’s primary owner Neil Bluhm is a well-known contributor and “bundler” in the Democratic Party. Although he did not donate to the Cook County’s elected Board members, his tax attorneys and appraisal firms have given substantial amounts.

The BetterGov.org article also makes a point similar to the Times Union Editors:

Whatever the case, the casino’s gain is their neighbors’ loss. Home owners and other property owners in Des Plaines and some surrounding communities have to pick up the slack to fund budgets for local schools, parks and other local government expenses to make up for the Rivers tax cuts.

Beyond property assessments, Rush Street Gaming is definitely not shy about efforts to change the rules in place when it received its casino license. For example, it has tried strenuously to fend off competition to its successful SugarHouse Casino from a second Philadelphia casino, although the State Legislature had for many years envisioned the second casino. First, it said the State Racing Commission could not re-issue the license after the first licensee failed to get necessary funding. That stalled the competition for years, before the argument was rejected by the State Supreme Court. “Pa. High Court Affirms Propriety of 2nd Philly Casino License” (Law360.ocm, by Alex Wolf). Nonetheless, SugarHouse’s lawyers have raised other issues in court, which have stalled the large South Philadelphia casino project even further. See  “Whatever happened with that South Philly casino?” (Billpenn.com, by Anna Orso, Jan. 6, 2017). Expectations are that SugarHouse and the other plaintiffs will lose again, but its Rush Street owners have “won” several years of added profits by operating as the only casino in that big town.

  . . click for cash cow cartoons & cow chips cartoons 
From Cash Cow to Cow Chips, Are they Too Important to Let Fail in Schenectady? Should Rivers Casino Schenectady start to seem more like a Cow Chip Factory than a Cash Cow, you can count on the local leaders who bet their reputations on the Mohawk Harbor casino to help in efforts at the State and local level to seek subsidies of various kinds to alleviate Mr. Bluhm’s suffering. It would be an amusing drama to watch, if it weren’t so important (and predictable). Stay tuned.

another nadir on the River (with updates & lowdowns)

(update: June 23, 2017): Rivers Casino in Schenectady set yet another new low for revenue generation in the week ending June 11, 2017, its 18th week in operation at Mohawk Harbor. Its net revenues were $2,062,162, down 23% from the prior week, and almost $100K below its previous low-point.

RiversRev23June2017

. . is our favorite Cash Cow becoming a Cow Chip factory? casinocowchips

. . and see, “psst: the casino cash cow has too many calves” (June 21, 2014)

Original Posting

 In its 15th week in operation, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady set a stunning new low for overall net revenues at: $2,129,115, with slots income also the lowest to date, and poker table GRR under $100,000 [$99,503]. Here’s screen shot of its Report for the week ending May 21, 2017, which was posted late due to the Memorial Day weekend:

Meanwhile, at the Times Union, reporter Paul Nelson’s latest article is headlined “Poker winner nets $46k at Rivers Casino” (online May 29, 2017). I do not know whether that is a lot of money for a tournament that Rivers Casino General Manager Mary Cheeks says “attracted 1,095 players from seven states and Canada, exceeding expectations.” Ms. Cheeks is also quoted saying:

 “We had a fantastic turnout for the Capital Region Classic, and we heard a lot of positive feedback from players who have been looking for big poker tournaments in this area for years,”

Of course, this is the same Casino that keeps telling us how satisfied it is with revenues and attendance so far, despite averaging far below, and never yet meeting, the weekly average GRR it needs to make the lowered expectations it projected for its first year in operation.

. . use this short URL to share this post: tinyurl.com/RiversNadir

Rivers Casino hits a new low for revenues

 Schenectady’s Rivers Casino’s 12th week in operation generated its worst revenues figures so far: GRR $2,237,542. That was 11.6% lower than its prior worst week, which ended April 16. Slots dollars were the lowest yet. And, last week’s poker dollars were down from the prior week:

 

Despite revenues going down for the 8th time in 10 weeks, Rivers Casino’s Schenectady General Manager, Mary Cheeks, had this conversation with TU food columnist Steve Barnes:

 Q: How has Rivers performed in its first three months, and how does that compare to company projections?

A: I have no complaints. We’re still in ramp-up mode, so I’m fine with what we’re achieving so far, and we’re making changes as warranted.

Also:

Q: What do your demographics show about where Rivers patrons are coming from?

A: Primarily from the Capital Region, but surprisingly enough to me, as someone who’s been in this business for 27-plus years, is the large amount we have coming from beyond 120 miles. Since the casino’s hotel isn’t open yet, we’re assuming most of them are day-trippers, not lodgers.

Q: The casino operates 24 hours a day. Is there really enough business to warrant that?

A: Yes.

Q: For example, on average, how many patrons are on the gambling floor at 3 a.m. on a Monday or Tuesday?

A: I’d have to guess at least 300, but it’s not just for gambling. [restaurants and lounge also open]

  • Personal Note: Why am I not a journalist? I do not have the poker face to deal with statistics-free generalities or half-answers, much less the unanswered questions.

Also, have you wondered about the size of payouts at Rivers Casino Mohawk Harbor:

Q: What is the biggest largest payout at Rivers so far?

A.  It was $47,000 on a slot machine.

Q: What was the biggest at the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos in the 5 years that you handled both of them?

A. In Pittsburgh, $150,000, ad $100,000 in Philadelphia.

Not In Our Park!

red check follow-up: Two resolutions passed by the City of Schenectady City Council on June 12, 2017, represent a compromise solution that we hope will sacrifice, at most, less than 0.1 acre of parkland at Riverside Park. See the posting “what the parkland alienation resolutions mean” (June 12, 2017), at suns along the Mohawk.

 Please Note (Monday, May 3, 2017): For a detailed summary of the May 2 informational meeting on the Project, see our post strong, thoughtful opposition to pump station in the park” (May 3, 2017).

Click this link to see the 25-page Presentation to the Stockade Association Board of the proposed North Ferry Pump Station Project, given on March 1, 2017, by architect Frank Gilmore and CHA’s lead engineer Mike Miller. And, click this link for treatment of the Pump Station in the May 2017 Stockade Spy.

Original Posting

   . . 

. . above: [L] the West Lawn of Riverside Park; [R] a rendering (from March 1 Presentation to SA Board) of a proposed pump station to be located on the West Lawn. . . For many more photo images, please seethe at-risk West Lawn of Riverside Park. .

below: a scene from the Stockade Association Memorial Day Picnic on the West Lawn (1970s; from “The Stockade – A Past Reclaimed,” Stockade Association)

WestLawn-MemDayPicnic

This afternoon, April 27, 2017, I sent substantially the following email message to the Stockade Historic District Yahoo! Email group:

Thank you, John [Samatulski], for saying aloud and in print what has to be said, and saying it so well. [click here for John’s email to the Stockade Yahoo Group] 

These points need to be made about the Stockade Association Board’s failure to report in a timely manner to the SA membership and the neighborhood on the character of the proposed Pump Station Project:

  1.  screen-shot-2017-04-18-at-2-08-05-pm When presented months ago with the Renderings of the New Pump Station Project there was NO OTHER PROPER RESPONSE FOR THE BOARD of an Association chartered to protect and preserve the residential nature of the Stockade, than to say “NOT IN OUR PARK” and “NOT BLOCKING the VIEWS of and from Stockade properties”. 
    1. westlawnfromesplanade That is even more imperative when the Objectives stated in the SA Constitution and By-Laws include “Development and improvement of the riverfront area”; Protection of historic properties [including their economic value]; and the Promotion of safety and the “aesthetic and physical improvement of the neighborhood”. 
    2. And, because SA has taken upon itself, and is seen by the broader community as having, the role of “Representation before any City or County governmental agency or component on matters affecting the neighborhood”, its failure to strongly oppose a proposal allows the Applicant, and City Hall, including the Mayor, and the planning and historic districts commissions (and their staffs), as well as the Media, to say with emphasis, “Even the Stockade does not oppose this!” [They literally did that with the Casino.]
  2. It does not take an engineer to know that a new pump station is totally inappropriate in Riverside Park, a small gem of a Park, with very limited lawn space. 
  3. A pump station project, and probably any project, that greatly blocks the viewing of the Stockade from any public space, especially rare views of our backyards, lawns and gardens, is totally inappropriate.*/
  4. newpumpstationcollge Our job — as residents, owners, and lovers of the Stockade, as well as the Board and the entire Association — is to say “NO! NOT IN OUR PARK! FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” The job of the City and its experts is to find a solution that meets the wastewater requirements of the City and State, or prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the new Station must swallow up part of the Park and destroy the Stockade viewshed.
  5. Delay This! By not alerting the neighborhood of the project proposals that were presented months ago to the Advisory Committee and then the SA Board, the Board has played into the hands of the City, its lawyers, and the project proponents, who will surely use a purported lack of time for complying with its agreement with the State as an excuse for not finding a suitable alternative. The Board members’ job was not to wait around for fine-tuning or the eventual unveiling by the proponents, so that they could say that comments were addressed, and a shrub or two was added or window glare reduced. Their job was to sound the alert that the quality of life in the Stockade was being threatened.
  6. An SA officer or Board Member, or candidate for those positions, who does not agree with one or more of the points above should declare their disagreement and give reasons.

You can find photos of the endangered West Lawn of Riverside Park, and images of the Renderings, at “suns along the Mohawk”, at http://tinyurl.com/WLawn . 

  • On a personal note, I must say that it is a relief to have others raising, in public and forcefully, issues that I have been addressing, and more. We cannot hope to protect the Stockade by playing (silent and minor) partners to so-called Partners in Progress at City Hall. Advocates need to advocate avidly to achieve their goals, and to be respected by politicians. And, we need to use all the available means of communication, such as email and the Stockade Association website, to keep the Stockade neighborhood informed ofnimportant matters.

Thanks for taking the time to consider these points. Please plan to attend the public presentation by CHA of its Pump Station Project on May 2, I hope we can be told the location and time ASAP.  at 7 PM at St. George’s. 

David at Cucumber Alley

______________________________________________

*/ Any Board or Association member who is asked to review a project in or impacting the Stockade neighborhood should have on the tip of his or her tongue or fingers reference to The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment [available at http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC]. The DEC Visual Impact Policy Statement, among other things, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with adequate mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact on or from the District.  [The Visual Impact Policy should also be posted at the Stockade Association’s very underutilized website.]

Even The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming stated, in their Application to the Casino Location Board for the Schenectady casino license, that a Visual Resource Assessment (VRA) in accordance with the NYSDEC Visual Assessment Policy was needed to identify the potential impact of the proposed development scenario on the visual character of surrounding neighborhoods. [Because they ignored the 80’ pylon tower in their own VRA and stressed the low-rise nature of the casino complex, they said it would have no impact on the Stockade.]

red check What’s So Special About Riverside Park?

Riverside Park is only 6 acres of land, stretched along 1/3rd of a mile of riverbank. In thinking about the impact on the Park, I hope decision-makers will keep in mind three sources of praise and caution from outside the Stockade:

  •  On January 26, 1998, a Resolution of the Schenectady City Council resolved, that Riverside Park “is recognized as a unique component of the [Stockade Historic] District and best serves residents and visitors as a quiet place to view the natural beauty of the Mohawk River.”  In addition, the Resolution stated that “to change its special nature would deprive visitors and disadvantage the homeowners who are the caretakers in this Historic District of national importance.”
  • With its combination of urban waterfront beauty and relative tranquility, Riverside Park was praised by the editor of Architect Forum as “probably the finest thing of its kind in America.” (Dec. 1961) 
  • In addition, and not surprisingly, the Mohawk River Waterfront Revitalization Plan for Schenectady County (2010) has noted that even recreational changes to the Park have been controversial. Therefore, the Plan notes (at 71): “Identifying the appropriate intensity of recreational use along the river has been a sensitive issue in the area of the residential Stockade neighborhood. Riverside Park provides a walking trail from which neighborhood residents view the river. The most active use relating to the river is the occasional fisherman. Thus, the nature and location of the Park “inhibits any significant expansion of use other than to improve it as a scenic overlook and to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access and connection to adjoining areas.” As a result, the only recommended projects in the Plan for Riverside Park involve making improvements in the park’s “current amenities,” connecting it to East Front Street Park and the Union Boathouse, better accommodating bicyclists through path improvements, and creating an alternative Bike-Hike trail. [Nope, nothing about losing a major piece of the Park for a modern, industrial-like project.]

Riverside Park and the proposed Pump Station

  Please see “the at-risk West Lawn of Riverside Park” at our sister site, “suns along the Mohawk”. Who is protecting our Park and neighborhood? More discussion coming soon [update (April 27, 2017) seeNot In Our Park!”].

. . This image of a snowman sentinel on the West Lawn, as seen from the rear of 29 1/2 Front Street, is now randomly used above as our header, alternating with our primary Snowmen at the Gates image.

. . a view of the West Lawn, Sunday morning, April 23, 2017 . . 

Poker strategy stumbles along the Mohawk (with updates)

 . . Rivers Casino Poker Room

 Despite good media coverage and optimism for River Casino’s roll-out of daily Poker Tournaments last week (see Times Union & Gazette), Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor Casino posted record-low weekly revenue numbers for the second week in a row, with generated dollars down for the 7th time in 8 weeks. Total GGR for the week ending April 16, 2017 was merely $2,532,004, down  5.2% from the prior week’s nadir. Indeed, its Poker Table GRR during its first week of daily tournaments went down 12.9% from the prior week. And, slots GRR tumbled another 9.7%. Meanwhile, Capital Region competitor, Saratoga Casino and Hotel saw a 6.0% drop from its prior week’s Net Win numbers.

  •  For more information and discussion about revenues at the Mohawk Harbor Casino, see our posting on April 7, 2017, which has relevant charts and links; short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RiversDown . (Image at head of this blurb is  detail from C. M. Coolidge’s “A Friend in Need”.)

update (April 22, 2017, 12 AM): See “Income falls at Rivers, Saratoga: Gross revenues from gaming off more than 5% in week’s stretch” (Times Union, by Eric Anderson, April 22, 2017), which noted:

For Rivers, it’s the lowest weekly revenue figure since its opening in early February, and it came despite a series of poker tournaments during the week.

The poker room has been popular among casino customers, officials have said.

Observers have suggested that extensive roadwork on Erie Boulevard outside the casino may have played a part in the decline. . . .

The casinos haven’t released attendance figures, so it’s not clear how the restaurant and other food outlets have performed.

follow-up (April 28, 2017): Finally some good news for Rivers Casino Schenectady and those counting on its revenue stream. For the week ending April 23, 2017, GGR were $2,866,673, up 11.6% from last week’s lowest-ever figures. See the Official Weekly Report. A screen shot of the April numbers is immediately below this blurb. The Net Win figures up the road at Saratoga Casino were up 3.9%.

RiversRevs28Apr2017