break up McCarthy’s Council Clique

. . subtitle: let’s fire John Polimeni . .  

SchdyCouncilFinal  update (Nov. 6, 2019): Last night’s election results [click on image to the left from Times Union] for Schenectady City Council were quite disappointing to those of us who had hoped to achieve a more deliberative and better-informed City Council, to make its dynamics and processes wiser and more small-d democratic. The entire 4-person Democratic Party slate was elected, with a surprising loss by independent Vince Riggi, our “voice of reason (in the wilderness)”. [see Gazette article; TU Election Results] I hope newcomer Carmel Patrick will resist the “mushroom management” style of Mayor Gary McCarthy, and demand to be better informed about facts, goals, alternatives, legal requirements, etc., before voting on matters before the Council.

Congratulations to Leesa Perazzo on her impressive re-election result. Leesa will need to be more vigilant and persevering than ever.

. . Gazette‘s Halloween Trick: At the bottom of this post I respond to the Gazette editorial that endorsed John Polimeni for re-election.

When it became clear in late June that Mayor Gary McCarthy would have no opponent on the November 5 ballot, I wrote to his primary opponent Thearse McCalmon and at my Facebook Page that:

4monkeysGreenX THE BEST THING we can do right now is to continue to work toward this November election, to DENY MAYOR GARY McCARTHY HIS NEARLY CONSTANT FOUR-VOTE MAJORITY of the same four Democratic Council members. If he knows that he could lose any particular resolution he presents, Mayor McCarthy will have to:

  • Seek Council and Public input early in the legislative process
  • Provide more information to the Council and public;
  • listen to the public and respond accordingly;
  • encourage and expect probing questions from the Council ; and
  • stop insisting on nearly instant passage of resolutions, without evaluating and explaining options, and without incorporating thoughtful criticism, including comments received at public hearings, and without supplying relevant information, even when requested by Council members.

The next best thing to a new mayor is a mayor who can no longer count on getting all his desires rubber-stamped.

Looking at the people who will be on the November 2019 City Council Ballot, we need to think about and support the people most likely to be independent thinkers, who will insist that the Council is the City’s legislative and policy leader, not the Mayor. And, who see themselves as the partners of Schenectady’s residents and neighborhoods, not partners of the Mayor’s favored developers and commercial interests. [update (Nov. 3, 2019): The Sunday Gazette has an article by Pete DeMola that captures the dynamics of the City Council race, “In race for Schenectady City Council, Democratic unity belies more complicated tensions: Seven candidates campaign for four seats”. It notes, for instance, that if Vince Riggi wins one of the four contested seats the four Democrats on the ballot are competing with each other for the three remaining seats.]

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight. . the Mayor and his Gang of Four

FIRE POLIMENI. The 4-member Council “Rump” Majority is made up of Council President Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, John Mootooveren, and Karen Senecal Zalewski-Wildzunas. Only Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni are on the ballot from this Council Clique. Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo are also on the ballot, seeking re-election. (See Gazette article)

 Because of the many legislative missteps that we have seen initiated and pushed by John Polimeni, in addition to his virtually always acting as either a silent rubber-stamp or cheerleader for Mayor McCarthy, I believe we should work to ensure that Prof. Polimeni does not win re-election to the Schenectady City Council. 

  • Riggi-Kosiur Council Members Vince Riggi (Ind.) and Leesa Perazzo (Dem.) are also running this year. Schenectady needs to re-elect Vince Riggi and Vince has earned it, by listening to constituents from all parties, asking tough questions, and by seeking more and better information. Unfortunately, Vince has been frustrated time and again by the rush to voting that the Rump Majority allows the Mayor to pursue.
  • If Leesa Perazzo is re-elected, I hope she will become an even stronger independent-thinker and actor on the Council.

 SILENT WITNESS/Co-Conspirator. John Polimeni has not spoken out to [1] Ask for Privacy Safeguards for the City’s Smart City information gathering, and now says he wants to use the data generate revenue, which means No Privacy, as the City sells information gathered about its residents and visitors. (see our post “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework.” [2] Demand that the Mayor return our replica Statue of Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Plaza, as was promised in the Final Plan approved by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. (In fact, he signed an error-filled petition to send Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park; click here for the full Lady Liberty Story.) Nor, [3] Complain when Rivers Casino acknowledged that its lobbyists were seeking to reduce the 45% gaming tax on slots revenue to below 40%, meaning at least a 12% reduction in slots gaming revenue. Any reduction, of course, would mean less money coming into the City’s coffers.

  • Our Council members must actively and vigilantly serve the interests of Schenectady’s residents, and speak out when Mayoral proposals, Department action or inaction, or Corporation Counsel opinions, need to be further investigated and explained.

Professor D-Minus.. Polimeni1

ACTIVE PROPONENT: Far too often, it seems, John Polimeni comes off as “Professor D-Minus, willing to settle for projects and resolutions that are simply not ready for public unveiling; not sufficiently thought-through or detailed; not practical, and sometimes simply not wise. We deserve quality legislative proposals that could garner A’s and B’s if graded.

SIDEWALK ASSESSMENT DISTRICT

The primary proponent of the City’s Sidewalk Assessment District was Professor Polimeni. After years of thought, John came up with a program that was universally thought to be lacking in detail. Rather than pull it back and do a lot more thinking and research, Mr. Polimeni pushed on, ignoring requests from neighborhood leaders for more planning. At the time, it looked like John was in a rush, and called for quick submission of Sidewalk District Petitions by interested residents, because he wanted a least one block in the City to have new sidewalks by the November election.

Well, that has happened, with sidewalk work completed on the block of Ardsley Road at Union Street. The Ardsley Petition got one contractor bid, and the results were a homeowner expense 84% higher than Mr. Polimeni’s estimates. For example:

50′ Sidewalk Frontage:

Polimeni Estimate of Cost: $2222

Actual Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Cost: $4085

See the full Ardsley Road Contractor Bid immediately below. We deserve well-considered and vetted plans, not the premature legislation given us by M. Polimeni.  I will write more on the Sidewalk Program soon at this site.

ArdsleySidewalkBidE

Several mature shade trees were taken down during this project on Ardsley Rd., with the City paying $4500 per tree. Here are images of the street view of 1089 Ardsley Road from 2011 (Google Street image) and early in October 2019.

  ArdsleyRd1089-2011 . . ArdsleyRd1089Oct2019

Bike Share Expenses

bikesharemouIn May 2019, CTDA asked the City of Schenectady to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, requiring the City to pay $25,000 each year for three additional years to remain in the program. Neither CDTA nor City Engineer Chris Wallin on their behalf supplied important information needed to make a responsible decision. That was after Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield requested such information. On May 13, 2019, Wallin did not even show for the City Council meeting and never supplied the requested information.

We did not know, and still do not know, how many people in Schenectady actually used the Program in the prior years (the trips taken from Schenectady stations only amounted to 6% of the trips in the entire Bike Share program), nor how they used the Bicycle (i.e., how long was the average bike trip, three blocks or three miles). Nonetheless, in supporting the measure, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU.

  • For a fuller discussion of the Bike Share plan, including how few people in Schenectady are using Bike Share (only 6% of total system rides originate in Schenectady) and the large subsidy being paid by the City for each Bike stationed in Schenectady, see our posting, “Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal” (May 10, 2019).

PLASTIC STRAW BAN John Polimeni introduced a resolution that would have banned to commercial use of plastic straws in Schenectady, rather than working with the County and State for a coordinated and more enforceable solution to this problem. Prof. Polimeni seems to believe that “doing something now” is better than doing nothing. To the contrary, rushed ideas, even if trendy, often create unforeseeable problems and stymie passage of better legislation. This was, at best, a D-minus project.

See “Schenectady plastic straw ban proposal fails” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Aug. 19 2910).

POLICE CHIEF SICK LEAVE BONUS 

John Polimeni led the fight to get a payout of over $8000 for unused Sick Leave accumulated by Eric Clifford prior to his promotion to Chief of Police. Polimeni simply ignored the words in the Union Contract that such payout is for hours “in excess of 120 days”. Clifford was 25 days short of that threshold prior to taking the Chief’s position, which is no longer covered by the union contract.

Despite advice by Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico that the City has no obligation to pay the $8000, Polimeni told the Gazette that “the intent of the agreement was clear and should be honored”.  Vince Riggi pressed hard on this issue, and when it became clear that the payout would not have a Council majority support if voted on at the Council Meeting, Polimeni had the resolution tabled rather than suffer the defeat. See Gazette article. The Polimeni Resolution could please only the Chief and, in an election year, the Police Union.

SELLING SMART CITY DATA to MERCHANDIZERS

 Councilman Polimeni has never responded to my calls for Privacy Protections that assure that people caught by the City’s audio and video sensors will not find their data being sold or bartered to the Mayor’s “Tech-Partners” or other outside sellers. He made it clear recently why: Mr. Polimeni wants to use Smart City data to generate revenue for the City — by collecting and offering to merchants data that can be used (or resold)  for targeted merchandizing activity. As reported by the Gazette on October 20, 2019:

Councilman John Polimeni said the city should do more to explore ways technology can be used to generate revenue — including using data to create marketing strategies for businesses in the city.

“We can also use this technology to create new businesses and applications that we can use to create employment opportunities,” Polimeni said. 

According to the Gazette, John is also willing to put an additional $2 million dollars in the City’s Capital Budget for Smart Cities, before the Mayor or Council seeks public input on the scope and use of the mountain of data that is being collected, and that can be used — without consent –to target individuals, whose activities and habits in the City are recorded and archived. [This topic of Smart City planning, transparency, and privacy protection was addressed in our posting “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework“.]

  • POLIMENI SUMMARY: John Polimeni has failed to speak out or act against the Mayor’s unwise policies and antics, and has proposed too many ideas that are contrary to good government and the public interest. He does not deserve re=election.
  • Share this posting with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni

Thank you to the Gazette opinion staff for publishing my Election Letter to the Editor, which appeared October 24, 2019, on the Opinion page (C5) of the Schenectady Gazette:

 Update (Nov. 2, 2019): On Halloween, October 31, 2019, the Gazette published an editorial endorsing 4 of the 7 candidates seeking a Schenectady City Council seat at the Nov. 5th election. See “ENDORSEMENT: Four will make Schenectady Council stronger”.  In addition to endorsing Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Carmel Patrick, the Gazette endorsed John Polimeni, saying:

HalloweenTrick “John Polimeni, a city native and college professor in Albany with a PhD from RPI, brings intellect, economic development background and research skills to the council, where he serves as chair of the Finance Committee. We’d like to see him get more aggressive on coming up with ways to cut spending and raise revenue, especially in his committee role, during his next term.”

Here is a slightly edited Comment that I left at the online version of the endorsement, disagreeing with their disagreeable Halloween Trick on the people of Schenectady:

Comment of David Giacalone:
 
Today is Halloween, not April Fools Day. How could you write those words about John Polimeni? He wanted to waste resources on a Straw Ban and purposely misread the union contract to want to give the Police Chief unearned Sick Leave compensation. His great research on sidewalk programs resulted in a C- explanation of the Schenectady Sidewalk Assessment District Program that left far too many unanswered questions, resulting in only one contractor bidding on the first block, Ardsley Rd., where homeowner costs were 84% higher than his estimate earlier this year.

Polimeni also failed to wait for Bike Share information about Schenectady’s use before supporting the payment of $75,000 to CDTA. And, publicly would only 
say “it won’t be 16%” when confronted with the Mayor’s bold request for a raise.

Also, Polimeni’s idea for added revenue: selling Smart City data (about the habits of Schenectady residents) to marketers.

It’s a record of irresponsible silences, frivolous ideas, and poor judgment. We all need to skip Polimeni when voting for City Council. The Council will be stronger the day the Mayor no longer has a sure four votes. See https://tinyurl.com/NoPolimeni
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greeting Omar McGill at Mangino’s

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 This afternoon (Sunday, October 13), there was a Meet and Greet for Omar McGill at Mangino’s Gourmet Market and Restaurant (754 1/2 Eastern Avenue). Omar is running against veteran Democrat Peggy Smith for the open District 1 seat on the Schenectady County Legislature. He is on the Working Family Party’s line on the November 5 ballot. In addition to Rick Mangino and Bonnie Goodwin at Mangino’s, the event was co-sponsored by Mary Moore Wallinger, a landscape architect and Chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission, and Hon. Dorcey Applyrs, member of the City of Albany Common Council. 

Omar-PeggyKingAs I’ve written elsewhere (for example, click on thumbnail to the left from Omar’s Facebook platform page), although a lifelong Democrat, I believe Omar McGill is the clear choice for our County Legislature. We need a representative who listens to the people and not just Democratic party leaders — and who demands explanations, facts, open consideration of alternatives, and more if necessary before deciding to support or oppose a legislative resolution. (Although Omar and Marion Porterfield, the Democratic City Council member who is his campaign manager, insist on having a positive campaign, I personally do not believe that stating the record of the opponent and explaining what Omar would do differently is a negative campaign.)

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. . above: [L to R]: Noble and Dorcey Applyrs, Mary Moore Wallinger, Omar McGill; below: Our Community’s Future:

IMG_2726 . . IMG_2732

You will find an 11-minute video with remarks by Mary, Dorcey and Omar McGill’s at the Meet & Greet posted at his Facebook page.  In the columns below are random photos that I took of the thoughtful and amiable folks who came to meet Omar today at Mangino’s. Click on an image for a full, larger version.

 

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. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/OMcGill-Manginos

Several varieties of pizza and soft ice cream were consumed with gusto. The beautiful Mangino’s has much more on its menu. Thanks to the sponsors!

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  • My Facebook coverage of this event is here.

bad reviews for “Our Lady of the Scary Underpass”

LL-NewLocationPollResultsGIMG_2109-001 It is no surprise to anyone with eyes, good taste, and a working brain. And, it probably isn’t news to Gary McCarthy, who might be relishing the anguish he is causing residents of Schenectady by demonstrating his arrogance and power.

Since Friday, August 28, 2019, the City has been abuzz with negative reactions to the new location given to our Statue of Liberty replica statue by Mayor McCarthy, near the railroad underpass on the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard at Union Street. People have been reaching out with email and phone calls, and crossing the street to voice an opinion:

The New Location is an outlandish choice, an insult to the Lady and to Schenectady. (see our prior posting with more photos and discussion of the Mayor’s Choice, and this link to pdf file of heavily-redacted email, which is the City’s “response” to my FOIL request for documents relating to the choice of location for Lady Liberty ). On the right above is a colorized screenshot of the final results of a Daily Gazette poll placed online from Saturday through Tuesday. Gary McCarthy’s choice could only attract 61 votes, despite all his political suasion, and the favorable poll position and wording. The choice of the Original Location received 130 votes in the poll, 45% of the total.

IMG_2108-001On August 30th, the Gazette Editorial Board published “Editorial: Lady Liberty’s New Home – try again: Historic statue needs a more appropriate location than busy street corner”. After noting the disappointment of one viewer who gasped, “Oh God, you can hardly see it”, the editorial stated:

Instead, the final placement seems almost like a dismissive afterthought, that in order to shut up the people who were demanding its return, they just stuck it anywhere, hoping that those who cared about its placement would finally drop it and move on.

Well, the only thing that should move on is the statue itself.

Like other observers, the Gazette editors noticed right away the many problems:

. . . Mayor Gary McCarthy — without input from the public or the collective City Council — appears to have unilaterally decided to dump it on one of the city’s most cluttered street corners — uncleaned and unimproved — where it’s difficult to see clearly from either side of the five-lane road, against a thick, ugly metal power pole and utility boxes, and in the shadow of an unsightly train bridge at the end of a parking lot.

In summary, the Gazette opined:

Anything’s got to be better than the manner in which this location was selected and where the statue ended up.

Lady Liberty deserves better.

Of course, here at Snowmen At the Gates, we insist She Deserves the Best: Her Original and Only appropriate Home, Liberty-Gateway Park.

what can you still do? Contact the Mayor and City Council directly:

  • McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNightMayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov – who has not offered any justification for changing (ignoring) an important element of a very important and approved Plan.
    • Photo to the right, L to R: J. Mootooveren, J. Polimeni, K. Zalewski-Wildzunas, G. McCarthy, E. Kosiur
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park, despite its gross factual errors, and has declared without explanation that “only the Mayor has the delegation” to make this decision.
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan, but has been most silent on the topic
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park. (Update [Sept. 3, 2019]: According to the Aug. 28 Gazette, Ms. Z-W “liked the location, citing its proximity to the Schenectady Train Station and the Stockade, and thinks most residents will find it to be an acceptable location.)
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov, who suggested in March 2018 we might poll the affected neighborhoods, but has been silent since.
  • Vincent Riggi – v_riggi@verizon.net, the only Council member to consistently demand implementing the Implementation Plan and suitably honoring Lady Liberty and her Schenectady history.

And, Mary Moore Wallinger, mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com, who changed her mind after designing Gateway Plaza and writing the Implementation Plan and now says Lady Liberty “does not fit in” with Wallinger Plaza’s contemporary theme.

McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again

IMG_2117-002  . . IMG_2109

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Our “Smart City” Mayor, Gary R. McCarthy, has made another very unwise decision. Six years after the City Council and Mayor approved the official Implementation Plan to return Lady Liberty to Her Original Home; two years after our Lady Liberty replica statue was removed for safe-keeping during the reconstruction of Her Liberty Park; and 17 months after the Mayor was first publicly asked to explain the failure to return the Statue, Mayor McCarthy announced today that the Lady had been placed at her new permanent location: the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street, with a railroad overpass and retaining wall as Her backdrop. See Pete DeMola’s Gazette article this afternoon, here [screenshot image]; and a TU article [screenshot image] by Paul Nelson (both online August 28, 2019).

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 The Mayor’s statement today again gave no reason for not following the approved Implementation Plan for Gateway Plaza, and failed to identify his so-called “design team”, which understandably wants to remain anonymous. As reported in the Times Union:

“Upon completion of the newly redesigned Gateway Plaza and after careful consideration and discussion with our design team, it became clear that we would need to seek a new location for the statue,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an extremely high-visibility intersection with approximately 30,000 daily travelers on Erie Boulevard.”

  • GPTour-MMWallingerNote: Only one person, Mary Moore Wallinger (image at right), has tried to explain the exile of Lady Liberty from Her Park. See our posting “Wallinger’s Excuses“, which discusses the reasons given by Ms. Wallinger since March 2018 for her conclusion that Lady Liberty “no longer fits” with the Plaza. Mary Wallinger was the original designer of Gateway Plaza, and is also the Chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission. Mayor McCarthy has bent over backwards to make her wish come true of keeping Lady Liberty away from Liberty-Gateway Plaza. Since her role has become public, Ms Wallinger has been quick to point out that it is “the Mayor’s decision”, not hers, whether to return the Statue to its home.
  • (August 29, 2019) My Freedom of Information Request to the City, dated June 11, 2019, asked for documents relating to the decision to return Lady Liberty or place Her elsewhere. This morning, I finally received a pdf file of heavily-redacted email from Corporation Counsel’s FOIL office, with the explanation that:
Records have been redacted pursuant to FOIL Public Officers Law Article 6 §87(2)(g)(iii) “Agency records”.  States, an agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that are inter-agency or intra-agency materials which are not final agency policy or determinations. If you would like to appeal your request, you may do so in writing Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Hall 105 Jay Street, Schenectady, NY  12305.  Your written appeal will need to be within 30 days.
Of course, nothing requires the redacting of this information. The Mayor has never told us why Lady Liberty needs to be exiled from Liberty Park, and his FOIL office (Corporation Counsel) has decided to hide whatever those reasons and reasoning might be. Somehow, an appeal to the Mayor sounds futile.
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* At the foot of this posting, I have a few comments and screenshots from the pdf FOIL packet. You will note that none of the “careful consideration and discussion with our design team” mentioned by the Mayor made it into any document (e.g., email, memorandum, phone call memo, etc.).
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IMG_2117-002

peek-a-boo statue

Indeed, this is such a “high visibility” intersection, that several people have already told me they passed right by without seeing Lady Liberty today. I was one of those who did not notice The Lady, as I drove west on Union late this morning heading to the Stockade. Drivers coming west on Union and going straight or turning right will almost certainly fail to see the Statue without an effort to do so. That fat pole itself blocks the view, but so will vehicles turning left and waiting with you for the light to change.

The idea of the beloved green Statue distracting the already driven-to-distraction motorists and pedestrians at that intersection is downright scary. Whether taking the time to look for Lady Liberty, or being surprised by Her in the middle of a turn, or texting a friend that you just saw the Statue, the City’s creation of such a remarkable distraction is exactly what we do not need at Erie Blvd. and Union Street.

LL-longcrosswalk

It is most certainly not a pedestrian-friendly intersection, as drivers are immediately allowed to start turning when pedestrians get the Walk signal at that long crosswalk. Just yesterday (Aug. 27), two left-turning vehicles came speeding in front of me, as I tried to cross with the Walk Signal in that very crosswalk. I jumped back and signaled the third driver, in a large black SUV, to stop. She did, but angrily (and ignorantly), yelled at me: “I have a green light!” I hope Lady Liberty is not too squeamish as she gazes out the intersection.

IMG_2110

. . quite a view for, and of, Lady Liberty . .

. . by the way: the straw is very slippery; better stay off it. . 

I’ve been trying to keep this posting relatively light, to stifle my great disappointment over the crassness, arrogance, and pettiness of the process that ignored the approved Plan and the public’s preferences, only to result in this disagreeable location for our Statue of the Lady who brings Enlightenment.

Her Real Home. In case you need a reminder, this is where Lady Liberty reigned and inspired for 67 years, before she was moved “for her protection” during reconstruction of Liberty Park; photos taken September 2016:

libertypark1

Beyond the Mayor, the irresponsible and/or cowardly posture of City Council members other than Vince Riggi on this issue makes very little sense politically, but should be a big concern in a City that is about to “celebrate” four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. I hope the electorate will have some serious questions for those seeking reelection this year (Kosiur, Polemeni, Perazzo), about their independence from the Mayor, and their commitment to transparency and integrity.

gpladyPlanCollageTHE SORRY TALE of the EXILED LADY.  If you look down the Right Margin on our Homepage, you will see many postings concerned with Lady Liberty, Liberty Park and Gateway Plaza, that are part of this too-long story. A good place to find important images and documents and coverage of the tale, including links to additional webposts, is the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless.” To the immediate right is a thumbnail of an Advocacy Poster I presented in March of 2018 that helps explain why we felt betrayed.

  • In the posting “Letters for the Lady“, we’ve compiled Letters and commentary in the press supporting return of Lady Liberty to Her Liberty Park home since March 2018. A new section has been added at the foot of that posting that will present similar pieces since the revelation of the New Location.

 

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. . Above and Below: a very wide intersection for a small statue and Big Symbol . . 

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BTW: Here’s my view of Lady Liberty from the front of the line, waiting in my car for the light to change, heading west on Union Street; I had to roll up a foot or two to see Her at all (taken Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019):

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. . Share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/DissedLady

*Click here for the FOIL packet re the Location of Lady Liberty. Here’s what I learned from the FOIL Packet:

Continue reading

Schenectady’s wobbly bike share deal

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update (May 14, 2019): Yesterday evening, May 13, 2019, the Schenectady City Council voted 6-1, with only Vince Riggi (Ind.) in opposition, to accept the Memorandum of Understanding with CDTA discussed below, to enter into a three-year contract with the CYCLE! Bike Share system, with a yearly payment of $25,000. City Engineer Chris Wallin was not in attendance and had not provided them with any of the information he had promised about Schenectady’s CYCLE! data, and none of the questions posed below were answered. Nonetheless, Council member John Polimeni asserted that “the benefits far exceed the costs” of this MOU. Other members admitted ridership needs to increase and hoped it would. Marion Porterfield said that some people in her neighborhood cannot afford to have bikes, so they need the program. (She did not suggest how they could instead afford $5 per hour or a season pass to CYCLE!) Riggi pointed out that there simply was not enough information for him to agree to the MOU.

BikeShareRiversidePkThe only member of the public to speak on the Resolution was David Giacalone, the editor of this website. He said he was often disappointed by how little information this Council demanded before making a decision, and there was not enough now to justify three more years in CYCLE! The information available made it clear the public is not enthusiastic in Schenectady for Bike Share, and that is probably why CDTA was not supplying more data. Giacalone suggested that the Council could better meet the goals of better health and less vehicle congestion by using the $25,000 to purchase 250 bicycles each year that would be distributed by various groups to those most likely to use them. He also said voters should take note of who thinks there have enough information to make a thoughtful decision.

WAMCLogo 

update (May 16, 2019): See Dave Lucas’ piece on WAMC’s Midday Magazine, “Schenectady Bike Share Use Lags Behind Other Capital Region Arms” (May 16, 2019).

 

 

ORIGINAL POSTING

A Gazette article appearing online this evening, Friday May 10, 2019, delves a little deeper than previous reports on the CDTA CYCLE! bike share program and Schenectady’s role. See “Schenectady asked to chip in $75K for bike-sharing program: City has lowest ridership of four cities” (by Pete DeMola, May 10, 2019).  CDTA is asking for $25,000 per year for three years. The Gazette points out that:

Schenectady, home to 13 hubs with nearly 50 bikes, ranks at the bottom of the four-city pack when it comes to total rides over the program’s tenure.

By the close of the second season last year, the city notched 1,370 rides, according to CDTA, or 6 percent of total ridership.

That is 1370 rides for the 8-month season in 2018, which amounts to 171 rides per month starting at a Schenectady “hub” or station (averaging 13 rides per station a month), and 3.5 rides per bike located in Schenectady. Reporter DeMola also notes that “The three-year funding motion passed out of City Development & Planning Committee and heads to the City Council for a full vote on Monday.” That approval came despite a lack of important information, including:

  1. how many people in Schenectady have actually used the program; number of rides only can suggest the maximum users
  2. how many miles were clocked by Schenectady riders
  3. type of usage: are Schenectady riders predominantly commuters (as in Albany) or recreational (as in Saratoga)
  4. what were the figures for each of the 13 stations

This past week, I sent the annotated image of a bike-share bicycle at the top of this posting to several people on the Council and to City Engineer Chris Wallin. My info-image gives stats using a per-year $25,000 payment by the City. The payments would equal over $500 per month for each bike in Schenectady. Using the 1370 riders in 2018, that also means the City is paying over $18 for every ride taken in Schenectady, with riders paying at most $5 per hour. [Note, that CDTA talks of having increased riders in Schenectady in 2019, based on free rides for Union College students and City Hall employees.]

  • the average Schenectady “hub” had one ride every-other day during the 8-month 2018 season.

complaintbillNot only did CDTA not send a representative to present data or answer questions at Monday’s City Council Committees meeting, they apparently did not equip City Engineer Wallin with the necessary information. Wallin, when questioned by Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, said he would let them know how much the three other cities would be paying and the actual ridership in Schenectady. I do not know if he has done that yet. He has not responded to my email asking for such information.

 However, without being asked, Engineer Wallin made the false statement that “Proportionate to our population, we are doing well.” I know City Hall bends over backwards to present favored programs and projects in a positive light, but Schenectady has well over 25% of the population of the four participating cities, and less than 6% of total ridership is not “doing well.” In addition, Chris started by saying there are benefits to the City from this agreement, but then listed only “City workers will ride for free.”

As it has always done, using its huckster persona and touting meeting its own goals, the  CDTA “CYCLE!” bike-share program gave a litany of the benefits from the Bike Share program for the City and its residents. However, pluses such as health benefits and the reduction in vehicle congestion are rather fanciful, if there are very few people in Schenectady using the program.

  • Now that I have seen the released portion of the Schenectady data, I understand just why CDTA has not bothered to respond at all to either of my requests, left on their website form, for the Schenectady figures.
They may feel that it is “only $25,000 per year,” but I believe City Council members and the Mayor should at least negotiate for a better deal. There were only 550 Schenectady rides in the first Season of Bike Share, and two-thirds of them were at one hub. Nonetheless, CDTA went from 7 to 13 “hubs” in Schenectady and increased to “nearly 50” bikes. If Schenectady residents and visitors are not very interested in the Bike Share program, why have 13 stations, especially since some of them apparently have almost no ridership.

sample of WalMart bikes

Few Stations, Lower Fee? For instance, why not go back to 7 stations and fewer bikes, with the City paying perhaps $13,000 to help subsidize the system? Image how many bikes the City could buy outright at retail or wholesale with the $12,000 a year saved, and then use various programs to distribute the bikes to people who would really use them? E.g., have nonprofits, schools or community groups suggest contests or incentives with criteria for giving away some of those bike. Or, expand bike clinics around town.

Have Our Own Bike Share Plan? Moreover, a close cost-benefit analysis, with a realistic projection of types of users and uses, might suggest that Schenectady can do better on its own.

Riverside Park hub

We do and should have a commitment to a more bike-friendly City. In fact, our Master Plan, Bike Schenectady, has a discussion of a bike-share program limited to Schenectady itself. See Appendix C of the Appendix document (at pp. 108-113). The discussion there seems to suggest a far better understanding of our local situation, than the cookie-cutter, constant-expansion approach of CYCLE!. For example, CYCLE! put a station at Union College (Union Street at Nott Terrace), that got virtually no usage in 2017 and was removed in 2018, because Union already had its own free bike program.

Also, they placed a station on the most expensive land and masonry at Riverside Park, its Overlook [see photo at left], without taking into account that the location was meant for quiet and solitude, and that Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance still bans the use of bikes on any park pedestrian paths, if you are over 10 or not disabled. Bike Schenectady, on the other hand, did not propose a bike share station in Riverside Park for either the initial or expanded version of the program. Click on the following Map of proposed bike share stations in the Bike Schenectady Master Plan:

bikeschdy-bikesharesystemmap

.
There is no rush in deciding on the CDTA MOU proposal. CDTA will not run out of CYCLE! money. Why not, especially in an election year, gather needed information and actually discuss the issues? Thoughtful, informative reflection. Nice campaign motto and leadership goal, don’t you thing.
  •  In considering the extent of Schenectady’s participation in Bike Share, another factor to take into account should be the opinion of many residents that the stations are not the least bit attractive and seem to be cluttering or hijacking important locations along our streets.
  • See my posting in July 2017, asking “Is bike-share our newest sacred cow?” discussing these and other issues, with photos of bike share locations in Schenectady.
  • Share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SchdyBikeShare

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

 mhtrail29octa1 update (Oct. 29, 2018):  With no help from City Hall or the County to delay the installation, the fence is finished, without the needed improvements. . . It is too close to the Path [should be 3′ clearance or more, not 2′], too short [should be 54 inches high, not 42″], and has no rub rail to protect bicyclists. There is adequate space for the preferred 3- to 5-foot buffer, but the installers were instructed to use a 2-foot buffer. The public was never given the chance to raise the issues and the regulators apparently never bothered. See discussion below.

MHTrail29OctD. .  photo to the right shows: 2-foot buffer between Path and guardrail/fence, and sufficient space on the riverbank side to widen the buffer for the safety of all path users and those who come merely to watch the River.

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

ALCOTrailWestEnd . . westendwall-buffer . . at the west end of the Mohawk Harbor trail, the new fence along the riverbank has only a 24″ buffer from the edge of the path; while the wall on the other side of the path has a much safer 50″ inch buffer. 

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

“poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail”

IMG_8948

orangesafetyconeBelow is an email message that I sent today (October 15, 2018) to Christine Primiano, the City of Schenectady’s Chief Staff Planner. It outlines why I believe we must halt the installation of a railing/fence along the riverside of the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor, and seek to achieve a better, safer guardrail. The 42″ high guardrail is being installed only two feet from the paved edge of the Hike-Bike Trail.  Best practices for shared-use paths and relevant regulations call for a 3-foot buffer (including the Bike Schenectady Master Plan adopted just last year). A taller guardrail, with a rub rail, is also needed. Following the regulations and guidelines can help increase the likelihood that hikers, cyclists, tourists and other visitors will avoid injury along the Mohawk Harbor trail and guardrail, and reduce liability exposure by the City and County.

[update (Nov. 5): I have received no reply from the Planning Office, nor Corporation Counsel, nor any other City or County official on these issues. When I visited the Trail on October 14, the fence was only 220′ long, with no cables; when I visited it on Friday, October 19, the guardrail installation had continued, extending at that time almost to the east end of the Landing Hotel, but still without the cable strung.]

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

From: David Giacalone
Subject: the Mohawk Harbor trail railing is not safe enough
Date: October 15, 2018 at 11:55:10 AM EDT
To: CHRISTINE PRIMIANO, Chief Planner, cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov
Cc: meidens@schenectadyny.gov, cfalotico@schenectadyny.gov, RGillen@schenectadymetroplex.org

Hello, Christine,

A guardrail is finally being erected between the steep riprap riverbank and ALCO Heritage Trail at Mohawk Harbor. For that I am grateful. But, there are so many ways a guardrail should and could have better protected cyclists, hikers, tourists, and River-watchers (including those in wheelchairs), that I wish there could have been an opportunity for comment by experts and the public.

Given that this is the end of the hike-bike season, and safety cones or caution tape could readily be used to line the top of the steep slope, I believe we should halt the current installation, which as of yesterday, was only about 220’ long, with no cable strung, and then decide how to do it in a way that is more appropriate from a safety point of view for all likely users. 

  • IMG_8956 Note, the fence being installed is taller than, but otherwise the same style and materials as the fencing along the Casino and Landing Hotel patios.
  • the first (gray) photo-collage below has shots taken on October 11 of the fencing; the last photo was taken yesterday, from the east end of Riverside Park
  • the second (green) photo-collage below demonstrates why I have been arguing that a safety rail is needed. A fuller discussion of those issues can be found at http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety


Was the design of this fence and its placement submitted to your Office for review? Did anyone have the opportunity to remind the County or Metroplex that the Bike Schenectady Master Plan states, in the Shared Use Path guidance section (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

“A 2 foot or greater shoulder on both sides of the path should be provided. An additional foot of lateral clearance (total of 3’) is required by the MUTCD for the installation of signage or other furnishings.”


BikeSchdy-TrailClearanceI hope no one in authority will try to argue that a fence 3/4 of a mile long is not a furnishing and not as troublesome as a sign post in presenting a hazard to trail users. A screen shot of the BikeSchenectady page is inserted to the right (click on it for a larger image]; also, click here to see a relevant page from Schenectady’s 2001 Master Bike Plan (mandating a three-foot clearance to obstacles); and a useful page from the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail Master Plan. , which explains (at 29, emphases added):

Railings

Railings are generally used to protect trail users from steep gradients located close to the edge of the trail. A general landscape guideline from the NYS Building Code is that if there is a sheer drop of 18” or greater then a railing should be provided. In New York State, all railings along bike paths should be 54” high. While there are no specific warrants for providing safety railings where steep slopes are adjacent to a trail, the NYS Highway Design Manual does indicate (Figure 18-16 Safety Railings Along Bicycle and Multi-Use Paths) that a 54” high (1.4 meter) safety rail be provided when a significant slope is closer than 5’ from the trail edge. Sound professional judgement should be used to assess whether the slope gradient, vertical drop or dangerous obstacles on the slope (trees, poles, concrete structures, etc.) warrant the installation of a safety rail.

IMG_8946 On Friday, the supervisor of the fence/rail installation firm (Access Anvil Corp.) told me that there was no obstacle to putting the structure three feet from the trail edge, but his specs called for two-feet. Of course, in many places along the slope, there is room for the railing to be the 3-5 feet that many studies and regulatory bodies have said is preferred for the shoulder. That would allow bikes or pedestrians making evasive moves a safer landing, and permit groups of river-watchers (and those in wheelchairs) to enjoy the River without worrying about hanging over or inadvertently stepping back onto the Trail.

For such an important location and project, we need a real discussion of how to do it right. For example, shouldn’t there be a “rub rail” so that handlebars do not catch on the rail? The main “silver” portion being installed is 42” high; the “black” section on the western end is apparently 5’ high. Why isn’t the entire railing 54” high? Would such a long railing/fence be aesthetically more pleasing if it were at different heights and distances from the trail edge? Etc., etc. I don’t know the answers, but I do know a discussion might have produced useful answers and maybe a consensus.

Before more of the railing is installed, let’s pause and decide that Mohawk Harbor and the people using it deserve as good a safety rail as best practices can achieve.

Thank you for your time and review of these important issues.

David

 P.S. I still have never been given an explanation for the failure to follow the C-3 zoning requirement that there be the customary two-foot shoulder PLUS ten additional feet buffer on the riverside of the Mohawk Harbor shared-used path. Nor, do I understand why the April 2015 trail submission, posted by the County as Riverside Trail Map, showing 10’ of mulched and planted shoulder between the trail and the steep riverbank was not followed, and we instead have a shoulder of 4 to 7 feet, covered in unstable gravel. [annotated detail from plat inserted at right of this p.s. blurb]

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

complaintbill In addition to the points made in the email to the Planning Office, I continue to wonder why taxpayers are paying 90% of the cost of constructing the bike-hike trail, and for the guardrail, when the Schenectady Zoning Code for the Harbor District [C-3, §264-14(1)E(4)] says that: “A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant.” “Applicant” refers to the developer or owner of the harbor property.

still waiting for Lady Liberty

LibertyGazLTE-Snyder . . GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 

update (July 9): Still no Lady . . LL9Jul

LadyLiberty15Sep2016

 Lady Liberty is indeed timeless. But, Schenectady should not have to wait even one more week for Mayor Gary McCarthy to relent on the strange and belated notion of installing our replica Liberty statue somewhere other than her home in Liberty Park, once construction and expansion of the Park into “Gateway Plaza” was completed. That return was the only alternative for Lady Liberty in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was created in 2012 and approved in August 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). Nevertheless, years later and behind the scene, Gateway Plaza designer Mary Wallinger somehow got the Mayor and Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen to agree to ignore the official Plan and instead to exile Lady Liberty.

Why? Because Ms. Wallinger (who is also Chair of the City Planning Commission) now insists Lady Liberty is not “modern” enough for her current vision of the Plaza as a symbol of Schenectady. She and the Mayor also lured the good folks of Goose Hill into asking to place Lady Liberty in a Veterans’ Memorial in Steinmetz Park, creating totally unnecessary civic turmoil. [for a fuller explanation of the Decision Disruption Process, see this post.]

OUR POSITION: Lady Liberty should be immediately returned from its storage-during-construction to Her original home, Liberty Park (a/k/a Gateway Plaza), and McCarthy and Wallinger should apologize to the people of Goose Hill for offering them a treasure that was not available for relocation.

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep The Mayor says he has not made his decision yet about where the Statue will be installed. But, there should be no new decision to make. The Decision was made in 2013, in the publicly supported and officially approved Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan.  All the Mayor need do now is say that, after full consideration, he fully endorses the Original Decision for returning Lady Liberty after the new Plaza is completed, as there is no safety or fiscal reason, and no other justification, to change a Final Plan.

GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail . . GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State

Above is a detail [L] from an Implementation Plan rendering [R], which shows the designated spot for the replica’s return, along State Street, next to the CDTA bus shelter, only yards away from, and more visible than, the Lady’s original location.

Nonetheless, neither a batch of Letters to the Editor since mid-March nor a Gazette Editorial in April supporting the return of the Lady to Liberty Park, has produced Her popular, commonsense, and Plan-promised return. Nor has the coming of Spring and now even Summer, which should make frozen ground excuses a moot issue. Not even a plea in the Gazette last week from Schenectady County’s “Mr. Veteran”, James A. Wilson, did the trick. (“Return Lady Liberty on July 4th” June 27, 2018):

There will not be a better time than to have the famous “Lady Liberty,” or the Statue of Liberty replica, put back in her rightful home in Liberty (Gateway) Park in Schenectady. It’s still the center part of the city for beauty and visibility to all residents and the statue was there for over 50 years.

Put the statue back on the 4th of July.

As of today, July 7, 2018, almost a full year after the Liberty Replica was removed to protect her from construction, Lady Liberty is apparently still in a municipal storage facility.  So, what will it take for the Mayor to step up and Do the Right Thing (or, passively, Not Do the Wrong Thing)? Yes, he has been busy making our City smart, but this is not a complicated decision. It is late, but not too, late for Gary McCarthy to be the Lady’s Champion.

gpladylibertyspot.jpg . . . LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

Above: At the end of June, for the first time, the designated spot for the return of Lady Liberty had substantial plantings (several small trees; photo on Right). When asked about the new trees, Mayor McCarthy told Gazette reporter Andrew Beam that he had not known of the planting. Those trees can and should be replanted, to honor the planning process, the City’s promises, and Lady Liberty’s importance in the past, present and future of Schenectady.

bum’s Rush needed

. . “get dose bums outta here!” . . 

 And, so it begins: “Rivers, Del Lago casinos ask state for better terms: All four non-Indian casinos in state are missing their financial targets” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by John CropleyMarch 28, 2018):

 Little more than a year since their grand openings, two of New York’s four non-Indian casinos are asking the state for financial help.

Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady and Del Lago Resort and Casino in Seneca County are both making their cases with state lawmakers as the negotiations for the 2018-2019 state budget wind down to the final hours in Albany.

Details on their requests are elusive and, given the secretive nature of deal-making in the Capitol, quite possibly subject to change or outright rejection.

. . . Details were likewise hazy on the request by Rivers.

 A New Jersey public relations agency working for Rivers said there would be no comment on the matter.

A lobbyist reportedly working for the casinos did not return a call seeking comment.

. . . However, Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, whose district contains Rivers Casino & Resort, said he has been given a rough idea of what Rivers is requesting, and said he endorses it.

Trying to save Schenectady’s Lady Liberty from pols and pirates is monopolizing my time again today, so I can’t go into detail about taxpayers getting the Bum’s Rush from Rush Street, but it probably makes more sense to see what, if anything, is done with their request. [see update below: Cuomo won’t play]

Here is what I said in a comment at the Gazette article:

 On July 14, 2014, we asked at the “Stop the Schenectady Casino” weblog: “How big of a gamble are the casino cheerleaders willing to take?. . . Does the shiny future they predict for Schenectady include the sight of a failing casino project along Schenectady’s riverfront and the inevitable request for tax breaks and financial assistance that we can expect once gaming revenues shrink along the Mohawk? [see https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino ]

When Rivers hired Rob Long as its new General Manager last December, we also noted that Long had guided the development and opening of Rush Street’s very first casino, Riverwalk in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Rush Street sold that Casino in 2012, just four years after it opened, and after failing in their request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. Have Rush Street and Galesi Group drawn up their tax assessment challenges yet? Are they looking for a buyer? What will Mr. Steck do for them next?

In addition to checking out https://tinyurl.com/unpromisingCasino, see “casino projections vs. casino reality” and links therein. Stay tuned, and watch out for those pick-pockets and Rushing Bums.

red check update (4 PM, March 28, 2018):  See “Cuomo says he is not interested in bailing out casinos” (State Of Politics. March 28, 2918). Article also has letter from State Senator Micheal Ranzenhofer, wanting help for existing casinos hurt by creating del Lago Casino, not for del Lago.

[8PM update] See “Cuomo: No bailout for Rivers, del Lago casinos” (Gazette, John Cropley, March 28, 2018).

There are many others in this state that aren’t getting what they need and that deserve more money from the state — many others in severe need through no fault of their own.

The casinos don’t fall into that category, and state lawmakers shouldn’t cave in to their appeals.

[March 29 update:] In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

The article continues, making Steck sound rather conflicted:

“While Steck declined to call the request by Rivers a bailout, he conceded he is not a big fan of casinos, arguing they are a tax on the poor and middle class.”

Moreover, good luck figuring out what State. Senator Jim Tedisco is thinking:

State Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, said that since Cuomo “has seemingly closed the door to any tax adjustment,” he believes “a more plausible approach would be to ask for marketing assistance with also a good portion to go toward property tax reduction for Schenectady and surrounding communities.”

  • TUJBoyerTaxGamble update (March 30, 2018): The Times Union editorial board weighed in this morning with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, including a nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer [click on the thumbnail to the left]. It notes which of our representatives are for and against such handouts, and concludes:

All the signs were there years ago that the casino expectations and promises, especially upstate, were overblown. Now that those warnings are proving true, these enterprises seem to hope New York will behave like a classic loser who digs deeper into his pockets in the hope of a winning hand. There’s a gambling term state leaders would do well to learn: Pass.

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.

where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

Despite weeks of fawning coverage and cheerleading by local broadcast, internet, and print media, I have yet to hear or read any praise for the exterior design of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady. Nor any questions on why it looks so different from the design we thought we were getting in July 2015. And, unless you count this website, no one in the media has attempted as of yet to put a name to the “style” of the façade presented by Rivers Casino to the world, which is very likely to become the new image of Schenectady, and which for my money doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of a Sonic Drive-in.

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

How did we get this sad result? Casino owner and developer Rush Street Gaming presented three renditions showing a front view of its proposed casino from a perspective similar to the actual casino shown above:

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

The public and media made it clear when the second version was unveiled in early June 2015 that they cared very much about the design of the Schenectady casino and disliked the retro-brick-factory look of the 2nd design. Despite this interest, Rush Street’s next attempt, released on July 9, 2015, presented only two details of a modern design meant to point to Schenectady’s future — the above partial view of the front entryway and a view of the rear.  The disappointed reaction of the Gazette‘s editorial staff was titled “Casino design is better, but public needs to see more” (Sunday Gazette, p. D2, July 12, 2015; no longer online). The editorial began, “You have to give them credit. It’s better than the last version. But is it enough?” The conclusion was a loud “no”:

The drawings released Thursday show little of the building other than the entrance and one shot from the river. They also don’t show the perspective of the pylon sign in comparison to the new structure.

It might seem nit-picky to want to see more. But as we’ve said before, we’re all going to have to live with this thing for a few decades, and we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like.

If the public is going to offer intelligent comments to the Planning Commission, they need to see more of the new design so they have a more complete perspective. In the 10 days leading up to next Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, we urge casino developers to post more renderings of the new redesign online and share them with the community. . . .

The more information the people have about the project, the more transparency government affords them, the more likely it is that they will accept it.

That should be the goal of the developers, and most importantly, the city’s government.

Despite that sensible plea, Rush Street offered no further rendering for the public or the Planning Commission, and the Commission irresponsibly failed to demand more. The next view of the proposed 3rd design was merely a small group of Power Point sketches projected on a screen at the special Site Plan Meeting of the Commission, on July 22, 2015. I photographed the colorized sketch below of the 300-foot-long front of the Casino structure from the back of the room with a small camera (thus the lack of focus):

casinodesign3sp

The public never got to see more prior to or after the Special Site Plan Meeting. A visit to the Planning Office on July 24, 2015 revealed there were no hardcopies of the Power Point presentation submitted for the Commissioners to review prior to or at the Meeting, nor for the public to see.  (See our posting, “casino site plan approved” (July 23, 2015)

This screen shot and text from the Gazette articleSchenectady casino design gets green light” on July 22, 2015, shows what they and we had believed would be the final design:

designgreenlightgaz14apr2016 “The façade of the casino has shifted from an industrial look with brown bricks to a more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.

“Chicago casino operator Rush Street Gaming went back to the drawing board after being hit with negative comments from the public about the initial [second] design plan. Several of the commissioners said they like the new design better than previous renderings released to the public. Klai Juba Wald Architects of Las Vegas designed the casino.”

As the Gazette opinion editor stated on July 12, 2015, “we want to make sure it’s going to look like what they say it’s going to look like”. Well, obviously, thanks to the back-bending Snowmen on the Planning Commission, we got something else. The City’s chief planner, Christine Primiano, wrote an email three days ago, assuring me that “yes all changes to the July 2015 design were approved during the April 13th, 2016 review. It was for amended site plan review and final sign approval.”

casinosignagecover The approval was, indeed, done in the guise of the Commission approving the final signage plan for the Casino, which was primarily publicized for no longer including an 80′ pylon structure and reducing the overall signage on the casino and its hotel. There was no mention of the drastically altered entryway wall, which jettisons the 3rd design’s “more contemporary look with white-gray coloring and metal panels.” In actuality, the large LCD screens that were going to be placed on the pylon sign, were basically affixed to the entry façade of the Schenectady casino. And, no, there were no renderings of the Casino’s new look.

casinoentrysignage-mar2016 Thus, in April 2016, the only image the Commissioners were shown of the portion of the Casino’s front entryway that had been presented as its 3rd design and approved in July 2015 was the sketch shown to the right of this paragraph. It comprised about a quarter of page six of a 7-page document titled Signage and Wayfaring Program. [Click here to see the entire page.] And, neither the Planning Commission staff nor the Chair of the Commission demanded a fuller depiction, which they clearly had the authority to do prior to putting the matter on the Commission’s agenda. Because the Planning Commission does not post submitted documents along with its online Agenda notice to the public, and Rush Street did not share its submission with the public or media, others would have seen that minimalist sketch only if they made a trip to the Planning Office and asked to view the file, or if they somehow knew they could request that the document be emailed to them.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-10-00-49-am As so often has happened while witnessing the multi-stage, multi-year process of Casino approval at Schenectady’s City Hall, I’m left wondering if I’m watching Fools or Knaves (or both) going through the motions of enforcing the City’s laws. For sure, they seem like Snowmen, blind, mute, toothless, disarmed, and heat-averse.  Who can say if the Planning Office and Commission were fooled by this bait-and-switch? I would hate to think our officials are so incompetent or naive. The public and media certainly cannot be faulted for their ignorance of the nature of the pig inside the casino’s design poke. Indeed, even today (February 9, 2017), with the Rivers Casino already open, The Galesi Group’s Mohawk Harbor website continues to show the July 2015 3rd design entryway as the first slide on its “Play-Here” page touting the Rivers Casino portion of Mohawk Harbor. Here’s a screenshot taken this morning:

mohharbplayhereimage

  • Likewise, Galesi Group used the 3rd design in the ad it took out welcoming Rivers Casino, in the Gazette’s January 31, 2017 advertising supplement, The Road to Rivers. click to view.

The words of the Gazette editorial of June 7, 2015, written in response to the retro-factory style 2nd design, are still highly relevant when thinking about the undesigned, styleless reality of our real-life Rivers Casino:

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

. . . Maybe we’re supposed to be grateful for any design at all. Certainly, anything they build will look better than the existing giant empty lot, for decades littered with piles of construction debris, steel girders and weed-covered clumps of dirt.

But we weren’t promised just anything. We were promised a spectacle. And this design is a fizzled firework. . . .

Perception equals reality. What is the perception we want people to have of our new casino and retail center and hotel and townhouse complex? And how will that perception ultimately affect the bottom line? How enthusiastic are people going to be driving great distances to a facility that looks like a relic from the WPA? What reality will we get in return for this abrupt change in design concept?

As we emphasized in our posting,“why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?” (June 19, 2015), Rush Street Gaming clearly knows how to produce an attractive, even spectacular, design. We got much less, it seems, because our Mayor and zoning/planners officials failed to demand a quality design. How will our homely casino exterior affect its bottom line, and thus the tax revenues generated by it? We will have to wait and see. Our posting last month, “casino choices in upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” is not optimistic that we can successfully attract people from outside a very small geographic area, given the many other casinos that actually try to look like a tourist destination.

How did we get stuck with this unattractive casino in Schenectady? The reader can decide for herself or himself how or why it happened. We believe City officials more interested in pleasing or appeasing the developer and casino owner, and their button-man, Mayor McCarthy, failed to do their jobs, and have diminished themselves and our City.

  • For more Rush Street bait-n-switch, click here, concerning the giant pylon sign.
  • tunelson2016signplan In addition, see “Casino sign plan to be submitted to the city in ’16” (Albany Times Union, December 13, 2015), where TU reporter Paul Nelson states that sometime next year Rush Street will submit “a more comprehensive look at the design of the 80-foot pylon or gateway sign that will welcome visitors” to the casino, “as part of a larger package dealing with all the signage on the 60-acre Erie Boulevard site.” Nelson notes that:

“Mike Levin, a consultant with Rush Street Gaming, said last week that design plans will focus on colors and lettering of the pylon sign that some critics have complained is too garish.”

Their response to worries about the pylon colors and garishness was, it now seems, to move those elements to the façade of the casino building itself. Just another thumb in the eye of the Planning Commission, City of Schenectady, and its residents.

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

The collage below shows the three blocks of Erie Boulevard leading to the Schenectady Casino coming from the north (I-890, or State Street/Rte.5). Click on it for a larger version:

riverscasino-erieapproach . . The much-touted Renaissance of Downtown Schenectady has not exactly reached Erie Blvd. near the Casino. .

 

 

our “drive-thru” rotary

DSCF1988 We’ve asked before why Galesi and Rush Street Gaming are not reimbursing the State and City for the cost of building the Erie-Nott-Rush rotary. [e.g.,“Rush Street’s Giveaways“, and “Money on the Table“] Last night’s unanimous approval of a retail project with a bank and a coffee shop, each with a drive-thru lane, with direct access to and from the rotary, surely raises the question once again. The Commission decision raises many other issues, and I put them in a letter to the Gazette editor this morning, echoing a comment that I left at the Gazette website:

To the editor:

re: “Commission OKs retail building at Mohawk Harbor site (by Haley Viccaro) July 21, 2016)

Here they go again! Neither Commission nor Gazette looks behind the misleading statements made by Galesi’s glib representatives. For example:

DSCF1994 We are told the coffee shop hours are unknown, but the Site Plan application itself states the coffee shop will be open 24/7. And, while the bank branches may have traditional banking hours, its ATM drive-up lane will be available 24/7.

“The new building will not have an impact on traffic compared to the original study for the site”. Interesting strategy — first go to the Commission with high numbers (never released to the public) and then say lower numbers means no impact compared to those numbers. The original study was solely for a much larger Dunkin’ Donuts store, and some general rule-of-thumb says a smaller shop will generate less traffic. Why does having a smaller coffee shop mean fewer people pulling in from the rotary to use the drive-thru lane? Buicko told the Gazette last week what great demand there would be for this service, saying that in addition to those living there and coming to the casino, “you have the people coming into work on that side who can just swing in and come back into the traffic circle.”

MH-BankCoffee-Vicinity “Majority of” has become a magic phrase, it seems. Mr. Hershberg says a majority of people would already be coming to the site for the casino or would live on the site. How about follow-up questions Commissioners? How much extra traffic are we talking about? How well are commuters going to deal with the not-yet-completed rotary? What does it mean to have a coffee shop and bank driveway empty directly into a rotary? How will that traffic blend into rotary traffic? Did Commission staff check to see if any other coffee shops have a similar location right ON a rotary?

What about traffic coming from Front Street? Casino cheerleader Ruscitto “said she doesn’t believe the building would have an impact on nearby Front Street.” Based on what? Will people be using Front St. to get to the bank ATM and the coffee drive-thru? “Hershberg said he believes a majority of people would take the roundabout to enter and exit the site.” Why not use signage to prevent entry coming directly from Front St.? How many people living at Mohawk Harbor, who would otherwise exit from the new Harbor Drive instead be adding to traffic entering from the “corner” of the rotary rather than smoothly entering from Erie Blvd.?

Rather than showing their independence after the Mayor dumped members who dared to ask questions, we get sleeping watchdogs overseeing the important issue of traffic movement and safety, even with no pressing deadline.

One more thing: The agenda for this meeting was not online until after 10 AM yesterday, the day of the Meeting. But, staff rushed up the wrong agenda, and a day later, if you click to see the “July 20” agenda, you still get the “January 20” agenda. Telling staff of the problem yesterday got no reaction to a problem that would take a few seconds to correct. Clearly City Hall belongs to the Casino Gang.

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

follow-up (2 PM, July 21, 2016): Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro decided to respond to my Comment at the webpage for her article this morning, with this comment of her own:

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

The hours in the site plan application will change based on the future tenant. The hours are not known at this time. So it is incorrect to say it will be open 24/7. That was clearly explained at the meeting last night.

The traffic study for the Mohawk Harbor site is available to the public and numbers were written in The Daily Gazette in several stories.

Examples: http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2015/ju…

http://www.dailygazette.com/news/2014/se…

If you want a copy of the traffic impact study just ask and I will send it to you.

Most customers are expected to be people who are already visiting, working or living there, according to the engineers. New customers would be approximately 60 a day, engineer Dan Hershberg said at the meeting.

If you have questions or concerns about an article you can email me directly or you can reach out to city staff and the Planning Commission.

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

The coffee shop will be open 24/7, unless it is more profitable for the operator to close a few hours a day. For planning commission purposes, they stated in their application that it “will be open 24 hours a day. 7 days a week,” [ http://tinyurl.com/coffee24-7 ] and they are granted the right to be open 24/7.

In your comment above, you point me to two traffic impact studies about the casino development PRIOR to any plans to have the coffee shop and bank located on the rotary. The question is how much added traffic there will be and how it will interact with rotary traffic. Your 60 a day number must be an error. Perhaps you mean 60 extra during one of the peak hours. When I asked a Commission staffer yesterday to explain the calculation that reduced the trips generated by 50%, she could not explain the terminology used in the projections. Perhaps the Gazette could link to the actual projections submitted for the new project.

As you know, this is not the first article of yours about the Casino that I have had major questions about. See http://tinyurl.com/GazetteTilt

P.S. By the way, the Dunkin’ Donuts shops on Broadway and State Street in Schenectady are both open 24 hours a day.

2:14 p.m.

Here’s a link to the Traffic Assessment memo submitted by the Applicant to the Planning Commission: http://tinyurl.com/MHCoffeeTrips

As I mentioned in my first comment, the comparison concluding “no impact” is made to the never-official Dunkin’-Donuts-only projection, not to prior overall Rotary or Mohawk Harbor trips without the Coffee Shop and Bank.

Also, as I suggested in my second comment, the projection mentioned by Ms. Vicarro of “approximately 60 extra daily” is actually 66 at the AM Peak Hour Entering, with a total Entering and Exiting at that AM Peak Hour of 125.

Below is the Traffic Assessment memo submitted to the Commission by the applicant’s expert.

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

sidewalks vs. trees

SAVEOURHEALTHYOLDTREES. . S.O.S.Trees thanks the Schenectady Gazette opinion staff for printing “Save our healthy old trees” [pdf.] as a Guest Column, Sunday, April 24, 2016, D1.

In 2013, Saratoga Springs acknowledged in its Urban and Community Forest Master Plan that “Different People See Trees in Different Ways.” While many folks love and value urban trees greatly, the Spa City Master Plan notes that some residents “see city trees as more nuisance than asset,” messy, in the way, or simply “easily replaceable.” Our S.O.S. Trees campaign hopes to raise awareness of both the benefits of urban trees, especially our mature street trees, and the many alternatives available to removal of those trees when repairing or replacing sidewalks.

  • Below are other voices who agree that, in the case of Sidewalks vs. Trees, the balance of the evidence heavily favors trees. The defense “But, we’re fixing your sidewalk,” simply cannot justify the slaughter of street trees that are not dead, dying, or incurably dangerous.
  • Share this posting with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalksVsTrees

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 12.19.08 PM On June 25, 2010, in the editorial “Stockade sidewalk-about“: The Schenectady Gazette Opinion Editor wrote:

editorialG Whether it’s a dock, sidewalks or most anything else, residents of Schenectady’s Stockade tend to have strong opinions. And they were entirely right in condemning the city’s act of environmental vandalism two years ago when it chopped down some majestic old trees on North Ferry Street while repaving the street and redoing the sidewalks there. It was a major mistake, compounded by the fact that the city didn’t consult people in the neighborhood before doing it.

    But trees, whose roots have heaved some of the sidewalks on Washington Avenue, shouldn’t be left to residents to decide about keeping, or be responsible for. Even if it costs extra to reroute the sidewalk around large trees, as was done on Lowell Road in the GE Plot, that’s how it should be done and the city should pay for it. If rerouting isn’t possible, then the street should be repaved without redoing the sidewalk.

     And if it takes another year or two to work all this out, that’s OK. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree.

The City of Tacoma, Washington, declares its preference for saving trees on its Tree Removal webpage:

STREET TREE REMOVAL: for trees growing in the right-of-way, between the curb and sidewalk:

Tacoma’s urban forest is a valuable asset, and all trees on public property are protected. Trees provide increasing benefits as they grow, and mature trees are an asset that requires decades to replace. Tacoma carefully considers each and every request to remove a street tree, and encourages tree planting, regular tree maintenance, and alternatives to tree removal except where no viable alternative exists. Street trees can only be removed if they meet the criteria of being dead, dying, or dangerous. Conditions that do not warrant removal include the tree dropping fruit or leaves, the tree being perceived as too tall or making too much shade, or the cost of routine maintenance.

Saratoga Springs‘ proposed Tree Removal and Replacement provisions in its “Urban and Community Forest Master Plan” (at xxvi), adopted May 21, 2013, have a similar theme:

Tree Removal and Replacement

The Current process for tree removal involves the City taking action to remove dead or dying trees that pose a public safety risk or removing trees at the request of a landowner. This latter justification appears to happen as frequently for trees that pose a risk as it does for trees, which adjacent landowners wish to remove for personal reasons. Under the direction of the City arborist, the City will institute a policy and process of only removing trees that pose a risk to life or property as determined by a qualified arborist or forester.

SJVTREES Conflicts with Urban Infrastructure is an important topic in the “Tree Guidelines for San Joaquin Valley Communities” (Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education, 1999). The salient points made in the SVJ Report include (emphases added):

Dwindling budgets are forcing an increasing number of cities to shift the costs of sidewalk repair to residents. This shift especially impacts residents in older areas, where large trees have outgrown small sites and infrastructure has deteriorated.

According to the State of Urban Forestry in California report (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993), the consequences of efforts to control these costs are having alarming effects on California’s urban forests:

Cities are continuing to “downsize” their urban forests by planting far more small-statured than large-statured trees. Although small trees are appropriate under power lines and in small planting sites, they are less effective than large trees at providing shade, absorbing air pollutants, and intercepting rainfall.

Sidewalk damage is the second most common reason that street and park trees are removed. We lose thousands of healthy urban trees and forgo their benefits each year because of [sidewalk damage].

Collectively, this is a lose-lose situation. Cost-effective strategies to retain benefits from large street trees while reducing costs associated with infrastructure conflicts are needed. Matching the growth characteristics of trees to conditions at the planting site is one strategy. 

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 10.13.24 AM The International Society of Arboriculture has taken a strong stand on the side of preserving trees, and for placing the responsibility on the municipality rather the property owner. For example, in its Guidelines for Developing and Evaluating Tree Ordinances (2001), ISA states:

4. Promote conservation of tree resources.

The benefits derived from the urban forest generally increase as tree size and canopy cover increase. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the community to protect its existing tree resources from loss or depletion. It is not possible to indefinitely preserve individual trees, since each tree will eventually die. However, it is possible to preserve both the urban forest and natural woodlands by restricting the indiscriminate removal of trees in all age classes, and by making provisions for natural or human-assisted regeneration. This embodies the concept of conservation.

19. Resolution of conflicts between trees and structures

Purpose: To set priorities for solving conflicts between trees and street improvements. Key elements:

●  Priority of trees over street improvements (hardscape)

●  Responsibility for approving corrective measures.

Notes: Tree-related damage to street improvements is common in many communities. Although tree roots are blamed for the cracking concrete and invading sewer lines, it is equally valid to point out that these structures fail because they have not been properly engineered to function in a landscape that contains growing trees and their roots. Unfortunately, the approach in too many cities has been to remove trees rather than to find a way to redesign structures to be compatible with trees. This provision can be used to establish the priority of trees over hardscape. Individual property owners normally do not have the resources or expertise to develop satisfactory solutions to tree- hardscape conflicts on their own. Therefore, the responsibility for correcting conflicts between trees and street improvements should not be assigned to the property owner. However, if the conflict results from actions by a property owner which violate municipal tree planting standards, the city may require the property owner to bear some or all of the cost of corrective action.

The ISA Tree Ordinance Guide presents two sample tree preservation provisions.

  • [from theSan Luis Obispo, CA: City Code Section 12.24.150]  A. When roots of a tree planted within the planting area damage city curbs, gutters and sidewalks (including driveway ramps), the city shall be responsible for appropriate corrective measures which are least damaging to the tree.
  • [a sample provision from the Guide’s authors] Where sidewalk or curb damage due to tree roots occurs, every effort shall be made to correct the problem without removing or damaging the tree. The city forester shall be responsible for developing or approving corrective measures in consultation with the city engineer.

The UMass Urban Trees FactsheetTREES AND SIDEWALKS, offers a useful perspective on approaching conflicts between them. The publication notes:

  • Trees often ruin sidewalks, and sidewalk repair often kills trees.
  • This conflict comes from the fact that sidewalks and trees have competing needs.
    • Trees need a soil that is moist and loose, and that they can push aside as they grow.
    • Sidewalks need to be smooth (but not flat) on a soil that will not shift with a load.
  • Trees and sidewalks are costly and valuable, so both needs must be taken seriously.

After advising “If a tree is in poor condition, it is best to remove the tree and replace the sidewalk”, the Trees FactSheet offers several alternatives for trees in good condition:

  • a sidewalk can be curved around the trunk (at least 2-3′).
  • In some cases, a raised edge can simply be ground down, or smoothed over with asphalt.
  • The new sidewalk may be ramped up and over the roots by starting further away.
  • You can also do minimal excavation, and then pour asphalt directly over the roots.
  • Gravel, mulch, pavers set in sand, or asphalt can be used instead of concrete.


ChillicothoCitySign Chillicothe, OH
 The publication “Trees and Sidewalks in Chillicothe” offers a refreshing combination of attitude and practicality. The historic first (and third) capital of Ohio (pop. approx. 20,000) begins its description of the problems and solutions by saying:

Sidewalks and trees aren’t hot topics unless there are conflicts with them. Both sidewalks and trees are crucial in providing important services to our residents and visitors. When there are conflicts between trees and sidewalks, we must be thoughtful in our approach to effectively spend limited dollars and truly address the problem. Surprisingly, there are often efficient and inexpensive ways to repair walks and at the same time retain nearby trees.

The essay continues:

“Causes of the Conflict between Trees and Sidewalks Trees receive most blame when sidewalks fail, but construction techniques, old age, inferior construction materials, unstable soil or even traffic patterns also contribute to sidewalk failure more often than acknowledged.

“Tree related sidewalk conflicts can be delineated into two types of damage requiring different responses.

 Sidewalk damage from trunk or root flare where the actual trunk or root flare of the tree lifts the sidewalk

 Sidewalk damage from lateral roots where a root emanating from the tree has caused damage to the sidewalk”

The Chillicothe guide’s section “Trees to Retain and Trees to Remove” makes clear the priority to be given to saving trees (emphasis added):

Street trees are community assets. They provide tangible benefits that contribute to the quality of life in any town. Street trees absorb air and water pollution. They abate noise pollution, they provide shade and energy conservation and even raise property values and decrease crime and illness. The value of trees varies according to tree age, size, species and health and structure. Typically bigger trees provide more benefits and are more valuable. The value of large tree decreases when there are infrastructure conflicts or structural defects that predispose a large tree to failure.

People often lose sight about two important aspects of community forestry.

Trees take decades or even centuries to get big.

Most large trees are not replaceable or renewable in the urban environment due to site constraints and other environmental and social factors.

Once they are gone, eighty years or more of growth and services is gone.

 In most towns, tree canopies are decreasing. Canopy loss translates into increased pollution, increase stormwater flooding, bigger carbon footprints, lower property values, and many other social, economic and environmental problems.

Trees to Retain….Trees to Remove and Replace

HIST.CHILLICOTHE Young trees are in a vegetative growth phase of life. During this phase, they are actively growing. This is when they will conflict with infrastructure. Once trees mature, they reach their genetic or environmental size and stop growing aggressively. Mature trees rarely do extensive damage to infrastructure. Usually the damage was done long ago when the tree was young and actively growing. In these situations, it is often best to retain the tree. In these situations, a properly repaired sidewalk will last a long time with minimal future damage from the mature tree.  . . .

When considering sidewalk repair, there are several well established and inexpensive techniques available. The typical approach of ripping out the old and re-constructing a new walk is the most expensive and this can damage to nearby trees. If the tree isn’t removed, this type of work can render a tree hazardous. Techniques like ramping, grinding and leveling are less expensive than redoing a sidewalk. These do not threaten nearby trees.

Sidewalk grinding: Sidewalk grinding is a temporary measure that restores the offset or heaved portion of a sidewalk to original grade.

Sidewalk cutouts: “Borrowing” space from the adjacent sidewalk creates sidewalk cutouts. This alternative minimizes the sidewalk width for a limited distance adjacent to the tree. Sidewalk meandering: Meandering—realigning the sidewalk’s direction of travel—allows for more growing space for trees in an aesthetically appealing way. The amount of growing space created can be substantial and, therefore, sidewalk meandering is usually the most feasible way to retain large, mature trees. Also, increased distance from sidewalk edge to lateral roots or trunk flare allows for root pruning, when necessary, to occur further from the trunk, which reduces direct contact between the sidewalk and tree roots or trunk. Sidewalk meandering often requires permission from the abutting property owner to dedicate more of their property to the public right-of-way.

Sidewalk ramping: Sidewalk ramping allows existing roots to remain intact by raising the base layer and repouring concrete over the roots to create a gradually sloped ramp. It is used when removal of roots would compromise the stability of a tree. Damaged sidewalk slabs are removed and 4-6 inches of topsoil is placed on top of the existing grade. Sand or gravel and a base layer or crushed limestone is placed adjacent or around the subject roots. A new sidewalk is then installed on top of this new base.

Leveling: Leveling is a technique where a hole is drilled through the sidewalk and silicone/concrete liquid is pumped underneath the slab to raise it. This is becoming a common technique to extend the service life of sidewalks.

Flexible paving materials: Flexible paving comes in many forms, which include: interlocking pavers, common brick and pavers and rubber (Dublin, Ohio uses rubber.) This is the most tree friendly of all the sidewalk repair options.

FHWAFHWA. Additionally, the Sidewalk Design Guidelines for accessibility under the The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), published by the Federal Highway Administration in 1999), do not mention removal among the options presented when tree roots cause sidewalk upheaval.

Chapter 4 –  4.3.2 Changes in levels

Changes in level are vertical elevation differences between adjacent surfaces. Changes in level are relatively common on sidewalks, particularly in residential areas.

Changes in level that currently exist should be addressed through a maintenance program. Whenever possible, the cause of the change in level should be removed. For example, if the cause of the change in level is an overgrown tree root, the sidewalk should be rerouted around the tree with additional right-of-way or ramp up and over the roots. (Section 4.4 contains information on how to plant trees so that they will not push up through the sidewalk.) If rerouting is not a viable solution, changes of level should be ramped to provide a smooth surface.

Alternatives to Tree Removal are discussed in many online webpages and articles. Here are links to a few examples. 

Continue reading

N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

— above: N. Ferry St., corner Green St at Lawrence Circle; [L] in Aug. 2007; [R] in April 2008

Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson listened to my concerns about losing our large street trees and substituting smaller ones of species considered to be appropriate for planting along urban streets, and to my preference for a policy that preserved the big old trees, unless they were dead, dying or dangerous. Peter assured me in an email on March 22 that:

“[Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.

He also said, concerning the notion of tree preservation: “For example, [on] N Ferry Street we removed 6-7 mature trees and installed 23.  While those trees may be small now they will grow and provide great shade and the historic feel you are looking for.  It will just take time.”  Is our City Engineer and his staff correct to say replacement trees can relatively quickly, with a little patience, give us the same “historic feel” as our old-growth street trees? Does this correspond to your streetscape experience and aesthetics, or merely to the standards of civil servants with marching orders from the Mayor’s office?

.. Compare the following collages (click on each for larger versions) ..

NORTH FERRY STREET – the summer before “streetscape improvement”:

NFerry1

NORTH FERRY STREET – April 2016, eight years after “streetscape improvements”:

SOSTrees2

Note: the only visible large trees, looking south from Lawrence Circle are the ones on the grounds of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

Photos can, of course, be made to lie, but I have attempted to show what N. Ferry Street looks like this week (shots taken April 20 & 22, 2016) from the same perspectives as the 2007 Google Street Views images in the top collage.

You can draw your own conclusions of comparable “historic” feel and other aesthetic standards before and eight years after the 2008 repaving of N. Ferry’s roadway and sidewalks.  ReTree Schenectady helped choose the replacement trees, using their customary guidelines for trees that will be along urban streets that have utility wires and small right-of-way areas between curb and sidewalks. My understanding is that those trees are not meant to ever be tall or wide, or to give a significant amount of shade.

. . . this collage combines the 2016 and 2007 images: NFerryCompareCollage

 

The Western Center for Urban Forest Research and Education got it right in a 1999 report that stated (at 14):

Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

For  myself, simply from the aesthetic perspective, street tree preservation deserves to take precedence over sidewalk repair concerns and related fiscal restraints. That’s true, even before we consider the wonderful effects of shade on our desire to stroll and shop, and on our air conditioning bills and the battle against harmful sun rays. When the many other benefits of urban trees are also taken into account, the rush to embrace roadside clear-cutting in the name of sidewalk and streetscape improvement is very difficult for this non-engineer to understand.

If you agree, please actively support S.O.S.Trees and its campaign for a street tree preservation policy in Schenectady. Go to our Save Our Schenectady Trees portal page.

the No. Ferry St. version of “streetscape improvement”

Take a look at a 2007 Google Map Street View photo of North Ferry St. the year before it was repaved:

NFerry2007a . . .

Here’s the same view from the next Google Street View (2011), after the “streetscape improvement” deforestation of 2008:

NFerry2011

The only shade tree survivors in view are not along the City’s right of way, but are (fortunately) located on the property of St. George’ Church.

StGeoTreesfollow-up: Unfortunately, the shade trees along the front fence at the entrance of St. George’s were removed, and others trimmed back significantly, in order to avoid any liability for fallen branches. Click on the thumbnail collage to the right for before and after comparisons.

According to a report in the March 2016 Stockade Spy (at 6), the Stockade Association’s Infrastructure Committee met with Schenectady City Engineer Chris Wallin and staff members on February 15, and:

City staff stated that the process used to improve the streetscape on Ferry Street was preferable to the one for Washington Avenue.

SOSTNoFerry How do the two approaches differ? The No. Ferry project took out all mature trees between the curb and sidewalk, it also replaced all sidewalks (regardless of their composition or condition). The Washington Avenue repaving spared the trees, leaving decisions about the sidewalks for future resolution. [To see more No. Ferry St. Deforestation, click on the collage to the right.]  Assistant City Engineer Pete Knutson confirmed the Office’s preference for the No. Ferry process in a series of emails with the editor of the weblog on March 22, 2016.

Which post-paving streetscape do you prefer?

No. Ferry Street [L] or Washington Avenue [middle and R]?

NFerry2011 . .  2CucNov-IMG_6519 . . CampbellRowTrees

.. with leaves, above ..

.. without leaves (in March 2016), below ..

NFerry-March1-DSCF1560 . . . WashAv18Mar2016

CampbellRowCollagefollow-up: The large street trees along 19 – 25 Washington Avenue, called Campbell Row, were taken down in 2018, at least two of them were healthy, but removed after consultation with the City Engineering Department, because roots had to be cut during sidewalk repair. Click on the thumbnail collage to the right to see before and after images.

The City Engineer and, obviously, our Mayor Gary McCarthy, prefer to clearcut the trees in the City’s right of way to avoid any (tenuous) future liability should a tree which remains after losing some of its root system topple many years later. What is it worth in dollars, environmental, social, and economic benefits, civic pride, and aesthetic pleasure for residents, visitors, and tourists, to save our street trees?  Shouldn’t we take the time to seriously consider the options available to us other than virtual clear-cutting, before needlessly taking down a tree that is not dead, dying, or dangerous, in the name of “streetscape improvement” or liability avoidance?

Improved? Here is the 2007 Google Street View pre-improvements, looking south mid-block on N. Ferry St.[L], and the view in mid-April 2016, after 8 years of new-tree growth [R]:

Screen shot 2016-03-21 at 9.45.53 PM .. NFerry-DSCF1706

S.O.S.Trees, the Save Our Schenectady Trees campaign, is being launched this month, in response to the City Engineer’s revival of a method we thought we had beat back for good in 2010. For more information and links to photos, click on the Save Our Trees tab in our masthead.

checkedboxs And, please come to the S.O.S. Trees information and organizing Meeting, at Arthur’s Market, Noon on Saturday, April 30th.  

Mtg30Apr2016e Click for a printable copy of our Meeting Announcement

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stockadeathonimg_6774-002 . . .   p.s. To the left is another view of what Washington Avenue looked like a few weeks after it was repaved in 2014, looking north toward the River from Cucumber Alley, with its trees spared and sidewalks untouched:

what comes after a rush?

 RushPWD Well, Schenectady’s roadway into its future Casino Compound will not be named to honor its proud ALCO past and its faith in a productive future. It instead will be named for the effect that drug, alcohol and gambling addicts seek so desperately: a rush. Which is, of course, always followed by a crash and a craving for more.

And, it will also be named after:

  • a glitzy street in Chicago that is unknown in our region
  • a Founding Father who led the fight to ban gaming in the newly formed United States (and coincidentally thought being black was a form of leprosy and that the right treatment could cure the patient and make him white); and
  • a casino developer and owner that treats Schenectady like a second-rate City; makes demands but offers nothing more than the State law demands; and sells casinos when a better offer comes along (or they fail to achieve a 50% property tax cut).

Our prior posting “Rush Street is simply the wrong name” explains the above assertions. For press coverage, see: “No stopping Rush Street for casino site” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 28, 2016); and Council approves Mohawk Harbor street names” (Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, March 28, 2016)

Only Council members Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi stood up against the demands of the Casino Gang. The 5 other Council Members continued echoing their masters’ commands, making arguments too specious for any self-respecting developer to make itself. As I wrote this morning in a comment to the Gazette article, “Let’s hope this ventriloquist dummy act is limited to casino matters.” Otherwise, this precedent will bring more developers, all primed by Metroplex, seeking concessions that hurt our City and its residents. Of course, if it looks to prospective investors that Schenectady is just a Casino Town ruled by Rush Street, they might decide this small pond has one big fish too many, and is unsafe for other new businesses.

“Rush Street” is simply the wrong name

chi_rush_370-003

not in Schenectady!

rushpwdbottle-001 . . . . . follow-up (March 29, 2016): see “what comes after a rush?“. The City Council voted last night, and let’s just say “the fix is on” at Mohawk Harbor.

original posting:

 Rush Street Gaming, owner of the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, wants to name the main entry road being constructed in Mohawk Harbor “Rush Street.” Tomorrow, Monday, March 14, the Schenectady City Council is holding a public hearing on the naming of the three planned streets in Mohawk Harbor, at 7 PM in Room 209 of City Hall. [See, e.g., “Rush Street Gaming CEO defends road-name proposal” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Feb. 22, 2016); “Path to honor industrial past” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 7, 2016).] According to the Gazette article “Opinions mixed over street names“:

RushStreetSignXXX The proposed streets are Rush Street, which is an extension of Nott Street off the roundabout entering the site. Off of Rush Street to the right is the proposed Harborside Drive, which runs parallel to Erie Boulevard. Off Harborside Drive to the right is the proposed Mohawk Harbor Way, which is an extension of Maxon Road.

Although she has no problem with the name Rush Street, City Council President Leesa Perazzo proposed holding a non-mandatory public hearing on the street name resolution, to seek the public’s input, and the Council unanimously concurred. Perazzo acceded to the opposition of council members Marion Porterfield (Dem.) and Vince Riggi (Ind.), who expressed concerns about having a street named after the casino operator, and refused to vote the resolution out of the Public Services and Utilities Committee.

update (March 15, 2016): The Gazette reported late last night that “Mohawk Harbor street names draw few foes: Schenectady business leaders back choices; three residents voice opposition“, by Haley Vicarro; and the Times Union‘s Paul Nelson wrote, “Council asked to approve street names: Developer says Rush Street is appropriate despite objections“, by Paul Nelson (March 14, 2016). Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group proved again that they can pull the strings on our political and business leaders to get them to show up anywhere/anytime, say virtually anything, and even embrace a name they never would have dreamed up on their own. County leaders demonstrated both (1) that they had rushed last week to announce their naming the bike trail in honor of ALCO to give Rush Street cover for their eponymous street name; and (2) their continued disdain for the majority of County voters who said “No” in November 2013 to Proposition One and having commercial casinos anywhere in Upstate New York. [Click here for my written submitted Comments opposing the name Rush Street]

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ALCOlogoY Below, I offer several reasons why “Rush Street” is an inappropriate name at Schenectady’s Casino Compound. First, though, I acknowledge that there are many other suitable names for the roadways in Mohawk Harbor. My personal preference is that this piece of our City and its history, which for generations was the location of the American Locomotive Company’s headquarters and primary manufacturing operations, and which for the past few decades has been called the Old ALCO site, be commemorated for its role in Schenectady’s proud history of Hauling the World and strenuously contributing to our nation’s war efforts. That can and should be done by paying tribute to ALCO and its workforce in the street name of the roadway used to enter the casino compound at Mohawk Harbor, and perhaps the two other streets. [Click here for a brief history of ALCO, and here for a nostalgic image of the ALCO works; and see the Gazette Editorial. “Honor Alco’s history in Mohawk Harbor street names” (Feb. 18, 2016.)]

ALCOlogo

AMERICAN LOCOMOTIVE Drive

I’d like to suggest that the words “American Locomotive” be used in the street name, whether it is dubbed a street, avenue, boulevard, or lane.  In addition to paying tribute to the site’s past, the name American Locomotive, or similar words, will suggest that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino can be an Engine for Economic Growth in Schenectady, without suggesting that Schenectady should be or somehow already is proud of the City’s role in the Gaming Industry and related businesses. For myself, and many other people in our City and County, the existence of a casino in Schenectady may be seen as potentially good for employment and our tax revenues. It is not, however, a matter of civic “pride”. A casino does not and will not invoke for the City a feeling of satisfaction or pleasure taken from its achievements, nor a feeling of dignity, value or self-respect. Even if well run by a committed workforce (with their own personal pride in a job well done), and if enjoyed by customers for its entertainment value, it is merely a part of the leisure industry. A casino will “produce” entertainment for some, riches for a very few (mostly living elsewhere), but nothing that speaks of greatness and of a community’s special skills and dedication. And, although denied by its cheerleaders, a casino has the potential to have a significant negative impact on many aspects of the life of our community and its families.

I am proud of Schenectady’s connection to ALCO (and to GE), but I will never be proud of our City’s connection to the Gaming Industry, or to Rush Street Gaming. Honoring our past with a name like American Locomotive Drive — or simply the powerful “Locomotive Drive” — would be an important reminder to our residents and visitors of our proud and productive past, and of our faith in a future beyond the narrow scope of the gaming industry.

Rush-Street-004

What’s wrong with the name Rush Street?

  1.  RushStreetPostCard-001Name it after Rush Street in Chicago? No, thanks.  With yet another hard-to-believe explanation aimed at our City Council, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin says they are not naming the street after themselves, but are instead hoping to invoke the energy and aura of Rush Street Chicago.  His letter to the Council says, “Rush Street in Chicago is a renowned entertainment destination. It sits just one block west of the ‘Magnificent Mile,’ an internationally known shopping district. Some of the finest dining and nightlife options in the city of Chicago are on Rush Street. I can tell you the atmosphere on this mile-long thoroughfare is electric. We want to bring that same excitement and success to the Electric City.” Indeed, according to Wikipedia, Rush Street Chicago “continues to be part of one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country and has businesses that correspond to the demands of its residents. The neighborhood hosts highly rated restaurants, five-star hotels, four-star spas, an elite senior citizen residence and prominent bars.” From my perspective, there are at least two big problems with invoking Rush Street Chicago:
    1. The vast majority of people considering or actually coming to Mohawk Harbor do not have the slightest idea what Rush Street Chicago is. That name is highly unlikely to draw any significant numbers of people from our very local/regional geographic market. If Rush Street Gaming truly wanted to make Rivers Casino in Schenectady a world-class entertainment destination, it would not have given us a casino designed to look like an outdated shopping mall (while proposing imposing casinos elsewhere), and it would not be requesting a pylon sign so huge and homely that it would never be permitted within several miles of Chicago’s Rush Street.
    2. WallStreetCompare

      our Wall Street analogy

      Those who do know what Rush Street in Chicago is like, can only be disappointed, and maybe even insulted, by the comparison once they arrive at Schenectady’s version.  Councilman VInce Riggi is correct to say that it is pretentious of Rush Street to name the street after itself, but it is probably even more pretentious to suggest their investment here will produce results comparable to even a tiny part of Chicago’s Rush Street. It is not too farfetched or cynical to predict, especially given the physical limitations of the site, that Schenectady’s Rush Street will be to Chicago’s Rush Street as our Wall Street is to Manhattan’s Wall Street. (see collage to the Right, and click on it for a larger verison)

  2.  Benjamin_Rush_Painting_by_Peale Name it after Benjamin Rush? Please, no, for his sake and ours. Rush Street in Chicago is named after Dr. Benjamin Rush [1746-1813], a physician who signed the Declaration of Independence, is called a Founding Father, was a leader of the American Enlightenment, perhaps the most prominent physician in the nation at the time, and wrote the first book in America on psychiatry. He was also a well-known abolitionist. Of course, it makes little sense to name an important thoroughfare in Schenectady after a man who has no local ties. More important, however, before doing so, we should consider, among other peculiarities, that:
    1. Ironically, Dr. Rush was a prominent advocate for temperance. He fought to include bans on “gaming, drunkenness, and uncleanness” along with “habits of idleness and love of pleasure”, in the U.S. Constitution.  He also campaigned against taverns and “clubs of all kinds where the only business of the company is feeding (for that is the true name of a gratification that is simply animal) are hurtful to morals”.   [See”The Benjamin Rush Prescription“, by psychologist Romeo Vitelli.] This leads me to believe Dr. Rush would strongly oppose naming the casino roadway Rush Street.

    2. Although Dr. Rush was a leading abolitionist, it should be noted that “In 1792, Rush read a paper before the American Philosophical Society which argued that the ‘color’ and ‘figure’ of blacks were derived from a form of leprosy. He argued that with proper treatment, blacks could be cured and become white [Wikipedia]  Also, despite his public condemnations of slavery, “Rush purchased a slave named William Grubber in 1776. To the consternation of many, Rush still owned Grubber when he joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1784.” [Id.]

    3. While other physicians gave up the practice of bloodletting and purges, Dr. Rush did not, and his practice waned. Indeed, “Some even blamed Rush’s bleeding for hastening the death of Benjamin Franklin, as well as George Washington . . ” [for more, see Wikipedia]

  3. RushPWD The Many Meanings and Connotations of the Word “rush”:  The word “rush” has many meanings as a verb, adjective, and noun, and quite a few of the meanings conjure up notions that seem unseemly, misleading, or unworthy for a great City and sober community to be pushing.  One example, of course, is the rush one gets from taking certain drugs. As described at Dictionary.com: “the initial, intensely pleasurable or exhilarated feeling experienced upon taking a narcotic or stimulant drug.” The little yellow bottle seen on the right contains a product deemed a liquid incense or aroma popper, thought of as cheap form of “club drug”. No matter what fans of the product my say or feel, neither the item nor the word comes to mind when I think about responsible gambling.  And, even if lots of the old rockers on the Senior Casino Tour buses arriving at Mohawk Harbor are fans of the band Rush, I’m finding it hard to fit the lyrics to their biggest hit, Tom Sawyer, into a useful mindset relative to the future of the City of Schenectady.
  4. RushStreetGamingLogo Naming the Street after Rush Street Gaming. Pretentious. At-Best Premature. Surely proof that Fools Rush In. Rush Street Gaming has yet to prove that it will be a good corporate neighbor or citizen in Schenectady, and thus perhaps the recipient of an Honorary Street Name some day. At “Snowmen at the Gates” (f/k/a Stop the Schenectady Casino)), there is plenty of proof that RSG asks for much and gives virtually nothing it is not forced by law to give. It certainly has been far more generous at its other casino locations with extra funding for local development and community services, and general mitigation of impact expenses, than in Schenectady, where the Mayor and City Council have given it all it wants, and more. Moreover, Neil Bluhm is far too good of a businessman to refuse to listen to offers to buy him out at Mohawk Harbor.  E.g., in 2012, he and Greg Carlin sold their Riverwalk Casino in Vicksburg, Miss., just four years after it opened, and after failing in their immediate request for a 60% reduction in their property tax assessment. That makes the Rush Street connection less than solid. Our elected leaders should have some self-respect and say no to this name grab.  That could start a great new precedent, asserting that Schenectady has a casino, but is Not a Casino Town.

Conclusion: Even if “Rush Street” were tolerably acceptable as a street name in Mohawk Harbor (which it is not), honoring our ALCO history and signaling our belief in a future that will once again be productive and worthy of civic pride are goals that point strongly to rejection of the street name Rush Street.

 

City Hall is wrong about crime going down near Phila. and Pitts. casinos


LaughingMayorBW  M
ayor Gary McCarthy and electioneering Democratic Council members Leesa Perazzo and Ed Kosiur want us to believe that crime has gone down near the two casinos operated by Rush Street Gaming in Pennsylvania and, therefore, we should have no problem with the Mayor not seeking an agreement with Rush Street Gaming for funds to mitigate the adverse effects on Schenectady and its budget due to increased crime. In the two following comments to recent Schenectady Gazette articles, I have stated as concisely as I can the error in City Hall’s facts and reasoning about the casino and crime, offering links to fuller discussion and supporting materials. There is also some discussion below on the Mayor’s failure to seek various mitigation agreements with Rush Street, which has been very generous to other cities where the administration negotiated on behalf of the people, rather than seeing itself as Partner and Cheerleader for the casino applicants.

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Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Mayoral candidate debate” (October 8, 2015):

smallquestionmark  CRIME? Mayor McCarthy has not been honest about casinos and crime. He and Rush Street like to claim that crime actually went down around its SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia. The study Rush Street cites actually tells a very different and complex story. For a full analysis and links to the actual study go to http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime .

  Here are some of the things McCarthy has not told the people of Schenectady about crime near the SugarHouse casino:

  • Philadelphia PD created a 14-man unit that solely patrols a one-half mile semi-circle around the casino. [A patrol that size would cost $1 million annually in total compensation in Schenectady, or mean even less coverage elsewhere.]
  • The Study did not include DUI or prostitution, two crimes very important to several nearby neighborhoods. .
  • There has been “displacement” of crime from the heavily-patrolled area to an area just past that half-mile radius (analogous to East Front Street, Stockade, College Park, Little Italy, Goose Hill) which has seen very large increases in vehicle theft and vehicle break-ins.
  • That study also says that “Violent street felonies increased in the target area compared with the control area”,* although the increase was “only” statistically significant in the first couple of years.

  NEWBURGH. Rush Street’s actions in its application for a casino at Newburgh, NY, in 2014 also tell a very different story than its assurances here there will be no more crime increase from the casino than from a WalMart. At Newburgh, Rush Street acknowledged there was likely to be increased crime, spreading into other jurisdictions, and an increase in problem gambling. Mitigation dollars adding up to $2.5 million dollars annually, were promised in Memoranda of Understanding signed with the Cities of Newburgh, Beacon and Middletown, plus three school districts, and nearby Dutchess County. [For more detail, go to the end of the posting found at http://tinyurl.com/casinoMOTT2 ]

  In Schenectady, Rush Street and its “partner” Mayor McCarthy deny there will be an increase in crime, so the Mayor never asked for any payments to help with added public safety expenses, and Rush Street certainly never offered a penny over the gaming revenue tax it will pay to the State, which then sends funds to the County and City. We do not need a Mayor who calls a business that will take hundreds of millions of dollars from some of our poorest and most vulnerable people, and send it to owners in Chicago, his “Partner”. We do not need a Mayor who is deaf, dumb and blind about the problems caused for the residents and businesses of Schenectady by his Partners.

[footnote added] * For example, see “SugarHouse attacks concern casino neighbors” (CBS News10, David Change, Nov. 13, 2010); “Philadelphia casino winner robbed of $13,000“, New York Daily News, May 18, 2015).

 

Comment of David Giacalone to Gazette article “Schenectady Council election forum” (Oct. 9, 2015):

LeesaPSmiles  Sadly, Ms. Perazzo will say just about anything to defend the Casino and its Partner the Mayor, without bothering to check the facts or curb her enthusiasm.

  Residents concerned with the crime problem and expenses the Casino is likely to bring have again this week refuted their claim that crime went down at Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino, SugarHouse [see http://tinyurl.com/PhillyCasinoCrime ]. In response, Ms Perazzo and Mr. Kosiur tell us that crime has gone down at Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh, and stress that we will have a State Police Barracks at the Schenectady Casino.

  There will be no “barracks” at Mohawk Harbor, but maybe an office for NY State Police (with a cot?). They will only be policing the actual casino grounds, and not following gamblers who have been drinking for hours onto the nearby streets or watching for car break-ins and prostitution a few blocks away. State Police also do the on-site patrol in the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino, and year after year, that casino has the highest number of crimes out of the dozen casinos in Pennsylvania. A State Police representative told the Pitts. daily newspaper that its high numbers were due to its urban setting. (Well, that’s a relief.)

   Has crime gone down around the Pittsburgh Rivers Casino? After five years of operation, Pittsburgh police are not talking about a reduction of crime. Unlike our Gazette, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will print negative news about its casino. It reported that “Although the casino has brought more crime simply by being there, Pittsburgh police have ‘not seen the type of crime increase everyone has been predicting,’ said Commander RaShall Brackney of the Zone 1 station.” I think Perazzo, Kosiur, and McCarthy know the difference between Not As High As Predicted by Opponents and “Went Down.”

GMcCarthyMug  Finally, the Mayor and his Council handmaidens want us to believe there is no reason for them to have pressed Rush Street Gaming for contributions above the mandatory taxes they will be paying. Tell that to the people of Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in its first five years, the casino estimates that it has paid out $744.7 million in state and local taxes AND AN ADDITIONAL $48.6 million in contributions, including $37.5 million for Consol Energy Center [home of the Pittsburgh Penguins and rock shows], $3 million each to the Hill District and the Northside Leadership Conference, and $531,112 in donations to community groups. Imagine what such funds could be doing for our community.

p.s. Mr. Mayor, please stop counting your Casino Chickens based on Rush Street estimates. Pittsburgh Rivers was projected to generate $427.8 million in slot machine gross terminal revenue in its first year but after five years has yet to come close to that number. Last year, the Post-Gazette said it produced $284.3 million in such revenue in 2013. “We’re really happy with the performance,” said Greg Carlin, Rivers CEO.

By the way, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article mentioned above in my Comment about Pittsburgh is titled “After 5 years Rivers Casino seen as good neighbor” (by Mark Belko, August 9, 2014). How did it “earn” that local response? By working with and acceding to the demands of local interest groups. For example:

  • By reversing its attempt to charge $50 to park in its garage during a Stealers pre-season game.
  • By giving millions of dollars to neighborhood groups and community organization.
  • By agreeing to pay over $7 million a year for 30 years to the sports authority that operates the home arena of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and puts on rock shows.
  • By making important road and traffic improvements “after the Steelers and Pirates forced the issue” to avoid impending chaos.
  • By reaching out to an opponent, the community group Riverlife, for help in shaping the casino’s riverfront. The result, according to Riverlife’s CEO, is “one of the most beautiful privately funded public riverfront parks in all of the Downtown area.” [In contrast to a beautiful park, Rush Street Rivers Schenectady had demanded the removal of a public access guarantee from our riverfront zoning, and appears to be providing no area for sitting or picnicking along the riverbank for the public, but only a bike-ped path, which is an amenity that will help attract upscale residents to live at Mohawk Harbor.]

red check For more information that you have never seen in the Gazette that helps to explain why we opposed the casino, now work to avoid casino-related problems, and fault the Mayor for walking away from millions of dollars and guarantees that other Mayors would have won from Rush Street Gaming, see:

  1. Rigging the news: The Gazette and the Schenectady Casino“.
  2. Money on the Table“, and linked materials

This chart shows just how generous Rush Street has been when seeking to operate a casino in other cities or towns (from “Rush Street’s Giveaways“; click on it for a larger version):

Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon sign

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep Gary McCarthy used last night’s League of Conservation Voters mayoral forum on energy and environmental issues to insist that the monster pylon sign would be a “Community asset” and to incorrectly state it is “smaller than the GE sign.” See “Mayoral hopefuls discuss environment, casino at forum” (Daily Gazette, by Haley Viccaro, Sept. 22, 2015) Here is the rebuttal to the Mayor that I left this morning at the Gazette website:

Mayor McCarthy has finally stated that having a casino “is not without risk”, but he offered no suggestions on how to reduce its likely negative impact. Instead, he continues to distort or ignore facts to defend the unnecessary pylon sign.

The Mayor’s comparing the unsightly and hazardous pylon to the GE sign should make us shudder. The circular GE logo is 36′ in diameter, which means it is less than half the height of the 80′ Casino Pylon and three feet narrower, and is only slightly taller than the 32′ LED screen, which will be far more intensely lit and directly aimed at Erie Blvd. traffic and drivers on the new rotary. More important, the GE sign is distant from traffic and residences, and not merely a few yards from Nott and Front Streets and Erie Blvd., and short blocks from several neighborhoods.

GESign2 Even worse, the Mayor confirmed for us that the Casino Pylon Monster has the purpose of “branding” Schenectady as a Casino City, by saying the GE sign did a good job of branding our City. I am proud of Schenectady’s relationship to GE, but having the Rivers Casino sign as the symbol of our City — which is clearly the goal of Rush Street Gaming — will be a source of embarrassment for myself and the majority of people of our City and County.

Our next Mayor should, at the very least, demand that Rivers Casino use the Cisco LCD technology highlighted by Mayor McCarthy to significantly dim the lights on the Casino pylon during all overnight hours. For more on the pylon mess, see
http://tinyurl.com/PylonPosting

  • The Mayor also again denigrated those of us who are working to protect the residents of our City from negative Casino effects such as increased problem gambling, crime, bankruptcy, family violence, traffic hazards, and disruptive lighting, by saying there are people who had opposed the casino and are now “trying to slow or even stop it.” He indicated that the process of approving the Casino has been open and that every time there has been a public hearing changes have been made in response to public comments. That is a very different history from that chronicled here.

As the Gazette reported, Roger Hull said “Why does one need to have a sign that size? It’s not like people are going to be unaware of where the casino is.” But, Hull avoided a question asking whether the Casino should be required to comply with a maximum brightness rule during overnight hours. He also avoided a softball question asking whether the Planning Commission should be given the authority to fund independent studies of complicated issues, rather than merely accept the assertions of applicants such as the casino. Instead, Hull seemed to suggest that the Planning Commission was still “looking into” issues such as the height and location of the pylon sign. In fact, the Commission has already decided on the size and location of the pylon (accepting Rush Street’s proposal), and will apparently only be considering relatively minor design questions.

follow-up (6 PM, Sept. 22, 2015): Talk of open government is refreshing but, as I stated in a Letter to the Editor published last Sunday in the Gazette (“Planning commissioners must have gumption“, September 20, 2015), transparency is a prerequisite for good government, but will mean little if our administrative and quasi-judicial bodies, such as the Planning Commission and Zoning Board, do not demand full information from applicants, obtain independent expert studies as needed, ask tough questions, and engage in full, independent deliberation before making decisions.  The text of the Letter is immediately below.

Continue reading

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

In all their dealings with Schenectady casino applicants Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Council, the Planning Office, and indeed all of City Hall, have acted as if “Schenectady” is the old Mohawk language word for “Second-rate-City.” That supine posture was particularly noteworthy and blameworthy, last February, when our municipal leaders ripped the guarantee of permanent public access to and enjoyment of the riverfront from our Zoning Code’s C-3 Waterfront District requirements, at the request of the Casino Applicants.

What would “public access to the riverfront” have looked like? The rule was part of our zoning code when Galesi/Rush-Street’s application was filed with the Casino Site Location Board. And, the following rendering shows the Applicants’ proposed design, permitting the buildings to be raised about the floodplain, and yet creating/preserving an attractive, accessible, usable riverbank to ensure public access and enjoyment of the riverbank:

CasinoRiverbankRendering

This posting argues that, as soon as possible, before construction makes alterations impracticable, our City Council must restore the right to public access to the riverfront. That is not only because riverfront access is the acknowledged best practice for all urban riverside development, and because Rush Street Gaming allows generous public access at both its Pittsburgh and Philadelphia casino locations, but because to fail to restore that right leaves Schenectady in the status of a second-rate City with second-rate citizens. The next two collages tell an important part of the story: 1) the preferential treatment Rush Street has given to two Pennsylvania riparian casino cities compared to the step-child treatment for Schenectadians, and 2) the total lack of rational and persuasive explanation from our City Hall.

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LargeDockImagered check  update (July 24, 2018): In a Gazette article today, Ray Gillen is quoted saying that a Large Vessel Dock they hope the State will fund (with 80% of the cost) will provide real public access. I do not know enough yet to be able to agree or disagree. Click this link for a screen shot of a rendering presented by Mr. Gillen’s to the City Council Committee on July 16, 2018. A detail from that presentation is presented at the right of this paragraph, but it has poor resolution.  More information will be coming as/if I am able to learn more. follow-up (8 PM): See our posting “the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor”, for more information and for two renderings provided by Mr. Gillen.

RushStreetAccessEd

– click on each collage for a larger, more revealing and legible version – 

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RestoreAccessE

When our Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 was written, and the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use zoning district was created, back in 2008, our leaders understood the importance of public access to the riverfront and acted according. Then City Council President Gary McCarthy was proud of both the Plan and the forwarding-looking requirements of the Waterfront District, which mandated a recorded easement granting permanent public access. For more than half a year, therefore, I’ve been wondering just what the Casino Gang could have said, promised, threatened to change City Hall’s attitude toward riverfront access. Or, was the mere request to strike the access guarantee enough to persuade our timid, starstruck, supplicant “leaders” to forfeit the rights of the people they represent and are obligated to serve?

Three documents show the practices of modern, responsible city and State governments when treating the revitalization of their urban riverfronts, and demonstrate that the “right” to pass through on a bike-ped path does not fulfill a public access requirement:

StayOnPathSign The overly credulous regulatory policy suggested by City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo is, at best, silly. Perazzo trusts the Casino Gang so much that she stated at the City Council meeting where she voted for the C-3 amendments, that the Public Access Guarantee was not needed, because “they’re going to do it anyway.” The response to an applicant who says, “We’re going to do it anyway,” is “Good, then you shouldn’t mind that we keep the law on the books for those tempted to ignore the rules.”

The Mayor, as mouthpiece and enforcer for the Casino Gang, was somehow so mesmerizing that even the educated, experienced Director of Development, Jaclyn Mancini, forgot all she knew about the meaning of the words “public access to the riverbank”, and insisted, “They will have access to the retail shops.” “Customer access” is not what is meant by “public access,” and the main purpose of public access is for the people who comprise the public to enjoy the riverfront, not to bring in more shoppers for the retail establishments or gamblers for the casino. When told the access guarantee would be stricken from the Code, Mancini’s zoning and planning staff were apparently too astounded to inform the public of what we were losing, or to quit in protest.

While Schenectady revoked the public access guarantee on the rather small piece of riverfront that was available in our City, even Cities with miles and miles of riverfront have strict riverfront public access requirements for all new development or redevelopment. Philadelphia, where Rush Street has its SugarHouse casino is a prime example.  A Pennsylvania State tourist site tells us that Rush Street’s SugarHouse “casino . . . allows the public access to a luxurious promenade along the river.”  As suggested in the first (green) collage above, in June 2014, while Rush Street was maneuvering in Schenectady for the repeal of riverfront access, it broke ground on an expansion project that would further enlarge its grand public access promenade, which was already almost 2000 feet long, and the biggest in a city with a dozen miles of riverfront.  (See, this 2011 article and this 2013 article in Philly.com). As discussed in our prior post “Mayor McCarthy left millions on the casino table“:

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

 Public Access to the Riverfront: Philadelphia has miles of usable waterfront accessible to the public (along two major rivers, as well as creeks, lakes, and ponds), but it nonetheless continues to demand significant public waterfront access to its riverbanks, even from gaming facilities that it hopes will produce major tax revenues.  In contrast, Schenectady has virtually no private waterfront beyond Mohawk Harbor that could offer the public increased access to the Mohawk River, but it has revoked the public access guarantees just when they would be applied for the first time.

Philadelphia Public Access: Under the Philadelphia Zoning Code for its SP-ENT District (which includes gaming facilities as a permitted use):

§14-405(9) Design Standards

“(c) Siting and Access: (.2)  A permitted use developed on a waterfront site must provide dedicated public access to the waterfront, open to and connected from a public street. Public access will be provided along the site’s waterfront length at a width of at least 12 ft.”  . . .

 Setback: “[A]ll lots must provide an unencumbered waterfront setback [of 50 feet] from the top of the bank of any river to allow for unrestricted public access to the river’s edge,” in addition to a public pedestrian-bicycle path. Specifically,

•This waterfront access must include open space that is accessible to the public at a width of at least 30 ft., plus a right-of-way dedicated for pedestrian and bicycle traffic at a width of at least 20 ft.

•If the Commission reduces the waterfront setback requirement due to site-specific conditions, the setback may not be less than 30′ in width and must include the bike-ped right-of-way that is a minimum of 20′ in width. [See §14-405(3)(e), which is a portion of  the “Yards” section of Area Regulations for the SP-ENT casino district.

PiitsburghAmphitheater Is there something about the residents of Schenectady and our County, or about our visitors, that makes us less worthy of full public access to the Mohawk riverbank than the people of Philadelphia are to their rivers? Or, less worthy than the people who get to use the lovely park and amphitheater along the River at Rush Street’s Pittsburgh casino? (click on the image to the right)

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 . . casino3rd-rear-patios There is no indication in the latest, limited rendering of the riverfront view of the casino complex from Rush Street (see above), that there will be any public access “amenities” other than the pedestrian-cyclist path along the River.

NoPicnicSignThere appear to be no spots for anyone other than casino patio customers to sit down, and no space for picnicking or similar waterfront activities.  Whether you are a senior citizen, a tired runner, a family with children, or a couple on a date, “keep moving” and “stay on the path” will apparently be the message from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, compliments of Mayor McCarthy.

WalkPath-MH-Gaz02Jun2015-001The steep drop-off from the pathway shown in the June 10, 2015 Gazette photo (see Left) of the construction site may not be indicative of the final grading along the riverbank, but in combination with the benchless, treeless, rendering, it surely suggests that the public is invited to use the path that takes them through Mohawk Harbor, but not to dawdle along the Mohawk.

follow-up (May 29, 2018): My prediction above that the grading would prevent public access to the Riverbank, sadly, proved true. The rocks and drop-off may also be hazardous to cyclists and pedestrians who need to quickly exit the path. This image shows the path along the casino hotel and patios on Memorial Day, 2018:

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And, here’s another view of the stretch behind the Casino complex on Nov. 4, 2017:

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We are 18 months or more from the opening of a casino at Mohawk Harbor. Quick action by City Council and the Mayor to restore the public right to riverfront “access and enjoyment” can fairly re-impose this obligation, which existed long before Mr. Galesi purchased the old ALCO site for future development of Mohawk Harbor, and for the entire time Rush Street Gaming was applying for its casino facility operating license before the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  Indeed, nowhere did Rush Street inform the Location Board that it planned to ask that riverfront access be ripped from the existing Schenectady Zoning Code. Is there no City Council member who is interested enough in restoring the riverfront public access promised in the City’s Comprehensive Plan to come forward with a proposal to restore that right? Is the Mayor finally willing to declare his independence from the Casino-Galesi Gang and Metroplex and come to the defense of his public and their riparian rights? Or, am I about to be knocked off my quixotic horse one more time?

the Commission should require a better pylon

SampleCasinoSigns

– click on the above collage to see sample signage designs for casinos other than the “shopping mall” colossus proposed for Schenectady, and to read a short explanation of why we deserve much Better than Big & Bland from Mr. Bluhm.  Share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/betterpylon

Rush Street has proposed a pylon sign design as mediocre as its overall casino design, and wants to place it at the worst possible location when safety and aesthetics are taken into consideration (find full explanations in the posts listed in our Pylon Directory). Rather than allow the Rivers Casino to foist its monster pylon on this City, the Planning Commission needs to decisively wield its authority under the City’s Site Plan review process, instead of yielding it to Rush Street and the Mayor’s Office.  The Commission should re-read the clear language of its duties and powers under our Zoning Code, and not be swayed by any pressure from the Mayor or advice from Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to stand down on this matter (as happened during the Commission’s review of the C-3 amendments in February).

update (July 23, 2015): see “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015); and click here for a pdf version of my July 22 Comments to the Commission.

Mr. Falotico has apparently left the Planning Office and Commissioners with the impression their “hands are tied” concerning the pylon, because the C-3 district rules for casino signage now say (emphasis added):

“Multi-sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet.”

At the most, those words mean the Commission cannot refuse to approve locating a pylon sign, up to 80′ tall, somewhere on the 25-acre casino compound.  The prior sentence in §264-14(H) as amended states: Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”  And, Zoning Code §264-92(b) makes it plain that (emphasis added):

“The Planning Commission’s review of the site plan application shall be guided by the elements listed in §264-89 of this article.”  

Among the §264-89 factors that “shall” be applied by the Commission to all casino signage, including the pylon, are:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

Who agreed with the above interpretation just last February?  According to a Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority” (Haley Vicarro, Feb. 3, 2015), Carl Falotico did:

Corporation Council Carl Falotico stressed that the commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.

In “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW,” the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, explains:

What a site plan accomplishes “The purpose of site plan regulations is to ensure that the development of individual parcels of land do not have an adverse impact on adjacent properties or the surrounding neighborhood. Such regulations also ensure that the parcel’s development fits properly into the community and conforms to its planning objectives. The development of individual parcels must conform to the provisions of local zoning which contain use and dimensional requirements for site development. Zoning, however, does not contain specifications regulating the details of a site’s development that protect, for example, the design of vehicular access to the site, the provision of needed landscape features, the location of parking areas, and the architectural features of buildings. Site plan specifications go beyond those of zoning, and protect adjacent areas and the community’s residents from flooding and erosion, traffic congestion and accidents, unsightly design, noise pollution, and the erosion of neighborhood character. This is their distinct purpose.”

We urge each of the nine Planning Commissioners to take those words and their oaths of office to heart when reviewing the most important Site Plan they are ever likely to encounter.  As we have repeated often, there is no urgent need to sacrifice a full review merely because Rush Street keeps making the same false claims of deadline pressure. It will not have to open its casino for at least 26 months, and an appropriate pylon sign structure can be designed and installed in a couple of months.

dontforgettack  Because a thorough review requires a full set of Site Plan documents from the applicant, we also urge the Commission to demand all necessary documents, as mandated in §264-91 Application and Required Information, before granting the requested Site Plan Permit. If necessary with this complex, multi-faceted Plan, the Commission should consider approving various portions in stages, reserving final approval until it has received all required documents, and sought any expert opinion need to supplement the knowledge of staff and Commissioners.

  • The expert opinion of the New York State Department of Transportation on assessing the safety of electronic message displays could be particularly helpful when located close to busy intersections, and the Commissioners should not let inter-governmental rivalry, or a false sense of deadline pressure, keep it from asking for DOT assistance. (see this discussion)
  • RNBL4EMCs Similarly, the brightness and distraction of a huge electronic display (proposed to be 32′ by 19′) raises such significant issues with glare, driver confusion, particularly in inclement weather on unfamiliar roads, and the disturbance of nearby residences, that the Commission should take advantage of the International Sign Association’s “Recommended Nighttime Brightness Levels for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers [EMCs]“. The Commission should (1) consider adopting ISA’s Illumination Limits: “The difference between the off and solid-message measurements using the EMC Measurement Criteria shall not exceed 0.3 footcandles at night,” and possibly contacting the Statement’s primary authors; and (2) specifically ask Rush Street to demonstrate the proposed LCD screen will meet the ISA brightness standard. 
  • Additional information and explanation from the Applicant should also be required concerning how the siting of the pylon is likely to impact on nearby traffic and nearby residences, including those in the East Front Street and Stockade neighborhoods, on Goose Hill, and in Union Colleges housing, including the 7- story dormitory a block away.

Indeed, because getting the casino right is so crucial to the City and its residents and visitors, the Commission should use its power under §264-91 (G) to probe topics that are important for a casino compound and its signage (including, e.g., a Visual Impact Analysis and proof that brightness standards will not be violated). The Commission should require:

§264-91 GSuch other and further information or documentation as the Zoning Officer and/or Planning Commission may deem to be necessary and appropriate to a full and proper consideration and disposition of the particular application.

. . click to compare the Schenectady pylon to the Cincinnati Horseshoe pylon marquee.. CinciHorseShoeSignageCompared

Better Design.  Any large pylon or “marquee” signage meant to draw attention to Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor may become the primary image of Schenectady for many prospective and actual casino patrons, and will be a constant presence for a very large percentage of City and County residents. Its appearance should be much better than simply “okay enough” or “not particularly ugly.” It must be better than “good enough” to be approved. Although it is a matter of taste, the Commissioners are called on to make such judgments often and should not shy away from doing so on the casino project.

DesPlaines68

Des Plaines Rivers Casino pylon

 A lengthy search online has resulted in my discovering only one casino pylon somewhat similar in height, bulk and blandness to the one proposed for Schenectady, and that is the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, Illinois. The Des Plaines pylon [image at the right] would, in my opinion, be rejected for use as a shopping mall monument sign in even a less-than-trendy suburb.  Its Schenectady sibling will surely not improve its appeal merely by being significantly taller and wider. A new design with more “style” and artistic impact is called for, simply from the standpoint of what makes effective signage.

As with the overall Schenectady casino design, which is quite uninspiring compared to proposed casino plans in other cities and towns wooed by Applicant Rush Street (see “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps“), Neil Bluhm and his casino subsidiaries seem to have taken a much different approach at their other locations to the need for or design of major outdoor signage.  Thus, Philadelphia’s SugarHouse and Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino have no pylon or similar giant freestanding sign, despite being in cities filled with skyscrapers blocking views.

FallsView However, the Neil Bluhm-developed and managed Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls, Canada, does have a relatively tall sign. It is, nonetheless, definitely not recognizable as a relative of the Des Plaines or Schenectady pylons. The Fallsview sign, seen in the rendition to the left of this paragraph but better viewed on the upper left portion of the collage at the top of this posting, was aptly desribed in a release by its corporate creator:

“The ‘traffic-stopping’ craftsmanship of this Diamond Vision display will be a beacon to the millions of tourists who visit Niagara Falls each year, and an integral part of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort’s allure,” said Mark Foster, general manager of Diamond Vision. “As with all Diamond Vision installations, we worked closely with the architects and designers to create a display that complements the resorts theme and personality.”

Naturally, I’m not saying Schenectady should have a pylon-marquee sign just like Fallsview. For one thing, the LED screen ( 25′ x 12.5′) may still be too large for a streetside sign. And, at about 70′ tall, it might fit the scale of nearby buildings better in Niagara Falls than in our City. But, we do deserve an image that shows some of the thought and art that went into the Fallsview sign.  It could perhaps reflect the presence of a lovely Mohawk River location, or the ALCO history of the site, or Schenectady’s colonial past. Most important, it should reflect something unique, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing, and be designed at a size and with electronic display elements appropriate for its location.

My first set of pylon-related Comments to the Planning Commission (June 17, 2015) contains additional discussion on issues raised above, especially the safety problems posed by placing large digital displays close to busy intersections.

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pylon options

– above: a few more examples of casino pylons –

ALCOlogo Afterthought: Looking into the “casino problem” over the past year, I’ve came across some of the interesting logos used by the Alco company over the decades. [see example at the head of this blurb] Perhaps one of them could be a starting point for a theme showing Schenectady’s past and strength aiming toward the future. (June 17, 2015)