was the Pump Station another Rendering Ruse?

RENDERINGS of new North Ferry St. Pump Station at Schenectady’s Riverside Park .  . above & below, submitted to the public October 2017.  (Grand, hundred-year-old tree marked with a white asterisk by the editor, is preserved in the renderings. Also, the façade of the Old Pump House is visible from the west.)

ACTUAL

– June 2017

– April 2020

pumpstation11apr2020.jpg  . .

. . above: Grand Old Tree [L] April 11, 2020; [R] April 22, 2020 . .

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GrandOldTree13June2017

INTRODUCTION: The grand old tree that graced the West Lawn of Riverside Park for over a century was chopped down last week on Earth Day 2020, April 22. (Marked with a white asterisk in the two renderings above; 2017 photo on the right.) It was still healthy, with a diameter of 60 inches. Many Stockade residents and Riverside Park lovers where surprised, shocked, saddened. We were sure that significant tree would be preserved in the multi-million dollar pump station project being staged currently at the Park. We did know that a few “lesser” trees along the pump station’s original fence did need to come down to fit a new pump station on the lot of the old pump house. As would be expected, those lesser trees do not appear in the 2017 renderings, which are meant to show what a site will look like after the proposed construction is completed.

PumpStaMay2019Plan . . “surprise” May 2019 Plan .  We sought explanations. In an email on April 27, 2020, to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger, we were given “answers” by the CHA Project Engineer for the New North Ferry Street Pump Station project, Mike Miller. Mr Miller answered questions from Stockade resident Emmanuel Maillet, whose backyard borders on that part of the Park. Miller wrote that the conclusion the Grand Old Tree needed to be removed was made at the time the City asked the engineers to put the new pump station on the old lot, rather than their proposal to put it on the Park’s beautiful West Lawn. Miller added that its removal was included in the “final plans” they developed in May 2019 (click on image at head of this paragraph):

[Q] When did it first become clear that the [huge old tree in Riverside Park] had to go?  [A] Removal of the tree was first determined to be necessary when the City was requested to build the new facility adjacent to the existing pump house.  Provisions for removal of the tree were included in final plans that were developed for the Project, dated 5/14/19.

But the City’s request to move the needed pump station was made months before the above renderings showing the Grand Tree were presented in October 2017 to the City and the public. Those renderings did not reflect the actual (and apparently anticipated) fate of the beloved tree, but the public was not told and did not know that.

  • Mike Miller noted in a phone call with Emmanuel Maillet that the project architect put the tree in the renderings. We’ve heard nothing from the architect on this issue.

More to the point, no one in the Stockade community, including the Board of the Stockade Association, had ever heard of a 3rd/Final Pump Station Plan. [As of May 15, 2020, you will still not find it on the Association’s Pump Station Documents Page.] The May 2019 plat shows the Pump Station moved perhaps 20 feet to the north and west of the October 2017 version, thus purportedly necessitating the removal of the Grand Old Tree and completely blocking view of the Old Pump House from the west. The “secret” May 2019 plan, which we never knew about, did indeed indicate the Tree’s removal (as I have noted in red on the image to the right of this paragraph, which compares the May 2019 plan to the last public plan in October 2017; click on the collage for a larger version).

  • CONSTANT COMMUNICATION. When asked recently about the apparent failure of those responsible for the Pump Station Project to notify residents of the Stockade or its Association, both Mayor Gary McCarthy and Director of Operations Paul Lafond have mentioned that there has been constant communication with the Stockade Association officials over the past year. This is a true but misleading statement. It is telling, on the other hand, that Paul Lafond and Gary McCarthy both attended the 2019 Stockade Association Annual Meeting, which took place on May 16, 2019, just two days after the date of the May 2019 “final plan.” Nonetheless, according to Carol DeLaMater, who was SA president at the time, “There was no update from city on changes to site plan presented to HUD by GOSR on city’s behalf for CDBG-DR funding”. Of course, notice of important changes should be made before, not after (and certainly not a year after) promulgating a final plan revising a public Plan approved by the City Council and supported by the public.

PS-TreeRemovalsPlanGOT The Tree Removals Plan submitted by the City for the initial Environmental Assessment in Nov. 2018 (at 62), showed five trees being removed, but did not include the Grand Old Tree as one of them (click on the annotated thumbnail image to the left). In the May 9, 2019 revised Environmental Report (at 31), the removal of five trees was again indicated on the submission (with no blue ink to show a change), but the large tree that had already been removed to the east of the Old Pump House was no longer on the plat. Thus, the “five trees” for removal now included the Grand Old Tree, but the text was not changed to show it was actually a 6th tree that would be removed for this Project. See the annotated screenshot immediately below.

GOSR-5trees1

 

Blocked View of the Old Pump House Façade

OldPumpFromWest

. . the secret May 2019 plan would block views of the Old Pump House façade from the west, by placing the front face of the New Station closer to the River than the Old Pump House . .

  • PS-SetbackVAnother very important change in the May 2019 Plan is the moving of the new station to the north (closer to the River) so that it totally blocks the view of the picturesque and beloved Old Pump House from the west. (The image to the right shows the last public renderings from October 2017, with the new station set back to keep the façade of the Old Pump House and a west-facing arched window in view from the west.) In an environmental impact assessment, obstructing the view of a Historic Resource or District is deemed an adverse impact that must be removed or mitigated. [see NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Visual Impact Assessment Policy (2000)] We were never told about, and so were not able to contest, what would be an irreversible loss if the May 2019 Plan is followed.
  • The State Historic Preservation Office [SHPO] okayed the October 2017 location and footprint of the project, based on the then-existing “site plan”, drawings and renderings for the project. However, it appears that SHPO never considered the new location of the Pump Station for the final GOSR Environmental Assessment (May 9, 2019) of the North Ferry St. Pump Station, which included no new renderings or sketches, but has a cover image that continues to show the new station set back south of the façade of the Old Pump House.

But, who knew such a plan existed?

The following statement from the April 2020 Stockade Spy (at 2) presents comments of Mike Miller to the Stockade Association and does not mention a May 2019 Final Plan:

According to Mike Miller from CHA Inc, the proposed design for the pump station (e.g., building footprint or elevation) has not changed since it was presented for public input in fall of 2017. The layout for the pump station requires that the average encroachment into the park (along the west parcel line) be less than 30 -feet, per the parkland alienation legislative language. Based on the survey for the existing pump station parcel, the current layout results in an average encroachment beyond the pump station lot of just under 28-feet. The north fence line along the river will be relocated closer to the pump station, resulting in more accessible park land which can be utilized by the public. This results in negligible loss of lands for public use within Riverside Park.

After seeing the May 14, 2019 “final” Plan sent by Mr. Miller to SA President Suzanne Unger,  I have to conclude that his statement to the Spy for the April edition seems to be crafted to be reassuring and to deter probing questions, but in doing so was highly misleading. Mr. Miller’s standard that the “average encroachment into the park be less than 30 feet,” misstates the City Council’s clarifying resolution, which clearly states that “any overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” It goes on the resolve that: 

without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.
.
Mr. Miller may be correct that the footprint and elevation, and outward design, of the Pump Station had not changed in the 2019 Plan. (Actually, the facility appears to be larger in the 2019 Plan, as the Old Pump House is the same size in each drawing.) But, the location has been shifted north and west, resulting in an encroachment of more than 30’ into the Park and condemning the Grand Old Tree. His assertion that “average encroachment beyond the pump station lot [is] just under 28-feet,” is surely strong evidence that the encroachment is more than the allowed 30 feet in some places.  Yet, we were never given the chance, and apparently neither was the City Council, to question that Plan and suggest alternatives.
.

Riggi: Hold your feet to the fire.

  • Note (May 7, 2020): I’ve been trying to find out whether the May 14, 2019 plat (also shown in the plan-comparison collage above) was ever brought to the attention of City Council, which passed a special Clarifying Resolution in June 2017, requiring a public hearing before approving any plan for the Pump Station protruding into the Park more than 30 feet from the original fence.  See “what the Parkland Alienation Resolutions mean” (June 13, 2017), at our sister website “Suns along the Mohawk”.  update: (May 19, 2020): City Council member Marion Porterfield, after receiving email from Emmanuel Maillet and David Giacalone asking whether the Council had ever seen the May 2019 Plan, put the issue on the Council Agenda for its May 18, 2020 Committees Meeting. The Mayor assured her she would get a reply within a few days from the relevant City officials. We await her findings.
    • update (May 28, 2020): City Council now plans to have a Pump Station Briefing by relevant officials at its June 1, 2020 Committees Meeting, which will be held “remotely” by teleconference. Click for the AgendaJoin by Phone: 1-415-655-0001; WebEx Access Code: 161 708 6723; Meeting Password: E7HjBk9HSu2
  • Former Council Member Vince Riggi wanted no portion of the Park alienated for the Pump Station, and voted No on the Alienation Resolution. Vince did, however, vote Yes on the Clarifying Parkland Preservation Resolution, warning his colleagues that he would “hold their feet to the fire” to assure the Mayor and Council enforced the Clarifying Resolution’s 30′ maximum intrusion into the Park. When I asked Vince Riggi on May 4 if he recalls ever having the May 2019 Plan submitted to City Council, he wrote right back:
“I do not and I’m sure that is something I would not forget.
.
  • In addition, bolstering our expectation that the tree would be preserved, a plat of the project site submitted to the City in July 2017 showed the Grand Old Tree outside of the portion of parkland the City wanted to alienate to accommodate the new pump station. Click on the annotated detail to the right.
  • Moreover, the Old Tree stood well outside the 30-foot distance from the original fence that City Council requested not be exceeded without a public hearing on any further impingement into the Park. Measurements taken by myself and a neighbor in 2017 are seen in the photo immediately below. [At the bottom of our prior posting, you can read City Council’s June 12, 2017 Resolution, Res. 2017-179, with its stated intent to preserve Riverside Park parkland.]

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YES, ANOTHER RENDERING RUSE. Taking all of the above into consideration, and receiving no contrary claims from proponents of the new pump station, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the City Council, Stockade, and general public are the victims of a Rendering Ruse. “What’s that?”, you ask. This is my definition:

Rendering Ruse: The use of architectural renderings or engineering drawings that are submitted during a planning process, to gain favor for a project, that show important elements (whether treasured, beloved, historic, popular, etc.), being preserved in the finalized project, that are nonetheless gone when the project is completed.

The compromise leading to the June 12, 2017 Clarifying Resolution was praised by the pleasantly surprised Gazette Editorial Board (June 16, 2017). The editorial nonetheless cautions:

“opponents will still need to maintain the pressure to ensure the city keeps its pledges, including speaking out at the promised public hearing on any new design proposal.”

Clearly, we were not sufficiently vigilant, and were too trusting of a City Hall that has in no way earned that trust when it come to preservation in the face of “progress.”

. . click the collage thumbnails below to see more of the Grand Old Tree and its fate . .

. .

smallquestionmark (update: May 15, 2020): WHAT’s the STOCKADE ASSOCIATION DOING about this? The members of the Stockade Association [“SA”] are rarely asked their opinion on any topic. Instead, the SA Board normally acts on its own, without a significant attempt to ascertain what its members and others in the Stockade neighborhood and community would like to see done.*/ My subjective opinion, admittedly seen from the outside, is that the primary objective of the Association’s Board and Officers most often seems to be not upsetting City Hall, which has frequently been referred to as “Our Partner in Progress” by the Spy, SA’s official newsletter.

*/ Thus, e.g., Board members waited months before being embarrassed into notifying the neighborhood and fighting placement of a Pump Station on the West Lawn, which would have greatly harmed the Park; it was almost too late, but the SA and community acted with one, effective voice once finally roused (proving that strong advocacy can indeed work). In prior years, without first canvassing its members,  (1) the then-sitting Board told City Hall that there was no opposition to a 300-foot dock at Riverside Park (although, once allowed to voice their opinion, the neighborhood voted two to one against a dock); (2) Refused to even put the Casino application on the SA meeting agenda (although the Stockade election district had voted less than a year before against having any commercial casinos upstate). Indeed, before there even was a Casino Application from Schenectady, the sitting SA President (an appointee and supporter of Schenectady’s Mayor) told the Gazette a casino would be a very good thing and she could see no negatives for the Stockade; (3) Welcomed giant boulders at the end of each street along the Park; And, (4) were the only neighborhood association to support John Polimeni’s disastrous Sidewalk Assessment District Plan.

Here, the Board did not first engage the community in a conversation when faced with some serious questions from a number of residents about how the Grand Old Tree could be removed despite the renderings displayed in the last public plan, and why the Board failed to know about the May 2019 Plan, despite dozens of communications between the project leaders and SA officers. Instead, it composed and sent a Letter to the Mayor and City Council, dated May 8, 2020, which was sent by email to SA members but not to the far larger Listserve of Stockade residents and supporters, where the questions about the Earth Day tree removal and the secret surprise Plan had been raised. The Letter from the Board to City Hall:

  • BdLetterCovercalled the communications problems “a snag”
  • assured Mayor and Council they did not think there was any “bait-n-switch” despite the claims of some residents
  • pointed out that the public could have viewed the “plan” at City Hall [despite not knowing about it];
  • concluded that the overflow of more than 30 ft. into Riverside Park was consistent with the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, because it was underground, not above ground [rebutted in this email from David Giacalone]; and
  • noted that not telling the Association about the changes until last month was “a missed opportunity”: “If we had been told a year ago, we could have prepared residents for this change, pointed out to them that trees would be lost and given them some time to process the information.”

Of course, significant changes to an approved plan should be made public to give City Council, nearby residents, and other interested persons the opportunity to review them, raise concerns, and offer alternatives, and not so their “representatives” on the Board can prepare them emotionally for the negative effects. The “opportunity missed” by the Pumping Station engineers and proponents was the chance to respond a year ago to questions about the changes, and if facts and reasoning supported the changes, to thereby quell dissent.

  • 125NFerryMay2020update (May 30, 2020): Justifications given by a contractor for a significant change need to be evaluated and tested. For example, earlier this week, CHA engineer Miller told Emmanuel Maillet that the new pump station had to be located further north and west than in the October 2017 Plan, because the contractor could not get permission to stage construction along a strip of land belonging to the first house to the south of the lot., 125 No. Ferry Street. The owner of that house wrote a letter to the Gazette Editor, published on July 6, 2017,  strongly opposed to the new location on the old pump station lot.  Her unwillingness to cooperate should have been known long before May 2019. A number of observers believe that there were other options readily available at the site for staging that portion of the construction. Such options could have been considered, along with any added cost in dollars and time, in an attempt to mitigate the adverse impact of the May 2019 change in location. If the Council acts quickly, and finds insufficient justification for the changes in the May 2019 plan, it may not be too late to revert to the approved October 2017 Plan.

The proprietor of this website wrote an email to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger on the day their Letter to City Hall was written, May 8th, only having seen it because an SA member immediately forwarded the Letter to the Stockade Yahoo Listserve.  It has been a full week (Friday, evening, May 15, 2020), and SA President Unger has not responded in any way to my email and questions. (update: still no reply as of May 30, 2020) As the person who wrote the first draft of the Clarifying Resolution, and for many other reasons, I believe the May 2019 Plan violated that Resolution. I won’t go through my points again here, but urge you to read my email to Suzy Unger, if interested.

  • Click to see the SA Board’s May 6, 2020 Resolution explaining their conclusions, and authorizing the May 8 Letter to City Hall.  “Whereas” clauses in the Board Resolution twice use the phrase “building overflow”, saying its use in the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, Res. 2017-179, supports the conclusion that the 30-foot restriction on encroachment only applies to above-ground buildings. The word “building” does not appear in that final version of the Council Resolution, and was not in my first draft of that Clarifying Resolution. Of course, the underground part of the new Pump Station will also be a “building.” SA President Suzanne Unger has not replied to my inquiry as to the source of the phrase “building overflow.” At the bottom of our posting “What the Parkland Alienation Resolutions Mean” (June 13, 2017), you will see the official version of Res. 2017-179 from the City Code website, at 46-47; on May 13, 2020, City Clerk Samanta Mykoo confirmed that the version on the City website is correct).

Pulling off a Rendering Ruse is clearly easier to do when the neighborhood association chartered to “preserve, promote and improve” the district and neighborhood (and represent it to local government) treats the City rather than the neighborhood as its Partner.

OTHER RENDERING RUSES?  One factor favoring the Ruse conclusion here is that it seems to be part of a series of “rendering ruses” (misleading renderings) and similar bait-in-switch episodes in the recent history of Schenectady planning, development, and preservation. Were they intentionally deceptive or inadvertently (negligently) misleading? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

But, first, what is a rendering and what do I mean by a ruse?

Architectural rendering, architectural illustration, or architectural visualization is the art of creating two-dimensional images or animations showing the attributes of a proposed architectural design. (Wikipedia)

“Architectural rendering allows an architect to create two-dimensional animations or images with the main goal of showcasing all attributes that should be included in the final design.” (EasyRender.com)

A rendering can be used to communicate a project’s design to the end user. “Buy in” from users, whether employees, customers, or members of the general public, is frequently an important component of a successful project. Renderings can be shown to users during the design process to solicit their feedback, or at the end of the design process to educate users on how a new space will look or function. (SOA-Inc.com)

ruse: n. “a wily subterfuge” (Merriam-Webster)

Putting something the public (and City Council) wants preserved into a submitted rendering can avoid controversy that would be expected by the developer or City if the element were depicted as removed or destroyed in the construction of a project. Such a controversy might force project proponents to admit the loss of the treasured object, jeopardizing its approval, or delay the project for negotiations that might result in more expenses or much bitterness.

Here are some of the candidates for the Rendering Ruse category that have been documented at this website.

  . .

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my COVID Dreaming

. . a Wegmans, Not a Casino . .

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MH-Wegmans5e

Spending more time at home during the COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s difficult not to reflect on lost opportunities here in my adopted City. In a better world, a better City, our “leaders” and “planners” could have done so much better for the people of Schenectady. Imagine, a real supermarket near Downtown (with free shuttle buses) — maybe even a Wegmans, an essential business beloved by millions, not a parasite that fleeces grandma to lower property taxes, constantly seeks gaming tax reductions, feeds us half-truths, hides bad news, and bewitches our toady politicians, etc. etc.

And, I bet we’d still have public access to the Riverbank, and more green-space, even if we add an Aquatic Center, which would actually serve local residents and attract outsiders.

  1. casinoriverbankrenderingBefore the Casino and Galesi demanded the removal of guaranteed public access to the riverbank (and the Mayor and Gillen said “okay”, with Council sheep going along), they showed the image on the right of the Mohawk Harbor and its riverbank, not the inaccessible rip-rap monstrosity we have been stuck with.
  2. mohawkharbororiginalAlso, without a casino, more people would want to live there and be a base for real retail at the Harbor. Before Casino Frenzy gripped them, the Galesi Group proposed two River-House-sized apartment buildings for the site.

No, I don’t have a fever. But, I do have a dream. And, I want to remind our City and County leaders how much better it could have been, when they brag about “bringing” us a casino. Don’t forget: McCarthy left millions on the table.

follow-up (June 1, 2020): As I wrote today at my Facebook page, Mohamed Hafez again reminds us that Mayor Gary McCarthy’s biggest accomplishment was a losing bet, poorly played.

Gaz-LTE-MAH

brighten the mood in Schenectady, bring Lady Liberty Home

LL20Mar2020 . . DSCF5595

. . above (Friday evening, March 20, 2020): [L] Lady Liberty replica in the dark, in Exile at Erie Blvd. and Union Street; [R] well-lighted and empty central sculpture base at Lady Liberty’s real Home, Liberty-Gateway Park .. 

dscf5019As disrespectful as Lady Liberty’s current location is during the daytime (photo to the right), Her condition at night is even more deplorable. The answer is not to figure out lighting for that dismal spot that somehow plays down the inappropriate utility poles and boxes, and lamp posts of all kinds, and the nearby underpass, embankment-retaining wall, and parking lot. The answer is to move the replica statue to its original and intended location at Liberty Park in Gateway Plaza. The Central Sculpture base at Gateway-Liberty Plaza is a grand spot virtually identical with Her original location, visible from the major roadways and comfortably situated in the Park, with plenty of room for visitors standing or sitting, and with lighting that will illuminate the statue daily from sunset through the night.

. . For the Full Story, with a description, photos and links, of how Lady Liberty was Exiled by Mayor McCarthy, at the request of Mary Moore Wallinger, and contrary to the fully approved Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013), go to our posting:  https://tinyurl.com/DissedLady

below: Lady Liberty seen in 2016 at Her real Schenectady Home, Liberty Park, where she was intended to return after the reconfiguration and expansion of the Park into Gateway Plaza. [more images here]

LadyInHerPark2016

red checkOne very cost-effective way for our leaders to raise the spirits of the Schenectady Community as we face all the worries of the COVID-19 crisis, would be to have the Lady Liberty replica returned to Liberty Park, to demonstrate that the City of Schenectady honors its history and its promises, and listens to its people.

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Schenectady DRI should fine-tune our Real Downtown

. . and, stop favoring & subsidizing the Galesi-Casino Gang

SUMMARY: As has happened often in the last half dozen years, State, City and County officials in charge of development and planning appear to be putting the interests of the owners and developers of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino before sound planning principles and strategies and, more important, before the interests of the general public in Schenectady City and County. The ten million dollars available through Schenectady’s DRI [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] grant should be focused on further improving the handful of blocks that residents traditionally consider to be our Downtown, with more of the things that will enhance living, working, visiting, learning, playing, socializing, shopping and just strolling there. Schenectady DRI should refine our already revived Real Downtown, and not construct a fiction that stretches “Downtown” to Mohawk Harbor and invents a demand to walk to and spend money there.

DowntownSchdToHarbor

. . Above: The map returned when I asked Google Maps for the walking directions from Downtown Schenectady to Mohawk Harbor . . 

NOTE FYI: DRI Meetings have been postponed due to COVID-19 virus concerns.

DRI-postponed

It is impossible for outsiders to know the effects on Schenectady DRI of recent public discussion of Conflicts of Interest, and of the Favoritism and Implausible Assumptions discussed in thus posting.  I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues, and that concerned citizens voice their opinions.

 . .

. . above: views east (R) and west from State and Jay Streets

Jay Street Pedestrian Mall

When was the last time you were enjoying a visit to Downtown Schenectady, on the Proctors Block, at the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, or even Mill Lane’s Frog Alley, and thought, “Let’s walk down to Mohawk Harbor”? Did you add, “We could walk back here to our car, with shopping bags and a full tummy.”? And, did your companion enthusiastically reply, “Sure, it’s only a little over a mile, and it’s a charming walk”?

If such a conversation would seem as odd to you as it does to me, you might be surprised to know that the Schenectady Application for a DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant begins:

DRI Schenectady links the Proctors Block and Lower State Street via a rejuvenated Erie Boulevard as well as other connections to Mohawk Harbor which will be adding attractions and more visitors.

Moreover, in a section titled New Retail and Entertainment Development at Mohawk Harbor the Schenectady DRI Application also stresses (at 29; underscoring added):

DRI Schenectady is very focused on increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor, already the leading tourist destination in the Capital Region. With support of DRI funding, the team behind development of the existing Harbor site – the Galesi Group, Metroplex and Rivers Casino & Resort are planning the next phase of the development project. The concept is a 100,000 square foot development to be located between the existing casino and marina on land that borders the riverfront. The development would feature a mix of retail and entertainment tenants. The project is research and data driven.

over a mile on foot from Proctors

After two decades of truly revitalizing our “real” Downtown, and with fill-in and refinement projects readily apparent there and proposed for that part of our City, Metroplex and City Hall seem again to be abandoning sound planning principles and denying human nature to come to the aid of what I call the Galesi-Casino Gang.

Successful downtowns in small and medium-size cities are compact, with much to do and attract the eye within “walking distance”. As a Brookings Institute study states (at 13), “Walkable urbanism starts with urban entertainment venues and retail that are within walking distance of one another.” As a Wisconsin University article puts it: Communities with successful downtowns “have an expansive list of attractions and amenities that serve as pedestrian traffic generators. All are within walking distance of each other, creating tight and effective traffic generating zones.” They are, of course, echoing the advice of the legendary Jane Jacobs in her article “Downtown is for People.”

IMG_1098Despite this common sense approach to a successful Downtown, DRI Schenectady somehow equates “revitalization” of downtown with improved connection to Mohawk Harbor, while ignoring the Stockade neighborhood (and its Riverside Park, which already offers access for pedestrians to the Mohawk River and attractive green space). Instead, DRI Schenectady touts proposals to “Take advantage of existing opportunities to increase connectivity (Jay Connector, ALCO Tunnel)”. However, whether using Jay Street, the ALCO Tunnel, or the upgraded “Erie Corridor”, Mohawk Harbor is more than a mile away, with much of that distance having no shade and few “attractions”. [see the two Slideshows below of the Jay St. and Erie Blvd. routes] Sprinkling in “public art” and adding LED lights along the way won’t significantly change the appeal of such a long walk.

Mohawk Harbor is not “walking distance” from our newly revitalized Downtown!

No amount of wishful thinking will make Mohawk Harbor walking distance from our real Downtown for the vast majority of residents or tourists. For urban planning purposes,  “Walkable” does not mean “capable of being walked”. As the expert author of the Brookings study linked above puts it: “Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet [0.28 mi.]”, unless they are going to or from an alternative form of transportation (or engaging in an actual exercise routine).

  • At his weblog HumanTransit.org (April 24, 2011), public transit consultant Jarrett Walker concludes: “If you have to choose a single walking distance standard for all situations, the most commonly cited standard is 400m or 1/4 mi.  Europe tends to be comfortable with slightly longer distances.”
  • Of course, as a 2012 comprehensive study of walking distances concluded,

    “There is substantial variability in the distance and duration of walking trips by purpose and population subgroups.” . . .  . “The shortest distances and durations were observed for trips for meals. . . Shopping and dog-walking trips were only slightly longer in distance than trips for meals.”

  • For comparison to the 1.2-mile walk to Mohawk Harbor from Proctors, Frog Alley Brewing, at the evolving Mill Lane Artisan District on Lower State Street, is 0.3 miles from Proctors, and Gateway/Liberty Plaza is 0.4 miles from Proctors; Katie O’Byrnes on Erie Blvd (and Wall Street) is 0.2 miles; Yoga Bliss, south of State Street at 140 Erie Blvd. is 0.3 miles away; Great Flats Brewery on Lafayette at Franklin Street is less than 0.3.

Station-KatieO-2018 . . Katie O’Byrnes, just north of State St., seen the day the Train Station got its new golden dome . .

    • SchdyDRI-BoundaryWhat About the Stockade? For some reason, the Stockade Historic District is not part of the “DRI Schenectady DRI Boundary”. [map above] The Van Dyck Lounge with Mad Jack’s Brewery on Union Street near N. College is 0.4 miles from Proctors. Riverside Park, at the other extreme of the Stockade, which does offer a riverbank experience and open green space, is 0.7 miles from Proctors, but only 0.2 miles up Washington Avenue from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, and about 3/10th of a mile from Mill Lane.

Do the people of Schenectady really want to send business and foot-traffic from the Downtown core to Mohawk Harbor? By focusing on “increasing visitation to Mohawk Harbor”, the officials leading our local Government’s planning, development and policy efforts won’t simply be wasting dollars that could have genuinely improved our Downtown. They will be helping to generate the feared Substitution Effect: Substituting spending in and near a casino, or other private development, for the leisure time and money that would have been spent by residents at other local establishments.

Can existing (surviving) downtown businesses — eateries, retail merchandise shops, specialty boutiques, art galleries, etc. — withstand losing any significant amount of business to Mohawk Harbor? [For a smile, see Good for the Plywood Business, a poster from the successful campaign No Casino in Downtown Hamilton]

A DEMAND for MORE RETAIL at MOHAWK HARBOR?

Our DRI Leaders state there is a great excess demand for retail that justifies spending taxpayer funds to funnel people to the privately-owned Mohawk Harbor. They also note that Mohawk Harbor is already a “leading destination”, according to DRI leaders, in their Schenectady DRI Application:

The harbor is now home to Rivers Casino & Resort, two new hotels, a marina, over 200 new apartments, new condominiums, tech office buildings as well as greenspace and bike trails. The Harbor has clearly become a leading destination – an entertainment and tech center that is one of the largest and most successful waterfront developments in Upstate New York.

 

KarenZ-WCasinoPromisesIndeed, we are constantly told of the tens of thousand of people who go to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino and Hotel. At the end of the Jan. 27, 2020 City Council Meeting, Council member Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas told us (at 54:20 of the OSM video linked above) that Rivers hosted over 200 conferences, meetings and special events in 2019, “bringing over 20,000 people to Schenectady County”; that Landing Hotel is ranked 7th in Capital Region for overnight stays; that Rivers was the first upstate casino to host sports wagering (bringing in a new demographic group to the County); plus, the Casino holds its annual summer Harbor Jam series with live performances and large crowds at the Marina.

Yes, all those people are indeed coming to Mohawk Harbor (of course, many of those visitors already live in the City or County of Schenectady). But, the numbers do not appear to be creating a major demand for retail at Mohawk Harbor. Rivers Casino opened three years ago, followed about 2.5 years ago by its Landing Hotel, the Marina and Amphitheater, and River House (which has over 200 apartments). It also has a free trolley service from Downtown (heavily-subsidized by Metroplex and CDTA); a CYCLE! bike-share station; the ALCO Heritage Bike and Pedestrian Trail; and the advantage of the constant promotion of the Casino, its Convention Center and Hotel by the well-and-publicly–funded Discover Schenectady. Nonetheless, the very visible and tangible evidence does not support the claim of a great excess of retail demand at Mohawk Harbor. There is, instead, a great excess of empty retail space.

The evidence strongly indicates that the folks who are in, or wish to be in, a retail business have not seen the potential for success at Mohawk Harbor, despite the efforts and promises of the Galesi Group, Rush Street Gaming, and Metroplex, and a large quantity of free media that repeats Galesi and Casino promises like scripture. The evidence is not just the empty spots and filler signs on the giant pylon that Galesi Group demanded be placed on Erie Boulevard for Mohawk Harbor to advertise its retail tenants (photo at left, taken Feb. 28, 2020). It is the actual list of arguably “retail” establishments at Mohawk Harbor that belies the claims of Schenectady DRI, despite the site being a “leading destination” in the Capital Region. Outside of the Casino itself, with its eateries, and the Dunkin’ Donuts and Capitol Bank over by the Rotary, this is the full list of “retail” at Mohawk Harbor: as of the first week of March 2020, three years after the Casino opened:

  1. Druther’s restaurant and brew pub
  2. Shaker & Vine restaurant
  3. Ellis Urgent Care and Medicine

Instead of bustling retail outlets in the “125,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining,” promised at the Mohawk Harbor website, and in Planning and Council meetings, we have an unbroken array of empty storefront windows like we have not seen since the worst days of downtown Schenectady. (Actually, the percentage of empty storefronts in downtown Schenectady was never this bad.) Only the dumpster-style bright yellow bollards that are ubiquitous around the Casino [180 of them], present a design scheme as predominant at Mohawk Harbor as its blue and white Retail Space Available signs. Click on the following collage, which shows Harbor retail as of the end of February 2020.

. . east of the Shaker & Vine Restaurant there is no retail, either on the harbor front [above] or along Harbor Way [below], but only those blue signs and the stretches of banner paper hiding the empty storefronts . .

    • Also, I was surprised to learn this week, that the only non-food retail establishment inside the Casino, Splash Spa, closed in December 2018. In addition, not only has no spa or other retail establishment taken its place, the Casino’s Landing Hotel is also without a salon spa. Apparently, neither the Casino’s annual Luck Is a Lady event, nor other events aimed at women, has created a demand for time at the Spa before or after visiting the Casino, its Convention Center, or restaurants.
    • Similarly, a large sign went up quite awhile ago for a Nail Salon on the Erie Boulevard side of Harbor Center, along its parking lot. But, earlier this week there was still no indication of any work being done to prepare the inside for a business.

SuggestionBulb. . DRI should consider helping to fill the empty storefronts on the 200 Block of State St., truly in the heart of Downtown Schenectady .. 

DSCF5547. . DSCF5548 . . 200 State St. empty

. above: [L & M] 236 State St.; [R] 200 State St. .

SKEPTICAL about DEMAND for PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS

. . the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall looks and feels like a “downtown block”. . 

A recent photoshoot stroll up both Jay Street and Erie Boulevard north of Liberty Street leaves me very skeptical that there exists any significant demand from the public to walk the mile from our Real Downtown to Mohawk Harbor. More important, perhaps, there appears to be no amount of sprucing up (façade improvement, arrays of LED bulbs, a sprinkling of “public art”), or the other options suggested to and by DRI Schenectady, that would create that demand. There may be places along the non-downtown sections of Jay Street and Erie Boulevard that could be stand-alone destinations for a meal, or a history lesson, for those driving, biking, or coming from a walking distance, but that is a separate issue from (1) how to “revitalize” downtown, and (2) funneling visitors to Mohawk Harbor to help the bottom-line of our largest developer and its casino tenant.

Jay Street to Little Italy to ALCO Tunnel

Is there likely to be a demand to walk from our real downtown, up Jay Street and then through a lighted and refurbished ALCO Tunnel on the way to Mohawk Harbor? A stroll up Jay Street from its Pedestrian Mall to the abandoned ALCO Tunnel did not leave me convinced. What do you think?

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  • The ALCO Tunnel is 0.5 miles up Jay Street from Proctors Theater (a ten or eleven-minute walk). As a “connector”, the ALCO Tunnel would bring you out near the 1400 block of Erie Blvd. (across from Madison Street), at the former location of the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and the upcoming home of an AllTown Market. They are located an additional 0.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor Way (eleven minutes more). See image of Google Street Maps on the right of this blurb.
  • Pet Peeve, but Relevant to Desirable Walking Conditions: Unless you happen to be momentarily in the shade of a building, there is virtually no shade the entire way on Jay Street, nor up Erie Boulevard.

update (March 20, 2020): The larger of the two Italian restaurants in Schenectady’s already-disappointing Little Italy closed for good this week, with the NY Pause declared by Gov. Cuomo due to the COVID-19 crisis the last straw. Per an article in the Gazette, “We just couldn’t afford to keep it open,” said co-owner Connie Hume on Wednesday. [And see, Times Union and WRGB News6 coverage.]

 ERIE BOULEVARD NORTH OF LIBERTY STREET

. . above: elements of the “upgraded” Erie Blvd. touted by DRI: new sidewalks and crosswalks (some with talking-nagging walk signals); (too) many lamp-posts; and scrawny (often dead or dying) trees. .

the walk from Proctors to Mohawk Harbor

The Schenectady DRI Application gives this description of its vision for the Erie Boulevard connection to Mohawk Harbor [at 26; underscoring added]:

Erie Boulevard Updates

Erie Boulevard features new sidewalks, trees, LED lights, a new roundabout in front of Mohawk Harbor and many other upgrades. A new train station helps define the Erie corridor as a growing commercial area. Schenectady is grateful for the leadership of Governor Cuomo and NYS DOT in making the new train station a reality. As Erie is the main connecting road between Downtown and Mohawk Harbor, further upgrades need to happen as part of DRI Schenectady.

[The AMTRAK RAIL BRIDGE “Trestle”] There is a large Amtrak rail bridge that crosses Erie Boulevard and serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor. Within the next few months Amtrak, NYSDOT and the City of Schenectady will be working together to light up this bridge creating a visual linkage where a barrier now exists. In addition, a new $4 million Alltown Market will begin construction on Erie providing healthy food choices to local residents. [Ed. Note: It will apparently be a gas station and an upscale convenience store with tables.] This new market will be built on the site of a long vacant lumber yard.

Since its inception, Metroplex has successful[ly] administered a façade matching grant program. The program provides a 50/50 match to businesses that invest in improving their buildings with a special focus on the façade. To date, over 100 facades have been improved. If DRI Schenectady is funded Metroplex will place a special focus on completing facades along the Erie Boulevard corridor helping to improve the visual appeal and commercial viability of this corridor. The goal would be to complete 10 facades at a cost of $750,000 in matching funds.

[Editor’s Trestle-Bridge Dissent: It is hard to agree with the DRI notion that the Amtrak Trestle bridge over Erie Blvd., just north of Union Street, “serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor“. The bridge itself is, in my opinion, about the only element of visual interest as you walk or drive from Liberty Street up Erie Blvd. The trestle camouflages the blandness of Erie Boulevard heading toward the Harbor. Immediately below is a view of the trestle when coming up Erie Blvd. [R], and the “streetscape” that you see when leaving the underpass — which basically would be the view without the trestle as you pass Union Street. 

             . .

The problem is not that the trestle-bridge is a visual barrier. The trestle’s underpass is an aesthetic and safety barrier that few people would use if it can be avoided. The walls of the underpass are so dirty and ugly, and its sidewalks so narrow and unkempt (with leaves, debris and snow virtually never removed along the walls), as speeding traffic swoops past the pedestrian. The failure to address these issues already, given the millions spent to upgrade the Boulevard, strongly suggests the lack of interest by residents or tourists in walking up Erie Boulevard any serious distance. Even if totally spruced up, of course, it cannot “funnel” people who do not want to walk the distance to Mohawk Harbor from Downtown. It might, however, make it more pleasant to get to Mike’s for a hotdog or bagel, Stewart’s for some ice cream (if it remains after the Alltown Market convenience store opens on the next block), or Morrette’s for a steak sandwich.

Erie Boulevard, north of the busy State State intersection and the Schenectady Train Station at Liberty Street, seems far from a natural connector or bridge for pedestrians to Mohawk Harbor. Check out this Slideshow tour, and see what you think.

. . this Slideshow has photos from a walk north on Erie from Liberty to Rush St. 

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 . . click on the Schdy DRI Feb. Power Point for many of the finalist proposals . . 

This set of square tiles contains photos from my return stroll from the Rotary back to Liberty Street on February 28, 2020. It seems to be a long and uninteresting walk, because it is. Click on a tile for a larger, full version of the photo. Go left to right to follow the route.

.

remaining Harbor “green space” 24Feb2020

GREEN-SPACE at MOHAWK HARBOR

. . above: Google Satellite View of Mohawk Harbor, showing remaining green-space in the northeast section of the project. 

. . below: DRI description of Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Development.

. . see p. 75 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation . .

Because the Casino Applicant demanded so much ground-level parking, Mohawk Harbor has far less green space than one would have expected at Schenectady’s only remaining location for waterfront development. The Casino also got concessions allowing bigger footprints for its buildings in exchange for adding amenities for the public. (The bike-ped trail mandated in our Code is indeed an amenity, but instead of fully providing funding for it, the developer allowed the State and County taxpayer to pay 85 or 90% of the cost.)

The authors of the Schenectady DRI Application seem to be proud of the Harbor’s green-space. Yet, they propose to allow and subsidize a giant Entertainment and Retail complex, 100,000 sq ft., that would take over much, if not most, of the remaining Mohawk Harbor green-space. To permanently remove such a large portion of the open space at Mohawk Harbor for a use that has no water-front value, and no unique contribution to the City, County, or Region, seems unwise. We should also ask whether, like the Harbor Center buildings and River House, Metroplex plans to give a PILOT or other property tax breaks on the new entertainment-retail complex.

Choosing the Galesi-Casino Harbor Entertainment Development proposal is inappropriate, for at least three other reasons of policy and equity:

1] The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming greatly reduced the amount of green-space at the Harbor, diminishing its attractiveness, and restricting the ability of the public to enjoy a riverbank experience:  They did that damage by insisting that City Council remove from the then-existing Waterfront District Zoning Code, the requirement that any developer at the old ALCO plant location: File a permanent easementfor the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep. [see screen image of former code provision on the right].

Did that change matter for the aesthetics and enjoyment of the waterfront? The first image below is the rendering submitted by the Rivers Casino applicants following the Waterfront District C-3 Code at the time of the application:

We did not receive an attractive, gently sloping, landscaped riverbank, suitable for picnics, frolicking and play, strolling, sitting and reclining, romance, etc.. Instead, Galesi Group, the Casino, Metroplex, our Planning Commission and Office, and Mayor McCarthy, removed the public access requirement, and ignored the Zoning Code mandates to preserve as much as possible of the natural features of the riverbank, and to place the Trail as close as reasonably possible to the riverbank. As a result, they allowed this to happen to our only potential spot for additional riverfront public access and enjoyment:

 . .

  • In addition, City Hall and Metroplex allowed the developer to locate the bike-ped path closer to that steep riprap bank than was allowed under the amended Code the Casino Gang dictated to City Council. (See our post, “Restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor”  (Aug. 10, 2015). After pressure from the editor of this website for quick action to remedy the hazard caused by the steep slope, the County installed a fence for the safety of the public (on foot or bikes, or wheelchairs), but violated required standards for structures along a bike path — putting the fence only two feet away from the path (instead of 3 to 5 feet), leaving very little space for a cyclist needing to quickly avoid others users on the path, and for the public to view the River safely and comfortably when standing along the fence. (See our post, “Poorly-planned safety fence going up along Mohawk Harbor Trail” (Oct. 15, 20,18).
  • This collage OpEd asks why Rush Street would deny public access to the riverfront to the people of  Schenectady, while doing so much for the public at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, spending millions to improve and enlarge already impressive riverbank access.

The answer, from my perspective, is that the Mayor and Metroplex, and City Council, gave in to every demand of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, and failed to follow industry practice (and common sense) by demanding extra payments and protections for Schenectady and its citizens, when they approved the casino license Application and major zoning code changes. Despite all that Rush Street gives and offers to other host cities, they let the Casino Gang treat Schenectady like a Second-rate City. (See our posting, “Rush Streets giveaways

    • Here’s a telling (and ironic) bit of the McCarthy Administration’s developer-oriented urban planning: When I complained at a public meeting in 2015 that the amendments were taking away guaranteed public access to the riverfront, the then-Director of the Planning Office replied to me and the public that “they will have access to the retail” at the Harbor.

2] After supporting removal of the public access guarantee to the waterfront, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen of Metroplex came up with the misleading argument that having a Large Vessel Dock would assure “total public access to the riverfront.” [2018 rendering below] Based on that bogus, and easily rebutted claim, City Hall and Metroplex originally proposed such a project for Schenectady DRI.  However, other State funding has been secured for the project outside of DRI, meaning that $2 million of public funds from another source will be used to build a 680-foot long, 12-ft. wide, large vessel dock (with no railing, of course) along Mohawk Harbor. It will surely benefit Mohawk Harbor and owners of large vessel boats. For a partial list of the reasons why it is unlikely that a significant portion of the public will be able to enjoy the safe and secure use of such a dock, see our post “The large vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor” (July 24, 2018).

3] While seeking Schenectady DRI and other subsidies for a large entertainment center, Rush Street Gaming’s Pittsburgh Casino announced last October, that for the tenth straight year, it was contributing $7.5 million (in two $3.525 million donations each year) for Pittsburgh’s existing, grand sports and entertainment center, PPG Paints Arena, to help cover its original construction costs. The donations will continue for 25 more years. (Note: In case you wonder, Rush Street pays higher gaming tax rates on slots and table games in Pennsylvania than it does in New York on its Schenectady Casino revenues.) When it comes to making gifts and donations, Rush Street Gaming treats Schenectady like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. When, however, it comes to asking for and accepting money, Schenectady’s generous Mayor and Metroplex Chair seem to be Rush Street’s Daddy Warbucks.

 

Capital Region AQUATIC CENTER  . .

If some of Mohawk Harbor’s remaining green-space is to be sacrificed, it should be for a project that offers unique services to the people of our community and the Capital Region, as well as attracting and serving visitors. If it also provides water-related activities, that would be a plus. Using those criteria, the DRI proposal at Mohawk Harbor that suits the public interest far better than a Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Complex is the CAPITAL REGION AQUATIC CENTER, even though it will not be located at the core of our downtown. [see page 66 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation]  Also see, “Aquatic center proposed on Schenectady waterfront gains $250K grant” (Daily Gazette, John Cropley, March 3, 2020). The Gazette article reports that:

The Capital Region Aquatic Center’s . . . would feature four pools for training, competition and diverse swim programs such as learn-to-swim, exercise and rehabilitation.

Plans also include spectator seating, classroom areas, meeting rooms, aquatic-focused exercise and weight room, studio/multi-purpose area, pro shop, concessions area and locker rooms.. .

In another boost, the Wright Family Foundation of Schenectady announced a $3 million grant in October.

Read about the Aquatic Center’s history and mission, here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy posting. Your (civil) comments are welcome. If you agree, please let the DRI Local Planning Committee, the Mayor and City Council, and the media, know. I plan to add updates and follow-up thoughts to this post.

 . . share this post with this short URL: IMG_1801 https://tinyurl.com/RealDowntown . . 

. . Many thanks to Google Maps for assisting in making this posting . .

update: Sunday, March 8, 2020: See the Gazette article by Pete DiMola, “As priority projects come into focus, Schenectady DRI panelists could have conflicts of interest“. There’s a lot to consider in the piece. This excerpt gives a taste of the complexities:

But roughly a quarter of the 16-member panel tapped with making the final decisions represent organizations who are not only jostling for funding, but are also actively pitching projects themselves.

They include the city, Proctors, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, Rivers Casino & Resort and Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority.

Driving pedestrian traffic between downtown and Mohawk Harbor is the centerpiece of the effort.

David Buicko, CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort, is co-chair of the panel.

Also, see Saturday’s Guest Column by former Union College President, and Mayoral candidate, Roger H. Hull, “Don’t emulate Washington on ethics transparency,” which also raises conflict of issues statements, especially re the leaders of Galesi Group and Proctors being on the Local Planning Committee. Dr. Hull ends the column with these observations:

HullOpEd7Mar2020Yet, even if they recuse themselves, the process would be tainted, since it would be easy to game the system. It would be best for them to resign, if their organizations are possible recipients of the grant.

A lack of transparency and conflicts of interest are troubling issues—or at least they should be. In the past, they were, but not today.

In the age of Trump, those issues are, seemingly, of no concern to most people.

In Schenectady, ethics and legal norms should be retained.

We would all benefit, and we might even serve as a much-needed model for Washington.

DRIPlanningCmteBLATANT CONFLICTS. Dave Buicko is CEO of the Galesi Group, which developed and owns Mohawk Harbor, and was the main spokesperson pushing the Casino application forward in 2014 and thereafter related Zoning changes and site plans, etc. As stressed above, the primary focus of DRI Schenectady is “increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor“. Nonetheless, Mr. Buicko was made co-Chair of the DRI Planning Committee. And, Mayor McCarthy (who is seeking funding on behalf of the City), is the other co-chair. Mr McCarthy told the Gazette that he wants the Committee’s recommendations for projects that will receive grants to be bundled into a single vote. Doing that, of course, will mean that the final vote will allow Committee members with conflicts of interest, even if they have previously recused themselves on particular proposals, to vote for them as part of a “bundle” of projects.

If ever there were a situation ripe for “horse trading”, it is DRI Schenectady. Too many committee members (click on above image) are directly involved with proposals, and too many others are beholden to, or seeking favors from, the City, Metroplex, Rivers Casino, the Galesi Group and Proctors, to believe that an objective assessment of the public interest will drive the outcome. 

How else but from the now-habitual McCarthy-Metroplex “done deal” perspective, with McCarthy and Gallen “snowmen” selected for panels, can the public understand how the primary goal of DRI Schenectady could be driving customers away from our core downtown to Mohawk Harbor, a private development situated over a mile from the Real Downtown Schenectady?

  • honestThere are far too many examples of misleading, half-true, or simply erroneous  claims surrounding Mohawk Harbor and the Casino for me to supply them in this posting. Browsing this weblog will give the reader a good taste (well, actually, a bad taste for our City Hall). But, here are three quick but relevant examples:  (1) A few years ago, the initial online brochure for Mohawk Harbor stated that it was located “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” (2) At one time it was claimed that Rivers Casino is located “across the street” from the new Train Station. And, (3) Dave Buicko (rather than the Planning Office staff) was allowed to present the large packet of amendments to the City’s Waterfront District zoning Code in 2015. The Galesi Group CEO told the Planning Commission and City Council that the amendments were mainly minor and technical, despite among other things, removing guaranteed public access to the waterfront, permitting 80-foot rather than 7-foot signs, allowing 19,000 rather than 250 square feet of signage, and completely removing the Casino from the Signage portion requirements of the City’s Zoning Code. (See our descrption of the Planning Commission Special Meeting that approved the Amendments: “Schenectady’s Waterfront Zoning: A rubber stamp in a company town?” (Jan. 29, 2015). With “alternate facts” like these coming from City Hall and its favorite “partners”, who needs actual facts when doling out $10 million taxpayer dollars?

follow-up (March 21, 2020): Thank you, Daily Gazette for publishing my Letter to the Editor today, “Invest state funds in our ‘real’ downtown” (at D2):

DRI-RealDowntown

our slip ‘n’ fall sidewalk plan was no accident

See our posting “Can the sidewalk plan be repaired?” for a summary of the situation as of Jan. 29, 2020.

 

The City of Schenectady government slipped and fell hard on its collective butt in orchestrating completion of the first block of sidewalks under its Sidewalk Assessment District Plan. Of course, it is the Petitioners on Ardsley Rd., and eventually Schenectady taxpayers, who will feel the pain. The new Ardsley Rd. sidewalks on the block from Union St. to Rugby Rd. are apparently fine, but the failure to inform the Homeowners of the surprisingly high cost may doom the entire Sidewalk Program, which relies on property owners convincing their neighbors to participate with predictions of big savings.

. . share this post with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkFiasco

The Sidewalk Plan was controversial for being adopted by City Council without needed details and explanation (see Gazette article, March 13, 2019; click to see the disappointing Explanation of the Plan provided to the Council and the public by sponsor John Polimeni). Nevertheless, there was nothing inevitable about the “slip ‘n’ fall” calamity that happened on the way to replacing and billing for the new sidewalks on Ardsley Road. See our discussion here for full details; and “City hits speed bump with sidewalk program” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Jan. 3, 2020); “Foss: City’s new sidewalk program a disappointment” (Sunday Gazette, by Sara Foss, Jan. 5, 2020).

 Even after the Sidewalk Plan was prematurely brought up for a vote and adopted by the City Counsel in a 4-3 vote in March 2019 (with Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Marion Porterfield voting No ), there were many points at which the outcome of the first completed block — an approved Contractor Bid with Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Costs 84% higher than Plan sponsor John Polimeni’s estimates, and initial Annual Bills calculated at an even higher rate, with no prior warning to Homeowners — could and should have been avoided.

On the other hand, the excessive cost to the Ardsley Rd. homeowners, and failure to keep them informed, was not an accident, either. It was due to deliberate choices made by the two City officials most actively engaged in the Sidewalk District Assessment Plan: Council member John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin, along with secondary negligent oversight by the remaining Council members.

Part of the problem might have been that Prof. Polimeni believed, as he told a Gazette reporter last March, that “the process would be ‘relatively easy’ despite the numerous city agencies involved”, and “It’s not your typical runaround sometimes you get.” Nonetheless, relatively easy or not:

Ardsley Road Contractor Bid

  1. NO WEBPAGE. The promise of City Officials (mentioned in the Gazette last March) to “attempt to quickly add a section to the city’s website about frequently asked questions concerning the program,” was never fulfilled.
  2. MAY 1 DEADLINE. The first deadline set by the City Engineer, May 1, for completed Petitions was only 6 weeks after the Plan was passed by the Council, helping to assure that the first bid request would involve only one block’s Petition.
  3. ONLY ONE BID. When only one Contractor submitted a Bid for the Ardsley Road project, the Plan administrators pushed ahead, rather than waiting until more Petitions were ready for a joint bid request, even if that meant waiting until Spring for the projects to be started.
  4. 84% HIGHER. When the single bid for Ardsley Road came in with prices to the Homeowner 84% higher than the Polimeni estimates given in the Plan Statement earlier in the year, the cost overage was
    1. Never brought to the attention of the full City Council
    2. Never used as a reason to delay the Plan implementation
    3. NO DISCLOSURE. More importantly, never revealed to the Ardsley Street homeowners, despite requests by Homeowners for cost information throughout the summer.
  5. SidewalkCmteMtgPREMATURE COMMITTEE VOTE: When Mr. Wallin presented the Contractor Bid for approval and award of the Contract (at City Council Committee Meeting for Sept. 3, 2019), neither he nor Mr. Polimeni alerted Council members, and the viewing public, that the Homeowners had not yet seen the dollar figures, much less been given the chance to withdraw their Petition. And,
    1. LAST-MINUTE SUBMISSION. Wallin did not submit the focus of the Presentation, the actual Contractor Bid, for Council members to review until the start of his 15-minute presentation to the Council Members on Sept. 3, 2019.
    2. NOT “ALMOST EXACT”. Mr. Wallin specifically told City Council members prior to asking for the Committee approval of the Bid, that that the Bid “comes in almost exactly at our construction estimate, based on our historic experience.” Intentionally or not, Wallin seems to have confused the historic cost of $80 per square yd. that was used in Polimeni’s Estimates, with the Bid price of $81.71 per linear foot, which resulted in a cost 84% higher than the Polimeni Estimates. Or, as he has done before, Mr. Wallin said the Party line to support a favorable vote.
    3. SILENT PROFESSOR. At no point did Mr. Polimeni, chair of the Finance Committee and sponsor of the request for bid approval, correct the mis-impressions presented by Mr. Wallin, leaving some Council members unaware of the failure to present the Bid numbers to the Homeowners, and unaware of the giant cost increase from Plan estimates.
      1. AND, FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS: It is very difficult to believe that the two other members of the Finance Committee, John Mootooveren and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, allowed this matter to be placed on the Council Committees agenda without knowing how high the price would be for the Homeowners and without asking whether the Homeowners were ever told of the Bid results. If they knew the situation, they are also at fault for failing to inform the rest of the Council before they all voted to accept the Bid and award the construction contract.
  6. CONSENT AGENDA. Still not informed of the mis-impressions stated above, on September 9, 2019, the City Council approved the bid and contract award presented at the Sept 3. Committees meeting, with the Resolution placed on the Consent Agenda and no public discussion.
    1. There is no indication that any of the Ardsley Rd. Homeowners were notified formally or informally of their Contract Bid being on the Sept. 3 or Sept. 9 agendas.
  7. KEPT IN THE DARK. At the time construction of the sidewalk project began in October, the affected Homeowners were still unaware of the cost increase. And, they were never shown or told of the higher prices after the project was completed in November and into December.
  8. SURPRISE BILLS. When they received their bills in late December from the City for the first of ten annual Sidewalk Payments, the Ardsley homeowners had still not been shown the approved Contractor Bid Sheet, and were given no explanation for the amount they were charged, which was about $100 per ft., another 25% higher than the Contrator Bid “Total Resident Cost” of $81.71 per foot of sidewalk.
  9. TOP SOIL? Mayor McCarthy stated the extra cost was due to unexpected tree removal and landscaping expenses. But, the Contractor Bid specifies that Tree Removal was a City Share expense (see detail from Bid to the Left), not a Homeowner Expense. And the $81.71 price per foot already included seed and topsoil expenses, and has no provision for adding on unexpected costs. See image to Left. update (Jan. 23, 2020): Mayor McCarthy, along with Ed Kosiur, have kept up the refrain that the Ardsley bills were so high because of unexpected Tree Removal and Top Soil & Seed costs. See “Schenectady Mayor promises to fix troubled sidewalk program” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 23, 2020). The detail from the Contractor Bid above in ¶8 shows that the total Top Soil and Seeds cost in the Bid came to under $4000, only 3.3% of the $116,435 total cost to residents.

. . Ardsley Rd. Homeowners generally like the new sidewalks, but they cannot forget how poorly they were treated during this “pilot” block project . . 

Why would City Hall treat the Homeowners on the Ardsley Road Petition so shabbily? It is difficult to believe that John Polimeni and Chris Wallin are too ignorant of fair play and good government processes to accidentally keep the Residents and the Council informed.  If nothing else, Mr. Polimeni was being asked for the bid/cost information before and after the sidewalks were completed. Wallin said he wanted to beat the winter weather, but that assumes there was some great disadvantage to waiting until Spring. The only reason that makes sense to me is that Polimeni (and probably his Party leaders) wanted the block to be a milestone to point to in the Election.

ardsley-campaignsign

follow-up (Jan. 11, 2020): CITY COUNCIL ADDRESSES THE ARDSLEY BILLS

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Olaf at the gates

IMG_0695-001   .  snowmencameo

IMG_0696Olaf-001 As you may know, given the name of this weblog and its content, the proprietor believes Schenectady has been suffering the ill effects of having Snowmen at its Gates since the tragic night of the February 8, 1690 Massacre, when the appointed sentries were having a drink at the Mill Lane pub, and only two snowmen were “guarding” the Stockade gate.*/  Naturally, the Stockade and its Gate, along with the guards, were meant to protect the residents of Schenectady.

Harkening to that history, we fervently believe our current Mayor-for-Life Gary McCarthy, in addition to supporting the new craft brewery at Mill Lane, vastly prefers appointing and re-appointing “snowmen” — silent, deaf, and weaponless citizens, who melt if subjected to heat — to Schenectady’s Boards and Commissions, and naming managers to important City jobs with similar attributes. The result is “enforcement” of Schenectady’s laws and regulations that appears to serve the Mayor’s favorite causes, people and enterprises, rather than serving the public interest. See, our Snowmen Effect Category of posts, and “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission“.

*/ By the way, the Stockade gates had been left wide open on the night of the 1690 Massacre, inviting attack, because the mostly-Dutch villagers did not like having a newly-appointed Englishman in charge. So, they ignored his orders to remove the high snow blocking the entryway.  As a result, Indian scouts reported back to their French commanders that the Schenectady gate was wide open, while Albany was well-guarded, making Schenectady the better choice for attack.

OlafVita We are also quite keen on irony and twists of humor here at Snowmen at the Gates. So, this week, it was with a gleam in our eyes that we spotted Frozen‘s famous snowman Olaf “guarding” City Hall. More precisely, an ice sculpture of Olaf by Charlie Jones, of “The Ice Man Custom Ice Sculptures“, was on duty near the main entry stairway on Jay Street, a leftover feature of last Saturday’s City Hall-iday“.

IMG_0695OlafHead-missing

  • IMG_0695OlafHead Adding another element of either irony or reality to our Snowmen at the Gates theme, the top of Olaf’s head was leaning against the base of the sculpture when I arrived. Whether the victim of vandals, Mayoral edict, or strong sunshine, we do not know. While taking pictures, I decided to move the head over a bit to permit the character’s name to be read again by passersby.
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Here in Schenectady, however, an Ice Olaf gives cold reassurance to a populace about to endure four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. To overcome the curse of the Snowmen at the Gates, we need strong warm bodies at City Hall, with open minds, eyes and mouths, equipped with fully-operating and courageous brains. Is that too much to wish for in this Season of Hope?
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P.S. To help celebrate Olaf’s visit to our lovely Downtown, I have put together this one-page 2020 calendar, formatted for an 8×10″ print, for you to download and use for any non-commercial purpose.
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2020Downtown-Olaf
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OlafIceMan. . . The Ice Man’s finished product

more squawkable than walkable

DSCF5301  .  Union at Erie and Lady Liberty

. . above: always-scary Erie Blvd. at Union St 10 AM: [L] sw corner unshoveled with giant snow mound blocking access to pedestrian signal; [R] se corner, ditto. As of 5:15 PM, conditions were unchanged.

Union St betw S. College and Erie Blvd. The sidewalks from College St. to Erie Blvd. were also unshovelled. The south side borders a City parking lot.

 

 

 

SnowySchdyStroll

Jan. 13, 2019

I would not have been walking around Downtown Schenectady at about 9 AM today (Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019), if I did not have a medical appointment at Liberty and Lafayette Streets. A similar appointment after a snowstorm early this year yielded a dreary walk hobbled by intersection after intersection inhospitable to pedestrians. [click on collage thumbnail to the left] Sadly, despite million$ spent to be a $mart City, all the same problems were on display today. See examples above and below.

. . Click on a photo for a larger version . . 

Here are two of the corners at City Hall at 10 AM:

Jay St. and Liberty . . in front of Pho Queen at Liberty and State

corner at City Hall .. crosswalk at Liberty and Clinton

 Post Office at Liberty and Jay Streets . . Post Office at Liberty & Jay

 

 

 

Jay at Liberty - P.O.

. . below: Seward & Tubman got plowed in at the Library:Seward-Tubman in snow bank

What about Erie Boulevard and State Street, our busiest intersection? Well:

SE State & Erie . .State & Erie - Wedgeway 

The sidewalks along our new Train Station were equally forgotten:

Erie sidewalk at Train Station. . sidewalk on Erie at Train Station

 

SW Erie at Liberty

SW Erie at Liberty

And, if you want to park along State Street or Liberty or other places with the Pay Parking Kiosks, you could walk quite a way to find entrance to a sidewalk, and still need very high boots to make a payment (and then walk back to place your receipt in your car, etc.)

DSCF5328 . .State St. across from Proctors - problems for parkers 

This Sideshow has all of the above photos, and more.

  • for a larger version of a photo in the Slideshow, pause on the photo, right-click and choose Open Image in New Tab.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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As the City tells us of the wonders and benefits of being a Smart City, with services assumed to be provided more efficiently, let’s talk about the need for Boots on the Ground to make our Downtown safely and conveniently walkable.

shovel follow-up (Dec. 5, 2019): As of the end of the afternoon yesterday, Tuesday, December 4, 2019, most of the trouble spots at corners described above had been addressed by the City (or others), although the Seward-Tubman statues were still plowed in. However, around 5 PM, there were at least three places that I saw in a quick walk around the block needing further snow removal in the Stockade near Washington Ave., Union Street, and Front and N. Church Streets.

Here’s my email message late last night to a few City Officials and the press, along with attached photo collages (click on a collage for a larger version):

Begin forwarded message:
From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: more Stockade snow removal needed
Date: December 4, 2019 at 11:35:05 PM EST
Cc: Pete DeMola <pdemola@dailygazette.net>, “Nelson, Paul” <pnelson@timesunion.com>, Sara Foss <sfoss@dailygazette.net>

 

The photos below were taken late Wednesday afternoon, December 4, after snow removal trucks and crew worked along Washington Avenue and Front Street in the Stockade.

Please send the crews back to finish the job. As further shown in the collages below, the locations involved include:
1] Cucumber Alley. The Dec. 2-3 snow was plowed only halfway into the Alley, and pushed into a snowbank left at the spot where plower stopped. There is no access for vehicles or pedestrians to the River end half of the Alley, and two feet of snow still blankets that end of the Alley on its paved sections.
2] The NE corner of Union St. and Washington Ave. has been left with plowed snow blocking all pedestrian access to the street. This location is directly across from the YWCA, with its child care center.
3] The corners at North Church Street where it ends at Front Street. Snow plows pushed snow onto both corners, allowing no pedestrian access to or from the sidewalks or the street.
Please direct work crews back to these locations and problems.
David Giacalone
16 Washington Ave. Apt. 3, at Cucumber Alley

CucAlley4Dec2019

update (Dec. 12, 2019): On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, one week after the email message above (and another the morning of Dec. 11), Cucumber Alley was finally unencumbered of the snowbank blocking the second half of the Alley from vehicle and foot traffic. To wit:

CucAlley11Dec2019PM

Should we be optimistic about the next big snow storm?

Neither of the two other problems depicted below were remedied as of Thursday afternoon, December 12.

 

WashAv-UnionSt4Dec2019

NChurch-Front4Dec2019

DSCF5444followup (December 30, 2019): My photoshoot on December 26 of the new mural welcoming people to the East Front Street Neighborhood (see posting at “suns along the Mohawk”) was momentarily stymied when I came upon this frozen reminder of the infamous December 1, 2019 Not-So-Smart-City snowstorm (photo on the right), and its aftermath and uproar, with its unplowed streets, plow-created obstacles, and un-shoveled sidewalks. This particular sidewalk runs along City property (the Front Street Pool lot). I ended up crossing the street and shooting from the opposite side of the underpass. Today, Dec. 27, I sent a photo and a plea for help to Paul Lafond, General Services Commissioner. Twelve minutes later, Mr. Lafond wrote back that he sent out a crew to handle the problem. I appreciate the quick reply, of course, but do not believe residents should have to report problems that City workers and City Smart Cameras must have seen for three weeks.

Council, do your Smart City Homework

update (Oct. 29, 2019): With the support of his Four Sure Votes, the Mayor got $2 million more to spend on his “Smart City” project, and the people of Schenectady got left in the dark with the bill to pay. See “City Council adopts spending plan” (Gazette, by Pete DeMola). It is clearer than ever that wise voters must “break up the Mayor’s Council-clique“.

Saturday, October 26, 2019:

. . . . Yesterday afternoon, I sent an email Letter with Appendix (see below) to Schenectady City Council President Ed Kosiur, and others. My recommendation was that the Council first do its Smart City Homework before allotting another large budget item for the Mayor to use in his Smart City efforts. Unfortunately, as a Gazette article reports (online, Sat. AM, Oct. 26, 2019), the Mayor’s automatic Rump Majority, led by Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni, ignored its responsibilities, and are prepared to force through more Smart City dollars at the Council Meeting on Monday, despite the efforts of Council Members Riggi, Perazzo and Porterfield.

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight . . .
. . above: Mayor McCarthy on primary night, with his 4-person Rump Majority standing behind him . . 
From: David Giacalone
Subject: Please hold up the $2M until you do your Smart City Homework
Date: October 25, 2019 at 1:58:55 PM EDT
To: Ed Kosiur <ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov>, et al
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Dear Council Members:
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  • Wise Cities know which experts to consult with first: the residents. (see Appendix Item #1 below)
The Mayor and Council recently announced plans to finally hold publc informational meetings about our Smart City program. Late is surely better than never, unless the cyber-security, data-privacy, and citizen-trust horse has already left the barn.
 
Sinking more money into Smart Cities before an informed public discussion seems like an act of disrespect to your residents. At the very least, isn’t it poor planning to earmark $2,000,000 Smart City dollars for the Capital Fund before finding out what your residents and electorate want from Smart City technology and what limitations they feel are needed on the use of the data? 
 
That is especially true when Mayor Gary McCarthy has apparently felt no obligation to even keep the Council President, much less the entire Council, in the loop when he is deciding on Smart City purchases and strategies. When venders are called “technology partners” and the notion of making revenue from collected data bandied about freely, doesn’t this Council want to create guidelines, regulations, and protections before allowing even more unsupervised spending on Smarty City initiatives? 
 
  • Until you each know what information is being collected, and whether it could be used by outsiders to identify individuals, especially if cross-referenced with other data sources, you should not be thinking of writing another big Smart Cities check.
    • Do you know, for instance, what sorts of information is being collected by the City’s WiFi stations, and whether that data might be misused? E.g., do our sensors keep a record of which smartphones are passing by?
 
WHAT HOMEWORK?  Council members need to know enough about the facts and issues presented by Smart City technology that you feel ready to spend significant amounts of money constructing a system that will affect the welfare and finances of your City and its citizens for many decades to come. Are you there yet? Or, is it “merely” another two million dollars? 
 
From the perspective of many experts, you have not done your Smart City Homework if you have not had meaningful discussion with well-informed residents. The failure to have the public conversation about what the public wants and does not want, with open discussion of the privacy and data risks, and installation of real cybersecurity measures, should mean that no additional money, or only small amounts of targeted funds, be authorized at this time. 
 
Please read the summaries of three thoughtful Smart Cities articles that are presented in the Appendix below.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration,
.
David Giacalone, Schenectady NY
 

P.S. In a thought-provoking article that is discussed in the “Appendix” below, I was concerned to see this sentence: “These technologies range from the mundane (speed cameras) to the fantastical (“Streetlight hubs that host WiFi nodes, license plate readers, environmental sensors, and gunshot detectors)”. The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards(Washington Lawyer, Nov. 2018P). Note that Schenectady already has that “fantastical technology”, but with no transparency, public input, or disclosure of how security, privacy, and consent are being handled.

 
APPENDIX
 
1] The article “Smart cities: good decision-making vital for turning technology into real solutions (from Urban Hub) offers advice that seems worth taking, using the experience of Boston, Massachusetts:
  • The technology disrupting urban living today undoubtedly has the potential to improve quality of life, but exactly how that happens still boils down to good decision-making.
  • Boston’s Smart City Playbook brings up one central question time and again: “What can it do for us?” Whether talking about building a platform, collecting big data, or boosting efficiency, the playbook insists on a strategy built from the bottom up. A similar approach called The Clever City also advocates downsizing before upsizing.
        And, especially:
  • Boston knows which experts to consult with first: the residents.
 
2] Another resource that I hope you will study before appropriating the $2 million is the article “I’m an Engineer, and I’m Not Buying Into ‘Smart’ CitiesSensor-equipped garbage cans sound cool, but someone still has to take out the trash. (New York Times, by Shoshanna Saxe, July 16, 2019) Dr. Saxe is an assistant professor of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto.
 
Here are a few excerpts from Prof. Saxe’s OpEd piece, which is well worth reading in full:
 
  1. “There is a more basic concern when it comes to smart cities: They will be exceedingly complex to manage, with all sorts of unpredictable vulnerabilities. There will always be a place for new technology in our urban infrastructure, but we may find that often, “dumb” cities will do better than smart ones.
  2. “New technology in 2015 will be outdated before 2020. If we widely deploy smart tech in cities, we need to be prepared to replace it every few years, with the associated disruption and cost. But who will assume those costs? 
  3. [W]who can guarantee that future elected leaders, in an effort to cut costs and appease taxpayers, won’t shortchange spending on replacement technology?” 
  4. Managing all the sensors and data will require a brand-new [expensive] municipal bureaucracy staffed by tech, data-science and machine-learning experts. . . . . If the answer is to outsource that staffing to private companies, then cities need to have frank conversations about what that means for democratic governance.
 
In addition, Dr. Saxe reminds us that:
 
The most critical question, however, is whether having a smart city will make us meaningfully better at solving urban problems. Data and algorithms alone don’t actually add very much on their own. No matter how much data a city has, addressing urban challenges will still require stable long-term financing, good management and effective personnel. If smart data identifies a road that needs paving, it still needs people to show up with asphalt and a steamroller.
 

3] DCBar-Cover-p16The November 2018 edition of Washington Lawyer (the D.C. Bar magazine) also has an article that I recommend to those who want to make smart decisions about Smart Cities. It is titled “The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards (by Sarah Kellogg). The author talked with and quotes technology, legal and privacy experts. The key points:

  • The need early in the process for a policy and rules for cyber-security and privacy protection
  • “Transparency” in the collection and sharing of all the data is very important
  • The temptation to make money on the data raises the risk of abuse. 
  • It is incumbent upon governments to first engage communities and communicate effective about these questions” [about privacy and data risks].
 

An expert of digital forensics and cybersecurity points out in the article that “few are even remotely aware of how intrusive these applications can be in their daily lives. . . Most people below a certain age don’t care about all the sensors in our lives. . . .The folks of a certain age tend to get the privacy dangers.”

 

“A major issue is Consent. Consent to be monitored may not be a legal requisite, but consent should be obtained from individuals whose data has been collected and massaged to allow the identification of individuals (especially if the buyer of the information can cross-reference it to other data bases, before a municipality shares/sells it to outset entities.”


. . share this post with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/SmartCityHomework

Updates will be added, as appropriate in this space. 

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greeting Omar McGill at Mangino’s

img_2727.jpg

 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.)

    IMG_2748

. . 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.

we need better regulation of digital signs

CrosstownBillboard . . EMB-NEFJnight

. . above: [R] digital sign at Union St. and Baker Ave.; [L] digital billboard along Rt. 7 between Albany St. and Watt St. 

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6

Thank you, Schenectady Daily Gazette, for publishing the Guest Column “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6), by David Giacalone [editor of this website]. We have been discussing this topic for several years, in posts containing commentary, images, and excerpts from expert sources, such as:

. . share this posting with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/EMBregs

follow-up (Dec. 1, 2019): See the Sunday Gazette Editorial, “City right to get on regulations of electronic billboard signs” (Dec. 1, 2019).

Gaz-EMB29Nov2019A1 . . Gaz-EMB29Nov2019A10 And see, the news article, “Schenectady may weigh changes to electronic billboards” (Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Nov. 29, 2019).

ProctorsMarquee06Mar2015

it is not growing on us

No, Mr. Mayor, the spot you chose for our Statue of Liberty Replica is not growing on us. It seems just as outlandish and disrespectful as when you plopped her there at the end of August.

Below is the view of Lady Liberty heading north on Erie Boulevard approaching Union Street.

DSCF5019

Meanwhile, a perfectly appropriate and quite popular spot is still available just a few blocks away at Liberty-Gateway Plaza, where in 2013 you, Mary Wallinger, and our City Council promised She would be returned. Once again, we ask you to Put Her Back, as promised, as planned, as preferred by the public.

PutTheLadyHere

PutHerBackPetnE

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

IMG_2107-001

Our “Smart City” Mayor, Gary R. McCarthy, has made another very unwise decision. Six years after the City Council and Mayor approved the official Gateway Plaza 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, and parking lot 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).

IMG_2106-002

 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.
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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 legible portion of 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. Ironically, 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 at 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: Below is 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):

LL-Waiting4Light

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

follow-up (April 1, 2020): Seven months after Lady Liberty was planted at Her location-in-exile, it seems there have been no attempts to spruce up her seedy surroundings. On the 1st of April, 2020, I stopped by on my daily walk, and saw the following unmitigated, still-rusting eyesore, about 10 yards behind the Statue:

LLexile-plumbing

And see The Lady in the Dark, Not in Her Park.

(April 15, 2020): See two more signs of disrespect, mirroring our Mayor’s treatment of the Lady Liberty replica:

LL- Rent Strike

LL15Apr2020b

GP-RelocateLibertyred checkfollow-up (Sept. 10, 2019): Meanwhile, City Council President Ed Kosiur told me after the Council meeting on September 9, 2019, that he only learned about the new location when I posted about it at my website. Kosiur also said, as an excuse for not demanding the Mayor return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, that its return was never actually mentioned in the Plan, but was only in images. I assured Ed he was wrong, and wondered who gave him that misinformation (got no answer). He asked that I show him treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Plan. Back at home that evening, in response to Ed’s request, I looked through the Implementation Plan to find proof that the return of Lady Liberty was indeed included explicitly in the Plan (and not merely shown in a rendition or on the cover). Click on the thumbnail of a portion of p. 37 to the right above. I also and sent Ed several other screen shots from the Plan.

  • GPPlan-costsIn the email to Ed Kosiur, I also noted that “relocating” the replica statue within the completed Plaza had a $20,000 line item in the expense table that was presented in the Implementation Plan. Click on thumbnail to the left, item marked with a red asterisk. The related Plan item can be seen in the following Master Design sketch from the Final Gateway Plaza Plan: “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica” is shown near State Street and the BusPlus structure as item #6 of the Legend.
    • GPphase1wLegend.jpg

Mr. Kosiur never responded to nor even acknowledged the September 9th email, nor a reminder email that included the same information, sent September 22, 2019.

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

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Proctors Marquee Billboard (with updates)

MarqueeLia14Aug2019

MarqueeBonadio

MarqueeCDPHP14Aug2018Advertising space on the Proctors State Street marquee must be especially coveted this month, with Hamilton: The Musical, opening for a 13-day run on August 14, and crowds of theater-goers and media reps  expected. (see Gazette coverage). Of course, we shouldn’t expect Proctors to take advantage of that demand and display signs for other enterprises, because “Off-premises signs” — signs for businesses not offering services or products on the lot where the sign is located — are specifically prohibited under Schenectady’s zoning ordinance for signage. [§264-62(G)]

When Proctors was granted its Special Use Permit to install 5 digital signs in September 2013, it was specifically reminded that it could not display paid advertising for off-premises businesses. Here’s an excerpt from the Planning Commission Minutes of September 18, 2013, when the SUP was approved:

PCMinutes-ProctorsSUP18Sep2013Public Comments: A member of the public asked if there would be paid advertising on the sign. The applicant responded that while the sign might mention event sponsors, there would be no paid advertising. City staff noted that paid advertising would constitute an off-premise sign, which is not allowed under the city sign ordinance.

  • Off-PremiseSignBanThe screenshot to the right shows the relevant sections of Schenectady’s Signage Code, Prohibited Signs and Definitions. By the way, no new billboards are allowed in Schenectady, unless the requested permit fits a restrictive definition as being “a relocation of two billboards existing prior to the effective date of this chapter.”
  • Note:  You do not have to pay directly for a sign for it to be considered a prohibited off-premise sign. Under our Code the definition of a sign is broad, and means “display of an advertisement, announcement, notice, directional matter or name”, and includes “any announcement, declaration, demonstration, display, illustration or insignia used to advertise or promote the interests of any person or business when the same is placed in view of the general public.” I’m sure the Bonadio Group of CPAs and consultants could explain the relevant issues to Proctors, including treatment of benefits received by a donor to a non-profit and vice-versa.

I was at State and Jay the morning after Hamilton opened for other purposes, but when looking at the Proctors Marquee I could not help but notice that it often had what can only be called ads for off-premise businesses. And, those ads tended to stay on the LCD screen the full 8 seconds required under the City Code for electronic message boards. The collage shows at least seven such off-premise signs that I saw in the brief time I was on the block (click on it for a larger version).

ProctorsOffPremisesAds

In typical Applicant-fashion, Proctors representative told the Planning Commission it would not have such ads, while signaling its likely argument if caught doing so – saying that “the sign might mention event sponsors.” I do recall in other years seeing companies such as the Times Union and MVP mentioned as sponsors. But, the signs now showing at Proctors are not that subtle.

Readers of this space know: (1) I get irked when important local persons and institutions act like scofflaws and the City’s rule-enforcers turn a blind eye to their favorite persons and entities. And, (2) I have long been concerned about the way Proctors went about getting its Special Use Permit for its marquee signs. [See, e.g.,our discussion here] I hope the appropriate people will quickly take action to correct this situation.

When City Hall chose to subject the public to the hazards of digital signs at the busiest block in the City, to please a local favorite institution, I do not think it did so to help the other companies now taking up space on Proctors marquee. If, however, that little bit of “business friendly” governance was intentional, there is still time to correct the situation. Proctors and Philip Morris are local cultural icons, but that should not give them immunity from playing within the rules.

follow-up (Sept. 1, 2019):  A pleasant stroll on the Proctors block yesterday (Saturday, Aug. 31) was interrupted when I saw a Heineken bottle displayed across the Proctors marquee. I took out my little Fuji camera and snapped shots of off-premise ads until the Heineken ad returned. There were 19 such ads over about 15 minutes. Here is a compilation. I have just left a complaint at the City’s Citizen’s Request Tracker, noting the violation of Zoning Code §264-62(G) and providing this collage.

ProctorsBillboardCollage

. . share this post with this URL: https://tinyurl.com/ProctorsBillboard

ProctorsBillboard2019-09-22follow-up (September 24, 2019): On September 18, 2019, Christine Primiano, the City’s Chief Planning officer, wrote me to say:

It’s our understanding that Proctor’s is in compliance now.”
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Unfortunately, when I drove up State Street a couple hours later, I could see the bold “Bonadio Group” ad playing on the Proctors marquee before I even got to Broadway, and more such ads thereafter. When I let Chris Primiano know they were still showing off-premise ads at Proctors, she seemed genuinely frustrated by the miscommunication with Proctors. On Sunday, September 22, 2019, I strolled downtown and captured 12 off-premise ads, ten different ones and two repeaters, in just under ten minutes snapping photos of the Proctors marquee. [See collage above to the right]
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Because Schenectady City Council member Leesa Perazzo is a longtime employee of Proctors, I had written to her to ask her to intervene, and she passed on my concerns to Philip Morris, the CEO or Proctors, and to their Marketing Director Michael Eck. I wrote Leesa again this week, telling her of the confusion in the Planning Office. Today, Sept. 24, she wrote back that:
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Proctors is working on redesigning these currently. Thank  you.
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My initial and continuing reaction to Ms. Perazzo’s note is that it sounds like Proctors is trying to find/create a loophole in the clear Zoning-Signage Code ban on off-premise signs. This is my email reply to Leesa:
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From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: Re: Proctors Marquee is still a billboard
Date: September 24, 2019 at 4:12:44 PM EDT
To: Leesa Perazzo <LPerazzo@schenectadyny.gov>
Cc: Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com>, Christine Primiano <cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov>

Thanks, Leesa,

I am concerned that we will end up with what is really an off-premise ad —still prominently mentioning a seller of goods or services — that happens to mention the arts or Proctors. That is very different from an image meant to promote a Proctors show with a tiny “sponsored by” acknowledgement in the corner.

I hope that the Planning Office will insist that the intent and spirit of the No Off-Premise Ad Ban must be honored, even by Proctors.

Thanks for following-up on this.

David
questionmarkkeyRedWHY SHOULD WE CARE? Many of my fellow Schenectady residents will surely react to my complaint about the Proctors Billboard by thinking something like: “Proctors is so wonderful, let them do what they want to do. And, leave them alone, David!”
But, there are good reasons for banning off-premise signs, which would sprout up everywhere if allowed. Moreover, I hope we are a City of Laws not Favorites. More than that, I hope folks in the Planning Office and City Hall in general will ponder how, if Proctors can use this ploy, the City could refuse any other not-for-profit entity or governmental authority (i.e., schools, firehouses) that would like to use the “sponsor” ruse to garner “donations” by means of a big digital sign in front of their premises.
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follow-up (October 1, 2019):
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Marquee-Oct1
Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger asked me in an email to let her know if Proctors continued to have off-premise ads on October 1st. In 28 minutes taking photos today from across the street, I captured a dozen ads that I deem to be off-premise ads. [See collage above.]
  • There were 8 signs that were purely off-premise ads for the seller of goods or services. 
  • Four proclaimed “Proud Sponsors of Proctors”, but were clearly signs to advertise sponsors not signs advertising a Proctors show or program, which a modest thank-you credit to a sponsor.
One ad, for CATS! seems to me to be an appropriate sign for the Proctors Marquee — promoting an upcoming show, with a small footnote of a credit to American National insurance as a sponsor.
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Cats-AmNat
.. above: sponsor credit done right. . 
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The Mazzone Hospitality ad that I call off-premise flips that relationship, with a tiny nod to Key Hall at Proctors in a corner, and a big spread for the actual subject of the ad. 
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below: large sponsor credit as excuse for an off-premise sign. . 
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MazzoneMarqueeAd

is anyone enforcing our digital sign rules?

 If you have followed this website over the past several years, you know that the Editor believes Schenectady has been far too lenient in allowing frequently-changing digital signs along its roadways. [see, e.g., this 2015 posting] The digital/LCD signs are called Electronic Message Boards [EMB] in the City Zoning Code, and Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs [CEVMS] by New York State.

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

In addition to the Planning Commission’s nearly-automatic granting of Special Use Permits for EMBs, I’ve recently realized that the City’s Zoning and Code Enforcement Offices have been allowing highly visible violations of the relevant Zoning provisions for such Electronic Message Boards. Specifically, there appear to be ongoing violations of Schenectady Zoning Code, § 264-61(I), which states: “[3] In no case shall the message change at a rate greater than once every eight seconds.” This posting demonstrates and explores the lack of enforcement. [For another form of digital sign non-compliance, see our posting “Proctors Marquee Billboard“.]

. .  .

. . Query: What’s the advantage for the business shown above in installing the digital sign on the right, over its attractive and effective predecessor on the left, in Schenectady upscale retail district? . . Also, with the bright digital sign placed at the sidewalk and very close to a busy roadway (with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic), and located near a complicated set of intersections and parking alternatives and restrictions, in addition to residences, what does the public gain that warrants added traffic hazards, questionable aesthetics, and setting a regulatory precedent that will certainly be exploited by nearby businesses? [see the Google Map depiction of the relevant stretch of Union Street]

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NEFJsignpmNORTHEASTERN FINE JEWELRY. If you drive on upper Union Street, it is quite difficult to miss the digital sign [shown on the right] of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, at 1607 Union Street, on the corner of Baker Ave. The Jewelry shop’s application for a Special Use Permit to install the electronic message board was heard at the September 19, 2018 Planning Commission Meeting. As seen on pp. 3-6 of of the Commission Minutes for that meeting:
  • The Applicant originally asked that the new EMB be allowed to change every 6 seconds, but stated during the Meeting that it would be limited to every 8 seconds, the minimum interval permitted by the NYS DOT and the Schenectady’s Zoning Code. The 8-second interval was explicitly made a restriction on the SUP, and the 6-second request explicitly rejected. [see page 6 of the Minutes]
  • Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”
  • NEFJ-GoogleMapThe sign would be very close to residences (and, in fact, was within the 100-foot ban approved by the Commission in a pending proposal to amend the zoning Code). Commissioner Ferro was very reluctant to approve an EMB so close to residences. Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the Application for the same reasons that they have proposed the specific 100-foot ban near residences, the Commissioners added the mild restriction to the SUP that “The sign will remain static between the hours of 9 P.M. and 7 A.M.” The static sign overnight requirement is also a specific requirement in the proposed amendments. [see Minutes, bottom of page 6]
    • Note: A static sign, one that has the same image without changing, is nonetheless a very bright LCD screen. Moreover, in some months, people are in their residence and it is dark out, long before 9 P.M. Keying the Static Time to sunset or full dark would probably be more appropriate.
  • EMB-NEFJ-BIDEnablers. In deciding to approve the Application, certain individual members offered what seem to me to be very weak rationales. For example, Commissioner Bailey, according to the Minutes (see image to the right), “stated that he believes that the applicants are doing their best to incorporate the EMB in the most tasteful, unobtrusive way possible.” Bailey also agreed with Commissioner Beach that approval of the application by the Business Improvement District members is a plus. (Commissioner Ferro noted that BID members could very well want similar signs for their own businesses.) Meanwhile, Commissioner Wilson opined that the particular sign “is the highest quality”, and insisted that “people who live in a mixed use district should expect some commercial activity.”
    • Ed. Note: I’d say that people who live in a mixed use district should expect to be protected by their Planning Commission from inappropriate commercial activity, and businesses should respect the needs of the very residents that help make the district good for businesses.
    • Also, no one suggested that the sign was already quite large and perhaps the LCD screen should be smaller than the current sign area, given its proximity to intersections, the street and sidewalk, and residences.
  • Wallinger-Silhouette-001Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger, prior to agreeing to approve the application, made several remarks that would seem to support its denial, give the burden on the Applicant to show the lack of negative impact. For instance, according to the Minutes: (1)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that she also shares the same concerns [over impact on residences and the neighborhood], which is why she is supporting changes to the Code to address this issue. She added that neighborhoods have different characters, and she does not feel like the Upper Union Street area would be the right fit for a large number of these signs.” (2) “Commissioner Wallinger stated that in general the function of a sign should be to identify the business rather than offer information advertising special offers or products. She noted that the Upper Union Street district has a lot of pedestrian traffic as well, which most likely will not be the ideal audience for a sign of this type and size. ”  (3)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that while she agrees that in this case the sign would be as tasteful as possible, she is concerned about neighboring businesses whose proposed EMB signs might not be appropriate.”
As seen in this video clip, taken on July 24, 2019, the digital sign at Northeastern Fine Jewelry changes every 6 seconds and has animation.
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  • The Complaint that I filed with the City’s online Citizen Request Tracker on July 9 about the 6-second intervals and use of  movement has not received any substantive reply as of July 28, 2019. update (July 31, 2019): Early Monday morning, July 29, Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein responded to an email sent by me on July 26 asking him to look into this matter, and said: “We’ll inspect to make sure it meets the required specifications.” Also, on July 30, I received an email from the Complaint Office concerning my complaint saying: “Request reassigned from Codes to Development. Reason: This is a Planning/Zoning concern. Thank you.” I will follow-up here if/as I hear more.

Moreover, on July 25, 2019, I discovered that Northeastern Fine Jewelry’s digital sign is not in compliance with the explicit condition in its Special Use permit to “remain static” after 9 PM for the sake of nearby residences. (I was there at 9:40 pm.) The content of the display is unchanged from the daytime display. Here are two images of the bright and changing NEFJ sign taken when it should have been “static”.

NEFJ-EMBafter9PM

update (Aug. 18, 2019): On August 14, the NEFJ digital sign was still changing at 6 second intervals (or less), and was still fully operational after 9 PM. on August 15 (images below).

IMG_2073 . . IMG_2017

  • checkedboxsupdate (August 21, 2019): Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein let me know this morning that (emphasis added): “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance as per the city requirements and special use permit. The City is still conducting inspections on many other properties that have electronic message boards, however the images and videos you submit are not admissible as part of our records, as an officer from the City needs to witness the violation in order to issue a citation.”
  • IMG_2100-NEFJ25AugJPG update (August 26, 2019): As of Sunday night, August 25, the NEFJ sign is still not in compliance, with change intervals still at 6 seconds, and the sign is not being held static after 9 PM.
  • follow-up (September 18, 2019): Four weeks after Zoning Office Avi Singer informed me that “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance,” their digital sign is still changing at least every 6 seconds, but there is so much movement on the screen that it is difficult to say just how many changes are actually being made. Recall, as stated above, that Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”

IMG_2104-001

UUHarvestFestMast October 12, 2019: Upper Union Harvest Fest 2019 — An otherwise enjoyable photo-stroll by me (documented here) at this year’s Harvest Fest was soured by the realization that Northeastern Fine Jewelry has apparently decided not be a fine neighbor or citizen. Its digital sign remains non-compliant with the City Zoning Code and NEFJ’s Special Use Permit for the sign. This 44-second clip has at least 10 changes, along with sparkles and animation. I have not been near the location after 9 PM to see whether the sign is put into Static Mode for the night out of respect to nearby residences.

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The Blue Ribbon Diner

BlueRibbonEMBThe Blue Ribbon Diner was granted Special Use Permits for signs at the Diner and next-door Bakery, at the Planning Commission’s Meeting of September 20, 2017. On my way home on the evening of July 25, 2019, I happened to pass by the Blue Ribbon complex at 1835 State Street, and marveled that the images on the EMBs seemed to change so rapidly. I parked and took a quick video to document the operation of the Blue Dinner EMBs.

The 28-second clip was taken at about 10:30 PM, and the lighting is not great. Nonetheless, you can see that some of the images change after only 3 seconds, not the 8-second requirement in our zoning code.

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In addition, the changes are blended, and have swipes and dissolves, which add to the distraction,. Such gimmicks are discouraged by best practices guidelines. Notice, also that the Blue Ribbon bakery sign can be seen making its changes in the background. The NYS DOT guidelines on digital signage state that, if signs are visible at the same time to a driver, they must be at least 300 feet apart.

Is the City’s lack of enforcement in the face of highly visible violations malfeasance or “merely” nonfeasance?

follow-up: On the morning of August 14, 2019 (five weeks after my first Complaint to the City), the digital signs at Blue Ribbon Dinner and Blue Ribbon Bakery, had not been adjusted to be in compliance, with dwell time averaging less than 5 seconds. The digital sign at Hair Design by Ralf and the one at Wedekind Auto (photo below), also in Woodlawn along State Street, were also changing significantly more frequently than the 8-second minimal interval required by the Schenectady Zoning Code.

IMG_2031  . .

EMBs granted special use permits in Schenectady, 2017-2019

1903 Maxon Road. – Pat Popolizio – Lighthouse – Feb. 15, 2017

2330 Watt St. – Crosstown Commons – May 17, 2017

Erie Blvd at Harbor Way – Mohawk Harbor – Aug. 16, 2017

1753 State St.  – Ralf Torkel – Jan. 17, 2018 – [hair salon]

416 State Street – Berkshire Hathaway – May 16, 2018

1607 Union St. – Northeastern Fine Jewelry – Sept. 19, 2018

[Ed. Note: For fuller discussion of potential safety hazards from digital signs along our streets, see our March 11, 2015 posting on “Safety Issues raised by electronic message boards“, which starts with a discussion of Proctors’ marquee signs and includes an appendix with general information and relevant links. ]

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6 FYI, see the Schenectady Gazette Guest Column, “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6, by the proprietor of this website).

  • An appendix of relevant Zoning provisions, along with [in the near future] Best Practices or Model Rule recommendations, can be found at the foot of this posting.

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Gazette Poll shows support for Lady Liberty at Her Park

LL-GazPollResults13Jul2019Y

Gazette Poll

 Many thanks to the Schenectady Gazette for running a poll this past week that allowed the public to answer the question “Where should Schenectady’s ‘Lady Liberty’ statue be located“. The runaway “winner”, as you can see on the right (July 13, 2019, E1; sample), was Liberty Park, with 49% (148 votes). And, see “Schenectady’s Lady Liberty saga drags on, some say unnecessarily: Deadline comes and goes for relocation plans” (July 12, 2019, A1, by Pete DeMola).

 

  • LadyLibertyParkCollageF Get the full story at “Lady Liberty is Timeless“. [click on the collage thumbnail to see Lady Liberty in her Park] Below is Her Silhouette standing at the prior location, in a sculpture base at the new Liberty/Gateway Park that is available and would be a most appropriate location.

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  • In 17 months of asking, we have not been given even one good reason, much less a sufficient one, for ignoring the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan written and promoted by Mary Wallinger in 2012, and approved by the City Council and Mayor Gary McCarthy in 2013. The only thing that changed was Mary Wallinger’s public position on returning Lady Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Park once its construction was completed in 2018.

Letters for the Lady

. . . Letters and Opinion Pieces on Returning Lady Liberty . . Click on an image for a larger version; updated regularly

. . for background facts and issues, see tinyurl.com/TimelessLady

. . this campaign started in March 2018 . . 

. . share this post with this URL: https://tinyurl.com/Letters4Lady

. . with Jessie Malecki (Gazette, March 14, 2018):

Gazette-Malecki-Liberty. . . . still speaking out at 95!

GazLTE-Moorehouse-Lady . . Shirley Moorehouse (Gazette, March 15, 2018); and see the letter from her husband Dick Curtis below);

Gaz-DICRISTOFARO-Lady . . R. Dicristofaro (Gazette, March 17, 2018). .

TUletterLiberty23Mar2018  (March 23, 2018): Click the thumbnail to the left to see a Letter published in the Albany Times Union by David Giacalone (click for online version).

Gaz-LTE-LJackson . . Lance R. Jackson (onlineGazette, March 27, 2018). .

. . Jim Wilson begins a series of strong letters.

GazLTE-JamesAWilson . . James A. Wilson (Gazette, April 8, 2018, online)

LibertyPark-THodgkins-Gaz . . Tom Hodgkins, Sunday Gazette Guest Column (April 28, 2018)

GazLTE-JWilson27Jun2018 Gazette Letter (June 27) by much-honored Veteran Jim Wilson, calling for Liberty’s return on July 4th.

GazLTE-JWilson10Sept  And, James Wilson’s September 10th Letter in the Gazette: “Restore Lady Liberty Statue by October 28“, the anniversary of the dedication of the original Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor,

GazLTE-Riggi-Lady . . . . Councilman Vincent Riggi, Sept. 20, 2018 .

  • GazEd-DontMoveLadyLiberty The Daily Gazette Editorial Board’s editorial “Don’t Move Lady Liberty“ (April 5, 2018), saying “City officials deciding the fate of the city’s 8-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty should end the tug of war over the statue and return it to where it was always intended to be, in its place of honor at the gateway to the city of Schenectady in Liberty Park.” (Click on thumbnail to the left to see the entire editorial from Friday’s Gazette.)

Who knew we’d still need letters  15 months after the first ones?

LTE-JWilson20May2019 . . May 20, 2019: James A. Wilson continued his series of Letters asking for the return of Lady Liberty, including this one, appearing in the Gazette on May 20, 2019.  Mr. Wilson expresses “hope”, a virtue that only makes sense to me when dealing with those acting in good faith.

 . . LLlte-GPlante

 

 

. . above: Gerald Plante’s first LTE about the Lady, May 29, 2019, in the Gazette., and his appearance at a Rally for Lady Liberty’s return in May . . 

LLlte-STrumpler

 . . CONTACT THE MAYOR & COUNCIL MEMBERS [email addresses below] . . 

IMG_2117-002 

AFTER Installation at the NEW LOCATION on August 28, 2019 [story and images here]

GazEdTryAgain GAZETTE EDITORIAL Lady Liberty’s new home: Try again: Historic statue needs a more appropriate location than busy street corner. (Gazette Editorial Board (August 30, 2019) [pdf version] Image to right by Gerald Plante. Excerpts:

“Oh God, you can hardly see it.”

That was the reaction of one Schenectady native upon leaving the downtown train station Wednesday afternoon after someone pointed out the historic Statue of Liberty replica situated in its new home at the corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street.

She wasn’t alone in her disappointment.

. . . 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.

. . .  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.

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Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty

 . .

. . above: Lady Liberty and Mary Wallinger in silhouette during Plaza Tour . .

Mary Moore Wallinger

 This past Thursday, May 16, 2019, the group LocalXDesign sponsored a  Public Tour of Gateway Plaza in Schenectady, led by Mary Moore Wallinger, the chief designer and construction administrator for the Plaza, and the Chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission. The public was invited to “Come and learn how the design evolved from concept to reality!”

Although very curious about the devolution of several important aspects of the Park/Plaza from the approved Implementation Plan (see our pre-Tour “plans evolve” post), the author of this posting decided to have a low-key display of protest, rather than shadowing Ms. Wallinger to pepper her with questions during the Tour.  We therefore headed to the “central sculpture and seating display” at the upper, urban plaza portion of the Park, the approximate original location of Lady Liberty from 1950 to 2017.

. . .  

. . above: images during the Tour at the “central sculpture display”; its base is still empty and could readily become the re-location/return spot for Lady Liberty, pleasing many residents and visitors, and saving the expense of purchasing a new sculpture . . 

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

Nonetheless, I did hear two relevant comments by Ms. Wallinger, one prior to and one after moving to the upper portion of the Plaza. Here are the two telling remarks by Ms. Wallinger:

  1. The Beer-Drinker Anecdote. Mary, early in her Tour presentation, told her audience just how dreadfully designed, over-vegetated and unsafe Liberty Park had been prior to its reconstruction [click on image to the right for photos taken September 2016, before the reconstruction started]. It seems that in 2015, Mary was at the old Park, taking photographs, when an apparently inebriated beer-drinker rose up from the vegetation to ask what she was doing. She told him she was the designer of the new Plaza, and he said he liked the privacy of all the bushes and trees. The beer-drinker then asked if he could make some recommendations. Mary’s reply was: No, we already have an approved Plan, so we can’t make changes. [paraphrased] Ms. Wallinger did not seem to see the irony of that statement, at least from the perspective of those protesting her significant changes to the approved Plan. ……………………………………………………….
  2. The REPLICA EXCUSE: When the Tour group was approaching the upper plaza, someone must have asked Ms. Wallinger about the protestors or the missing Lady Liberty, or she simply felt the need to comment. I heard Mary speak dismissively of the significance of any dissent to her change in the Plan. Then, to justify the absence of the Statue, Mary added what was to me a new excuse for the exile of Lady Liberty. To paraphrase her explanation:

This Plaza is meant to welcome people to Schenectady and to symbolize its future. As a replica, the Statue of Lady Liberty is not an appropriate sculpture, given the location and purpose. The piece should be something original.

 

. . see #6 in Plan Legend, “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”. . 

 Of course, I am not a certified urban planner, nor a (landscape)architect. But, I do wonder whether this No Replica Principle is widely accepted within the professional planning and design community, much less that it has been embraced by the American public. Our Lady Liberty Replica was known to be a replica, and called a replica, at the time Ms. Wallinger and her colleagues placed her in sketches, legends and renderings of the proposed Gateway Plaza. (for example, see image above this paragraph, and detail at left). This is surely not a situation where someone might confuse Schenectady’s 110″-high replica with the original Statue of Liberty. Like an adolescent who keeps adding (weak) explanations and excuses to justify a misdeed, Ms. Wallinger becomes less and less credible and trustworthy with each excuse.

By The Way, as for authenticity:

  • A rendering of the proposed Pedestrian Walkway used in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (and in prior drafts) shows what I assume is a replica of Venus de Milo, and not the original, in Gateway Plaza. (See detail to Left.)
  • More apt, Mary Wallinger is the designer who waxed poetic about the symbolism and “story” to be told by a proposed Wind Turbine sculpture to be used at the Central Focal Point of Gateway Plaza – a reference to our historic technological innovations, future accomplishments, and ecological aspirations. Instead, with no chance for public input, she gave us as “modern urban sculpture”, three Cor-ten, fast-rusting, off-the-shelf pillars/girders, which do not seem to tell a story, but (intentionally or not) many folks in Schenectady believe may have been part of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. (see our post “pillaried at the Plaza“)

  

. . above: Tour group at the Plaza’s  “urban sculpture” focal point . . 

CRITERIA for CHANGING APPROVED PLAN? Of course, the biggest absence to date in the “explanations” from Mary Moore Wallinger, as both a prolific designer and Chair of the City Planning Commission, is any acknowledgement that there is a difference between plans changing from earliest concepts through drafts, steering committee sessions, and public workshops, and changes after official resolution and approval of a Final Plan by the City Council and Mayor.

By The Way, Resolution No. 2013-206, approved by City Council on Aug. 12, 2013 (and by the Mayor Aug. 14, 2013), stated (emphases added):

WHEREAS, three public meetings of this plan and a public presentation to the City Council have been held, and changes to the plan were made based on comments received:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, that the City of Schenectady adopts, as an official document, the “Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan”.

 Moreover, there is no indication from Mary Wallinger as designer or as Planning Chair, as to what the standard should be for changing a significant aspect of a “Final Plan” adopted after the formal planning process is completed. We also wonder what role renderings are meant to play that are submitted during the planning process and as part of a final draft. From years of observation, such changes are “justified” by citing engineering reports that claim serious safety or financial difficulties, necessitating varying from an approved plan; changes in a designer’s stylistic preferences do not warrant such changes.

  • Procedure for Alterations? Another important question, of course, is what the procedure should be for making any such changes after an implementation plan has final City approval. For example, what is the role of the “construction administrator”, Planning Department, Mayor, and/or City Council? What process is appropriate when there are no deadline pressures?

One More (Major) Irony: Before I list the excuses given by Mary Wallinger for her refusal to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, there is one major ironic coincidence to mention about last week’s Tour of Gateway Plaza:  The Grand Opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum took place earlier that very day on Liberty Island. That’s right, despite claims to the contrary, Lady Liberty is so relevant to present-day America and its future, that $100 million was spent to create this museum that explores and celebrates the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. See “What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes” (Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2019, by Harry Bruinius)

  • “Liberty Enlightening the World”. By the way, our Mayor and Planning Chair are quite enamored with the notion of a Renaissance in Schenectady. They could do worse than remembering that, beyond craft beer, revolving restaurants, and the casino of their “renaissance”, our City could use more stress on culture and Enlightenment. The Liberty Statue in New York Harbor was named “Liberty Enlightening the World” by its creator. One commentator had this to say in contrasting Renaissance and Enlightenment political philosophy:

The political philosophy of the Enlightenment is the unambiguous antecedent of modern Western liberalism: secular, pluralistic, rule-of-law-based, with an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Note that none of this was really present in the Renaissance, when it was still widely assumed that kings were essentially ordained by God, that monarchy was the natural order of things and that monarchs were not subject to the laws of ordinary men, and that the ruled were not citizens but subjects.

.  . . It was the Enlightenment, and thinkers who embodied its ideas, like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, who were the intellectual force behind the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and who really inspired the ideas behind the great political documents of the age like the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

In this context, Lady Liberty seems, to most of us, an excellent symbol and reminder of our past, and bridge from our present to our future.

WHY EXILE LADY LIBERTY from HER PARK?

Below are the reasons that Mary Moore Wallinger has given for her feigned change of heart in refusing to return the Replica of Lady Liberty to the expanded Liberty Park, a/k/a Gateway Plaza. Many of us believe that none of these excuses would have been accepted — and most would have been ridiculed, or at least soundly defeated on the merits — during the actual planning process for Gateway Plaza. That might be why Ms. Wallinger never raised them at the time.

 . . too small? of course not.

  • The STATUE IS TOO SMALL, so that the Statue would be overwhelmed in the big Plaza.  This was the reason that Mary told me in an email, when I first asked why Lady Liberty was not returning to Her Park.  [Response: She’s not too small in the scale rendering done for the Implementation Plan (see detail at right). In addition, Lawrence the Indian is almost three feet shorter and commands his Circle, as is Thomas Edison down at Erie Blvd. and S. Ferry. An experienced landscaper should be able to create a niche for the Lady somewhere at this large Plaza, honoring Her, without creating a space that is too-enclosed for safety.]
  • PLANS CHANGE“: In defending her wish to keep Lady Liberty out of the new Plaza and to send Her to Steinmetz Park instead, Mary told the City Council Meeting of March 26, 2018 that “Plans change,” giving the example that the design team had originally planned to have a road going through the Park. As discussed above, this justification for failing to return Lady Liberty ignores the distinction between the many stages of the planning process and the decision to change, without public input or return to City Council, a major aspect of a Final Plan that has been through public workshops and approval by the City Council. Neither Mary nor the Mayor claimed any safety or engineering issues for not returning Lady Liberty. (The presentations “from the floor” to the March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting are discussed more fully in the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless“.)
  • NOT SIGNIFICANT PART of the PLAZA PLAN
    • Mary told this to the City Council the evening she appeared to support sending Lady Liberty to the Veterans Memorial planned for Steinmetz Park. [Response: Mary is confusing square footage with significance, and overlooking the clearly stated preference of the public for the Lady’s return. Returning Lady Liberty was fully supported by all commenters in the Public Workshop. As the Gazette reporter who attended the Public Workshops wrote on June 13, 2013: “Residents . . expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty. The Lady Liberty replica has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”]
    • Wallinger also told City Council that only a few members of the public took part in the Public Workshops, which she noted were held because the State requires them when funding is requested. [Response: This is, for many obvious reasons, a scary argument for the Chair of our Planning Commission to make.]
  • GPPlanCover

    Cover of Final Plan

     NOT IN THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Ms. Wallinger noted in passing to City Council that Lady Liberty was not mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Final Implementation Plan. Given placement of Lady Liberty in renderings submitted with the Final Plan, and on the Cover of the Final Plan (see annotated image at left), and explicit discussion of the Return in the public workshop, leaving Her out of the Executive Summary looks like an intentional action, perhaps meant to foreshadow the future exile of Lady Liberty.

  • Goose Hill Petition

    NEGLECTED FOR FIVE YEARS in STORAGE. Mary Wallinger did not make this argument directly, but she let her friends and allies on Goose Hill make the argument in March 2018, and put it in their petition to City Council and the Mayor, seeking to have Lady Liberty sent to Steinmetz Park for a Veterans Memorial. Wallinger never corrected this misinformation, and did not advise City Council of the erroneous claim. As administrator of the construction plan at Gateway Plaza, Ms. Wallinger was well aware that Lady Liberty was not removed from Liberty Park until August 2017, and only to protect the statue during construction.

  • NOT CONTEMPORARY ENOUGH to fit in with the intended style of the new Plaza, which she insists is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. [Response: (1) That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: the Plaza will “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady. And, (2) One is hard-pressed to find a “style” of design at the Plaza, and the well-known and loved appearance of Lady Liberty might take the edge off the mood set by rusty girders and light-sabers. In general, urban design that tries to seem contemporary often seems merely “temporary” and quickly dated.]
  • “SHE’D LOOK LIKE SHE’s CATCHING a BUS”. [Response: This flippant remark to a reporter is from the designer/planner who chose the relocation spot for Lady Liberty next to the bus stop, and (see image to right) insisted the Statue would seem grander there and have more exposure. At this website, we worried that CDTA buses would line up blocking out the view of Lady Liberty from State Street much of the day — another reason to return Her to her original location in the Park, now called the Central Sculpture Area].
  • The STATUE is VERY DAMAGED, VERY EXPENSIVE to REPAIR. [Response: This damage and expense were not mentioned until months after the decision to send the Lady elsewhere was made (she looked pretty good next to Director of Planning Diotte, in photo to left). Also, there has been no description of the damage, or apparent action to get an estimate, much less get it repaired and back in public view.  Some of the expense should have been part of the original Plaza budget, since the statue and base would have been slated for a least refurbishing, if Ms. Wallinger ever planned to return the Lady to Liberty Park. Also, the money saved by not buying a new sculpture for the Main Sculpture location should go toward any needed repair, followed by placing Lady Liberty at the main sculpture spot, approximating her original location.
  • IT’s THE MAYOR’s DECISION, Not MINE: [Response: Of course, the Mayor (or a City Council with backbone, or a court) can try to settle this, but there is no doubt that it was Mary Moore Wallinger who has spearheaded the notion of not returning the Lady. Mary’s failure to take responsibility suggests how weak the many arguments are underpinning her subjective desire to exile the Lady for Wallinger Plaza, and echoes her complaint to me that I was making her look like the “bad guy”. On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mary Wallinger, as the Mayor’s “Design Team” and his partner moving projects through the Planning Commission, could successfully lobby the Mayor to follow the approved Implementation Plan and return the Lady to Her Home, Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza.]
  • IT’S A REPLICA: [scroll back up this posting for commentary on this sad excuse for an excuse.]

A Final Thought: The UTICA EXAMPLE:

    . .  

. . above: [L] Schenectady’s Liberty Replica in warehouse storage room since August 2017; [R] Utica’s Liberty Replica in a workshop where She was fully restored, June 2017  

Our neighboring upstate City, Utica, New York, also received a replica of Lady Liberty in 1950, thanks to their local Boy Scouts. It is apparently two feet shorter than Schenectady’s and had deteriorated badly. Nonetheless, thoughtful people of Utica decided to pay for a complete restoration of their Liberty Replica (with donations to cover the $10,000 expense), to reestablish its grand presence on their Monument Parkway. See the May 17, 2017 Newsletter of the Central New York Conservancy.

 . .

. . above: Utica’s Lady Liberty at Monument Park [L] before and [R] after the restoration by Michael H. Mancini, MHM, Inc., of St. Johnsville . . 

  • Thank you for the heads-up from Gerald Plante, who featured Utica’s Lady Liberty replica at his Facebook Page, where he advocates for the return of Schenectady’s Lady.

ll-locationcompare . . mistreated

at Gateway-Liberty Plaza “plans evolve”

. . above: Liberty/Gateway Plaza on May 15, 2019; Lady Liberty still in exile

Plan rendering detail with Lady Liberty back

 This evening (May 16, 2019, at 6 PM), landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission and primary author of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, is leading a Public Tour of Gateway Plaza. We are invited to “Come And Learn How The Design Evolved From Concept To Reality!” Naturally, I am quite curious to learn how the Implementation Plan has “evolved” since its approval by the Schenectady City Council in 2013. That approved Plan had Lady Liberty returning after construction; with a central focal point sculpture of a Wind Turbine; and attractive lamp-posts on the new pedestrian way. The current, “final” form of the new Plaza is rather different.

 

img_8575

Please stop by the former site of Lady Liberty this evening (Thursday, May 16, 2019), just before 6 PM, to join a friendly “rally for Lady Liberty“, similar to one we had last September. [see photo at right]

The Plaza has also, somehow, been renamed without the public having a chance to comment on losing the name Liberty Park. [see our posting “The name is Liberty Park”]

 In addition, the Plaza is about to have a new installation celebrating the LGBT movement, sponsored by Schenectady PRIDE, and located approximately where the Original Implementation Plan called for Lady Liberty’s re-location. See Schenectady’s Gateway design celebrates diversity but missing Lady Liberty” (by Paul Nelson, May 15, 2019); and  “Gateway Plaza installation in Schenectady taking shape: Construction likely to begin this week” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, May 16, 2019). The PRIDE cause deserves a place at the New Plaza; however, as the editor of this site said last November: “In my opinion, Schenectady PRIDE and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising deserve a much better design,” and, a process more in tune with good government. 

As for Lady Liberty, today’s Gazette article explains:

ll-locationcompareThe new installation comes as some residents are pining for the return of another piece of public art, a Statue of Liberty replica statue erected in 1950, but removed in 2017 as part of park improvements.

Since then, residents have jockeyed over where “Lady Liberty” should be relocated once retrieved from storage.

“Ultimately, the decision is not mine,” Wallinger said. “It’s up to the mayor to decide where it will go.

“It needs some work. It needs money and it needs some restoration.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy didn’t return a request for comment.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/PlansEvolve 

AND, see our follow-upWallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty” (May 20, 2019),with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVE(D) BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible.

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards be yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

 . .

Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

. .

A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards protecting utility boxes: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
    .
    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell

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