encore for those infamous Snowmen

Thank you Albany Times Union, for helping to ensure that the history and legend of the Snowmen at the Schenectady Stockade Gates, on the night of the 1690 Massacre, will be more widely known and will not be buried or forgotten again. At the top of the Sunday TU Business section yesterday, The Buzz column (Dec. 9, 2018, at E1) read:

TUTheBuzzDetailHistory of Snowman, an illustrated view

The current issue of the Smithsonian magazine highlights the Snowman in history, including the failed effort by some human sentinels to protect the village of Schenectady in 1690 while they visited a tavern.

According to the new book, “Illustrated History of the Snowman” by Bob Eckstein  French and Indian forces weren’t fooled by the snowman sentinels the guards had erected in their place, and the night ended badly for the Schenectadians, with 60 residents — men, women and children — killed in the massacre. . . 

After describing the spread of snowmen images thereafter, including widespread use in advertising for alcoholic beverages, The Buzz cheekily points out:

Apparently, they hadn’t learned that alcohol and snowmen don’t mix.

. . [Ed. note] All the hoopla about the craft breweries coming to Schenectady’s Mill Lane Artisan District might be a fateful failure of memory of our local leaders. The 1690 wayward sentinels had, in fact, gone to the Douwe Aukes Tavern at Mill Lane for their tankards of brew, and the Stockade paid dearly for it.

HistSnowman2007Cover At this website, Snowmen at the Gates, our title theme of snowmen futilely guarding Schenectady’s gates has its genesis in Bob Eckstein’s original 2007 version of The History of the Snowman, which has a chapter devoted to the 1690 Massacre. That is where I first learned of the scandalous dereliction of duty that led to the horrific  Schenectady Massacre.

  • That’s right, after living here in ignorance of that tale for twenty years, it took a NYC sophisticate and author/humorist/cartoonist to teach me the sad story behind the saddest day in the history of my adopted home. As I travel around Town, and when I mention the name of this website, it is clear that most folks still do not know the legend of the Snowmen at the Gates, which I am afraid means that our City has not Learned the Lessons of the 1690 Massacre.

IllustratedSnowman-EcksteinCover If you’d like to read Bob Eckstein‘s full discussion of the 1690 Massacre and the impotent snowmen left at an open gate (despite warnings from Albany of a raiding party on the way), go to the Amazon.com page for his new Illustrated History of the Snowman”, where you can Look Inside the Book, and simply search the word Schenectady. You’ll also see that Schenectady snowmen are the first reference to snowmen in North America that Bob found in his comprehensive research on the history of such frozen aqueous sculpture.

Both editions of History of the Snowman contain the full illustration of the North Wind Archives artwork that adorns our masthead above; that’s where I first saw it and was inspired to contact the good folks at North Wind. Here is another image from the Illustrated History, a snow-globe depicting the 1690 Massacre:

1690MassacreSnowGlobe

Preparing to write this posting today, I discovered:

  1. bobecksteinschdyExactly a decade ago this weekend, on December 7, 2008, Bob Eckstein visited Schenectady to do a presentation at our Central Library (image at the right) and book-signing at the Open Door for the 1st Edition of History of the Snowman. See “snowman historian blows into Schenectady” (f/k/a, Dec. 7, 2008); and “SnowmanCity, NY“ (Nov. 29, 2008).
  2. While Schenectady snowmen were the first reference Bob found to their species in North America, the last two postings at Bob’s decade-long website Today’s Snowman, historyofthesnowman.com, were also about Schenectady snowmen. See “Schenectady’s Stockade Snowman at the Gates” (Feb. 3, 2016); and “Schenectady Snowman from 2009” (Feb. 10, 2016). Here are screenshots of those last two postings; click on them to enlarge.

TodaysSnowman

TodaysSnowman03Feb2016 . .  . TodaysSnowman03Feb2008a

So, in many ways, Bob Eckstein is the godfather or midwife of this website. Without him, we might be called The Adventures of Mayor McSmarty. Or, maybe “If this is a Renaissance . . . “.

Ignored – the rules, the plans, the public, and safety

At tonight’s Schenectady City Council meeting, Nov. 13, I hope (despite the unrealistic 3-minute rule) to present and explain the issues depicted in collages posted below. The first topic is related to the Agenda Item regarding approval of a Schenectady PRIDE art installation at Gateway/Liberty Park.  Schenectady needs an established procedure to ensure adequate public input and post-approval monitoring of plans for proposals regarding important public spaces and art. The second will be a Privilege of the Floor statement regarding important safety issues created along the Mohawk Harbor’s shared use path by the failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side.

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Click on an image for a larger version.

FIRST: “PLANS CHANGE”. For fuller discussion of the question of how [or how not] to include the public in the selection of public art and in the design and implementation of plans for important projects and locations, see:

GP-planschange

. . GP-Turbine-Girders

GPLightPoleChange

follow-up (November 24, 2018): The Daily Gazette reports “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects: The board detailed this in a letter given to the mayor and city council members” (by Andrew Beam, Nov. 23, 2018). Commentary can be found at the end of this posting.

SECOND: The bike-pedestrian Trail at Mohawk Harbor is far less safe than it readily could have been because of a failure to follow rules, plans, and best practices when installing a guardrail on the riverside and a set of interpretive signs on the Casino side. For comprehensive discussion of ALCO Heritage or Mohawk Harbor Trail safety issues, with excerpts from and links to relevant rules and studies, and with many more photos, etc., see:

ALCOTrail-safetyignored

update (Nov. 24, 2018): As stated above, the Gazette published an article today by Andrew Beam headlined “Stockade Association board asks for more public input on projects” (Nov. 23, 2018).  In a lengthy comment left at the article’s online webpage, I made several points, including:

Continue reading

Who botched placement of the ALCO Heritage Trail signs?

Schenectady County spent $30,000 for a set of “interpretive” signs that were installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail about six weeks ago. They celebrate the proud history of the site as location of the American Locomotive Company, where world-class locomotives and tanks were manufactured for over a century. [See County Press Release (Sept. 18, 2018); Daily Gazette article, and Times Union coverage (Sept. 20, 2018)]

IMG_9190 . . IMG_9193

But, even a casual look at the placement of the sturdy and wordy signs reveals that they are too close to the bike-hike trail, creating a hazard for anyone stopping to read the lengthy messages, and for bicyclists and pedestrians on the Trail. For example,

  • DSCF4280Neither the required 3-foot lateral clearance from a shared-use path stated in Schenectady’s Bike Master Plans (see below), much less the preferred distance of 3 to 5 feet, has been allotted for the large interpretive signs. The Best Practices rule of thumb of 3-5′ applies even to small  signs on single, narrow poles, to help ensure that a cyclist or pedestrian who must swerve off a path in an emergency or panic, has room to maneuver to safety. Instead, the frames of the ALCO Heritage signs are as little 28 inches from the bike-hike path.
  •  Whether a reader is alone, or part of a couple, family or group, the only place from which to read each of the 11 signs is from the shared-use Trail, placing them in the way of cyclists, runners, and all types of pedestrians passing by in both directions. The more successful the Trail is attracting users and tourists, the more frequently will conflicts arise.
  • There is no hard surface off the path “tread” for sign-readers in a wheelchair, or with a cane, walker or motorized scooter, to stop; nor for a curious bicyclist; nor for pedestrians who want to avoid unpaved ground around the sign when it is wet, slippery, or muddy.

 

 . . alcotrailsignreaders.jpg
DSCF4252

Members of the public without planning and engineering degrees (and, surely, even a group of visiting fourth-graders) can immediately see or sense that the ALCO Heritage signs are poorly placed. Why, then, would the County and City of Schenectady, which have been planning and promoting the use of bike and hike trails since before the dawning of the Third Millennium, permit this sub-par (and liability-creating) installation?  Good question.

ALCOSigns-McQueen-Hughes-Gaz [R] A new sign is unveiled byGary Hughes, Majority Leader of the County Legislature and Chair of its Economic Planning and Development Committee, and Joe McQueen, Spokesman for the County (Sept. 20, 2018). Photo by Marc Schultz for the Daily Gazette.

 

BikeSchyAdvisoryCmte . . SchdyBike2001-steering

. . above: [R] Steering Committee for the City of Schenectady Bike Master Plan (2001); and [L] and Advisory Panel of Bike Schenectady Master Plan (2017). Click on image for a larger version.

The County and City both were well-represented on the two Bike Master Plans produced and adopted by the City of Schenectady since the turn of the Century, one in 2001, and one just last year, the Bike Schenectady Master Plan, 2017. [See the lists in the images above this paragraph.] Both Master Plans call for a lateral clearance of at least 3 feet from the edge of the path for any signs along a shared-use path in the City of Schenectady (even small ones on skinny poles). And, of course, in both plans, a shared-use path along the Mohawk at the old ALCO site was seen as the crowning jewel of the system. Click on the images immediately below to see relevant portions of [L] the 2001 Bike Master Plan; and [R] Bike Schenectady (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

MUTCDshareduse . . BikeSchdy-TrailClearance

  • The American Trails organization also recommends a 3-foot clearance; as does, e.g., the Florida DOT: “3 feet or more desirable (clearance from trees, poles, walls, fences, guardrails, etc.)”.

But, is there any other reason, besides Common Sense safety and convenience concerns, for insisting that those viewing a trail-side interpretive sign be allowed to stand or sit off the trail? The Erie County Wayfinding Manual is a useful guide on many of the issues that arise in planning and implementing a bike-hike trail. It offers the thoughtful guidance that signage formats be “designed around the information they need to convey”, and thus (at 4, emphasis added):

Detailed orientation information, for instance, is placed on large signs where people can pull off the trail and spend as much time as they wish to study made, legends or interpretive information.

It is hard to believe that County and City planning staff members who have been active in municipal bicycle matters are not aware of the notion that interpretive signs be placed in a way that lets interested persons safely study them off the path, on a hard surface. Indeed, only two months ago, the County‘s study for a portion of this very ALCO Heritage Trail, MOHAWK HUDSON BIKE TRAIL EXTENSION FEASIBILITY REPORT (Sept. 14, 2018, at 22), included the following illustration, captioned “Example of wayfaring or interpretive signs”:

MHBTFReport-SignageImage . . MHBTFReport-signagepage

. . shorter URL for the Sept. 2018 Extension Feasibility Report: https://tinyurl.com/ALCOTrailExtend

IMG_9200This past Sunday (Nov. 4, 2018), while standing at the sign shown to the right and speaking to the couple in the photo, speedo-clad bicyclists twice rode quickly past us, appearing from the west, and in no way signaled their presence or their passing us on the left. Over the entire past year walking on the Mohawk Harbor trail and on the only paved path at Riverside Park, only one bicyclist passing me gave the required signal, with the silent ones leaving me startled and often off-balance. If nothing else, the customary behavior of individuals and groups using our trails, along with the lack of enforcement of safety rules, must be taken into account when designing and installing signage.

  • img_9186.jpg My web search could not be exhaustive, but the examples of interpretive signage closer than three feet from a trail that I found, and that were shaped like most of the ALCO Heritage Trail signage (example on the left), were on pedestrian or hiking trails, not trails that were meant to accommodate bicyclists (or horses).

If the experienced and professional staff members in planning and related offices of the County and City are aware of the 3-foot clearance rule and the preference for getting sign-readers off the path, why was the ALCO Heritage Trail signage project so poorly designed? I can only presume that their advice was silenced or over-ridden by people with more authority, who lacked knowledge of the regulation or best practices, and never bothered to ask fundamental questions. Or, who had priorities other than the safety and convenience of trail users, such as using as little of the developer’s or Casino’s lawn next to the path as possible, or spending as little money as possible.

RayGillen-tireless When I wrote to Metroplex Chair, and County Planning/Development Chief, Ray Gillen, to ask why the signs were so close to the Trail, his only reply on that issue was, “We all think they are beautiful.”  Ray Gillen, is known as tireless and working 24/7, and always tells me I should come first to him with concerns. Perhaps others will be more successful than I getting a useful explanation from Mr. Gillen. Maybe, asking Legislator Gary Hughes or Anthony Jasenski, Legislative Chair, would be more useful. My attempts to get answers from City and County leaders have been fruitless, which usually means they know I will not likely like the answer or consider it to be persuasive.

DSCF4279My hope is that members of the media and general public who care about public safety and transparency, and the rule of law, will probe a bit more. And, do so before the first serious injury along the Harbor Trail, and any related law suit.

Mohawk Harbor was meant to be, and is constantly touted as, the City’s showplace and pride. Yet, the Mohawk Harbor bike-hike trail has been constructed (somehow, at the expense of taxpayers rather than the developer) with little regard for public safety and comfort. Both the history signs on the south/Casino side of the trail, and the guardrails on the riverside of the trail, ignore the City’s codes, policies and plans, as well as best practice guidelines that seem particularly appropriate for our “showplace” Harbor.

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DSCF4232

pillar-ied at the Plaza

img_6565-Pillars

No, those “Rusty Girders” & “Light Sabers” are not there for Halloween. They are, however, more trick than treat for many of the people who live or work in Schenectady, or just visit the City and pass by or through “Gateway Plaza”.

 . . 

Of course, the Plaza fixtures aren’t officially called “Rusty Girders” & “Light Sabers”. They are the modern sculpture and lighting fixtures that have been permanently installed along Gateway Plaza’s [Liberty Park’s] Water Street Pedestrian Way. What do you think?

The makers of each refer to them as “pillars”:

  • img_8667.jpgThe girders, which have been placed at the Central Focal Point of the Plaza as urban sculpture, are “Open Pillar Corten Steel Lighting Columns“, described as “triangular LED-ready lighting columns with a lattice-like graphic pattern.” Their attributes: They “break the horizon with a strong vertical expression. The abstract geometrical pattern can blend into almost any atmosphere. The distinctive open pattern allows vegetation to climb and grow, introducing vertical green in open spaces.” Ours have no vegetation, but do have blue LED lighting that can be seen starting around sunset and dusk.
  • Girders-StateStViewThe light poles are “Unilamp’s Contemporary Light Column / PMMA / LED / For Public Spaces: Pillar“. The sales copy for the light column states: “It is intentionally used for highlighting the surrounding structure works in modern architectural areas. Because of its eye-catching look, it is suitably applied in square, commercial areas and open spaces.”

The Plaza’s designer and construction administrator, landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, apparently chose them for the Plaza believing they signal to visitors that Schenectady is contemporary and future-oriented. On the other hand, she has tried, belatedly and behind the scenes, to exile Lady Liberty from her Liberty Plaza home, for not being contemporary enough. [For that story, see our post “Lady Liberty is Timeless]

Chair Wallinger discussing Casino Pylon

Those changes from the approved Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, in my opinion at least, really do seem like tricks, especially since the decisions were made out of the public view by the same person who authored and promoted the original Implementation Plan in 2013, and who incidentally wields power at City Hall as the Chair of the City’s Planning Commission. Moreover, because (as explained below), they were not shown in the approved Implementation Plan or even as alternatives during its creation and approval, they seem like a bait-n-switch.

SURPRISE: Why were so many of us surprised by the choice of these pillars for the Plaza? What did we expect the lighting and sculpture to look like in Gateway Plaza? The public and their representatives who are asked to adopt or approve a plan look to drawings or other images (renderings) presented by the Plan creators in order to understand the intended appearance of a project when completed. Here are details from a rendering presented by Ms. Wallinger in drafts and in the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor in 2013:

GPrenderSculpture.png . . [L] detail from Plan rendering of a wind turbine (and sculpture) located at the Plaza’s Central Focal Point, on the “Water Street Pedestrian Way” portion of Gateway Plaza, as seen from State Street. And,

 GPrenderLamps [L] rendering detail showing lamp poles along the Pedestrian Way (with a Venus de Milo replica and a modern red sculpture further down the path) . .

CENTRAL FOCAL POINT. The Implementation Plan’s Executive Summary has this to say about the Central Focal Point and Sculpture:

PubWorkshop-CentralFocalThe central focal point is intended to be a large sculptural wind turbine that would cleanly and abstractly capture the City of Schenectady’s historic legacy as a City of innovation while also celebrating its more recent role in both the arts and green technologies.

PubMtg-WhyWindTurbine When asked at the Implementation Plan’s Design Public Workshop, “Why a wind turbine and not something solar?” [image at left shows text in the Report], the design team representative (who I believe was Ms. Wallinger) gave the following response:

There is room for both technologies, but the wind turbine speaks to Schenectady’s past and present and would also say something about the environmental conditions in the park, adding another layer of interest. In addition to providing energy for the park, it would also serve as a piece of art that tells a story.

As actually implemented and constructed, of course, there is not a Wind Turbine in sight, just the “fast-rusting” Girders for focal point sculpture. Were there engineering or financial problems that made a working or purely artistic wind turbine impractical? When was the wind turbine concept abandoned and the search for a substitute made? When and why were the Cor-ten Girders selected? Were they, for example, the $20,000 item in the submitted expense estimates? Who participated in the change and new selection process? If the public was asked to participate in the discussion, I am not aware of it.

. .  [R] sample of attractive wind turbine HerculesWindTurbine-Eng

PubWorkshop-Lighting LIGHTING: When asked “How would lighting work in the park?” at the Public Design Workshop for the Implementation Plan [image to the right], the design team representative responded (emphases added):

There would be perimeter lighting at levels similar to those along the 400 block of State Street and it would be in the form of street lights at a pedestrian scale. There would also be lighting along the central axes and likely some low level lighting as needed to ensure visibility and safety within the park, especially since it will likely be used in the evenings by students and others if restaurants move into the area. The internal fixtures would likely be more contemporary and should utilize low energy technologies.

What about using bollard lighting? Response: There are certainly opportunities for some creative lighting, but maintenance needs to be considered and whichever fixtures are chosen will need to be easy to maintain, inexpensive to replace parts, durable, and efficient.

GP-lightpoledetail Having reviewed many proposals over the last several decades by government staffers and contractors, and by attorneys, the vague wording “The internal fixtures would likely be more contemporary” should have raised red flags for me and others even more familiar with the planning process. Including that phrase looks like an attempt by the designers to give themselves more than a little “wiggle room”, to later justify diverging from the light fixtures shown in the Plan rendering of the internal Pedestrian Way [image detail to the right]. When was the switch to the “light sabers” made, and who was included in that decision process?

How did we get something so different? You’ll have to ask Mary Moore Wallinger, whose LAndArt Studio is administering the construction of Gateway Plaza. She is Owner/Principal of LAndArt Studio and incidentally, as noted above, the Chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission. You might also ask her protectors-partners-sponsors, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen and Mayor Gary McCarthy. [For more pictures of the finished Gateway Plaza, please see this posting at “suns along the Mohawk”].

  • One wag has suggested that maybe Ms. Wallinger had the wrong definition of “execute” in mind, when given the task of executing the approved Plan for Metroplex and the City.

Should we care? How should our elected officials (City Council or the County Legislature) and the public react, as a matter of either public process or aesthetics, when a result is so different from a proffered and approved Plan, with no intervening input from our representatives or the public?

GP-PlansChangeCollage

 . . De gustibus non est disputandum . . . .

HOW MUCH DISCRETION? The cliché is that “There is no accounting for taste” — that there is no objective way to resolve disputes over a matter of taste. That is certainly true about private matters, although promises should matter and be taken into account. But, when one person’s taste is thrust upon the public, in a visually inescapable and financially significant way, what safeguards should be in place? Here, we add the important factor of expectations created when a plan is produced after broad participation and then officially approved.

erasingG In Schenectady, approved plans have been changed on projects for preserving or replacing buildings at important locations — usually, with City Hall or the Planning Commission pointing to “engineering” reports that they say indicate a safety issue or unknown factors that make the approved plans impossible, impractical, or immensely more expensive, to achieve. No such reasons were available for the belated exiling of Lady Liberty from Liberty Park and its extension into Gateway Plaza. Instead, Mayor Gary McCarthy spoke of recommendations from “the Design Team,” giving no further details or explanation. The Design Team is, or is headed by, Mary Wallinger.

Similarly, as a member of the public who tries to keep abreast of such issues, I have heard of no reasons for the change in installed sculpture and lighting poles. I have no idea whether or not the changes were brought to the attention of the City Planning Office staff, Operations Bureau, the Mayor, or other City Hall officials or staffers, before the selections were made, purchased or installed.

LLspotwinter 

Given the great emphasis the City and County have placed on creating this “gateway” to Schenectady, and supposed influence on the image presented by the City, shouldn’t we expect more monitoring and oversight of the final product? And, shouldn’t we require that significantly more attention be paid to the likely reaction of the public to significant stylistic and design changes to major elements of an approved plan?

  • IMG_8671Public Reaction? The best review of the Lamp Pillars that I have heard is that they look really cool at night. Of course, ignoring their bland appearance all day so that relatively few people might see the lamp portion at night is not a great trade-off.
  • Similarly, as to the girders, [1] Some passers-by think the off-the-shelf pillars must be remains from the 9/11 Tragedy at the World Trade Center or perhaps are an allusion to the City’s once-great industrial past. I do not know whether Ms. Wallinger was trying to make such references, despite her professed goal this year of honoring Schenectady’s future. [2] Close up, I find the blue light glowing in the Open-Pillar Lighting Columns fun to view and photograph. But, how many people will have that experience after sunset, especially when the glow is scarcely noticeable from State Street even in full darkness (perhaps because the light pillars are so bright)?
  • Even if you like the Girders and Sabers and have no problem in the abstract of having them in the Plaza, the process that brought them there is troublesome.

When Ms. Wallinger addressed City Council at a public meeting to explain her exiling of Lady Liberty, she asserted that “plan’s change” (without differentiating among initial brainstorming, drafts and alternatives under consideration, reaction to public input at workshops, and municipally-adopted plans, much less those with post-approval emergencies), and she insisted Lady Liberty was only a “small part” of the overall Plaza Plan, seemingly talking about square footage, not emotional and historic value. Her  breezy attitude about her authority over final design choices is especially worrisome to me, because she (or her alter ego landscape architecture studio) has been given design control over so many municipal projects, and because of her influence over the Planning Commission agenda and procedures, and its staff. Thus, her LAndArt Studio website proclaims:

 Principal and owner Mary Moore Wallinger has been working in the field of Landscape Architecture since 2000  – designing, managing and overseeing projects both large and small. Ms. Wallinger’s robust portfolio includes municipal parks and plazas, institutional and corporate campuses, site planning, master planning, urban design, sustainable site design, healing gardens, and streetscapes.

For example, in Schenectady City and County, Mary Wallinger has been the principal designer for:

dscf3324-001

How Much Discretion is Appropriate? Perhaps Schenectady City and County (and especially Metroplex) should take a close look at the various guidelines on the selection of public art that have been promulgated by interested professional and community groups (for example,  the Standards and Guielines adopted by the College Art Association, CAAA), to renew their commitment to broad participation and respect for public input. The CAAA guidelines, for example,  call for early public participation and reconsideration of a draft design after receiving public comments on the draft.

  • With Gateway Plaza, the public’s desire for the return of Lady Liberty and keeping the name of Liberty Park has been ignored after approval, while being placated during the plan-making process. [see images just below this blurb] In addition, the public’s ability to influence the appearance of the Plaza/Park was greatly undermined by switching two of the most important elements, with choices that are met at most with indifference.

 . .

Public Workshop comments on [above] name of the Plaza; [below] location of Lady Liberty

It seems that the City and County of Schenectady are giving too much discretion on important and highly-visible municipal projects to too few people. And, even after official approval, too much leeway to the person entrusted with implementing plans. Especially when it comes to highly visible pieces of public art or important public spaces, the public’s role and opinion must be protected and honored.

IMG_8665 . .

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. . hm: maybe a real pillory like one on display at Williamsburg VA would bring back a little history, at least for Halloween . . 

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

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

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

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

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

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

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

IMG_8948

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

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

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

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

Hello, Christine,

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

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

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


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

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


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

Railings

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

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

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

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

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

David

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

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

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

Rally “Photo Op” for Lady Liberty on Sept. 28 at 6 PM

Photo4Liberty UPDATE (Sept. 26, 2018): DSIC has cancelled Friday’s “Groovin’@Gateway”, saying that they fear the grounds will be too soggy, even if rain does stop by Thursday or Friday morning. (They have, in fact, taken all mention of it off the DSIC website, not even bothering to show it as cancelled on their Events calendar, and taking down its webpage.) Nonetheless, as I say on my Facebook Page,

 Despite the Cancellation of Groovin’@Gateway, let’s have a PHOTO-OP for LADY LIBERTY, at the same time, 6 PM FRIDAY, to highlight our hope that Lady Liberty will soon be brought back to her home in Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza. There will be no worry over getting in the way of the DSIC Event, no stress, just some fun romping around with signs and snapshots with Silhouette Lady Liberty. I suggest:

SilLiberty 6 PM Friday, Sept. 28 we hold a Quick Photo-op Rally for LADY LIBERTY’s RETURN.

— at the Central Sculpture area, the Lady’s pre-construction location for 67 years
— a 76” Silhouette of Lady Liberty will be there (photo on right), with foam Liberty crowns
— I’ll bring props and signs (Family-rated)
— and, hand-out souvenir 4×6 photos of Lady Liberty in her Park (see photo below)
— and, my camera and monopod to capture the event

It will be a short session, unless some folks want to schmooze a bit. So, please be there at 6 PM.

Partially cloudy skies should mean great sunset potential. There is no rain forecast for Friday afternoon or evening.

LadyInPark6x4BE

Please Join Us!

. . for more info see:  https://tinyurl.com/TimelessLiberty . .

ORIGINAL POSTING 

This Friday, September 28, 2018, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation  and Schenectady County are throwing an event called “Groovin’@Gateway“, so the public can

GroovinLogo . . experience Downtown Schenectady’s newest public space, Gateway Plaza. Enjoy live music, food & craft beer vendors, and family art activities in this beautiful new destination at State Street and Washington Avenue at the western gateway to downtown. Free and open to the public.

September 28, 5:30-7:30pm
Gateway Plaza, 12 State Street

We think this event is the perfect opportunity, while celebrating the new public space, for a peaceful, neighborly Rally asking that Liberty Park’s Statue of Liberty replica be returned to her home, as was promised by the City in its Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan.
  • The Rally will take place at 6 PM at the Central Sculpture Area (near Washington Avenue and State Street, across from SCCC), where Lady Liberty stood from 1950 to 2017.
Here is a printable, jpg. flyer announcing and explaining the Rally; click on it to see a larger version. Please help to distribute it widely, including on Facebook pages.
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Rally4Lady
  • All are welcome, young, old and in-between. Silhouette Lady will appear and bring some Liberty Crowns for the kids.
  • LadyTree Come join lovers of Lady Liberty and Her Park to ask that the Plan to return Lady Liberty, approved by the public and City Hall in 2012-2013, be implemented: Bring Back the Lady to Best Celebrate the Past, Present & Future of our City and County, and to support preservation and the integrity of our planning process.
  • For more information about the very avoidable controversy over where Lady Liberty will be relocated now that reconstruction of her Park and creation of Gateway Plaza are complete, see https://tinyurl.com/TimelessLiberty .
  • GazLTE-JWilson27Jun2018 Click the following link for a collection of Letters to the Editors written in support of bringing Lady Liberty home.
  • Leave a message, if you would like to help with the Rally.
  • Share this posting with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/Rally4Lady
  • See you at Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza!

. . fortunately, I took photos of the Lady in Her Park in September 2016, as soon as I heard she would be removed during the re-construction:

LadyParkCollage2016e

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LadyInParkSept2016

Lady Liberty in Liberty Park, Sept. 2016

Slotsification on the Mohawk

SmokinHotSlotsB

a Smoking Patio with slots & drinks means non-stop slots play!!

The lower-than-projected total of gambling dollars and customers brought in by Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor in its first year of operation disappointed just about everybody. (See, e.g., our post on Projections vs. Reality.) So, it is understandable that the increase so far this year in Gross Gambling Revenue [the amount bet minus winnings paid out, called “GGR”] has been broadly welcomed in our community. Nonetheless, Sara Foss at the Schenectady Gazette was correct to voice concerns last Sunday about the significant increase of gambling revenues this year earned from Slots and other Electronic Table Games [ETG]. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018).  That is because the clear consensus of experts and observers is that slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

emptyPockets Indeed, from the perspective of potential social costs and harm to gamblers and their families, the situation is very serious. I’ve tabulated the numbers, and it is clear that additional revenue from SLOTS/ETG (Electronic Table Games) is alone fueling the increased gambling revenue at Rivers Casino in its 2nd year of operation. I call this process “Slotsification”.

RiversSlots Below is a comparison of the first six months in which Schenectady’s Rivers Casino was operating [Feb. to July of 2017] with the same six months in 2018, after one full year of operation. I used the most recent Monthly report posted at the Gaming Commission’s site, and the Casino’s weekly reports.
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FEBRUARY to JULY 2018 – Gross Gambling Revenue [GGR] at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (Schenectady), compared to February to July 2017, the first six months of operation at Rivers Casino:
 
TOTAL GGR – 9.7% increase [$6,830,160]
    2017 Feb-July            $70,080,214
    2018 Feb-July            $76,910,374 
.
SLOTS/ETG GGR – 19.3% increase [$8,510,139]
    2017 Feb-July            $44,054,616
    2018 Feb-July            $52,564,755 
.
TABLE GAME GGR – – down 6.0% [$1,297,613]
   2017 Feb-July             $22,886,161
   2018 Feb-July             $21,588,548 
 .
POKER TABLE GGR – – down 11.7% [$368,091]
   2017 Feb-July            $3,145,137
   2018 Feb-July             $2,777,046 
 .
In sum, Total GGR is up almost 10% at Rivers Casino, with Slots/ETG revenue up 19.3%, but both Table Game and Poker Game GRR down compared to the same months in 2017. The increase is all from Slots.
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riversrevenues-8monthcompare follow-up (Oct. 21, 2018): The same trend has continued through September, and into the first two weeks of October. Click on the image to the right for figures.
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In addition, looked at in the aggregate, Slots/ETG revenues were 63% of GGR in Feb-July of 2017; but they were 68% of GGR in Feb-July of 2018. It would be helpful to know whether more people are choosing to play slots, or whether slots players are playing longer. [update (September 1, 2018): see our follow-up, “August continues the casino tilt to slots”.]
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  • AddictionByDesign-Schüll-CoverIt may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict(New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 
 
Compare other Casinos: Although Slots revenue is up somewhat in Las Vegas recently, slots have been down or sluggish in other regions. Notably, not one of Rush Street’s three other casinos (one in Illinois at Des Plaines; and two in Pennsylvania, SugarHouse in Philadelphia, and Pittsburg Rivers) has had more than a small uptick in slots this year, and many months have been down. [Click for an example of recent Pa. stats; the Des Plaines IL Rivers Casino shows only a 1.32% increase in their slots category (“EGD”) for the first half of 2018; see p. 4 of this Report.]
 
Is Rivers Casino in Schenectady trying to “slotsify” its casino revenue, to maximize its profits? Is this also a result of growing problem gambling among Schenectady’s slots players, along with a growing indifference by those who like table games to spending time along the Mohawk?
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  • What about Millennials? Has Rivers also decided to make more money by luring in millennials, who spend on food, drink and entertainment, rather than on gambling when at Mohawk Harbor? That helps Rush Street and Galesi Group profits, but does not increase gambling tax revenue receipts for the City and County. [See the article on Millennials and Casinos quoted at length below.] The Casino does not have to reach its bloated projections to be a business success. 
 
Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.
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AssPhilSteck Will community leaders such as NYS Assemblyman Phil Steck, who say we must help the Casino succeed, turn a blind eye to the added hazard to our Community? Steck, who we’ve been calling “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” since his letter in support of Rivers Casino in June 2014, recently wrote that “Revenue raising is paramount”, after bemoaning the negative effect on the poor and vulnerable. This is, of course, the dilemma casino opponents saw when they opposed bringing one to Schenectady. The monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, by Sam Magavern and Elaina Mulé, January 19, 2011, gives a good summary of the dangers for already-struggling cities that turn to casinos for revenue. And, it highlights the obvious:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos. [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]

And, consider “State Gambling Revenue Takes Hit as Millennials Bring New Habits to Casinos” (Pew Trust, Stateline Article, by Elaine S. Povich, Sept. 15, 2015), which opens with this statement:

Casinos across the nation are suffering from a generation gap, especially at the slot machines, as young people seek more exotic electronic games like the ones they can play on smartphones from anywhere.

That’s a problem not just for casino operators, but for the 23 states that rely on revenue from casino taxes, particularly from lucrative slots, to help balance their budgets and fund new priorities.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

see-no-evil-monkeyBlue It is easy to be flippant and say, “Don’t ask Casino Opponents, we told you so,” back when our elected and appointed political leaders, and businesses hoping for a Casino Gravy Train, refused to even acknowledge the risks. Well, we did tell you so (e.g., this post), precisely because we feared just this situation: Big Problems without Palatable Solutions. No Answers for getting out of the Casino Casualty Syndrome and the related suffering of families and individuals; lots of temptation to seek more favors for the Casino, such as legislation with tax reductions or gimmicks (such as a marketing allowance), or spending $2 million on a Large Vessel Dock along Mohaw Harbor; plus, a lot of uncertainty and pain for employees at the Casino and associated businesses, if the Casino declines slowly, and especially if it fails and closes.

316-vector-no-evil-monkeys Even if they secretly know the damage that is likely to happen to our Community, the temptation for our “leaders” to push on is great, refusing to confess their short-sighted mistakes, pressuring local businesses and civic groups to patronize Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, and looking for legislative “solutions.” One thing for sure, the cognitive dissonance that we hear from politicians like Phil Steck does not help one bit. The Assemblyman tells us:

Perhaps some day there will be no casino at Mohawk Harbor. No one can predict the future; it is sensible to plan for an alternative. But, Rivers is here, so we need it to be as successful as possible. One constituent wrote to me on this subject citing the old adage: “Let’s take the lemons and make them into lemonade.”

LemonLawLogo No one should be surprised that the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor offers us no Lemonade Recipe and suggests no likely ingredients for the mix (other than a “not-a-bailout” tax break in the form of a marketing allowance that is too silly to even call specious). There is no secret, magical “sugar” to sweeten our Casino Lemons, and no law that will tow the wreck away. We are all left puckering up, and wincing, as the future rushes toward Slotsnectady, a City that once could Light and Haul the World, but now glories in “smart” lamp-posts, its homely-but-bossy Casino, and its beer-cultured Renaissance.

. . share this post with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/Slotsification

. . this is one of the mastheads we used when this website was called StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com:

noalcocasino-mastb1

. . they gambled with Schenectady’s future, putting possible revenues ahead of the social costs, and acting as if there was nothing to lose . .

Appendix: Why are Slots so Addictive?

Continue reading

the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor is not safe

MHtrail3Jul2018a

 . . Updates (Oct. 15, 2018): see poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail 

(July 3 and Oct. 5, 2018): Below we explain the reasons why we believe the Alco Heritage Trail is unsafe. When pressed on the safety issue in June, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen insisted that a fence or guardrail would be installed “soon”. But, I have continued to wonder why neither the County or City, nor the hosting Casino, has installed temporary warnings signs and devices (i.e., quick and inexpensive orange safety cones and yellow tape), to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel. They plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4, and many events all summer. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.

cautiontaperoll(Oct. 5, 2018): Ray Gillen wrote in an email to the editor of this weblog, in the third week of September, that a fence would be built along the trail buffer “in October.” As of noon October 5, there is neither a fence or guardrail and no temporary warning devices; see the photo below, taken today:

AlcoTrail05Oct2018

Original Posting

ALCOTrailSafety

. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this web-post (click on it for a larger version)

What did you think the ALCO Heritage bike-pedestrian Trail would look like when completed? The Trail runs through Mohawk Harbor, past the Marina and amphitheater, and behind the Rivers Casino and its Landing Hotel. In each rendering submitted by the developers, Galesi Group and the casino owner and operator Rush Street Gaming, the riverside buffer between the Trail and the Mohawk River is shown green, landscaped and gently sloping to the riverbank. For example:

 . .

. . renderings of rear of Rivers Casino and Hotel: above June 2014; below July 2015 . .

 In addition, when the Site Plan was approved by the Planning Commission in 2015, the relevant and still-current provisions of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Code of the City of Schenectady stated [emphases added]:

(4) A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant with the following construction and design standards .. :

[1] The trail shall have a width of at least 10 feet along the length of the Mohawk River shoreline and shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline whenever practicable.

[2] There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.

[3] The trail shall be constructed of asphalt, synthetic composite, concrete, pavers, or other materials as approved by the Planning Commission.

[4] Trails and esplanades may include landscaped areas, sitting areas, benches, gazebos and suitable lighting facilities.

At no place has the required 12-foot buffer been installed on the riverside of the Trail. There also is no place for any sitting areas, benches, etc., along the riverbank side of the trail.

Also, the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. If the slope is less than 4.92 feet from the Trail, a safety rail 4.59′ high is required. The design requirements of State DOT depicted in the following  image appear to be directly applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail, given the steepness of the slope and the drop of far more than the 0.3 meters [0.98 ft.] over the slope:

NYSDOT-ShareUseRailingSlope

Despite any expectations created by the above materials, the next set of photos shows what the ALCO Heritage Trail actually looks like, as do photos in the top collage:

IMG_4915

IMG_4939

IMG_8691 . . IMG_8688

IMG_7240

With only a loose gravel buffer of 3.5′ to 7′ on the river side of the trail (rather than the required 12 feet of graded buffer), and a very steep slope covered with sharp, rip-rap rocks, without guardrails installed, it certainly does not look safe enough to me.  Part of my concern, of course, in addition to the normal mishaps on a busy shared use path, is the fact that the Trail passes within a couple yards of casino, restaurant and barroom patios, whose patrons will not all be sober, as well as by the Mohawk Harbor Marina and amphitheater.

CasinoRearFromBridge30May2018 copy-001

. . above: ALCO Heritage Trail seen, with zoom lens, from Freeman’s Bridge (May 29, 2018) ..

Nonetheless, because I am neither a bike-ped trail planner nor engineer, I decided to share my concerns with Paul Winkeller, the long-time Executive Director of the New York State Bicycling Coalition, to see if my concerns were valid. I sent Paul an email containing the collage at the top of this post and a few other photos. Paul wrote back the next day and forwarded my materials to a few other NYBC Board members, including Emeritus Board Member Ivan Vamos, a retired engineer and official for several relevant New York State agencies, who spent a few decades helping to implement bike trails and greenways. [read more on the backgrounds of Mr. Vamos and Mr. Winkeller, here.]

Engineer Ivan Vamos wrote back less than an hour after he received my forwarded inquiry, saying:

I agree, it looks like a bad solution for bicyclists and perhaps also for the handicapped with “walkers” and other aid devises. The rough gravel shoulder above the rip-rap was probably the selected solution to handle significant run-off from paved areas upslope; this was a cost-effective solution for that issue, versus a more sophisticated drainage plan.  The problem is that if a bike or other wheeled devise, women with high heeled shoes, or people with walking aids (like canes) stray on to the gravel, they will fall onto the sharp rip-rap.

I suggest a fence with “rub-rails” that keeps bicyclists of different heights and others on the trail. If observed use of the trail looks to attract a lot of strollers who tend to come to look at the River/harbor as part of their outing, it may be advisable to have the rail at a height that can be leaned on, benefiting walkers, but still giving some protection for bicyclists.

Screenshot_2018-06-20-09-00-31_kindlephoto-140184987

Although noting that he was not a planner or engineer, Executive Director Winkeller wrote, “Of course it does not look safe!” A few days later, he offered the assistance of New York Bicycling Coalition to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen in designing a safe shared use path (and got no reply), and added that he hoped I would continue to press the safety concerns:

“This is the height of the cycling season which means higher trail use and more of a chance of crashes. This is not a safe design, of that we all agree.”

  • County Legislators Have Not Replied. After three weeks, I have had no reply from several County Legislators to questions I  had sent them about the timing of the official opening of the Trail and whether additional safety measures were planned. That was prior to my correspondence with NYCB.
  • Corporation Counsel Has Not Replied. At the end of May, I also wrote to Schenectady’s Corporation Counsel, Carl Falotico, informing him of the comments from NYCB leaders, and asking whether the developers had received some sort of waiver from the Zoning Code requirements for the Harbor Trail. Three weeks later, I have not received a substantive reply from Mr. Falotico, who promised a reply when he was “ready to schedule a meeting” on the issues.
  • update (Oct. 4, 2018): More than four months later, I have yet to receive any substantive reply from the City’s Legal Department, the County Legislature of Law Department, or Metroplex, nor any suggestion as to why/how the specific requirements of our Riverfront zoning code for this specific trail could be ignored when constructing the trail.
  • Jennifer Ceponis, of the Capital District Transportation Committee, raised the issue at a Committee meeting on June 12, 2018. Jennifer reported that the City of Schenectady was “working on the problem.”

Bicyclists are already using the ALCO Heritage Trail, which connects Glenville’s Freedom Bridge road and Erie Boulevard with a riverside trail now ending at River Street in the East Front Street neighborhood, and then the Stockade. The CDPHP Bike Share program recently installed a bike share station at Mohawk Harbor, adding to the number of cyclists using the Harbor’s shared-use trail. Summer concerts at the Marina’s amphitheater, drawing audiences in the thousands, and other Harbor and Casino events will also increase the number of pedestrians using the Trail.

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If the information above leaves you wondering about the safety of the ALCO Heritage Trail, or the  process that has created a shared-use path quite different from our expectations, please let County and City legislators, and staffers working on bicycle planning and implementation know of your concerns.

.. . share this posting with the short url: http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety

  • questionmarkkeyBW$$? FINANCING THE TRAIL: The City of Schenectady C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” (emphasis added) Nonetheless, the County and Maxon Alco (the Galesi Group company that owns Mohawk Harbor) entered a Harbor Trail Easement Agreement in March 2016 stating,  “The parties agree that the maximum cost to Maxon Alco for the construction of the Trail shall not exceed $100,000.00. County shall be responsible for all costs and expenses for Trail construction which exceed the Maxon Alco Contribution.” 
    • Any additional expense to build the trail, perhaps over a million dollars, is coming from New York and County taxpayers.
    • In a March 2016 news article in the Albany Times Union, the Galesi Group bragged about “donating $100,000” to the cost of the Trail.
    • Maintenance. The Harbor Trail Easement Agreement also states that:

      “4. Maintenance of the Trail. Following construction of the Trail and the commencement of the Uses, Maxon Alco agrees to perform the non-structural maintenance including snowplowing and removal of debris/litter from the Trail. County shall be responsible for all other Trail maintenance, including any required repair or replacement of the Trail pavement/surface and all the Trail fencing, signage, striping and other trail related materials located upon the Easement Areas.”

    • The original C-3 Waterfront Mix-ed Use District provisions included the following sentence, which was removed in the 2015 amendments requested by the Developer: “All maintenance of the waterfront esplanade and amenities shall be the responsibility of the developer.” The original permanent, perpetual easement “assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront” was, of course, also removed at the “request” of the developer.
  • Taxpayer-funded Amenity: Having a shared-use path running through Mohawk Harbor is clearly an asset in selling and renting homes in the complex, and attracting tourists to its hotels. Thus, the short list of Extras on the Amenities page of the project’s River House apartments includes “Direct access to the NYS Hike Bike Trail.” In Philadelphia, Rush Street Gaming has spent millions of dollars to expand an already grand promenade and bike trail. Do our local leaders need more training in negotiating on behalf of our residents and taxpayers?
  • IMG_8698 . . . img_8681.jpg update (Oct. 4, 2018): A set of informational markers were recently installed along the ALCO Heritage Trail. See “Trail markers highlight locomotive plant’s heritage” (Albany Times Union, Sept. 21, 2018, by Tim Blydenburgh). The TU article states, “The county Department of Economic Development and Planning built the signs using $30,000 provided by the county Legislature.  Paul Singer Design, based in Brooklyn, designed the 11 trail markers.”
    • The signs are also worrisome from a safety perspective, as they seem to be placed much closer than necessary to the shared-use path, creating a hazard for pedestrians stopping to read the signs and for cyclists. When this safety point was made to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, he wrote back “We think the markers look great.”

p.s. You may recall my first Infamy Montage which “celebrated” the opening of Rivers Casino on the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre, when only Snowmen guarded the open gate of the Stockade (while the assigned guards relaxed at a nearby pub), allowing a band of French soldiers and marauding Indians to burn down the Stockade.  Below is my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly, unsafe, riverbank, trail, and harbor scene.

BikeTrailInfamy

 follow-up (June 26, 2018): At a public meeting on June 21, 2018 (on the Extension Feasibility Study for the riverfront trail), Schenectady County Metroplex Authority chair Ray Gillen, told the author of this posting that there will be a fence or rail put up along the slope near the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor. Given this acknowledgement of the possible safety hazard, I wondered whether any temporary safety measures were taken along the Trail — such as yellow tape or safety cones — in anticipation of the first Harbor Jam outdoor concert last Saturday, June 23, at the Amphitheater of Mohawk Harbor, which is across a lawn from the riverbank.

  • follow-up: When taking photos from Riverside Park of the Casino’s July 3 fireworks, using a powerful zoom lens, I saw — as would be expected — a line of people of all ages and sizes standing along the top of the slope in the dark and gazing out over the River at the fireworks.

why not? . . cautiontaperoll . . orangesafetycone

There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. At about 3 or 4 cents a yard, what excuse is there for not stringing Caution Tape? Is this another case of our fearless leaders avoiding bad publicity at any cost — and at any risk?

Moreover, apparently due to heavy rain earlier that day, the gravel  between the Trail and the slope was slippery underfoot. When trying to shoot a photo from the gravel, my foot sunk into it, and the gravel slipped toward and under some of the rip-rap stones at the top of the slope. In addition, I saw a full-grown man, while in conversation with another man while standing on the gravel buffer, absent-mindedly step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino. What do you supposed little boys and girls will do?

a slow week at Mohawk Harbor?

Amphitheater, 3 PM Memorial Day

 Quick online searching* confirmed my assumption that casino resorts would be among the most popular destinations for America’s millions of travelers over the Memorial Day Weekend. So, given a refreshing breeze and blue skies, I was a little surprised by how few people were out and about at Mohawk Harbor mid-afternoon on Memorial Day. I had stopped by to catch the tail end of the Rollin’ on the River Car Show and Auction, hosted by Rivers Casino, and then spent about an hour sitting and strolling around the grounds and taking photos.

During my visit on Memorial Day:

  • There was only one boat docked in the Marina the entire time. [The same was true on my return the next day; however, on May 30, there were three boats docked, the most I have ever seen in the Marina.]
  • No kayaks appeared to be checked out [ditto May 29, 30]
  • No one else used any of the picnic tables or played on the large lawns between the River House and the Casino
  • A few pairs of bicyclists and a couple of dog walkers used the mixed-used path that runs through Mohawk Harbor, but I saw none of them stop while traversing Mohawk Harbor.
  • No one spread a blanket or sat at the lovely, manicured Amphitheater, despite its unobstructed view of the Marina.

CasinoRevs01Jun2018 Perhaps all the Holiday Weekend trekkers had already started their return trips home, or were squeezing in one last cook-out at a relative’s or friend’s backyard. It made me wonder, though, how much gaming action had been going on at Rivers Casino over the weekend. The weather on Saturday and Sunday had enough rain in the forecast to motivate indoors activity such as that found inside the Casino. So, I checked out the weekly Revenues report for Rivers Casino that went online yesterday, Friday June 1st. However, as you can see by clicking on the image to the left of this paragraph, last week Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor had its worst week for gaming revenues since the end of March, with a total GGR of $2,876,146 for the week ending Sunday May 27, 2018.

If you have not spent time on the greener side of Mohawk Harbor, you might enjoy this Slideshow, which has photos taken May 28, 29 and 30, 2018.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

.

view north toward River from Amphitheater

*/According to the AAA, the draw of gambling made Las Vegas NV the 4th most chosen destination for Memorial Day Weekend. 2018. Gambling hubs such as Denver and Phoenix were also in the top ten destinations list for the holiday weekend.

 coming in June, Druther’s at River House . . MHDruthers30May2018

a quick look at del Lago’s exterior

 . . 

. .  above: main entrance to [L] del Lago Casino; [R] Rivers Casino Schenectady

Driving back to Schenectady the day after Easter, I noticed that del Lago Resort & Casino is located right at Exit 41 of the New York Thruway, at Waterloo, NY, in Seneca County. Having only seen renderings of del Lago, when concluding it looked considerably more attractive than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, I thought I’d take the opportunity to stretch my legs and take a few photos of the exterior of del Lago in the brick-and-mortar world.

delLagoHotelRear

. . above: rear of del Lago Hotel and side entrance of Casino

You can judge for yourself from the two collages below (click on each for larger versions), one of which concentrates on the Casinos and one on the Hotels and Parking Ramps, how the $440 million spent on del Lago turned out, on the outside, compared to the $320 million to build Rivers Casino in Schenectady. A few additional images are also included after the collages. (You might note that del Lago appears to have no large, bright LCD screen or freestanding pylon.)

.

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Here are two more views of the del Lago Hotel:

IMG_6681 . . IMG_6679

 . . . And, two views of the rear entrance to the del Lago Casino:

IMG_6696  . . IMG_6694

Plus, the del Lago entry/exit driveway, at 1133 State Route 414, seen from near the self-park lot:

. . IMG_6667 . .

IMG_6669

IMG_6666

UpstateNYMap2018

  • Distances. Del Lago is 43 miles from Syracuse, 50 miles from Rochester, 90 miles from Utica, 95 miles from Binghamton, 105 miles from Watertown, 112 mlies from Buffalo, and 156 miles from Schenectady. In an Appendix at the bottom of my Casino Choices posting from January 2017, I have compiled the distances of the various casinos from Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Ithaca, Kingston, Rochester, Syracuse, Watertown, and Utica. 

IMG_6673

Lady Liberty is Timeless

LadyRallyB update (Sept. 22, 2018): See “Rally for Lady Liberty on Sept. 28“; please join us for a neighborly rally to celebrate Lady Liberty and Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza; 6 PM, at the Central Sculpture Area, where the Lady stood for 67 years. NOTE (Sept. 26, 2018): DSIC has cancelled “Groovin’@Gateway”, but we will nonetheless have a PHOTO-OP for Lady Liberty, at the same time and place. For details, see the Sept. 26, 2018 update at our webpost linked above.

LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

Plan rendering detail

 . .update (June 27, 2018): It is almost July 4th, but instead of returning Lady Liberty to the spot designated for her in Liberty Park in the approved Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, a row of trees was planted in that spot last week (see photo above). See today’s Gazette Letter by much-honored Veteran Jim Wilson, calling for Liberty’s return on July 4th.

This posting summarizes the tale of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty as of late April 2018. For a fuller discussion of the issues in the controversy over where Lady Liberty will be relocated this Spring, see our posting Bring Lady Liberty Home, which has links to important documents, relevant images and helpful photos.

TimelessLadyLibertyY. . This sign states my theme when addressing the March 26, 2018 Schenectady City Council Meeting, in a Privilege of the Floor statement urging the return of Lady Liberty to her Park. The theme is a reaction to the recent claim that Lady Liberty is not modern enough to fit into the contemporary style of the Park/Plaza as now envisioned by its designer. Below is another image made to argue the point, showing the spot (the green exclamation point) where Lady Liberty was to be returned in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, plus “modern” elements already installed (click on it to enlarge):

  • GazEd-DontMoveLadyLiberty update (April 5, 2018): This evening, the Daily Gazette Editorial Board posted “Don’t Move Lady Liberty“, 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.)

IMG_2267Background: Lady Liberty, a 100-inch tall replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, came to Schenectady as part of a 1950 Boy Scouts of America program. Local Boy Scouts across the City and County saved up the $350 to purchase the statue. It stood in Liberty Park, which was named for the replica of Lady Liberty, until it was put into storage (in August 2017, according to the Gazette) to protect the statue during the reconfiguration and reconstruction of Liberty Park, as it was expanded into Gateway Plaza.  [The photo of the statue to the right was taken by the author of this posting in September 2016.] The Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, and every draft version of it, clearly and explicitly included bringing Her back after the reconstruction, placing Lady Liberty in a prominent new location along State Street, next to the CDTA bus shelter.

GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 Nonetheless, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy told the Gazette in December 2017 that Lady “was looking for a new home,” and a group of Goosehill residents asked to use Lady Liberty as part of a Veterans Memorial in Steinmetz Park. Then, on February 24, 2018, a captioned photo of Lady Liberty in the Albany Times Union [thumbnail to the left] stated that the statue would not be going back to Liberty/Gateway Park, but would be heading to another park, probably Steinmetz Park.

. . Lady Liberty in her park, Sept. 15, 2016:  LibertyPark

. . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB . . Gateway Plaza, open to the public, early 2018

GPLady3 Bringing the Issue to City Council. Using the handout pictured to the right of this paragraph, the proprietor of this website, David Giacalone, raised the issue of the fate of Lady Liberty at the March 12, 2018 City Council Meeting, asking the members of the Council to see to it that the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan is implemented as planned with regard to the replica of Lady Liberty. The Council approved and the Mayor signed the Implementation Plan, deeming it an official city document, in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). At the March 12 Council Meeting, Mayor McCarthy stated he had made no final decision, but noted — perhaps because he had no engineers to blame this time — that the move was due to the [apparently recent] recommendation of “the Design Team.” For a fuller discussion of that meeting, see “The Lady and the Mayor and the Council“, which points out that Mary Moore Wallinger, a landscape architect who is also Chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission, was the primary designer of Gateway Plaza and remains so. And, that every alternative presented to the Gateway Plaza design steering committee and in public workshops by Ms. Wallinger in 2012 had Lady Liberty returning once construction was completed.

The March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting. At the next City Council meeting, a group of Goosehill residents and supporters of the Steinmetz Veterans Memorial plan addressed the Council and presented a Petition, supporting the placement of Lady Liberty at Steinmetz Park. Mary Moore Wallinger also spoke to the Council from the floor. Andrew Beam posted his Gazette coverage online Monday evening, “Residents jockey for Lady Liberty statue: The statue was removed from Liberty Park due to construction” (March 26, 2018).  Below is an expanded Comment I left late that night at the Gazette article:

Comment by David Giacalone:
 .

Sending Lady Liberty away from her only Schenectady home (since the statue was purchased in 1950), despite full public support in the Plan-creation process for returning her after reconstruction of the Park, greatly undermines the integrity of the process for creating important municipal projects. That is especially true when a plan involves preservation of an element of our history. And, it leaves the Council’s legislative and policy-making role frustrated by the Mayor.

GPPlanCover

Cover of Implementation Plan

 Bringing Lady Liberty back after reconstruction of the Park wasn’t merely a “concept”, as stated in the article. It was so obvious a result, that it was the only alternative presented to the Steering Committee and in public workshops by its primary designer Mary Moore Wallinger, and it was fully supported by all commenters in the 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.”

Lady Liberty was only removed, after Sept. 2016, for Her protection during construction, with every expectation that she would return. The Mayor created this conflict by ignoring the adopted Implementation Plan and announcing Lady Liberty was “looking for a new home.” It is sad that the good people of Goose Hill were never told that the Lady was already spoken for. Instead, they came and stated Lady Liberty had been abandoned and neglected and has been in storage for five years.

The excuse that Lady Liberty is not contemporary enough for that Plaza is simply silly. Designer Wallinger embraced keeping the Statue in the new Park/Plaza throughout the design process. There is no symbol that better fulfills the Implementation Plan’s goal of “celebrating our past, present, and future.” Lady Liberty is Timeless.

For the full story, with images from the Plan, and photos of the Plaza, and of Lady Liberty before construction, see: http://tinyurl.com/BringLibertyHome and the updates linked to that posting.

p.s. re Ms. Wallinger: I would have liked to respond to the very misleading statement to the Council on March 26 by landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, the designer who changed her mind about having Lady Liberty at the new Plaza and convinced the Mayor to ignore the adopted Plan. Normally, I would have spoken after Ms. Wallinger, because she signed in just ahead of me on the sign-up sheet. However, Council President Ed Kosiur called me to speak before Wallinger (who is also the Chair of the City Planning Commission), eliminating my opportunity to set the record straight.

Wallin-Sasnowski-Wallinger For example, although Ms. Wallinger omitted her original, indefensible excuse that Lady Liberty was too small to be in scale at the Plaza, she stated to the Council:

a) That the Liberty Statue was only “a small part” of the Plan. To the contrary, while small in size or footprint, Lady Liberty was a significant factor for public participants and for celebration of our City’s history. Of course, the small size belies the notion that the replica statue can somehow ruin the grand contemporization theme now embraced by Ms. Wallinger for the greatly expanded Park.

b) That “plans change.” Of course they do: initial brainstorming and concepts lead to refined and limited concepts and drafts. But, once a formal design process, with formal public participation (including a Steering Committee of “stakeholder” institutions), is adopted by the City Council and signed by the Mayor, only true safety, engineering, and financial problems traditionally are the basis of any significant change, especially without public participation in making the change. Here, there was one change: The Designer changed her public position, and wants Lady Liberty banned from Gateway/Liberty Plaza. As a result, because she is a Favorite of, and (as Planning Commission Chair) a Favor-Performer for, the Mayor, her design wish is being foisted on the City, along with her grand vision of what makes Schenectady seem “contemporary”. And,

c) That Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady.

  • By the way, in addition to David Giacalone from the Stockade, and Mary Ann and Carmella Ruscitto of East Front Street, also speaking in support of bringing Lady Liberty back to Liberty Park was Jim Wilson, a 93-year old WWII vet who is “Mr. Veteran” to many people here in Schenectady.

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GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail  . . IMG_6622

. . above: [L] detail from a rendering in the adopted Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza. showing the location for the return of Lady Liberty (click here for the full rendering);  [R] a photo of that location still empty and ready for Lady Liberty’s home-coming.

 . . . update (March 28, 2018): On March 27, an upset Mary Moore Wallinger wrote a lengthy email letter to City Council, the Mayor, Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, and other officials and supporters of the move to Steinmetz Park, quite unhappy that Council member Vince Riggi had called the Lady Liberty dispute “divisive”. Ms. Wallinger expanded on her reasons for wanting to send Lady Liberty away from her home. Rather than relenting and reverting to the original Implementation Plan she had created and promoted, as a solution to avoid inter-neighborhood strife, the Friend of Gary seemed, in her email message, to be giving the Mayor another option: Placing Lady Liberty at a busy Schenectady location, with lots of foot and vehicle traffic and appropriate educational signage. Although it certainly sounds like Gateway/Liberty Plaza would fit that bill, it is clear that Ms. Wallinger is suggesting Any Place But Gateway Plaza, which she still insists would be tarred as un-contemporary if Lady Liberty were given a tiny spot there.

Follow-up (April 3, 2018) The Goose Hill Lady Liberty Petition:

GooseHillLibertyPetition

To support their argument that Lady Liberty should be brought “home” to Steinmetz Park, for inclusion in a Veterans Memorial, the proponents of the Steinmetz Park plan circulated a Petition for Lady Liberty. The text of that Petition is above (click on it for a larger version). It was presented by “rebuked” former councilman Dave Bouck, to City Council at the March 26 Council Meeting. Some important points need to be made about the Petition:

  1. IMG_2265It falsely claims that Lady Liberty has been in storage for five years. And, speakers at the Council Meeting echoed that claim, saying the Statue has been long neglected and put into storage by those who now want it back in Liberty Park. In fact, the Statue was still standing on September 15, 2016, when the author of this weblog took many photos in Liberty Park, including the one to the right. Furthermore, an article by Gazette reporter Bill Buell, dated Dec. 14, 2017, indicates that construction workers removed Lady Liberty in August, 2017, to protect her during reconstruction of the Park. Why didn’t Ms. Wallinger, whose LandArtStudio is administering the construction of Gateway Plaza, set the misled people of Goosehill, and the City Council, straight on this fact?
  2. The Petition falsely indicates that the Statue “was the inspiration and hard work of Boy Scout Troop 66 of Goosehill,” and thus that bringing the statue to Steinmetz Park and Goosehill is “bringing it home.” The reality is that collecting the money to purchase Lady Liberty in 1950 was a City and County-wide project of several Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs, in addition to Troop 66, including Troop 22 in Bellvue, Troop 12 at the Halsey School on Albany Street, and Cub Scout pack 25 from Mt. Pleasant, among others.
  3. Mr. Bouck told the Council Meeting that the Petition had “about 200 signatures“. In fact, my count of the Petition found 154 signatures.
  4. LibertyPetition1stpageY In addition, despite Bouck’s stress on door-to-door canvasing for the Petition, the signatories on the 1st Page of the Petition [see image at left for upper portion of that page] just happen to all be folks at the Democratic Party Committee Meeting the prior weekend. Indeed, the 6th, 7th, and 8th signatures on the Petition (which was presented to the Council and its President, Ed Kosiur), were by Council members Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, none of whom had anything to say about the Lady Liberty controversy at the two Council meetings where it was brought up in Privilege of the Floor statements.

the Lady and the Mayor and the Council

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park.

 At Monday’s Schenectady City Council meeting (March 12, 2018), the issue of Bringing Lady Liberty Home was the subject of my “privilege of the floor” comments to the Council and Mayor. The collage at the right of this paragraph is the handout that I gave to our elected representatives, to remind them that the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan they approved in 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206clearly included the return of the Statue of Liberty replica to her home at Gateway Plaza. There are no safety or financial reasons to alter that Plan. I basically told the Council: This is easy for you: Ask the Mayor to implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan as written — that is, with Lady Liberty brought back home. [For a full discussion of the issues, process, etc., see our prior post, “Bring Lady Liberty Home“, which has links to relevant documents and lots of photos; and see the actual Implementation Plan, the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza.]

 In the past, Schenectady Mayors have used experts — consultant engineers or Corporation Counsel (their in-house mouthpiece) — to justify going back on pledges to preserve parts of Schenectady’s history. Monday evening, Gary McCarthy repeated his refrain that “no final decision has been made yet”, but then added that the Gateway Plaza “design team” recommended not returning the Liberty Statue replica to Liberty/Gateway Plaza. Later that night, I wrote to the members of the Counsel to remind them:

GPPlanCover “The ironic thing about the Design Team excuse is that Mary Moore Wallinger, with her LAndArt Studio, has been the primary designer throughout this entire process; was author of the Implementation Plan; and is responsible for construction documents and construction administration. In 2012-2013, Mary never wavered, but showed Lady Liberty back at Gateway Plaza after construction, in every alternative presented to the Steering Committee, Public Design Workshops, and City Council.” [and, on the cover of the Plan; see detail to the left, with a blue asterisk placed above Liberty’s planned relocation.]

LibertyPark . . GatewayPlazaCollage26FebB

. . click on thumbnails above for collages of [L] Lady Liberty in 2016; [R] Gateway Plaza, March 2018 . .

The Lady Fits. When did the “design team” change its/her mind and start saying that Lady Liberty is too small to fit in, and is not contemporary enough to fit in, at Gateway Plaza? The following rendering of the proposed (and later adopted) view of the Plaza as seen from Washington Avenue and State Street shows, in my opinion, that Lady Liberty fits in well, giving us continuity with our history and a continuing message of welcome that is most relevant to our present and future. (click on the image for a larger version)

birdseye view (marked with blue asterisk) . . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

GPLady-NotTooSmall . . Not Too Small . .

The 100-inch-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty, sitting atop its base, is neither inadequate as a statue or sculpture, nor obtrusive in style, so as to somehow mar or overcome the “contemporary” feel now being stressed by Ms. Wallinger. The Implementation Plan she authored in 2012 and promoted to City Council in 2013, declared that Gateway Plaza is meant to “celebrate the City’s past, present and future.” Our Statue of Liberty does that in a timeless style and dauntless spirit — a spirit of welcome and inclusion that more than ever needs to be highlighted, and a spirit of freedom that is always fresh and yet always needs to be renewed.

A few salient points:

  • Riggi. At the March 13 City Council meeting, Councilman Vince Riggi (Ind.) pointed out the appropriateness of having Lady Liberty in a Gateway welcoming people to Schenectady, just as the original Statue of Liberty has welcomed tens of millions from its perch in New York Harbor. The National Parks webpage on the Statue of Liberty states: “The symbol of American freedom and opportunity, Lady Liberty has long been a beacon to those seeking refuge on our shores.” Riggi also reminded the Council that he was assured that the Statue would be returned to her original home after construction just seven months ago, by the City’s Commissioner of Operations.

  •  History. Lady Liberty would be the only vertical (above-ground) element in the Plaza Plan that refers to Schenectady’s history. The two historic markers [out of seven] that have been salvaged and returned to the Park are recessed in the sidewalk, hard to find and difficult to read. (see the greenish marker in the photo to the left) And, the “Historic Railroad Pedestrian Way” included along the east side of the Plaza refers to an “underground railway” of short duration that may be little-known because of its historical insignificance, and is to most residents a minor curiosity.
  • Porterfield: At the Council Meeting on March 12, Council member Marion Porterfield stated the City should listen to those who live near the Park/Plaza, and noted that she has seen nothing indicating that the Mayor had changed the Plan regarding Lady Liberty; she also pointed out that this is not a matter of favoring one neighborhood over another. [Ed. note: Last year, when City Council voted to alienate a piece of Riverside Park for use as a pumping station, it “substituted” land at Gateway Plaza, tying the Stockade even closer to that new Park.]
  • Gillen: Has the Mayor made a final decision? On February 26, 2018, Ray Gillen, Chair Metroplex, wrote in response to an email asking about the markers and monuments that had been in Liberty Park that, “The Statue of Liberty is being relocated by the City and will likely be located in a another City park in the spring.” The finality of that statement should be a reminder that those opposed to the exile of Lady Liberty must speak out now and loudly.

My message to the Council on Monday is not a new one: Your Resolutions need to be implemented and the Council needs to fulfill its oversight role to see that the Executive Branch of City government follows the policies made by the Council.

  •  Sunshine Week. As the Gazette‘s opinion page editor, Mark Mahoney, has been reminding us, we are currently celebrating Sunshine Week. We need open government and the people need to know that they have access to information that will shed light on the workings of their government and leaders. When thinking about the importance of following through on the treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, I hope our Council members and our Mayor, along with the Plaza design team, will ask themselves “What good are sunshine laws and policy if an open design process, with community input and support, and approval by City Council, can be undone secretly a few years later by the Mayor, just before an Implementation Plan is completed?”

Raise Your Voice. So, please, if you agree that Lady Liberty belongs back home at Gateway/Liberty Plaza, let Mayor McCarthy and the entire City Council know you have neither seen nor heard anything that justifies not following through on the original, adopted Implementation Plan, which made so much sense and was fully supported at the Public Workshops. The Mayor and Designer Mary Wallinger have misled the good folks who support a Veterans’ Memorial at Steinmetz Park, by acting as if Lady Liberty’s future in Schenectady had not yet been decided; they need to come up with a suitable alternative at Steinmetz Park for the values and history represented by Lady Liberty.

  • Mayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, chair of the Council Planning and Development Committee
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov,
  • Vincent Riggi – vriggi@schenectadyny.gov

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newspaper follow-up (March 21, 2018): Yesterday afternoon, at the Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society, I found a few items in the Schenectady Gazette I want to share:

  1. In his Tales of Old Dorp column (April 22, 1986), historian Gary Hart wrote: Larry Hart wrote in his Gazette column in 1986: “By the way, the green triangle was named Liberty Park after the monument.” (emphasis added) This really is Her Park.
  2. At the time the final Plan was being put together an article headlined “Schenectady’s Liberty Park seen as gateway, college area,” (Bethany Bump, June 13, 2012, B3) reported: 

    “Residents, on the other hand, expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty.

    “The Lady Liberty replica that 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.”

  3. LibertyTorch And, in an article titled “Passing the Torch” (by Jeff Wilkin, Oct. 27, 2002), I learned that Schenectady Boy Scouts and area Veterans’ groups held annual rededication ceremonies at Lady Liberty in October for decades. A National Boy Scout of American leader is quoted saying that very few cities hold rededication ceremonies and he was very pleased with Schenectady’s efforts. An primary organizer of the events noted that they were held to help commemorate Schenectady’s immigrants, whose first sight of America so often was of the original Lady Liberty in New York Harbor.

Bring Lady Liberty Home

IMG_2267 

follow-up (March 26, 2018): see “Lady Liberty is Timeless“, where you can find a summary of the facts and issues, with important links and images, in the controversy over the failure to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park. And see, “Rally for Lady Liberty Sept. 28“.

Summary: Unless the Mayor of Schenectady, Gary McCarthy, is convinced to change his mind, the Statue of Liberty replica erected in Liberty Park in 1950, which was donated by local Boy Scout troops, will not be returned to her renovated home, the new, (unofficially) renamed Gateway Plaza. Instead, Schenectady’s “Lady Liberty” will be getting a different “Foster Home” elsewhere in Schenectady (apparently, as part of a Veterans Memorial at Steinmetz Park). The original Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which was natural, popular, and adopted by the City in 2013, was to bring Liberty back to Her Home, in a visible new location, once Park reconstruction was completed. We should insist that this piece of the Park’s history, and our history, be restored to  a place of honor in her Park, and the City’s promise be kept, especially because there is no safety or budgetary reason to exile Her. Contrary to current excuses, she is not too small or too old-fashioned to serve the goals of Gateway Plaza. Full discussion below.

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. . and, (March 14, 2018): for an updated summary, after the March 12 Council meeting, see “The Lady, and the Mayor, and the Council“.

  . . 

 Above: [L] Lady Liberty in Liberty Park shortly before being put into storage for the Gateway Plaza reconstruction project (Sept. 2016); [R] detail from a rendering in the final Implementation Plan (Nov. 2012) showing Liberty relocated closer to State St. and the CDTA bus shelter. Right: a collage showing Lady Liberty in her Park on September 15, 2016 (please click on the collage for a larger version).

   Until very recently, there seemed to be no reason for members of the public to doubt that Schenectady’s replica of the Statue of Liberty (a/k/a “Lady Liberty”), which had stood in Liberty Park from 1950 until August of 2017, would be returned from storage to the Park, after its reconstruction and expansion into Gateway Plaza. But, now, the opposite is true, and Liberty will end up elsewhere in Schenectady, if we do not quickly persuade City Hall, Metroplex, and/or LAndArt Studio (the project’s designer and construction administrator), to restore our small version of the Statue of Liberty to its original home, as promised.

The Gateway Plaza project has as a major goal: to “Celebrate Schenectady’s past, present & future”. Gateway Plaza’s clean, modern design points to the City’s vibrant present and hopeful future. But, in fact, there is and will be little tangible and readily visible “celebration of its past” without Lady Liberty continuing to grace the scene.

  •  If you are not yet familiar with the newly-opened Gateway Plaza, click on the collage to the right for a quick visit. For a more comprehensive introduction, check out “first look at Gateway Plaza“, at suns along the Mohawk, our sister website.  You will find about 30 photos taken on Feb. 26 and March 3, 2018, along with a brief summary of the goals of the Project, as stated in the Final Report City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012, 119 pp. pdf.).

Where did Schenectady’s Lady Liberty come from, and why should we care about her fate? As Waymarking.com explains, in part:

Statue of Liberty Replica -Schenectady, NY

In Liberty Park, a small triangle of land in downtown Schenectady, NY, there is a replica of the Statue of Liberty. It also has the same five pointed star base as the original. 

In 1950, the Boy Scouts of America celebrated their 40th anniversary, with the theme Strengthen the Arm of Liberty, by donating approximately two hundred 100-inch tall, 290 lb. replicas of the Statue of Liberty. [click for a list of locations] They were given [through contributions by local Scouts] to communities in 39 different U.S. states and several U.S. possessions and territories. Of the original copies, approximately 100 can currently be located. These copper statues were manufactured by Friedley-Voshardt Co.

In a 2012 Schenectady Gazette article, the story of our Lady Liberty is told through the eyes of several local Boy Scouts from the troop that met at St. Anthony’s Church, and worked to save up the $350 to purchase the sculpture in 1950. “Lady Liberty replica has 62-year-old story to tell” (by Bethany Bump, Jan. 15, 2012).

It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.

. . .  Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”

At the Wikipedia page for the Boy Scouts’ Strengthen the Arm of Liberty program, we are told (emphasis added):

The classical appearance (Roman stola, sandals, facial expression) derives from Libertas, ancient Rome’s goddess of freedom from slavery, oppression, and tyranny. Her raised right foot is on the move. This symbol of Liberty and Freedom is not standing still or at attention in the harbor, it is moving forward, as her left foot tramples broken shackles at her feet, in symbolism of the United States’ wish to be free from oppression and tyranny

detail of Phase 1 & Phase 2 sketch

Throughout the planning stages that yielded the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (November 2012), documents shown to the public and Steering Committee depicted Lady Liberty back in Gateway Plaza at a prominent spot near its original location — closer to State Street, between the existing great maple tree and CDTA Bus Plus structures. See the rendering at the top of this posting (which is a detail from this view of the Plaza), as well as the sketch immediately below of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Gateway Plaza project; its Legend shows item #6 (at the top, near State Street and a CDTA shelter), as the “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”: 

  . . click on image for a larger version.

 Indeed, every single depiction of options for the planned Gateway Plaza presented for its Public Design Workshops showed Lady Liberty relocated to that spot; e.g., sketches of so-called Concept A and Concept B; and, a Birdseye View of the project. Also, workshop materials showed Liberty as a primary example of study area history. [See Implementation Plan, Appendix G, Public Workshops and Meeting Minutes]

. . annotated detail from Birdseye rendering. . GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

Moreover:

  1. Every public comment about the Liberty statue was positive for keeping her at the Plaza (App. G, at 94, 110), with notable support to make Her more prominent, keeping Lady Liberty at her original location in the renovated “urban plaza” area.
  2. The Minutes for the Workshops contain no indication of any reservation by the designers or Steering Committee to place Lady Liberty elsewhere in the City.
  3. Through its City Council, the City of Schenectady adopted the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan “as an official document”, on August 12, 2013 (Resolution No. 2013-206). The only Plan submitted to the Council included bringing Lady Liberty back to be relocated in Gateway Plaza. 

Only six months ago, on August 14, 2017, City Councilman Vince Riggi responded to constituent inquiries about whether Lady Liberty would be coming back to her old home, by sending a text message to Paul LaFond, the City’s Commissioner of General Services.  Mr. Riggi asked, “is the Statue of Liberty going to be returned to Gateway Park after construction.” Commissioner LaFond replied less than an 90 minutes later: “Yes when the park is complete.” [see screenshot to the right]

Lulled into an unusual complacency regarding Schenectady City Hall and the preservation of Schenectady history, the author of this posting missed the Gazette article “Statue of Liberty replica will find new home: It was 1 of just 6 erected in New York state communities” (Daily Gazette, Dec. 14, 2017, by Bill Buell). The article, which also tells of the Time Capsule placed under the Statue, states:

Due to construction in that area of State Street, across from the former YMCA, the replica has been put in the city garage on Foster Avenue for safekeeping. But Mayor Gary R. McCarthy expects it to have a new home soon.

“Potential sites are being evaluated, and I’m sure we’ll find a place for it soon,” McCarthy said. “One scenario has it back in Liberty Park, and other possibilities might be near the police station, the train station or somewhere along Erie Boulevard.”

Note that Mayor Gary McCarthy calls the City-approved and promised return of Liberty to Gateway Plaza merely “one scenario” being evaluated, but he did at least suggest that the return home was still under consideration. [Keep reading and form your own conclusion.]

 On February 24th, however, I was jolted out of my complacency when I saw the item at the head of this paragraph on page A3 of the Albany Times Union.  It is merely a photo with a two-sentence caption; there is no explanatory article. The headline says “Symbol heading to a new home.” That’s Schenectady’s Director of Development, Kristin Diotte, with Lady Liberty, in a storage area on Foster Avenue. The caption states: “It’s destined for a new home, most likely Steinmetz Park on the city’s north side in Schenectady.”

 Soon after seeing the Times Union item, I wrote to Mary Moore Wallinger, who is the principal in the design firm LAndArt Studio, which has been responsible for design, construction documents and construction administration of Gateway Plaza. Mary has been a lead actor in the design and execution of Gateway Plaza from the beginning, when she was employed by Synthesis Architects, LLP. Mary is also the chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission. The Planning Office staff is directly under Kristin Diotte, Director of Development. Thus, I was fairly sure Mary Wallinger would know the status of Lady Liberty’s planned location and the reasons for the changed Plan. My email to her included the Gateway Landing photo collage posted above, and also asked why the Liberty replica was not being returned home. Here is Ms. Wallinger’s entire reply:

On Mar 1, 2018, at 8:37 AM, Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com> wrote:

Hi David,

Thanks so much for sharing this [a collage of Gateway Plaza images] – you made my morning!

In regards to the statue, there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location. She worked there originally because all of the berms and plantings helped to exaggerate her scale, but as you know, visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location.  I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her where she will continue to be enjoyed by residents and visitors and be greatly appreciated and loved, while continuing to inspire all those around her. There have been a few interested parties with various interesting proposals for new locations and I know the City is contemplating the different options, but I expect they will be making an announcement soon and something will likely happen in the spring. She cannot really be moved until the ground has properly thawed out and a proper footing put in place. The good news is that she is well loved and there are lots of good ideas circulating for her placement in the city, as well as a commitment to seeing this happen once weather permits.

Have a wonderful day and thank you again for your photos!

Best regards,

There is no mention that the long-standing Plan to return Lady Liberty has been reversed. Instead, two reasons are given for sending Lady Liberty to what I call a Foster Home:

  1.  “there is a plan to include some sculpture in the park at some point, but the Statue of Liberty is actually quite small and would look very out of scale in that location.” My response:
    1. The statue would not be there as sculpture, but as a part of the City’s history (and future).
    2. Lady Liberty is the same size as when Mary oversaw plans to bring her back to the Park/Plaza. And, the Lady’s scale looks fine in the rendering showing her at the planned relocation spot. [image at right] Some might say the original location, with the giant maple and other trees and vegetation, plus surrounding berms, in some ways made Lady Liberty look smaller.
  2. visually secluded areas in public parks are a safety concern and it was critical to open up the visibility in this location”. 
    1. The berms and most vegetation have been removed and visibility is good
    2. The Planned relocation spot is very visible, and not secluded, without the statue being so large as to block views of the Park.

The reasons given for failing to return Lady Liberty to her home are (euphemistically) very weak.

Lawrence on the ground with Stockade resident Peter Delocis

As a statue, the Liberty replica is certainly not too small to have an adequate and appropriate impact. As I have written back to Mary Wallinger, the Liberty replica is 100 inches tall, 8′ 4″. The Stockade’s famous and beloved statue of Lawrence the Indian is 67 inches tall, a mere 5′ 7″. That is almost three feet (and 33%) shorter than Lady Liberty. At that smaller size, Lawrence nonetheless commands his space in an open traffic circle (in color or b&w):

..  ..   

 As a piece of sculpture, the best comparison I can find is the only comparable sculpture shown in the Gateway Plaza renderings: Venus de Milo on the Pedestrian Way. See the image to the right, which is a detail from this rendering. That Venus sculpture appears to be the same size as the original: 6′ 8″, twenty inches shorter than Lady Liberty, and holding her own.

2Wizards-img_8116 BTW: At 8’4″, Lady Liberty is significantly taller than the Edison and Steinmetz sculptures, which were ensconced in May 2015 at their Memorial pocket-park, on the corner of Erie Blvd. and So. Church Street. According to the Memorial’s primary midwife/godfather, Brian Merriam, the life-sized sculptures present Edison at 5’10” and Steinmetz at 4’6″.

Fire Sta. #2: plans/schmans

 What are we to make of such lame excuses for once again reneging on a development plan that included preserving an important or well-loved piece of Schenectady’s history? How can we not think about the façade of the IOOF’s Temple, the loss of the Nicholaus Building, or the fate of and sad replacement for Schenectady’s Old Fire Station #2?  The Fire Station #2 tale is instructive for many reasons, one of which is that the Planning Office staff decided that proposed changes in the approved plan were “minor” and did not have to go before the Planning Commission or the public, leaving us all in the dark until the actual construction of a building that looks like an auto mechanic shop. (Take a look at the Story Collage to the left of this paragraph, if you do not recall the sad precedent.) Of course, we do not know when or by whom the decision was made to exile Lady Liberty from her Park, but the decision was certainly not done in public nor brought to City Council.

The three tarnished examples mentioned in the last paragraph at least had last-minute “engineering studies” or money-saving business imperatives to “justify” them. Here, we are left with asking:

 “Which important persons did not like Lady Liberty or her aesthetic or unfashionable effect on the Plaza, or liked her so much they asked the Mayor to send her to their part of town?

Wallinger-pylon follow-up to the above question (March 6, 2018): This afternoon, Mary Moore Wallinger responded to 93-year old Stockade resident Jessie Malecki, who wrote supporting the return of Lady Liberty to her home. Mary’s reply avoids the “too small scale” notion, and confirms my suspicion that the Liberty replica is simply not modern enough for Ms. Wallinger. She wrote to Mrs. Malecki:

 “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As per the Route 5 Transit Gateway Study, the park has been redesigned as a new gateway to the City and is intended to have a more contemporary feel that celebrates the future of our great city.

In her email on March 1 to me, Mary Wallinger said:

I have been working with the City and a group of local residents and I think we have found a very exciting new home for her . .

Well, she certainly has not been doing this in a way that would have alerted members of the public who were at the Gateway Plaza Workshops, or those who actively promote our Heritage, or are part of the Stockade community, which the design was supposed to attract and embrace.

Please Speak Out: What are we to make of Lady Liberty being sent to a Foster Home? I think we should make a lot of noise; make use of the short time we do have before Spring temperatures allow her to be re-erected anywhere; and make sure Mayor Gary McCarthy [email: gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov], Mary Moore Wallinger at LAndArt Studio [email: mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com], and the local media [e.g. opinion@dailygazette.com] know how and what you feel about the secretive and unjustified change of plans, and the importance of preserving important pieces of our history, such as Lady Liberty.

. . above: Bring Lady Liberty Home advocacy collage; click to enlarge; you may copy this summary, if desired, to help this campaign . .

GPLady1.jpg update (March 6, 2018) See “Dispute brewing over city park site for Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, posted online March 6, 2018; newsprint screenshot at left). The article starts:

Schenectady’s Statue of Liberty appears destined for its new home in Steinmetz Park as part of a planned memorial for military veterans who lived in the Goose Hill neighborhood.
And while Mayor Gary McCarthy said it’s not set in stone, the idea isn’t sitting well with Stockade resident David Giacalone, who has mounted a Bring Lady Liberty Home campaign to return the statue to Lower State Street and Washington Avenue.

 

And, ends: “I’m sure whatever decision I make that Mr. Giacalone will be opposed to it,” said the mayor, adding he will soon make his final decision public.” In between, it fails to say why I characterized the Mayor’s reason for not returning Lady Liberty home as “asinine,” although I did tell him why. If you’ve read this far, you do not need additional explanation.

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

IMG_6622  

p.s. By the way, the originally planned location for Lady Liberty in Gateway Plaza is still available for her; photo to Right taken March 3, 2018.

 GP-Rendering-ViewWash-State . . the Lady is Just Right!

follow-up (March 14, 2018): See “the Lady, the Mayor and the Council” for an account of the Lady Liberty issue being raised at the March 12, 2018, City Council meeting. Mayor McCarthy passed the buck to the “Design Team.” His four-sure-votes said not a word on the issue. This being Sunshine Week, the posting also asks what good sunshine laws and policy are if an open design process, with community input and support, can be undone secretly a few years later, just before the Plan’s is completed. 

Other Voices on Lady Liberty . . check out these Letters to the Editor:

Continue reading

just another February 8

. . this time last year I declared February 8 to be “a date that shall live in infamy in Schenectady“, given the 1690 Schenectady Massacre and the 2017 opening of Rivers Casino on that date, with a graphic depiction of the infamy notion:

 This year, on February 8, 2018, I thought I’d get a photo of Rivers Casino and its LCD screen’s 1st Anniversary image, to use in an anniversary posting. The result was an interesting adventure, but not a great photo-shoot. [See, e.g., the photo at the left, necessarily taken from a block away.] You see, as described in the Collage below (click on it for a larger version), I got the bum’s-Rush off the premises. Casino personnel were, however, polite, although insistent that no photos were permitted from Casino property and, furthermore, that the corner of Rush Street and Front Street was casino property, calling it their “walkway”.

. . above collage: the story of My Casino Anniversary Visit . . 

 Back at home, I emailed SPD Chief Eric Clifford asking that he let the Casino know that the Front Street sidewalk was part of the City right of way. But, the Chief wrote back that night that he believed the Casino was correct, and even the Front St. sidewalk was casino property. Naturally, I was puzzled and disappointed, and was glad I had not forced Casino Security that afternoon to call SPD, if they wanted to remove me from a City street. Happily, as he promised me he would, the Chief inquired of the City Engineer the next morning and was told: “the city now assumes control of the sidewalks.” (Earlier that morning, Councilman Vince Riggi had sent me a copy of the September 12, 2016 Resolution authorizing the Mayor to accept the roadways in Mohawk Harbor back from the developer.) The Chief called Kyle Bond, head of Rivers Casino Security, with that message, and Mr. Bond then phoned me to apologize. I assured him that his men had behaved politely.

 The Casino’s 1st Anniversary Wheels Or Fortune contest, began on February 1, with patrons able to earn points toward contest entries. I’m not sure if the Contest brought in additional gaming revenue, but the Rivers GGR for the week ending February 4 continued to be mediocre, a mere $2,738,900.

This morning (Feb. 10, 2018), the Times Union reported online on the first full 12 months of revenue at Rivers Casino and at del Lago and Tioga Downs the two other commercial casinos granted licenses . “Casino bets are off the mark” (by Lauren Stanforth):

The year-end revenue totals for the state’s first resort-style casinos, del Lago, Rivers and Tioga Downs, show they were $192 million off the projections they made when applying for their state casino licenses in 2014. . . .

Rivers in Schenectady did better [than del Lago, which also opened in Feb. 2017], but was still about 30 percent off its projection made four years ago — with total revenues of $141 million as of Feb. 4, compared to a base first-year estimate of $201.9 million.

More February 8 Bad Luck for Schenectady?  Again this year, February 8 might yet mean more misfortune for Schenectady, or at least its Tax Coffers. Like our weblog, the mainstream media has mentioned over the past few weeks that the February 8 opening of the billion-dollar Resorts World Catskills Casino [moved up to attract East Asian high-rollers for Chinese New Year, on Feb. 16] might mean that even more prospective Schenectady Casino patrons will choose to stay away — especially those who live closer to the new Monticello Catskills Casino, or those wanting a true tourist or gambling destination.

In approaching Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on Feb. 8 for my aborted photoshoot, I was again struck by how unattractive and uninspiring Schenectady’s Casino building is when entering the compound. On arrival at its main entrance from Rush Street, a visitor sees a two-story branding wall with large LCD screens and bright “yellow brick” trim, flanking a nondescript entryway. If you come in from the southwest, you see that the branding wall is a fake wall, adding to the lack of awe. I’ve said it before: Schenectady could have and should have demanded more, especially from an Applicant that boasted of creating destination locations and casinos.

. .   . . 

. . above: approaching Rivers Casino . .

CatskillsCasinoRend2 Taste is, of course, very subjective. But, I’m willing to bet that a far broader and deeper demographic would be more likely to choose Resorts World Catskills Casino as a special destination for gaming or as a tourist than Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. And, would be more likely to return to it. Here are two recent photos of of the approach to the Catskills Casino [see many more images here]:

. .   . .  

. . above: approaching Resorts World Catskill Casino . .

 Two-thirds of a Casino.  Earlier this week, we reported that Rivers Casino had a Patron Visits shortfall as severe as its revenues shortfall, achieving (according to its numbers) only 67% of its projection. This does not bode well for the Casino having a significant ripple effect across Schenectady businesses and attractions; but, does increase the worry that Mohawk Harbor and its Casino might be cannibalizing the leisure and entertainment dollars of our local existing businesses.

 From a less serious perspective, compare the Rush Street/Galesi depiction of their prospective patrons shown, in a Site Plan rendition, at the entrance to Rivers Casino [below L], with the actual folks leaving on its 1st Anniversary, February 8, 2018 [R]:

. . 

the graph is prettier than the casino revenue numbers

A helpful friend used the weekly Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor gambling revenue figures from the NYS Gaming Commission, plus Exel software, to create the above graph. The only patterns I can see are long periods of mediocre revenues. There certainly was no noticeable improvement when The Landing Hotel opened on July 23, 2017.

Casino Projections vs. Casino Reality

 

RiversProjectionGame2

 Year-end numbers are in for 2017, and the City of Schenectady has received approximately $2.1 million in gaming tax revenue as the Host City of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, based on the Casino’s Gross Gaming Revenue total of $129.2 million for the year. The County received the same amount. In its budget, the City had projected it would receive $2.75 million from distribution of gaming taxes in 2017, leaving a shortfall over $600,000. See “Schenectady loses bet on casino revenue” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 4, 2018). As the Gazette pointed out last November, “Rivers reportedly projected its first-year [Gross Gaming] revenue to be in the $181 million to $222 million range.” If we take the middle of that range, $201 million in GGR in its first year, Rivers Casino only achieved 64% of its first year projection.

  • Click here to see Rush Street’s 5-year tax revenue estimates, submitted in its Application to the Gaming Commission Location Board as Ex. VIII.B.4. It shows a base GGR for 2017 of $201.8 million. Its high and low figures were obtained by respectively adding and subtracting 10% to that figure, yielding the range given in the Gazette of $181-222 million. Because Rush Street anticipated opening on Jan. 1, 2017 when making this estimate, it used a 52-week period rather than the actual 47 weeks, which meant 10% fewer operating weeks/days.
  •  Note: In Ex. VIII.B., filed at the end of July 2014, Rush Street Gaming estimated that the County and City would together receive a total of $3.2 million in gaming tax revenues in Year One, increasing to only $3.6 million collectively in Year Five, and would share those amounts.  Those numbers are very different from the $5.7 million in annual tax receipts City Council said it expected in its resolution the month before.  I would have thought the communication between City Hall and the Casino Gang was better than that.

 In what is surely a causally related effect, Mayor Gary McCarthy stated for the first time, in his New Year address before City Council last week, that he expected the City would have a “small deficit” when all 2017 numbers were tallied for the City, giving no further details of the cause or the likely amount. Asked afterwards, new City Council President Ed Kosiur said the Mayor’s remarks were the first he heard of a deficit. See “Schenectady Casino Revenue Coming Up Short of Expectations” (Samantha Beckett, Casino.org, Jan. 5, 2018). Regarding the Upstate casino shortfall in general, see “He nailed it: An analyst’s 2014 report predicted Upstate New York casino woes” NYUp.com, by Don Cazentre, Jan. 18, 2018).

 Click on the image to the left to see a week-by-week display of Gaming Revenues generated at Rivers Casino in 2017, plus totals.

The Stabilization Hope. Our City and County leaders keeping saying we can expect much better results once the casino’s operations and revenues have stabilized — as if Rush Street and its expert analysts are not competent to make first-year projections. But, in its Application to the Location Board, Rush Street Gaming estimated stabilized revenues in Year 5 to be only 10% more than its Year 1 figures. For more information on Rush Street’s revenue and tax projections, see the Applicants’ Economic Impact Analysis.

 Remembering the 18% property tax reduction City Council claimed it expected in a Resolution passed just before its vote to approve the Casino Application in July 2014, many residents are unhappy with the 1% reduction in the current City budget, and many are “roiled” over the water and sewer fee increases announced this week, which will offset the 1% reduction. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (Times Union, by Lauren Stanforth, December 17, 2017); “Water, sewer rate increases roil some Schenectady residents” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 5, 2018).

 Are things likely to get better? Despite their Happy Faces, the City Council budgeted only $2.3 million in casino tax payments in 2018. Furthermore, Rush Street, City Hall and Metroplex have all pointed out for months that revenues are likely to rise due to the opening of Rivers Casino’s Landing Hotel, which had its first guests on July 19, 2017. (e.g., Times Union coverage; Gazette coverage) The week ending July 30 was the first full week with the Landing open. Despite the predictions of our Casino Cheerleaders, my calculations show that:

  • $2.7 million/wk. average for the 24 full weeks before before July 23
  • $2.6 million/wk. average for the 23 full weeks since the Landing opened

And, did you say “Resorts World Catskills Casino”?

Continue reading

TU compares revenue reality to casino projections

Lauren Stanforth has written a piece of investigatory journalism for the Albany Times Union, published yesterday at the top of the Sunday front page, on the dramatic shortfall of casino revenues from projections. See “State, local promises before casino vote a bust” (December 17, 2017). It points out that only the Schenectady City Council put actual projection numbers in a resolution, with a stated expectation of $5.7 million in annual tax gaming tax revenues for the City, and an 18% property tax reduction.
 .
 The City Council used NYS Dept. of Budget numbers for Regions, Counties, and Host Communities that were produced in 2013, announced in a press release (Oct. 2, 2013), to garner support for the Governor’s Constitutional Amendment Proposition, to permit non-Indian casinos. The numbers were, therefore, ginned up when the State did not know how many casinos there might actually be, nor where they would be located.
.
The Resolution stated, in part [emphases added]:
.
WHEREAS, as Host Municipality, the City of Schenectady is entitled to receive 5% of the gaming taxes paid by the Gaming Facility which is projected by the NYS Division of the Budget to be $5.7 million dollars annually; and
 .
WHEREAS, a $5.7 million Host Municipality payment to the City of Schenectady would result in a reduction in real estate taxes of approximately 18%; . . . 
 .
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT
RESOLVED, that the Host Municipality payment received by the City of Schenectady will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes in the City of Schenectady.
 .
  • At the time, we said at this website [in “Council ploy: all casino revenues will be used to reduce property taxes“, June 9, 2014] that “Th[e] Resolution is clearly meant to back the possible No Votes [on support for the Schenectady casino application] into a corner, by daring them to vote ‘no’ on a ‘tax reduction’.” In that context, using specific and huge numbers that appeared to come with the imprimatur of the State Budget office clearly strengthened the Mayor’s demand for Yes votes and the support in the very tax-conscious community for the casino. The Mayor was not able to convince Marion Porterfield and Vince Riggi to vote for the Casino application, but they did agree that any tax revenues from the casino should be used to bring down real property taxes in Schenectady.
  •  At no time did City Council or the Mayor explain the tenuous connection between the DOB projections and an actual casino located in Schenectady, as opposed to a municipality with a greater potential to attract the public.
.
The TU article notes that the State’s 2013 projections estimated that the Host County in the Capital Region would receive about $11.4 million dollars annually (with the Host City getting half of that amount), but that the actual numbers for this year appear to be about $3.7 million, a shortfall of $7.6 million. It also stresses, regarding the Schenectady Casino situation:
 .
“A casino was expected to bring in so much revenue — and the local government share to go along with it — that Schenectady would reduce property taxes 18 percent in the first year. Now, 10 months after the opening of Rivers Casino and Resort, the city is reducing taxes 1 percent.
 .
“Schenectady County predicted a similar scenario, its legislature passing a resolution three years ago saying county taxes might be reduced 8 percent if a casino opened. County officials are now reducing taxes 1 percent.”
.
Reporter Stanforth interviewed local politicians, and informed us:
 .
Schenectady officials say their tax reduction promises were not disingenuous because they based their statements on the Budget Division’s numbers — and that property taxes are still being reduced.
 .
 But those who argued against a casino say the disparity between what was promised and the current reality reinforces their concerns that local officials had no intention of looking critically at information provided by the state or casino operators themselves.
 .
“They did it in bad faith,” said Schenectady resident David Giacalone, who lives in the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood and was one of the most vocal critics opposing a casino. “They knew these numbers meant nothing.”
.

Catskills casino coming in 2018

County Legislature Chair Gary Hughes pointed out that the NYS Gaming Commission believes casino revenues will grow in coming years, but he added, “Is it someday going to be $5.7 million? I have my doubts.” I wonder if Mr. Hughes has considered, as the TU stated, that “revenue from the Resorts World Catskills [casino in Monticello] will likely top Rivers, as it will have almost twice as many slot machines and an 18-story hotel when it opens in March, as well as a golf course opening in 2019″. Indeed, about a billion dollars will be invested in the Catskills casino project, yielding a location that will actually look like a tourist destination. 

.
Perhaps City Council President Leeza Perazzo is giving up her hopes of being Mayor. She was remarkably frank with the reporter:
.
Schenectady City Council President Democrat Leesa Perazzo, who voted to support a casino, said the city included the revenue number in its June 2014 vote because the state provided it.
.
The resolution also said that the host municipality payment, “will be used exclusively for the reduction of real property taxes.” However, city officials have already used casino revenue in settling fire and police contracts.
.
Perazzo said a resolution is not a law, so city officials are not bound by the tax reduction promises made in it. [emphasis added]
Sadly, our City Hall has given us a Social Studies and Political Science lesson for the ages here in Schenectady. I wonder if this TU article has given the Gazette any ideas about doing a little casino-related investigation of its own. Perhaps a spotlight on the Applicants’ projection of 2.8 million visitors coming annually to Schenectady because of Rivers Casino needs a bit of investigation. More significantly, perhaps looking into the ways the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals have twisted (diminished? castrated?) our Zoning Code to please the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming might be more important in the long run.
.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTINUED DISCUSSION

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

AREA VARIANCE APPROVAL

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

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

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

3. The variance is not substantial.

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

5. The alleged hardship is not self-created

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

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

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

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

Minimum variance necessary

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

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

Substantiality

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

[original posting continued]

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

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

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

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

I also pointed out:

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

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

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

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

The breaks have to be put on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

guardrails to boulders: a bad process leaves many concerns

The Boulder Bunch Design Committee

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

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

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

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

back to Original Posting

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

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

  . . 

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

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

  ..  

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

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

 . .North Street

 . . Ingersoll Avenue

 . . Governor’s Lane

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

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

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

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

REPLACEMENT WITH WHAT?

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

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

GUARDRAILS vs. BOULDERS

As Parking Barriers: NEEDS of DRIVERS When PARKING

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

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

 . . 

NEEDS of DRIVERS When TURNING AROUND

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

 

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

INSTALLATION

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

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

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

  • DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS

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

    Cluster and stagger boulders to mimic natural conditions.

  • INSTALLATION CONSIDERATIONS

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

    Shrubs and vegetation can be used as parking barriers.

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

TAGGING-GRAFFITI

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

FLOODING

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

boulderNorthStCrevices

North St. boulder

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

AESTHETICS

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

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

IMG_4341 . . beautiful and natural?

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

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

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

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

DSCF3384 . . IndianMeadows1 . . DSCF3374

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

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

SochaPlazaBoulders

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

Continue reading

first lap of the Casino Horse Race

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

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

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