the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor

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 A Gazette article today reports that the City Council of Schenectady unanimously approved a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to seek State funding for a Large Vessel Dock along Mohawk Harbor. “City to apply for funding for new dock at Mohawk Harbor: The dock would be used for larger boats to dock at the harbor” (by Andrew Beame, July 24, 2018) The article tells us that:

The resolution allows the city to work with Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to submit the application [to the state Regional Economic Development Council].  Ray Gillen, chairman of the authority, said the grant would cover 80 percent of the cost to construct the $2 million dock.

The Galesi Group, the developer of the harbor, would be donating the rest, Gillen said.

Gillen said the dock would be 680 feet long and 12 feet wide. He also said it would be able to be removed during the winter months.

In addition, “The project would allow for larger boats that pass by the harbor to dock there, visit the casino, tour the city and a host of other activities.” Mr. Gillen noted that the facility would also allow the city to host regattas and other rowing events.

“This will be a public amenity,” Gillen said. “If we get the grant, it assures total public access to the riverfront.”

As a longtime advocate for true public access to the riverfront, I hope this project will help achieve that goal. I may be adding more information in the very near future, but especially wanted to get online for public review the two renderings (one above and one immediately below) of the Large dock presented by Ray Gillen to the City Council Committee meeting on July 16, 2018.

LargeDockView1

As the Council Resolution mentions a Matching Grant, I asked for more detail, and Mr. Gillen wrote me that:

“The match is 15%.  The state proves 85% if we win the grant. The match is being donated by the developer.  The developer built the amphitheater and major sections of the trail and the marina at their cost with no public support.  these are all very nice and well used public amenities.”

  • My thanks to Ray Gillen for providing me with the two renderings above. Our “Smart City’s” City Hall should have provided them in the Agenda appendix, making use of its website’s Agenda page. Council member Vince Riggi was good enough to send me a link to the video of Gillen’s presentation made to the Council Committee on July 16. It is very difficult to see details from the picture at the Committee Meeting. See my best screen shot of it (at about 2:30 into the video) here: https://tinyurl.com/MHLargeDock.
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largedockkid The funding process, and any resultant construction, will take quite awhile, and I hope that lots of thought will be given to how such a dock can in fact be used by the public, including families with children and dogs, in a safe manner. For example:

  1. If the dock is successful — that is, busy — how welcome will non-boating members of the public be?
  2. How will the dock be supervised? The proposed dock at Riverside Park several years back was to have no supervision.
    1. Will adolescents with bikes or skateboards take them from the Trail to the dock?
  3. Will there be pedestrian access after dark? River access for the kind of beer parties that take place at the Gateway Landing dock late at night?
  4. What happened to the Site Plan approved by the Planning Commission, in which the bridge from the Trail went to a quiet Overlook that would allow safe viewing of the River, close-up, but with a railing for safety?
  5. etc.

It is disconcerting that another Resolution impacting Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino was brought before the Council in what has now become a customary rush. The State proposal requests and development decisions are made annually, with submission deadlines this time of year. The fact that this was “merely” permission to submit a proposal should not have justified a lack of fuller discussion, with public viewing of the images prior to the Council vote.

As happened with the proposal for a dock at Riverside Park in 2010 (see the discussion of issues and concerns in our comprehensive posting), we need to ensure that the availability of State funding — Getting Something For Free, with no local dollars spent — does not preempt thoughtful consideration of the impact of the Large Vessel Dock on waterfront use at Mohawk Harbor. And, especially on its ability to achieve, as Mr. Gillen promises, “total public access to the riverfront.”

still waiting for Lady Liberty

LibertyGazLTE-Snyder . . GP-DiotteLadyTU24Feb2018 

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

LadyLiberty15Sep2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put the statue back on the 4th of July.

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

gpladylibertyspot.jpg . . . LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

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

is the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor safe?

MHtrail3Jul2018a

 . . Update (July 3, 2018): As you will see below, our conclusion is “No, Not Safe”. According to Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, a fence or guardrail may be installed soon. But, today, I wonder why neither the County, or City, nor the hosting Casino has installed temporary warnings signs and devices, to keep visitors away from the steep, rocky slope, and slippery gravel, as they plan to host thousands at Mohawk Harbor to see the Fireworks and concerts on July 3 and 4. [photo at right taken at 11 AM, July 3] So far, the media has shown no interest in this issue.

Original Posting

MHPath-render-real

. . the above collage summarizes issues discussed in this webpost (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.

 Also. the New York State Department of Transportation has issued guidelines to apply when a bike trail is near a steep slope. This image looks applicable to the Mohawk Harbor trail:

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:

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With only a loose gravel buffer of 4′ 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 loose 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 containg 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 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.”

  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 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 The C-3 Waterfront District zoning code, as quoted above, states that the pedestrian and bicycle trail “shall be constructed by the applicant.” Nonethess, County documents show that the Galesi Group and the Casino Owner will pay no more than $200,000 out of well over a million dollar expense to build the trail, with the additional moneys coming from New York and County taxpayers.  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. [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. If that was the full payment, they surely are getting a great deal.] 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?

p.s. Major problems with my MacBook laptop are currently keeping me from performing typical tasks that usually assist with my photography and advocacy. So, I have not been able to put finishing touches on my 2nd Infamy Montage below, which suggests that having Snowmen at the Gates of our City has led to an unseemly 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.

There were no such temporary safety measures Saturday afternoon. 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 step up on the rip-rap on the edge of the slope behind the Casino.

 

Lady Liberty is Timeless

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.

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

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.

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.

 

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied, then allowed, after begging by Ray Gillen

update: After Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen literally begged them for “a favor”, they changed their mind: “BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!” (Nov. 16, 2017).

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

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

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

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

updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs

questionmarkkeyoverRed BZA follow-up (November 16, 2017): Click for a copy of David Giacalone’s Comments to BZA regarding the Special Meeting today to review another Mohawk Harbor variance application for a 30′ pylon. What happened this evening? BZA approved a pylon virtually identical to the one they rejected on October 4, 2017. See “BZA pylon flip-flop“.  Short URL:  http://tinyurl.com/BZAflip

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

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

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

Original Posting

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

 . . variance denied . .MH-pylonrenderingOct2017

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

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

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

  • to allow for a 265 Square foot pylon sign, with a height of 30 feet, a total width of 18′, and a message board of 12 feet wide , with a 1 foot setback, 
  • where a 75 square foot sign with a height of 10 7 feet is allowed, and a minimum setback of 3 feet required. [Ed. Note: And, when the Schenectady Zoning Code defines a pylon sign as having a base no more than 5′ wide, with a message board no more than 8 feet wide. Code §264.]

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

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

compareshoppingmallsigns

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

    Crosstown Plaza pylon

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

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

 

ORIGINAL POSTING:

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

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

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

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

DSCF3299  . . DSCF3294

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

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

ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

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

Sched1SignReg

.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PYLON STRUCTURE and SIGNAGE

MHpylonrequest . . . close to River House and future homes

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

shoppingmallsigns-002

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

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

miSci-MH-signs2

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

golub-MHsigns2

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

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

another sneaky pylon ploy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. Supplemental C- 3 Regulations.

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

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

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

ScheduleI-detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

§264-61(I)(2). A special use permit must be approved upon a showing by the applicant at a public hearing of the City Planning Commission that the proposed electronic message board shall not substantially impact upon the nature and character of the surrounding neighborhood, upon traffic conditions and any other matters affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the public.

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

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

_______________________________________________

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

Continue reading

is Bike-Share our newest sacred cow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Subject: loco Bike-Share locations in Schenectady

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

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

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

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

Dear City Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you for your time and consideration, 

David

[click on an image for a larger version]

BikeShareSchdyState-Jay

JayStNoBicycling

SchdyCode-Bikes-ParksPaths

BikeShareRiversidePk

Riverside Park BikeShare

 

BikeShareSchdyLibrary

Central Library BikeShare

 

IMG_4181-001

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

Not In Our Park!

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

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

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

Original Posting

   . . 

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

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

WestLawn-MemDayPicnic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David at Cucumber Alley

______________________________________________

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

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

red check What’s So Special About Riverside Park?

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

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

Riverside Park and the proposed Pump Station

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

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

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

where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

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

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

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

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casinodesign3sp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mohharbplayhereimage

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

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

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

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

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

 

 

our “drive-thru” rotary

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

To the editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

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

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

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

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

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

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

2:14 p.m.

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

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

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

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

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

why worry about our large street trees?

why not just remove them?

Our City Engineer, Chris Wallin, and his staff clearly want to do the best they can for the City of Schenectady, within financial and legal constraints, and directives from above. Assistant City Engineer Peter Knutson spent a considerable amount of time a few weeks ago composing answers to my concerns over the removal of trees that were healthy (at least until affected by street or sidewalk construction). But, two points made by engineer Knutson leave me concerned that they are missing the Forest of Benefits due to the (potentially) Problematic Trees.

Peter wrote me on March 22, 2016, that he believes (emphasis added):

  1. My job with the city is to limit liability. Even if one in a thousand trees has the potential to become a liability, that would leave the city open to hundreds if not thousands of potential lawsuits with the hundreds of thousands of trees in the city right of way.  As I said, if a property owner wants to accept liability for a tree we can cross that bridge when/if it happens.  Until I am advised otherwise by corporation counsel, any tree that I feel had been impacted negatively by any construction will be removed.
  2. ” [Y]ou say that the little trees ruin the historic feel but if you give them 5-10 years they will be mature and give the same feel as the larger trees with minimal burden of damage.  It just takes time for the trees to grow and that’s why we wouldn’t do all the trees at the time but phase them in block by block (plus we don’t have the money to do all the streets in the Stockade at the same time).”

Both the focus on the nebulous potential liability for fallen trees and the faith in comparable results in the near future (or ever) seem misguided. The “costs” — aesthetic, social, economic, health and environmental — involved in removing large street trees is so great, and the impact of the smaller “location appropriate” trees over time so underwhelming, that I hope the City will undertake a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of the effects of removing our old-growth street trees, and of the efficacy and cost of alternatives to such removal, before any new program of sidewalk repair is started. As I wrote six years ago, when the City wanted to remove all large trees along its Washington Avenue right-of-way in order to repair its sidewalks, “Schenectady needs a Tree Preservation Policy”.

The web presentation “Benefits of Trees in Urban Areas” (posted with graphics by Grants Pass, Oregon, with text by ColoradoTrees.org.) starts with this insight:

Trees are major capital assets in cities across the United States. Just as streets, sidewalks, public buildings and recreational facilities are a part of a community’s infrastructure, so are publicly owned trees. Trees — and, collectively, the urban forest — are important assets that require care and maintenance the same as other public property. Trees are on the job 24 hours every day working for all of us to improve our environment and quality of life.

For me, the two greatest benefits — sufficient in themselves to justify a tree preservation policy — are the beauty of large trees and the inviting and shielding shade they provide, especially in rows, groups and canopies. There is, of course, much more to admire about trees and justify their preservation and conservation.

According to the SVJ Tree Guidelines report (at 14), which is referenced above:

Trees provide a host of social, economic, and health benefits that should be included in any benefit-cost analysis. A 1992 survey of municipal tree programs in California found that the greatest benefits from their programs were

  1. increased public safety,
  2. increased attractiveness and commercial activity, and
  3. improved civic pride (Bernhardt and Swiecki 1993).
  4. Additional environmental benefits from trees include noise abatement and wildlife habitat.

The social, physical and psychological benefits provided by urban forests improve human well-being. . . . Humans can derive substantial pleasure from trees, whether it be feelings of relaxation, connection to nature, or religious joy (Dwyer et al. 1992). Trees provide important settings for recreation in and near cities. They also encourage people to walk, improving overall physical fitness. Research on the aesthetic quality of residential streets has shown that street trees are the single strongest positive influence on scenic quality.

On the practical side, directly relating to the above benefits, trees also bring financial benefits to property owners and local governments, according to the SVJ Report (at 15):

Research suggests that people are willing to pay 3-7% more for residential properties with ample tree resources versus few or no trees. One of the most comprehensive studies of the influence of trees on residential property values was based on actual sales prices for 844 single-family homes in Athens, Georgia (Anderson and Cordell 1988). Each large front-yard tree there was found to be associated with a nearly 1% increase in sales price ($336 in 1985 dollars). This increase in property value resulted in an estimated increase of $100,000 (1978 dollars) in the city’s property tax revenues. A much greater value of 9% ($15,000) was determined in a U.S. Tax Court case for the loss of a large black oak on a property valued at $164,500 (Neely 1988).

community group in the Sydney, Australia region concurs as to property values:

“Property values increase when there are visually beautiful street trees within view. . . .  If you want to immediately lower the value of your property, get the council to remove a large tree from outside your property.”

Continue reading

N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFerry1

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

SOSTrees2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e1-3880-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w (1) … nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-f447-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w (1)

. . click on the images above to go to their page in the New York Public Library Digital Collections . .

Yesterday was the 326th anniversary of the infamous Schenectady Massacre, which occurred on February 8, 1690. The Massacre was the source of the Snowmen at the Gates legend that inspired the name and header image of this weblog. As we wrote in explanation:

snowmencameo Our name “Snowmen at the Gates” refers to the legendary snowmen “standing guard” in a blizzard, on February 8, 1690, outside the open north gate of the sturdy stockade fence that was built to protect the little village of Schenectady. Although messages had been received from the larger outpost at Albany warning that a war party was on the way that evening, the appointed sentries apparently decided to leave their posts to have a tankard or two at the nearby Douwe Aukes tavern. That dereliction of duty allowed a band of 114 French soldiers and 96 Sault and Algonquin Indians to enter the stockade, burn down the village, and massacre, kidnap, or scare away its residents.

Perhaps out of embarrassment, this story was not often retold in our neighborhood. I lived in the Stockade for two decades before I learned about it from Bob Eckstein’s well-researched discussion in his book The History of the Snowman (Simon & Schuster, NY, 2007, at 210-212). In fact, a longtime Stockade resident and business owner who gives informational tours of the Stockade had never heard of the tale when I mentioned it to him last Fall. Bob Eckstein notes that:

The details of this event have been rewritten many times in the form of poems, song and history books, based mostly on rumor—often done to suit the desires of different political sides at work.

Quoting several historians, Eckstein discusses many of the reasons and excuses given for ignoring the warnings from Albany, and for the failure of the mostly-Dutch settlers to obey the orders of their hated English commander Captain John Sander Glen to close the gates.  Pointing out skepticism from some quarters about the snowman portion of the tale, Eckstein concludes that “Almost every historic source corroborates the snowman detail.” For example, he quotes Historian Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, from History of Saratoga County (1878), concerning the reaction to Capt. Glen’s wanting the stockade gate closed:[villagers] ridiculed him and placed a snow image as mock sentinel…before the open gate.”

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-f443-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w (1)  In addition, neither Bob Eckstein nor I have found any source that denies the gates were left open (stuck in the high snow) with no human sentinels in place when the French and Indians from Montreal arrived with malice in their hearts at Schenectady’s north gate. Like Eckstein, I agree that the villagers were wrong to assume that no human would be traveling, much less attacking, under such bad weather. That sounds like a lame excuse made up after the fact, as midwinter raids in deep snow had been made before, and blizzard conditions would make the raiders harder to detect and the guards perhaps less able to respond.

Others have filled in details of the night of the Massacre. Gaye Jeanes writes at Geni.com, in “The Schenectady (NY) Massacre of 1690“, that “The original target was Fort Orange (present day Albany), but when Schenectady was discovered [by a scouting party] to be defenseless the raiding party decided to attack [Schenectady] instead. Finding no sentinels other than two snowmen and the gate ajar according to the tradition, the raiders silently entered Schenectady and launched their attack . .”

In his “Why Schenectady was destroyed in 1690 (A paper read before the Fortnightly club of Schenectady, May 3, 1897)”, Jason S. Landon points to the “confusion and anarchy” caused when news of the abdication of James II and the ascension of William and Mary to the English throne reached New York, and disagreement arose as to the rightful governor of the colony. He then explains that:

[T]he people of Schenectady were divided in their sentiments, and though warned of their danger by the friendly Mohawks, still, incapable of union, they failed to obey either power and fell into anarchy and subsisted without any government. The result was that, though the village was surrounded by a stockade and had a garrison of eight soldiers commanded by a lieutenant, the gates of the stockade were upon this night of destruction left open and unguarded, and citizens and soldiers slept the sleep of the just.

snowmencameoBW-004 Eckstein sees no reasons why the snowman detail in the Massacre story would be a fabrication. One reason he gives is that “No one slanders a person by falsely accusing them of making a snowman of all things.” I agree with his conclusion, but not with that particular reasoning. Charging that a soldier or citizen detailed to guard the village went AWOL thinking snowmen would serve as adequate sentinels seems very serious to me, surely worthy of a courts martial, especially given the resulting massacre. Indeed the seriousness of the charge, made more scandalous by claiming the guards were drinking at a tavern rather than at their posts, seems like a very likely motive behind the people of the Stockade wanting to deny the incident and hushing it up. For one thing, descendants of some of those Dutch families are still living in Schenectady or its vicinity.

We’ll never know whether the AWOL guards really thought the snowmen would fool a raiding party. Eckstein is probably correct that no one was likely to stop to build snowmen in the middle of a blizzard in the dark. But, it seems highly likely that there would be snowmen built near the gates of the stockade. More than half of the inhabitants of Schenectady at the time were children, with no iPads or x-boxes or even tv’s available to keep them indoors. Building snowmen seems like a natural recreation, and would allow the kids to play soldier (and Indian). Given the treacherous surrounding countryside, parents and guards would almost surely have kept the children close to the stockade gates to monitor them better and help assure their quick return if danger arose.

The idea of the guards choosing a warm tavern over sentinel duty in a blizzard also makes a lot of sense. If you were going AWOL, would you return to your barracks or home, or would you sneak over to the pub? The Schenectady County Historical Society’s weblog tells us, in “Taverns and Inns of Schenectady, Part 1” (July 15, 2015), that:

Beer and heartier beverages were an important part of Colonial life and some of the more prominent original settlers of Schenectady brewed and sold these beverages in their taverns and inns. Alcohol was not just limited to the men in New Netherlands, women and children were also known to drink. Early Dutch settlers were so fond of imbibing that when Peter Stuyvesant became director-general of New Netherland, he passed several restrictions on drinking and selling alcohol.

Eckstein says the errant sentinels went to Douwe Aukes Tavern, “the center of most ruckus and riots in Fort Schenectady.”  That conjecture seems fairly likely, too. For example, in his 1914 book “Schenectady, Ancient and Modern” Joel Henry Monroe tells us (at 41):

 [Douwe Aukes De Freeze] kept an inn or tavern . . located at the corner of State street and Mill lane, near the first church erected in the village. Douwe Aukes’ inn apparently was the herding place of the villagers and the recognized center of festivities, for it is said that high carnival was or had been in action there the night of the massacre in 1690, which in some degree may  have caused the pervading insensibility to the impending slaughter of the citizens.

An 1898 Centennial Tablet located at Cucumber Alley and Washington Avenue states that there was a 24-man garrison located in the stockade the night of the massacre, and that “18 were scattered scattered through village, during the massacre.” I’m not certain, but that might suggest that six of the soldiers were at Douwe Aukes’ tavern when the raid took place.

DSCF1316-MassacreMarker Despite the weight of the evidence supporting the historical existence of snowmen outside the open stockade gate on the night of the Massacre, the very recently published February 2016 edition of the Stockade Spy, the newsletter of the Stockade Association, has a front page article stating that the tale “of the Snowmen Sentinels that failed to protect the village, remain[s] subject to skepticism and speculation.” The author, Samuel Maurice, also calls it a “tall tale.” In a similar vein, the historical marker to the left of this paragraph,erected at the Centennial of the City’s charter, says only that the raiding party “entered during night at north gate,” without mentioning it being rather easy to enter.

  • DSCF1319 Maurice gives more credibility to the Ride of Simon Schermerhorn that night to warn the people of Albany of the attack, than he does the snowman story. Some Schermerhorn Skeptics wonder if he wasn’t just fleeing or looking for medical help for his wounds. The people of Fort Orange at Albany, of course, knew the raiders were heading for Schenectady that night. Simon might have had mixed motives, but Schenectady needs as many heroes as it can get for the sad tale of its Massacre.

The skepticism over the snowman legend mentioned in the current issue of the Stockade Spy is rather ironic, for at least two reasons: (1) Sharing page one of the February Spy with Maurice’s “The Schenectady Massacre” is an article with the boldface headline “Celebrate the Snowman! A Winter Commemoration of the 1690 Massacre“. Despite a total lack of snow, the first-ever Snowman Celebration was held at Riverside Park, Saturday afternoon, February 6. (Go to “suns along the Mohawk” for photographic coverage of the event.) By promoting the Celebration of the Massacre Snowmen, the Stockade Association gave the legend its broadest publicity ever within our Stockade neighborhood. And,

DSCF1362

artificial snowmen celebrating fake sentinels

(2) The Stockade Association is perhaps the prime private organization targeted by this weblog when it asks whether Schenectady’s watchdogs are adequately on guard and acting to fulfill their duties to protect our community. (It is, of course, the one I know the best, as a resident of the Stockade.) Over the past few years, the leaders of the Stockade Association, and an often indifferent membership, appear to this observer to be sleepy, toothless watchdogs. They seem unwilling to fulfill the organization’s primary objectives, as stated in its charter and by-laws, especially: the “Promotion and preservation of the residential character of the Stockade Historic District”; the “Representation before any City or County governmental agency or component on matters affecting the neighborhood”, and enhancing the safety and beauty of the neighborhood. The most glaring examples are, first, the failure to put the issue of the Schenectady Casino (a mere half mile from the district’s western boundary) on its agenda, in order to allow full discussion, promote needed research, and gauge the support or opposition of residents and property owners. And, second, the current refusal, despite new leadership, to ascertain — and, more importantly, to simply ask the Planning Commission to find out through a competent Visual Impact Assessment — how the giant Rivers Casino pylon sign and LCD screens will affect our skyline, nightscape, and traffic safety.

(update) We need to add: (3) The failure of the Association to strongly protest the suggestion by the City Engineer early in 2016, that the office would continue to favor the “Ferry Street” process of repairing sidewalks and repaving streets, is similarly inexcusable. See information and commentary on our Save Our Trees portal.

  • No matter how successful and enjoyable events such as the Stockade Outdoor Art Show, annual Walkabout, or Valentine flamingo visitation, may be, thanks to the hard work of Association members and other residents; and no matter how neighborly individuals are toward each other, the Stockade Association cannot be taken seriously if it does not live up to the tagline on its website masthead: “Committed to protecting, preserving and improving New York’s first historic district.”

The lessons to be learned from the 1690 Schenectady Massacre and its Snowmen at the Gates are rather obvious, but well worth remembering, whether taken literally or metaphorically:

  • take warnings of danger seriously (including doing necessary fact-finding), even when you may not be friendly with the source of the warnings, or you hope your adversaries will only arrive when the weather is good
  • don’t leave your gate open to spite your unpopular boss or because digging it out is too difficult in a blizzard
  • when given or taking responsibility to protect the community, serve faithfully and diligently (and find able substitutes before heading to a tavern for a beer)
  • when choosing sentinels to stand guard or to police the community, make sure they have the heart, brains, and stamina needed to fulfill their duties. No Snowmen Need Apply.

snowmencameoBW-002 Have the people of Schenectady, its government, elected officials, civil servants, and community leaders and groups, etc., learned the lessons of the 1690 Massacre and put them to practice consistently? Far too often, it seems, the answer is no. That conclusion applies in spades when it comes to what is surely the most important continuing governmental role this Century: preparing for the selection, construction, and operation of a casino in Schenectady. (See the list of postings in the Home Page sidebar.) We need observant, curious, active, and diligent watchdogs — with a pulse, and both a bark and a bite.

One more thing about snowmen: beside serving no useful offensive or defensive regulatory or watchdog role, they are very averse to heat, hoping to avoid it and its damaging effects whenever possible.

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  • feb8infamy4x6we We belatedly realized that February 8, the day the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is slated to open, is the anniversary of the Schenectady Massacre of 1690. See our posting “our infamous February 8th

McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission

 snowmencameoBW-002 Yesterday [in another February 8th disaster for our City], Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy made public his decision not to re-appoint to the Planning Commission its newly-chosen chair, Matthew Cuevas, ending Cuevas’ service after more than two decades. Clearly, the Mayor is not interested in keeping a Planning Commissioner, especially one with the powers of the Chair, who is actively interested in enforcing the zoning laws, fulfilling their promise to protect the interests of all residents of Schenectady, and not merely those of the Mayor’s favorite few applicants and their proposals. Gary McCarthy wants Commissioners who are mere snowmen, looking like sentinels but offering the community no real protection — and, like wise snowmen, avoiding the damaging effects of heat whenever possible.

cropped-snowmenheader.jpg . . . snowman14dec09demise

. . above: Snowman Sentinel before [L] and after Heat applied .

Here is the Comment I just left at today’s Gazette article, “Schenectady Planning Commission chairman bumped from panel” (February 9, 2016), by Haley Viccaro), giving my explanation for the dumping of Cuevas, and opposing making Bradley Lewis the next Commission Chair:

CityHallRubberStamp Why fire Matt Cuevas? Emperor McCarthy could not stand to have a Planning Commission chair who would occasionally ask questions at public sessions about the done deals sent to the Commission by his Zoning and Development staff and Metroplex. For example, Matt Cuevas noted during the Meeting on the amended waterfront district zoning that taking away the right of public access to the riverfront at Mohawk Harbor was inconsistent with the Commission’s Comprehensive Plan and 2008 Waterfront zoning goals.

Cuevas was also the only Commissioner to say that 20,000 square feet of casino signage seemed like too much, and that he was more comfortable with 15,000 sq. ft. That statement caused Corporation Counsel Falotico to stand up and reprimand Cuevas, with a lie about applicable zoning law, shutting down all conversation about limiting the signage. See http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown

No matter what his qualifications might be, it is a conflict of interest for Brad Lewis to serve as both vice chair of Metroplex, which sends many of the most important proposals made to the Commission, and as a Commissioner. Lewis has never voted against a Metroplex-backed application. Instead, “Commissioner Quip” Lewis mocks any request from the public for additional information prior to voting and rejects out of hand suggestions that a proposal might have negative effects that need to be mitigated. For example, he once barked at me at a public hearing that “we should be so lucky as to have traffic or parking problems in Downtown Schenectady.” [The impact of a proposal on traffic and pedestrian flow and safety is, in fact, the first criterion listed in the section of our zoning law for review of Site Plans by the Commission.]

Schenectady needs a Planning Commission chair who takes seriously the role of protecting the interests of the people of this City and preventing unnecessary negative impact on our neighborhoods. We need a Chair who will ask the staff for full explanations of the pros and cons of proposals, and require that all information needed to make a responsible decision is obtained before decisions are made by the Commission.

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snowmencameoBW-003  update (March 16, 2016): Our sheep-herding Mayor continues his deterrent-minded culling of the flock on his volunteer regulatory boards. Of course, he is not culling out the weak, he is removing the independent members who refuse to act like sheep. See Faces changing on Schenectady planning board (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 15, 2016; subscription req’d). The Mayor has failed to renew the appointment of Planning Commissioner Thomas Carey, who was the only member to vote No last year on the Site Plan review of the Casino compound plans. Mitchell Miller, a Key Bank executive, is replacing Carey. Former-Commissioner Carey, a certified planner, told the Times Union:

“It seems to be a systematic effort to get rid of any independent thinkers on these boards. I’ve been an outspoken critic of the design review for the casino and other downtown projects.”

Speaking about the Mayor’s failure to re-appoint herself and fellow Historic Commission member Frank Donegan, [former Chair] Marilyn Sassi told TU reporter Paul Nelson:

“We believed it’s because we spoke out against several projects the mayor is in favor of and he’s just eliminating anybody that doesn’t agree with him,” said Sassi . . “Right now, I’m relieved because I don’t want to have any part of a rubber stamp board, I want to be free to be able to express my feelings and concerns.”

The TU article notes that “McCarthy shrugged off the criticism and denied he ever tried to exert an influence on any of the volunteer commissioners who serve at his pleasure.” Parsing his words, and forgetting about setting Sheep Dog Falotico on board members, the Mayor said, “I have not called people or told them how to vote or asked them how they voted.”

p.s. McCarthy has named Albany lawyer Randall S. Beach to replace Matt Cuevas. Mr. Beach gives the following as his “representative accomplishments”:

  • Assists various developers in obtaining financing, local permits and SEQRA approval for large commercial, housing and retail developments.
  • Negotiation and drafting of complex commercial leasing, acquisition and conveyance agreements in connection with commercial office, retail, hotel and industrial properties.

By The Way: Beach’s law firm now rubs elbows every day with Metroplex staff at Center City, as one of the five initial members of the newly announced innovation Incubator.

update (February 11, 2016): The Gazette editorialized yesterday with a thoughtful piece, “Schenectady Planning Commission chairman’s removal is questionable” (February 10, 2016). It speculates on why the Mayor would fail to reappoint Matthew Cuevas. With a bit of skepticism about the “needing new blood” explanation, the piece notes “Maybe it’s because Cuevas has a reputation for not just rubber-stamping proposals, but instead publicly raising questions about plans that might otherwise have gone through unchallenged.”

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

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

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

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

RushStreetAccessEd

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

.

RestoreAccessE

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

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

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

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

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

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

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

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

§14-405(9) Design Standards

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

IMG_7240

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

IMG_4939

.

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

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

CasinoPylon-Jan2016-001 update (December 18, 2015): According to an article in the Albany Times Union by Paul Nelson, “Casino sign plan to be submitted to city in ’16” (Dec. 13, 2015), a new design for the pylon sign will soon be unveiled:

As it stands now, the pylon sign is generally framed on two sides by a contiguous white vertical and horizontal band and does not feature any glass, as was previously discussed. It’s unclear if that white band will be lit.

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

– above: [L] the Casino’s pylon “bait” rendering and [R] my amateurish but more accurate Switch mock-ups –

You’ve probably seen the Rush Street rendering of its proposed pylon sign shown on the Left above; it’s a 2-sided, rectangular monolith parallel to Erie Boulevard (note: the street indications were added by me, and not indicated by the Casino on their rendering).  On the right is my crude mock-up of the actual approved pylon: “v-shaped” with a giant 611 sq. ft. LCD screen on each wing of the vee. Because Rush Street never submitted a sketch, much less a detailed rendering of the real design and its orientation toward Erie Boulevard and Nott and Front Streets, and neither your Schenectady Planning Commission nor its Staff ever asked for the highly important documentation as part of its Site Plan Review, my awkward mockups are all we have for now. The uncertainty has led me to construct this QQ Pylon Collage:

V-ShapedPylonQQ

SneakyPylonChangesWThe surprise of a siamese-twin v-shaped pylon structure is, of course, in addition to the bait-and-switch elements we pointed out on Friday July 24 in a follow-up to our posting announcing the approval of the Casino Site Plan. The Planning Commission, without mentioning it, approved a version of the casino pylon that is

  • boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top),
  • brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black, but with no Visual Impact Statement provided or demanded for any version),
  • taller by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and
  • wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

. . . than the versions shown to the public. Click on the collage to the Right of this paragraph for the details.

The following image sums up the various bait-n-switch elements:

B&Scollage

In words, here are the basic bait and switch elements (there may be more as yet not revealed by Rush Street or their City Hall handmaidens):

  • Pylon-FrontSt The Bait: A two-sided, monolith, rectangular pylon structure, 80 feet by 38 feet, with one giant LCD screen 19 feet by 32 feet, topped by a narrow “lantern/chimney” about 7 feet tall, which is sitting over a 14.5-foot tall Rivers Casino “branding” sign that has a black background, all shown positioned parallel to Erie Boulevard, at the intersection of Front St. and Nott St. (As explained in Comments to the Planning Commission and in several postings, the original design was far too tall and wide, and its monster digital LCD screen far too distracting and bright, for the location and for Schenectady in general. But, even worse, we have instead. . . )
  • VShapeMock The Switch: First presented and approved at the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission site plan review special meeting: An 80′ by 39′ pylon façade, in an unexplained and never-depicted v-shape configuration, without a slimming “lantern” on top, and with its branding sign now having a much brighter white background and raised to the top of the 80′ structure, far more prominent in the sky.  In addition, there will be a second 611 sq. ft. monster LCD screen, with one aimed at traffic reaching Nott Street and Erie Boulevard from the east, and one aimed at traffic coming up Erie Boulevard from the west.
40by19v

each wing 35′ x 24′

What would a v-shaped pylon of the size contemplated by Rush Street look like, and “feel” like at that location? It is hard to know, given the failure of the Applicant to supply a rendering or sketch and of the Commission or its staff to demand this crucial piece of site plan documentation. Our search has found nothing similar in front of a casino on this planet.  The “sample” v-shaped pylon to the left of this blurb is by a Polish firm that says the steel girders can be up to 9 meters high, and each advertising sign 2.5 m. by 6 meters.  That would make each wing of the “v” in the photo perhaps 35 feet tall and 24 feet wide. Also note, the branding section on top is not illuminated from the inside and there are no giant digital displays.

  • Thank you to the Albany Times Union for printing my Commentary on the pylon, “Exempting rules a bad sign indeed” (August 4, 2015). It is a TU-Plus article, which requires a paid subscription to reach directly online. You can see a draft submitted by me to the TU Editorial page Editor, by clicking on this pdf. file, “A huge, homely and hazardous casino sign.”

p.s. Have some fun with the kids or grandpa, and make your own Pylonicus-V design:

pylonicus-v

.

riverscasinodesigns Follow-up (Feb. 11, 2017): Speaking of bait-n-switch, see our posting “where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?” (Feb. 9, 2017).

casino site plan approved (including the pylon)

CasinoPylon3rd

bait ‘n’ switch?

 follow-up – no full images for public review (Friday evening, July 24, 2015): It was disappointing to be told at City Hall this afternoon that there were no additional renderings or sketches available to let the curious public see the final design of the Schenectady Casino. The unveiling of the 3rd Design on July 9th by Rush Street Gaming merely gave us a peek, with a detail from the front and one from the rear, of the make-over they performed on the unpopular 2nd Design.

Although their Power Point presentation for the Special Site Plan Review Meeting of the Planning Commission on July 22nd offered a more complete set of sketches (not detailed renderings) of the nearly 300-feet long casino facility, those images were apparently not made into hardcopy form for submission to the Commission or for public viewing.  Rush Street has not posted any additional images at its Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor website, as of 10 PM this evening. (It does still have a video clip with the original casino design from last year on the home page).

Casino#3Pylon
[R] photograph of pylon image presented to Commission meeting on July 22 in Power Point display, showing the white branding section as contrasting greatly with the darker body of the pylon.

Nonetheless, one accomplishment of my visit was being able to snap a clearer photo [see and click on image to the left at the top of this follow-up section] of the sketch of the pylon design that was presented to the Commission for the Special Meeting, and which was approved as to height, width and location (with possible changes in color and materials to be considered). Looking closely at the new version, I realized that it is actually worse than the prior version in several ways relevant to the complaints of many thoughtful folk: It is boxier (no narrow light-box “lantern” at the top), brighter (a pure white background on the Rivers branding section of the pylon, instead of black), taller in the sky by perhaps 6 or 7 feet (its main “branding” sign having been raised to 80′ by removing the “lantern”), and wider (39′, instead of an already excessive width of 38′).

– Regarding the lack of openness in the Commission process, see the Gazette Editorial: “Schenectady Commission still operates in shadows over casino” (July 27, 2015)

Below is a collage illustrating the sneaky new problems with the latest version of the Casino pylon. (Please click on the collage image for a larger version.)

SneakyPylonChangesW

. . . Commissioner Wallinger had pressed the Rush Street consultant over the white background of the branding sign at the Special Meeting, saying that the bright white was too much of a contrast with the remainder of the pylon, making it look like a separate sign sitting on top. That is one of the items that were noted for possible changes in the otherwise approved pylon. The consultant, Mike Levin, was surprisingly reluctant to discuss making the background dark, saying they want the “lantern effect.” It is more likely that they like the distance-viewing effect even more of the bright sign on top. There is little reason to be optimistic about the results of any additional tweaking, as we are told by Corporation Counsel Falotico that Commission members will merely receive a courtesy copy of the Rush Street changes to the pylon, rather than having a subcommittee session that might be viewed by the public. ” See “Public won’t review casino sign changes” (Schenectady Gazette, by Haley Vicarro, July 24, 2015).

– original posting –

PylonCommentsCover

rejected Comments

 The Schenectady Planning Commission, with only one dissenting vote (by Commissioner Tom Carey), approved the site plan for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. That includes saying yes to the fuller view (merely a projected sketch) of the 3rd Design presented by Rush Street’s architect, as well as the size, location and shape of the proposed pylon. Paul Nelson at the Times Union described the meeting in some detail:

“The city Planning Commission gave final site plan approval to the gaming operator of the $330 million Rivers Casino despite complaints from some residents and disagreement among some on the panel about certain features of the 80-feet tall pylon, or gateway, sign. . . . 

“The lone dissenting vote Wednesday came from Tom Carey, who lamented the sign’s size, the amount of parking and his feeling the developer could have made the gambling hall more energy-efficient. [follow-up: This dissent surely was the reason why Mayor McCarthy failed to renew Carey’s position on the Commission when it expired at the end of the year.]

“The sign’s height, which complies with city code, and the brightness of signs on nearby residential neighborhoods area emerged as key issues.

“Mike Levin, design team consultant for Rush Street, said the gaming operation is orienting to traffic because the casino will be 750 feet from an Erie Boulevard roundabout being built.. . .

“Stockade resident David Giacalone said pylon sign will do nothing more than ‘dominating our skyline’.”

(Click to see the Gazette’s coverage of the “green light” given the casino.)

3rdCasinoRear . . . [L] 3rd version detail of riverside view of casino and hotel.  I hope the Commission was given more detailed renditions of the 3rd design than we saw at the Commission meeting. The presented drawings were not up to the usual standard for Site Plan submissions, but I heard no complaints from the Commissioners.

SitePlanReview22Jul2015 . . . Levin and Primiano

– above: [L] Commissioners listening to Rush Street design consultant Mike Levin; [R] Levin (standing) and Principal Schenectady Planner Primiano –  

Wallinger-pylon

Com’r Wallinger

A couple of rather minor design “tweaks” could be in store for the pylon, but none of the issues raised in the Comments that I submitted today to the Commission made a difference. (If curious, click here or on the image at the top of this posting for the 9-page Comments in pdf. form, with text and images on issues such as safety, aesthetics, phony excuses for the height and location, questions never asked and documents never requested, legal duties in a Site Plan Review, and more. Also see my June 17th submission to the Planning Commission, which stresses the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display.

  • Chair Sharran Coppola declared that she liked the design of the pylon and its materials.
  • Commissioner Wallinger said she was pleased that the pylon did not look like a Las Vegas sign, but thought having the top “branding” portion of the structure such a bright white made it look like a separate sign sitting on the top of the pylon.
  • Thomas Carey, the lone dissenting vote on the Commission, declared that 80′ is too high, and bemoaned the fact that restrictions placed on every other business in the City against large signs lit internally did not apply to casino signage.
  • Commissioner Bradley Lewis, who is also the Vice Chair of Metroplex and was defended by the Chair from a charge of conflict of interest, praised the large size of the pylon and the ability to use the display screen for any message you might have, or for a “fancy logo” if that is what you want. Lewis made a joke of the idea that Union College students would be affected by the light from the pylon, saying “Union will survive.”
    • Bradley also went out of his way to deride the notion in my Comments that the classic Sands marquee pylon was at all relevant, saying that it was on the Vegas strip and therefore along the street. He appeared to miss my point that the Sands sign, which was the tallest at the time on the Strip, was only 56′ high, despite being used to compete for attention with so many other casino signs. I’ve yet to see a Metroplex project Mr. Lewis did not enthusiastically (and often with barbed tongue for any skeptical questions) support before the Commission.
  • Galesi Group COO David Buicko, who has often been the spokesman for the Casino Applicants, attended the Meeting but said only a few words.  When I was making my presentation to the Commission, focused on the failure to show the need for an 80′ sign, Buicko did animatedly shake his head “no” at me a couple of times, especially when I asked whether there would be streetside directional signage pointing toward the Casino throughout the City, eliminating the need for a colossal sign supposedly meant as a safety precaution to make sure drivers know in time that they need to get on the Erie Blvd. roundabout at Nott Street.
  • Commissioner Julia Stone told Rush Street’s Mike Levin the pylon was “the ugliest thing” she’d ever seen. She did later vote in favor of site plan approval, perhaps forgetting the power the Commission has over design in review of site plans.
  • East Front Street Association president Carmella Ruscitto told the Commissioners she just couldn’t understand why some people could be against the casino or its design, especially after the Galesi and Rush Street folk have worked so hard. It was a surprise that Carmella never brought up the subject of East Front Street opposition to the pylon. According to the Gazette, her younger sister Mary Ann pointedly told the Planning Commission last month, “We don’t want the giant big sign at the entrance to our neighborhood.” That topic must have made for some interesting sisterly conversation over the breakfast table.
  • Camille Sosnowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, told the Commissioners of her concern over light pollution and glare from the pylon and reminded them we do not yet know how much higher the Mohawk Harbor site will be raised above the flood level.
Casino#3Pylon

3rd pylon design

I believe the public will be quite underwhelmed when they see the rest of the 3rd design. Until better renditions are available, I am reluctantly posting the following blurry images that were snapped of the slide presentation from the back of the room with a pocket camera, as “better than nothing” CasinoDesigns2&3 above: front of the casino in the 2nd design [Top] and 3rd design

below: drawing of rear of casino in 3rd design

Casino#3Rear

One point future Site Plan applicants might want to keep in mind is that Sharran Coppola, Chair of the Commission, and Principal Planner Christine Primiano, apparently convinced their colleagues that a Site Plan Review consists of nothing more than determining whether the proposal is consistent with the Zoning Code. Past applicants nitpicked into making many changes in design may not be amused.  Ms. Primiano insisted that the permit should not be held up due to the differences over pylon design, since it was not a question of code violation. My legal interpretation of the law is quite different, as reflected in my Comments. Here’s a quote I used in the posting “the Commission should require a better pylon”, taken from the “Beginner’s Guide to Land use Law,” by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law:

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

  • By the way, Chair Coppola started the meeting by giving her defense of the “subcommittee meetings” the Commission members had with the Applicant Casino developer. She insisted it is a frequent practice and only to gather facts. She insisted more than once “there are no deals”. Later, Ms. Coppola remarked that she wondered what the Gazette editorial page would have to say about this evening’s results.
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  • See our Pylon Directory to find links to postings detailing the safety, design, and process issues raised by the Colossal Casino Pylon and its approval process.