on June 4 come to GROOVIN’4LIBERTY (updated)

JUNE 4, 2019, 5:30 PM at Liberty/Gateway Park Rain Location, Key Hall at Proctors, during DSIC’s Art Week, family event, Groovin’@Gateway

update: 11:30 Tuesday: MOVING to RAIN LOCATION: Groovin’4Liberty will be following Groovin’@Gateway INDOORS to KEY HALL in PROCTORS. Hope to see you there! 

. . If you cannot join us, please see EMAIL ALTERNATIVE below to send your Ballot.

GroovinRally4 . .  Meet, starting at 5:30 pm, at Key Hall in Proctors. at the “Central Sculpture fixture” if the Event is Outdoors, approximately where Lady Liberty stood from 1950 to 2017. We’ll be there throughout the DSIC Event (5:30 PM to 8 PM).

WHY COME TO GROOVIN’4LIBERTY?
img_8575

  • Show your support for Lady Liberty’s Return, preserving Schenectady History, the integrity of the planning process, and for common sense
  • Have your photo taken with Silhouette Lady
  •  VOTE FOR HER RETURN: You will be able to cast a Vote for Lady Liberty’s Return We will have copies of the PUT HER BACK REQUEST to Mayor McCarthy and Mary Wallinger (seen on the R) at Groovin’4Liberty on June 2. You will be able to use it as a Ballot for us to give to McCarthy & Wallinger.
  • PutHerBackPetnEEMAIL ALTERNATIVE: PLEASE if you cannot be at the Rally, attach this Request to an email and send it to Mr. McCarthy, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council President Ed Kosiur (addresses below), and other Council Members of your choice. Thank you.
  • To the Mayor: gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov
    To Chairman Wallinger: mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com
    To Mr. Kosiur: ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov

  • Pick up a memento photo of Lady Liberty to show what we are fighting for (click on images below for larger version):

LadyInParkC4x6pfa . . . LadyInParkB6x4pea

LadyInParkAp6x4ae

This collage is a 2019 version of the “poster” for our September 28, 2018 Rally for Lady Liberty. The issues are the same, and City Hall continues to thumb its nose at the Lady, the Public, and Good Government:

Groovin2019Collage

. . LONG STORY SHORT: Lady Liberty stood for 67 years in Liberty Park. She was removed only to protect Her from the extensive reconstruction of the Park. There was never any public thought or discussion that Lady Liberty would not be returned, and the Final, approved Implementation Plan included Her return once construction was complete, as the natural, popular choice. Nevertheless, Mayor Gary R. McCarthy, under the recommendation of designer Mary Wallinger (who has decided the Statue just doesn’t “fit” in a contemporary plaza), has chosen not to return the replica Liberty Statue. We want Her back home in Her Park.

BACKGROUND facts/photos/links and more: For background, see . . “Lady Liberty is Timeless“ & “Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty”. And, the Gazette‘s Memorial Day article, “Schenectady mayor teases Lady Liberty announcement” (by Pete DeMola, May 27, 2019)

.  . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/Groovin4Liberty

update (June 2, 2019): We’re sending out a warm welcome to Liberty-Gateway Park for the Schenectady Rainbow Pride Art installation.  Read about it and see photos taken today, at our sister website, “suns along the Mohawk.” We think the Pride installation, celebrating progress in LGBT right in the 50 years since Stonewall, is an excellent component of a Liberty-oriented Park. Silhouette Lady visited the Installation several hours before its official dedication.

SilhouettePride

Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty

 . .

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

Mary Moore Wallinger

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

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

. . .  

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By The Way, as for authenticity:

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

  

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

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

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

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

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHY EXILE LADY LIBERTY from HER PARK?

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

 . . too small? of course not.

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

    Cover of Final Plan

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

  • Goose Hill Petition

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

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

A Final Thought: The UTICA EXAMPLE:

    . .  

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

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

 . .

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

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

ll-locationcompare . . mistreated

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

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

2 of 180

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, whether you are . . .

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

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

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

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

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

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

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

WE DESERVED BETTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

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

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

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

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

. .

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

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

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

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

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

 . . .  

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

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

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

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

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

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

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

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

at S. Church & State St. . .

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

 . .

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

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

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

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

. .

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

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

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

  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell Better Bollards at Rivers Casino?

No one can solve all of the problems that come with having become a Casino Town with Development Groupies at his head. However, the community, with the cooperation of Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, plus Mohawk Harbor’s residents and its business tenants, could perhaps have a little fun and come up with alternatives to the gaudy yellow bollards, and ways to correct the situation.

. .

CHALLENGE. For example, the folks at Beekman 1802 and the Druthers crew at Mohawk Harbor have both panache and spirit, and might be able to put together a fun rivalry to design better bollards for all or portions of the Casino Compound. Rivers Casino’s “team” members, who have to look at those bollards a lot, might have some great ideas, too, as well as Ellis Medical. The Contest or Challenge to design better bollards might also bring in civic groups.

As we noted and depicted near the top of this posting, with links, there are innumerable styles of bollards and bollard covers commercially available already (for example), and creative minds can envision more. The yellow skin on the Casino bollards at Mohawk Harbor can be lifted or peeled off and replaced with virtually any style cover. The nautical origin of bollards might spark some interesting themes tied to Schenectady’s history. Schenectady deserves better; can do better; and could have a good time finding a solution to our Bummer Crop of Yellow Bollards.

If you’d like to help improve the Rivers Casino bollards, please contact me directly or by leaving a Comment. Or, let the media and City Hall, and Rivers Casino know your feelings. Thank you.


*The folks at Trafficguard.net provide a set of FAQ on bollards, including:

10. How Tall Are Bollards?

Bollards come in a variety of sizes, in order to accommodate being used in different areas and for different purposes. Heights for bollards typically range from 30″ to 48″ tall, with the average height of them being 36″ or three feet tall. Since most vehicles are about 5 feet tall, the height of bollards is effective at stopping them from passing through into restricted areas, and if someone does attempt to bypass a bollard, they will cause significant damage to their vehicle. The width of bollards is what generally makes them stronger, though, not the height. The wider a bollard, the more weight it can withstand. The reason they are not smaller is because at 36″ (or about that tall), they are an effective visual deterrent before ever having to be a physical deterrent.

 

11. What Is a Bollard? One of the most commonly asked questions about bollards is what their purpose is and what they are. A bollard is defined as a short vertical post, originally meant to be used on a ship, but nowadays used to direct or control road traffic. This includes using them to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles, such as outside of store fronts, to separate paved walkways from paved motorways, to block off public parks, etc. Bollards are typically made out of steel, but can sometimes be made out of concrete or other strong materials. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, perfect for accommodating a large number of applications.

cherry blossom surprises

Two days ago (April 23, 2019), I had two surprises when I left the Stockade neighborhood with my camera looking for 2019 cherry blossoms. (To see blossoms in the Stockade this year, go to “suns along the Mohawk.)

One surprise was pleasant and one was not.

cb Harbor . .  IMG_0449

. . above: [L] Good Surprise at Mohawk Harbor; [R] Bad Surprise at City Hall

RiversSchdyRenderFront

Rivers Casino rendering

PLEASANT SURPRISE: For the past few years, I have been amused by the cherry blossoms inserted by Rush Street Gaming in the renderings it used to depict the first set of plans for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. E.g. see image on the right. For example, on April 26, 2015, I wrote in a posting at this site:

By the way, in its environmental remarks to the Location Board, concerning impacting nearby neighborhoods or historic sites, Rush Street the Applicant said there are design elements of the project that reflect the Stockade influence. Perhaps they mean the cherry blossoms that will apparently bloom all year long at Mohawk Harbor’s Casino, but only about a week in the real Stockade District.

SchdyCasinoRenderingRear I had not yet seen cherry blossoms outdoors at Mohawk Harbor, and certainly not along the entrance to Rivers Casino, as shown in the rendering.  But, given the emphasis on cherry blossoms to the rear of the Casino-Hotel and near the riverbank (see rendering at Left and immediately below to the Right),  I decided to check out the situation while out hitting other blossom spots outside the Stockade.

casino-atti-landscape

cb HarborAlthough I did not find the robust mini-groves of trees indicated in the Casino’s renderings, nor groupings that might one day be robust or mini-groves, I did find a few young trees with cherry blossoms abloom, east of The Landing Hotel, on the casino-side of the ALCO bike-pedestrian path. See the trees pictured on the Left and at the top of this posting. There may be others that are not healthy enough to bloom or that are late-bloomers, but three healthy cherry blossom trees at Mohawk Harbor counts as a pleasant surprise, given the track record of the developers and of public servants charged with assuring compliance with plans.

UNPLEASANT SURPRISE.  About a half hour before arriving at Mohawk Harbor, I stopped for my annual viewing of the beautiful array of cherry blossoms in front of Schenectady’s City Hall, on either side of the main entrance, along Jay Street. My surprise was unpleasant and dispiriting. The trees that had for years given us gorgeous displays of bright pink cherry blossoms were gone. One rather straggly weeping blossom tree did survive, near the main stairway.

Instead of this array, seen on May 3, 2018:

CIty Hall May 3, 2018

. . on April 23, 2019, I encountered this scene:

IMG_0449

. . along with several indications that something was missing:

img_0452

  At this point, I have not heard any explanation from our consistently benighted City Hall and the McCarthy Administration for the cherry blossom massacre. George Washington could not tell a lie about chopping down a cherry tree. I wonder how the Mayor will respond. As/if any explanations are forthcoming, I will report them in updates at this posting.

  • For more photos of the former cherry blossom array at City Hall, go to the suns along the Mohawk posting “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms.” Who could have guess there would be more cherry blossoms at Mohawk Harbor than at City Hall?

From the webpost “in mem. City Hall Cherry Blossoms“, at suns along the Mohawk:

update (April 29, 2019):

In the Gazette article “Removal of City Hall cherry trees leads to muted blooms (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, April 29, 2019, at C1, City Engineer Chris Wallin gave the City’s explanation for removal of the trees:

“They were removed so the city could perform our window restoration project,” City Engineer Chris Wallin said. “Under that contract, all of our original windows in the building will be removed, restored and replaced.”

With the help of a consultant, the city determined six trees were located too close to the building to perform the work effectively, prohibiting the installation of equipment and rigging.

The trees were not original to the building’s construction, and were planted in 2005 to commemorate Arbor Day by Re-Tree Schenectady, a non-profit organization that plants trees around the city.

. . .

IMG_7012-001 Wallin acknowledged the pleasant springtime vibrancy produced by the trees, but said cherry trees, in particular, require vigilant pruning and maintenance to keep under control, and the city hadn’t always performed the work.

“They started to really obscure the front of the building, which is a historically significant building,” Wallin said.

That wouldn’t happen in front of White House or Executive Mansion in Albany, he said.

A few points in rebuttal and in sorrow:

  • The sub-headline in the website edition of the Gazette was fact-based: “Trees removed to make way for restoration project”. But, the sub-headline in the print edition draws a conclusion: “Loss of blooms was unavoidable, but may make a return following city hall restoration project.” (Emphasis added, and sentiment rejected by your Editor.)
  • It is almost too obvious, but I might as well say it: Proper pruning over the years, and/or additional pruning last year to prepare for the restoration project should have been sufficient to save the trees. In my opinion, our so-called Tree City really needs an Arborist, and she or he should not be under the thumb of the Mayor or City Engineer, but should make recommendations based on good-faith, tree-oriented evaluations.
  • I’ve noted before that “Our Tree City has never found a reason too trivial to justify removing even healthy trees.”

p.s. Thank you, Gazette, for reporting on this topic and using our photo to illustrate what was lost.

CherryTrees2018-Gaz29Apr2019

 

the name is Liberty Park (updated)

An article in today’s Daily Gazette (Jan. 7, 2019) makes it sound like Liberty Park has already been officially renamed Gateway Plaza.

  • red checkupdate (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, Schenectady City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017) has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. [scroll down to the large Red Check for our rebuttal.]

The article, “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers” (by Andrew Beam, January 7, 2019), tells us that the location of the Nearly New Year’s Eve event was “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park’,” and:

GatewayPlazaBirdseye“City and county officials said the name [Gateway Plaza] is fitting since the park serves a gateway into the city. It’s also an area that has several redevelopment projects occurring and is where a portion of Interstate 890 exits into.”

“I’m truly comfortable with the name,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. 

Of course, only a majority vote of City Council can name or rename a park, and that has neither happened, nor been scheduled for the Council agenda. For instance, here is a screenshot from the Public Workshop portion of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza, adopted by the City in 2013, in which the name change question was directly raised and answered:

gp-namingpark

As you can see, the Design Team [led by Mary Wallinger] specifically downplayed the importance of the generic name “Gateway Plaza”, and assured the public that the name had not been changed, noting that “The City Council would have to vote to change the name from ‘Liberty Park’. There are currently no specific plans to change the name of the park.” Wallinger did use the qualifying phrase “currently no specific plans to change”, but did not qualify her statement that the City Council would have to make that change, and not CDTA, or Metroplex, or the City’s Planning Office.

crescenttoveterans The consistent, longtime practice of the City of Schenectady has, in fact, been to hold public hearings before naming or renaming a park. [See, e.g., excerpts from The Proceedings of the City Council of Schenectady, concerning naming Grout Park and changing Crescent Park to Veterans Park.] Thus, before Riverside Park was named, there was a contest and public hearing; and, public hearings and resolutions were also used decades later, both when its name was changed to Rotundo Park and when it was changed back to Riverside Park.

Furthermore, the Resolution of City Council adopting the Implementation Plan [Res. 2013-206] makes no mention of a name change and specifically states that the Plan “proposes an improvement of Liberty Park and an expansion of its confines, now including Water Street.”

That is not surprising, as the Implementation Plan was specifically conceived as the fulfillment of the seminal “Route 5 Transit Gateway Linkage Study: Gateway District Plan” (2010). That Study speaks of a broader, generic Gateway District, and of constructing “Stockade Gateways” that were actually gateways — that is, arches. But the Study never mentions a Gateway Park or Gateway Plaza. For example, instead, at 37, it says (emphasis added):

Liberty Park is improved and enlarged to a rectangular shape roughly four times its current size. The right of way that Water Street occupies, a path of significant historical importance, continues as a pedestrian walk through the park. Liberty Park will be the primary open space for the new neighborhood being proposed for the study area and will serve to connect it with the Stockade in a clear and pedestrian friendly way. The park will be quadrupled in size and the raised berms will be removed to allow clear sight lines.

The 2010 Gateway Study also explains:

48] IMPLEMENTATION PLAN chart
Liberty Park Improvements 
.
Liberty Park would become an attractive, usable, urban park and plaza through this project that would celebrate its location at the entrance to Schenectady from I-890 and the Western Gateway Bridge. It would also form the link between SCCC, the Stockade, and new development in the study area. This project would close Water Street and expand and renovate the park to provide a centerpiece public space for the study area. 

.

Moreover, the figures used to explain/depict the proposal explicitly label the expanded green area as “Liberty Park” (click on each figure for a larger version):

libertypark2010plan

fig3.2newdevelopmentsdetail
.
.
Given this background, it is difficult to fathom the rush to call this wonderful, historic spot something as generic, bland, and overused as “Gateway”.  A park should be a destination and its name have significance to the public — preserving a name is one way to assure connection and significance. The replica of Lady Liberty, which gave the Park its identity and name, has significance to a few generations of Schenectadians.
.
Moreover, a “gateway” is not a destination, it is something used to reach your intended destination.  In addition, very few if any people will actually use this plaza/park as an entryway to Schenectady. They will in fact skirt around it, mostly in motorized vehicles. Or, unless they arrive by helicopter, will already be in Schenectady on foot, coming from SCCC or the Stockade.
.
gp-planschange It is hard not to see a pattern here: The authors and proponents of the Gateway Plaza renovation project and the Final Gateway Park Implementation Plan told and showed the public what they thought the public wanted during the planning and approval process:

.  Their goal, I believe, was to avoid controversy or making a record that showed strong public opinion.

CityHallRubberStampThen, making a mockery of earlier democratic processes and transparency, we are presented with something very different as a Done Deal, fait accompli. (See our posting on ignoring plans and the public.) Public opinion and outcry means nothing, it seems, to City and County poohbahs, who count on the 4-member Democratic rump majority on City Council to merely nod their heads in agreement, usually in silence or spouting platitudes. If official action is needed, the Rump Majority wields a rubber-stamp on any changes, surprises, or unexpected distortions of adopted plans — often, even plans which they themselves voted for in official resolutions. Common sense and common opinion be damned (or at least ignored).

  • see-no-evil-monkeyBlueEven worse, as with the name of Liberty Park, City Council doesn’t even bring these measures up again, letting the Mayor’s Office or Metroplex just go ahead with the changed plans, and getting the media to go along.
  • 316-vector-no-evil-monkeysRred check Follow-up (Jan. 23, 2019): According to an email I received from Gazette reporter Andrew Beame, City Hall is arguing that Resolution 2017-178 (June 12, 2017), has in fact already named the land in question Gateway Plaza. Beame says that is why he wrote “formerly known as ‘Liberty Park'” in his article “Nearly New Year’s event deemed a success by its organizers“. There are many reasons to dispute this claim, among them:
    • 12jun2017agendaNo Notice to the Public. Neither City Council Members nor the public knew that Res. 2017-178 was naming or renaming anything, especially not Liberty Park, and the topic was not mentioned in the Council Agenda [Item #30; click on image at head of this bullet point], or at the Council Meeting by City officials, Council members, or the public.
    • Resolution re Alienating Parkland. The Resolution was rushed through the Council to get a request to the State Legislature before the closing of its Session, for permission to “alienate” parkland at Riverside Park for possible use in constructing a new pumping station. The Resolution proposed substituting the Riverside Park land with City-owned land along Water Street that would be used in the Gateway Plaza project.
    • Liberty Park is not mentioned anywhere in the Resolution or the 8-page appendix that described the lands to be swapped, and is not part of the lands described in the appendix.
I almost hate to make this “compromise” suggestion, since my offering it might make it DOA at City Hall. But, if big egos make keeping the current name “Liberty Park” embarrassing to our Poohbahs, why not just call it Liberty Plaza, or Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza. Being a Smart City means a whole lot more than high-tech lamp-poles. A bit of Emotional Intelligence would go a long way toward earning the respect of the residents of our City and County, and avoiding needless aggravation, and future questions by folks wondering, “what were they thinking?”.
____________________________________________________________

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resolve to bring back the Lady to her Park

2019Calendar-LADYe

. . above: click on image above for a larger version of our Bring Her Home calendar, which is formatted for a 5″x7″ print. . Please download, use, and share. 

It has been nine months since we began asking the Mayor and City Council of Schenectady to honor and implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013) and return the City’s replica Lady Liberty statue to her home, Liberty-Gateway Park. Since that time, Mayor Gary McCarthy has not given us any justification for failing to follow the fully approved Implementation Plan, saying only that “our design team” recommended not returning Lady Liberty.

The Design Team is basically Mary Moore Wallinger, who was the primary author of the Implementation Plan that promised return of the statue, and is Chair of the City’s Planning Commission. Ms. Wallinger either never wanted Lady Liberty to return, and proposed the return to avoid controversy during the planning process, or simply changed her mind and decided on her own, with no public notice or input, to send the Statue of Liberty replica elsewhere. Why? At first Wallinger advanced the silly excuse that Lady Liberty was too small for the Plaza; she then merely noted at a City Council meeting that “plans change”, and settled on the sad and insufficient excuse that the Lady is not “contemporary” enough to fit her image of the new Plaza.

Throughout 2018, Mayor Gary McCarthy has indicated he has been too busy to make a decision and direct Ms. Wallinger, whose LAndArt Studio is the “construction administrator” of Gateway Park, to arrange to return Lady Liberty (after its mysteriously damaged base is repaired). At no point has anyone at City Hall offered a justification for ignoring an implementation plan that went through a full design process, with public input and agreement, and approval by City Council in a Resolution naming the Implementation Plan an official Document of the City, which the Mayor signed. There is no safety or financial basis for ignoring the approved Plan. There is only the change of personal change of mind by Ms. Wallinger.

We ask that the Mayor, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council resolve to return the Lady Liberty statue to an appropriate location in her home Park as soon as winter’s end allows for the installation. Surely, our so-called Smart City is wise enough to do the right thing. Returning Lady Liberty would be an important step toward gaining the trust of the public, and give us reason to hope the New Year moves Schenectady toward having a City Hall its people can respect.

newyearlady-001

 

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

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

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

Click on an image for a larger version.

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

GP-planschange

. . GP-Turbine-Girders

GPLightPoleChange

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

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

ALCOTrail-safetyignored

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

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Who botched placement of the ALCO Heritage Trail signs?

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

IMG_9190 . . IMG_9193

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

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

 

 . . alcotrailsignreaders.jpg
DSCF4252

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

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

 

BikeSchyAdvisoryCmte . . SchdyBike2001-steering

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

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

MUTCDshareduse . . BikeSchdy-TrailClearance

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

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

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

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

MHBTFReport-SignageImage . . MHBTFReport-signagepage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . share this post with this shorter URLhttps://tinyurl.com/UnsafeAlcoSigns

DSCF4232

pillar-ied at the Plaza

img_6565-Pillars

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

 . . 

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

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

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

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

Chair Wallinger discussing Casino Pylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GPplanschange

 . . De gustibus non est disputandum . . . .

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

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

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

LLspotwinter 

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

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

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

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

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

dscf3324-001

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

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

 . .

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

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

IMG_8665 . .

. . share this posting with this shorter URL:https://tinyurl.com/pillaried

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

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

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

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

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

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

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

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

IMG_8948

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

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

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

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

Hello, Christine,

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

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

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


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

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


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

Railings

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

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

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

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

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

David

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

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

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

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

follow-up (May 20, 2019): Join us on June 4, 2019 for another Rally to support Lady Liberty’s return. See our posting at https://tinyurl.com/Groovin4Liberty .

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

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

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

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

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

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

LadyInPark6x4BE

Please Join Us!

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

ORIGINAL POSTING 

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

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

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

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

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

LadyParkCollage2016e

.

LadyInParkSept2016

Lady Liberty in Liberty Park, Sept. 2016

the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor

LargeDockView2

 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.
  • Share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/LargeDock

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.

the riverbank Trail at Mohawk Harbor is not safe

MHtrail3Jul2018a

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

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

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

AlcoTrail05Oct2018

Original Posting

ALCOTrailSafety

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

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

 . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYSDOT-ShareUseRailingSlope

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

IMG_4915

IMG_4939

IMG_8691 . . IMG_8688

IMG_7240

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

CasinoRearFromBridge30May2018 copy-001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7225

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

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

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

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

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

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

BikeTrailInfamy

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

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

why not? . . cautiontaperoll . . orangesafetycone

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

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

Lady Liberty is Timeless

. . Welcome. This posting brings together many of the issues and events relating to the City’s decision to exile Lady Liberty from Her home at Liberty/Gateway Park, which is contrary to the fully-approved 2013 Implementation Plan.

IMG_0571-003 Updates (scroll down for the Original Posting and discussion):

(May 20, 2019):  We are still waiting for a decision from City Hall about Lady Liberty. Although insisting that it is up to Mayor McCarthy, Mary Wallinger is still trying to justify her position keeping Lady Liberty away from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, which comes down to her personal opinion that the statue just “didn’t seem to fit anymore”.  See “Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty” for a discussion of her excuses and the failure to justify abandoning a fully-approved, popular Plan. [The Gazette reports on the controversy in the article “Mayor teases Lady Liberty announcement“, May 27, 2019, by Pete DeMola].

. . . Sadly, Yet Another Follow-up (January 18, 2019): It has been ten months since we asked Schenectady City Council and its Mayor to follow the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, which they adopted in 2013, and bring Lady Liberty home to Liberty Park/Plaza. So far, they have not even bothered to justify this major change in an approved Plan. Instead, they now claim that Lady Liberty has been damaged while in Protective Custody in a City warehouse, so She cannot be placed anywhere yet. How convenient. The announcement that the Lady will be returned to her Park per the Implementation Plan could, of course, easily be made prior to finishing any needed repairs. Click on this image for a calendar calling for the Lady’s Return:

2019calendar-ladyeb

The City’s only proffered explanation for abandoning a fully-vetted Plan came from Original designer and author of the Plan, Mary Moore Wallinger: She glibly declared at a City Council meeting that “Plans change,” noting that the replica statue does not fit in with her contemporary vision for the Plaza. Wallinger either has changed her mind since 2012 or, to prevent a controversy, she concealed her intentions when she wrote The Implementation Plan, which called for the only natural and popular thing, protecting Lady Liberty during construction and returning Her after construction. The subjective preference of one person, who just happens to also be the Chair of the City Planning Commission, is undermining the integrity of the planning process and ignoring public sentiment. The full story, with links and images, is below. 

  • To further insult Lady Liberty, the City is now saying it has already changed the name, with no notice to the public or specific Council resolution, from Liberty Park to (the bland and inaccurate label) Gateway Plaza. See our post “the name is Liberty Park“.
  • Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 10.46.48 AM update (Feb. 21, 2019): See our coverage of the News10 ABC Special Report, “Local Treasure Locked Away” (aired February 14, 2019). Thank you, to Louis Finley and the ABC News10 crew.

LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

 . .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.

. . ORIGINAL POSTING . .

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 [in August 2017] 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. [emphasis added]

  • 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 and Ray 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.

Other Lady Liberty news, from the Summer of 2018:

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

  • IMG_8626 follow-up (Sept. 29, 2018): At “Photo-rally for Lady Liberty” see photos of the photo-rally, and a bit of explanation.
  • Another follow-up (May 30, 201): LADY LIBERTY RALLY ALERT! Groovin’4Liberty

JUNE 4, 2019, 5:30 PM at Liberty/Gateway Park Rain Location, Key Hall at Proctors, during DSIC’s Art Week, family event, Groovin’@Gateway

GroovinRally3 . . LadySil

. . For more information on the June 4 Rally, see our posting at https://tinyurl.com/Groovin4Liberty . Join us on June 4 to show your support for Lady Liberty and for a PhotoOp with Silhouette Lady! . .  RAIN NOTE: If the DSIC event is moved indoors due to rain, we will follow it to Key Hall at Proctors.

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).

ORIGINAL POSTING

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

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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:

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is Bike-Share our newest sacred cow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Subject: loco Bike-Share locations in Schenectady

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

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

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

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

Dear City Leaders

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

1. They put a station “near Proctor’s”, that is actually across State street at the end of the Jay Street Pedestrian Walkway (see 1st attachment). Two problems: (a) Bike-Share patrons will be obtaining and returning the CDPHP 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. 

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 . .