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

At tonight’s Schenectady City Council meeting, I will be presenting and explaining the issues depicted in collages presented below. The first topic is related to the Agenda Item regarding approval of a Schenectady PRIDE art installation at Gateway/Liberty Park. 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.

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

GP-lightingcompared

SECOND: 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

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
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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

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pillar-ied at the Plaza

img_6565-Pillars

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

 . . 

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

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

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

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

Chair Wallinger discussing Casino Pylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GP-PlansChangeCollage

 . . De gustibus non est disputandum . . . .

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

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

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

LLspotwinter 

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

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

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

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

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

dscf3324-001

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

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

 . .

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

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

IMG_8665 . .

. . 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LadyInPark6x4BE

Please Join Us!

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

ORIGINAL POSTING 

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

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

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

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

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

LadyParkCollage2016e

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LadyInParkSept2016

Lady Liberty in Liberty Park, Sept. 2016

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

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

LadyLibertySpot25Jun1

GPLadybirdseyeLiberty

Plan rendering detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment by David Giacalone:
 .

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

GPPlanCover

Cover of Implementation Plan

 Bringing Lady Liberty back after reconstruction of the Park wasn’t merely a “concept”, as stated in the article. It was so obvious a result, that it was the only alternative presented to the Steering Committee and in public workshops by its primary designer Mary Moore Wallinger, and it was fully supported by all commenters in the Workshop. As the Gazette reporter who attended the Public Workshops wrote on June 13, 2013:

“Residents . . expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty. The Lady Liberty replica has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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GP-Rendering-LibertyDetail  . . IMG_6622

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

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

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

GooseHillLibertyPetition

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTINUED DISCUSSION

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

AREA VARIANCE APPROVAL

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

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

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

3. The variance is not substantial.

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

5. The alleged hardship is not self-created

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

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

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

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

Minimum variance necessary

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

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

Substantiality

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

[original posting continued]

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

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

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

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

I also pointed out:

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

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

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

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

The breaks have to be put on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied, then allowed, after begging by Ray Gillen

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

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

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

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

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

updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs

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

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

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

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

Original Posting

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

 . . variance denied . .MH-pylonrenderingOct2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

compareshoppingmallsigns

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

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

 

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

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

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

    Crosstown Plaza pylon

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

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

 

ORIGINAL POSTING:

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

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

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

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

DSCF3299  . . DSCF3294

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

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

ISSUES AND ANALYSIS

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

Sched1SignReg

.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PYLON STRUCTURE and SIGNAGE

MHpylonrequest . . . close to River House and future homes

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

shoppingmallsigns-002

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

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

miSci-MH-signs2

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

golub-MHsigns2

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

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

another sneaky pylon ploy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. Supplemental C- 3 Regulations.

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

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

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

ScheduleI-detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_______________________________________________

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

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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 CHPHP green bicycles at the end of a block where bicycles are specifically banned in the Municipal Code, with appropriate signage at each end. (see 2nd attachment); (b) cyclists will be maneuvering their bikes (hopefully walking, not riding) either on the sidewalk of the busiest pedestrian block in the City, or on the roadway that is one of the zaniest, most hazardous blocks for driving, parking, crossing, letting out and picking up Proctor’s audience members, and otherwise traversing in the City.  Doesn’t behind Proctor’s make more sense, or on one of the City’s downtown parking lots?

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

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

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

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

thank you for your time and consideration, 

David

[click on an image for a larger version]

BikeShareSchdyState-Jay

JayStNoBicycling

SchdyCode-Bikes-ParksPaths

BikeShareRiversidePk

Riverside Park BikeShare

 

BikeShareSchdyLibrary

Central Library BikeShare

 

IMG_4181-001

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

Not In Our Park!

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

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

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

Original Posting

   . . 

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

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

WestLawn-MemDayPicnic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David at Cucumber Alley

______________________________________________

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

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

red check What’s So Special About Riverside Park?

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

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

Riverside Park and the proposed Pump Station

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

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

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

where did this unattractive Schenectady casino design come from?

 

casinodesignactual

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

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

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

casino-renderresort . . 1st version

CasinoSign-4Jun2015 . . 2nd version

riversrender3 . . 3rd version

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

casinodesign3sp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mohharbplayhereimage

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

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

Rethink the new Rivers casino design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

afterthought (February 10, 2017) – xpresscash08feb2017a

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

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

 

 

our “drive-thru” rotary

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

To the editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Giacalone, Editor, “snowmen at the Gates”

https://snowmenatthegates.com/

Schenectady, NY

DSCF1991

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

hviccaro July 21, 2016, 12:20 p.m. 

David,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks,

Haley

Here are my replies at the Gazette website:

12:59 p.m.

Haley,

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

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

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

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

2:14 p.m.

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

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

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

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

TrafficMemo18Jul2016

 

why worry about our large street trees?

why not just remove them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

N. Ferry St. then and now

NFerryCorner-Aug2007  . . NFerryCorner-Apr2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

NFerry1

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

SOSTrees2

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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