is Bike-Share our newest sacred cow?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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

Subject: loco Bike-Share locations in Schenectady

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

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

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

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

Dear City Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

I understand the virtues of a program like Bike-Share, but that should not mean the program cannot be criticized, and does not have to be monitored to assure the safety and convenience of pedestrians, park users, and other traveling our streets. 

thank you for your time and consideration, 

David

[click on an image for a larger version]

BikeShareSchdyState-Jay

JayStNoBicycling

SchdyCode-Bikes-ParksPaths

BikeShareRiversidePk

Riverside Park BikeShare

 

BikeShareSchdyLibrary

Central Library BikeShare

 

IMG_4181-001

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

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.

Casino & Harbor Pylons

MH-pylonOct2017 follow-up (Aug. 4, 2017): Galesi Group and Mohawk Harbor have opened a new chapter in their Pylon Tales. See “another sneaky pylon ploy?” (Aug. 4, 2017). This time it’s a non-casino pylon that raises some interesting issues, despite its reduced size (34′ by 14′). Also, see “update on the proposed Mohawk Harbor pylon sign” (Aug. 11-15, 2017); and “BZA denies variance for oversized Mohawk Harbor pylon” (Oct. 4, 2017). NONETHELESS, Update: After Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen literally begged them for “a favor”, they changed their mind at a hastily-called Special Meeting: “BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!” (Nov. 16, 2017).  Click for a copy of David Giacalone’s Comments to BZA regarding the Special Meeting.

.

 Pylon Directory:  This is a list of our posts and Comments discussing the proposed 80′ x 38′ Schenectady casino signage pylon and its 32′ x 19′ digital display:

Pylon-PokeFusco

our Pylon in a Poke .

beware the Zombie Pylon” (March 23, 2016). It ain’t dead yet.
Mayor McCarthy defends the casino pylon” at the League of Conservation Voters forum (September 22, 2015)
.
bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015) suddenly we have a v-shaped pylon with an LCD screen on each wing.
.
– “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015). And, the pylon will be bulkier, brighter and wider than expected.
 .
– click here for a pdf version of David Giacalone’s Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015
 .
– “the Commission should require a better pylon” (July 20, 2015) The Planning Comn has the power to insist on a safer and better-looking pylon.
.
– “a Pylon Precis: too big, too bright, too  much” (July 16, 2015): a comparatively pithy summary.
 .
– This posting “pylon envy?“ (see below): compares the Sch’dy pylon to classic Las Vegas signs and a massive new sign in Cincinnati; it also compares the signage rules that apply to all other businesses in Schenectady but not to the Casino
.

– “phony pylon excuse“: uses photos, maps, and other images to explain why the excuse that  the STS Steel Building blocks the view of the casino is simply untrue

– “shrink that Casino pylon“: explains why the proposed pylon is the wrong size at the wrong location; looks at the Des Plaines Rivers Casino, which is too large and too bright at night although “only” 68 ft. tall; worries the Schenectady pylon would become an inappropriate symbol of Schenectady

– “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which points out that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– other pylon-related materials:
  1. Comments submitted to the Planning Commission by David Giacalone, June 17, 2015, which stress the inappropriate height and width and the serious traffic hazard from the huge digital display.
  2. A discussion of variables for evaluating the safety of roadside CEVMS (digital variable message displays).
  3. The Casino’s 2014 Visual Resources Assessment submitted by the Mohawk Harbor applicants as part of its environmental impact assessment, concluding that the project would have no negative visual impact on the City or any historically sensitive areas. It analyzed the proposed riverbank hotel, but  not the casino pylon sign.
  4. NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Visual Impact Assessment Policy (2000). Both Metroplex and the Mohawk Harbor applicant purport to follow this important policy statement in reviewing the project’s likely visual impact off-site.

have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF1362

artificial snowmen celebrating fake sentinels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.. share this post with the short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/MassacreLessons

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

McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission

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

cropped-snowmenheader.jpg . . . snowman14dec09demise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor

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

What would “public access to the riverfront” have looked like? The rule was part of our zoning code when Galesi/Rush-Street’s application was filed with the Casino Site Location Board. And, the following rendering shows the Applicants’ proposed design, permitting the buildings to be raised about the floodplain, and yet creating/preserving an attractive, accessible, usable riverbank to ensure public access and enjoyment of the riverbank:

CasinoRiverbankRendering

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

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

RushStreetAccessEd

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

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RestoreAccessE

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

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

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

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

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

SugarHousePromendade

Rush Street’s SugarHouse public promenade

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

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

§14-405(9) Design Standards

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

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

IMG_7240

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

IMG_4939

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

bait-and-switch along the Mohawk

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

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

pylonbait  bait . . . switch vshapemock-1

pylonsitecomparison

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

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

V-ShapedPylonQQ

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

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

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

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

B&Scollage

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

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

each wing 35′ x 24′

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

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

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

pylonicus-v

.

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

CASINO SITE PLAN APPROVED (including the pylon)

CasinoPylon3rd

bait ‘n’ switch?

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

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

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

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

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

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

SneakyPylonChangesW

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

– original posting –

PylonCommentsCover

rejected Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SitePlanReview22Jul2015 . . . Levin and Primiano

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

Wallinger-pylon

Com’r Wallinger

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

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

3rd pylon design

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

below: drawing of rear of casino in 3rd design

Casino#3Rear

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

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

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

the Commission should require a better pylon

SampleCasinoSigns

– click on the above collage to see sample signage designs for casinos other than the “shopping mall” colossus proposed for Schenectady, and to read a short explanation of why we deserve much Better than Big & Bland from Mr. Bluhm.  Share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/betterpylon

Rush Street has proposed a pylon sign design as mediocre as its overall casino design, and wants to place it at the worst possible location when safety and aesthetics are taken into consideration (find full explanations in the posts listed in our Pylon Directory). Rather than allow the Rivers Casino to foist its monster pylon on this City, the Planning Commission needs to decisively wield its authority under the City’s Site Plan review process, instead of yielding it to Rush Street and the Mayor’s Office.  The Commission should re-read the clear language of its duties and powers under our Zoning Code, and not be swayed by any pressure from the Mayor or advice from Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico to stand down on this matter (as happened during the Commission’s review of the C-3 amendments in February).

update (July 23, 2015): see “casino site plan approved: pylon, too” (July 22, 2015); and click here for a pdf version of my July 22 Comments to the Commission.

Mr. Falotico has apparently left the Planning Office and Commissioners with the impression their “hands are tied” concerning the pylon, because the C-3 district rules for casino signage now say (emphasis added):

“Multi-sided pylon signs shall be permitted, with a height not to exceed 80 feet.”

At the most, those words mean the Commission cannot refuse to approve locating a pylon sign, up to 80′ tall, somewhere on the 25-acre casino compound.  The prior sentence in §264-14(H) as amended states: Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”  And, Zoning Code §264-92(b) makes it plain that (emphasis added):

“The Planning Commission’s review of the site plan application shall be guided by the elements listed in §264-89 of this article.”  

Among the §264-89 factors that “shall” be applied by the Commission to all casino signage, including the pylon, are:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

Who agreed with the above interpretation just last February?  According to a Gazette article, “Schenectady City Council mulls zoning for Mohawk Harbor: Riggi wants city to reiterate Planning Commission’s authority” (Haley Vicarro, Feb. 3, 2015), Carl Falotico did:

Corporation Council Carl Falotico stressed that the commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.

In “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW,” the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, explains:

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

We urge each of the nine Planning Commissioners to take those words and their oaths of office to heart when reviewing the most important Site Plan they are ever likely to encounter.  As we have repeated often, there is no urgent need to sacrifice a full review merely because Rush Street keeps making the same false claims of deadline pressure. It will not have to open its casino for at least 26 months, and an appropriate pylon sign structure can be designed and installed in a couple of months.

dontforgettack  Because a thorough review requires a full set of Site Plan documents from the applicant, we also urge the Commission to demand all necessary documents, as mandated in §264-91 Application and Required Information, before granting the requested Site Plan Permit. If necessary with this complex, multi-faceted Plan, the Commission should consider approving various portions in stages, reserving final approval until it has received all required documents, and sought any expert opinion need to supplement the knowledge of staff and Commissioners.

  • The expert opinion of the New York State Department of Transportation on assessing the safety of electronic message displays could be particularly helpful when located close to busy intersections, and the Commissioners should not let inter-governmental rivalry, or a false sense of deadline pressure, keep it from asking for DOT assistance. (see this discussion)
  • RNBL4EMCs Similarly, the brightness and distraction of a huge electronic display (proposed to be 32′ by 19′) raises such significant issues with glare, driver confusion, particularly in inclement weather on unfamiliar roads, and the disturbance of nearby residences, that the Commission should take advantage of the International Sign Association’s “Recommended Nighttime Brightness Levels for On-Premise Electronic Message Centers [EMCs]“. The Commission should (1) consider adopting ISA’s Illumination Limits: “The difference between the off and solid-message measurements using the EMC Measurement Criteria shall not exceed 0.3 footcandles at night,” and possibly contacting the Statement’s primary authors; and (2) specifically ask Rush Street to demonstrate the proposed LCD screen will meet the ISA brightness standard. 
  • Additional information and explanation from the Applicant should also be required concerning how the siting of the pylon is likely to impact on nearby traffic and nearby residences, including those in the East Front Street and Stockade neighborhoods, on Goose Hill, and in Union Colleges housing, including the 7- story dormitory a block away.

Indeed, because getting the casino right is so crucial to the City and its residents and visitors, the Commission should use its power under §264-91 (G) to probe topics that are important for a casino compound and its signage (including, e.g., a Visual Impact Analysis and proof that brightness standards will not be violated). The Commission should require:

§264-91 GSuch other and further information or documentation as the Zoning Officer and/or Planning Commission may deem to be necessary and appropriate to a full and proper consideration and disposition of the particular application.

. . click to compare the Schenectady pylon to the Cincinnati Horseshoe pylon marquee.. CinciHorseShoeSignageCompared

Better Design.  Any large pylon or “marquee” signage meant to draw attention to Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor may become the primary image of Schenectady for many prospective and actual casino patrons, and will be a constant presence for a very large percentage of City and County residents. Its appearance should be much better than simply “okay enough” or “not particularly ugly.” It must be better than “good enough” to be approved. Although it is a matter of taste, the Commissioners are called on to make such judgments often and should not shy away from doing so on the casino project.

DesPlaines68

Des Plaines Rivers Casino pylon

 A lengthy search online has resulted in my discovering only one casino pylon somewhat similar in height, bulk and blandness to the one proposed for Schenectady, and that is the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, Illinois. The Des Plaines pylon [image at the right] would, in my opinion, be rejected for use as a shopping mall monument sign in even a less-than-trendy suburb.  Its Schenectady sibling will surely not improve its appeal merely by being significantly taller and wider. A new design with more “style” and artistic impact is called for, simply from the standpoint of what makes effective signage.

As with the overall Schenectady casino design, which is quite uninspiring compared to proposed casino plans in other cities and towns wooed by Applicant Rush Street (see “why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps“), Neil Bluhm and his casino subsidiaries seem to have taken a much different approach at their other locations to the need for or design of major outdoor signage.  Thus, Philadelphia’s SugarHouse and Pittsburgh’s Rivers Casino have no pylon or similar giant freestanding sign, despite being in cities filled with skyscrapers blocking views.

FallsView However, the Neil Bluhm-developed and managed Fallsview Casino and Resort in Niagara Falls, Canada, does have a relatively tall sign. It is, nonetheless, definitely not recognizable as a relative of the Des Plaines or Schenectady pylons. The Fallsview sign, seen in the rendition to the left of this paragraph but better viewed on the upper left portion of the collage at the top of this posting, was aptly desribed in a release by its corporate creator:

“The ‘traffic-stopping’ craftsmanship of this Diamond Vision display will be a beacon to the millions of tourists who visit Niagara Falls each year, and an integral part of Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort’s allure,” said Mark Foster, general manager of Diamond Vision. “As with all Diamond Vision installations, we worked closely with the architects and designers to create a display that complements the resorts theme and personality.”

Naturally, I’m not saying Schenectady should have a pylon-marquee sign just like Fallsview. For one thing, the LED screen ( 25′ x 12.5′) may still be too large for a streetside sign. And, at about 70′ tall, it might fit the scale of nearby buildings better in Niagara Falls than in our City. But, we do deserve an image that shows some of the thought and art that went into the Fallsview sign.  It could perhaps reflect the presence of a lovely Mohawk River location, or the ALCO history of the site, or Schenectady’s colonial past. Most important, it should reflect something unique, fresh, and aesthetically pleasing, and be designed at a size and with electronic display elements appropriate for its location.

My first set of pylon-related Comments to the Planning Commission (June 17, 2015) contains additional discussion on issues raised above, especially the safety problems posed by placing large digital displays close to busy intersections.

.

pylon options

– above: a few more examples of casino pylons –

ALCOlogo Afterthought: Looking into the “casino problem” over the past year, I’ve came across some of the interesting logos used by the Alco company over the decades. [see example at the head of this blurb] Perhaps one of them could be a starting point for a theme showing Schenectady’s past and strength aiming toward the future. (June 17, 2015)

a Pylon Precis (too big, too bright, too much)

  We’ve posted a lot at this website about the immense proposed Schenectady Casino pylon. This posting is an attempt to provide our readers (including the Schenectady Planning Commission and staff) with a fairly pithy summary. To wit, as explained a bit more below, we believe the proposed pylon colossus is too big and too bright for Schenectady and its visitors, especially at the proposed location near Nott and Front Streets, Erie Boulevard, and the planned traffic rotary. [update: click here for a pdf version of Comments to the Commission regarding the Casino Pylon, dated July 22, 2015; also, “bait and switch along the Mohawk” (July 31, 2015).]

– Two collages sum up our main factual points; first:

NoSTSExcuseE

– click on each collage for a larger version –

However, some casino boosters (and regulators), might say: “Haven’t Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and other Rush Street representatives been telling the Planning Commission, the Mayor, and the press, all year that an 80′ pylon sign was absolutely needed due to the casino being unseen behind the STS Steel building?” Yes, they have been constantly making that claim. And, it is not true:

NoSTSExcuseS

We believe the Schenectady Planning Commission has the duty and authority in its §264-89 Site Plan review of the Rivers Casino site plan to refuse to approve the proposed size, location, and design elements of the casino’s pylon. Although they exempted casino signage from the Zoning Code’s Art. IX signage regulations, the amendments this year to the C-3 District rules nonetheless specifically required Site Plan Review of casino signage by the Planning Commission.  Thus, as amended, §264-14(H) states:

“Signage for a casino gaming facility and related uses within the C-3 District shall be viewed and approved by the Planning Commission as part of the Site Approval process.”

Protestations by Commissioners and the Planning Staff that their “hands are tied” regarding the size and design, much less the location, of the pylon have no basis in the law, and frankly stoke the fear that applying a rubberstamp and rushing through Rush Street’s requests have become the modus operandi of the Commission (even if not the personal preference of individual members). As stated in Comments to the Commission on June 17, 2015 (by this site’s editor):

Even if the Applicantʼs pylon proposal is within the C-3 pylon height and signage maximum limits, this Commission has the authority and responsibility when performing a site plan review (under Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq.) to assure:

  • proper vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and safety, including impact on intersections and traffic controls;
  • proper location, arrangement, size, design and general site compatibility of lighting and signs;
  • maximum retention of existing vegetation; and
  • protection of adjacent or neighboring properties against glare or unsightliness or other objectionable features.

The two-sided pylon signage structure proposed by Rush Street Gaming for Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor is:

  • too large in both height and width, with an LCD message screen far too big and bright, to be so near crucial intersections, including the planned new (and unique for Schenectady County) traffic rotary, and the entranceway and exits of the Casino compound and Mohawk Harbor; see our discussion and outline of the electronic message screen safety factors at tinyurl.com/electronicdisplayfactors
  • too close to residences (e.g., East Front Street homes and Union College’s largest dormitory a block away, as well as condos, town-homes and apartments planned at Mohawk Harbor)

Thorough and objective application of Schenectady’s Site Plan standards should, we believe, require the Planning Commission to reject the proposed pylon or approve it with adequate and specific restrictions as to size (both height and width), brightness, proximity to roadways and residences, and use and size of LCD displays. Refusing to approve the pylon as proposed is particularly appropriate, given the failure of Rush Street to provide renditions of the structure showing its precise location in relationship to roadways and the rest of the casino compound and other Mohawk Harbor buildings, parking lots, etc. Furthermore, with no Visual Impact Analysis, including a line of sight survey, indicating where and how the pylon sign will be visible in the day or the night, the Commissioners do not have sufficient information to make responsible decisions about a monumental sign that would dominate our skyline and surely become the symbol of Schenectady to the rest of the world.

– share this post with the short URL: http://tinyurl.com/PylonPrecis

red check For amplification of the points made above, see the postings and materials listed in the Pylon Directory at the top of our Pylon Envy posting.

how big is 80′ x 38′?

 The short answer is “too damn big”, but many people have no idea just what those dimensions look and feel like in the actual world, and we want to offer more than a conclusion about the size of the proposed Schenectady Casino pylon signage.  Luckily, here in Schenectady, we have a well-known structure right on State Street at Erie Boulevard that helps put the monster pylon into perspective. It is the former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street, which is now the home of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council. To sum up the comparison: the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than the Masonic Temple.

The following collage shows and tells the tale (click on it for a larger image), including showing how huge the electronic display will be:

Around this website, we’ve been tired of the Pylon Tall Tale told by Dave Buicko and Rush Street to try to justify an outsized casino sign with no precedent that they can point to or that we have found. However, the ever-credulous Gazette news room repeats Rush Street’s STS-Pylon-Excuse in today’s Sunday newspaper, “Casino builders tout river views, huge revenues“, by Haley Vicarro, A1, July 13, 2015), repeats the STS excuse without qualification and makes the pylon sound like another Done Deal:

But unlike Pittsburgh, Schenectady’s casino will include an 80-foot-tall entrance sign, one developers say is needed because of how the casino is tucked into the old Alco property.

DesPlaines68 Rush Street’s Rivers Casino in Des Plaines has the only similarly wide-and-tall casino signage that we have been able to find online.  It is another reason we feel certain that the proposed Schenectady pylon is too big. The Des Plaines pylon is “only” 68′ by 25 ‘, and yet by any reasonable standard, it is objectionably large and looming and luminescent. See our posting “shrink that casino pylon“.

phony pylon excuse: STS Steel is simply not in the way

STSSteel5Jul2015a

STS Steel Building – 49′ tall

 The only “justification” that Galesi Group COO Dave Buicko and Rush Street representatives have given for needing a monster 80′ pylon — beyond their always implicit and winning argument “because we want it” — is that the STS Steel building blocks the view of the Mohawk Harbor Rivers Casino, so that the pylon is needed to let people know Schenectady has a casino and where it is.  Despite the fact that the STS Excuse is very easy to refute, no one on the Planning Commission or in the Mayor’s Office, or among the majority of Yes-Persons on City Council, have pointed out that the assertion is simply not true, much less asked obvious follow-up questions such as:

  • How does a 49′ tall building block the view of a 71′ tall Casino that is sitting on land raised a few additional feet above the floodplain, which could also have a roof sign?
  • Why did you choose to place the casino partially behind the STS Steel building, if that is a big concern, when you have over 20 acres to choose from?
  • Casino-STS-PieChart When the entire project, river-side and street-side. is taken into account, wouldn’t a Pie Chart show that STS Steel makes up a tiny sliver of the sightline into the Casino, and one could not get to the “blocked” area without passing by an area from which the casino compound is visible? [click on image at the head of this bullet point]  Also, will Rush Street put in a much smaller sign if it succeeds in pushing STS Steel off the old ALCO site?
  • Who is going to be in or near Schenectady when the Casino has opened who won’t know there is a casino here?
  • How will a giant pylon guide drivers (front- or back-seat) off exits and through the streets of Schenectady? And, won’t there be plenty of signs along the way on our streets?
  • How do we balance the aesthetic damage and traffic hazard of such a large and bright pylon sign, and its intrusion on the skyline of our low-rise City (becoming the new Symbol of Schenectady), against its minimal actual usefulness?

SchdyPylonSketch2 . . . STSSteel5Jul2015b

above: rendering of 80′ pylon [L] and 49′-tall STS Steel Building seen from Erie Blvd. 

To put it charitably, the STS Excuse is silly and the acceptance by City Hall and the Media irresponsible and embarrassing. This posting will use images, photos and words to rebut head-on the STS Steel Excuse for a monster pylon. There is no need to balance the benefits and disadvantages of the monster pylon, because the STS Steel Building is simply not in the way of viewing the casino.

For other factors causing us to oppose the Monster Pylon, see Shrink that Pylon, which looks at the safety issues and the lessons taught by the Rivers Casino pylon in Des Plaines, and our “pylon envy?” piece, which compares the proposed pylon to signage at other casinos and to the rules that every other business must obey in Schenectady. And, see “how big is 80 feet by 38 feet?” (July 12, 2015), which reveals that the proposed pylon sign is both taller and wider than Schenectady’s former Masonic Temple, at 302 State Street.

– share this posting with the short URL http://tinyurl.com/PylonExcuse

CasinoAreaPlan-001

  • As can be seen on the Area Plan submitted in the Applicant’s Site Plan materials (above), even if the Casino building were not 20+ feet taller than the STS Steel Building (plus, on land raised a few feet to be above the floodplain), the locations and orientation of the two buildings means that STS Steel is not blocking the view of the Casino for traffic heading NE on Erie Blvd. (from I-90, State St. or Union St.), nor for traffic heading SW on Erie Blvd (from the Freedom Bridge or Maxon Rd. Extension) until a vehicle is actually alongside STS Steel.
    • Click here to see the Pie Chart above combined with the Casino Area Plan.

CASINOvSTSvPYLON2

  • Ironically (see mock-up above), the giant pylon would surely block the view of the Casino itself for those coming NE on Erie Blvd., or entering Erie Blvd. from Jay Street, to a far greater degree than the STS Steel Building does. With the removal of the Automated Dynamics Building along Front Street, the view from the block of Erie at Jay Street should be a large open parking lot that permits viewing of the Casino until the point where the pylon blocks the view.
  • viewfromNottStTrestleAnd, even directly across the street from STS Steel and Mohawk Harbor, at the SE corner of Nott St. and Erie Blvd. (under the railroad trestle), a driver should be able to see the top of the Rivers Casino and any rooftop signage over the roofline of the STS Steel Building. The constructed image to the right illustrates the likely view, which should signal even the most oblivious driver there is a Casino neaby.
SatelliteViewMohawkHarbor2

Google satellite view

There’s No View Even Without STS Steel. Finally, and perhaps most telling, due to the terrain, the orientation of the roads, and the existing obstacles, traffic coming northward on Erie Boulevard (from State St. or I-890), or toward Erie Blvd. from Jay Street or Nott St. could not, and should not expect to, see the Casino facility until within a short block of the Mohawk Harbor entrances, even if there were no STS Steel Building.  Click on the Google satellite screenshot to the left of this paragraph, and explore the corresponding Google Map page. Thus: Even with no STS Steel Building, you could not see the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor when driving north up Erie Boulevard (click on photos for larger versions):

. . from Union St.: ErieBlvdAtUnion

. . Erie@Green nor from Green Street, or Jefferson or Monroe:

 . . IMG_8302 . . IMG_8307 . . The Casino/Gaming Building is not in the line of sight up Erie Blvd. If no other structures are in the way, it will be the Galesi-Marina-Mixed-Use portion of Mohawk Harbor coming into view, not the Casino.  This shot looking south from the corner of Nott St. up Erie Blvd. shows that the street layout does not permit a view of the casino when driving north on Erie Blvd.:

IMG_8362-001

Similarly, vehicles coming toward Erie Boulevard on Jay Street could not see the Casino until reaching the RR underpass at Erie Blvd.:

JayStNearErieBlvd

. . Nor could drivers and passengers in vehicles traveling “west”on Nott Street toward Erie Boulevard see the Casino building if there were no STS Steel Building, as the line of sight takes you to the future location of a Casino Parking Lot, not to the actual casino facility:

NottSt-MaxonRd

Given the reality of the Casino “viewshed”, the only reasonable conclusion of those observing the zoning amendment and site plan process to date, is that there are but two reasons giant pylons were permitted in the C-3 Waterfront zoning district: (1) The Gasino Gang wanted them, and (2) no one at City Hall had the courage to do his or her duty and speak truth to power: that the proposed pylon was “the wrong size and wrong location, and the STS Steel Building is simply not a valid excuse”.

MakeBobble-poker

from MakeBobble.com

Like the majority party members of the Schenectady City Council, and the staff at the City’s Planning and Zoning Offices, Members of the Planning Commission are apparently so accustomed to simply nodding their heads in agreement and turning off their B.S. Meters whenever Dave Buicko, Rush Street representatives, Mayor McCarthy, or his Legal Department make an assertion, they failed to notice how silly the claim is that the location of the 49′ tall STS Steel Building justifies an 80-foot pylon monster looming over the intersections of Nott and Front Streets and Erie Boulevard. Of course, given the basic intelligence of the Commissioners and the rest of the City Hall Casino Cheerleaders, it seems far more likely that they simply feel compelled to nod “yes” and to hide behind phony deadline pressures for their Rush to judgment. Perhaps the firm MakeBobble.com (see sample of card player bobblehead at the left of this paragraph), could customize their dolls a bit further for us so that the heads only nod up and down and never shake a “no” reply. When reviewing the proposed amendments to the C-3 Zoning ordinance in early January, we wrote in “the House is already winning” that:

“By merely suggesting the possibility of an 80-foot pylon, Rush Street and Galesi Group demonstrate a brutish lack of sensitivity to aesthetics, safety, neighborhood traditions, and the image and reputation of the City of Schenectady — not to  mention the truth.”

Those strong words have not loss their significance, but it is tempting to be more antagonistic toward the Casino Gang half a year later, given the many half-truths and deceptive arguments they have made in their bamboozling and steamrolling of City Council and the Planning Commission and the public. 316-vector-no-evil-monkeysRNonetheless, it seems clear that the words are even more apt when applied to City Hall — the decision-makers in the Mayor’s Office, the Planning and Law Departments, and those whose votes on the Council and Planning Commission should and could have protected the City and its residents. (Perhaps, I’d substitute the more damning word “irresponsible” for the adjective “brutish” when targeting City Hall.)  Although deceptive business practices are unlawful in our legal system, we expect businesses to use sharp practices when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake and often wink at them. However, if our system of government is to work effectively, and ever hope to gain the confidence of the people, we cannot permit those who purport to be acting on our behalf and enforcing the letter and spirit of our laws to passively accept arguments and statements that have no basis in fact or law.

why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps?


MinorLeagueSchdy  
I
t seems obvious that a “destination resort casino” should be designed to look and feel exciting and extraordinary.  The Gazette editorial board thinks so, and so does our Planning Commission.  Why, then, has Rush Street Gaming handed us two minor league designs, just boxes on boxes, and a casino complex easily relegated to the realm of humdrum regional facilities? It is not because Rush Street does not know how to put a little sparkle or class in a casino design. Click on the collage to the right of this paragraph to compare the two Schenectady designs with three others recently proposed by Rush Street. (You can also click the following links to see separate images of the gaming facilities in Worcester (also here and there), and Hudson Valley, as well as Brockton 1 and Brockton 2, and Millbury; also, see our posting “Schenectady casino redesigned“, June 4, 2015).

  • FallsView

    Fallsview

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

  • According to the Worcester Business Journal (April 25, 2013), when Rush Street Chairman Neil Bluhm was unveiling their concept design for the 120,000-square-foot Worcester facility, he “called it beautiful and said it ‘will fit well with the surrounding area and enhance the neighborhood’.”
    • Bluhm was right to call the Worcester design beautiful, and we have to give him credit for not trying to tell us the same thing about either Schenectady design.
  • By the way, I wonder how much the architect bill was on each of the projects shown in the above collage. Considering they cloned the Des Plaines model for the 1st Schenectady design, and Rush Street CEO Jeff Carlin said the 2nd Schenectady design is just prefab modular that makes it easy to change, I bet the other projects were a bit more dear.
  • Share this posting with this short URL: http://tinyurl.com/RushScraps

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

Thus, the Gazette reported that “Schenectady Planning Commission held closed meetings on casino plans – State official: Sessions legal but ‘evasive’” (by Haley Viccaro, A1, June 19, 2015). Observers of Schenectady’s government in action are “seldom surprised, but often shocked” and disappointed. The revelation that our Planning Commissioners met in 4-person “subcommittees” with Rush Street Gaming and the Mayor to discuss the important issue of casino-design is not surprising.  By meeting short of a 5-person quorum, the Commission did not legally have to give notice or have the meeting open to the public.

Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, was probably correct that it does not violate the Open Meetings Law to hold a single non-quorum session on a topic, but that “it demonstrates a lack of transparency,” and might not pass judicial muster “If there is an attempt to evade the Open Meetings Law by ensuring that a series of gatherings will include less than a quorum.” Freemen bemoaned the fact, as do we, that the Planning Commission left the public in the dark about a major development.

A major problem with Planning Commission Chair Sharran Coppola having held the pre-Meeting sessions with Rush Street, is that she thinks those chats justify not discussing the design issues during the Public Meeting this week.  If you care about the design issue (much less good government), you are very likely to want to know what the Commissioners are thinking and suggesting about the need to re-do the redesign. Left in the dark, the public has to comment about their design wishes in a vacuum, mostly complaining about its overall reaction to the Factory-Retro second design, rather than saying what it likes and does not like about the new suggestions, and giving alternatives.  In other words, we will probably be facing a fait accompli on July 15, and be (sadly, as always) wasting our time addressing the Commissioners.

The following is an online comment left by myself (David Giacalone) at the webpage of this morning Gazette‘s article. It suggests that Rush Street be required to submit its redesign by Independence Day weekend, and it reminds the Gazette readership and the Commissioners that no one was excited about the first Schenectady design, and it should not become the fallback outcome by default.

Comment to the Gazette:

DesPlainesCasinoCollage

real photo from Des Plaines

By depriving the public of a discussion among the Commissioners, its staff, and the Casino, concerning the design of the Casino, the Commission has made it impossible for the public to make meaningful comments over the next couple of weeks about the design “retooling” and to have any significant impact on the final design. Saying what we don’t like about the 2nd design is not an adequate way to work toward a much-improved 3rd design.

Schenectady surely does deserve a spectacular design for its casino. From the start, many of us pointed out that Rush Street’s competitors understood that a destination casino must look special, while our applicant seemed to be willing to settle for a very modest “regional” casino look, and the City Hall yes-persons failed to ask for something better.

Prior to the release of the Factory-Retro red brick 2nd design, I saw and heard no praise of the first design. At best, when anyone pointed out how much it looked like a gaudy version of a 1970’s mall cineplex, and was a retread of the underwhelming, mid-West-snazzy Des Plaines Rivers casino, the reply would be, “gee, it’s not that bad.” It is my hope that the Planning Commission, Mayor and Rush Street do not simply return to the mediocre first design, adding some redbrick coloration here and there. We also should not fool ourselves that the constructed casino will look like the rendition. To see how reality differs from the Rush Street drawings in Des Plaines, go to http://tinyurl.com/DPClessons .

The Applicant should be required to submit its next design proposal before the Independence Day weekend, so that the public can give meaningful input prior to the Commission’s July 15 meeting. We deserve more than a Done Deal sprung on us at the last minute. And, because the deadline for opening the new casino is at least 26 months away (and Rush Street insists they only need 16 to 18 months for construction), the Commissioners should be willing to have a 3rd public meeting on the Site Plan in order to give it adequate review.

I’ve seen this Commission force “little guys” to come back two and three times over things as insignificant to the public as the color and shape of their tiny storefront sign. Mohawk Harbor deserves closer scrutiny than a two-meeting rush on something so complex and important. And, of course, the public needs to be in the loop, not out in the hallway due to some 4-person loophole.

lessons from the Des Plaines casino

DesPlainesCasinoCollage

Des Plaines Casino Collage

  The release of the new design for Schenectady’s Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (see our June 6th posting) has started a robust debate that we hope will stir the City’s Planning Commission to actively evaluate and appropriately modify the casino Site Plan, which they will first treat in public on June 17, 2015.  Press coverage has included: Schenectady Gazette (subscription needed): “Reaction mixed on new casino design” (by Haley Viccaro, June 6, 2015); “Rethink the new casino design” (Editorial, June 7, 2015); “History shouldn’t repeat itself at casino” (column by Sara Foss, June 7, 2015); and Letters to the Editor: “Casino design could use historic charm” by Virginia Newton, and “New design of casino screams out ‘cheap’” by Suzanne Miller (June 10, 2015, scroll to 3rd Letter). And, Albany Times Union (subscription needed): “Redesign of Schenectady casino is a dud” (column by Chris Churchill, June 9, 2015).

TU‘s Chris Churchill rightly points out that:

[T]he city should demand better. The casino is a once-in-a-lifetime project and opportunity.

It’s too important to get wrong. It should be a knockout. 

photos taken by visitor at DPCR

photos taken by visitor at DPCR

Churchill also noted that the Planning Commission “would probably approve the casino if it looked like a giant Taco Bell.” Indeed, so far (e.g., with the C-3 zoning amendments), the Commissioners and Planning-Development Staff have acted like sleepy, toothless watchdogs, deaf to the requests and opinions of anyone other than the Casino Applicant (operator Rush Street Gaming, and The Galesi Group, site owner and developer), our Mayor Gary McCarthy, and County Planning satrap Ray Gillen. We hope the photos and images in this posting from Rush Street Gaming’s Rivers Casino at Des Plaines (Illinois) [“DPRC”] will prove more persuasive than the previous arguments and suggestions of many well-intentioned Schenectady residents.

The Des Plaines casino images in the Slideshow below teach us at least three important lessons:

  • As Rush Street has indicated over the past year, the first Schenectady Casino Design, from June 2014, is like a fraternal twin to the Des Plaines casino, with minor cosmetic changes and element slightly re-arranged. We got hand-me-downs from our Midwest sibling, not a Schenectady-specific design.*/

DPCrender2  . . .  Casino-RenderResort

– renderings: [L] Des Plaines Rivers Casino and [R] Schenectady’s Rivers Casino –

  •  The “reality” of the Des Plaines casino’s exterior is significantly less sparkling, futuristic, or inspiring than its artist renderings.  (That might be why DPRC’s Facebook page still has a 5-year-old rendering, rather than a recent photo, in its masthead.) The reality of the Des Plaines design might lessen the grief of many who, after seeing the Second Schenectady Design, are praising the First Schenectady Design for the first time and bemoan its demise. They should perhaps not urge the Planning Commission to revert to the First Design, but instead ask how the Second Design might be improved so that it is worthy to represent the best of Schenectady’s past accomplishments and future prospects.
  • real DPRC pylon at dusk A proposed pylon can be far more imposing once built than suggested in artistic “daytime” renderings. The brightness of the digital display at night and the size and intensity of the lightbox built into the pylon structure must be taken into consideration.  The shorter height of the Des Plaines pylon (68′ as compared to 80′ in Schenectady) and of its digital signage area (25′ tall approx. compared to 32′ in Schenectady), as well as its apparently narrower width, should give pause to Schenectady’s Planning Commission as it evaluates the proposed Schenectady design and its proximity to a vital and complicated intersection. It should ask whether the non-sign portion of the pylon “cabinet” will be lighted; and, demand a line-of-sight study of the proposed pylon edifice, in daylight and at night. For safety’s sake, it should also keep in mind the reasons behind the Philadelphia ban on digital signs within 200 feet of an intersection (§ 14-904 (1) (b) Digital Display), and the insistence of the NYS Department of Transportation that digital signs appear no brighter at night than during the day, and no brighter than permitted roadside billboards.
    • The Gazette June 7th editorial noted that “Judging from the new renderings, [the electronic signs are] as big and clunky and awful as some had feared. Interesting how those were the only things missing from the original design.”
    • Rush Street’s primary justification for its giant Schenectady pylon was that it had to be tall enough to be visible despite the STS factory building on the site.  The renderings show no connection between the pylon and the STS building, which is in fact 49′ high and not being raised up above the 100-year flood plain like the casino compound.

PylonCollage Click to see our Pylon Collage.

follow-up (July 17, 2015): In deciding whether the Big Brother of the Des Plaines pylon should be located near Erie Boulevard, the planned traffic rotary, and narrow Front and Nott Streets, they should take note that the Des Plaines pylon has a lot more “breathing room” than the Schenectady pylon would have.  Here’s a collage showing it is in a much different kind of location (click on it for a larger version):

DesPlainesVicinityE

This Slideshow shows a lot.

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We’ll let readers decide if we have drawn the correct lessons from the Des Plaines Rivers Casino. As we did in the posting “tips for the Planning Commission,” we urge members of the public to let the Planning Commission know their feelings on the overall casino design, the pylon issues, the proximity of the big, bulky hotel to the riverbank, the need to secure public access to the riverbank, and all the other issues that must be part of a Site Plan Review.

update (June 19, 2015): See “Why does Schenectady get Rush Street’s scraps.”

CasinoJune2015  *It is surprising that the Gazette editorial on June 7, and then the June 9 Churchill Column in the Times Union, concluded that the new Schenectady Design looks like the Des Plaines casino. Compare the renderings of the Second Schenectady Design in the collage at the beginning of this paragraph with the Des Plaines images in the above Slideshow.

TIPS for the Planning Commission

 The Planning Commission of the City of Schenectady will begin, but hopefully not end, its Site Plan review of the Rush Street Gaming casino compound in Schenectady, on Wednesday, June 17, at 6:30 pm, in Room 101 the City Hall. (See our recent posting “Schenectady Casino redesigned“.)  We did not hide our disappointment over the Planning Commission’s “review” of the C-3 Waterfront Zoning Amendments, nor of the related actions of our City Council. But, despite recent history, we refuse to believe that the Planning Commission will shirk its duties in performing its review of what is surely the most important site plan to come before it so far this century (and millennium). See Zoning Law, §264-89 et seq. for relevant factors.

CasinoPylon-4Jun2015

80′ “pylon edifice”

There’s No Rush. There really is no excuse for a less than thorough review. The Commission justified its lightweight review of the Zoning Amendments by saying it would take a much closer look at the details when presented in the casino site plan review. It also has the final say here, and should not allow the City Council, the Mayor, or Corporation Counsel to cajole them to produce a particular result.  Equally important, it is now clear that Rush Street is under no looming construction deadline as they insisted last January when the Amendments were pushed through. Before the gaming license is issued, the Gaming Commission plans to release its proposed set of regulations for casino operation in three areas: problem gambling, disability access, and workplace diversity. There will then be a 45-day public comment period on the Regulations, with no license being issued during that period. It is highly unlikely the gaming licenses will be issued, therefore, prior to September, and the Commission said in May that it hoped to issue them before the end of 2015.

For well over a year, Rush Street has bragged that it could complete construction and open the casino for business within 18 months of getting needed permits and licenses.  Recently, Rush Street Gaming CEO Greg Carlin gave a 16-month completion estimate once it has its gaming facility license.  The Gaming Commission wants each casino operating within 24 months of receiving its license.  At the earliest, that 24-month deadline appears to be 26 months away. With Rush Street and Galesi promising completion much sooner than that, and their facing merely fines, and not loss of the license, should the deadline be missed by a modest amount, the Planning Commission has no need, and no excuse, to give less than a thorough review, including asking for all additional information needed to evaluate the proposal, and allowing time for meaningful public review of the final Site Plan proposal.

Given the importance of this matter, we want to urge all interested persons to submit comments to the Planning Commission, either in writing or in person at their Meeting.  At this website, there will be a series of suggestions to the Commission over the next couple of weeks, on questions the Planning Commission needs to ask and homework it should do in its Casino Compound Site Plan Review.

Topics will include: In addition to the lack of urgent time limits that prevent full evaluation, 1) the Giant 80′ Pylon and 32′-tall digital sign, including finally doing a Line of Sight profile, and evaluating its closeness to the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Nott Street; 2) ways to improve the newest Casino Design;  3) the overall need for signage, especially the bright, moving, changing kind; 4) the design, bulk and appropriate proximity to the riverbank of the very large hotel being proposed for along the Mohawk (see this photo-collage); 5) indications that the Casino and property owner is serious about allowing meaningful public access to the riverbank.

 Tip #1: The 80′ pylon “sign”, with 32′ digital display. We hope the Planning Commission will think hard about having such a giant pylon so close to Erie Blvd. and Nott Street. Below: Comparison of pylon signs at Rush Street’s Des Plaines [IL] Rivers Casino and at Mohawk Harbor in Schenectady (click to enlarge). See our post “shrink that pylon!” for additional factors to be considered and photos. update:  Click for my Comments to the Planning Commission regarding the proposed Casino Pylon (9-page pdf., June 17, 2015). 

PylonCollage

  • In general, you can get a good feel for our dissent to the Planning Commission’s treatment of the important Zoning Amendments in this post, which discusses public rights and protections loss in the new amendments.
  • Readers are invited to leave comments in response to ideas presented here and also to report their own tips for the Planning Commission.