Friday, October 20, 2017

And We're Off!

The first meeting of the Local Planning Committee for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative took place last night. It was advertised as a working meeting for the LPC, which the public could attend. The twenty-three members of the LPC--twenty-five, actually, since two members of the advisory board took seats at the table--sat at tables arranged in a U shape around a screen and Steve Kearney, the planner from Stantec who will be leading the DRI planning effort. Seated in chairs behind them were Sheena Salvino, HDC executive director; Mike Tucker, president and CEO of Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC); a third member of the advisory board, Heather Campbell; and more than half a dozen people from the Department of State and Empire State Development. The public was relegated to picnic style tables meant for primary school children and given fifteen minutes to comment, after an hour and forty-five minutes of listening and observing from their kiddie seats.

Dan Udell was there with his video camera to record the entire two hours, so Gossips will make no attempt to report all that transpired. Instead, I'll share some observations and noteworthy takeaways.  

Last summer, when the DRI application was being developed, the public was told that the short period of time between the announcement of Round Two of DRI funding and the due date for applications limited the opportunities for public input but was assured that, should Hudson be awarded the $10 million in DRI funding, there would be an extensive public planning process that could take as long as a year. Last night, it was made clear that the planning must be done by March 2018--in just five months--and "by December we will be getting very close to the final concept."

In outlining what is expected to happen in the time between now and March, Kearney explained that they, the Consulting Team made up of urban planners and urban designers, including a retail specialist and a residential market analyst, will be doing the planning. The role of the LPC is to bring the proposals to the community and decide aye or nay on pursuing them. He spoke of taking a "market-based approach" and said of the retail specialist, "On this one, she's going to take a vital role." (In Round One of the DRI, Kearney worked with Oswego, Elmira, and Oneonta.) He stressed that the $10 million in DRI funding was meant to leverage additional state, federal, and private investment.

Hudson's DRI application is the starting point for the planning process, but interestingly, what were identified as the seven priority projects last night were a bit different from the five priority projects identified two months ago. On August 22, Gossips reported that of the seventeen projects listed in the application, five had been identified as priorities. Those five were:
  1. Workforce Development Programs in Trades, Arts and Technology
  2. Dunn Warehouse & Environs
  3. Shovel Ready KAZ
  4. Public Pier Project
  5. Pedestrian Connectivity, Routes & Lights
The seven priorities Kearney presented last night are the following:
  1. Basilica Hudson, Phase II--which "continues renovation of the structure to improve the interior and exterior infrastructure for year-round use, as well as incorporating accessibility." (DRI application, pages 28-29)
  2. The Warehouse (a.k.a. L&B)--facade improvement and Digifab expansion (DRI application, page 32)
  3. Wick Hotel--"direct business assistance . . . [to] offset some of the significant costs associated with the rehabilitation of a deteriorated historic resource . . . as well as exterior site improvements to increase pedestrian access to the Warren Street business district via a pocket park stairway, the Amtrak train station and BRIDGE District amenities. (DRI application, page 33)
  4. River House, Phase II--job creation and workforce development . . . "the building will accommodate 114 creative professionals." (DRI application, page 30)
  5. KAZ Mixed-Use & Transit-Oriented Development--"The former KAZ warehouse site offers the single greatest job creation and workforce development opportunity in the BRIDGE District." (DRI application, page 34) The job creation potential is estimated to be 120 full-time jobs and 70 part-time jobs.
  6. Public Pier
  7. Waterfront Improvements
The Dunn Warehouse & Environs, which came in second on the list two months ago, is now, if part of this new list of priorities at all, subsumed into the general category of Waterfront Improvements.

I left the meeting wondering who had said, "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?" (it turns out it's attributed to Albert Einstein), but in the DRI process there probably can't be any do-overs.

Dan Udell's video of the meeting can be viewed here.


  1. Sounds like a preordained slanted manipulated mess but 5 months will tell what outsiders plan to do to our town.

  2. Presumably the projects which were proposed in the DRI application had some sort of meaning for the outcome. Apparently not.

    It appears that the real divvying is occurring somewhere far offstage, but by whom?

    Ugh indeed.

  3. If the public was supposed to give input on the projects proposed is this, what was determined by that input. By the remarks above sure seems like people are not happy.Sounds like more money being pumped towards a private developer who already has or is going to receive tax benefits as well as additional gov't assistance. Why is any money going to further enrich privare developers so that they can make more of a net profit? Why is no public transportation being discussed or security for the area e.g. cameras.

  4. They're looking at our zoning?! In order to tweak here and there, or to rethink it comprehensively as self-described "planning designers" are apt to do?

    We amended the zoning in 2011 and the City still doesn't understand it! If there's a Pandora's Box in any of this, it will involve zoning.

  5. waterfront appears 143 times in the DRI application & comes up last in a list of priorities.
    hahahaha, ok

  6. Wow. I feel embarrassed and stupid thinking that maybe a tiny 1% of this money could go towards a few recycling bins and a centrally located public bathroom that isn't locked all the time.

  7. 1.

    If the big winners are meant to be future economic incubators, then I worry that the groundwork for the planned surroundings of these future successes is also being established now.

    I'd guess that revitalizing our waterfront assets - those 143 references in the application - is something really meant to occur in future phases of capital investment, which we're assured will follow from this initial push. In that case, Albany's idea of seed money is not to spend a tenth of the DRI restoring the Dunn warehouse just to end up with a beautiful empty building looking for an idea.

    If that's correct, then, looking at the cast of characters involved, it's reasonable to assume that the State is investing beyond the specific projects identified as generators, and towards the achievement of an overarching plan which maximizes the investment.

    We're going to get a plan out of the DRI, which means waterfront planning rather than waterfront projects.

    In this way, the DRI has the potential to become the Department of State's solution to our lack of an approved waterfront program (LWRP). Certainly there are many in Albany who believe we're squandering an amazing riverfront resource, but what different people mean by "squander" and "resource" is never obvious. The LWRP had a plan for a marina at the entrance to South Bay, a plan we'd be foolish to forget was wholly imposed on us by unaccountable managerial types.

    While I doubt that any DRI waterfront planning will be that specific, I still say beware of "planning designers" who may already grasp as their mission the laying of the foundations of a future waterfront plan.

    Thus my concern about any anticipated zoning amendments, which is something we heard telegraphed at the meeting.


  8. 2.

    Just as with a municipal Comprehensive Plan, waterfront planning can have far-reaching implications. Think of the Butterfly Effect, but applied to planning: sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

    For example, when the Greenport Planning Board pens its Response to the City's court challenge, the Town will rely heavily on its interpretation of a single sentence in the City's 2002 Comprehensive Plan (we know this because the Town's SEQR Neg-Dec, which is the object of the suit, hinged on the same sentence).

    For an analogy that's either developmental (conscious) or mutational (unconscious), in today's Register Star story on the DRI we read that Shantytown is looking to be "remediated," rather than revitalized. Who decided that?! But it's just the sort of subtle shift which can find its way into a planning document. Years later, when you're looking for some sort of revitalization grant, you suddenly discover that your options were limited all along by the wording of the initial plan.

    If we're not watching this like hawks, then determinative planning for the future of the waterfront - a plan that sets parameters for the ultimate plan - may come to pass which is, frankly, over our heads. Residents - and even committee members - may feel like they're participating, when they really have scant idea what's being planned on their behalves.

    I don't like to sound so cynical, but these folks must know there's very little time in which to achieve anything like zoning changes. On the other hand, these DRI "planning designers" are magnitudes more clever than our erstwhile BFJ Planners and their idiotic marina plan.

    To discern the developing waterfront plan which we'll one day understand is driving our (future) planning efforts, we must scrutinize every zoning suggestion made during the DRI effort.