Thursday, February 8, 2018

What Happens If . . . ?

Tonight, at the "Open House to learn more about the draft DRI plan," we'll find out which projects emerged from the planning process as potential successes. But what happens if some of the chosen projects turn out to be impracticable boondoggles?

Ever since this rendering of the re-imagined Second Street stairs appeared in Hudson's DRI proposal, there have been doubts about how realistic this slick looking integrated ramp and stair design is for the site. We've seen this design before, proposed for the entrance to Promenade Hill. In that case, the design, albeit appealing to some, turned out to be completely inadequate to provide universal access to the park.

The rendering of the re-imagined Second Street stairs shows the stairs extending farther toward Cross Street than the current stairs, but it doesn't appear that the additional length is sufficient to transform what is a steep slope into a gentle slope. And then there's the question of railings. Can such an integrated ramp and stair design exist without railings?

Hudson already has one ramp and stairs combination that looked acceptable in the rendering but turned out in reality to be a horror, both visually and functionally.

What if the same thing happens with the Second Street stairs?

Questions are also being raised about another very popular project proposed for DRI funding: the public pier.

The project proposal indicates that the slip north of the pier--the one that borders Rick's Point--"will provide opportunities for small boats and paddle craft to launch and learn in shallow water conditions." The slip on the other side--the slip that borders the Colarusso property--will provide "much needed dockage for local river organizations such as the Apollonia Project, the Clearwater and Riverkeeper." That slip is said to have deeper water, but a critic of the project maintains that the water in the slip is too shallow for the vessels cited and has suggested that proposal may involve an "unspoken ambition" to dredge the slip to make it deep enough for the Clearwater and the Apollonia, an action which could also enable Colarusso to use the slip for industrial docking.

These concerns--both about the Second Street stairs and the public pier--raise questions about how carefully and extensively projects proposed for DRI funding are being vetted, not only for their ability to leverage additional funds but also for their practicability. What happens if the projects chosen cannot be realized in the manner proposed, turn out not to deliver the intended benefits, or have unanticipated negative impacts?


  1. Second Street stairway presently in about 56 steps, and ends still several feet above Cross street.

  2. This is a fairly common developer's game, but it depends on weak governance to work: the dream picture comes in, the agency approves, the dream picture is a nightmare, the agency is afraid to say No. The nightmare gets built.

    This policy-by-picture MO is common in weak governance systems like Hudson's.

    It would be great report for someone to compile a list of these before-and-after scenarios.

  3. Many, perhaps most, grant programs project their own momentum. Whatever the proposal, it usually passed through some state office so that a grant-winning proposal carries a certain authority even before the plan is revealed locally.

    In a municipality like ours, with a weak Comprehensive Plan and a weak LWRP, a grantor in some far away place will end up doing our planning for us (but only when local legislators and municipal planners privilege the state's largesse above 1. vision, and 2. details).

    Those who have a knack for grant-getting know all this. Exemplifying sociology's "Matthew effect," they ride the momentum knowing that the authority accumulated from previous grants only increases their opportunities for more grant-getting. Because state bureaucrats typically defer to previous judgements by other state offices, grant applicants who've mastered the requisite jargon typically advance within the system.

    I believe that one of the DRI proposals is looking to win state sanction for an otherwise illegal occupation of public land. The applicant has seen the writing on the wall locally, and hopes to secure its precarious situation by winning legitimacy in the eyes of the state. In this example the DRI would be used to provide armor.

    Another applicant described an existing site condition which it knows is false. But it also knows that if it wins its DRI request then, in backwards fashion, future grants to create the site conditions it needs for the present grant will be assured. In this example it's the DRI's momentum that's needed; on the strength of one grant other grants will surely follow, or so goes the thinking of a thoroughly subsidized world.

    Both applicants are working the system, and both require a lack of discernment among the members of the DRI Local Planning Committee.