Posted by: David Giacalone | June 13, 2017

what the Parkland Alienation resolutions mean

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. . please excuse our enthusiasm . . 

 Miracle along the Mohawk? Last night, June 12, 2017, just seven weeks after suns along the Mohawk sounded the alarm about “the at-risk West Lawn of Riverside Park” (April 23, 2017), the City Council of Schenectady enacted two parkland alienation resolutions about Riverside Park. Rather than the usual rubber-stamping of mayoral proposals that happens too often at City Hall, the two-resolution “compromise” should leave less than one-seventh of the originally threatened parcel “at risk” of being removed from park use. We went from a threat to despoil a half-acre of the City’s most beautiful and tranquil parkland, to promises of best efforts to keep any alienation to no more than a 30-foot swath alongside the Old Pump House lot that would equal about 0.07% of an acre.

In our April 23rd post, we hoped “there will soon be a full, objective discussion of the Proposed Plan and alternatives to it” and that “it will be led by an energized and responsible Stockade Association.” While the first goal was not reached, the compromised achieved under claims of tight time restraints greatly lessened the disappointment over alternatives not fully addressed. Moreover, that disappointment was eclipsed by the fulsome fulfillment of the second goal. Once roused to action, the leadership of the Stockade Association demonstrated the serious attention a committed, hardworking group of neighborhood advocates can garner from City leaders and an often indifferent public. [Click on the image to the left for an annotated tax map that shows the still at-risk 30′ parcel of parkland, and gives some salient points.]

The following photos, taken today (June 13), show the piece of land lying next to the old pump station’s west fence, with an approximation indicated of the 30-foot line.

  . . 

. . above: [L] the “30-ft. swath”; and [R] the “rescued” portion of Riverside Park. . 

Riggi Statement

When combined with the renewed vigor of the Stockade Association, the attentiveness of City Council Members and Mayor Gary McCarthy leaves me considerably more optimistic than I have been in decades, that City Hall may be willing to work with residents to produce better outcomes. (Especially, I hope, when a proposal can’t seem to pass the Smack-Your-Forehead-Test.) We did not convince a majority of the Council to refuse to alienate any part of the Park; in fact, only Vince Riggi (I) voted against requesting the home rule alienation bill (click on the image to the right for his insightful Statement). Nonetheless, several members of the Council made it clear to the Mayor and their colleagues that they were stunned by the proposal to take the precious west lawn out of park use, and that Park neighbors and users were raising some important questions.

  Council members, therefore, took the Mayor up on his promise to Stockade residents two weeks ago to do everything he could to keep a new pump station within the old station’s lot, with a minimum of spillover into the Park. They took the unusual step of voting for a second, clarifying, resolution “Affirming the Mayor and City Council’s Intention of Preserving Parkland in Riverside Park.” [The text of that Resolution is copied in at the foot of this posting, and is worth your time, especially if you’d like to see how serious our elected leaders are to avoid unnecessary taking of any of Riverside Park.] They even resolved not to accept any design or approve a contract that included more than the 30′ leeway, “without a full public hearing on such design.” [If you need a reminder of what we were up against, please click the “postcard” to the Left of this paragraph.]

State Sen. James “Jim” Tedisco sponsored NYS Senate Bill 6692, which would grant the City of Schenectady, acting through its City Council, the home rule power to “alienate” 0.5 acres of Riverside Park for use as the location of a new sewage pumping station. As the Times Union’s Paul Nelson has explained, Sen. Tedisco wrote to the Mayor and City Council last Thursday offering to wait for a revised Bill that would alienate no more than the 30′ of land west of the current pump station fence. However, Mayor McCarthy’s principal assistant, David Fronk, wrote Friday morning that the City would not accept Tedisco’s offer. Moreover, Assemblyman Phil Steck let the City know late Friday that the Assembly was too close to the end of their session to allow a delay for rewriting the half-acre bill. Steck and Tedisco, however, have both stressed their hope that the new pump station could be kept within the lot of the current pump station, and would use no more than the discussed additional 30 feet. For Schenectady Gazette coverage of the parkland alienation compromise, click here (if you have a subscription).

VRiggiPumping Although we are encouraged, and plan to take advantage of the improved receptiveness at City Hall, please be assured that the proprietor of this website and the leadership of the Stockade Association plan to stay vigilant . In addition, council member Riggi has promised his colleagues (photo to the right) and the Administration that  he plans “to keep their feet to the fire” to make sure they keep the promises contained in clarifying Resolution. I hope we won’t have to smell shoe leather burning at City Hall.

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Ready to Defend Our Park!

The most worrisome part of this campaign to save Riverside Park is the fact that we would need to wage such a fight for such a special part of our community. Dangerously silly proposals can only happen when the City Council is kept in the dark as to what is happening around them in City Hall, and the executive branch does not fear close questioning of its legislative requests. The Mayor and Corporation Counsel are not the only ones who should be blamed for the chronic failure to give council members (and decision-makers on other City commissions and boards) so little information explaining proposals, and especially the pros and cons of a proposal and alternatives. It is the responsibility of Council and board members to be well-informed, and to insist on the information needed to do their jobs in a responsible manner.

City Hall can be a beach.

I hope the near loss of the City’s precious and rare riverfront parkland stunned Council members into remembering their rights and obligations in fulfilling their duties to the residents of Schenectady, current and future. For myself, I hope yesterday was the last time I will have to bring my No Pump Station in Riverside Park beach towel to City Hall [see photo to the right]. Instead, it can accompany me to the lovely west lawn for many years to come.

  • red-checkI’m not at all sure that the Mayor and his Corporation Counsel are particularly excited about Council members wanting fuller briefings and explanations of proposals and alternatives. One indication of their reluctance: To “make the Stockade happy”, Corporation Council accepted virtually the entire Stockade draft for the Intent to Preserve Parkland Resolution (below). Nonetheless, portions deleted from the Stockade draft tended to be those favoring more information. For example, the Second Resolve paragraph now begins, “Resolved, without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall . . .”. However, the Stockade version of that provision stated: “Resolved, without submission of full design criteria, including written discussion of the pros and cons of alternatives with a smaller footprint, and a full public hearing on such design and parkland alienation, City Council shall . . .”.  So, continued vigilance, but with perhaps a bit more optimism, is called for.

follow-up (Thursday evening, June 15, 2017): The Schenectady Daily Gazette did a good job crafting an Editorial that will be in Friday’s newspaper (June 16), entitled, “Editorial: Good deal on pump station: Compromise required active citizens, open-minded council” (June 16, 2017). Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

“Government Body Listens to Citizens, Comes Up with Reasonable Compromise.”

You don’t see many headlines like that these days. But that headline could have topped the story in Wednesday’s Gazette about the Schenectady City Council agreeing to reduce the impact of a new sewer pump station in the Stockade’s Riverside Park. . .

. . . The resolution isn’t perfect, nor does it cover all the issues, like the fact that the city passed this resolution without seeing a design plan to ensure the compromise was actually possible. …

Still, while it doesn’t appear to be an ironclad promise, it’s clear the council’s intentions were honorable and well-intended.

Also, the language appears to leave the city with some wiggle room.. . .

. . . So opponents will still need to maintain the pressure to ensure the city keeps its pledges, including speaking out at the promised public hearing on any new design proposal.

… But as compromises go, this seems as good as one might get.

Opponents of the new station deserve credit for educating and pressuring city officials to minimize the impact on their park. And city officials deserve credit for listening to the concerns and coming up with a fair plan that attempts to address them.

Can you imagine if Congress or the state Legislature worked this way?

Nah, probably not.

 

  • Finally, if the notion of parkland alienation, or the process used to achieve it in NYS, still has you scratching your head, see “Handbook on the Alienation of Municipal Parkland in New York” from the State’s Department of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. The Handbook should quench, if not quash, your curiosity.

The following resolution was passed unanimously by the City of Schenectady City Council, June 12, 2017:

 

A Resolution Affirming the Mayor and City Council’s Intention of Preserving Parkland in Riverside Park.

WHEREAS, the City Council has voted to request that a parkland alienation bill be passed, permitting the City of Schenectady to alienate a parcel of parkland in Riverside Park west of the current North Ferry Street Pump Station, approximately 0.5 acres in size, to allow the construction of a new pumping station to comply with a State Department of Environmental Conservation consent agreement; and

 

WHEREAS, this resolution was passed at a special council meeting before an alternative design for the proposed new pump station is complete, and without the opportunity for public comment on the legislation; and 

 

WHEREAS, the City Council intends that any new pump station be kept, to the extent reasonably possible, within the current boundary of the lot upon which the “old pump station” is located; and

 

WHEREAS, the Mayor, City staff and their consultants, and Corporation Counsel, have informed this Council that all efforts are being made to design the new pump station so that it can be located within the current pump station lot; and that any overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station:

 

IT IS HEREBY

 

RESOLVED, the Mayor and City Council shall continue to use all reasonable means to achieve a design for a new North Ferry Street Pump Station that is contained within the current pump station lot, or that protrudes to the minimal extent necessary onto the parkland of Riverside Park; and it is further

 

RESOLVED, without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park; and it is further

 

RESOLVED, any parkland included in the pending New York State legislation permitting the alienation of 0.5 acres on the west lawn of Riverside Park that is not used for the construction of a new pump station and any necessary buffer and landscaping, be deemed unalienated and re-designated as parkland with all protections currently adhering to such parkland.

                       

      Approved as to form this

      12th day of June, 2017.

 

 

      ____________________________

      Carl G. Falotico, Esq.

      Corporation Counsel

 


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