Posted by: David Giacalone | January 29, 2015

Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber stamp in a Company Town?

 desktop misc6 It’s hard to avoid being discouraged after the January 26th public hearing on the Schenectady City Council’s proposed amendments to our waterfront zoning ordinance (the C-3 District).  Rather than actually addressing any of the amendments’ provisions, the so-called supporters of the proposals merely told how exciting the casino project was and how necessary it is to have C-3 waterfront zoning (which we already have: Current C-3 Zoning Ordinance).  As someone who witnessed the four-hour Planning Commission Special Meeting on January 14th, it was especially disconcerting to hear speaker after speaker use the 8-0 vote of the Planning Commission approving the set of amendments as an important reason for adopting the proposal. [In this posting, the Planning Commission is at times referred to as “Commission” or “PC”.

The major zoning changes that are under consideration are listed here, and discussed in several postings filed in our Zoning/Planning Category and in the Recent Posts menu at the top of the Sidebar.

GEsignBlDice

new boss in town?

We believe the four-hour Special Meeting of the Planning Commission on Jan. 14 was yet another demonstration that Schenectady has become once again a Company Town, where City Hall acts as a rubber stamp wielded to fulfill the wishes of Schenectady’s new Bosses, Galesi Group, the owner and developer of Mohawk Harbor, and Rush Street Gaming, the operator of the casino itself [collectively known around this website as the Galesi-Casino Gang, or simply “the Gang”]

 As a result, the customary (non-casino-related) interests of Schenectady’s current and future residents, businesses and organizations, are ignored, with shortsighted decisions being made and Schenectady’s future and heritage being shortchanged.

In the zoning context, therefore, we see a set of proposed amendments that only make sense if traditional zoning and planning goals and processes are forgotten and the only goal is to make the Gang’s wishes and hopes for Mohawk Harbor into law. But, you ask, can’t we be reassured by the 8-0 vote of our City’s Planning Commission recommending the proposed amendments with only a couple of minor tweaks?  In a word, as explained below, No.

Alco&GElogos Many supporters of a Schenectady Casino (especially those who live in Schenectady and won’t be its business partners) simply want Schenectady to be a City with a Casino, and not a Casino City, known elsewhere mostly for its regional gaming facility.  More worrisome than becoming a Casino Town is becoming a Company Town again. Ironically, the new Company Town has its ruling Gang symbolically ensconced at the very spot where the American Locomotive Company and General Electric built useful things that helped win wars and modernize our homes and lives. It is also ironic that so many of the people who helped write Schenectady’s Comprehensive Plan 2020 are now undoing its boast that Schenectady was working successfully in an ongoing process to make “the transition from a company town” into something much more vibrant and diverse. (at 3)

Hmmm. City Hall and the Casino Gang keep telling us this casino carries on the proud history of General Electric and ALCO.  Maybe they really do want Schenectady to “light the world” again, with all that wattage at Mohawk Harbor, while “hauling” a world of cash to the bank, laughing all the way.

ALCODiceThe suspicion that Schenectady has transformed into a Company Town run by the Gang from Mohawk Harbor was strengthened a lot at the Special Meeting of the Planning Commission. The City’s Development and Legal Staff and the City Council had requested a review of the proposed amendments by the Planning Commission. It was, however, not the Staff who presented the proposed amendments to the Commission. Instead, Galesi Group Chief Operating Officer Dave Buicko began the Meeting with a slide show “putting the changes in context”, and telling the Commissioners and public that this is really just “cleanup and clarification” of the current provisions of C-3. (That was the first of many “exaggerations” that were not remarked upon by the Commissioners or staff.)

A lawyer was next to address the Commissioners, but not one from the City’s Law Department. PC Chair Sharron Copolla casually transitioned from Buicko by inviting Andrew Brick, an attorney for casino operator Rush Street Gaming, to take a chair at the table. Mr. Brick then went line for line through the 8 pages of the proposal and explained how they relate to their new development. Brick, lawyer for the Gang with the most to lose or win, was the only person presenting the provisions to the Commissioners. He offered only the “pros” of the new amendments, not the questions or “cons.” And, the only reasons given for the changes were the advantages for Mohawk Harbor and its casino.

  approved-CityCouncil Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico was watching the Meeting from his office on a live feed, but felt the need to come down and interrupt the Meeting to proclaim that this really isn’t the developer’s set of amendments, and is from the law and planning staff, adding “we did a lot of work on it.” That’s a little different than it being the City’s plan, and it was amusing that one supporter of the proposals told the public hearing our Corporation Counsel proved it was his plan by saying so at the PC meeting.

In the next, public comment segment of the meeting, seven Schenectady residents voiced specific, well-articulated opposition to several of the proposals and especially called for adjournment before voting on the proposal, to allow for much-needed fact-finding and research. Although admitting often to ignorance or confusion, the Planning Commission went ahead, voting that night as if the public comments had never been uttered and their only real job was to get the proposals approved in time for the Council’s Jan. 26 public hearing.

After the public comments were made, the PC Chair invited Mr. Buicko to respond to the public comments, and then allowed Michael Levin, a principal in the firm that will be overseeing construction, to present his version of the reasons Mohawk Harbor needs these changes, now.  The City’s staff were never offered the opportunity to explain any of the provisions, and never tried to do so.

rubberstamptoolongBY Only after the Galesi and Rush Street Gaming representatives were finished, did the Commissioners begin their discussion of the Amendments, stopping often to ask Mr. Buicko or someone from his group to explain a provision.  Although that discussion was very long, it amounted to a slow-motion rubber stamping, as can be seen below in their treatment of the various issues that arose.

Adequately Prepared for Novel Issues?

This set of amendments raises zoning and factual issues that this City and planning board have never seen, as well as specific problems never explained by staff.  Sadly, some Commissioners apparently did not know enough to know some of the issues even existed. For instance:

  • How much and what kinds of signage do urban casinos that are not on a strip with similar establishments typically use and need? What does Rush Street do at its other casinos, and to what effect? Why does it only use 12,500 sq. ft. of signage in Des Plaines, not the 15,000 sq. ft. it told Metroplex would be the maximum in Schenectady, nor the 19,000 sq. ft. in the proposed amendments?
  • How are scenic river views and public access to a riverbank best preserved or achieved when zoning for a large new development along a rare stretch of river? How do the proposed amendments jibe with the goals of the C-3 waterfront district and the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008), which call for the preservation of waterfront views and public access?
  • CasinoHotel9floors Is a bulky hotel building as tall as 110′ high too intrusive 40′ away from a riverbank? Why does the rendering of the Casino hotel along the riverbank that was first submitted to the public and the Location Board last Spring and continues to be circulated, show only a 5-floor hotel, perhaps 65′ high?
  • What would a fully illuminated urban casino look like at night and how will its illumination affect neighbors and the way our City perceived?
  • Aren’t embayments and other bodies of water usually left out in calculating allowable aggregate footprint on a parcel?  Why should the Casino compound be allowed an extra 2.5 acres of footprint because of the size of the Marina’s embayment? Also, why would a project that wants to go so high also want more footprint? What would that do to the view of the riverfront within or outside Mohawk Harbor, from ground level or from nearby buildings?
  • How would a 90′ high pylon affect the City’s skyline, nearby and distant traffic and neighborhoods? Aren’t such tall pylons used primarily near freeways to alert fast-moving drivers to get off at the next exit for a service not visible from the freeway?
  • CrosstownPlazaSign

    Crosstown Plaza – 50′ pylon

    With 7′ the current limit for a C-3 free-standing sign, why wouldn’t a 50′ pylon suffice for you, like the one grandfathered at Crosstown Plaza? If their Des Plaines casino’s pylon is 68′ tall, why is 90′ needed here? How could the 49′ tall STS plant be the justification for such a tall pylon? Will the pylon come down when Galesi gets STS to move and razes its building?

  • What happens when a City’s existing signage provisions for every district, Article IX, are made inapplicable to one large parcel with has a novel use, with no provisions substituted for the existing rules?
  • Would a proposed 8-second interval for electronic message boards be appropriate at a location with many signs and much illumination, where many drivers will be new to the City, and to roundabouts, and many senior drivers are expected? (Click to read the Standards and discussion in the NYS DOT’s “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“.)
  • And, many more questions that will come to the surface while answering the questions above?

desktop misc7 Despite a grueling, often embarrassing four- hour-long Special Meeting, there are a number of convincing clues that the Planning Commissioners were meant to merely rubber-stamp this set of amendments that will greatly impact the appearance, ambiance, reputation, economy, and social future of our City far past the foreseeable future. For example, the Planning Commissioners:

  • Were not supplied by the Staff with even one page of materials containing explanations for the proposed changes, pros and cons, alternatives, the results of research comparing practices elsewhere, etc., as the basis for informed preparation, questions and decision-making
  • Had no new submissions by Mohawk Harbor, nor from the Casino, with much more-detailed renderings of plans that coincide with the provisions they had negotiated for with the Legal and Development staff
  • Did not demand a full briefing from staff before the Special Meeting, nor during it, nor ask for new plans and renderings from the Casino Gang at any time
  • Were entreated in person by Leesa Perazzo to approve the proposed recommendation, although Ms. Perazzo is a member of the very City Council that had asked for the Planning Commission’s recommendation
  • Made their recommendation that the amendments be passed by City Council that night, despite reasonable requests from the public (including a retired city planner and a retired lawyer familiar with local zoning law) for an adjournment that might allow them to become adequately prepared for an intelligent evaluation of the proposed amendments

Immediately below is the only staff material I’ve located that mentions evaluation or analysis of the proposed amendments. It is from the 31Dec2014 Memo from Jaclyn Mancini, Director of Development, to the City Council asking that the amendments be sent to the Planning Commission for their recommendation and that a Public Hearing be authorized:

Evaluation/Analysis

Planning and Law Department staff has drafted amendments to Chapter 264, Zoning, for the casino and its associated parking to be permitted uses.  Changes to allowable building height and allowable signage are also included in the amendments.

That’s it for background materials to aid the Commissioners. In addition to their being willing to fly blind, there were many failures of the Commissioners to show adequate curiosity, research, or backbone.  Here are a few instances:

First [punting difficult issues], as discussed fully in the earlier posting “City Hall is giving bad legal advice to get Council votes“, Planning Commission Chair Sharron Copolla voiced at least three times the excuse that they the Commissioners can go ahead and approve of the seemingly extreme provisions in the Amendments, because they could reduce the numbers during Site Plan review of the Casino plans.  That appears to be bad advice on the Chair’s part, and the last time she made the assertion Commissioner Wallinger immediately told Ms. Copolla, “No we don’t.” That did not stop the Commissioners from all voting for the big numbers (nor the smaller 40 foot setback).

- Sidenote: If the Commission does have the authority to make major changes during the Site Plan process, as the Mayor and Council President have asserted, the Mohawk Harbor Gang would not have the certainty it claims to need right now. It is better to take a close look at the numbers in the Amendments and approve changes Schenectady can proudly live with.

ACLObuildings Second [taller buildings], not only did no Commissioner object when Galesi Group President David Buicko opened the Special Meeting by stating these major, unprecedented changes are “only clean-up and clarification” of what is in the current C-3 law, they remained silent to the repeated assertion that it is appropriate to have 110′ buildings now at Mohawk Harbor, because the old ALCO site had buildings 130′ high that blocked out the view of the River. Commissioners who have lived here more than a few years surely had seen the ALCO site, and knew that the factory plants consisted of very long buildings (some 1000 yards), that were about 50′ high, and that a few of them had a taller portion that took up a tiny fraction of the length of the building and the skyline.  See the photo at the head of the paragraph (by Howard Olhous at Historic Marker Database) for a typical ALCO site image; and, see the following photo with an aerial view from the River side (by Nick Skinner, also hmdb.org), which has a white asterisk on one of the tall sections:

ALCo Site - Aerial View

The Photo also shows how dominant the Price Chopper Building is despite it being significantly shorter than 110 feet. (Mr. Buicko says 103′, Golub Headquarters told me 86′ tall.)

Third [Article IX inapplicable to Casino], no one on the Commission ever mentioned that the amendments were making the entire Schenectady Zoning ordinance on signs, Article. IX, inapplicable to the casino and its accessory uses (but still applicable to the rest of C-3, apparently). This has never been done before, but there was no discussion of what was going to fill the regulatory vacuum or why Schenectady’s customary size, number, or type rules were not needed.

Fourth [public access guarantee], only Commissioners Cuevas and Wallinger voiced concern over the removal from the C-3 ordinance of the current requirement of a permanent easement guaranteeing public access to the waterfront and another provision requiring public access to 10% of the dock space.  No one asked Mr. Buicko why he needed the easement requirement removed,  nor why he stated a number of times “it’s private property” in the content of public access.

Screen shot 2015-01-024 When one Commissioner did ask City planner and ex officio member Christine Primiano why there was no such access guarantee, she said the City could not afford the maintenance.  No one reminded her that the current law requires maintenance by the owner; that the City is expecting millions of dollars a year from this very parcel and has promised public access to the waterfront; or that it is off that staff already knew a few years in advance that the City could not afford the maintenance on a project that so nicely fulfills goals set out in the Comprehensive Plan.

Loss of required dock and riverfront access by the public surely should shock and surprise individuals and families throughout the County. It is inconsistent with both the spirit and the text of the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008). For a full discussion of the loss of guaranteed public access, see our prior posting.

Fifth [maximum signage]: During the public comment period of the PC meeting, the Commissioners were asked if any of them knew what 20,000 sq. ft. of signage looks like. As expected, several heads shook the response “no.” [Schenectady resident John Kolwaite told the Commissioners a few minutes later that he had measured the front dimensions of our City Hall, and 20,000 sq. ft. was more than twice the size of the City’s Hall’s façade (as is 19,000 sq. ft.). Click here to see the photo mock-up he tried to submit to the Commission, showing the front of two City Halls, and also stating it was equal to 20 large (18′ x40′) billboards.]

Despite their inability to comprehend how much signage the amendments would allow in the Casino compound portion of Mohawk Harbor, the Commissioners asked for few additional details. When Commissioner Matt Cuevas stated that 20,000 sounded like too much and he would feel more comfortable with 15,00o sq. ft., Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico stood, approached the table, and in a stern voice stated (closely paraphrased):

“You can’t go from 20,000 to 15,000 without a rational basis.  If you do, we will be overturned in court. I have negotiated with the Casino representatives and am convinced that 20,000 is the minimum they must have.”

This was an erroneous statement of the law (In legislating, the City has virtually total discretion choosing the amount of signage. Also, since the Casino told Metroplex it would use “a maximum of 15,000 sq. ft.”, it is difficult to say there would be no basis for that number.) What Falotico’s assertion accomplished, however, was a virtually end to discussion of a smaller number. No one on the Commission said, “Carl, if you have seen enough detail to know that 20,000 is the correct number, why can’t we see what you saw, or have you explain your conclusion?”

Another telling moment unveiling the need for more information and giving us a glimpse of Company Town control, came when Commissioners were discussing pylons, specifically the 68′ pylon used at Rush Street’s Des Plaines casino. As a Commissioner was telling Rush Street’s representative how we would measure the square footage of signage on the pylon, it was Rush Street’s man, not Corporation Counsel or Development staff, who said Rush Street made a mistake and had overestimated the signage ascribed to its proposed pylon, by 1000 sq. ft. Rush Street counted both sides of the pylon, whereas Schenectady only counts one side of a freestanding sign in measuring square footage. The Rush Street rep then said, “then we can live with 19,000 sq.  ft.” That is where the current 19,000 number came from.

collage Note, however, that no one on the Commission nor on legal or planning staff asked if they might have made other overestimation calculations, perhaps with other two-sided signs.  Corporation Counsel did not explain how they could have made this mistake if City staff had looked closely at Rush Street’s signage needs.  Nor did he offer to go back and look for additional mistakes.  He merely amended the proposal to 19,000 sq. ft.

And, Sixth [Electronic Signs], Chair Copolla brusquely stated they would not deal with the question of reducing the minimum interval for changing electronic message boards and signs to 8 seconds, “because we just did this a couple weeks ago.”  The only reason given by Development staff and the Planning Commission for the recent recommendation of the 8-second interval was to be “consistent with the State standard” announced by NYS Department of Transportation, in the 3-page document “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“.  DOT set a  minimum interval of 8 seconds for changing electronic signs, but allows municipalities to be more stringent, with commentary that suggests circumstances that might call for longer intervals.

Those circumstances seem more relevant to the streets near the Casino than to any other parts of the City (i.e., places with higher illumination and more than one message board seen at the same time by the driver, with many distractions; where drivers are unfamiliar with the roads (and with, e.g., a roundabout); and where there are likely to be many senior/elderly drivers, who are especially distracted by changing images and bright illumination). Nonetheless, the proposed amendments make Article IX inapplicable to the Casino, including the requirements for receiving a variable electronic sign permit. The Article IX requirements include issuance of a Special Use Permit after a public hearing, in which the applicant must demonstrate that “the electronic message board shall  not substantially impact upon the  nature and character of the surround neighborhood, upon traffic conditions and any other matters affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the public.” [§264-14(I)(2)] Neither Mr. Buicko nor the City Staff were asked by the Commissioners why requirements that seem especially relevant to the casino district were no long applicable, or why those requirements should not be added to the C-3 amendment provision allowing 8-second intervals.

Tight Deadline Excuse?: As we have explained previously, there is no tight deadline that could justify rushing to push through the C-3 amendments without full education and deliberation for the decision-makers, and with full information to the public.

The two-year deadline for completion of the project starts when the actual gaming license is granted, and no one knows how long the “vetting” process will take and the license be granted. Meanwhile, the developer still brags about how far along the site is (they had already spent $100 million there over a year ago and much more since), and how they already have their approved Environmental Impact Statement, with brownfield mitigation near to conclusion.  Furthermore, Rush Street was chosen (and touted by the Mayor and Ms. King) because it has significant experience operating casinos, and has already designed casino facilities that are much like the one they will put in Schenectady.  It goes without saying that the Galesi Group, the Capital Region’s largest developer and manager of commercial property, has the experience to get the job done as quickly as possible.  In addition, if any hotel chain can get a hotel designed, constructed and launched within a two-year window, Sheraton can. Moreover, Mohawk Harbor faces none of the sort of local opposition that can tie the project up in court or administrative proceedings for long periods.

rubberstampTooLong In conclusion, one can’t help but wonder if individual members of the Planning Commission winced when they heard people pointing to their thorough deliberation and analysis as a reason for City Council to approve the package of amendments to C-3.  With all due respect, we strongly dissent. There appears to be no explanation for the Planning Commissioners’ dereliction of duty other than its working in a City Hall where rubber stamping is expected of them in order to please the new bosses in our resurrected Company Town.

- share this post with this short linkhttp://tinyurl.com/CasinoTown

 – for another voice asking for more information before the Council votes on the amendments, see the Gazette editorial “Public needs to see the impact of zoning” (Jan. 29, 2015).

Posted by: David Giacalone | January 28, 2015

Peggy King’s chronic TDE (Tight Deadline Excuse)

  Peggy King, President of the Schenectady City Council, has done it again: Used a “tight deadline” as an excuse for rushing the vote on important legislation, without allowing time for the Council or the public to gather important facts, consider alternatives, and evaluate the likely effects.

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approved-CityCouncil The legislation this time is the [choose the most appropriate adjectives] novel, complex, radical, extreme, capitulating, over-generous, risky, under-researched, fawning, naive proposal to amend the provisions governing the Schenectady “C-3″ Waterfront Mixed-Use Residential Zoning District”.  The deadline is the two years that the New York State Gaming Commission gives a gaming facility licensee to be operating its casino (which, by the way, we think is a soft deadline, since the Gaming Board is not about to restart a multi-year process due to construction slippage of a couple of months).

The Tight Deadline Excuse [TDE] is a very weak justification even when the deadline could be met on an important action with only a bit more hard work by all involved. But TDE is not even a flimsy excuse when, as here, there is no deadline yet, much less a tight one that could justify rushing to pass such important and radical changes without knowing key facts.  For example, before voting, Council members should want to know what the Casino Group plans to do with permission:

  • To build 110′ buildings (i.e., how many buildings, where, effects on the view of the river? on future development nearby);
  • to use 19,000 sq. ft. of signage on the casino portion of Mohawk Harbor (what sizes, how bright, what content, and how they use signage at their other casinos)
  • to erect a 90′ pylon (what line of sight profile will it have, placed where, what content)
  • to construct a bike-ped path without the current provision requiring permanent public access to the waterfront, or a similar guarantee
hourglassAlmostFull

lots of sand left

The two-year deadline for completion of the project starts when the actual gaming license is granted, and no one knows how long the “vetting” process will take and the license be granted. Meanwhile, the developer still brags about how far along the site is (they had already spent $100 million there over a year ago and much more since), and how they already have their approved Environmental Impact Statement, with brownfield mitigation near to conclusion.  Furthermore, Rush Street was chosen (and touted by the Mayor and Ms. King) because it has significant experience operating casinos, and has already designed casino facilities that are much like the one they will put in Schenectady.  It goes without saying that the Galesi Group, the Capital Region’s largest developer and manager of commercial property, has the experience to get the job done as quickly as possible.  In addition, if any hotel chain can get a hotel designed, constructed and launched within a two-year window, Sheraton can. Moreover, Mohawk Harbor faces none of the sort of local opposition that can tie the project up in court or administrative proceedings for long periods.

Ms. King told the Times Union that “I’m putting my trust in the developer that they are going to do what’s right.” (“Public supports Schenectady casino at hearing,” by Paul Nelson, Feb. 28, 2015) Trust them why? Because their renderings of the casino hotel and gaming facility buildings are much smaller in scale than the 110′ they now want? Because they want the permanent easement for public access to the riverfront removed from C-3? Because they’ve told us the old factory buildings at ALCO were so high that people never really had a view anyway; which is a silly argument when developing scarce waterfront, but also untrue, as the vast majority of the buildings were very long and about 50′ high, with an occasional tall, narrow section that did little to block the overall view. Because they have asked for much more in the amendments than they told Metroplex they would need or do? (such as pylon size, square footage of signage, setback from the river, and more).

Why would Peggy King risk looking gullible or irresponsible, or like the godmother of a gaudy, permanent circus along the River and Erie Blvd.?  Just who does she want to please so much?  We’ll let the reader speculate.

One possibility: Tight Deadline Excuse has become a chronic and infectious disease at City Hall.

Here is our concise list of amendment changes:

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | January 27, 2015

a photo-collage reminder to the City Council

GEsignBlDice

Company Town again?

If members of the Schenectady City Council want to give some thought to the proposed amendments to the C-3 Waterfront zoning district, rather than slamming down that big City Hall rubber stamp, I hope they’ll look at the photo collage below, which should, among other things help to:

  • debunk the notion that the old ALCO plant buildings were all so tall they blocked out the view of the River, so it would be okay to allow 110′ buildings throughout the casino compound
  • demonstrate how excessive a 90-foot pylon sign would be, and that the casino does not need a monster pylon because it will be hidden behind the STS building, and no one will be able to find it
  • remind the Council that the renderings of the Applicant’s casino hotel and gaming facility were highly misleading, making them look far smaller than the buildings the Casino now wants to build
  • show just how small a 40-foot setback from the riverbank would be
  • motivate them to find out if the Golub/Price Chopper Headquarters is 103′ tall, as Mr. Buiko keeps saying, or 86′ tall, as we were told when we asked the Golub front office.  And, more important, show how, at well under 110′, the Golub Building looms over the landscape in a way fine for Maxon Rd. but not for the riverbank, whether seen in an aerial shot or from street level
    • Click on the collage for a larger version

C-3photofacts

Please phone, write, or email the City Council and Mayor to ask them to look closely at the proposed C-3 zoning amendments before handing to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a license to turn the waterfront district into a gaudy, crowded little Las Vegas.

desktop misc7  We need some serious “homework” by City Council members, not a rubber stamping of provisions that are too generous to the Casino Gang at the expense of good zoning and planning principles. The following is a Comment left at the Gazette today (Jan. 27, 2015) in response to its article about the public hearing on January 26th, noting some of the important unanswered questions:

It was discouraging to watch supporters proclaim the urgent need for C-3 waterfront zoning so that the casino could exist in Schenectady. C-3 Waterfront zoning already exists and nothing in it prevents the casino from operating successfully. The issue is whether the proposed amendments to C-3, which have provisions far more lax and generous than are imposed on businesses in every other zoning district, are appropriate and best serve Schenectady’s residents and future. And, especially important is whether the Council should be rushed to pass these extreme changes, on novel issues with which it has no experience, before requiring more information on just what the casino plans to do on the site? Specific questions include:

collage Should Schenectady’s signage ordinance, Article IX of the zoning law, be made inapplicable to the casino and its accessory uses? Should the casino be allowed to have 19,000 square feet of signage, when shopping centers in Schenectady only get 150 sq. ft. plus one sq. foot for each foot of storefront, and the casino told Metroplex it would use a maximum of 15,000 sq. ft.? Should the current 7′ limit on freestanding signs be changed to 90′ for the casino (when the Parker Inn is only 99 feet tall), and the casino’s justification is that people won’t be able to find it otherwise?

Should the Casino be allowed to put up 110′ buildings (with no special permit required), when the C-3 district was created to preserve riverside views and control growth? And, when the casino has constantly circulated renderings that show a hotel of about 65 feet along the riverbank and a gaming facility much shorter than the hotel? [it has been spreading the false excuse that the old ALCO site had 130′ structures that blocked all views of the river, rather than the typical long 50′ structures that actually existed at the site.]

Should the current guarantee of a permanent right to public access to the riverfront, and of a portion of the dock space reserved for the public, be totally deleted from the C-3 zoning ordinance, leaving public access into the future up to the owner, which has repeated constantly lately that “this is private property” when riverfront access is mentioned?

Should we give a lot of weight to the recent approval of the C-3 amendments by the Planning Commission, when the commissioners where not given even one page of materials explaining the amendments and the reasons they were selected; when the commissioners admitted they were not experienced with issues and facts related to casino zoning; and when the people who gave the Commission point by point explanations and justifications for the proposed amendments were not the City’s Development and Legal staff, but were Mr. Buicko from Galesi Group and a lawyer and consultant of Rush Street Gaming?

checkedboxs Let’s stop, research and think. For more discussion of the issues raised by the proposed amendments to the C-3 zoning ordinance, go to http://tinyurl.com/CasinoZoning, and for an extensive list of questions that should be answered before a vote is taken on the C-3 Amendments, and a description of the inadequate consideration given by the Planning Commission to the Amendments, see: “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a company town?“.

Posted by: David Giacalone | January 24, 2015

City Hall is giving bad legal advice to get council votes

     - below is a letter sent by email on Jan. 24, 2015 to the City Council of  Schenectady

Dear City Council President and Members,

The Mayor [Gary McCarthy] has apparently been reassuring City Council members that you can accept items such as the height and signage limits in the proposed C-3 waterfront district amendments, without looking closely into each issue, because any problems can be fixed by the Planning Commission in Site Plan and Special Use Permit review proceedings.  As a retired lawyer who has done a significant amount of legal research and writing on zoning issues over the past few years, my good faith legal opinion is that His Honor is simply wrong.

red check Once legislated in a new version of C-3 standards, the signage, height and setback numbers will be virtually untouchable by the Planning Commission (unless, perhaps, it does a new environmental impact statement that justifies the changes as necessary “mitigation” of environmental harm).

The developer and Casino owner have no reason to contradict the Mayor’s position, as they would be very pleased if you believe him and think you can just punt the hard decisions over to the Planning Commission.

Planning Commission Chair Sharron Copolla voiced the same excuse for going along with the proposals referred to it by the Council at the January 14 special public meeting of the Commission. She said they could accept 110′ building heights because the Commission could reduce that limit during Site Planning.  I returned to the table to correct her on that point of law during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying that in general our State’s judges won’t let a board or commission reject plans that are within the standards and requirements of an adopted zoning ordinance, and surely not without a very good justification. Ms. Copolla responded, “we know that,” but went on to make the same assertion again later in the Meeting, saying Commissioners had the power to reduce the maximum numbers during Site Plan review. Commissioner Wallinger immediately told Ms. Copolla, “No we don’t.”

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | January 23, 2015

C-3 zoning amendments would axe access guarantee

NoRiverfrontAccess

– signs you may see at Mohawk Harbor’s riverfront -

Neither Schenectady’s Mayor nor the Daily Gazette has let the public know that its existing right to permanent access to the scarce riverfront being developed at Mohawk Harbor has been deleted in the City’s proposed C-3 district zoning amendments. This is one of the many significant changes that City Hall development and legal staff “negotiated” with the future casino’s developer and owner. The amendments are the subject of a Public Hearing before City Council on Monday, January 26, 2015.  Click here for the Final version of the City’s proposed Schenectady C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning amendments.

Currently, there is a requirement in the C-3 Waterfront Multi-Use District zoning ordinance that an owner of C-3 waterfront property file a permanent easement granting the public access to the riverfront, with the owner responsible for upkeep; there is also a requirement that a minimum of 10% of linear dock space be available for the public. Both those sections have been completely eliminated from the version of proposed amendments that will be addressed at the City Council’s public hearing on January 26. The public version does not even show the sections with the traditional strikethrough type to highlight their proposed deletion.

- share this posting with this short link: http://tinyurl.com/AccessAxed

Here are the two provisions that the City-Casino Coalition wants to eliminate, with the strikethroughs City Hall apparently did not want you to see:

Screen shot 2015-01-024§264-14(F) 

(2) Public access and recreation features.

(a) Waterfront surface easement. Public access shall be dedicated in the form of a perpetual surface easement, duly executed and in a proper form for recording in the Schenectady County Clerk’s Office and satisfactory to the City Corporation Counsel, for the purpose of assuring publicaccess to and public enjoyment of the waterfront.

§264-14(H) Docking requirements. PrivateDockSign

(1) Residential: A minimum of 10% of linear dock footage must be made available for public, day use.

(2) Commercial: Docking requirements are flexible based upon the following considerations: parking adequacy, river width, navigation channel width, and water surface use.

Loss of required dock and riverfront access by the public surely will shock and surprise individuals and families throughout the County. It is inconsistent with both the spirit and the text of the Schenectady Comprehensive Plan 2020 (adopted 2008). On page 48, in the section enumerating Goals and related Action, the Plan says:

Goal Seven: Promote Waterfront Planning, Access and Redevelopment.

Action 2: Expand Public Access to the Waterfront
Tasks: Expand public access to the Mohawk River and create opportunities for recreational boating.

Action 4: Protect Waterfront Resources and Views
Tasks: Implement view protections and provisions to ensure that new development encourages public access to the water.

 The Comprehensive Plan’s Environmental Impact Statement also addresses the creation of a waterfront zoning district, and notes the two goals for that district (at 15):

“Created waterfront district:

  • Mixed use, walkable, live/work/shop community
  • Preserve public areas.” (emphasis added)

images-7 The Gazette has not yet mentioned that the C-3 amendments remove the public access elements of the ordinance. In fact, on Jan 15, in reporting on the January 14 Planning Commission special meeting, Haley Vicarro wrote for the Gazette that “The site . . . would allow for public access to the river with biking and walking paths and a proposed harbor with 50 boat slips.”  Well, with §§264-14(f) & (H) eliminated, the “site” would allow for public access as long as the Owner allows it. Should we just trust these casino guys?

Galesi Group COO David Buicko (and not the City’s Development or Legal staff) led the presentation at the Planning Committee on January 12, and was careful not to mention granting public access as of right when mentioning the riverfront and docks.  He made remarks more than once reminding the Commission that “it’s private property” and that Galesi and Rust Street Gaming want people to come who will use their facilities. (An appropriate desire, but not one that bodes well for permanent public access.)

Note: It would be very bad public relations for Mohawk Harbor to open with a riverbank that is only available to persons who are “customers”. or to have absolutely no amenities near the riverbank for people who might want to just sit and enjoy the view.  However, the lack of  mandated access for the public means the area might be closed for special events; or, problems along the riverbank (e.g., excessive rowdiness, litter, noise) could cause management to start restricting access based on age, time of day, adult supervision, etc., or to “cut their losses” and close Mohawk Harbor’s riverbank completely.

It is true that under the amendments the owner must put in a ped-bike path and there was a lot of talk before the Planning Commission about the meaning of the word “esplanade” in the text of C-3. But, there would no longer be a requirement that the owner permanently allow the public to use the riverfront, and also no requirement that the owner install an esplanade or add any amenities beyond the barebones bicycle-pedestrian walkway.   If they do put in public access facilities, they would be allowed an even bigger footprint for the buildings at Mohawk Harbor.

approved-rubber-stamp This is perhaps why Commissioner Matt Cuevas lamented at the Planning Commission Meeting last week that (paraphrasing): “This is not at all the kind of public access we were thinking about when we drafted the C-3 provisions 6 years ago.”  Nevertheless, despite the fact that five of the nine current Commissioners were on the Commission when the Comprehensive Plan was written and the C-3 Waterfront district was created, they voted to recommend adoption of the proposed amendments (with only a couple of very minor tweaks).

The Planning Commission voted in a rush, without having any materials from their staff or the Mayor or Corporate Counsel explaining the meaning of the proposed changes, or discussing the pros and cons — and, visibly (often admittedly) without basic knowledge or understanding of zoning for something as complicated and exotic as a casino, especially one on a scarce riverfront.

Nevertheless, by recommending that the proposed amendments be adopted, the Planning Commission handed the Mayor and City Council president, as well as the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, a figleaf for concealing the open secret that this set of zoning proposals gives the casino partners virtually everything they wanted, and in fact more than they have said they needed in past public statements.

red check This zoning calamity cannot even be slowed down, much less prevented, without the vocal and public opposition of people from throughout Schenectady County, even those who favor the casino and marina at Mohawk Harbor.  Please come to the Public Hearing on January 26 and tell the City Counsel that you want the principle and the promise of public access fulfilled.

 For the convenience of those who have not seen our prior posting that contains a summary of the proposed changes, here is an encore:

Highlights of Proposed Changes:

  • public access to riverfront: the requirement of a permanent easement granting a right to public access to the riverfront has been deleted; developer must build a bike-ped path but there is no longer guaranteed public access
  • the right to a percentage of dock space reserved for public use in the daytime is deleted
  • maximum building height is 110′ with no special use permit, except that it is 56′ within 100′ of a residential district [had been up to 56′ permitted in C-3, special use permit needed for higher)
  • setbacks are a minimum of 50′ from the river’s mean high water mark (had been 40′ from the high water mark)
  • Article IX – Signs (all rules, limitations, sizes, etc. for signage of all types) no longer applies to the casino and attached uses, but continues to apply to all other zoning districts (In current C-3, Art. IX does apply to the district)
  • 19,000 sq. ft. of signage is permitted, with review of signage in Site Plan review (currently, Art IX limits aggregate square footage to 150 sq. ft., with 25% more if owner has a single lot with more than one principle building).
  • Multi-sided pylon signs are permitted, with a height not to exceed 90 feet. (Article IX now allows one freestanding sign with a maximum height of 7′ in C-3)
  • electronic message board may change every 8 seconds; Planning Commission may reduce the minimum interval  (currently, may only change every 60 seconds, and a special use permit is needed, with a  public hearing, and demonstration that there is no significant impact on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic conditions; 8 seconds is the minimum standard now at NYS DOT, but City may increase the interval, but not reduce it).
  • the embayment (man-made bay) may now be included in calculating how big the aggregate footprint of the casino compound may be, with 50% of the size of the embayment added to the total allowable footprint of the buildings (subject not in current version; if 5 acres in size, 2.5 more acres of footprint allowed)
Posted by: David Giacalone | January 22, 2015

the final C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning proposal

Click for the Final version of the City’s proposed Schenectady C-3 Waterfront-Casino zoning amendments, which will be the subject of Monday’s Public Hearing. It shows proposed insertions in the current C-3 ordinance (but not a few important deletions). There are no accompanying materials explaining the changes in the proposed amendments.

- dontforgettack to voice your opinion at the Public Hearing before the City Council, Monday, January 26, 2015, at 7 PM, Rm 209 of City Hall (use the Jay St. entrance). Get there before 7 PM to sign up to speak.

Share this posting with the short URL:  tinyurl.com/C-3Changes

Below, without editorial comment, I have listed all the major changes being proposed, with the current zoning law in Schenectady stated in parentheses.  There are many good reasons to oppose the Amendments; see “the house is already winning” for opening discussion of height, setback and signage issues. Additional postings are listed at the top of the site’s righthand Margin, in the Recent Posts menu.  For an extensive list of questions that should be answered before a vote is taken on the C-3 Amendments, and a description of the inadequate consideration given by the Planning Commission to the Amendments, see: “Schenectady’s waterfront zoning: a rubber-stamp in a company town?“.

Highlights of Changes:

  • public access to riverfront: the requirement of a permanent easement granting a right to public access to the riverfront has been deleted; developer must build a bike-ped path (which it might have wanted anyway for those living in its condos and apartments), but there is no longer guaranteed public access
  • the right to 10% of dock space reserved for public use in the daytime is deleted
  • maximum building height would be 110′ with no special use permit needed; the exception is a 56′ height limit within 100′ of a residential district (current law is 56′ permitted in C-3, with special use permit needed for higher)
  • setbacks are a minimum of 50′ from the river’s mean high water mark (had been 40′ from the high water mark)
  • Article IX – Signs, which contains rules, limitations, sizes, etc. for signage of all types, no longer applies to the casino and attached uses, but continues to apply to all other zoning districts and outside the casino compound in C-3 (Art. IX does apply to the district under the current C-3 ordinance)
  • 19,000 sq. ft. of signage is permitted, with review Site Plan review, which looks at colors, style, location (currently, Art IX limits aggregate square footage to 150 sq. ft., with 25% more if owner has a single lot with more than one principle building).
  • directional signs do not count as part of the signage limitations and may have the logo of the establishment (Art. IX does not allow logos on directional signs)
  • Multi-sided pylon signs are permitted, with a height not to exceed 90 feet. (Article IX now allows one freestanding sign with a maximum height of 7′ in C-3)
  • electronic message board may change every 8 seconds; Planning Commission may reduce the minimum interval (currently, a CEVMS may only change every 60 seconds, and a special use permit is needed, with a  public hearing and demonstration that there is no significant impact on surrounding neighborhoods, traffic conditions, health and safety; 8 seconds is the minimum standard now at NYS DOT; a City may increase the interval, but contrary to the provision in the Amendment, it may not reduce it).
  • the embayment (man-made bay) may now be included in calculating how big the aggregate footprint of the casino compound may be, with 50% of the size of the embayment added to the total allowable footprint of the buildings (the subject not in current version of C-3; if the embayment is 5 acres in size, 2.5 more acres of footprint allowed; many, perhaps most, jurisdictions would not allow a body of water on a site to count toward the footprint allowance)
Posted by: David Giacalone | January 11, 2015

the House is already winning: giving away the shore

CasinoHotel9floors  – a hotel 110′ tall; Trump’s along the Mohawk? 

-  click this link for Comments to the Planning Commission on the Waterfront C-3 Amendments by David Giacalone (editor of this website), on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

red check update: The pleas of over half a dozen Schenectady residents that the Planning Commission not recommend such provisions as 110′ buildings, 40′ setbacks, giant pylons, and 20,000 sq. ft. of signage, and take more time to research materials and have staff and the developer submit more specific plans, below making its recommendations.  Such comments made no difference at all in the final results.

    Is there anything Schenectady’s Mayor and City Council won’t do for their Casino Cronies? The gifts to the future Casino Owners in the proposed amendments to the City’s waterfront zoning regulations could scarcely fit on a river barge, much less under a Christmas Tree.  In changing the C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use ordinance, DistrictCity Hall proposes to give the Rivers Casino group significantly more leeway in designing their facilities than the Applicant ever asked for, or said was needed, in its public statements.  As a result, the Mohawk Harbor Riverfront and Erie Boulevard “front yard” could be more crowded, gaudy and tacky than the proponents of this “modest” project have ever given us to believe.  In reviewing the proposed changes, you might want to ask yourself just when the Mayor, Council President, and Metroplex Chairman knew of these changes.

Thanks to the Daily Gazette, we have online access to the proposed amendments to the City’s C-3 Waterfront Mixed-Use District; click for the Proposed “C-3/Casino” Amendments. Neither the City Council agenda for Monday January 12, 2015, nor the Planning Commission’s agenda for its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 14, included the proposed casino zoning amendments, despite the topic being on the agenda of each body.  Click the following link for the Current C-3 Zoning Ordinance, which was last amended in 2009.

More Crowded and Tacky?

Bigger Hotel – Closer to the Shore: One proposed amendment to the Casino District Zoning rules would allow its hotel to be 110′ tall.  Yes, the Applicant did mention an 110′ height limit in its environmental impact statement, but it never warned us that the omni-present rendering of its casino hotel (the one with all the cherry blossoms) was not representative of its actual goal.  The rendering shows a casino hotel of about 5 floors, which might be 65′ high.   A hotel 110′ high would probably have about 9 floors above the ground.  For your comparison, here is the Applicant’s widely-used hotel rendering on the Left, with my best estimate on the Right of how high a 110′ version might be:

Comparison

- visual bait and switch? -

.

Parker-Proctor  How tall is 110 feet?  Proctor’s nextdoor neighbor, the Parker Inn was historically Schenectady’s tallest building. (see photo to the right of this paragraph) The Parker Inn is 98.56 ft. with 8 floors.  The former St. Clare’s Hospital, now called Ellis Hospital McClellan Campus, is a mere 69 ft. tall, with  5 floors above ground. Even the Wedgeway Building at State and Erie is only 72 feet, with 6 floors.   (Those three “tall” Schenectady buildings average about 12’5″ per floor.)  Imagine a building many times larger in bulk and 11 feet higher than the Parker Inn, with far less grace, enhancing our scarce Schenectady River frontage.

The Hampton Inn, at State and Clinton Streets, is right down the block from the Parker Inn. The Hampton Inn is 4 floors and appears to be a bit more than half the height of the Parker Inn; it has 93 rooms, which is half the 185-room figure the Casino has given in its impact statements. If you stacked another Hampton Inn on top of the current one, you would probably come fairly close to 110′. The following collage compares the Hampton-Parker end of the State Street block, with both the actual Hampton Inn and a bulked-up-casino-style version:

Hampton-ParkerCompareCollage

Important economic question: If Rivers Casino wants a hotel this big, how much will its promotions to fill the Casino Hotel cannibalize other quality hotels in Schenectady?  The sly Applicant never stated how many floors it hotels was likely to be, while indicating consistently that the separate, Galesi marina hotel would be 5-6 floors, and that the casino hotel would have 50% more rooms: 185  “+/-“, compared to 124 rooms.

One more height comparison: The Schenectady Casino Applicants’ environmental impact Statement compares its proposed 110′ hotel with the 103-foot Golub/Price Chopper Building, stating that it is less than a quarter-mile from the casino location.  Of course, the Price Chopper headquarters is situated alongside the rather unlovely Maxon Rd. and Nott Street, not our scarce waterfront. [Note: it is not clear that the building is in fact 103′ tall; it appears to be shorter than that. update: Dave Buicko, Galesi Group CEO, continued to state at the Jan. 14, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, that the Golub building, which is owned by Galesi, is 103′ tall. On Jan. 15, 2015, I received a response from a Price Chopper staffer to a question I asked on Jan. 13; she phoned to say that the Golub Corp. Headquarters is 86′ high.]

Here is a photo of the building at dusk on January 12, 2015, to help you decide whether a building that tall should be located along the riverfront (as opposed to further back on the large parcel) at Mohawk Harbor:

Golub1

the “103-foot tall” Golub Corporate Headaquarters – actually 86′ tall

  • By the way, directly across the street from the Price Chopper headquarters is the largest Union College residency hall, which was once a hotel.  It is merely 7 floors, but not exactly river-bank svelte:
CollegeParkResHall

Union College Residence Hall, 450 Nott St.

A Setback Setback.  Another City Hall concession would make the Casino Hotel loom even more ominously along the shore:  The Casino Applicant said all waterfront setbacks would be at least 50 feet; nonetheless, the amendments reduce the setback along the River to an even slimmer 40 feet.  Forty feet is awfully close to the river bank. [approximately the length of two Ford Expedition SUVs bumper to bumper]  Here are two 40-foot examples from Riverside Park:

casino40feet1  . . . casino40feet2

- click on a picture for a much larger version -

Note: The bike-hike trail could be 18 feet from the hotel.

Even Gaudier than Expected?

A Signage Tsunami.  No one can call the Galesi Group or Rush Street Gambling shy about asking for special rules.  The Amendments to C-3 state specifically that signage rules applicable to all other zoning districts [Article IX-Signs, §264-61(k)] do not apply at the C-3 casino compound.  So, the Casino Guys modestly said they would use no more than aggregate of 15,000 square feet of advertising.  [click for their statement on signage] That is 100 times more (not a mere 100% more) than permitted under Article IX.  Nonetheless, the Mayor et al. never said, “Now you guys are pushing it a bit.”  They said, “How about one-third more, 20,000 sq. ft.”

Freestanding at 80 feet.  The maximum height of a free-standign sign in any other zoning district is 10 feet.  The amendments do not state a maximum, only that Art. IX does not apply [update: the final version released for the Public Hearing before City Council calls for a 90′ limit on pylon signs.].  The Casino has told us it wants a free-standing pylon sign at the intersection of Front Street and the access point to the casino from the anticipated roundabout (near Front and Nott Sts.), to allow persons to easily locate the facility from Erie Boulevard.  But, don’t worry, “The height of the sign will not exceed 80 feet.” (Recall that the Wedgeway Building down at Erie Blvd. and State St. is only 72 feet high; also, GE’s giant, famous lighted logo has a diameter of only 36 feet; so stack one on top of another and you’re still 8 feet lower than the Casino Pylon’s apex.)

Pylon signage in the 80-foot-range is traditionally used by a business near a highway in order to give drivers traveling at 70 mph information about the service offered in time to allow them to safely get off at the next exit.  The sign industry calls such structures “freeway pylons.” For reasons too numerous to list, there is no analogous need in the situation of the Schenectady Casino.  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.

Wedgeway72

- the 72-foot-high Wedgeway Building, Erie at State -

A few months ago, the Applicant based its claim of having no negative impact on cultural resources and sensitivities (and fuddy-duddies worried about their viewscape) on the fact that you could not see their facility from the Stockade. They even said the RR underpass trestle on Front St. would block our view.  Back then, we did not agree, and a casino facility with a much taller hotel and a monster pylon, is most probably even easier to see.

Also, those who have long sought attractive entryways into the Stockade might not be pleased with that pylon, even if it had a Stockade sign with directional arrow.

Corner-Store-Pylon-Cometsigns  [sample pylon] Changing Electronic Messages. It is the giant pylon that will have, in addition to lettering and a logo for Rivers Casino, “electronic message boards.”  The safety-minded Casino assured us in its impact statement that “Messaging upon the electronic message boards will not change more frequently than 6 times a minute so as not to be distracting.”  Once again, rather than point out in amazement that current law only allows messages to change once per minute, and not even Proctor’s new marquee exceeds that pace, City Hall apparently said, “Heck, why wait 10 seconds to change a message, we’ll let you do it every 8 seconds,” which is 7.5 times a minute.

CrosstownPlazaSign

- update: “grandfathered -in” pylon at Crosstown Plaza [shown above] is 50′ high; the Planning Commission voted to recommend a maximum of 90 feet on Jan. 14, 2015, but limited the portion of the pylon that could be signage to 70%  -

Good highway safety practice does not allow giant pylons with changing messages at places where drivers need to be paying close attention and have other distractions.  Our search online has produced no images of Rush Street having such giant pylons at its other, successful casinos — not even in Pittsburgh, where it might be a bit more difficult to find a low-rise casino than in Schenectady.  It will be interesting to see if City Hall changes its practice of Never Explaining, to justify such a drastic change in policy for electronic signs (other than, “it makes the Casino Cash-Cow content”). [followup: See the NYS DOT’s “Criteria for Regulating CEVM signs“, which set a  minimum interval of 8 seconds for changing electronic signs, but allows municipalities to be more stringent and suggests circumstances that might call for longer intervals.]

More Crowded?

In addition to having narrower setbacks along the River, which will surely increase the sense of being less spacious, the proposed amendments have a stealth provision that will increase the allowable footprint, and thus the width and length of buildings in the casino compound.  The Casino appeared to be content with the allowable footprint for buildings; however, the amendments in effect increase the footprint size permitted by counting the embayment area in calculating the size of the project lot.  Building footprints may not exceed 50% of the project site, but “the project site is defined to include any embayment.”

Hairy Arm Proposals?

Finally, it is difficult not to be suspicious of the statements and tactics of the Casino Collaborators after seeing them in action since the Spring.  The generous give-aways to the Casino owners and developer are perhaps part of a version of a  “hairy arm” ruse:  That is, City Hall is making outlandish proposals, so that it or the Planning Commission can look magnanimous and reasonable when they pull back a bit on an outrageous proposal or two. That may make it harder for dissenters to vote no, allowing the members to pass pared-down but still extreme concessions to their Casino Cronies.

We have not had a chance to study the proposals in depth, to see how other municipalities and planners have dealt with problems presented, and to uncover — much less examine — the reasoning behind each major proposal in the C-3 zoning ordinance.  Now that they have their casino victory, it is time for our local leaders to start asking tough questions and doing their homework before passing major zoning changes.

Posted by: David Giacalone | January 1, 2015

a New Year reminder of the job ahead

 Happy New Year to everyone who hopes the future Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor will somehow live up to its promises, while minimizing damage to the social, moral, legal, and financial fabric of our community.  Thanks again to all who worked in 2014 to avoid such damage by keeping a casino from being located in Schenectady. We haven’t stopped the casino, but we can’t give up the mission or the hope of stopping or reducing casino-made problems.

CasinoProblems2015Calendar It’s probably too early for public meetings on the best approaches for avoiding casino-made problems.  But, as the New Year unfolds, we hope the issues will be simmering on all our mental back-burners — whether opponents or proponents of the Schenectady application, in all sectors of our community: commercial, nonprofit, religious, political, academic, law enforcement, neighborhood advocates, and all people of good will.  Individuals and groups need to evaluate problems they feel are especially important and likely to occur in urban casino locations, such as an increase in certain kinds of crime and domestic violence, problem gambling (especially by the poor, elderly, young, and other vulnerable individuals), DUI and traffic problems, personal and business bankruptcy, evictions and foreclosures, etc., and a reduction in the quality of life and property values in nearby neighborhoods, including the Stockade Historic District. (See a possible list, with references, on our Issues page, and a more particular one centered on the Schenectady casino, in our Statement to the Location Board).

Because we are two years away from an operating casino facility, we have time to study experiences and experiments elsewhere and consult experts, to consider alternative approaches, to gauge the likelihood of nurturing community and political support for particular ideas and strategies, and to find individual and groups that have the commitment, ability, temperament, and energy to pursue and achieve our goals.  This need not, and probably should not, be a centrally-organized campaign, but it will hopefully be one where people and groups who share in the mission will also share a spirit of cooperation and mutual assistance in achieving our goals.

NoCasinoMadeProblemsB  You can click on the following link for a large jpg. file suitable for printing the one-page 2015 Calendar shown above as an 8″ x 10″ print. (you may reproduce it for any non-commercial purpose) We hope the calendar will be a reminder all year of the important task ahead.  Contact us with your ideas and/or your desire to be informed of our actions and meetings, or your willingness to be a volunteer in our efforts.

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 17, 2014

a casino is coming to Schenectady (with updates)

The group Stop the Schenectady Casino is, naturally, disappointed in the selection of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor by the Location Board to apply for a gaming license.  We have, however, shifted our perspective from a fight to stop the casino in Schenectady to a mission to help prevent casino-made problems that can be anticipated once it begins operation. (see our masthead, with its new notation in red)

We believe Schenectady is strong, creative and capable enough to have continued its revitalization without the problems created by reliance on a casino for jobs and revenues.  However, now that our political and business leaders no longer have to pretend that only good things will come from a casino in Schenectady, our hope is that the City and County of Schenectady will work closely with the casino operator, affected neighborhoods, and interested community and business groups to limit the potential adverse effects of having a casino in our community. We cannot afford for a Schenectady casino to fail.  If it does, it will be a gradual process in which we would be faced with waves of job losses, foreclosures and bankruptcies, steep reductions in revenues for government coffers, pleas for subsidies, and finally a huge white elephant carcass along the Mohawk.

We especially hope that local government and groups will work to

  • reduce the harm caused to families and the community by excessive gambling by persons without the financial ability to sustain significant losses
  • assure that various types of expected street crimes will not increase around the casino or overflow into neighboring communities
  • protect the Historic Stockade neighborhood from an increase in traffic that will almost surely reduce the quality of  life in the neighborhood, and threaten the integrity of its historic structures
  • ensure that the local entertainment and leisure business community is not harmed by the many competing elements that are part of the casino project
  • ensure that the casino operator cooperates with experts educators to keep problem gambling from infecting young potential gamblers

We members of Stop the Schenectady Casino and our allies in opposition to the casino hope to work in good faith with government and community leaders, along with the casino operator, to gain the most benefits for the community from Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor while producing a minimum of negative effects.  If the casino is indeed a reality, we need to turn our efforts from a short-term “fight” to try to stop a casino from being located in Schenectady into a longterm “mission” to make Schenectady the first city to avoid the social harm that comes with any urban casino.  That is a goal that both casino proponents and opponents can surely agree upon and unite their talents and resources to meet. The good news is that we have a couple of years to think through the issues and work on solutions (and perhaps the funding many of them will need).

  newspaper Although the Schenectady Gazette continues to pretend there never was an opposition group, and even ignored our Letter to the Editor outlining the forward-looking policy presented above, media outlets with no agenda regarding the Schenectady Casino are presenting a fuller story. We’ll add them to the following list as they appear.

See, for example: The brief discussion at WAMC by Dave Lucas, of the early responses to the selection of the Schenectady casino application, “New York Board reveals winning proposals for casino reports” ( Dec. 17, 2014).  The Times Union editorial board’s thoughtful piece on “casino questions, still” (Dec. 18, 2014).  Another Times Union piece, by Paul Nelson et al, “Casino, fracking foes vow to fight on” (Dec., 19, 2014); Channel 13’s interview with two spokesmen for the Stop the Schenectady Casino group, “Anti Schenectady Casino Group” (by Dan Bazile, Dec. 20, 2014); and [stay tuned]

MohawkHarbor -BrownfieldSign

ongoing brownfield remediation at ALCO (with or without the casino)

p.s. Although we believe the Location Board came to its conclusions in good faith, it is apparent that its investigation of the facts on the ground in Schenectady was insufficient.  For example, the Board stressed that Rivers Casino would result in the replacement of the State’s largest brownfield.  The brownfield at the old ALCO site has not only been largely remediated already, but its complete remediation was planned to be completed, and would have been completed in 2015, without the construction of a casino at the site.

In addition, the Board stated that the Applicant has taken efforts to mitigate the impact on local interests.  In fact, for example, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group have offered no plans or ideas for limiting negative effects on the Historic Stockade neighborhood, refusing to admit there would be any such effects.  We hope the cooperation Rush Street has claimed to be cultivating with the Stockade will become a reality.

 The collage below has renderings of the Schenectady Casino proposal from the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor application:

CasinoApplication-drawings

.

proffedupS Below is the portion of the Location Board’s Statement concerning its choice of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for the Capital Region (Region 2, Zone 2):

Region Two, Zone Two (Capital Region)

The Board unanimously selects Rivers to apply to the Commission for a gaming facility license in Region Two, Zone Two.

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 16, 2014

rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino

images  Tomorrow, Dec. 17, 2014, the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board is expected to finally announce its selections for up to four Upstate gaming facility licenses, one of which is expected to be in the Capital Region.  The Stop the Schenectady Casino group believes the Location Board will give serious, fair consideration to our arguments against the proposed Schenectady Casino, and decide that one of the other Capital Region applicants is a more appropriate location.  Before the winners and losers are chosen, however, we would like to set out our perspective on the coverage given to the casino selection process by the Schenectady Daily Gazette, which has editorially supported the Schenectady casino application.

  Whether we “win” or “loose”, we believe it is important for the people of Schenectady to know how poorly the Gazette has performed the role of presenting the relevant casino news and helping the public (and our leaders) understand the issues and the likely impact of a casino on Schenectady and nearby communities. They are proud of being “locally owned” and “independent”, but we’re afraid that can translate into parochial, unaccountable coverage, far too susceptible to pressures from local government and business interests (including important current or potential advertisers), and from the social demands on members of a small community of local leaders.

update (Dec. 18, 2014): Well, at least they’re consistent.  The following is apparently the only mention of an Opposition in the Gazette’s massive coverage of the casino selection in today’s newspaper: “Some Schenectady residents, including those in the nearby Stockade neighborhood, have voiced concerns about a potential increase in crime and traffic due to the casino.”  

Our posting this weekend, “the Gazette continues the ALCO tunnel coverup“, describes only one of the many ways in which the Schenectady Gazette appears to have skewed its coverage of the news of the casino application process, in order to present the Schenectady applicants and their proponents in a way that paints them in the best light, by avoiding tough questions, ignoring negative facts, and pretending that there is no organized, serious opposition locally to the casino.  Any semblance of evenhanded news coverage ended June 9, 2014, the night the Schenectady City Council voted to support the application of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group to operate a gaming facility at Mohawk Harbor, the former site of Schenectady’s ALCO plant.  See the resulting Gazette editorial Casino would provide needed boost (June 10, 2014)

Meeting with Gazette Officials. Yesterday afternoon (Monday, Dec. 15, 2014), the Publisher of the Gazette, John DeAugustine, the Editor, Judy Patrick, and Miles Reed, the City Editor met with Stop the Schenectady Casino members Mohamed Hafez and myself (David Giacalone) to discuss our belief that the Gazette’s news coverage has favored the casino.  They gave us a considerable amount of their time and made the valid points that they have a limited amount of resources to cover the wide world of local news and that they are bombarded by complaints they have not given enough coverage to particular issues or have not been impartial. The Gazette officials insisted they are proud of the wide coverage they have given the casino issue and seemed not to understand why we would want the Gazette to report the positions and arguments of Stop the Schenectady Casino, as opposed to merely vaguely mentioning concerns of those against a Schenectady casino.

follow-up: Why No East-Greenbush Effect? (Dec. 22, 2014):  The opponents of the East Greeenbush casino won a well-earned victory, and they show what was needed to attract the attention of the Gaming Facility Location Board. You need a large number of truly upset, directly-affected homeowners (especially middle-class ones), with organization skills and at least a modest war chest, and with lots of publicity that garners more publicity, and the kind of Town Council monkey-business to make a lawsuit at least colorable, and gives the  media a hook for covering the topic repeatedly. See “Churchill: East Greenbush casino opponents win big” by Chris Churchill,” Albany Times Union, Dec. 18, 2014). With the Gazette ignoring us, and the Stockade Association hampered by a President who favored the casino and would not call a meeting on the casino nor put the issue on the agenda, the anti-casino crowd in Schenectady never got the nucleus of publicity that would let them grow into as thorny an opponent as those in East Greenbush.  The Stockade had voted against Proposition One in the November 2013 election. Had the Stockade Association voted to oppose the casino and opened its treasury to the cause, the Gazette would not have been able to ignore us. Ifs, buts, regrets.

We wanted (and needed) the public to know and the media to report there is a serious opposition campaign, of course, because the Location Board wants to know the extent of local opposition, and because not mentioning our specific arguments and background information serves the interests of the casino applicant by default.  To write about crime, traffic, the proximity to Union College, and potential harm to the Stockade Historic neighborhood, etc., without mentioning our consistent focus on those issues, and our very specific research on the facts and research literature, not only has left the articles almost content-free, but fails to show the seriousness of the problems.

newspaper  The Gazette’s editorial board endorsed the casino on June 9th, and — viewed from the outside as casino opponents, and also perhaps to the objective observer — its newsroom became a virtual public relations department for the Schenectady casino, with news editors seemingly reining in reporters who were initially curious and conscientious covering casino issues. Despite the public’s desire to know more about the applicants and the pros and cons of locating a casino in Schenectady, the Gazette newsroom did little to counter the propaganda of local political leaders, the pie-in-the-sky predictions of Rush Street Gaming and Galesi Group CEO David Buicko, and the incessant cheerleading of Metroplex and the local Chamber of Commerce, with facts and investigatory reporting.  It failed to look beyond the conclusions and soundbites of casino proponents and to present the facts and arguments behind the concerns of opponents.

Here are some examples:

  • The Gazette‘s coverage of the City Council meeting of June 9th and its 5-2 vote approving the casino application failed to mention that a large group of local religious and community leaders submitted a Statement to the Council strongly opposing the casino; instead, the Gazette merely mentioned that the group asked the Council to delay its vote in order to hold a public hearing on the issues and consider public comments and the social effects of a casino on the City and its residents.  Similarly, while reporting that the Council chambers were filled with blue signs and buttons saying Yes for the casino, the Gazette did not mention that virtually no hands went up when Rev. Sara Baron asked the audience who supported the casino and lived in Schenectady, while many hands were raised in answer to her asking who were against the casino and live in the City. See Schenectady City Council backs casino proposal (June 10, 2014)
  • checkedboxs The Gazette also ignored a press release by many of the same religious leaders, dated September 30, 2014, telling of a campaign among various faith congregations in Schenectady to make their opposition known to the proposed Schenectady casino.  [See our posting of Oct. 1, 2014; and click for a pdf. version of the Press Release]  The campaign provided an information packet with documents to aid in writing the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.  I personally brought up the topic to a Gazette casino reporter, supplying the phone number of Rev. Phil Grigsby, who was a contact person for the group behind the Press Release and anti-casino campaign.  Rev. Grigsby made several direct attempts to speak with the reporter and Gazette, but was never able to do so.

 According to the ministers’ press release:

Of major concern is that “Rush Street Gaming invests in Ruby Seven Studios, which develops, markets, and distributes casino games such as slots and poker through social network and smart phone ‘app’ websites with terms of service that expressly allow children as young as 13 to play without any age or identity verification.”

   It is that “major concern” that might have kept the ministers’ news-worthy campaign out of the Gazette. The Press Release was referring to a study, Betting on Kids Online, released in early September by a major hospitality and casino worker union, stating that Rush Street Gaming is investing millions of dollars with the aim of becoming the industry leader in “building a bridge” between children playing casino-like games on social media and smartphones and their going to brick-n-mortar casinos to do real gaming once they are old enough.  As we stated in our posting “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 11, 2014): Knowing that the earlier you begin to gamble, the more likely you are to gamble often and obsessively, Schenectady’s proposed casino operator is sowing the seeds digitally to grow the next generation of problem gamblers.

I personally corresponded with a Gazette reporter a few times on Betting on Kids, sending a link to the study and related website.  The Gazette chose to censor this important news about a casino operator who wants to locate a gaming facility a block away from a giant Union College residence hall filled with potential young gamblers.  It also failed to report that Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino was specifically aiming at young potential gamblers by creating a simpler form of craps called “props and hops” and building a large poker hall.  See this posting.

Captured Videos1 The Gazette newsroom has also, by commission and omission, acted to erase the existence of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino from the minds of its readers.  Indeed, when WAMC’s Dave Lucas first contacted me in November, he started the conversation by saying, “I didn’t even know there was a group in opposition to the Schenectady casino.”  Also, at the September public presentations by the Applicants to the Location Board, one Board member told the East Greenbush applicant that they were the only casino with any public opposition.  Mr. Lucas and the Location Board staff  must have blinked and missed the initial coverage the Gazette gave to our group when we were first formed at the end of May, in our attempt to prevent the City Council from approving the Schenectady casino proposal.  See “Neighbors rally against Schenectady casino plan” (Sunday Gazette, by Ned Campbell, June 8, 2014); and our posting on “our June 7 opposition meeting” at Arthur’s Market.

In fact, in the four months since the Gazette’s June 9th editorial supporting the casino, there has only been one mention of the existence of a group in Schenectady opposing the casino.  That was in a piece on June 23 about my complaint to the NYS Attorney General, alleging that the efforts of the Fair Game theater coalition to force applicants to accept a list of their demands violate the antitrust laws.  [see our post “arts venues want more than a Fair Game” June 28, 2014] The very next day, the Gazette printed an editorial praising Fair Game, and calling it good for the theaters, the City and the casinos.  Despite the editorial staff’s usual CYA approach, in which it states “on one hand, on the other hand”, concerning most issues, it did not even acknowledge that Fair Game’s activities could increase entertainment prices and limit entertainment options available to Schenectady County residents, while also damaging non-favored entertainment and leisure establishments.  Perhaps because I was attacking our biggest local sacred cow, Proctor’s and its director Philip Morris, I have subsequently been relegated to being called a Stockade resident and/or outspoken casino critic, not the leader of an opposition group.

erasingF  The worst example of the Gazette magicians making Stop the Schenectady Casino disappear almost is certainly our treatment relative to the all-important Location Board public comment event on September 22nd.  On September 21, the Sunday Gazette published the article “Public to have its say on casinos: Supporters, foes to lobby board at Monday hearing” (by Haley Viccaro). In a section that begins “Here’s a sample of what to expect during the hearing at the Holiday Inn at 205 Wolf Road in Colonie”, the article has two sentences about a labor group, Unite HERE, that was to appear to complain about labor complaints against Rush Street Gaming.  The only other discussion of expected opposition at the public hearing to the Schenectady casino says:

“Also speaking against the proposed Schenectady casino are some residents of the Stockade Historic District. David Giacalone is set to speak at 10 a.m., while Mohamed Hafez has a reserved slot at 6:15 p.m.”

Reporter Viccaro had been in frequent touch with me the days before the Board’s public comment event.  She knew that I was scheduled to appear on behalf of the group Stop the Schenectady Casino, and that the reserved spots were in fact meant for representatives of groups.  I told her Mr. Hafez also had a time slot, and she sent me an email specifically asking if Hafez was a Stockade resident. I immediately wrote back, saying he lived in Mt. Pleasant, not the Stockade, with an insurance office on Guilderland Ave., and was appearing to present the perspective of a landlord on the negative impact of a casino.

To the typical Schenectadian reading the Gazette, the term “Stockade resident” often means “spoiled elitist opposed to anything new that might be an inconvenience.”  It does not suggest serious opposition and a coalition of people with a wide range of reasons to fight against a casino.  The impression is strengthened by failing to mention (as the article does for opponents of other Capital Region casinos) any actual issues and concerns of the Group.

threemonkeys Worse than the relegating us to the issue-less category of Stockade resident prior to the Public Comment Event: The Gazette’s multi-piece coverage of the 12-hour public hearing never mentions that there were local opponents of the Schenectady casino present at or making presentations to the Location Board, much less that a spokesperson appeared on behalf of Stop the Schenectady Casino and presented a 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino to the Location Board, along with our signed Petitions against the casino.  [Even Galesi CEO Dave Buicko and Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen later congratulated us on the quality of the Statement.] Nor did the Gazette mention Mohamed Hafez’s presentation, and his attempt to share some of his five minutes with Rev. Philip Grigsby of the group of Schenectady religious leaders against the casino.

Captured Videos1 Did we just get lost in the overkill of a day-long hearing?  Well, Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro watched my presentation and when I finished it, we talked, joked, and schmoozed on and off for well over 30 minutes; she even strongly advised me to check out the fancy room reserved by the Schenectady applicant for the comfort of its supporters.  She was also very pleased when I handed her a flashdrive that held our Statement, its attachments, and copies of the petitions.  Instead of mentioning our group in her pieces, Haley ended up marveling over a cake baked by one of the businesses that plans to partner with Rush Street Gaming at the Schenectady casino.

  The worst example of blatant pro-casino “news” was surely the front-page article on Sunday August 4, 2014, entitled“Schenectady Casino Group Praised: Host communities say Rush Street lives up to its billing” (Sunday Gazette; by Haley Viccaro).   As was stated in our posting that day, “a few things the Gazette forgot to mention“, the puff piece gave Rush Street a lot of free public relations propaganda.  In addition:

 DSCF3276-001 Haley’s article is filled with quotes from local development and business officials and Rush Street Gaming’s CEO Greg Carlin, without a word from their detractors, such as Casino-Free Philadelphia, or the Worchester MA citizens group  that was successful in keeping RSG out of their city, nor even from the Stop the Schenectady Casino gang.  We speculated in August that perhaps the article was the Gazette‘s penance and mea culpa to Casino proponents for an earlier article titled “Officials in other cities warn of pitfalls, failed promises by Rush Street“? (June 8, 2014, by Bethany Bump).

Indeed, Rush Street Gaming liked the August 3rd article so much, it included a Power Point image of the headline in the “final”, public presentation it made to the Location Board in September. (click the image at the head of this paragraph)  In our posting on what the newspaper forgot to mention, we walk through a number of very important facts the Gazette should have mentioned as a matter of fairness, but also of journalistic duty and pride.  For example, it failed to mention the many facts that refute the claim by a Philadelphia official that, rather than crime rising, it actually got safer near Rush Street’s Philadelphia casino.  In addition, it allowed a company official to brag that they even help customers find other hotels for their stay in Philadelphia, without noting that the particular casino has no hotel of its own and must assist customers to find lodging if it wants to lure them to their facility.

Traffic & Crime Concerns. The Gazette also managed to write an article on the traffic problems in the Stockade, and to occasionally mention concerns over increased crime, without ever including mention of Stop the Schenectady Casino, which has focused on those issues, and researched and written on them in some detail.

For example, see the Gazette piece “Stockade group frets over potential traffic: Mohawk Harbor access a concern” (Sept. 30, 2014, by Haley Viccaro). Ms. Viccaro decided to only speak with Mary D’Allesdandro, Stockade Association president concerning the Stockade’s traffic worries.  Not only is Ms. D’Allesandro a supporter of the casino, she never did anything about the traffic issue until a non-officer member of the Association asked at the September Stockade Association that they give comments to Metroplex as part of the environmental review.  The Comment was hammered out at the end of the Meeting, and is filled with generalities.   The Gazette article is so troublesome, that I left a lengthy comment at their website, and repeated it in a posting on October 1, titled “the Gazette gets stuck in Stockade traffic” (October 1, 2014).  That posting has links to the work done by Stop the Schenectady Casino on the traffic issue, including discussion on our Statement in Opposition of September 22, 2o14.

checkedboxs Crime. The Gazette has also failed to address in any meaningful way an issue of great concern to neighborhoods near the proposed casino: the likelihood that the casino will bring an increase in crime.  We were told in the Gazette, with no explanations, that Stockade Association President, a casino booster, Mary D’Alessandro didn’t think there would be an increase in crime; that East Front Street Association officer Mary Ann Ruscitto, an “excited” casino booster, wasn’t worried, because we already have crime in the Stockade area; and that a Rush Street Gaming proponent stated that crime went down around its Philadelphia SugarHouse casino. As you can see in our posting “will a casino bring more crime,” and at pages 6 -8 or our Statement in Opposition to the Casino, there is much to say about crime and an urban casino that goes far beyond one-sentence gut feelings.  The Gazette could have added to that debate, but I believe doing so would have made more of their readers and their allies supporting the casino nervous.

In addition, the Gazette newsroom:

  •  Never wrote about the County Legislators and town leaders ignoring the November 2013 vote on Proposition One, in which a majority of county residents opposed having any casinos upstate, with large majorities in opposition in Niskayuna and Glenville, which are the towns closest to Mohawk Harbor.  In addition, it never wrote that, despite its claims, the County Legislature, had absolutely no power to approve the casino application if the City did not do so.  My own presentation to the Gazette staff of the relevant provisions of the law and Request for Applications, which clearly state that only a city or town could give the necessary local approval, were ignored. [See our posting “Schenectady County ignores its voters and plain English” (June 2, 2014)]
  • threemonkeys Often mentioned that the East Front Street Association supported the casino, but never reported on how few people were members nor how its leaders concluded the majority of neighborhood residents supported the casino.  Every resident of that neighborhood asked by us said no one asked them their stance on the casino.
  • Gave no coverage to the Statement of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation to Metroplex, asking Metroplex to act to protect the Stockade from the negative effects likely to be caused by having a casino a half mile away. See our post on October 2, 2014.
  • Gratuitously, with no source given, asserted  in the piece”Automated Dynamics weighs relocation options” (Haley Viccaro, Nov. 27, 2014) that “If [the Alco site is not chosen for a casino], the portion of the site dedicated for the project would probably remain undeveloped.”  I think Mssrs. Galesi, Buicko and Gillen would be trying hard to find a substitute use of that land, even if it is only the major amenity of a park setting with walking and bike trails along the Mohawk, next to the Mohawk Harbor hotel, condos, marina, office buildings, retail shops, etc. on the west end of the plot. 

This is, we submit, not a record that should make the Gazette proud, unless its goal has been to give Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor a better shot at being selected by the Location Board.

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 15, 2014

no matter the outcome

No matter the results on December 17th at the Location Board meeting, we are proud to have made this campaign to help protect the heart, soul and future of our community.  We believe Schenectady is strong, creative and capable enough to continue our revitalization, without the problems created by reliance on a casino for jobs and revenues.

update: Click here to see our reaction to the selection of Schenectady’s Casino.

StopSchenectadyCasino2015Calendar For a memento of the Stop the Schenectady Casino campaign, we’ve put together a one-page 2015 Stop the Schenectady Casino calendar.  It is formatted to be printed as an 8″ x 10″ photo. You can click on the above image or find the jpg. file at http://tinyurl.com/StopSchdyCasino2015 .

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ALCOtunnel6 If you are coming here after hearing or reading the WAMC story about the ALCO Tunnel Coverup, please click this link to find out why we call it a coverup, and how theGazette buried the issue in the one article where it did mention the tunnels: See “the Gazette continues the ALCO tunnel coverup” (Dec. 13, 2014). (The photo above was taken August 8, 2014 by DEC engineer John Strang.)

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 13, 2014

the Gazette continues the ALCO Tunnel Coverup

controversial "utility tunnel" discovered at ALCO site in Schenectady

photo of ALCO tunnel taken by DEC engineer 08Aug2014

 About eight weeks ago, Stop the Schenectady Casino learned that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site failed to disclose to Metroplex in its environmental statements its discovery of “tunnels” under historic ALCO Building 332, and that the Schenectady Gazette helped in the coverup.

For the bigger story, see rigging the news: the Gazette and the Schenectady Casino” (Dec. 16, 2014)

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group is the owner of the Mohawk Harbor site and the developer of a planned marina and mixed-use complex there, and hopes to include a casino on the 60-acre site.  As the owner-developer, Galesi is responsible for submitting an environmental impact statement [“EIS”] to the Metroplex Authority, which is the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.  As such, in attempting to obtain approval of a final EIS, Galesi has an ongoing responsibility to report any new facts that raise a significant question of potential harm to relevant aspects of the environment, including elements of historical or archeological importance. Galesi CEO David Buicko has taken the lead as spokesman for the proposed Mohawk Harbor projects before local government bodies as well as the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board, and is well known in the business, development, political and educational sectors of Schenectady County and the region. Rush Street Gaming, which is headquartered in Chicago, is the primary Applicant for a casino license and would operate the Schenectady casino, called Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, if granted a license by the Gaming Commission.

Because the Gazette has failed to clarify what happened on the site, at Metroplex, and in its newsroom and editorial enclave concerning the uncovered utility tunnels, I sent the following proposed opEd piece or guest column Letter to the Gazette on November 14, 2014. There has been no response of any kind from the Opinion Staff.  Here is the piece the Gazette refuses to publish, followed by additional explanation and discussion, including communications between myself and both the Gazette reporter who admitted she was asked not to report on the tunnels and the one purportedly assigned to find out what really happened.

To the Editor:

Three weeks ago, I was told by a Gazette reporter that the paper would be following up on its incomplete and one-sided article “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014), concerning the failure of the ALCO/Mohawk Harbor developer (Galesi Group) to disclose in its environmental impact statement its discovery of tunnels under Building 332, and its request (honored by the newspaper) that the Gazette not report on the discovery. [the portions of the Oct. 22 article relevant to the tunnel issue are quoted below] So far, not a word has been printed about an issue that draws into question the credibility of the Applicant for a Schenectady casino license, Metroplex’s environmental review, and the Gazette‘s coverage of the casino selection process.  Is the Gazette waiting until the NYS Casino Facility Location Board makes its decision awarding a Capital Region casino license, so that the credibility of the Schenectady Applicant won’t be undermined prior to the selection?

The Oct. 22 article correctly points out that I and Mohamed Hafez had written to Metroplex chair Ray Gillen just prior to its Board meeting that day, asking for a postponement of its approval of the environmental review, because we had just learned that the ALCO contractor had uncovered tunnels under the century-old ALCO Building 332 while demolishing its foundation.  The discovery was in early August, prior to the approval of the draft environmental impact statement, but Galesi Group never brought in an archeologist nor reported the discovery to Metroplex.

The article then fails to mention any of my supporting information, although it was supplied to the reporter along with the Memorandum to Metroplex. Instead, the rest of the article debunks my Tunnel Coverup claims, by quoting Mr. Gillen and Galesi CEO Buicko denying that there were any tunnels and that there was any historical significance to the “utility corridors” they did find and demolish.  It then quotes from three Galesi consultants denying the existence of tunnels or saying that what was found was expected.  In addition, the letters by the consultants were described as having been “written this week,” although the reporter knew that they had been written that very evening specifically in response to our Memorandum to Metroplex.

The article also fails to mention that our Memo to Metroplex specifically alleged, using information verified by another Gazette reporter, that “When a reporter from the Gazette attempted to learn about the tunnels [in early August], the Applicant refused to give an interview on the record and would not allow photos to be taken; it also appears that the Applicant specifically requested that the Gazette not report on the discovery of the tunnels.” Not having mentioned our coverup claim, the article does not tell us whether Mssrs. Gillen and Buicko denied the request for a coverup or somehow justified it.

At the very minimum, your readers show have been told in the original article, or by now in a follow-up article, that:

  • Contrary to the letters of the Galesi consultants, the DEC engineer stated twice that it would have been virtually impossible for the contractor to know the tunnels existed prior to demolishing the building’s foundation.
  •  In addition to the original Gazette reporter calling the so-called “utility corridors” tunnels and not questioning our using that word, the Department of Environmental Conservation engineer heading up the remediation project at the ALCO site spoke with me at length by telephone, and said that the “pipe chases” were indeed large enough to be more appropriately called tunnels, and he thereafter referred to them as tunnels.
  • The Gazette reporter, Haley Viccaro, wrote to me on October 20 in an email that: “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact,” and complied after discussing the issue with Gazette editors.
  • On October 21, I emailed the six photos sent to me by the DEC engineer to Don Rittner, the former Historian of Schenectady County and the City of Schenectady, and an archeologist.  Dr. Rittner wrote back: “[A] professional archeologist should have been hired to document the site before destruction.  This was such an important part of Schenectady history [but] we may never know what those tunnels were for.” Dr. Rittner also concluded that the discovery should have been disclosed as part of the Environmental Impact review process.
  • photo of Bldg. 332 - by H. OhlhouseAccording to information at the Historic Marker Data Base website, “Building 332 was one of the longest structures in the world at nearly 1000 feet when it was completed in 1905.” (see photo to the right, taken and with commentary by Howard C. Ohlhous, Historian of the Town of Duanesburg, NY; click on the image for a larger version) Furthermore, according to DEC engineer Strang, the buildings on the ALCO site often were built over the foundations of prior buildings dating from the mid-19th Century, and “cells” found during its demolition suggest that was the case with Building 332.
  • Construction of ALCO Building 332 was completed in 1905, but its foundation was very likely to have been erected on the foundation of buildings dating back to before the Civil War, increasing the chance that the tunnels could have some important stories to tell us.

Whatever they are called, the uncovered hollow structures were part of or beneath the foundation of a building which played an important part in the history of ALCO, of Schenectady, and of our nation’s war efforts in the 20th Century.  A professional archeologist could have quickly examined and documented the tunnels, assessing whether they were standard, mundane utility corridors, or were indeed of archeological and historical significance.  We will never know, because the Applicant concealed their existence from all but DEC’s remediation engineer, demolished them and filled them over.

The goal of receiving environmental approval by Metroplex as soon as possible to gain an advantage in the casino licensing process is understandable, but in no way justifies the Applicant’s covering the tunnels over without archeological examination, nor asking the Gazette to cover up the story.  To the extent the Gazette allowed itself to be part of the Applicant’s concealment efforts, it has also failed to serve its public.

Readers can learn more on this topic, and see the photographs and documents mentioned, at
http://tinyurl.com/ALCOCoverup

David Giacalone
Editor, Stop the Schenectady Casino, http://stoptheschenectadycasino.com/

_____

Instead of reporting our supporting information to its readers, the article dismisses me as “an outspoken critic of the casino,” and tried to make me look unreliable.  See “Metroplex OKs Alco site environmental review” (Oct. 22, 2014, by Bethany Bump). Here is the Gazette’s total discussion of our tunnel coverup claim:

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 12, 2014

decision time: 2 PM Wednesday, December 17

The NYS Gaming Facility Location Board issued a Public Notice this morning stating it will meet at 2 PM, Wednesday, December 17, in Rm. 6 of the Empire State Plaza, for “Consideration of Selection of Applicants to Apply to the Gaming Commission for Gaming Facility Licenses.”   In addition:

• The meeting is open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served.
• The meeting will be Web streamed on the New York State Gaming Commission’s Web site (www.gaming.ny.gov).
• Immediately following the meeting, there will be a media briefing for credentialed press only in Meeting Room 7 of the Empire State Plaza.

In reporting this news, the Capitol Confidential blog at the Times Union has again pointed to its July 7th piece “handicapping” the casino race, where the Schenectady casino application is said to be the Capital Region favorite, with 5-2 odds of being selected.  We believe the five members of the Location Board have fully considered our 20-page Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino, and will decide that one of the three other Capital Region applications better fulfills the standards and goals they are to apply in  making their selection.

You can use this short URL to see our full Statement in Opposition, including its Twelve Attachments, and decide for yourselves:  http://tinyurl.com/NotSchenectady

A brief summary of our five major points, along with thumbnails and links to the twelve attachments, can be found at this posting.

cropped-nocasinoschdy.jpg OUR FIVE MAIN REASONS for OPPOSING the SCHENECTADY CASINO, as fully explained in our Statement in Opposition:

  1. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.  In addition, the Applicant claims that the casino would remove the largest brownfield in New York State, but the site remediation process is almost complete and will be completed without the casino, as it is an integral part of the developer’s $200 million Mohawk Harbor mixed-use project.  The Board should choose a location that is more in need of casino investment to spur development.
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposal that directly threatens the welfare of a treasured Historic District – the Schenectady Stockade Historic District
  1. The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a full campus of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.
  1. Mohawk Harbor’s Urban Location has More Disadvantages than Advantages –e.g., increased probability of social ills due to problem gambling, more crime, a more regressive tax structure. It is not a likely “destination casino” and cannot be expected to produce the most revenue and tax benefits for the State and its municipalities.
  1. The Applicant’s Local Support is Less Significant than It Claims and Weaker than in Competing Communities.

 

Posted by: David Giacalone | December 3, 2014

this poll we like

ABRcasinoPoll03Dec2014

. . . Polls asking website visitors to voice an opinion or make a prediction are far from scientific, and make no claim to having canvassed a representative sample of readers, much less the general population.   Nonetheless, I clicked on a link to an article in Monday’s Albany Business Review that gives the results of their current/latest un-scientific poll of readers as to which city will “win” theCapital Region casino license. (“Anticipation grows as casino decision approaches“, Dec. 1, 2014, by Todd Kehoe).” According to the article (emphasis added):

“An Albany Business Review poll published last week asked readers which of the four Capital Region communities will win the competition for a license. Of the nearly 2,000 people who voted as of 6:30 p.m. Sunday, 47 percent picked Cobleskill in Schoharie County. Another 22 percent picked Schenectady, 20 percent selected East Greenbush and Rensselaer grabbed the other 11 percent.

“The poll is not a scientific sampling and is intended to give insight into what readers are thinking.”

So, only 22% of the survey participants thought Schenectady was the most likely winner.  Particularly interesting to me is how different their poll results were last August:

In the August poll, 61.5 percent of those who responded, picked Schenectady as the most likely winner of a casino license. Rensselaer finished second with 21.7 percent of the vote, followed by East Greenbush with 9 percent and Cobleskill with 2.8 percent”. [emphasis added]

You can see a chart of the results of the latest ABR casino poll here (or by clicking the image at the top of this posting), and can go here to Vote (look for an image of two red dice with a green background).

dice A Schenectady Gazette Poll in October asked “What do you think of Schenectady’s chances of getting a casino?” It got a result similar to the Albany Business Review‘s August Poll:  58% of the 649 Gazette voters said Schenectady was the Heavy Favorite.  Naturally, it was easy for us to reject the Gazette‘s results in October as unscientific and the result of local bias.   Of course, we’ve got no more reason to have strong faith in the newer ABR results —  other than its having in general a less parochial readership.  Nonetheless, we hope its survey showing Cobleskill as the favorite is accurate.  And, until the Times Union explains its assertion, with sources and reasoning, that Schenectady is considered the favorite (repeated in an article today), we’re going to ignore TU‘s attempt at handicapping the competition.

The latest ABR survey shows only 11% of respondents naming Rennselaer as the favorite. It remains to be seen if the maneuvering of the Hard Rock folk at De Laet’s Landing in Rennselaer, offering Albany $1.1 million a year and job assistance and promising another half million dollars to build a permanent dock for the replica ship Half Moon, can win them a license for Rennselaer. (see the TU coverage here) Since there appears to be no real opposition to the De Laet’s Landing proposal, we at Stop the Schenectady Casino send them our best wishes, as we do for the Cobleskill application.

Posted by: David Giacalone | October 29, 2014

WSJ focuses on NY casinos and colleges

spotlights The Wall Street Journal shone a light on casinos near colleges in an article published Monday, October 26, 2014. “Casinos Put Up Hands for Sites Near Colleges“, by Steven Vilensky (subscription required).  The opening sentence warns that “Casino gambling may soon be added to the list of campus vices in New York, drawing anticipation from college students and concern from legislators and school officials.” Indeed, we’re told:

Nearly all of the 16 proposals currently being considered as New York state casino sites are within a 25-mile radius of a college or university. Three of the more-elaborate plans are located minutes from large schools.

Through dumb luck, I was able to pass through the WSJ subscription wall once and see more than the first three sentences. That was enough to read the entire article and conclude that (1) giving the college proximity issue national exposure is a very good thing; but, (2) reporter Vilensky needs a pedometer or a quick lesson in reading the legend on a map.  In telling of the proposed casino closest to a college, Vilensky says the Schenectady casino would beless than 3 miles from Union College and Schenectady County Community College.”  I’m not sure how he was led astray. He did talk with someone from Rush Street Gaming, and maybe he also saw the Galesi brochure for Mohawk Harbor, which proclaims it to be “in the heart of downtown Schenectady,” and he got confused.

Casino-VicinityMapE

Google Map showing proposed Schenectady casino, Union College and SCCC

Hoping to correct the true-but-misleading “less than 3 miles” figure in time for the morning hardcopy version, I wrote Vilenski late Sunday night, saying:  “The story is much more interesting and troublesome than you have presented in today’s WSJ article.”  Naturally, I let him know that Union College’s largest residence hall is one block from the proposed casino, and the entire campus is four or five blocks away, while Schenectady Community College is one mile from the proposed site, Mohawk Harbor. [click on the map above]

The WSJ article also reports on the phenomenon of colleges starting to offer degrees or certificates in Gaming Management and related fields.  It somehow missed the fact that Schenectady County Community College now has a casino management program as well as a partnering agreement with Rush Street Gaming.

Neither reporter Vilensky nor the WSJ Corrections staff added the proffered information to their online resources.  For anyone Googling the issue after reading the WSJ piece, here are postings from Stop the Schenectady Casino on young gamblers and college kids and casinos:

Posted by: David Giacalone | October 29, 2014

a tunnel cover-up at ALCO

controversial "utility tunnel" discovered at ALCO site in Schenectady

photo taken Aug. 8, 2014 at the ALCO plant by DEC remediation engineer John Strang, PE

 On Monday, October 20, 2014, I received a message through this website, asking me to investigate a rumor that the Applicant/Developer of the proposed Schenectady casino at the Old ALCO Plant site had discovered tunnels under the foundation of a building at the proposed casino location, and had asked the local media not to report on the discovery of the tunnels.  My subsequent investigation verified those two allegations, along with the fact that the Applicant never disclosed the existence of the tunnels to Metroplex, the Lead Agency in its SEQRA environmental review process, although they were discovered prior to the approval in August of the Draft Enviromenntal Impact Statement, and prior to the public comment period.

    Our attempt to delay the final approval of the environmental review by Metroplex at its October 22 board meeting was unsuccessful, with no public mention of tunnels, and with Metroplex chairman Ray Gillen insisting to me that there were no tunnels. Click here for our Memorandum to Metroplex about the ALCO tunnels, Oct. 22, 2014.

Last Monday (Oct. 27, 2014), on behalf of the Stop the Schenectady Casino group, Mohamed Hafez and I sent a Comment to the Gaming Facility Location Board setting out the results of my investigation, and stating the belief that the Undisclosed Tunnels Issue draws the integrity of the SEQRA review process into question, along with the credibility of the Applicant, and its appropriate regard for the importance of historic and archeological artifacts and their documentation.  These are further reasons, we argued, for the Location Board to reject the Schenectady casino Application.

The Comment to the Location Board contains full details.  Here are a few important points:

  • ALCOtunnel2 On October 20, I received an email reply from a Gazette reporter saying, “Yes there are tunnels and they are working to get rid of them. I was asked not to report on that fact.” [emphasis added] In a subsequent reply, she also wrote, “I did discuss it with my editors but we’re kind of limited if the developer won’t let us report on it or take photos.” Her attempt two days later to “clarify” away these statements were wholly unpersuasive.

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | October 2, 2014

Heritage Foundation asks Metroplex to protect the Stockade

The Schenectady Heritage Foundation [SHF] has submitted comments to the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority (Metroplex) concerning the Environmental Impact Statement that Metroplex is reviewing for the development of Mohawk Harbor.  Unlike the original draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the draft Supplemental EIS includes an amended development plan that takes into account the proposed Schenectady casino.  Dated September 21, 2014 the SHF Comment to Metroplex focuses on the “potential negative impacts on the preservation of the Stockade Historic District. These concerns are flooding, traffic and quality of life.”

The Foundation’s mission “is to foster historic preservation in Schenectady County.” Its concise and thoughtful letter makes three major points about preserving the important and unique Stockade Historic District:

  • “No aspect of the Development can be allowed to exacerbate flooding in the Stockade Historic District.”
  • “Traffic generated by the Development – with or without a casino – must be directed away from the residential Stockade Historic District.”
  • “The quality of life in the Stockade must be protected and improved for it to continue as a historic district, and for it to thrive as the City’s premier urban neighborhood.”

More specifically, the Comment asserts that:

Ever-increasing vehicular traffic over the centuries has taken a toll on the irreplaceable historic architecture in the Stockade. Volume, noise, fumes and vibrations already cause damage to the fragile plaster walls, leaded glass windows, original stone and brick work, and slate sidewalks in the historic district.

The Foundation Comment also states that increased traffic would reduce safety in the City’s “most walkable urban neighborhood”,  creating a safety hazard for pedestrians and limiting emergency vehicle access.  In addition, to help assure the quality of life in the Stockade,  the New Urbanism concepts endorsed by the City of Schenectady’s 2020 Comprehensive Plan should be “required in the Design of the Development.”

ALCO-SAMmastSk Note:  Point Two of our STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino [at pages 3-8] explains why the risk of damage to the Stockade Historic District and its residential quality (mainly due to a likely increase in crime and a significant increase in traffic) is too great to allow a casino to be located nearby.  The Statement also addresses four other significant reasons to oppose the Schenectady Casino.

p.s. On another subject:  Click here to see the “tunnels”, also called pipe chases and utility corridors found under ALCO Building 332 while demolishing its foundation.

Posted by: David Giacalone | October 1, 2014

press release from the Schenectady Faith Community

Below is a Press Release, dated September 30, 2014, telling of a campaign among various faith congregations in Schenectady to make their opposition known to the proposed Schenectady casino. [click for a printable, pdf. version of the Press Release]  You are encouraged to bring the campaign to your own congregation. The campaign packet includes the following documents to aid in writing the NYS Gaming Facility Location Board.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       September 30, 2014

Churches Conduct Letter Writing Campaign Against the Schenectady Casino

Members of two Schenectady area congregations today turned over 43 names of individuals signing either letters or petitions to the NYS Gaming Commission Gaming Commission Facility Location Board indicated opposition to the application by Rush Street Gaming for the license in Schenectady. Others took materials and will separately be sending in letters.

The letter submitted summarizes 7 reasons in opposition: that the site could and is being well developed without a casino; it directly threatens the Stockade neighborhood; affects the welfare of a college close by; the location has more disadvantages than advantages; the local support is less significant than it claims; there was no legal public hearing; and concern about Rush Street Gaming supporting “bridging the gap’ with youth between online applications and casino gambling.

Of major concern is that “Rush Street Gaming invests in Ruby Seven Studios, which develops, markets, and distributes casino games such as slots and poker through social network and smart phone ‘app’ websites with terms of service that expressly allow children as young as 13 to play without any age or identity verification.”

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | October 1, 2014

the Gazette gets stuck in Stockade traffic

The Schenectady Gazette wrote yesterday that “Stockade group frets over potential traffic: Mohawk Harbor access a concern” (by Haley Viccaro, September 30, 2014).  They decided to only speak with Mary D’Allesdandro, Stockade Association president, concerning the Stockade’s traffic worries, although this group has raised the traffic issue since created at the end of May and deals with it specifically in our Statement in Opposition to the Casino.  Mary would not say anything negative about the casino, which would greatly increase traffic, but did admit that “Anytime there is development there are concerns, like with traffic.”

The Gazette article quotes from the Stockade Association’s letter to Metroplex commenting on the environmental review of the Mohawk Harbor:

“Because of these concerns, the association requests that, at a minimum, there be no direct connection from the development to Front Street and other measures are taken to reduce the likelihood of drivers using the Stockade streets.”

The article does not point out, as Stop the Schenectady Casino has done often, that the casino’s access plan shows traffic going directly east up Front Street from the casino parking lot, and that that the Mohawk Harbor traffic report insists there will be no harmful effects for traffic as it traverses Front St. and Green St. at Lawrence Circle.  Thus, the applicant recommends no changes along Front St. or at the Circle.

just-say-no-003 For a full account of the Stop the Schenectady Casino group’s position and conclusions on the traffic issues created by the casino in the Stockade, see pages 4 to 6 of our Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino, and the related attachments.

The article has so many flaws, including confusing the extra traffic generated by the casino at the morning rush hour with the number for all daytime traffic, that I left the following comment at the webpage of the article:

COMMENTS
Sept. 30, 2014, 1:17 a.m.

dagiacalone says…

I’m concerned that the Gazette has again forgotten to mention the strong Stockade opposition to the casino, which has focused on the traffic issue for the past two months. Instead, you speak with the President of the Stockade Association, who has refused to have a meeting on the casino, which she supports, and talk about a traffic letter that received a few minutes of attention almost as an afterthought at an Association meeting.
.
Casino opponents collected 126 signatures by Stockade residents on their petition, as compared to the membership of the Association which is under 100, and compared to the 18 people who voted for the “neutrality position” at the September Association meeting.
.
Had you spoken with us, we would have pointed out, as was stated on August 14 at StopTheSchenectadyCasino.com, that the Applicant’s traffic study predicted casino patrons would generate 681 new vehicular trips during morning peak rush hour and 1,615 new trips during evening peak rush hour, not 680 during the day and 1615 at night, as your article states. In fact, the traffic report states that the peak rush hour numbers are those at the peak of the nearby roads, and that the casino’s even higher peak numbers come at different hours (which are never discussed in the Report).
.
The Table from the Traffic Report with the trip generation numbers can be found at this webpage:
http://tinyurl.com/CasinoTripGen
.
It is strange that after 40 years of constant worry about traffic from development, the “leaders” of the East Front Street Neighborhood Association “don’t mind the traffic” from the casino. Yes, Front St. will get the traffic, and two-thirds of Front Street is very narrow and runs through a very densely populated portion of the Stockade neighborhood. For photos and description of the traffic problem likely to be created by the casino, see
http://tinyurl.com/CasinoFrontStreet
.
Finally, the Casino’s access plan has an arrow directing exiting traffic west up Front St. If that is any indication of the good working relationship between the casino Applicant and the Stockade Association, perhaps we are lucky the Association has decided to disarm itself and abandon its role of protecting the residential nature of the Stockade.

 

Posted by: David Giacalone | September 28, 2014

if you think “no”, say so

just-say-no-001 The Casino Facility Location Board will consider comments received from the public about casino applications at any time during its review process.  And, it’s easy to let them know how you feel.  So, why not put fingers to your keyboard or pen to paper and voice your opinion on an issue that will affect Schenectady for decades to come.  But, do so soon, as the Board may choose the winner of the Capital Regional gaming license before the end of October.

Email and Letters can be sent to Gail P. Thorpe: Email address: info@gaming.ny.gov

USPS address: NYS Gaming Commission, Contracts Office, One Broadway Center, Schenectady, NY 12301-7500

just-say-no-002 Click for our  One-Page Guide to Writing a Letter Opposing the Schenectady Casino (Sept. 28, 2014)

For a full discussion, see our STATEMENT in OPPOSITION. just-say-no-003

- and our Issues Page for particular topics -

.

just-say-no p.s. Why Bother? There were so few speakers in opposition to the Schenectady Casino at the Public Comment Event on September 22, that we fear the Location Board may believe there really is no significant opposition.  The Schenectady Gazette didn’t even bother to mention there were any opponents at the Event.  We’d like to think that our Statement in Opposition will be studied and given all due consideration by the Board as it stands, but more letters in opposition will make the arguments in the Statement more meaningful and powerful.

 

Posted by: David Giacalone | September 23, 2014

Bravo and Best Wishes to Howe Caverns Casino!

 The folks from Howe Caverns Casino and Resort did a great job before the Location Board and the media yesterday at the Capital Region public comment event. Chris Churchill at the Times Union said “if you had to pick a winner based solely on Monday’s hearing, you’d go with Howe Caverns.”

The TU’s Jim Odato reported that:

[Location Board Chair Kevin Law] told the crowd during a day of 145 speakers and 11 hours of testimony that “we have no doubt that Schoharie County wants a casino,” drawing hurrahs from the crowd of Howes Cave backers.

media attention for the Howe CAverns casino at the Location Board event - 09/22/2014

the yellow shirts got a lot of attention

Haley Viccaro at the Schenectady Gazette even wrote a separate article during the hearing yesterday that had the headline “Proposed Howe Caverns casino has most local support.”

Many of us at Stop the Schenectady Casino don’t think New York State should be in the business of using casinos as engines of economic growth and revenue generation.  But, if there’s going to be a casino license granted in the Capital Region, it is clear to us that Howe Caverns is the best choice:

  • the people as a whole [no hole pun intended] sincerely and fervently seem to want this casino, unlike places where there is — at the very least — a  large portion of the population strongly against one
  • the bang for the development buck is very much likely to be biggest in Schoharie County
  • its location should mitigate against many of the social problems we believe are especially dangerous when you place a casino at an urban location
  • we can actually imagine it as a “destination casino”

yinyang Yes, we think our  STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino does a good job of explaining why Schenectady should not be chosen.  But, we also believe that the good people of Howe Caverns and Schoharie County have done Schenectady a very good deed by making such a strong case that they be selected.  So, Bravo!, Best Wishes and Big Thanks to the Howe Caverns Casino and Resort.  We like your odds.

Posted by: David Giacalone | September 23, 2014

poor-mouthing Schenectady won’t work

emptyPockets Hats in hand and tin cups raised, Schenectady’s leaders did not exactly do us proud at yesterday’s Public Comment Event.  As we’ve said before, Schenectady’s economic and financial plight is simply not desperate enough for the City to take the Casino Gamble with its future, its social fabric, its reputation, and its soul.  Casino supporters might like to call casino opponents “nay-sayers,” but we seem to have a lot more faith in Schenectady’s revival than they do.  Of course, when running for election, these same leaders trip over their own tongues telling us how successful they have been reviving and transforming Schenectady.

Giving Rush Street Gaming and The Galesi Group the gaming license will not meet the development and job-creation goals of the Upstate New York State gaming law. The first Point in our  Statement in Opposition to the Schenectady Casino explains why.

POINT ONE. Unlike the other Capital Region locations proposed to the Board, the Schenectady Casino is the only Location Well on its Way to Being Fully Developed without a Casino, and Schenectady already has a Vibrant and Successful Development Process.

Read More…

Posted by: David Giacalone | September 23, 2014

Union College and the Schenectady Casino

Here’s what we said about locating the proposed Schenectady Casino so close to Union College in our OUR STATEMENT in OPPOSITION to the Schenectady Casino, submitted on Sept. 22 to the Location Board at its Capital Region Public Comment Event:

NoloSharkS The Schenectady Casino is the only proposed location and Applicant that directly threaten the welfare of a student body of potential young gamblers living no more than a few blocks away.

Schenectady’s Stop Group believes that placing a casino facility at Mohawk Harbor, in such close proximity to the residence halls and other residential housing of Union College, and less than a mile from Schenectady County Community College, unnecessarily endangers the welfare of many young gamblers and potential gamblers. No other competing application poses a similar risk to young adults of gambling age by making access so easy and quick.

Casino-VicinityMapE . . . casino-dormCollage

As can be seen in Attachment 1 and Attachment 6 (above), Mohawk Harbor’s casino facility, located at 450 Nott Street, is a short stroll from virtually all of Union College’s student housing, and only one short block from its largest residence hall at 301 Nott Street.

There is a significant amount of literature and scholarship on college students and gambling, including the increased susceptibility of younger gamblers, alcohol’s connection to problem gambling, and the connection between proximity and increased gambling.[1] The Handout on Problem Gambling from Union College’s Wicker Wellness Center, notes, ”Gambling is in some ways a ‘norm’ among college students.  The most popular games are casino activities such as cards and gambling machines.”

SmallShark The risk is heightened because Rush Street Gaming is experienced in marketing to the Young Gambler and appears to be most desirous of gaining their trade.  For example, Rush Street Gaming’s SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia has introduced a “simplified craps game” called Props & Hops (purportedly alluding to craps terminology), which was developed because “A lot of people, especially the younger kids, are intimidated about craps.”[2] They have also greatly increased the number of poker tables at SugarHouse, a game particularly popular with college students. Their Schenectady Application shows that the Schenectady casino will have a dozen poker tables in a 3000 sq. ft. hall.

Perhaps more worrisome is a recent Report stating that Rush Street Gaming is investing millions of dollars with the aim of becoming the industry leader in “building a bridge” between children playing casino-like games on social media and smartphones and their going to brick-n-mortar casinos to do real gaming once they are old enough.  Knowing that the earlier you begin to gamble, the more likely you are to gamble often and obsessively, Schenectady’s proposed casino operator is sowing the seeds digitally to grow the next generation of problem gamblers.

In its study “Betting on Kids Online,” the hospitality workers union UniteHere argues that Rush Street Gaming

“has quietly pursued an Internet strategy that has sidestepped gambling regulators while also explicitly allowing players as young as 13″ to play their virtual games.

If Rush Street thinks it is worthwhile to groom adolescents into future casino customers, what will Rush Street Gaming do to prepare 18, 19 and 20 year olds down the block who already love poker and “keggers”?

Rush Street’s denial in its Application that proximity and access increase the prevalence of problem gambling also suggests that they need a significant amount of sensitivity training before being allowed to operate near so many potential young gamblers. It is ludicrous for the Applicant to brush off worries about creating more problem gamblers, saying, “the addition of gaming at the Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in the prevalence rates in the local area”, because people in this area have already been able to travel for slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut. Other things being equal, we hope this Board will choose to locate the Capital Region casino farther than a short stroll away from a couple thousand potential young gamblers.

[1] For example, see “Festering Beneath the Surface: Gambling and College Students, by the Illinois Dept. of Health Services; “College Problem Gambling Literature Review“, Jim Emshoff, Ph.D., Georgia State University (Jan. 2008).

[Go to the Young Gamblers listing on our ISSUES page for an extensive list of related resources.]

[2] See SugarHouse Press Release, April 30, 2014; and “Sugarhouse Develops a New, Simplified Craps Game For Younger Players“, CBS6 Philadelphia, May 1, 2014; SugarHouse Props & Hops Brochure.

. share this posting with this short link: http://tinyurl.com/CollegeCasino .

- red check  click here for a summary of our major reasons for opposing the Schenectady Casino -

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