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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Missed Opportunities?

We were copied on an email sent by Frank Montecalvo to the Utica Common Council regarding the North - South Arterial fiasco. Mr. Montecalvo wrote:
Dear Common Council Members:

It is my understanding that you have re-passed the legislation that had been previously vetoed by Mayor Roefaro with the following additional paragraph:

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Common Council hereby reinstates the original Master Plan Steering Committee's Infrastructure & Waterfront Development sub-committee for the sole purpose of meeting with the NYSDOT to establish a long term plan for the North – South Arterial and to present it's finding to the Common Council no later than January 31, 2012 ...”

Please be advised that as Chairman of the Infrastructure and Waterfront Development Subcommittee (1) I was never, at anytime, consulted and asked my opinion on this proposal by either Mr. Zecca or any other Council Member and (2) that I did not receive a copy of this resolution and was unaware of its exact wording until after the Privilege of the Floor at last night's Council Meeting. Apparently, this resolution had been circulated among Council Members before the vote on overriding the Mayor's veto because it was cited as a reason for some council members to vote to not override. I do not understand why this resolution could not have been e-mailed to my subcommittee members and myself in advance.

Common courtesy should have moved the Council to first inquire of the Infrastructure and Waterfront Development Subcommittee members whether or not we are even available to take on this task.

As I pointed out to you in January, the Utica Master Plan is a fundamentally flawed document. Relative to the Arterial project, it contains no specific vision for the West Utica neighborhood and no discussion of the causes and consequences of sprawl. I requested that you return the Plan to the Steering Committee to fix these flaws. You chose to take no action on my request.

A few weeks later with other members of my subcommittee, we discussed with your economic development committee the Infrastructure Subcommittee's recommendations. I pointed out to you that the Subcommittee made several recommendations, including a Boulevard for the North-South Arterial and several street-connection proposals, that for some reason never appeared in the final draft of the Master Plan. I expressed to you my frustration that our recommendations seemed to be resisted by City Hall. You took no interest in this information, and you requested no changes relative to the Arterial or related street-connection projects.

As I noted at last night's Common Council meeting, under the law you are given a 60-day period after the State's plans are submitted to you to take action on the Arterial project, otherwise the State's plans are deemed approved. I do not know if this period has run yet or not. That is your responsibility to determine, not mine. If the time for response has passed, which official or officials dropped the ball? The Public has a right to know. Additionally you have already been told that Federal approval of this project is expected before the end of this year. Who are you trying to fool with a January 31 deadline?

You had the opportunity to issue a resolution asking the Governor to halt the current project and consider a boulevard-type of project as a substitute. Instead of taking a stand on the issue at hand, you chose to address “Phase 2” -- something that is years away and not currently an issue. It was my understanding, apparently mistaken, that last night you were going to reconsider Mr. Zecca's original resolution to halt Phase 1. Based on the news this morning, this was not done.

Instead, you have chosen to avoid taking a stand on the Arterial project's “wall,” street closures, property takings, and the consequences that will flow, by telling a group of volunteers to meet with the NYSDOT. You are all elected and paid to set policy for Utica – We are not. The Infrastructure and Waterfront Development Subcommittee has already met with NYSDOT and made its recommendations regarding the Arterial and street-connections, which were rejected by you and others at City Hall. Further meetings by us with NYSDOT, at this juncture, would be pointless.

The Infrastructure and Waterfront Development Subcommittee has already done its job.

When are you going to do yours?

Respectfully submitted,

Frank Montecalvo

Chairman, Infrastructure and Waterfront Development Subcommittee

Shortly after we received Mr. Montecalvo's email, Council Member Ed Bucciero copied us on an email he sent to Brian Thomas, City of Utica Director of Urban Planning. In that email, Mr. Bucciero stated that he had confirmed Mr. Montecalvo's belief that the Council had a 60-day period after the State's plans are received to take action on the Arterial project before the State's plans are deemed approved. Additionally, Mr. Bucciero's email requested that Mr. Thomas provide a copy of the dated NYSDOT’s official Arterial project submission correspondence to the City to determine if the 60-day period has lapsed.

What more can we say that Mr. Montecalvo hasn't already said except to reiterate...when does the Utica Council plan on doing their job?


Anonymous said...

Bucciero is a total bum that has rubber stamped the administration. He's just being difficult and doesn't support those opposed to the plan. He supports the DOT's plan as it stands, and he never attended any of the meetings over the years. Councilman Zecca is the ONLY one that has been fighting this from day one. Yet Frank keeps giving him a hard time. Not cool and not productive.

Frank Montecalvo said...

Anonymous - Please read the letter again. It is NOT an attack on Mr. Zecca but, instead, a reality check.

The *active members* (several did not participate in meetings) of the Infrastructure Subcommittee already fought a skirmish and two battles advocating for a Boulevard replacement for the Arterial as well as other street connections intended to heal the harm caused to West Utica by arterialization. WE LOST -- TO CITY HALL!!

The skirmish was a cordial meeting with the DOT. Our concerns were aired, but it was pretty clear that no substantial changes would be made to the state's plans.

The Battles were over getting a Boulevard replacement for the N-S Arterial actually INTO the Master Plan. Under environmental laws the State DOT would have to give consideration to a community's duly enacted plans.

The first Battle was lost in the master plan's drafting stage to the City Administration and its paid consultants. What was actually written into the plan was determined by the Planning Dept. and the consultants. The Subcommittee recommended that a "Boulevard" replace the arterial, but when the master plan draft came out in print, the Boulevard was omitted. In spite of several letters protesting the change, the "Boulevard" was kept out of subsequent drafts.

The second Battle was lost to the Common Council when the Master Plan came up for approval. By then, the plan's recommendation for the NS Arterial had been watered down to asking the State to employ "context sensitive solutions" when it redesigned the arterial. It was pointed out to the Council's ED committee (which had the authority to direct changes to the Master Plan Draft) that the language was vague, and that a Boulevard had been recommended but got left out. No changes were directed to the arterial language. Amazingly Mr. Zecca was the strongest PROPONENT for passing the Master Plan as is, in spite of its vague language on the Arterial.

On the night of the Council's vote, I pointed out that the NYSDOT almost verbatim cited the Draft Master Plan's vague language to establish that the State's Plan was what the City wanted! If ever there was a time to get a Boulevard written into city policy, that was the opportunity to do it because both the Mayor and the Council desperately wanted the Master Plan passed. Instead of asking for a language change, Mr. Zecca pressed on, intent on passing the Master Plan in spite of knowing that its language was used to support the State's position.

What should the Boulevard advocates on the Infrastructure Subcommittee be expected to do after that fiasco?

There is absolutely NO WAY to get the State to agree to a Boulevard when Utica itself refuses to ask for it.

Anonymous said...

Frank, help me out because I'm confused...what exactly is it that you want? It sounds like you now have abandoned your support for the Boulevard alternative "as originally proposed" due to the excessive property acquisitions based on your blog post when you wrote "I agree, as suggested by the official's comments, that the Boulevard alternative as originally proposed contains unacceptable levels of taking of private properties... Utica needs to preserve its tax base and needs to preserve places where businesses can set up shop." . Yet, you cite several instances where you advocated to get the Boulevard alternative written into the Master Plan. Which is it? Are you saying there is some type of modified Boulevard that won't take as much property? If so, what is it? The depressed highway is simply not feasible.

Frank Montecalvo said...

The Boulevard alternative as designed by the state contained excessive property takings . . . But that alternative contained the essential requirements of maintaining street connections both across the state highway and to the state highway that the neighborhood and City need.

That option should have been the starting point in the final design, subject to finding ways to minimize the loss of taxable properties and businesses. I think property losses can be cut significantly or maybe entirely because the state's blvd design contained a lot of unused space. There are already small, little known roadways that parallel the arterial that can be incorporated into the design and can perform part of the functions of a multiway boulevard. There are also other possibilities. Check out Mr. Ossowski's video that is posted on Fault Lines. There is already a highway in New Hartford that can serve as a model for this stretch of the arterial.