Saturday, March 29, 2008

'Lost' Chamber, Lost Jobs

It was disappointing this past week to learn that Standard Chartered Bank would not be bringing 300 jobs to Utica.
Utica's offer was compelling, Chief Operating Officer Matthew Millett stated in a March 21 letter to Roefaro. But, Standard Chartered could not risk losing more than 90 percent of its employees had it moved operations to Utica, he stated.
The question that must be asked is why would more than 90 percent of its employees choose Newark, New Jersey, over Utica, New York as a place to live?

While those who have never lived outside of Utica might say, "Who would want to come to Utica," those of us who have lived out of the area know better. If you have a good job and do not have to worry about supporting yourself, there are few better places to live and raise a family. Why don't outsiders know that Utica is a good place to call home?

"Not From Utica" had something to say about this on the OD Forum that is worth reading.
Imagine that you are an employee given the option of moving to Utica or Newark.

The first thing you do is check the chamber of commerce websites. Newark's gives you a wonderful description of their city and so forth. Utica's chamber website doesn't exist and you are forwarded to the Mohawk Valley Chamber website. This website has no description of the city and most of the content is simply links to offsite webpages. The content about Utica is just plain lacking, with not even a link to the city's website (or at least I couldn't find one).

Why, indeed? Chambers of commerce are supposed to be a community's number 1 booster, but Utica's chamber refuses to even bear its community's name.


Mayor Hanna 30 years ago called it the "Chamber of No Commerce" and that description applies to this day. I've blogged about this in the past, and will merely refer to past posts if anyone is interested (scroll below this post on the new page).

The Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce is a disgrace and an insult to its home community. It must accept significant responsibility for Utica's decline.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Brownfields Redevelpment: Reflecting the Downstate Perspective

Given the changes in the State Legislature since reapportionment of the Senate in the 1960s, policies have been made which reflect the Downstate perspective. This perspective has led to Upstate's decline while Downstate prospers.

An example is the Brownfields' law which is the subject of a Times Union editorial today. The law was intended to encourage clean-up and redevelopment of contaminated sites (brownfields) throughout the state. A billion dollars in state tax credits has been piled up through this program, but almost all of it for down state projects.
It's easy to see why. The program all but invites developers to build in expensive areas, while spending the least amount of money on cleaning up brownfield sites and as much as possible on the projects themselves. . . .

For example, if a developer spends, say, $1 million to clean up a brownfield site and then builds a $300 million office tower on it, the tax credit is based on $301 million. Thus, the less spent on cleanup, the more tax credit available for the project itself.
As the editorial points out, most of the redevelopment has occurred in Manhattan where land is in demand, land prices are high, and redevelopment would have occurred anyway.
Upstate? Who would pay to clean up, say, Utica's Harbor Point for redevelopment, when "greenfields" (virgin land) is just a "stone's throw" away in New Hartford up taxpayer-financed State Route 840 where County and Town governments are tripping over each other offering subsidies of their own?

A remake of the Brownfields law is in the works, but it looks like it is designed more to save the state treasury than encourage reuse of Upstate's brownfields. Of course ! That Downstate perspective creates a blind spot.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sewer Incompetency and Irresponsibility

There was a rather annoying editorial in today's Observer-Dispatch: State, federal help needed to fix sewers. It reflects the attitudes of the people running government in Oneida County -- and tells us why we are at the bottom of the country, economically:

Our leaders are incompetent and irresponsible:
  • Incompetent because they created the situation complained of.
  • Irresponsible because they demand that the state and federal governments pay to fix the mess that they created.

My "Consent Order Primer" series explains the sewer system and what went wrong:
Part 1: Plumbing Part 2: Legalizing Pollution Part 3: Laws Working Together Part 4: Dissecting What Happened.

Our local officials at the County and Town levels need to be held accountable for what happened ... County legislators from the City of Utica and nearby Villages are perfectly positioned to do this, because their constituents are paying to fix a Town-created problem from which they derive no benefit.

We deserve better government.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Utica Needs a Vision . . . But Not This One . . .

Per WKTV, the state has decided to put the arterial OVER Court Street and then have some grade level crossings. According to Mr. Zywiak of the State DOT:
"I think we have an opportunity with the Brewery District," Zywiak said. "What's happening at Munson Williams, the Stanley, to try and facilitate easier access to all these major developments that the city is trying to progress."
I think the only thing the State is listening to are the "movers and shakers" in New Hartford who want "easier access" to what they like in Utica, but who could care less about the City of Utica.

As I blogged a year ago . . .
"Here are pictures of Court Street taken today, and how it might look with an overpass added.

court st now court st 2012

This will, for sure, reduce the redevelopment potential of this part of West Utica, if not eliminate it altogether.
As I indicated last year, the State has not been entirely upfront with the public on these plans. I'm sure that many suspected that an overpass (with no depressed highway) was the plan all along, and all the public meetings were just for show. This blogger e-mailed those involved with the decision making and did not even receive the courtesy of an acknowledgment (just to show that they were never serious about public input).

West Utica is already having a problem rehabilitating itself . . . cutting off more streets and creating an eyesore will be the final nail in the coffin.

The State could care less about Utica . . . the only thing it is interested in is fixing things ON THE CHEAP. Are you aware of the State's Hazardous Waste Landfill located within view of Downtown Utica? I hope to blog about that in coming weeks. It was something that literally took place under the noses of city officials . . . but you did not hear about it. These are examples of the State creating roadblocks to Utica's rehabilitation . . . and Utica officials being oblivious to what is happening under their noses. An overpass is a 20th century idea that other cities are abandoning.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Utica Needs a Vision . . .

I've complained in the past about misguided (or worse) policies of Oneida County and certain Towns that have created in the Greater Utica area one of the worst cases of urban sprawl in the state. While the citizens within the City of Utica are paying a disproportionate share of the cost of all of this, the City of Utica itself is not blameless.

Utica was the "hub" of the area and, according to O-D surveys months ago, a majority of residents still want Utica to be the "hub." Indeed, the desire and need for a central "hub" will increase with every dollar per gallon that the price of gas increases. But has Utica done all that it could do to maintain its position as a hub?

At one time, Utica was "filled up" or "land locked" with little room for development, owing to its small 16 square mile size. However, take a walk in virtually any section of town, and you see huge gaping "holes" -- vacant lots -- or dilapidated buildings that should become lots. What is to become of these spaces?

With the infusion of federal funds, some homes were rehabilitated, and some new ones were built. The old Washington School site on Oswego Street in west Utica sports some lovely new homes -- BUT THEY LOOK OUT OF PLACE. It's not that the styles of the houses are that unusual. It's not their colors. It's not even the fact that they are new. It took a while for me to figure out why these nice homes stuck out like a sore thumb: It is their setbacks and spacing. What seems to have happened is that the setbacks and spacings required for new developments appear to have been applied to this older neighborhood -- making the half-block site look entirely different from the area around it. In the end, the effect detracts from the niceness of the new homes, and somehow makes the older homes nearby look less attractive. There was no vision for how the new development would fit its surroundings.

An older example of discordant development is the now-vacant mirrored cube sitting on Rutger Park. I guess the idea was that if the older homes were reflected in the glass, somehow the newer building would blend in . . . but it didn't.

Downtown now has many opportunities for redevelopment . . . especially the old Washington Courts site. I believe about a year ago an industrial facility was considering locating in the area, but the owner changed his mind. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Somehow a factory facility just does not seem to go with an area that is within walking distance from the Aud and Genesee Street. (That probably would have been a nice location for "The Hartford" -- especially with other insurance companies near by -- but we all know where that went.)

No one wants to invest in a particular spot without having some idea of what the neighbors in the future may be like. Planning, zoning, and some minimum design requirements that are harmonious with existing structures can help. Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo has gone through a resurgence with design standards.

Aside from the architecture of some of its older buildings, Utica's layout of streets is a strong design element that needs to be drawn upon. How many other cities have a downtown boulevard as grand as Genesee, cutting boldly diagonally across the street grid? Let's hope that the County does not turn Park Avenue -- which is another street with potential -- into a parking lot .

Utica has a lot of potential, but it needs to come up with a vision for how it wants redevelopment to occur. The citizens need to be a part of developing the vision.

Let the process begin.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


As some people predicted, Marcy-South is now being touted as a less costly, less impactive alternative to the original power line route proposed by NYRI.

A couple other related stories this week:
NYers get $hocked -- a story about NYC ConEd's bills being 63% higher than Upstate's . . .
and Once a Defender of Indian Point, the State Pushes to Close It.

So let's see what this adds up to . . . Downstaters don't want the risk of Nuclear power in their back yard and have already prevented one new nuke plant from opening. (They also want to close coal burning plants and also don't want a liquified natural gas terminal). They pay higher costs than Upstaters (and apparently don't see a connection between higher costs and fewer plants). Now they want to close the one major Downstate nuke plant left ... which will create a power shortage. Will their power costs go up or down?

What is the solution? . . . Why, stick all the impacts of power generation and transmission Upstate, of course. "No one" lives there. . . . at least that is what they seem to be saying.

What does Upstate get out of this? Nada . . .Actually less than Nada because our power costs, which are already much higher than our competitors for jobs such as Ohio or PA (in spite of Upstate's abundance of hydropower facilities), will go even higher. The fact that our current power costs are so high (even with hydropower) is likely the result of policies controlled by . . . Downstaters.

At some point, Upstaters are going to react to Downstaters constantly shoving these things down our throats . . . and it won't be pretty.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Saturday - On Genny

Between Oneida Square and Columbia St. on Genesee, Saturday 3/15/08 starting 10AM:
The Utica St. Patrick's Day Parade!

and More Flags All Hail St. Patrick More PipersNo One's Gonna Mess with Him
Schultz and Dooley -- of course!PipersThe Shriners were thereFlagsStill More Pipers

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is This Really What You Want?

An interesting guest editorial appears in today's Observer-Dispatch: Whitestown farm sacrificed for sake of development. It is the personal story of Michele Roberts, one of the owners of the Hearts Hill Farm, and describes how their farm was cut in two by Route 840, is being despoiled by runoff from fill placed on neighboring properties, and how she and her husband received a deaf ear from Town officials. Apparently, "development" is king . . . and Whitestown will soon be going the way of New Hartford.

Does it make sense from the perspective of Greater Utica to be sticking commercial development on Route 840 on the edge of the population center? Isn't the mixed landscape that we (used to) have, with development concentrated in Utica and the neighboring villages surrounded by farmland, what made this place "home?"

We need to start thinking about what we are giving up when we allow our government to encourage "development" of green fields. . . .and whether or not our arrangement of local governments may have played a role in the destruction of our environment.

For more on the Roberts' situation, with pictures, see Unadilla Ramblings : Hearts Hill Farm Part One and Hearts Hill Farm Part Two.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Open Government . . .

Thanks to the O-D for making Open Government an issue and bringing Robert Freeman to the area to raise our consciousness.
In the end, however, Robert Freeman said what matters most in holding government leaders accountable is choices made by individual citizens.

“More important than judicial opinion is the court of public opinion,” said Freeman

Monday, March 10, 2008

Humerous Hinckley Hints ...

Yesterday the Observer-Dispatch editors made two suggestions regarding the Hinckley Reservoir situation:

(1) Create a local review panel for Hinckley and
(2) Move the Destito bill ahead (as opposed to the Butler bill).

Regarding the review panel, the editors suggest creating
a two-county monitoring body that includes elected officials, business people and neighbors of Hinckley, West Canada, Lake Delta and other relevant areas. Each county would be responsible for naming two governmental, two business and two citizen representatives to this panel. The counties should also fund a certain level of legal assistance and a certain level of clerical assistance — by shifting existing positions, not creating new ones.

The group would be charged with producing an annual report on water-related issues, similar in structure and operation to the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board that works to insure that the interests of the people of the Adirondack Park and their local governments are protected.
Wow! We already have the MVWA, Canal Corp., DEC, State Health Department, SEMO, Oneida and Herkimer Counties, etc., involved, but the OD thinks another entity is needed. Although the OD says not to create new positions, just how does setting up a separate entity with a new responsibility of producing annual reports not require additional positions? The OD seems to assume that government employees are sitting around with time on their hands . . . If that is the case, maybe they need to be riffed rather than given a justification for their jobs. MVWA is a prime example of how creating a new entity multiples positions. Positions had to be added because when MVWA's functions were separated from the City of Utica, they could no longer share key personnel. Separate engineering, legal, and financial people were required. An employee can only have one boss ("Personnel 101") . And what good does hiring lawyers do here? Which interests would be represented? The ones who squawk the loudest? The ones tied into the "clique" running things?

Creating another governmental entity will not stop lawbreaking
. It will only provide someone else to point to when something goes wrong.

Both the Destito and Butler bills call for studies of the Hinckley situation. Mr. Butler wants an appropriation of $250,000 for an "independent" study, while Mrs. Destito "thinks a thorough study on water use can be done by the state agencies without spending money." The OD, ever the watchdog of the state's purse, agrees with Ms. Destito.

Mrs. Destito's and the O-D's reasoning are faulty on three points: (1) They presume without a shred of evidence that state employees don't already have enough work to do, or that the work they already do is unimportant and can be put aside. This study will cost taxpayer money no matter who does it. (2) They ignore the fact that the state agencies were key players in last summer's fiasco. They will likely try to minimize their role in creating the problem. (3) Mrs. Destito's proposal is not really that different from what we have now with the Hinckley Working Group - - which is composed of state agencies.

So, if the O-D was in charge, we would have more government, and we would have agencies policing themselves.

They must be kidding . . . .

Sunday, March 09, 2008


$1,204,594! That is what Greater Uticans raised yesterday to battle heart disease in this year's "America's Greatest" Heart Run and Walk . . .


This feat was all the more amazing when you consider that we had some of the worst weather of the year yesterday, with cold temperatures and heavy downpours . . .

This is an example of what makes this truly a great place to be . . . THE PEOPLE!

The OD has the story in pictures, here.

Congratulations to all involved.

Paying to Plunder: Prostitution New Hartford Style

Last night the rains came, and again last night, per New Hartford Online Blog, residents of Royal Brook Lane in the New Hartford portion of New York Mills found the waters of Mudd Creek practically lapping at their back door steps. In an earlier post on the same subject, it was stated that the residents'
"main concern was the flooding they have been experiencing for some time now...they seem to recollect that it has been since Consumer Square was built."
Coincidentally yesterday's Observer-Dispatch reported on a meeting on New Hartford's development that was attended by over 100 residents. Many were not happy with what they have been seeing. Some called for development to be halted while present problems are corrected.

Interestingly, a "Generic Environmental Impact Statement" for the southern portion of the town was discussed, which included the payment of fees to mitigate the costs of environmental impacts. . . impacts such as causing storm water runoff to neighboring properties.
Town Planner Kurt Schwenzfeier said, “Developers will have a choice … either correct the impact or pay fees.”
Why give developers a choice?

What seems to be happening is that rather than make developers correct their impacts, the Town collects fees . . . and then willingly accepts the liability for the impacts when their true extent becomes known. Of course, this cost gets picked up by the taxpayers.

Oh, the Town will not admit that it is accepting liability (at least for some developers), but isn't this what happened when it floated a second bond for storm water improvements, rather than going after the persons who caused the problems? Since spending for storm water improvements cannot be discussed without identifying where the runoff problems are coming from (which would implicate particular developers), it should now be quite clear why the meetings of the Storm Water Group have been closed to the public by Town Board edict: Certain developers are being sheltered.

How has the Town used its Fees In Lieu of Mitigation? On 8/8/07 it authorized $80-90 thousand to rectify a sanitary sewer emergency problem on Commercial Drive. On 7/11/07 it authorized about $4200 to be paid to Shumaker Engineering to analyze a Woods Highway-Judd Rd intersection; $30,000 to be paid to peter j smith and associates to review an existing study of Commercial Drive, and another $30,000 to the same consultant to review an existing study of the New Hartford St. area. On 4/19/06 it authorized $26,000 to be paid to Clark Patterson to look at the impact of connecting COR Development and Middle Settlement Road at New Hartford Business Park to Woods Highway. On 3/15/06, it authorized $2500 be paid Shumaker to begin a "green belt corridor study" downstream of Presbyterian Home/Seneca Tpk. On 9/7/05 it authorized $2700 be paid to Shumaker to study Woods Road. On 2/5/03 it was proposed to use FILM to equip a traffic light to change in response to fire department apparatus.

It seems that the Fees In Lieu of Mitigation have not been used to mitigate environmental impacts associated with particular developments. Rather, they have been used as a "slush fund" to address an emergency (with no apparent connection to development), review old studies, and pave the way for MORE development.

So the Town Board pimps ever more development, taking money from the developers and allowing them to plunder the Town's environment for whatever they can get out of it -- leaving the Town residents and the taxpayers to live with the aftermath.

It is small comfort to the person with the flooded back yard that the Town has a "Fees In Lieu of Mitigation" account with money in it.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Keep the Ball Rolling . . .

A couple good stories in today's paper . . . the issue with the Mohawk Valley Irish Cultural Center in Utica has been quickly resolved. . . and a London-based bank is considering locating offices in the Harza building downtown.

Utica needs to be a "center" again, and both of these projects, if they come to fruition, will contribute.

While the County Executive's State of the County address reveals more of the same old "build it and they will come" mentality that has given this region one of the worst cases of sprawl in the state (and, as a consequence, made things very expensive for everyone to maintain) there is even some hope there. There is a recognition that our downtowns need attention. And also a recognition that there needs to be some consolidation in services (the 911 call center).

Hopefully our leaders are starting to realize that our cities and villages are the organizational structures that need to be encouraged because they represent concentrations of activities that will allow municipal services to be efficiently delivered.

Keep the ball rolling . . .

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Done Deal . . . Backtrack Sends Wrong Message

According to today's OD, the plans for an Irish Cultural Center in Utica's Brewery District have hit a snag:
Mayor David Roefaro said he supports the project. The city is working to figure out some “finer details” to protect the city’s interests, which could take about two months, he said.
Sickening B.S.
Urban Renewal Agency attorney Joseph H. Hobika Sr. said his agency has since determined its procedure for a land sale was not followed. Now, the agency’s board is requesting the return of the title, he said.
(Could some people be trying to trip up the current administration?)

The Common Council authorized the sale of a city-owned parcel to the project sponsors; the sponsors already paid for the property; and the deed was already given to the sponsors.

What the City is trying to do is akin to the person who sold you your home coming back a couple months later and wanting to renegotiate the deal. But the deal is done. The City could make the sponsors want to renegotiate by withholding building permits, but that would be an abuse of power and result in expensive lawsuits for both sides which the City would have to lose because the property was sold without condition.

While the project sponsors threaten to take their project to Rome, everyone deep down inside knows that the project will never be a success any place else but in West Utica. That is where it should be.

I don't know what Mayor Roefaro is trying to accomplish, but at this point it is NOT protecting the interests of the citizens of Utica. It sends the wrong message, telling people that they cannot do business with the City of Utica without someone coming back after a deal is done and asking for more . . .

Is Mayor Roefaro trying to take Utica back to the '50s . . . when palms had to be greased to get things done? Let's not go there. People in Utica don't want to go back to that.

A deal is a deal and that should be the end of it. If the Mayor really cares about Utica's image he would confirm the deal and tell the urban renewal agency to take a hike.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

OK -- But Not in *MY* Backyard . . .

The impression that one gets from reading today's editorial and an accompanying article is that the Observer-Dispatch is cozying up to the idea that NYRI could be a good thing for us . . . as long as it follows that Thruway Corridor.

The O-D argues that the Thruway is the "best" option because:
* It would run along a corridor that is already there.
* It would create less disruption to area neighborhoods.
* It would be more likely to avoid the Marcy Nanotech site, which has been touted as an economic key to the Mohawk Valley’s economic future.
The obvious questions that the OD's 3 arguments should raise are: (1) Isn't the railroad right-of-way that NYRI proposes to use also a "corridor that is already there?" (2) What "area neighborhoods" would a Thruway route disrupt? and (3) Why is a Thruway route less likely to disrupt the Nanotech site than the alternative routes already on the table? The arguments are "B.S."

What about North Utica, Herkimer, Ft. Plain, Canajoharie, Fultonville, Schenectady, and Albany (for example) ? Don't these Mohawk Valley neighborhoods count?
"NYRI has taken a step toward compromise by proposing to run part of the line underground in key areas, including parts of South Utica and New Hartford. That’s not acceptable because it still ravages our region’s rural communities."
What a crock! The O-D editors and our local illuminati either have never driven down the Thruway through the Mohawk Valley (which they like to "call home"), or they care no more about "our region's rural communities" than they do about North Utica .

The view to the left is from the Schoharie Crossing boat launch picnic area. The Auriesville Shrine is on the hill in the distance, and the Thruway is the road running across the middle of the picture. NYRI indicates that it cannot put more than a few miles of the line underground, so imagine 14 story towers following the Thruway. Thousands of people pass through this corridor every day, one of the most scenic parts of the Thruway. What does this do for tourism?

2006-0419-5448-1Here is another shot taken from the Shrine looking toward Ft. Hunter. The Thruway is between the bicyclist and the river, obscured by the crest of the hill. The entire viewshed behind the cyclist will be obliterated by towers if the line is put down the Thruway.

What should be apparent is the willingness of our local elite to throw this region, its people, and its neighbors under the bus ... as long as the "key areas" of South Utica and New Hartford -- as long as "they" -- are unsullied.

Thank you so much for this editorial. It shows your true colors.