Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eating Across That Getaway Region . . .

Oneida County has unveiled a very slick new website promoting itself as "the Getaway Region" ... and really, when you think about it, it is.

The area might not have the "biggest" or "best" . . . superlatives do not apply . . . but we seem to have a bit of everything: mountains, lakes, plenty of outdoor sports, important historical sites, museums, a world-class casino with golf and entertainment, and a world of different restaurants.  And everything is within a short drive.

As noted on Utica Daily News last week, a Rochester newspaper recently did a very complimentary -- and mouth-watering -- article on Utica ethnic cuisine which featured some restaurants I was unfamiliar with, Amy's Grocery and Ruznic Market.

Neither Amy's, nor Ruznic, are listed on the "Getaway" website. . ..

And what good meal does not deserve a "desert beyond the ordinary" to finish . . . like you can get at Cafe Caruso (mentioned in the article but not listed on the website), Cafe Florentine (the classic Utica location is not listed) ... and, of course,   "Deserts Beyond the Ordinary" on Bank Place, Utica (not listed).

Utica has some foodie gems that seem to have escaped the Getaway website. . . . gems that some people feel are worth traveling a couple hours to reach.

The website is off to a great start. . . . but it needs a bit more work in the food department ... Classification of the different cuisines would help people find what they are looking for. . . Perhaps another section could be added on where to buy (not necessarily dine on) unusual foods . . .

. . . and maybe a bit more digging to unearth the unusual in our own backyard.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Utica Grew . . .

Although last week the OD reported a Census update: Rare population increase for Oneida County, it left us in the dark about the City of Utica's population estimate for 2009. Readers would assume that city estimates were not issued, however papers all around the state have been reporting their city estimates.

The estimates are here: 

Utica grew . . . by 70 people . . . from 57,970 in 2008 to 58,040 in 2009.

It could be a blip . . . or the start of a turn around.

Regardless, Utica fared better than Syracuse (down 69 to 138,560), Rochester (down 54 to 207,294), Binghamton (down 106 to 44,401), Niagara Falls (down 21 to 51,295) and Buffalo (down 980 to 270,240).

You gotta wonder why the OD never reported this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is Fair is a Matter of Perspective . . .

OD: New Hartford may handle own sewer repairs 

Town Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski may not sign on to Oneida County’s plan to fix the area’s $158 million sewer problem.
Instead, he said he is looking into whether New Hartford should do its own repairs — estimated by the county to cost about $26 million — because he fears sewer users there would pay more than their fair share if the town works with the county. . .
In January, county sewer officials asked that sewer users along the line pay a $1.05 surcharge per 1,000 gallons of water used in 2010, in addition to their regular bill to start covering the repair costs.
The town of New Hartford was the only municipality not to sign on to the plan. Instead, the Town Board opted to pay the equivalent amount of about $500,000 out of a town sewer account.
Yet Tyksinski said the repairs scheduled for this year amount to between $200,000 and $300,000.
“What about the extra $250,000 to $300,000 we have contributed?” he said. “They couldn’t give me an answer. They said the rates would be adjusted. When? They couldn’t tell me.”
Devan defended his plan and said in the end, all the municipalities would pay for their own repairs.

Mr. Tyksinski is doing the absolute correct thing for the residents of New Hartford, although from a Regional perspective, New Hartford should be on the hook for paying for *more* than repairing its own sewers. The illegal sewer connections that brought about the Consent Order made possible New Hartford's vast development. But because of these connections, residents of OTHER jurisdictions which did not create the problems (such as area Villages and Utica) are now forced to pay for repairs to their systems, or to the overall County system, that otherwise they might not have had to make.

The county could not give Tyksinski an answer about the extra 250-300K because the County has no answer. It is groping along with an implied goal of being fair to all municipalities, but with no idea of how to achieve it.

The cause of the County's dilemma is the manner in which the sewer system was organized from the beginning: as a part-county district overlaying many municipalities.

Supplying sewer services to Utica and area villages should be economical because of their greater population densities. In contrast, residents in unincorporated places in the Towns, because they are at greater distances from the population center and are often spread further apart due to larger lots, need more pipes to be connected. Those residents should be paying more in sewer fees to reflect the greater infrastructure needed to supply services to them. However, because everyone has been paying the same rates, residents in the city and villages, in effect, have been subsidizing services to the Towns -- and subsidizing Town growth. Since the town's growth in tax base does not result in money flowing back to the city and villages, the system is 'rigged' to promote more growth in outlying areas, expansion of infrastructure beyond what the regional population can sustain, and, ultimately, higher expenses for everyone.

Only a wholesale reorganization of local government can fix the inequalities. Until that happens, municipal officials need to do what is best for their own residents.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nano Nonsense from EDGE . . .

Nanotech project still waiting on wetlands permit

It appears that development of the Marcy "Nanocenter" site is now being coordinated with development of "related facilities at SUNYIT."  From the article, it appears that SUNYIT will lease their land ...
... to a new nonprofit, Fort Schuyler Management Corp., which will sub-lease the land to EDGE. 
EDGE, an economic development group, then would market the site and oversee initial site work, facility design and construction. In addition, EDGE would pay $4.2 million to the nonprofit to support the SUNYIT mission.

It always seems to be wheels within wheels within wheels whenever EDGE is concerned! 

And just where is the $4.2 million being paid to SUNYIT coming from?

However, one piece of the puzzle is still in limbo — a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mohawk Valley EDGE spokeswoman Mary Rizzo said.
[Here, we could turn this into a sidebar discussion over creeping Federalism.  Federal jurisdiction to regulate wet spots that are not connected to streams carrying interstate commerce is really questionable.   But with the Feds taking over virtually every aspect of our lives, this is probably not the time to attempt to challenge it.  Let's face it, area residents are already paying for enough legal problems (sewer consent order, MVWA lawsuits) that could have been avoided had our local government leaders known what they were doing.]   
A draft permit from the Army Corps said the final permit would only be issued when there was an end user in sight, Rizzo said.
“To us that is unacceptable,” she said.
Instead, EDGE wants the permit now to be able to attract an end user, Rizzo said.
EDGE blew the AMD Chip Fab for the Marcy "Nanocenter" site because it shelved its Army Corps permit application back in 2002 -- even in the face of warnings that doing so was a mistake. Unless EDGE deliberately scuttled its 2002 application to enable local Republican leaders to curry favor with Joe Bruno, EDGE obviously did not know what it was doing then    What is the evidence that EDGE knows what it is doing now?

Frankly, if I was the Army Corps I probably would not issue a final permit either.  With the "wheels within wheels" approach, just whom would the Army Corps hold accountable to ensure that all permit conditions are complied with?  SUNYIT? EDGE? Fort Schuyler Management (with no track record, no assets, and no individual co-signers to secure performance)? An unknown developer or tenant for the site?

There are too many players involved for the Army Corps -- or we the taxpayers -- to keep track of.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Witness the Melting Pot . . . In Utica . . .

Coppa Mondiale . . . Calcio . . . World Cup . . . Soccer

All eyes turn to South Africa on TV for the soccer world championships . . .

But you could also enjoy international soccer . . . live . . . right here in Utica!

I didn't know quite what to expect when I arrived at Proctor Park in the middle of a rainy afternoon yesterday for the Redeemer Cup International Soccer Tournament.  I did not even know what the event was called at the time because I had heard about it from a family member, but could find virtually nothing in the newspaper online.

In spite of the lousy weather, there was a lot going on.  Four fields were in simultaneous action.  16 Teams were competing, each bearing the flag of a different nationality. Everyone was having a great time.  Fortunately Channel 2 was there to cover the events, so it did not go entirely unnoticed.

This is uniquely Utica, folks.  People from all over the world. . . coming together . . . having fun . . . forming bonds of friendship.  This is the melting pot at work through soccer, and is what makes this community and America great. Redeemer Church is to be congratulated for putting this event together.

More international soccer action takes place today. . .   At T.R. Proctor Park . . . Quarter Finals start at noon.

From what I saw yesterday, this event has the potential to grow into something really big.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Canning Upstate with Con-Con?

State GOP leaders want constitutional convention soon.
A new bill introduced by state Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, could lead to regular citizens having an opportunity to change the state constitution.
But it won’t get off the ground without grassroots support, local Republican legislators said.
I actually thought this was a great idea when I first heard Mr. Griffo broach it a few months back. I wouldn't mind even being one of the "regular citizens" having an opportunity to change the constitution.

But before jumping on the bandwagon . . . let's stop and think of who we may be sharing our bandwagon with . . .

People are waking up to the fact that they can no longer blindly vote for "change" without some idea of where the folks who want "change" really want to take us.

New York's Constitution worked just fine . . . up until 1964 when the US Supreme Court voided parts of it. . . . the very parts that ensured that Upstate New Yorkers would have a voice in their government.  

A "Con-Con" with representation based on Senatorial Districts as they are laid out now per US Supreme Court directive would look very different from a "Con-Con" as contemplated by the Framers of the NYS Constitution. The Framers'  Con-Con would have had Upstate and Downstate interests balanced. . . . to produce changes that would advance the interests of both regions.

That has been taken from us.

A Con-Con now would be dominated by Downstate interests whether it be Liberal Democrats from the City, or Conservative Republicans from Westchester and Long Island.  It would result in government reorganization that is appropriate for a wealthy, densely populated region . . . not a region that is a mix of vast rural areas punctuated with shrinking cities.

Before a Con-Con can fix things, we need to fix the rules under which a Con-Con would be based. . . . The Supreme Court Rulings of the 1960s need to be revisited with the evidence of the decline that their changes have wrought.

Until Upstate is given back the voice that the founders of NY State Government had intended, a Con-Con will only make a bad situation worse.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Same Old Same Old in New Hartford . . .

It's really interesting how the elites think that they do not have to obey the law ... that rules are only for other people.

A good example of this thinking is the New Hartford Public Library board.  Most of the library's operating budget comes from New Hartford taxpayers . . . but when a taxpayer wants information on what the board is doing, he gets the run around.

As it turns out, the Library Board has been acting illegally for years. . . . Members reappointing themselves to their positions rather than being appointed by the Town Board, and members not filing their oaths of office. Now that a concerned taxpayer has been legally appointed to the Library Board, he gets the cold shoulder.

Clearly, the Town has been financing a renegade board that has been acting without proper legal authority . . . but with apparent authority as far as third parties are concerned.  This is a serious issue for Town Government and the Tyksinski administration because such a board exposes the Town to liabilities.

This needs to be fixed, pronto.

The Town administration needs to send a letter to the illegal members and bar them from further participation in library management.  Office computers and records need to be seized and sequestered, and library bank accounts need to be frozen.  No further payments should be made out of the Town Budget for library purposes pending reconstitution of a legal, duly appointed, Library Board.

The law must be followed . . . by everyone.

Cathy has the full details on this situation on New Hartford Online Blog.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Oneida Square Circle . . . vs a New Oriskany Circle . . .

Oneida Square Circle - - -

A traffic circle on Oneida Square . . . Two years ago the OD hated it . . . "a waste of money, time and resources," but now it likes it.
  • It’s something fresh. Most will agree that downtown Utica needs that. And a planned park that would be built around the statue would be a nice complement to the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute campus.
  •  It would improve traffic safety. The traffic flow around Oneida Square as of today is a challenge for motorist and pedestrian alike. There are nearly a dozen traffic signals on or around the convergence of at least five streets that make New Hartford’s Consumer Square traffic pattern actually look good. A roundabout would eliminate the can of worms and establish some order from the chaos.
  • It could be good for business. As is, no turns are allowed onto Oneida Street or Park Avenue off Genesee Street, something that’s a detriment to business development along those streets. A roundabout would allow motorists to smoothly transition off Genesee onto either of those streets — from either direction — while Genesee Street traffic could continue uninterrupted. That could be a boost for businesses already situated off the square, as well as be a catalyst for additional development in that area.
So, just what was it, OD, that got you to change your mind? You never really explained what is different about the proposal now that you opposed before.

As a Rotary, Oneida Square will become a problem for pedestrians if the intent is to eliminate signals. . . . and signals seem to be the issue here. Imagine trying to drive through the circle: it will be difficult to look for a gap in traffic and look out for pedestrians at the same time. It will be an accident waiting to happen. If a problem is created for pedestrians, it will become a major hindrance to bringing businesses back to the square.

Just exactly how will someone get to enjoy the park that is going to be created, without a traffic signal to allow someone to cross to visit it?  Are we creating a space for people to gather and enjoy . . . or just look at from a quickly passing car -- one that is navigating through several entering streets and pedestrian crossings?

Places like Washington DC and Paris have traffic signals on their circles, especially where there is a park. Utica is a city, not a country town. There will be pedestrians.  Signals will be found to be necessary to protect the safety of pedestrians. And if signals eventually have to be added here, is moving the statue and reconfiguring everything really worth the effort?

And just what does this do to Genesee Street?  One of the things that makes Genesee Street so unique and a real treasure is its great width that is uninterrupted down its entire length.  This makes it the ideal regional venue for parades and celebrations.

Oneida Square as currently configured is NOT 'chaos' . . . not a 'can of worms.' Going one block out of the way to go from Genesee to Oneida, or Genesee to Park is not a significant inconvenience.  I go through this intersection every day from different directions. . . . via auto and on foot . . . It is no problem (except for that broken signal that flashes "cross" and "don't cross" at the same time -- a maintenance issue).

If the City wants a 'Fresh Look,' let it do some street scaping around the Square . . . maybe some cobblestones, period street lamps and garden beds to give the entire square a theme. Perhaps some of the establishments nearby can be encouraged to use the broad sidewalks for outdoor dining.  A more visible police presence would probably be the biggest help.

Street scaping would be a lot less expensive and a lot less disruptive than a roundabout and reconfigured streets.

A New Oriskany Circle - - -

I'm not aware of anyone proposing this so far, so I'm raising it here.  For those younger than 50, Oriskany Circle used to exist where Whitesboro, Liberty, State, and Varick Streets came together with Oriskany Blvd -- about where the N-S Arterial now passes over Oriskany Blvd.  It was a major intersection.

With the N-S Arterial, the ramps, and arterialization of Oriskany Blvd., this area has become a major headache for anyone passing that wants to go in directions other than where the arterials go.  Traveling north on State St., just try to get on Oriskany Blvd. going west.  Or try going from Whitesboro St. behind the Aud to Whitesboro and Varick Streets on the south side of Oriskany Blvd.   These movements are virtually impossible.   Aside from the businesses that were actually removed from Oriskany Circle (as well as from the tax rolls) for these arterial projects, economic activity on Whitesboro St. has withered away to virtually nothing.  Does the city seriously expect any significant development to be able to occur on the former Washington Courts site when it sits on a practically dead-ended Whitesboro St.?

It would seem that if the city really wants a traffic circle, this would be the place to do it. Street connections and driver movements would be restored, cutting many blocks off of certain trips.  Developable areas will be made accessible.  Restored street connections would make the entire neighborhood more pedestrian friendly.  It would then become possible to walk directly from the Aud to Varick Street.

The N-S Arterial could either be routed over it or under it, but if the city is interested in creating a "signature entrance" into Utica, and, perhaps creating a climate where its neighborhoods could be restored, the Arterial would end right on the circle's north side, and pick up as a boulevard on the south.  The circle would be a park, designed like Place D'Italie in Paris, or a gathering place like Dupont Circle in Washington.  Yes, there would be signals to make it both traffic and pedestrian friendly . . . but it would be made beautiful, so the stop would be pleasant. If it is necessary to reduce traffic through the circle,  then route Oriskany Blvd. beneath the park (like Connecticut Ave. goes beneath Dupont Circle in Washington).

With street connections restored, Whitesboro Street could move some of the arterial traffic to New Hartford via Champlin Ave., or via a new connection with York St. . . . or it could move some Oriskany Blvd. traffic.  Connect Champlin Ave. with Oriskany Blvd, and more alternatives will be created. There are many possibilities.

The key to this idea is that a place that once was the site of a lot of activity, but now is only good for certain traffic, could be made amenable for reuse as a vibrant part of the city.

A New Oriskany Circle is worth considering.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sink Your Teeth Into Rome . . .

Utica has Chicken Riggies, Greens, Tomato Pie and Half-Moons as semi-official standard-bearers for signature dishes. Now a woman in Rome is proposing the Chocolate Chip Cookie as Rome's signature dish.

Why Not? 

But I can think of ANOTHER item that may truly be Rome's signature food:  Turkey Joints

We may be poor in these here parts . . . but we eat very well, thank you! 

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Solutions Looking for Problems . . .

Two stories about traffic in tonight's OD . . .
To shorten Genesee St. stoplight waits, state budget must speed up
... Utica leaders are optimistic the time has finally come to untangle one of Utica drivers' greatest frustrations - the many waits at red lights incurred during a trip up or down Genesee Street.
"Greatest frustrations?" True, we all get stuck at a light now and then, but frustration? I don't think the people claiming frustration really drive down Genesee Street.  Since some of the lights have been removed and replaced with stop signs, traffic flow has been much better. A little coordination would be welcome, but Utica is a city after all, and an occasional light or two should be expected. Frustration is an overstatement.

If you want  real frustration, try getting through the lights on Commercial Drive in New Hartford . . . especially at the interchange with 840. They seem to go on forever.  Now THAT is frustrating!

Fixing Oneida Square may come in roundabout way
And the recommendation would likely be a traffic circle, or roundabout, built around the 128-year-old Soldiers and Sailors Monument, Zywiak said. A park would be built around the statue.

“It allows connections that don't exist today, and we eliminate the five signals there,” Zywiak said. “It reduces the future long-term costs, makes it pedestrian-friendly and provides for a continued flow of traffic.”
A traffic circle with no signals is pedestrian friendly? Is DOT serious?

Imagine, you are driving north on Genesee St and arrive at the brand new Oneida Sq. Circle. You are concentrating on finding an opening in the traffic within the circle to get through it because it is constantly moving. You also have to watch for pedestrians at the same time because there are no signals. It will be difficult to do both.  This will be a disaster in the making.  Someone will get killed.

This proposal will make Oneida Square pedestrian UNfriendly and detract from redevelopment that is starting near by. Ultimately signals will have to be installed.  Google Map Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, or some of the traffic circles in Paris and go to "street view."  Pedestrian crossings are controlled by signals.

Frankly, travel through Oneida Square (I go through it every day) is no big deal.  This is just an excuse to spend federal money with no real objective being accomplished. . . . unless the objective is to kill off this part of Utica.

Oneida Square "ain't broke." There is no need to "fix" it.