Monday, January 23, 2012

New Hartford Development: Urban Cancer . . .

"Cancer ... is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth.(Wikipedia)
"Urban Cancer is sprawl development, involving unregulated regional growth." (me)
"Urban cancer" immediately came to mind when I read the OD Story "Rezoning plan returns to New Hartford," where developers are asking the Town to re-designate about 250 acres to permit mixed uses including small businesses, retail, offices and restaurants. Supposedly the proposal was withdrawn and resubmitted so that it could incorporate goals from the Town's comprehensive plan. (One suspects that the recent change in the composition of the planning board might also have something to do with it.)

New Hartford Online posted on this subject as well, and listed some of the  interesting/troubling comments of the focus group that contributed to the development of the Town's Comprehensive Plan Update:
  • This becomes a mini-city if everything comes together . . . 
  • Town needs to be a leader and needs to be able to discuss issues such as the decay in the City of Utica; NH is a jewel in a rusting hulk
  • NH has shown a lot of leadership in spite of itself commercially and etc. . . .
  • NH competes with Utica for offices; businesses are moving out but NH isn’t prepared with a nice business park
Why is there competition between New Hartford and Utica? How is it possible? Does it make sense? This is where the analogy with cancer comes in.

New Hartford development in the Commercial Drive/Seneca Tpk/Route 840 area far exceeds what a town of 20,000 people needs. Rather, this vast commercial development depends upon the 60,000 people living next door in the City of Utica for its survival, for both customers and employees, and to make municipal services affordable.

This development, which is on the southwestern fringe of Greater Utica's urbanized area, would have been more sensibly placed within the City of Utica to be closer to customers/employees, and, more importantly, where the dollars it would generate could be used to maintain municipal services.  Instead, the economic activity generated by a Utica-resident population benefits New Hartford, leaving fewer dollars in Utica to maintain services and crumbling infrastructure.  The result is what a NH focus group calls "decay in the City of Utica" while "NH is a jewel in a rusting hulk."  From a regional perspective, however, the development is more appropriately described as a cancerous tumor because it is draining the life out of its host.

One market cannot spread its population and economic activity over double the area without increasing maintenance costs. Because municipal services need to be extended to cover the newly developed area, it's not hard to see why taxes/user fees in BOTH Utica and NH must go up. This makes the entire Greater Utica area non-competitive with other areas.  Like a cancer ultimately kills its host and itself, this sprawl development ultimately will kill the entire region. 

How this happened is much like what happens to people when they get old, things start breaking down, and they become prone to cancer. It takes more effort to keep an older person fit and trim than a younger one. If they get the right medicine they can keep going, but the wrong medicine will either do nothing or make things worse.

Utica was a "mature" community sixty years ago when it was filled to capacity, but was showing its age. Envious of the shining new cities that arose from war's ashes in Europe, US experts of the day recommended duplicating the process by leveling whole sections of cities (with bulldozers instead of bombs) and building anew: Urban Renewal.  At the same time, US experts recommended arterial highways as the antidote to traffic congestion, predicting that downtowns would continue to grow by making it easier to whisk people in an out.  In hindsight, both were not only the wrong medications, they combined to make the patient very sick, not only here, but in other cities as well.  Urban Renewal destroyed the "critical mass"  of activity needed to attract new investors.  Arterials destroyed the advantage of a central location in the city by making suburban greenfields on the urban fringe as accessible as downtown.   Instead of high quality construction on expensive downtown land, we have low quality construction on the fringe, and depressed values downtown. 

More bad medicine came when regionalization of water and sewer systems with uniform rates made outlying suburban locations as cheap to develop as in-city locations in spite of the greater infrastructure needed to extend the services there.  Compound this with local development policies that gave PILOTs and other tax breaks for green-field developments. Development in New Hartford is probably more the product of these occurrances than anything done by the Town itself.

 Something is very wrong with local development.  Figuring out the answer will not be easy.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same

Out with the old in 2012 ... the old Airport Commissioner, that is. Per the OD:
Oneida County Aviation Commissioner Vernon Gray is out. . .
“It’s a new term, and I made the decision to go in a different direction,” County Executive Anthony Picente said. . . .
David Wood, the chairman of the county Board of Legislators Airport Committee, said he had been informed Wednesday evening of the decision not to reappoint Gray.
“While he was there, Vernon certainly was instrumental in improving the airport,” he said. “I think there was a difference in vision between him and Tony.”
It seems like only yesterday Mr. Gray was appointed. Back then (November, 2008) I took to task some of the new commissioner's comments to the press ("New Commissioner, Old Vision") and then HE took ME to task to set the record straight!  The fact that he took time to do so in a thoughtful manner gave me reason to hope that he could turn things around.

Per the Rome Sentinel, Board Chairman Fiorini indicated that when Mr. Picente advised him of Gray's dismissal:
"He didn’t go into it," said the board chairman. "Obviously he’s got his reasons. I can’t say what went wrong... I’m not privy to that."    
If Mr. Fiorini can't say what went wrong, who can?  

Somehow I have the feeling that the County has just lost a good man.

Perhaps the reason why no one seems to be saying what went wrong is because no one really knows what went wrong.  To judge right from wrong, you need some standard for comparison. In the case of running any operation, the standard is the business plan.

In "Poised for Take Off???" 3 years ago I asked regarding Griffiss:
To the "officials:" Where's the business plan?
  • What is the need that this over-sized airport will fill?
  • What data exists and what assumptions are being made to support any conclusion that this albatross can ever be made profitable?
  • What data exists and what assumptions are being made to support any conclusion that this albatross will ever return more to the taxpayers than is being taken from them
These questions need to be asked again today.  What is the "different direction"  that the County Executive wants to move in? Does anyone really know?  Is there data to support the vision? The impression with the airport has long been that the ones wielding the power are amateurs and don't know what they are doing.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Common Sense . . . From California!

Unlike New York where the Court of Appeals has given the green light to crony capitalism in spite of the State Constitution that provides otherwise, California (of all places!) is moving in the opposite direction. Per City-Journal: Crony Capitalism Rebuked:

On December 29, the California Supreme Court handed down what the state’s urban redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and their supporters called a “worst of all worlds” ruling—first upholding a law that eliminates the agencies, then striking down a second law that would have allowed them to buy their way back into power. This was great news for critics who had spent years calling attention to the ways modern urban-renewal projects distorted city land-use decisions, abused eminent-domain policies, and diverted about 12 percent of the state budget from traditional public services to subsidies for developers, who would build tax-producing shopping centers and other projects sought by city bureaucrats. As of now, the agencies are history, though the redevelopment industry is working to craft new legislation that would resurrect them in some limited form. . . .
The article, like many on City-Journal, is a good read.

Bring the Money to US . . .

A quick little video that explains how our US tax system is killing jobs . . .

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Change of Perspective . . .

Once again, the Arterial plays into the Observer-Dispatch's Good, Bad and Ugly column:
Once again the Utica Common Council has shown its lack of good sense by attempting to undermine the state Department of Transportation’s proposed North-South Arterial project in west Utica. In a 5-4 vote, the council voted this past week to urge the DOT to consider keeping Sunset Avenue open where it intersects with the arterial.

This should not be viewed as an "Arterial project," but, rather, a "project to close Sunset Ave and Warren St at the arterial, and close Lincoln Ave. at Court St."

A change of perspective from "commuter-orientation" to "resident orientation"  is needed to understand the true damage that the State's proposal will do to the city. These changes will disrupt traffic patterns that have been established for perhaps 150 years, and will be on top of other disruptions the State has done through other rounds of arterial-making. 

Simply put, the state proposes to sacrifice the proper functioning of Utica's local street system to make it easier for people to get to and from the suburbs. 

That is wrong, and the Council is right in taking a stand that protects Utica's interests.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A New Law for a New Year?

Per the Post Standard: Proposed NY law would require documents to be made public before meetings. 

Amen to that idea!  All too often members of the public that are concerned enough to attend city or town council meetings have no idea what their representatives are discussing because proposed legislation is been distributed solely amongst the representatives.

In this day when almost any individual can publish information and make it available to the world on the web at virtually no cost, there is simply NO EXCUSE for legislative bodies to not make this material available to the public in advance of meetings by posting it on the Internet.  It is actually less time consuming and labor intensive to publish on the web than to print and physically distribute materials.

According to the article, the Governor has until today to sign this into law.  Let's hope that he does.