Albany Planning Board Chronicles: the Saga of 1211 Western concludes, more development in Park-South, and St. Catherine’s makes a move into the North End

As expected, last week’s Planning Board meeting brought out the neighborhood. Nearly every seat and the back wall were filled, with the bulk of the crowd there to oppose a large apartment building on Western Ave in the Eagle Hill neighborhood — so that’s where we’ll begin. (There’s a lot to cover, so feel free to jump to whichever project strikes your fancy.)

1211 Western Ave (GSX Ventures)

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Featured: Maryland-based GSX Ventures was back before the board with their 6-story, 136-unit apartment building on Western Ave. Initially, GSX had proposed a private dorm, similar to their other two dorms on Washington Ave. That effort faltered last year due to fierce neighborhood opposition, which elicited a rare letter to the Board from Mayor Kathy Sheehan. In response, GSX withdrew their dorm project.

This time round they have proposed an apartment building (though residents contend that it’s still aimed at students). The current concept has a mix of 1-, 2-, and 3-bedroom units, ≅151 parking spaces underneath, and a fitness center on the first floor. An existing 3-story steel and glass building (the former headquarters of the Rose & Kiernan insurance agency) would be demolished to make way.

This iteration has been before the board multiple times, most recently in January, when a vote was tabled. The attorney representing GSX, Andy Brick, opened with a presentation, addressed previous complaints, and noted that the design has been altered to allow pick up/drop off and ≅10 parking spots for the visitors and fitness facility staff.

And then it was onto public comments and the opposition was vocal. Most were Eagle Hill residents, part of an organized resistance coordinated via the neighborhood association. Many issues had been heard by the Board previously (and were covered by All Over Albany) so I’m not going to summarize all of those, but here’s a partial list to give ya the gist:

  • a belief that the apartment building (especially of this size) is not in keeping with the community’s character, which is mostly single-family homes;
  • concerns that GSX would mount the utilities on poles, which would prevent laddertruck access during a fire;
  • concerns about disturbances caused by police and fire department calls;
  • concern about placement of the transformer (Boardmember Glinessa Gaillard echoed this);
  • claims about issues with forms submitted by the developer;
  • concern that the physical fitness center would only benefit building residents;
  • that construction site pumps would push water into the combined sewer, leading to heavy loads on an already heavily laden system;
  • that construction would prohibit sidewalk access, pushing pedestrians into Western Ave, which would be dangerous for both pedestrians and drivers;
  • that construction would lead to noise and vibrations;
  • that a more in-depth historic review is needed. (This was requested by an Eagle Hill historian, who noted that a 1790 magazine was once located in the vicinity, and that its’ remnants may be beneath the parking lot. The existence of the magazine was news to me.)
  • and lastly, Tom Hoey, councilmember for the surrounding neighborhood (part of Ward 15) spoke strongly against the project.

When the commenters finished, the Board turned to GSX to respond to the question of whether utilities would be buried or pole-mounted. Brick stated the Fire Department “made it very clear to us that if the project doesn’t bury those utilities, then it will not be in compliance with the Fire Code.” Board chair Al DeSalvo then asked how GSX would accomplish placing high pressure gas lines in such a narrow area and how they might deal with a high water table.

“We need to make that work,” said Brick. “If it doesn’t work for any of those utilities or the City, then we don’t have a project.”

The opposition’s hopes were largely pinned on convincing the Board to initiate a more in-depth environmental review, known as an “Environmental Impact Study”. An EIS is a major undertaking that will delay a project — sometimes significantly — and can deter a developer from pursuing a project. In this case, however, an EIS will not be required, as the Board voted to permit GSX to move forward, much to the audible dismay of the opposition. (This project also came up at this past Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, when Councilmember Hoey claimed that the Board’s decision not to require an EIS is grounds for a court appeal, known as an Article 78 proceeding.)

The Board imposed four conditions on the project, at least two of which were in response to public input. The first was that utility lines must be buried and the second was that leases must be for a year or longer. GSX may now seek to acquire tax breaks from the City or County. DeSalvo encouraged residents to make their voices heard there as well.

The contention over this project gets at some intriguing questions about differing visions for the city’s future, and we might address some of those in a future post. But for now, suffice it to say that the city is changing more rapidly than it has in many years, and this will — and should — elicit public input.

74-86 Dana Ave. (Ron Stein and TRPS2)

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Ron Stein and TRPS2 were back with a plan for another apartment in Park-South. They were looking to duplicate the success of their recently-completed apartment building at 79-91 Dana Ave and the new complex is going to look an awful lot like the one there already.

“The Reserve at Park South 2”, as it has been branded, will be a 4-story apartment building (≅45,200sf) with 36 mixed studio and 1-bedroom apartments. It will require demo of three existing 2-story residences.

Both of the Ron Stein projects are part of a trend toward greater density in Park-South. Beginning in 2016, this neighborhood was drastically altered by a $110 million Albany Med/Tri-City Rentals development. This called for demolition of two entire city blocks. That now-complete project included the construction of multi-story, mixed-use apartment and office buildings, and a parking garage. About 268 units were built on lots that had been primarily 1- and 2-story homes.

Michael McGovern, with the Park-South Neighborhood Association, spoke in wholehearted favor of the proposal.

543 North Pearl St. (St. Catherine’s Center for Children)

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St. Catherine’s proposes to build a 3-story residence (≅21,925sf) in the North End. It will have office space, a community room, and 20 units (8 studios, and twelve 2- to 3-bedroom family apartments). It will front on North Pearl Street with a playground and a ≅10 vehicle parking lot will be behind. Vehicle access will be from Walter St.

“We have been in the City of Albany for a very long time providing services to families and children,” said a representative of St. Catherine’s. “This is another step for us to be able to provide more services and supports to young adults and to families in our neighborhoods.” (Note: By “very long time” he means 1886, when St. Catherine’s was begun — inside the Schuyler Mansion — by a group of Roman Catholic nuns.) The building will be staffed 24/7 and will have security cameras and lighting.

A handful of neighbors turned out. The first lives across North Pearl and came on behalf of neighbors that could not attend. She was concerned that the new residents would take up limited parking spots, said she had not been adequately informed, and was annoyed that her Ward 4 councilperson had not attended.

“I feel like we’ve been given minimal concern with this project, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said. “Being African-American, a lot of times we are treated less than anyone else, but we do matter. Our block matters. We matter.” Her apprehension about parking was echoed by others. (Side note: She referenced a former Hope House project to develop the lot for a drug rehab center, which I was unaware of.)

Parking worries were addressed by the St. Catherine’s representative, who said most of the occupants would be children/young adults, and those that were not would use the new on-site lot. There was also a concern about light shining from upstairs windows into nearby homes, for which the rep said shades would be installed on the windows of the adjoining wall.

The lot is currently occupied by a vacant 2-story, flat-roofed that will be demo’d. It was once an elder-care/assisted living facility at least as far back as 1993, but has been empty for more than 20 years. It is quite dilapidated. The new building will provide roughly the same square footage as the existing one (≅21,825sf vs ≅21,925sf), but on a much smaller footprint.

“Our plan is to integrate ourselves into the neighborhood, not takeover,” said a spokesperson for St. Catherine’s. “The idea […] having the community have access to our building and to the facility is something that we would welcome wholeheartedly.”

The building’s design, presented by architect Dan Sanders, attempts to make good on the idea of ‘integrating’ with the neighborhood. It does so by mimicking elements of the nearby wood-framed, two-story homes such as: a hipped roof, horizontal siding, third story shingling, and double-hung windows.

251-255 N Pearl St (Capital Repertory Theater)

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“CapRep”, as the theater company is fondly known, has a theater at 111 North Pearl, but will be moving a few blocks north to this former Nabisco factory at North Pearl and Livingston. The new theater (≅28,200sf) will seat ≅410. They were before the board for, among other things, approval of their LED signage. There will be three LED displays, one on North Pearl, one on Livingston, and a blade sign projecting from the structure’s corner (see above). These LEDs will change every 15 seconds and will be dimmed at night. The Board (minus DeSalvo, a CapRep boardmember) approved their requests.

CapRep isn’t the only investor on this block. Albany Distilling Company occupies a building just down Livingston and Death Wish Coffee plans to move in nearby. Along Broadway, developer Patrick Chiou recently finished rehabbing several old rowhouses. All this investment has triggered visions of an upper Pearl theater/arts district.

1020 Madison Ave (The College of Saint Rose)

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This is one of the many old Pine Hills homes Saint Rose has acquired over the years for converted to offices/dorms. This particular former two-story single-family residence has been used as a dorm, but the College plans to expand it into a “mixed use living/learning space for a women’s leadership program with with housing for 7 students.”

The Board wondered whether the front door would be removed, which would alter how the building interacts with the sidewalk/street. It will stay an entrance, said the College rep. The driveway will be torn up and replaced by sidewalks and, with the driveway gone, the curb cut will also be removed creating space for a new parking spot on Western. The College would like that to be restricted to handicapped only. A former garage and a small shed will also be demo’d.

The Board gave their blessing, with the caveat that space for two bikes be installed, and that one of those be covered. (This makes sense, given how many students bike between campus, their apartment/dorm, and various other neighborhood haunts.)

423 and 427 Washington Ave. (Edward Maitino)

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Proposed construction of a 3.5 story, 16-unit apartment building between Washington Ave and West St., near the First Unitarian Universalist Society building and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. It will span the lot, fronting on both Washington Ave and West St. A 2.5 story residence and two garages will be demo’d. No action taken.

Other notes

  • No action taken on 60 Academy Road, as the developer needs to submit a fully completed Environmental Assessment Form. Dan Herschberg presented. They’ll be back before the Board.
  • Redburn Development’s 39 Columbia St was on the agenda, but got pulled before the meeting. We might see them next month.
  • The modification to 6 Cuyler Street was added to the new Consent Agenda, which seems to be where minor, non-controversial items are being stacked for processing ease. (You won’t see those here, but you can find them in the weekly agenda.)
  • And, lastly… this little synopsis took way longer to write than I was expecting, but I’ll try to be a bit more brief to get the next one up a bit quicker. But there is a silver lining to getting this up so late…I can link you to The Decisions.

Would you like to contribute to Albany Notes? Maybe you’d be up for taking notes at the occasional meeting? Perhaps you’ve been mulling an urban planning or social justice question and would like to share your thoughts? Or (my favorite) regale us with some  deep Albany history? Pitch me at the contact form. I’m all ears.

A Farewell to 159 and 161 Eagle St

Until last week, two fine Italianate rowhouses bookended an unbroken Eagle Street block, diagonal from the Governor’s Mansion. They are now gone. Only rubble lies where they once stood.

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The full-size image is over at the AlbanyGroup Archive on Flickr.

The Mansion District is old, and these buildings were a testament to that history. 161 Eagle was standing on that spot by at least 1870, but may pre-date the Civil War. It had a neighbor at 159 Eagle by 1876. As a building with a storefront, 161 Eagle was not only a cornerstone of the block, it was a cornerstone of the community. Over the years it housed a number of well-known community establishments, one such was the Mansion Food Market, shown at right in 1975 when it was operated by Dominick Oppedisano.

The more recent history of these two homes is long and complex, so I’ll spare you the sad, familiar story, and only mention the highlights (or lowlights, I should say).  If nothing else, this synopsis should give you a feel for our city’s continuing struggle against absentee and apathetic landlords.

The troubles at 161 Eagle began in 2012 when a small fire broke out in the second floor kitchen, leaving the upper floor uninhabitable. The upstairs tenant vacated, followed by the downstairs tenant a few months later. The building was never reoccupied. The owner refused to repair the damaged kitchen, or to repair the developing structural issues — yet they continued to pay their taxes. The owner had lost the building to the bank by 2017. It was quickly resold, sparking hope that 161 Eagle might be rehabilitated. That hope was snuffed out when representatives of the new owner — a wealthy Long Island investor — informed the City that they would not do repairs until work on 159 was complete. That decision doomed 161 Eagle and, ultimately, 159 as well.

The downward slide of 159 Eagle began around the same time. The owner-occupant overloaded the bearing capacity of the first floor, which caused a partial collapse. They were forced to vacate, leaving the building vacant. Following a familiar pattern, they refused to make repairs, but continued to pay their taxes, leaving the City — again — with limited recourse.

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Image at top is from Feb 25, middle image is from Friday, March 1, and the bottom image is from Sunday, March 3, 2019. /Ian Benjamin

In late 2018 the City inspected both buildings visually and with a drone flyover. Then the Division of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance hired an engineer to draft a stabilization plan, which was presented to potential contractors. The cost for stabilization came back at $70-80,000, verse a $40,000 cost to demo. Unable to justify the additional cost to stabilize — the County makes this call — the City gave the green light to demo. Without a fund or grant to cover the $30-40,000 gap, and with small likelihood that the City would be able to recoup the stabilization cost from either owner, the decision was made to demolish.

This past Thursday an excavator from DiTonno & Sons tore down 161 Eagle. When it came down it destabilized its neighbor, as evidenced by a crack that had formed along the then-exposed southern wall. On Friday 159 Eagle came down as well.

This loss is especially hard to bear since the Mansion District neighborhood association, local advocate Dannielle Hille, and the City had fought for so long to save these buildings. As the Historic Albany Foundation noted in a Friday post, “this loss will symbolize decline despite their efforts.” This was personal setback as well. I had only recently learned about these buildings’ plight, and was a few days from beginning a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of stabilization. Alas, I arrived only in time to see them disappear.

The Italianates at 161 and 159 Eagle Street may only be a memory now, but there are many others that are still in need of help, and some that are just as prominent. But we cannot rely on the city, county or state government to singlehandedly save our historic buildings. They need our help — and the help of our neighbors, former residents, and anyone else who cares — to save our city’s historic fabric.

How to improve that small park at the Point?

What do we do with an obscure, narrow, underutilized park sandwiched between two major thoroughfares, but which is one of the city’s most visible gateways?

That was the question posed by the LocalXDesign team and the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association’s Upper Madison chapter (Aimee Allaud and Marilyn Douglas) during an informal brainstorming session this past Wednesday.

The park in question is that small strip of land where Western and Madison Avenues join. There’s not a whole lot there, so you’re forgiven if you (like me) didn’t even realize it was actually a park. Even if you’ve lived in the neighborhood for years, there’s a good chance you’ve never purposefully gone into it — and that’s much of the reason why this meeting was called.

There’s a couple reasons the park doesn’t see much use. For one, it’s very exposed. It has two major thoroughfares on either side and suffers from the resulting noise. And that’s something the Upper Madison group has been working on. They’ve planted bushes and the trees within the park, and the Madison treelawn (that area between the sidewalk and curb) already has a half-dozen trees. The other issue is that the park does not have active purpose, aside from being a spot to locate the monument.

The big question is how the park can become more welcoming and integrated with the surrounding community, while continuing to function as a memorial. (More on that in a moment.) One local resident emphasized that, no matter what future form the park takes, it needs to have a more clear purpose, or purposes. But before we dive into the park’s future, let’s talk a bit about its present.

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Monument as it appeared on the evening of February 20th, 2019. (Ian Benjamin)

About that monument: It is a tall, largely unadorned stone obelisk raised in honor of the then-Ward 13 residents who fought in WWII. It is lit by lawn lights. The sole formal access to the monument is a crushed stone path, which starts at the tip of the triangle and winds between recent plantings, before wrapping around the monument. A handful of benches face the monolith.

Just steps away from the park’s east border is the stately entrance to the Albany Police Department’s 1927 Center Station. The APD also uses the head-in parking spots along Western.

Northwest of the park are two bustops, one on either side of Western Ave. Importantly, those are set to become part of CDTA’s BusPlus-branded BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Purple Line, which will result in increased pedestrian volume. CDTA will be expanding the shelter and installing a BusPlus pylon.

Lastly, across Madison is a commercial strip that has seen sustained investment in the past half-dozen or so years. This is due in part to the efforts of Brian Viglucci of BM&T Management Group, which owns Cafe Madison, Juniors, The Point, and Madison Pour House (opened 2014). All of those are located in the strip. Kismet Mediterranean opened in 2017 at the corner of West Lawrence and Madison, but is not owned by BM&T.

The Future

The fun placemaking exercise (There was tracing paper! Pens! Markers! The stuff that planner dreams are made of! Or at least made with.) at Madison Pour House attracted quite a few local planning professionals and planning-adjacent folks, as well as a couple longtime resident. Given those participants, it was a session chock-full of ideation.

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The only directions given were from the two Upper Madison chapter reps, who said they’d like it if the park was more used by restaurant patrons waiting for tables at the nearby establishments, and that they’d like it to better interact better with the annual Upper Madison Street Fair. The ideas largely fell into two categories: those that kept the monument where it was and those that did not.

  • Of those that did, one idea was to enhance the current design by improving pedestrian access. This could be accomplished by creating diagonal paths emanating from the monument’s corners, thereby encouraging people to cross diagonally passed the monument, increasing its visibility.
  • Installing a faux railroad in homage to the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, which was the first railroad in the State and the first (successful) passenger steam locomotive in the United States. It ran from the Point 10 miles to Schenectady. A blue and yellow State Ed marker commemorates the rail. The faux rail line would start at the tip of the triangle and terminate at the base of the monument.
  • (If you’ve a penchant to history, I’d recommend stopping over to the Wikipedia entry for Pine Hills. It’s a good read.)

Moving the monument was quite popular. As the only substantial structure in the park, and located at the park’s center, it tends to dominate the park. Moving it has the benefit of opening the widest portion to some other use and, working with a park this small, this might make sense.

  • At least three of the designs (including mine) moved the monument to the park’s tip, near the bustop. This would be reminiscent of Dana Park.
  • Two designs placed the monument in a plinth to give it greater visibility to pedestrians and drivers. One of these incorporated seating around the plinth, which could serve as overflow for the bus stop in warmer months.
  • One version placed the monument a little ways back from the park tip, incorporating it into a raised stone planter setup. (That struck me as rather clever.)
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Design with open grass area to east and monument/raised bed at park tip.

Given the limited space, most designs that moved the monument then left the wide center of the park as some sort of flexible space, such as a lawn (as did the above design). One ambitious design conceptualized a small, asymmetrical amphitheater facing Madison Avenue, which would serve as a space for concerts in the summer and during the street fair. (Keep in mind that the purpose of an early-stage “charrette” is to imagine ideal designs, regardless of bureaucratic or funding constraints.)

Speaking of the street fair, one idea was to raise the road between South Allen and West Lawrence streets to curb height, which would serve to slow traffic along that stretch, which also helping to connect the park and the shops when the street is shut down for the fair.

During this stretch of Madison, it also came up that Madison Avenue street diet was constructed with an inadequate number of stormwater drains. The result is that, when it pours, the surface runoff follows a slight slope, leading to pooling at grates east on Madison. Not great. What’s worse is that, due to a moratorium on road construction, additional grates cannot be installed.

This was an informal design session, so there’s no guarantee that any of the concepts will ever be implemented. However, the proposal to move the monument seemed to garner some traction with the Upper Madison chapter. They mentioned that the very same idea had been previously proposed internally.

And then there’s the question of what to call this park. For ages it’s been colloquially known as “the Point” so “Point Park” might make sense, but there’s room for possibilities. Pine Hills historian Akum Norder (of The History of Here) proposed DeWitt Park after DeWitt Clinton. Maybe you’ve got an idea for a better name? Or want to share a design idea? Drop it in the comments.


LocalXDesign is the planning duo Barbara Nazarewicz and Liz Podowski King. They’ve been channeling their enthusiasm for improving the local natural and built environment by hosting a series of local events. Their next event is an invite to attending a presentation by Dan Palmer called “From Textiles to Domiciles: The Factories of Troy” which, as you may have guessed, chronicles the evolution of Troy’s factories. It will be held at the downtown Troy Public Library (100 2nd St. Troy, NY) on March 13 from 6-7:30pm with drinks at The Ruck following. Got a suggestion for an event or project? Barbara and Liz can be contacted at their e-mail.

Albany Planning Board: February Preview

On the agenda for this month’s planning board meeting is the ongoing saga of 1211 Western Ave. (expect vocal attendees), another downtown Albany project from Redburn Development, and a proposal from CARES, Inc to construct two townhouses in Arbor Hill. To take a peek at the rest, scroll on down.

1020 Madison Ave (The College of Saint Rose)

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College currently uses this two-story residence as a dormitory, but plans to convert and expand it into a “mixed use living/learning space for a women’s leadership program with with housing for 7 students.” Some demolition to occur, possibly of a small addition and garage. Site plan and elevations.

423 and 427 Washington Ave (Edward Maitino)

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Proposed construction of a 3.5 story, 16-unit apartment building between Washington Ave and West St. Building will span the lot, fronting on both Washington Ave and West St. A 2.5 story residence and two garages will be demo’d. Just northwest of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany No variances requested. Site plan and elevations.

240 and 242 Second St (CARES, Inc.)

CARES, Inc. is developing a couple of vacant lots in Arbor Hill between Henry Johnson and North Pearl. They’re looking to construct two ~2,600sf townhouses. You might recall CARES from the contentious Elm Street townhouse project in the Hudson/Park neighborhood. Site plan and elevations.

60 Academy Rd (Parsons Child & Family Center)

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Parsons’ will be demo’ing the existing, 1-story residential treatment facility (≅8,750sf) to make way for a larger one on the same lot (≅12,910sf) It’s up before the board so that a previously approved district plan can be revised to conform with the new project. Site plan and elevations.

1211 Western Ave (GSX Ventures)

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One of the more recent renderings of 1211 Western (it’s gone through a number of iterations).

Maryland-based GSX Ventures is yet again before the board with their push to construct a 6-story, 136-unit apartment building (≅151,575sf) on Western Ave. Project has repeatedly met fierce neighborhood resistance, so expect a packed house. Site plan, elevations, and photosimulations.

251-255 N Pearl St (Capital Repertory Theater)

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Plan by Capital Rep to move into the former Nabisco factory at North Pearl and Livingston. Site is across the street from the Ida Yarbrough Homes and next door to the Albany Distilling Co and Hope House. Site plans and elevations.

39 Columbia St (Redburn Development)

Another project from Redburn Development who have acquired — and are renovating — quite the stack of major downtown buildings. This time it’s a project to convert ≅60,000sf of office space into ≅46 units at 39 Columbia Street, which has housed the Belvedere Addiction Center and Belvedere Home Care. Site plan.

543 N Pearl St (St Catherine’s Center for Children)

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St. Catherine’s proposes to build a 20-unit, 3-story residence (≅21,925sf) in the North End. It will span the block, fronting on both North Pearl and Walter streets. An existing 2-story structure (≅21,825sf) will be demo’d. Site plan and elevations.

74-86 Dana Ave (Ron Stein, TRPS2)

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Continuing the trend of increased density in Park South: back before the board is “The Reserve at Park South 2”, a new 4-story apartment building (≅45,200sf) with 36 mixed studio and 1-bedroom apartments on Dana Ave. Project would require demo of the three existing, 2-story residences. Site plan, elevations, and renderings.

You might’ve noticed this is just down the street from 79-91 Dana Ave, a 30-unit apartment building approved in 2016 (and either completed or nearly completed based on the last time I walked by). One of the developers here — Ron Stein — was also involved in that earlier project. That earlier project received substantial tax breaks.


Planning Board meetings are held every month at 5:45pm at 200 Henry Johnson Blvd, in the second floor community room. Corrections (esp. of those pesky links) can be sent via the contact form.

Spin Around the Neighborhood: MLK Jr. Day Edition

I have a bit of free time today (State worker plus MLK Jr. Day equals day off), so let’s take a (quick) spin around the digital neighborhood, along a well-worn route, and see what our neighbors have been up to. (For a more thorough and categorized(!) recap, check out Chuck’s Saturday post.)


A blockbuster of a blog over on 98 Acres in Albany reveals the tactics used to promote demolition of the neighborhood to make way for South Mall (Empire State Plaza).

On FussyLittleBlog, Daniel took a break from food-blogging to to focus on the reason for the holiday: “Doctor King was murdered to silence his voice, to prevent the spread of the messages he preached. So I think one of the best things we can do today is to amplify those messages of love, peace, and justice.”

Julie provided a fine sendoff for Lombardo’s restaurant — a nearly century old institution on lower Madison Ave — which closed at the end of the year.

Chuck in Green Island provided some sound advice for shoveling out your chariot: “Take your time digging out.  Don’t overdo it.  Dress warmly and in layers.  Don’t lift more than you should – small shovelfuls of snow are better than big hernia-inducing mounds of snow.”

Jon considered whether the Pizza Cognition Theory applies to other foods.

Paul continues his deep dive into the history of St. Paul’s Church in Albany with a memorial to two young women who attended St. Paul’s Church School a century ago. (The portraits are quite striking.)

On Table Hopping, Susie Davidson Powell checked out Masala House, “a former IHOP in East Greenbush that has been turned into a place that serves Indian food and Indian-flavored pizza.” (emphasis mine)

Jacqueline celebrated Squirrel Appreciation Day with some photos “to help us appreciate the little furry critters’ diligence.

As the storm was moving in, Capital District Fun was hunkered down with a box of wine (or two) and plans to make a particular black bean soup.


Lastly, if you’re interested in starting a collaborative community space (something like All Over Albany, but not quite like All Over Albany — perhaps something like Caitlin’s nascent Albablog?), then drop me a note! I’m all ears.

Lincoln Park Master Plan revealed

What will Lincoln Park look like 10, 20, or 50 years from now? We now have a better idea.

The City released the (almost final) Lincoln Park Master Plan during a public presentation at TOAST Academy on Tuesday evening.  This third and final meeting capped a months-long public input and design process. If you’ve been following the coverage at All Over Albany, you’ll notice that many of these ideas appeared or were proposed at one of the previous two workshops. Before I get into the specifics, HERE’S THE LINK TO THE PLAN IN HD (it’s big, so might take a minute to load). If you missed the meeting, you can submit comments through the master plan website.

Mayor Sheehan shared a few short words and then Glen Valentine, landscape architect with Boston-based STIMSON architects, dived into the nitty-gritty.  Jump to section:

DELAWARE AND MORTON

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One of the new “gateways” will be where Morton and Delaware avenues form the park’s southeast corner. Once upon a time vehicles could enter from that intersection and cruise down an elm-lined park road, but the area has since become an obscured pedestrian-only entrance, crowded by lacrosse fields, tennis courts, and a gazebo. Instead, the plan proposes a new mini-plaza with walkways leading to a broad “community green” and events pavilion.

“This could be seen as a main entrance, or one of the main entrances, to the park,” said Valentine. To accommodate the new section, the tennis courts would be shifted north, a bit closer to TOAST Elementary. Beyond the community green, the new path would lead to the existing basketball court, a renovated spray pad and playground; past the former Sunshine Academy and James Hall office; and then through an “arboretum corridor” of native trees.

AMPHITHEATER

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Early in the process, city planners were contemplating how to best use the steep hillside just below the former Sunshine Academy. South End residents lent the answer: a community theater. This was “one of the most popular items,” said Valentine. The plan envisions a southwest facing covered stage with hillside seating for about 500. Check the concept drawing at top.

On the hillside just below the stage would be an orchard (think the one in Washington Park) and hillside pollinator garden(s). Parking for this and nearly facilities would be provided by a new lot, with access from the Oneida Terrace/Morton intersection. The existing road between MLK and Delaware would be removed. 

BEAVER CREEK RAVINE

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 16.46.18The topography of the park has long presented design challenges. One such area is the Beaver Kill ravine, a forested gully that runs between TOAST Elementary and Park Avenue. The plan calls for constructing a potentially elevated path along the creek, and uncovering the rocky outcrops. Those outcrops garnered the consultant’s attention, spurring the idea that their rough texture might be replicated by similar stone markers are each gateway. This would make the entrances more unique, and thus more easily identified as park entrances. Branding, if you will. The plan also considers creating a small falls in the ravine, in homage to the former Buttermilk Falls.

This ravine is the site of the Beaver Creek Clean Water Project, which is going through its own planning process.

EMPIRE STATE PLAZA CONNECTION

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 16.40.39A steep and almost impenetrable “wall of trees” blocks view of, and access to, the park from the north. The plan envisions constructing a stairway and ADA-compliant switchback ramp at the top of the north bank, across from Museum Drive. This would open up a view from Park Ave, and would provide an easy entrance from the ESP.

ECOLOGY

Talking about trees… a survey completed for this plan (if I recall correctly) found a variety of natives and ornamentals, ranging from magnolias to dawn redwoods. The City would like to add more native trees, shrubs, and meadows, while cutting back on invasives such as Norway maple, which has created a monoculture on the north slope. Valentine mentioned potentially doubling the magnolias on MLK Boulevard, and adding more witch hazel and shadbush to the mix.

THE POOL

“We heard from everyone that the Pool is the heart of the Park,” said Valentine. Prompted by intense public feedback, the form of the new pool will closely follow the current design. This announcement triggered the crowds’ applause, which is unsurprising — the community (you can include me here) has been fiercely protective of the pool in its current form. That means a circular, pond-like design with beach-style access. The pool playground will stay, but may be redesigned with hillside slides and a nature theme. And, in an effort to alleviate parking woes at peak hours, head-in spots have been located along the loop road.

THE BOWL

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 16.41.39

“There are a number of elements that we want to preserve and renovate,” said Valentine — and one of those is the athletic bowl. The plan calls for informal amphitheater-style seating on the regraded north edge, reconfigured fields, and a “stormwater garden” on the south edge. Members of the various athletic clubs stated that the perennial issue is soggy fields, leading to muddy games. The hope is that draining the fields into the “stormwater garden” would alleviate this issue.

HISTORICAL SIGNAGE

A surprising inclusion (at least to me) was a renewed focus on the Park’s history, of which there is no shortage. The City would like to highlight that with a set of signs interpreting major periods, events, and people. These might cover:

MISC

Lastly, a few items that I didn’t quite fit in the above sections:

  • adding two more basketball courts with bleachers (for tournaments) near the Capital South Campus Center 
  • grilling areas on Morton Avenue will be kept (I tell ya, those get busy on summer evenings), and new pavilions
  • three marked fitness trail loops with fitness stations
  • new vehicle entrance at Warren and Eagle streets
  • a low-traffic portion of the loop around the pool’s south side will be changed to  pedestrian-only
  • a roundabout at the intersection of MLK Blvd and Lincoln Park Road

The Fight for The Viaduct (Part I)

Earlier, I covered the building of the Hawk Street Viaduct, ostensibly the world’s first cantilever arch bridge. This post covers the decade-long series of battles that preceded its construction, and raged from City Hall to the Capitol before falling on the Governor’s desk — twice. It’s a lengthy narrative, so I’ll pick it up in 1888, when a mass meeting has been called in Arbor Hill by the North Side Association.


It’s a Wednesday, in spring, in Albany. And it’s storming. Wind and rain is lashing Chancellor’s Hall (not that one, this one was on North Swan Street), yet more than 250 residents have arrived, many sopping wet. They’ve gathered to deliver remarks in support of a new bridge over Sheridan Hollow — broadsides against their opponents. Think political rally. The first to stand is William McHarg. His remarks, as reported in the Albany Evening Journal:

Arbor Hill ought to be styled the Ireland of Albany. It was not always a part of the city, but had been roped in, so to speak, to contribute its share to the city’s taxes without receiving any of the its benefits. The Hawk street viaduct was the only measure which the people and taxpayers of Arbor Hill had asked at the hands of the city, and it seemed as though the city was disinclined to permit them even this. […] What the people of the north side wanted was a safe and easy mode of communication with capitol hill and the centre of the city.

He is followed by many others, all frustrated by years of having their efforts stalled or derailed by a faction within the City Council.  With the aid of state lawmakers, they had even managed to put a bill on the Governor’s desk, and had thought this would leave the Council with no choice but to authorize the bridge project.  They were mistaken. Unbeknownst to them, the City counsel had injected a number of sly provisions that were likely to make the project unpalatable to the Council. It worked. Although the bill was made law in 1887, the Council made no move to authorize construction. 

Undaunted, the advocates submitted yet another bill, this time removing the City Council from the process altogether. It was this second bill that brings us to Chancellor’s Hall. One of those in attendance is Andrew Draper (perhaps better known for his efforts to create what is now the NYS Education Department). In front of that cheering and no doubt damp crowd, Draper said there is “no diversity of opinion among the residents of Arbor Hill as to the necessity which existed for construction of the viaduct. All want it and the only thing to be done is to put it through. And it will be put through! That section of the city has been discriminated against too long.”

Opposing them were a group of wealthy Albanians known as the Committee of Thirteen. With their financial and political clout, they had doggedly undermined the bridge project each time it came before the Council. This faction and their representatives opposed the 1888 bill on several grounds. They claimed the new bridge would be but a “mere scaffolding to be strained and racked by the winter storms” and that the new law wasn’t sufficiently transparent. These were mere icing, however, for their main concerns were fiscal: they thought the bridge would be too costly, would raise taxes, and that bonding for it would put the fiscal burden on future generations. In response, Arbor Hill resident and lawyer Maurice Crannell — who the press would later crown the ‘father of the bridge’ —  penned an eloquent and scathing rebuttal:

Why do you object to bonding the city to pay for this improvement, and are silent regarding the same manner of paying for improvements in other parts of the city. There is a great difference between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum. […] Why not be honest and say: “We don’t want the bridge and are trying to throw all manner of impediments in the way of its construction.”

He even goes so far as to imply that their real reason for opposition is much darker, selfish, and hardly civic-minded: that since the bridge would primarily benefit the more working-class neighborhoods in the City’s north, and not the more rarefied blocks in the City’s center (where many of the Committee resided), that they simply didn’t want to be on the hook for a public work for which they would not benefit.

Despite the Committee’s staunch and persistent opposition, the bill was made law on June 11, 1888. In true 19th century fashion, the North Side Association ordered a salute of 100 blasts of the “baby waker” cannon and, according to the Albany Express:

Flags were thrown to the breeze, neighbors grasped each other’s hand, and happiness was complete on the north side. The small boys celebrated with fire crackers, while the larger brought out small sized cannons which shook the buildings with their reports. Bonfires were kindled on nearly every corner, houses were illuminated, Roman candles fired off and celebration was kept until a late hour.

Over the continuing protestations of the Committee, the bridge over Sheridan Hollow began the very next year.


Top photo of Hawk Street Viaduct circa 1895 with NYS Capitol at center. At right is the trio of institutions run by the Sisterhood of Holy Child Jesus (St. Agnes School, Child’s Hospital, and St. Margaret’s House for Babies). Via the Friends of Albany History.

The World’s First Cantilever Arch Bridge, Ostensibly

…was in Albany, New York. Kind of surprised me, too. While poking around on the fabulous Albany Postcard Project, I found this image:

Hawk-Street-Viaduct-looking-south_APCP
Hawk Street Viaduct showing the NYS Capitol and St. Agnes’ School, circa. 1900

That’s a bridge I’ve never seen.

Apparently, there was once a time, not so long ago, that Arbor Hill residents had their own bridge, one that led right to the doors of the Capitol. It had a beautiful web of steel girders that carried Hawk Street for nearly 1,000 feet from Clinton Avenue, over the rooves of Sheridan Hollow, to Elk Street.

It was known as the Hawk Street Viaduct.

HiltonBridgeCo_LOC
Advert for the Hilton Bridge Construction Co., July 11, 1895 from Library of Congress Historic American Engineering Record

Though the idea for the bridge originated much earlier, the contract for its construction was awarded in December 1888. It went to the Hilton Bridge Construction Co., then led by Elnathan Sweet, who had just come off a stint as the State Surveyor and Engineer, a now defunct cabinet-level position. He had impeccable engineering chops, especially when it came to railroad bridges, and his design for the viaduct showed it.

Instead of opting for the tried and true cantilever truss, Sweet designed a cantilever arch, centered on a three-hinged, two-rib, 360-ft main arch. Springing north and south from either end, and supported by nothing more than the main arch, were 114-ft half arches. These were the cantilevers. Twin 66-ft end spans sprang from abutments on the ravine rim to meet the cantilevers. The use of hinges in such a way was by no means novel at that time, but incorporating them meant that the structure could adjust to the varying temperatures and load. Construction started in 1889 and finished the next year, during which time workers used more than 800 tons of iron and open hearth steel to build the 986ft span. It was then paved in creosote-coated pine blocks, lined with pedestrian walks, stairs from the streets below (Orange and Spruce streets), and given a highly ornamental though perhaps not especially safe wrought iron railing.

Once it began, construction went rapidly. By mid-December 1889, both halves of the bridge were connected, and paving of the western portion had begun. Work was complete by early spring 1890 and it was almost ready to open to the public. But it first needed to be inspected by the City Engineer and Street Commissioner. In their report, they made several routine recommendations, such as that it be painted every few years to deter corrosion, and that the stairs at Spruce and Orange streets be removed (for unknown reasons). They also noted that:

Owing to the nature of the construction of the bridge, it is peculiarly liable to injurious vibrations from the passage of bodies of men keeping step, and from the trotting of men keeping step, the rapid motion of herds of cattle, etc.; these should be prevented by suitable fines and penalties.

Their concern about “men keeping step” might seem preposterous, but it was actually quite warranted. The phenomenon, known as mechanical resonance, had caused several bridges to collapse during the preceding decades. One such in Angers, France, killed more than 200. To my knowledge, resonance was never an issue on this bridge, despite being used for major parades in its early years. What I know was deadly was it’s height. The bridge was highest above the ravine where it crossed Sheridan Avenue, at about 79 feet (various heights are given over the years). That height, combined with the short iron railing, made it one of the places where souls who wished to take wing for the afterworld took flight.

Even though the bridge lacked the visual poetry of those over water — the nearby structures obscured its graceful curves — the cityzenry were nonetheless proud of their new viaduct and boasted about it in the papers. (Take that, Troy!) They had reason to be proud. Not only was it a monumental work visible from across the valley, it was also the first bridge to combine an arch with a cantilever. That novel design was so well received that, in the following decades, it was copied for bridges over the Viaur and Seine in France, the Elbe–Lübeck Canal at Mölln in Germany, and for use on railways in Alaska and Costa Rica. But while the design of the Viaduct is intriguing, the story about how it came about — and how long it took — is perhaps even more so.


Another take on the Hawk Street Viaduct from the Friends of Albany History, and one  from the (now defunct) All Over Albany.

Puddles of the Empire State Plaza

The tourists are gone, the betrothed are growing scarce, and the state workers are descending into their underground city. All summer they have strolled beside, taken photos in front of, and gazed upon the reflecting pool at the Empire State Plaza. The pool has inherent beauty, but its function has always been to enhance that of its environs. The Corning Tower, the Egg, and the quartet of agency buildings, all intended to inspire awe; the pool, to amplify it.

screenshot_20181027-134028This week, workers from the Office of General Services opened the valves and released its waters. They churned through pipes below the city, out through sepulchral structures on the waterfront, and into the Hudson. As the waterline sank, the resident mallards took notice and decamped for their winter berths.

It is drained, but it is not gone. Puddles have gathered in the dimples of the lining, ringed with salt. Their reflections distort the Egg and bend the sharp Museum angles into soft curves. No longer does the pool give easy awe; instead, it’s left to your mind to piece together the buildings’ portraits.

A Curmudgeon and the Taconic Sculpture Garden

If you’ve ever been a passenger cruising along the Taconic State Parkway (better known to as Deer Dodge Highway) then you’ve seen a giant’s head on top of a hill just outside Chatham. That head is the roadside mascot for the Taconic Sculpture Park.

On Sunday, we took a detour from our destination — Beebe Hill State Forest — to take a stroll through the Park. Once you find the gravel Stever Hill Road, then you will find that park. It’s at the very end.

When we arrived we parked on the grass, per the sign, and were soon greeted by the curmudgeonly sculptor, Mr. Kanwit. He asked where we were coming from, to which I replied “Spencertown”. I said we had met a chicken that was pecking around the entrance to the only store in town.

“Did the chicken tell you about this place?” he asked.

“Yes, the chicken recommended we check out the Taconic Sculpture Park,” I said.

“And you listened to a chicken?”

“Of course we listened to the chicken, it’s not every day you meet a talking chicken,” I replied. “They’re rare.”

After this interaction, we strolled passed his castle-like home into his land of the fantastic. Scattered amidst a field of flowering Queen Anne’s lace, fleabane, and birdsfoot trefoil we discovered fantastic: beasts, titillating goddesses and giants’ heads — more erotic than evocative. One is, of course, obligated to enter the giant’s head and climb to the top for Parkway vista.

If you make it to Taconic, don’t expect a land of monumental art like Omi or Storm King, or the motley menagerie of thigh-high chainsaw art animals one might find along an Adirondacks roadside; this is more a sculpture-strewn front lawn of a working artist’s residence. In fact, there was half-finished monumental eye, clearly in the process of creation,. With it peering down the driveway at all comers, I couldn’t help but think it might be intended to ward off art enthusiasts.

In hindsight, it was less the art on stage that struck me than what we found in the woods just beyond. There, Kanwit — or some other creative relative — had carved gravestones with likenesses of the relatives I assume are buried below. At a time when so many memorials are adorned with mass-market motifs, the authenticity of finding hand-hewn memorials gave the garden the poignancy that I’d failed to find amidst the more conspicuous sculptures.

There is a $10-per-vehicle fee and the park closes at 5pm, but this is private property so, so be warned that you are only allowed on the property through the goodwill of the Kanwits. If you’re interested, some of the sculptures may be for sale.