South End rezone for “Seventy-Six” project recommended by Planning Board

A zoning change to make way for a 243-unit project in the South End was recommended for approval by the Planning Board on Tuesday evening.

Intended unit mix as of July 28, 2020.

The ~120M proposal from local Corey Jones’ South End Development (SED) seeks to construct four modular structures across nearly two city blocks between Leonard Street, Krank Street, and Second Ave. The stated goals are to create affordable housing and provide sorely needed community resources such as day-care, medical/dental offices, a community center and the holy grail: a grocery store. SED is aiming for their unit mix to include 60% affordable.

Project representatives presented several changes based on previous input from residents and public officials. The proposed height of Building A has been reduced by a single story, to reduce visual impact as seen from Second Avenue. The building behind (B) has been increased by a story.

Alterations to building heights as proposed at the July 28, 2020 APB meeting.

SED also altered their master plan to reduce the footprint of Building A, moving it off the lots at 84 and 86 Second Ave. The owners of those lots have neither sold nor agreed to sell.

Slides on right showing exclusion of 84 and 86 Second Ave and reduction in size of Building A (Credit: Chazen Cos.)

In their final presentation before the Board, SED painted a picture of a project with unusually ambitious sustainability goals, one that strives to meet triple net zero goals for water, waste, and energy. SED will also be seeking the USDO Proximity to Transit credit, for which they would become eligible when the new CDTA River Corridor BRT line comes online. According to SED, CDTA expects that route to be in operation by November.

The project has garnered substantial public input and has been the focus of Planning Board hearings and community forums. Comments on Tuesday evening, however, were light.

A resident on Elmendorf Street raised parking and traffic concerns. “I’m certainly all for good, thoughtful development and anything that’s environmentally friendly, but I have real concerns about a significant traffic impact,” she said. “There’s absolutely no place for these cars to go other than cutting through First Avenue or around Krank Park, and there’s no place for these cars to park. I’m a huge environmental supporter, but even I drive the mile to my job. It’s just not realistic for people to not drive their cars.”

In response Kelsey Carr, project engineer with Chazen Cos., stated that they had completed a traffic report. This found that delays at First Ave and South Pearl would increase by two seconds. “We are having very minimal impact to the adjacent roadway network traffic and intersection function,” said Carr.

Another comment was from a Second Ave resident (and owner of the Mobile Gas Station at Madison and Lark), who had concerns about the dangers of investing in the city amidst the downtown in the nation’s economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. Project representatives did not respond.

In order for this development to occur with planned amenities and density, the zoning map will need to be altered. The lots are currently zoned residential (R-T) and mixed-use (MU-NE), but under the proposed amendment some or all of these would become campus/institutional (MU-CI).

The Board unanimously recommended the zoning map amendment with accompanying Planning Office statements. It will now go before the Common Council. Due to a protest petition signed by some nearby residents, the Council may need a supermajority (3/4) for approval.

Proposed zoning map amendment as submitted with initial application. Final zoning change limits are subject to Common Council determination.

Miscellaenous

  • A plan by developer Ron Stein to convert the basement of a two-story townhouse in Park-South into a third apartment. The apartment will be one-bedroom, one-bathroom. It came before the board as it requires alteration of the townhouse front for stair access.

    “We are trying to, as we have been all across Park-South, continue to improve the overall units themselves redoing interior kitchens, bathrooms, living areas, and floors,” said Stein. “Adding a unit helps us to make this a cost-viable solution. We have demand in the area for this kind of unit. It helps with consistently fixing up the townhomes in the area beyond putting in the multi-unit apartment buildings.”

    Stein is the developer behind two apartment buildings in Park-South: the 30-unit Reserve One and the 36-unit Reserve Two (which was “just completed” and “tenants are moving in as we speak,” said Stein.) Those projects entailed demolition of several nearby townhomes of the same era as this example. The developer did not state how many townhomes he was renovating.
  • The last item on the agenda was a longstanding plan by the Albany Center for Economic Success to construct a three-story mixed-use structure with 31 units on Clinton Ave (addr. 236 Clinton Ave./255 Orange St). This is an interesting multi-partner project that includes the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region.

    The Board was intending to take action on the project–approval is expected–but there were a number of administrative approvals from Albany County Dept of Health and DEC that have not yet been received. In order to meet a late August Homes and Community Renewal application deadline, the project will need Planning Board approval. So as to provide that prior to the application deadline, the Board will likely include a public meeting component for the currently scheduled July 11th workshop.

Photo: Poet Allen Ginsberg finds upstate roads hazardous, ends up in Albany hospital

The winter roads in upstate New York can be hazardous — as poet, philosopher, writer, LGBTQ activist, pacifist, and iconoclast Allen Ginsberg was acutely aware.

In 1968, while driving from Albany International Airport to his home in the Catskills, Ginsberg was in a car accident. He suffered a broken hip and a cracked ribs leading to a stint at an unnamed hospital in Albany, where an Associated Press photographer snapped this picture. His most recent book of poetry — Planet News — had been published just four days earlier.

It’s not the best image of Ginsberg, but it sure captures the feeling of a broken hip, and yes, he’s holding a flower — it’s the 60s and he’s a beat poet, so it’s mandatory.


Alas, no credit was given for the AP photog.

To paint or not to paint? Renovation of the Albany Boys & Girls Club raises preservation question

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Capital Area are planning to renovate their facility on Delaware Avenue following a recent merger, but their proposal for the exterior may change following feedback received from the City Historic Resources Commission. 

The structure in question is the Modernist mid-century building at 21 Delaware Avenue, just across from the Missing Sock laundromat. Built in 1956, it was designed by notable local architect Henry Blatner, who also designed the Clarksville Elementary School and contributed to the Empire State Plaza.

 

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“It’s a very old facility,” explained Executive Director Justin Reuter. “Over the years we’ve done updates inside, but the outside has been continually neglected because the dollars we have we like to invest in programming first and, unfortunately, facilities always take a back seat.” The building has begun to “show its age”, said Reuter. “We’re trying to beautify the building to make it fit in better with the neighborhood. As you can see it’s kind of outdated.” 

The Boys & Girls Clubs are looking to put up new signage, redo the landscaping, and paint the exterior. There is only modest landscaping — the entrance is framed by linden (or cherry) trees and — until recently — a Norway spruce and cedars occupied the building’s southeast corner. Due to discoloration and the ghosts of scrubbed graffiti BGCCA was also looking to paint the buff-colored brick (there’s quite a bit of it), and repaint the trim around the windows (currently gray and electric blue). They had selected a gray hue for the bricks and a longtime donor — Waterford-based industrial tank painting company TEC Coatings — had offered to donate their services for the job. 

It was the paint plan that caught the Commissioners’ eyes. 

“Brick like this is not meant to be painted — or stained,” said Commissioner Jennifer Geraghty. “The best thing to do with this type of brick is to clean it. That’s the most sustainable thing to do, you’ll get the best results, and it will last the longest. Neither staining or painting is a treatment this brick was meant to have, nor is it likely to be one that the brick is likely to respond well to.” She also noted that painting the brick would create unnecessary maintenance for the organization, since it would need to be refreshed every 5-10 years. Furthermore, the paint would prevent airflow through the wall, which would lead to interior moisture issues in a few years. “It feels a little like a solution in search of a problem.”

In response, Reuter indicated that he was not very concerned about the longterm maintenance, as TEC Coatings had been a donor for for many years and he expected would continue to be around for many more, and would be more than willing to repaint when necessary. The Commission did not approve the request.

The renovation was precipitated by the merger of the Troy Boys & Girls Club and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany earlier this year, which are now the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Capital Area. Reuter was CEO of the Albany chapter prior to the merger before stepping into his current role.

The Boys & Girls Club building is one of the finer example of Modernism in Albany (see also the Trailways building), despite being a style that is less oft appreciated than the city’s ubiquitous Victorian-era architecture.

“It may not be an 1880s brownstone, but this style is coming more and more into its own,” said Geraghty. “I think you’ll find that, as time goes one, more people will appreciate this building type.”


This meeting of the Albany Historic Resources Commission was held on May 1. The next is scheduled for June 5th at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard.

Albany Planning Board Notes: Quackenbush Square approved (again), an interesting CapRep housing collaboration, and an expansion at Armory Garage

Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting was busy, if lightly attended (excepting news-folk). Here’s what was on the agenda:

Quackenbush Square (Pioneer Cos.)

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Proposed Quackenbush Square hotel and apartment building as viewed from corner of Spencer and Montgomery streets. The Albany Pump Station is to the left. (Copyright QPK Design 1/21/19.)

That huge pit along Broadway, just north of Olde English Pub? It’s finally getting filled.

The Board approved (with conditions) the revised development plan for Quackenbush Square, a roughly $90 million apartment and hotel project at the intersection Broadway and Spencer Street, behind and alongside the Albany Pump Station.

“It is ready to go,” said Daniel Hershberg, of Hershberg & Hershberg, representing the project. As of two weeks ago, the pit had been filled to the sub-grade elevations of the building footings, said Herschberg.

The new proposal calls for an 8-story, ≅86,320 sqft hotel with ≅136 rooms at Spencer and Montgomery streets. An L-shaped, 6-story apartment building with 129 units would run along Spencer Street with first floor commercial spaces on Broadway (≅14,352 sqft), and a pedestrian tunnel from the Broadway sidewalk. Landscaping would be installed along Broadway and trees planted along Spencer.

A previous project iteration included a parking garage, but that item has been scrapped. Pioneer is now planning to have parking underneath and behind the mixed-use building, and will be leasing spaces from the Albany Parking Authority in the Quackenbush Garage.

The Board unanimously approved the project, on the conditions that:

  • Pioneer must obtain a lease for the parking spaces at the Quackenbush Garage.
  • Final traffic signal plans will need to be stamped by an engineer and must be installed and working prior to occupancy.
  • An Albany County sewer line runs by the corner of the hotel footprint, at Montgomery and Spencer streets. Pioneer is must relocate the line from under the building and toward/under the road. An infrastructure agreement has been finalized between Pioneer and the Albany County Water Purification District (formerly the Albany County Water Sewer District.) and is up for approval by the County Legislature.
  • Pioneer must secure approval from Capitalize Albany Corporation for improvements to their adjacent lands. (Note: I didn’t identify where these were, but I suspect this is a requirement that Pioneer improve the landscaping and pedestrian infrastructure around the Albany Visitors Center.)

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Current site plan rendering. (Copyright Hershberg & Hersbherg, 2/27/2019)

With approval in hand, Pioneer will now be seeking around $7 million in tax breaks from the City IDA. Construction is expected to start this season if all goes according to plan… although this project has hardly gone to plan.

Quackenbush Square had been stalled since this time last year, when early bids came in 30-40 percent over budget, forcing a redesign. Originally conceived with a 10-story, 136-unit Hyatt House hotel, 181 apartments, retail and and underground parking garage, the new proposal has been reduced to the 8-story Hyatt Place hotel, which has smaller rooms, no parking garage, and only 129 apartments (project documents).

The too-high bids came on the heels of delay — remediation of underground gas storage. Pioneer had suspected that there would be gas tanks and had planned for finding a few, but they had not expected to find a dozen.

(Note: Sara Cline from the Times-Union also made it to Tuesday’s meeting, and submitted a report on the Quackenbush project that appeared the morning after. It’s always good to see journalists from our stretched-thin regional paper.)

67 Livingston Ave. (Clinton Square Studios, LLC)

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View of the proposed 6-story structure from Livingston (north-facing) with Broadway to the right and the Albany Distilling Company to the left.

Also on the let’s-put-apartments-on-Broadway bandwagon is Clinton Square Studios, LLC, who were before the board with a 6-story, $24.7 million apartment/retail project planned for lower Arbor Hill.

The proposal is for 66 residences and commercial space (≅2,006 square feet) on Broadway, not far from the Palace. A 2-story 19th century rowhouse at 67 Livingston Ave will be demolished.

This project is being developed with an eye toward Capital Repertory (“CapRep”) Theater, which is renovating the former Nabisco factory just up the hill at 251-255 N. Pearl St for their new $9.5 million performing art space. Following questions from the Board, details about a unique arrangement with CapRep came to light.

The plan is to split the management structure three ways. Of the units, 56 will be “low-income tax-credit qualified artist’s lofts”, said David Sarraf of Fairbank Properties/Clinton Square Studios. CapRep will own and manage 10 of these “artist’s lofts” as staff and traveling actor housing, with the remaining 56 residences managed by the Albany Barn (they have a similar arrangement at 56 2nd St.). The third area will be the ground level commercial, which will be owned and managed separately.

Board chair Al De Salvo recused himself from the discussion because he sits on The Rep’s board.

39 Columbia St, (Redburn Development)

Redburn was up before the Board with slight change to their proposal for 39 Columbia Street. The gist of this project — one of a slate of Redburn projects in historic downtown buildings — is renovation of a ≅60,000 square foot building into ≅46 apartments. This change concerns the parking lot at the rear of the site. From Google Street View:

“Initially, we proposed an application in which we re-topped [the pavement] and kept what was there,” said Damien Pinto-Martin, Redburn’s vice-president of development. “We’ve had some really good discussions with the City of Albany Planning Department and a couple of good back-and-forths here at the Planning meetings and I think we’ve come up with a much better option.”

Part of this “better option” concerns an adjacent strip of greenery and street trees on Van Tromp street, visible to the right in the view above. It’s not actually part of 39 Columbia Street; it’s City property. Under the new proposal Redburn would maintain this small parcel in exchange for a longterm lease or option to purchase. Any agreement would, of course, be contingent upon Common Council approval.

Redburn will also be removing the ticket shed at the Broadway entrance, restricting that connection to entrance only, and installing an entrance bar. The exit would be onto Van Tromp street. They’ll be installing landscaping along Broadway and at least one street tree next to Marcus T. Reynold’s United Traction Building at 600 Broadway, as well as a “more traditionally historic privacy fence”. (My take: This landscaping will help alleviate that unbroken stretch of concrete and pavement, and the “historic privacy fence” will be major step up from their original proposal for a chain-link fence. However, one step better would be to plant a row of trees to mirror those across the street in front of the DEC building at 625 Broadway.)

Redburn already has a “gut” permit, so interior demolition has already or will soon begin, but they’ll need further Planning Board approvals to move onto interior buildout.

Armory Garage (950, 960, and 964 Central Ave.)

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The Armory Garage dealership across from Westgate Plaza on Central is looking to expand their showroom and offices. They’ll be demolishing the single-story, ≅13,196 square foot office and showroom at 960 Central and removing a nearby concrete slab (site plan) to make way for a larger single-story, ≅53,267 square foot structure with parking for inventory and employees. The new showroom building will be set further from the road than zoning allows, so they sought a variance to push the maximum setback from 100 feet to 136 feet.

Armory presented during the March meeting, so they were up for approval this time round. And they got it. Board approved via the new consent agenda and neg-dec’d on SEQRA. Here are the elevations if you want to get close and personal with that rendering and proposed materials. It looks like they’ll be continuing the styling of their 66 Colvin building (glassy, white, with big arches — so rather run-of-the-mill for a car dealership).

Other Notes

The last item of the meeting was a detailed set of comments from Ward 9 Councilmember Judy Doesschate with recommendations on the USDO, but I’ll need to read up on those before I can summarize with any meaningful context. But if you’re vaguely interested in planning, city development, or simply live in the city, I’d recommend taking a peek at the document, even though it’s a beast. The City is in the midst of making changes and working out kinks in the new code, so now is the time to comment.


Albany Planning Board workshops are generally held the second Tuesday and meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month (schedule). The next will be a workshop on May 14th.

Would you like to contribute? Maybe you’d be up for taking notes at the occasional meeting? Perhaps you’ve been mulling an urban planning question and would like to share your thoughts? Or regale us with some deep Albany history (my favorite)? 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.

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

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“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:

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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.

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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.