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Plattsburgh mayor discusses city issues

Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest
Pat Bradley
Plattsburgh Mayor Chris Rosenquest

The city of Plattsburgh has been dealing with a number of issues including emergency repairs to water mains in a residential area and litigation against part of its downtown redevelopment plan. Officials are also girding for inflationary and post-pandemic pressures. Following Thursday evening’s Common Council meeting, Mayor Chris Rosenquest spoke with WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley about the council’s adoption of a revised five-year fiscal plan.

The five year plan is really a projection rather than a budget, right? So it's something that we look at as a tool that guides us, not defines us. Every year when we do pass the budget we take another swipe at the five year plan. It's just one of those guiding documents to make sure that we remain on track. And it's one of those tools that says if we were to adopt every single capital budget over the next five years, this is what the city would look like.

Mayor Rosenquest, some people might sit there and think why put out a five year plan when the economy is so variable right now? Or does that make it even more important to put out a five year fiscal plan?

When we look at the five year plan we do say there are potentials for increased inflation. There are potentials for increased revenues even. Right? So these are things that we do calculate in this projection process. We know they change. That's why every single year we come back to this plan and we revise it and we push it out again and we have more conversations about what those priorities are and make sure that we make the appropriate adjustments along the way.

Mayor, can you give us an update on the litigation and whether anything is proceeding regarding the Durkee Street redevelopment?

Yeah. So as most people remember, we had a decision come from Judge Ellis that said there were two items that were deficient in the process. One was the identification and addressing of a common loon, that apparently, that's the area that it lives in. And I could joke if anybody sees a loon make sure you take a picture and send it to me and we'll make it the official city bird if you do find a loon in that area. And then, more importantly, there was a concern for how to remediate some soil down there that could be environmentally hazardous. So those are the two issues at stake. The city of Plattsburgh we have to make some decision moving forward. We have actually filed a notice of appeal. I'm going to butcher the legal language here because I'm not a lawyer. But we have then a six month process to perfect that appeal, or so, around that timeframe. If we do go through the appeal process it's a lot less time. We don't have to put the project backup to the zoning board.

But we're looking at quite a while for anything physical to happen in the Durkee Street area?

One-hundred percent. Like even if we filed the appeal next week, it would still be months before the judge actually files the judgment on how that appeal goes. And then it's going to be another however many months before shovels get in the ground. So yeah, it'll still be some time. We're optimistic either way that we will have a development down there. We don't know what it will look like. We want development in our downtown. We want a densely populated downtown. A lot of folks who are concerned about a dying downtown, the best way to revitalize the downtown is put a lot of people down there. And that's one thing that we really desperately need in our city and in the region is housing. We desperately need housing.

Well speaking of housing, one area of the city that you mentioned in one of the prior meetings, the city inherited when the former Air Force Base left. But now you've got some problems there with the water infrastructure. A few weeks ago, you were scrambling because the water mains were all breaking and the City Council, as I recall, passed about $10 million to allow for repairs. But that's only a couple of weeks ago. What's the status of the situation in Lake Country Village and all the water mains out there?

Yeah. So on May 14th we saw about 12 water main breaks in that one neighborhood. That really created a hazardous situation. Some folks were on emergency water, which is obviously problematic for our community and for our community members. So we passed an emergency spending measure of $10 million dollars bonded to the water-sewer fund. In conjunction with that, we declared a state of emergency for that neighborhood. And in partnership with Clinton County Health Department we also received a stipulation agreement on these phased approaches to fix this. So we're doing this in partnership with these agencies and with the regulatory agencies that we have to answer to: both the Clinton County Health Department and the New York state Department of Health. I will say though, that we've also reached out to our state partners. We reached out to our federal partners. And both have been very receptive to helping us and so we've asked our favors. They've come through and we're looking at potentially offsetting that $10 million with $6 million of water-sewer infrastructure program money and maybe will continue to press on filling the rest of that gap of that $4 million with some grant funds.

Those pipes are not as old as some of the pipes in downtown Plattsburgh and you've highlighted the need to get the water infrastructure and some of the other infrastructure, the underground infrastructure, in downtown Plattsburgh taken care of as you work on Margaret Street. What is that kind-of indicate about the total infrastructure needs in Plattsburgh?

You know, when we talk about water main breaks the old Air Force Base and Lake County Village that those pipes broke because of the type of pipe that it was made of, the material that it was made of, the infrastructure downtown and there's other parts of our city where the infrastructure is very old. 1903 is when that original infrastructure was installed on Margaret Street. 1903 was when the city incorporated as a city. So it's original equipment. One of the main reasons why we started talking about Margaret Street in the first place is because of 1903 infrastructure. Imagine if that infrastructure failed as drastically and dramatically as the infrastructure at Lake Country Village failed. You're talking about businesses out for days on end. Residents out of water for days on end. And that's something that we want to avoid.

Mayor Rosenquest as I understand it you attended, for the first time in person, the New York State Conference of Mayors recently?

It was one of the first Community Revitalization Conferences that the NYCOM hosted and I went specifically to get my head around housing. Housing is a problem. We need housing on all levels of income. We need low income housing and market rate housing. We need housing period. And we don't have, in the city of Plattsburgh, we don't have the mechanism for building housing quickly. We have an aged and old and outdated zoning and planning legislation and rules. We don't have a comprehensive master plan, not a finalized one. And we haven't had these for 30 years. One thing that we do well in the city of Plattsburgh is we plan very well. One thing that we don't do very well is implement that plan. Realistically we should have been talking about housing and housing issues and concerns. Maybe like eight years ago, really. But now here we are kind of scrambling and desperate for housing and we really need to ease those concerns.

Chris Rosenquest, a Democrat, is serving his first four-year term as mayor of Plattsburgh.

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