In July 2016, the city of Plattsburgh was awarded $10 million through New York state’s Downtown Redevelopment Initiative. Projects are still being planned. One of the most controversial is changing the city’s main parking lot. Councilors held a public comment session last week on 14 recommendations offered by a consultant. But some downtown business owners are skeptical about the plans.
Plattsburgh city officials contracted with Carl Walker, Inc. to draft a downtown parking assessment and create a strategic plan that melds with the Downtown Redevelopment Initiative, or DRI.
Among the recommendations: restructuring parking in the city’s main lot, which would result in a loss of spaces; implementing parking fees; and creating an authority to manage city parking. The city council accepted the report during its March 1st meeting. During last week’s meeting, Councilor Joshua Kretser explained they were seeking the public’s thoughts on the 14 recommendations in the report. “This new parking program this is something that needs to happen. The city is being developed and we need the infrastructure to accommodate and to be flexible for the continued evolution.”
A number of downtown business owners and residents are members of Strong Towns Plattsburgh. They believe the city’s plan will disrupt business. In reviewing the recommendations some asked how tenant parking would be integrated into the plan while others raised concerns about handicap fees and access. Some were annoyed with the council moving forward with what they perceive as nebulous plans.
Unidentified Speaker: “So we don’t have a parking authority. So we have no way to enforce the parking that we would need to free up so that way we can best use the lot as it’s under construction.”
Councilor Patrick McFarlin: “Well I think the first step is setting up this parking authority. The first step is going to a managed parking system.”
Speaker: So we have two months to do that right? “Cause in two months it’ll be June. Two months it’ll be construction season. So we have two months to come up with a parking authority, hire everybody for the parking authority, implement the recommendations for this all in two months.”
Councilor Rachelle Armstrong: “I don’t think that two months is necessarily…”
Speaker: “Okay so let’s do it then in the fall. So in the fall we’ll be implementing the recommendations for the following year to construct the parking lot. What I want to know the definite timeline for this. How we go around and say that we’re not going to gentrify downtown, which if we do have paid parking is exactly what we’re going to do.”
At the end of the meeting citizens and councilors argued over the amount of comment that has occurred about the parking study. In the midst of the dispute Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly reminisced about the downtown’s past to the Strong Towns supporters. “If you think about this city 120 years ago there was no Durkee Street parking lot. But now we need to start thinking about how we redevelop that Durkee Street area. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
“They’re gonna do what they want with or without public input.” Downtown businessman Peter Regnier is a member of the Strong Towns group. He attended the meeting and faults councilors for abrasive and predisposed attitudes. “I don’t particularly like the options and I really didn’t like the tone of the members of the Common Council. I mean at one point there was a young man from Plattsburgh State who was giving his opinion. He was like cross examined to the point where someone in the crowd actually stood up and yelled ‘Is he on trial here?’ So the tone was very us against them.”
Regnier, who owns and rents two downtown buildings, fears the city’s plan would be detrimental to the downtown core. “Some Durkee Street development in a small incremental fashion may be beneficial. But the way it looks right now I believe it will devastate the Durkee street vendors and it will have a negative effect for business owners over the city.”
The city hopes to have a more detailed plan completed within a couple months. The final list of recommendations will be completed by May 3rd.