Coalition Attorney Warns Plattsburgh Leaders DRI Redevelopment Plans Are Illegal

Sep 6, 2019

In a precursor to a potential lawsuit, the attorney for a coalition opposed to the current plans for Plattsburgh’s downtown redevelopment delivered a letter to city leaders Thursday informing them they do not have the legal authority to enter an agreement with the developers.

The city of Plattsburgh has contracted with Prime Properties to build an apartment and retail complex on part of what is now the Durkee Street parking lot in downtown Plattsburgh.  The development is being funded in part through the $10 million DRI – Downtown Redevelopment Initiative — awarded to the city in 2016.

Residents and businesses concerned about the shift in parking and the deviation from original development plans formed the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition.  During Thursday evening’s Common Council meeting, an attorney retained by the group delivered a letter to city leaders informing them their agreement with the developer is illegal and the parking lot may be protected by the public trust doctrine. Lake George attorney Matthew Fuller specializes in environmental law and the SEQR process.  “The city of Plattsburgh has a bit of an issue in that the project as proposed currently does not comply with the City Law. General City Law of New York Section 22 makes it very clear that waterfront property cannot be alienated and the proposal that you have that is subject to the SEQR resolution, even within the scoping, cannot at all go forward until the city deals with that provision of the General City Law.  And more importantly even if you get through that hurdle you have a parking district and this property is included in that parking district. You can’t alienate that property that is essentially the property of a district without any legislative approval. I understand you’re about to take an action on the SEQR scoping document. From a legal standpoint you can’t even get that far until these two legal hurdles are dealt with.”

Fuller left after delivering his comments and letter to the city.  The Common Council later considered the resolution to approve a final scoping document for the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the DRI projects, which the coalition attorney had earlier warned cannot currently move forward. Ward 5 Democrat and attorney Patrick McFarlin requested a closed session.  “I’d like to make a motion to go into executive session and discuss the potential litigation.”

Councilors and Mayor Colin Read returned following the brief meeting.   “No decisions were made during executive session.”

Councilors unanimously passed the resolution approving a final scoping document and authorizing preparation of a draft GEIS.  Mayor Read said he believes the action on the resolution is unrelated to the coalition attorney’s concerns.  "The proposal on the agenda was in support of the Generic EIS which needs to proceed regardless to try to figure out how all these various projects fit together. So that’s unrelated to his concerns or at least only tangentially related. We still have to proceed and do our due diligence regardless of his concerns. You know we’ve anticipated these sorts of challenges and we’re obviously studying them and we’ll ultimately do the right thing but we’re not concerned at this point.”  

Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition member Penny Gaudreau contends the group turned to an attorney because city leaders have betrayed city residents and acted with impunity.  “It doesn’t matter what the people say. The decisions have been made and they are moving forward with Prime buying the Durkee Street Parking Lot for a dollar, giving them $4.3 million of the DRI monies and an outside developer, from outside of Clinton County let alone just Plattsburgh, will be reaping the benefits of the rents that come out of that apartment building.”

No formal lawsuits against Plattsburgh’s downtown redevelopment plans have been filed.

The letter to the city council: