Durkee project stalled in court as other DRI legs advance

MCKENZIE DELISLE/STAFF PHOTOLuck Brothers Inc. continues work at the site of the future Betty Little Arts Park in downtown Plattsburgh City. The park, straddled between Margaret and Durkee streets nearby the Westelcom building, will feature three tiers, including a seating area up top by Margaret Street, a water feature in the center and a sculpture garden by Durkee Street. Though scheduled for fall 2021 completion, Plattsburgh City Community Development Director Matthew Miller recently said it was ahead of schedule and on track for an end of July completion, weather permitting.

PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh City's DRI projects continue to advance at their own paces five years after the state wrote the Lake City a $10 million check.

PHASE I RECIPIENT

The North Country city was awarded in the initial phase of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Downtown Revitalization Initiative back in 2016. 

The state's end game was to bolster statewide Main Streets and their surrounding hubs through a mix of housing, economic development, transportation and community projects that would attract and retain residents, visitors and businesses.

City of Plattsburgh funds were awarded to 10 total projects, including six administered under city leadership: Durkee Street Site; Dock Street Waterfront District; the Downtown Grant Program; Riverfront Access; Downtown Streetscape Improvements; and Marketing, Branding and Signage Strategy.

DURKEE SITE

Development of the Durkee Street site, known to some as the Prime project, has been stalled in the courtroom as of late.

The site's redevelopment by developer Prime Companies LLC, or Prime Plattsburgh, looks to convert the 3.4 acre parking lot into a multi-story, mixed-use development equipped with residential and commercial uses. 

A pedestrian walking path connecting to two other DRI-related projects — an incoming riverfront walkway and the Betty Little Arts Park now under construction between Durkee and Margaret streets — was also part of the project alongside a mix of public-private parking.

IN THE COURTROOM

The Durkee project has been met with public opposition since its onset, including three rounds of litigation. 

The first was filed against the City of Plattsburgh, its Common Council and the developer in May 2020 by nonprofit opposition group Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition Inc., L. David Boise, City Hall Place Properties LLC, John S. Seiden, Alan Booth and North Country Cooperative Corporation. 

The suit claimed, among other assertions, that the city was in violation of municipal law, but the case was dismissed on "ripeness" months later as, at the time, the project had yet to receive several pending approvals. 

Downtown developer John Seiden, represented by local attorney Frank Zappala, filed another suit in September 2020 against the same defendants plus the Plattsburgh City Planning Board, asserting that board was in violation of the Open Meetings Law and suggesting a conflict of interest involving the city's corporation counsel.

That suit was also dismissed.

'LACKS MERIT' 

The latest bout of litigation, filed February 2021 after the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board granted project approvals, is still active. 

L. David Boise, City Hall Place Properties LLC, Concerned Owners of Plattsburgh Properties LLC, North Country Cooperative Corporation, Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition Inc. and John S. Seiden are the latest petitioners. 

Plattsburgh City Corporation Counsel Dean Schneller said the city filed a 17,700-plus page record documenting its comprehensive review, as well as a motion to dismiss the petition.

"While petitioners have been persistent, they have not been successful. Each of the two prior litigated matters was resolved in favor of the city and Prime. . . from the city's perspective, this third litigation should meet the same result as its predecessors, because, like them, it completely lacks merit."

Schneller said the litigation had been fully briefed and said the parties await Judge John T. Ellis' decision and order.

Asked if there was an estimated construction timeline, the city said it was subject to the resolution of all litigation in favor of the city and the developer.

Petitioners did not respond to several requests for comment by press time Monday. 

THE COST

The Durkee site's redevelopment was awarded $4.3 million of the $10 million, the most of any other Plattsburgh DRI project.

It also received a 21-year-long Payment In Lieu of Taxes Agreement. 

Asked how much the city paid towards the project thus far, the city responded with the following: 

• $300,000 to development consultant White + Burke Real Estate Advisors, reimbursable via DRI funding allocated to the project.

• $159,081 to Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS) consultant Chazen Companies, charged to the general fund. 

• $62,771 for legal expenses charged by Miller, Mannix, Schachner and Haffner during the GEIS process, charged to the general fund. 

• $40,564 for legal expenses charged by Barclay Damon on behalf of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals, charged to the general fund. 

"Beyond those costs, the time expended by city staff in support of the Durkee Street project and the associated salary costs have been substantial," the city said in its response. "An exact accounting of this staff time is difficult to provide due to the overlapping nature of the Durkee project and several other city initiatives, but even a conservative estimate would place this figure in the range of several hundred thousand dollars.

"While the bulk of this staff support was provided by the Community Development Office, nearly every city department was called upon to provide support and/or input during the course of the project."

Additional expenses are anticipated for various reasons, including the ongoing litigation, the city added.

"These expenses are anticipated to be minor when compared to what the city has spent thus far."

DOCK STREET

Community Development Director Matthew Miller provided the Common Council with a DRI update during a recent committee meeting. 

He noted the completion of the Dock Street Waterfront District segment, which included a highest and best use study of a waterfront area off of Dock Street and by its marina, now dubbed Harborside. That report wrapped upped in 2019. 

The project was also to include the demolition of the city's former Municipal Lighting Department buildings there. 

All but one was demolished as the Lake City later determined to salvage one, which became the new Plattsburgh Farmers and Crafters Market site. 

The market is midway through its first season there. 

DOWNTOWN GRANTS

The Downtown Grant Program, or DGP, is still underway. 

Various grants were awarded to several downtown property owners via this leg of the DRI to support upper level apartment renovations and store front facades, as well as enhance some business operations. 

"Several of the projects are in various stages of completion," Miller said. "We're trying to push as many of those property owners to finish up by the end of this year if possible." 

RIVERFRONT, STREETSCAPES

Riverfront Access and Downtown Streetscapes Improvements were awarded $1.6 million and $1.3 million, respectively. 

A major project of the riverfront portion is the walkway planned to run in between the Saranac River and the Durkee Street parking lot. 

Miller said walkway construction, which has yet to begin, was "tied up" in the stalled Durkee development project, alongside the city's planned updates to Durkee Street itself. 

"All of those construction timelines are going to have to align in order for everything to fit together well and not getting in each others way while they're building it." 

Work on the Betty Little Arts Park by Luck Brothers has continued this summer season and was expected to finish no later than fall 2021, though Miller said it was ahead of schedule. 

"We expect completion of that project by the end of July at this point, weather permitting."

MARKETING, BRANDING, SIGNAGE

Chris Boire of Boire Benner Group, the marketing team enlisted for the Marketing, Branding and Signage Strategy, recently reported project progress to the council, sharing renderings of various forms of signage.

Those, using elements related to history, were expected to correspond with previously completed signage under the DRI project, including the black and white downtown street signs and bilingual light pole banners, both of which replaced older versions last year.

Boire also noted possible wayfinding additions, like sidewalk medallions.

Email McKenzie Delisle: 

mdelisle@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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