'Public has spoken'

MCKENZIE DELISLE/STAFF PHOTOKevin Farrington, vice president of the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition, addresses a public informational session held by the group last Wednesday. At the session, coalition leaders made comparisons between Prime Plattsburgh LLC's development of the city-owned Durkee Street parking lot and the "original plans" of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

PLATTSBURGH — Mike Kelly was among the nearly 40 bodies at last week's Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition public session, but the city councilor wasn't impressed. 

"Many of the things that they're claiming are untrue," Kelly (D-Ward 2) told The Press-Republican. "We have a very small group of people that are making a lot of noise. 

"They pretend to be speaking for the entire populace, but they don't."


In July, when the not-for-profit Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition announced its formation, the group had said it meant to advance the interests of downtown stakeholders.

The interest? Stop Prime Plattsburgh LLC's development of the city-owned Durkee Street parking lot. 

Coalition leadership has stressed, however, that the group was not against lot development, but the plans to create 114 market-rate apartments, commercial space, parking and a pedestrian walkway there. 

"The proposed development by (Prime) is contrary to the original plans approved during the (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) public consultation process," a coalition pamphlet says. "This plan included a reasonably sized residential structure, a replacement parking structure and ample public green space."

The group's other upsets over the DRI project was its spin-offs, like a contemplated paid-parking system and relocation of the Plattsburgh Farmers and Crafters Market.


At its recently held public session, coalition leaders made the comparison between Prime's Durkee lot plans and the DRI project's "original plans."

That argument wasn't new and, in the past, Mayor Colin Read has said its phrasing was misleading. 

"There was no original DRI plan," he had told The Press-Republican in June. "When the city proposed a concept to act as a basis for the 2016 DRI award, it understood that a full-fledged plan would be developed subsequently.

"After the award was made in May of 2016, a local planning committee worked for the balance of that year to further flesh out guidelines."

That committee, comprised of city stakeholders, made a Strategic Investment Plan that supported a public-private partnership of the Durkee Street lot.

The hoped goal was to return the lot to city tax rolls via a development that "may include approximately 45 residential units and almost 47,000 square feet of retail and/or commercial space." 


Prime was the sole developer to bite on the Durkee Street project during its bidding process and its plan, since modified, was lopsided compared to that earlier suggestion. 

Instead of 45 residential units, the developer landed on 114 units; instead of 47,000 square feet of commercial space, the developer landed on 10,000 square feet. 

"The Prime developer proposed more housing and less commercial space than the original concept precisely because they and the Local Planning Committee listened to downtown businesses who feared too much new commercial space would reduce the value of their existing spaces," the mayor said. 

"But, I think we all agree that more permanent residents living downtown is a good thing for everybody." 


At the recent session, the coalition thought public input had not been sufficiently considered throughout the DRI process, but Councilor Kelly said he disagreed.

"Now that the public input phase has been completed, our Durkee Street consultants White & Burke took the public's input to the developer," Kelly said. "Prime has altered their draft site plans two or three times in response to public input.

"It is hard to say why the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition did not take advantage of the opportunities for input like other members of the community, unless their goal was to derail the entire DRI process.

"However, the (coalition) cannot override the public's will. The public, through its elected officials, has spoken."


Some community members, as well as the Plattsburgh City School District, have criticized Prime's Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) application to the County of Clinton Industrial Development Agency (CCIDA).

Kelly noted that, at the recent coalition meeting, the group claimed the PILOT would only collect $27,000 per year for the first few years. 

"That may be true, but compared to the current parking lot, which brings in $0 in property taxes, $27,000 per year is better than $0," he said. "In future years, when the PILOT expires, the property tax collected on that apartment building will equal 10 times the PILOT." 

And Kelly felt the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition had created a fear of upped taxes. 

That's because, if approved, the PILOT agreement could abate Prime's property taxes for the initial four years and, after incremental increases, pay 34 percent of total property taxes over a 20-year span.

But, Kelly said, in the case of increased taxes, that wouldn't be at the hands of Prime Plattsburgh LLC. 

"It will be because the mayor and City Council have forgotten their promise to keep taxes below the state-mandated tax cap," Kelly said. "That is not likely as the mayor and council, by 2020, will have brought in a tax rate below the tax cap for three consecutive years.

"This trend will continue, as this is what our taxpayers want us to do."


Kelly said other communities statewide would be so lucky to have received the $10 million grant that the City of Plattsburgh had. 

"The will of the people is to see Plattsburgh grow and prosper, and we will deliver our constituents' wishes," he continued. "I look forward to seeing cranes over downtown Plattsburgh's skyline just like I see in other small cities around the region.

"Next spring, my wish and the wish of my constituents will come true."

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Twitter: @McKenzieDelisle

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