In a previous post - Mayor Responds To DRI Criticism - Mayor Colin Read shared his views on options for the $10 million Downtown Revitlization Initiative (DRI) grant. He gave his reactions to my post about the Strong Towns Plattsburgh group which advocates the money being spent on smaller projects. Below is the response by Strong Towns Plattsburgh leader Jeremiah Ward to the mayor's email.
* * *
Immediately after the mayor joined the DRI committee at the tail end of 2016, right after he just ran a campaign that centered on making a bunch of smaller bets with the DRI grant rather than a large bet on Durkee Street, and right after he repeatedly spoke of the need for public buy-in to make the DRI successful, I was startled by the following:
⦁ The mayor never spoke up about the fact that the draft DRI action plan stated that the Durkee Street mixed-use project “received strong support from members of the public during the second public meeting”--the very meeting where this project came in 26th place out of 30 possibilities after a public vote.
⦁ The mayor never publicly objected to the fact that the Durkee Street mixed-use project was recommended as the largest recipient of grant funding despite campaigning against it and despite its lack of public support. The mayor never made a public effort to convince DRI committee members--appointed by Mayor Calnon--that “build it and they will come” projects don’t work despite criticizing Calnon for this approach during the campaign.
I would be curious to see how the mayor voted on the slate of DRI projects at the end of the planning process when all DRI committee members had to cast their votes—I’d be interested in seeing if his vote aligned with the point he made while campaigning: “If our foundations are crumbling..it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense to build a mansion on it.”
Lastly, although the mayor is right when he says that Albany has a say in how the DRI grant is structured, allocated, and implemented, and although I believe the mayor could have done a great deal more to shape things when he was on the DRI committee, the city has more control over how development happens within its boundaries than the mayor’s email to you indicates. If the mayor and council truly embrace a Strong Towns approach to development, then it is completely within their authority to zone the Durkee Street lot to require the following:
⦁ Rather than one development on one parcel, the lot should be broken down into several small parcels that are around the size of existing downtown buildings to spread out risk over a number of investments rather than staking everything on one developer; smaller buildings also require less capital and have the added benefit opening up development opportunities to people who actually live in our community and have a real stake in its success or failure, unlike developers from outside our area.
⦁ Require that a certain percentage of housing constructed on the Durkee Street lot is affordable for and to the benefit of the majority of the city’s existing residents.
I posed these reasonable points to the mayor as a compromise almost a year ago. The mayor told me “that’s not necessary, I’ll handle things.” Sometimes the mayor makes it sound like he has a great deal of control over the DRI process, and other times, he makes it sound like he has no control. Our group exists to make sure that it is the public has control over the DRI, since it’s our tax dollars at work in our community and involves our land.