Posts Tagged ‘Amsterdam NY’


The following are my thoughts regarding the zoning report generated by the self-appointed “ad hoc volunteer committee”.

The preliminary report was not prepared by a committee designated by the Common Council or by the Planning Commission as required by the City of Amsterdam Charter and General Municipal Law. This formal designation is a must for any board “appointed or elected … for the purpose of administering designated City functions or advising on matters of continuing City interest, or in assisting in the making of City governmental policy.”

The process used to arrive at the proposed amendments does not appear to have involved a formal deliberative and well-documented planning process. Nor did the process involve any public outreach and stakeholder coordination. Again, the same individuals that so eagerly wish to unilaterally take on this project had been unwavering in their efforts to locate the unpopular C&D landfill within city limits, despite public outcry by a majority of city residents.

The process did not include a thorough evaluation of what does and does not work in the current zoning law, nor did it allow for an analysis of the potential implications of the proposed changes on the rest of the zoning law. The drafted legislation has been produced in isolation of the rest of the code and this may result in unintended consequences in other sections.

This rush to piecemeal legislation together over a holiday weekend indicates that the “ad hoc committee” does not fully understand the scope of work proposed or the impact this project will have on the future of our community. We are not in need of a parlor trick – this dramatically important task requires a thoughtful, methodical approach.

Surprisingly, Mr. Going continues to voice his doubts that zoning is necessary at all, citing Houston, TX as an example of unfettered growth without zoning. Certainly we are comparing apples to oranges here, but given the opportunity to contrast our situation with Houston is interesting territory. It is important to note that Houston is known for its sprawling suburbia, as well as automobile dependence, pollution and congestion. Lest we get a skewed perception of Houston’s handling of property development, it does have land-use regulations and deed restrictions enforced by the city in lieu of zoning ordinances and there has been a significant push for zoning in that city for years.

Granted, there are lessons we may learn from Houston; we must look to pedestrian-friendly planning and a permitting process that is stream-lined, affordable and compatible with evolving residential/commercial markets.

The Saratoga Associates proposal provides for a complete revision to the zoning ordinance along with any necessary changes to the zoning map as opposed to an outline of the proposed changes presented so far. It is critical that we involve a cross section of professional planners along with architects, landscape architects, engineers and land use and zoning attorneys when revising zoning regulations to ensure the various aspects of the development regulations are addressed by appropriate professionals.

Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls didn’t evolve into the attractions they are now because of unrestricted growth; they are growing out of land use planning, ordinances and controls. Again, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to follow the path of success.

I am gratified to see that the volunteering individuals are finally embracing the Comprehensive Plan and are beginning to recognize the importance of a revitalized downtown, both initiatives I have been advancing since my campaign and throughout my first year of office. One wonders why these individuals did not take the opportunity to offer their expertise to our Downtown Development Committee, the Via Ponte Committee, the Waterfront Commission or the Master Plan Committee, which have been meeting over the past year. And don’t forget, we’re still looking for volunteers to the Assessment Board of Appeals.

I feel strongly that we should move forward with our efforts to revamp the zoning ordinances because I believe so fervently in the future of our city. I will canvas for additional proposals from professionals so that we may base our decision on cost comparisons, but I encourage the Council to act sooner than later to award a contract. The process will take at least six months to complete and we have waited much too long as a community to confront this problem.

To those of you wishing to read more on this fascinating topic, I recommend A Better Way to Zone: Ten Principles to Create More Livable Cities, by Donald L. Elliott. This small book is vast in history and wisdom.

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I read with interest an editorial in the Schenectady Gazette regarding the Walter Elwood Museum and it’s possible relocation. I divert in thought from ideas expressed by the author in a few ways.

I agree that all challenges come with mixed blessings and that this may be an opportunity for the museum to reassess its collections and pare down to what is deemed “essential”. I also believe the collections should be carefully looked at in terms of its current mission and vision before they are parted with, which are not specifically about preserving local history.

WEM Mission

The Walter Elwood Museum is a gateway to learning using the past to illuminate the present. Utilizing local experience, stories and artifacts, we examine history and culture in all its dimensions. We offer educational programs, unique collections and creative activities to enrich understanding of ourselves and each other.

WEM Vision

As a cultural center, the Museum inspires curiosity, creativity, and understanding of our past and present. The Museum promotes a dynamic, rich, unified community that values its heritage.

As you see, the illuminative mission of the museum is to interpret all history and culture through local experience, not the preservation of local artifacts. This allows for the utilization of the diverse collections (which have origins from around the world and through time) in new and unique ways that inspire pleasure, curiosity and reflection.

The museum’s collections should be very carefully evaluated before they are offered up for auction, with an eye toward mission and creative usage. A critical challenge for the Walter Elwood Museum has always been the interpretation of its permanent collections, which include not only local history materials, natural history collections, and Native American collections, but other cultural materials from around to the world. Elwood himself acquired some of the objects, and for over six decades, local residents responding to Elwood’s passion for object-based learning contributed many others.

With this potential relocation, the museum may create new exhibits focused on the qualities of its namesake Walter Elwood: teacher, explorer, collector, tradition-bearer, naturalist and prominent community activist. Delving into his passions for traveling & collecting, his drive to understand global culture as well as personal and local history, his commitment to education, and his dedication to community service, the museum may offer global perspectives that go beyond the reaches of our City limits.

They may also spotlight the contributions of other individuals in our community that exemplify these qualities. In this way, our community is given the chance to celebrate the attributes of individuality, commonality, and creative pursuit that bring color and life to all people while also attracting an audience with interests outside of the immediate area.

By interpreting the collections through the kaleidoscopic personality of Walter Elwood or the stories of local experience, the museum has an opportunity to feature exotic and varied items that have been sequestered away for decades. It would serve everyone to design changing exhibits in the new location that combine objects on display, storage, studios, archived materials, and play space. That way, the balance of the collection could go into storage and be circulated out according to the curricular needs of the schools, season or in response to current events.

Ultimately, the vision of the museum is to create a strengthened community through the understanding and acceptance of history, art, the sciences and culture. May it always be so.

The museum is a valuable resource for students and families and is vitally important to the revitalization of Amsterdam. I encourage all of you reading these local blogs to provide for the museum with your time and/or financial support. As is true in every situation, it’s the individual contributions of each person that make the difference.

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In with the “in” crowd

Hello all.

I am diving into the world of shared thought. I’ve found myself logging in every day to the cacophonous voices of others in my community and feel compelled to blather a bit myself.

So hear I am and will be. I’ll chime in when prodded by pundits, puritans or pirates.

I look forward to this.

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