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Appellate Court upholds challenge to Plattsburgh DRI development

Durkee Street parking lot redevelopment site
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Durkee Street parking lot redevelopment site

In a split decision, the Appellate Court has ruled in favor of a citizens group challenging part of Plattsburgh’s downtown redevelopment plans.

In 2017 the city of Plattsburgh received a $10 million Downtown Redevelopment Initiative grant, or DRI, from the state. Part of the project includes redeveloping the Durkee Street parking lot, an area of about 3.4 acres between the Saranac River and the city center.

The Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition challenged the city and zoning board’s approval of environmental review of the property. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the coalition and the city appealed. On Thursday, the Appellate Court issued a split decision ruling, finding the city’s soil management plan for the project was insufficient but its review of potential impact on loon habitat was appropriate.

Citizens Coalition Vice President Kevin Farrington says it’s a big win for the group.

“It just reaffirms that there are certain things that the city needed to do to fully address environmental issues and some other things. They haven’t done it. You know one of the core issues was the fact that the Durkee Street site is considered a contaminated site with potentially hazardous materials and soils underneath it. And as long as it has a cap on it – a parking lot – it’s fine. But when you dig it up you have to have a soil management plan in order to protect the public. The city doesn’t want to do it and Prime doesn’t want to do it. And we’re just simply saying you should do it.”

Democratic Mayor Chris Rosenquest says the ruling negates permits for the project unless it is appealed. He plans to meet with the developer and Empire State Development to discuss options to move the project forward, including the possibility of a revised soil remediation plan.

“One thing I’ve made clear is that this parcel will be developed. It is slated for development. A lot of work that the council did was to subdivide that property to ensure that the next developer that comes all that the city would have to do at this point is put a for sale sign on the property and find a developer to purchaser the property and then develop on the property. So really what we’re looking at is taking this information that the court’s providing us with upholding the Article 78 argument and potentially revising that soil remediation plan, going back to the Zoning Board of Appeals to approve that portion of the project and then move forward from there.”

The city has approved a development agreement with Prime Plattsburgh LLC for a mixed-use project to include apartments and commercial space. Rosenquest explained that in noting “next developer” it does not mean Prime has backed out.

“We don’t know where Prime is at right now. Every indication thus far they have indicated that they are still onboard and we’ll gauge with them on what their overall arching understanding of the project and next steps are and where they want to take the project. The $4 million for the DRI that goes into this project is a contract between the state, Empire State Development, and the developer in this case Prime at this point. So speculating if Prime says it’s not a good project for us anymore we’re going to walk away, that still leaves the city of Plattsburgh with a parcel to develop. That’s my point. I’m saying if we need to find the next developer we will be prepared to do so.”

Rosenquest says the project is needed to infuse housing in the downtown center.

“This would address a significant amount of housing, a hundred or more families for this particular project, that would be able to move into the heart of our downtown. That is the crux of what the Downtown Revitalization Initiative provides.”

Harrington agrees housing should be a priority, but believes there are too many problems with the current plan.

“The debate is that this is a foolish plan. It’s not consistent with the DRI plans. Go back to the drawing board and let’s really think about housing and community needs and a project that is really, truly beneficial to the people and not just beneficial to one corporation for profit.”

The city has not yet decided if it will appeal the Appellate Court decision to the New York State Court of Appeals.

Calls to the developer Prime LLC were not returned in time for broadcast.