Saratoga Associates - complete Planning in the City of Plattsburgh

Planning, Visioning, and Implementation in Plattsburgh

Like many of its neighbors in the northeastern United States, the City of Plattsburgh is a regional urban center which has had to balance its numerous assets with the forces of change in the twentieth century. Its once thriving downtown, and resort- and industry-based waterfront, endured a period of decline which has recently begun to be reversed. The viability and cohesion of the city’s downtown was seriously impacted by the construction of I-87 and numerous outlying strip shopping centers. While I-87 linked Plattsburgh to the U.S. Interstate system, vastly improved its accessibility to the American and Canadian markets, and made it a much more attractive place to do business, it has also made it easier for potential visitors to bypass downtown altogether.

In an effort to counter these impacts, the city has made successful use of numerous federal and state funding programs for community planning, housing rehabilitation and commercial revitalization, along with infrastructure improvements, traffic pattern realignment, creation of additional parking facilities and programs to attract people and business to the downtown. Revolving loan funds were also established for the rehabilitation of downtown commercial buildings. In recent decades, the City has undertaken a number of publicly-funded programs to improve its waterfront and public park areas, all part of the City’s larger vision of creating a system of walking trails and publicly-accessible areas along Lake Champlain and the Saranac River.

Saratoga Associates – 1999 Comprehensive Plan

The City of Plattsburgh had a Comprehensive Plan dating from 1982. Following the closure of the Plattsburgh Air Force Base, the City began an update process to identify and address critical land use issues and to guide growth, as well as to respond to the initial efforts of the 1995 Draft Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). The goals of this plan update, completed in 1999, were to inform developers of the type and pattern of land use desired by residents; encourage consistent decision-making regarding new and expanded development; provide a legal basis for the adoption or implementation of land use tools; and help the city to invest wisely in municipal services.

Draft LWRP: Community Vision and Implementation Strategy

After years of previous planning studies and other visioning efforts that looked to optimize the potential of Plattsburgh’s unrivaled location along Lake Champlain and the Saranac River, the City enlisted the services of Saratoga Associates in 2014 to assist in creating a holistic vision for the future of their waterfront via the State of New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). The LWRP provides a step-by- step process for communities to advance their planning efforts from vision to reality. It is a voluntary, grass-roots effort which brings together local and State governments, commerce and industry, environmental interests, private organizations, and community citizens to assess current opportunities and constraints and to build a consensus on the desired future of the community’s waterfront. More importantly, the LWRP provides a strategy for achieving that vision and for managing local resources.

Recognizing the need to coordinate the LWRP with the updated Comprehensive Plan, the City applied for and was awarded a grant in 2009 to re-examine the community’s vision for its waterfront and update the LWRP to reflect that vision. The Draft LWRP was partially updated in 2010.

Beginning in 2014, Saratoga Associates worked with the City and community members to develop a vision that would guide the creation of vibrant destinations for the economic benefit and enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. The process included multiple stakeholder meetings to develop consensus and outreach efforts, including public workshops. By melding the ideas of over 20 years of previous plans and documents with input from the community, the firm was able to efficiently refine the City’s vision for its future waterfront, prioritize current project ideas for five subareas, provide conceptual designs for priority projects, and finalize the Draft LWRP Document.

The City now has a coherent vision for its Waterfront Revitalization Area that can be used to attract future public and private development related to recreational, open space, and economic development opportunities, which prioritize public access to the waterfront and consider the natural, cultural, and historical resources of the City.

Plattsburgh’s LWRP Goals:

  • increase public awareness and accessibility to the Lake Champlain and Saranac River waterfronts,
  • capitalize on the economic development/downtown revitalization potential of the waterfront,
  • address ways to accommodate increasing public demand for recreational resources, and
  • explore ways to work regionally to develop and enhance linkages to the rest of the Adirondack Coast.

The LWRP identified key priority projects within five subareas, noted proposed zoning refinements, and provided needed local laws to guide the planning process. For example, the downtown subarea included projects that would later be incorporated into the City’s DRI Strategic Investment Plan and other planning efforts, such as an Arts Corridor; streetscape improvements and trail connections; waterfront access enhancements (riverfront walkway, hand launches); infill development; and development of the Dock Street Waterfront District (to be addressed by the Future Harborfront Master Plan).

Waterfront Design and Feasibility Study for City Beach and the Crete Center

Concurrent with 2014 LWRP update, the City retained Saratoga Associates to conduct a Phase I “Plattsburgh City Beach and Crete Center Redevelopment Feasibility Study,” which was completed in 2016. Throughout the design and study processes, Saratoga Associates worked closely with the City, the community, and the NYS Department of State, who funded the project.

Plattsburgh’s City Beach is a focal point for tourism, attracting visitors from both the U.S. and Canada. In addition to the natural beach along Lake Champlain, the property includes the Crete Center, a 30,000 square foot multipurpose facility used for recreation and special events. Though the beach has maintained its status as a recreational destination, the Crete Center will soon outlive its usefulness without substantial renovations.

Saratoga Associates assisted the City with a feasibility study which included sire reconnaissance and a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment for City Beach; a Building Assessment for the Crete Center, including a Hazardous Materials Survey of the Structure; and general assessment of the entire property. Redevelopment ideas considered alternative visions for the future of the property that both included and removed the Crete Center.  The study identified strategies to improve recreation at the City Beach site and access to the waterfront, and included a design study, Design Standards and Guidelines for parks and recreation, suggested waterfront Best Management Practices, and a feasibility analysis for the redevelopment and enhancement of the Crete Center and City Beach sites.

Based on community feedback and initial cost analyses, the preferred concept looked to provide enhanced open space with a focus on community recreation — expanded passive and active recreation opportunities, improved lakefront access, open space within the flood zone, and minimal impacts on sensitive areas. Cost estimates were developed for the mitigation, remediation, renovation and restoration of the property, including the redevelopment options for the Crete Center.

The design concept creates new park access with landscaping and a multipurpose near Cumberland Head Road. In the center of the site, removal of the Crete Center and existing pavements, allows for a multipurpose performance venue and a smaller pavilion that look onto a large event lawn, while a second lawn area is located closer to the beach, connecting to a waterfront pavilion and pedestrian pier. Beach area improvements include a docking pier, a pedestrian plaza, a maritime-themed play area, and a pavilion, as well as new bath house, concessions, and multipurpose buildings. The western portion of the site includes nature-oriented improvements, with an environmental education center, an expanded boardwalk and trail network, a hand launch at Scomotion Creek, and interpretive nodes throughout.

The Feasibility Study outlined future steps, including a recreation-based market analysis to determine potential uses on site, a detailed financial analysis for operations and marketing, and a finalized design and implementation strategy.

DRI Implementation

City website: https://www.cityofplattsburgh-ny.gov/department/community-development/downtown-revitalization-initiative

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative is a program launched by Governor Andrew Cuomo to support the transformation of downtown neighborhoods into vibrant communities where New Yorkers want to live, work, and raise families – making these communities increasingly attractive to companies (and their workforces) which may be looking to relocate or invest in New York State. The City of Plattsburgh was a recipient of one of the ten $10 million DRI awards in Round One of the program, with the state selecting a variety of projects in 2017 to receive funding.

The DRI area is coincident with the Dock Street-Durkee Street-Downtown Subarea of the Waterfront Revitalization Area defined in the City’s LWRP. The Strategic Investment Plan under the DRI focuses efforts within this region of the city, including projects that were identified through the LWRP process. Under the DRI, Plattsburgh’s focus was to build on recent investments, including a new municipal marina, streetscape improvements, and renovation of historic buildings to create a vibrant downtown that serves the needs of local employees, residents, students, and visitors. The focus of the plan was on mixed-use infill development, a greater variety of retail and housing, expansion of the successful Farmers’ Market, and providing an enhanced connection to the waterfront.

Ten projects were announced as funding recipients, and Saratoga Associates was chosen to lead the development of the Streetscape Enhancements and Riverfront Access projects, both funded by the NYS Department of State. The Streetscape Enhancements project included $1,300,000 dedicated to the revitalization of an underutilized park, as well as improvements to the pedestrian and cyclist environment on up to five downtown streets. The Riverfront Access component received $1,600,000 for the development of a riverfront walkway with overlook between Bridge and Broad Streets, concepts for enhancements to MacDonough Park, and expanded visual and physical river access points.

These projects were undertaken in coordination with other DRI funded projects, and complementary downtown improvements:

  • Mixed-use development at Durkee Street
  • Review of downtown parking accommodations
  • Downtown wayfinding/branding and signage
  • Protection Avenue improvements
  • Relocation of the Municipal Lighting Department facilities
  • Relocation of the Farmers and Crafters Market
  • NYSEG Remediation of the Saranac River
  • Empire State Trail connections
  • Continued development of Phase II of the Saranac River Trail and design ideas for Phase III.

Saratoga Associates shared plant palettes and materials ideas with the designers of other projects throughout downtown, in order to achieve a cohesive identity. As part of the Riverfront Access improvements, plans for a Riverwalk between Bridge and Broad Streets have been developed, which would provide an overlook, seating, landscaping, and interpretive elements, while also serving as a connection to Phase II of the Saranac River Trail. The Riverwalk is on the eastern edge of the proposed Durkee Street redevelopment, which would provide a mix of retail, dining, and residential space, while allowing for public use of the waterfront and providing off-street parking. Plans have also been developed for the revitalization of the park located between Durkee and Margaret Streets – known as Westelcom Park – as an element of the proposed Arts Corridor. The Betty Little Arts Park design reimagines the space to include a plaza with seating, an improved accessible walkway, a central water feature, landscaping, new lighting, and locations for sculpture by local artists.

Saratoga Associates prioritized community engagement during the development of ideas for these projects. Activities included dot polls that allowed participants to vote on various ideas; focus groups to explore details of concepts or areas of importance; distribution of a survey – both mailed and online; public meetings held on December 5, 2018 and May 13, 2019 to obtain feedback; a DRI Open House held in conjunction with other projects on August 21, 2019; and presentations of the projects to the City Boards and Council. Project materials and presentations, along with periodic updates, were also posted on a section of the City’s website dedicated to the various DRI projects.

It is anticipated that the Arts Park will be under construction in Spring 2021.

Final LWRP, Updated Comprehensive Plan, and Updated Zoning Ordinance

City website: https://www.cityofplattsburgh-ny.gov/department/community-development/lwrp-comprehensive-plan-and-zoning-update

During the Downtown Revitalization Initiative process, multiple projects were identified, but not all were awarded funding. Three of these were finalizing the LWRP, updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan, and updating the Zoning Ordinance. In 2020, Saratoga Associates was retained by the City to guide the finalization of the 2016 Draft LWRP. Comments were received from NYS DOS on the Draft, and updates were made to include planning developments that had occurred within the City since 2016, such as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Once the LWRP is approved by the NYS Secretary of State, the community will have the local controls in place to guide waterfront development and–a distinct benefit of a LWRP–the legal ability to ensure that all State actions proposed for their waterfront only occur in the fashion prescribed in the plan. This “consistency” provision is a strong tool that assures that State and local governments work in unison, and not at cross purposes, to build a stronger economy and a healthier waterfront environment.

In conjunction with the finalization of the LWRP, some updates to Zoning and other planning processes were called for.

Concurrent with the LWRP finalization, the City initiated a review and update to its 1999 Comprehensive Plan, which was originally completed by Saratoga Associates to address land use issues that had arisen since the 1982 Comprehensive Plan and guide future growth. Although goals still include strengthening neighborhoods, promoting revitalization, protecting natural resources, and promoting recreation and tourism, the City’s vision has changed, and the Plan needed updates to be concurrent with the LWRP. Saratoga Associates is leading the process to address the vision to have “an inclusive vibrant downtown steeped in history and culture with vibrant mixed use, walkable neighborhoods, and abundant affordable housing.” Feedback from residents, the Community Development Office, Planning Board, Zoning Board, and City Council will ensure that common issues are addressed by the revisions.

The City of Plattsburgh Zoning Ordinance has been developed to promote orderly, economical and desirable development in the community and to protect and enhance the value of property and life in the City. To support the Comprehensive Plan, the Zoning Ordinance is also under review and will be updated to reflect downtown revitalization efforts and address needed refinements to the development code.

City of Plattsburgh Community Vision 2015:

The City of Plattsburgh is a community extraordinary in is orientation to Lake Champlain and the Saranac River that possesses rich environmental, recreational, historical, cultural, artistic and economic resources. Our trails, parks, marinas, and boat launches maximize access to our waterways, creating unforgettable recreational experiences and optimizing permanent public access.

Our inviting and vibrant city offers strong linkages to the rest of our region making it the hub of the Adirondack Coast.

We promote development that fosters the area’s educational, cultural, artistic, recreational, dining and retail opportunities and attracts both residents and visitors throughout the year.  We are stewards of our land and water and of the rich heritage that has shaped our community. We forge lifelong connections among all who live, work, and recreate here that will endure for generations.

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