Op-ed column: Do we really need dock in Riverside Park? Supporters don’t prove it

Despite my fondness for Frank Gilmore and admiration for his many skills as an architect and an arti

Despite my fondness for Frank Gilmore and admiration for his many skills as an architect and an artist, I was disappointed in his Viewpoint commentary on the plan to construct a Mohawk River dock in the Stockade District’s Riverside Park.

The dock originally planned for East Front Street, sought by neighbors and supported by several studies and reports, somehow has become a dock in Riverside Park, which is opposed by neighbors and, according to the brand-new Mohawk River Waterfront Revitalization Plan for Schenectady County, has “limited access and parking, which inhibits any significant expansion of use other than to improve it as a scenic overlook and to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access and connection to adjoining areas.”

Gilmore crafts the impression that the proposed dock would be solely for the use of the historic replica boat Onrust, when in fact the Onrust would use only 60 feet of a 300-foot long dock.

Having been an attorney and policy adviser at a federal regulatory agency in Washington, D.C., I’m quite used to disagreeing strongly with some of the best and brightest minds around, and then enjoying lunch or a weekend barbecue with my “opponents,” knowing we might be allies soon on another issue. But, that assumes a good faith effort to marshal facts and use relevant precedent and analogies, and to respect the intelligence and good intentions of those on the other side of a controversy.

What’s in a name

Calling something “positive change” and a “public benefit” does not make it so. That should be especially obvious to people who live in and want to protect a historic district. Not being in the construction or planning industries, I do not equate every new structure with “progress” or “public benefit.” For example, if I did, I would surely support “enhancing” our tranquil and beautiful Central Park Rose Garden, fostering progress and greater usage by putting a skate board ramp, a seasonal sports bar, or Frisbee golf on the grounds of the garden. There would be no reason to ask what is special about the rose garden, or what attracts its current users and is worth preserving, because the mavens of projects and proposals call these additions “progress.”

I’ve yet to hear any realistic, objective reason for believing that a significant number of money-spending tourists or locals would use a Riverside dock — leaving their valuable craft at an unattended dock to trudge to “nearby” attractions such as Proctors. Apparently, no study has been done, since none is cited by any of the proponents. No one has provided any numbers about the cost of maintenance and surveillance, etc., much less any meaningful prediction of the impact on current users, close-by residents (due to noise, traffic, crime), or even rowing crews.

Not against visitors

Opponents of the dock do not want to discourage people from outside the Stockade from visiting Riverside Park. We only ask that they come the way we do, by land. When we approach such visitors, they often are more effusive than park regulars about its quiet access to beauty, low-key recreation options, and variety of users.

In the 21st century, “progress” and “public benefit” should include the realization that a beautiful, tranquil spot that attracts people of all ages and many uses, is rare and valuable and worthy of preservation.

Risking loss of the essence and charm of Riverside Park merely because there are dollars available seems foolish and reckless. The planners promote and mislead rather than study, plan and explain, the loud cheerleaders shame skeptics and preservationists, labeling them as “anti-progress” or selfish.

Even if we did not have environmental review laws and historic district regulations meant to protect such assets, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on those who want to change, not on those who appreciate and want to preserve a treasured asset like Riverside Park? Like a judge or jury, or a thoughtful City Council, we are still waiting for a believable case to be made by supporters of the dock. As for rumored “compromises,” we wonder when we’ll be receiving adequate details, trustworthy promises and workable mechanisms for decision-making down the road.

We continue to insist on a far better explanation of why the “realistic” benefits of a dock would be worth the risk to what is already working so well at Riverside Park.

David Giacalone lives in Schenectady’s Stockade District. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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