SCHENECTADY — Ingersoll Avenue resident Peter Nicodemi opened his arms wide and crouched as if he were picking up his two-family home in the historic Stockade neighborhood.
This was the city man’s front-porch version of what the city wants to do with his home and 20 others on the street at the tip of the Mohawk River that was left underwater by flooding in 2011.
After a series of community meetings in 2019, the city is in the midst of a complex plan to move the homes out of the 500-year flood plain.
The relocated Ingersoll Avenue will be on higher ground on lands directly east of the existing street, land that’s owned by the city and Union College. One of the parcels is a park with a city-owned swimming pool. Union College has a boathouse on its land.
Last week the project cleared a hurdle when the City Council held a special meeting resolving to authorize the alienation of the park in relation to the Stockade flood-mitigation project. Parkland alienation is required when a municipality wants to convey, sell or lease municipal parkland or, in this case, discontinue its use as a park.
The council had already approved the matter at an earlier meeting, but because it hadn’t been formally introduced in the state Assembly, the city needed to hold another vote to include the bill numbers.
In order to use parkland for another purpose, the city must receive authorization from the state. Legislation must be enacted by the New York State Legislature and approved by the governor.
According to Kristin Diotte, the city’s director of planning, zoning and community engagement, the college’s participation requires a viable alternative location for its boathouse. Plans and maps are in a preliminary phase and the city awaits the completion of site surveying work.
A proposed bike path extension through the neighborhood will not be impacted by the proposed flood-mitigation plan, Diotte said.
The project has been supported by the majority of Ingersoll property owners, she said.
The concept also received strong support from Stockade residents who participated in the public workshops in the spring of 2019. Like any project of this scale and complexity, facing zero opposition is not guaranteed, Diotte acknowledged.
That said, the city has gone through an extensive and comprehensive process to explore numerous flood-mitigation measures for the district, she said.
The selected project is the result of extensive analysis, consensus building and coordination that will result in the protection of people and historic structures in the long term by relocating them out of the flood plain entirely, Diotte said.
Considering the spike in flood insurance premiums, climate change and the frequency of flood events, the alternative of doing nothing would lead to further disinvestment in the neighborhood and continue to compromise the district, she said.
Nicodemi told a reporter his wife Eileen grew up in their house, and has lived there for all but one of her 77 years. He thinks the homes like his were built for General Electric tradesmen at the time.
“There’s a picture — I can’t find it — of her mother, leaning off that porch, getting a bottle of milk from the milkman in a boat,” he said of the 121-year-old early Queen Anne home where he and his wife live. “It had to be in the ’40s. That was a monster flood back then.”
The goal for construction of the new street is 2022 or 2023, though there are many steps to be completed before that point, officials have said.
Nicodemi, now 83, said the flood that left the street underwater 10 years ago was enough for him. He’s in favor of the massive project.
Well acquainted with his neighbors, Nicodemi said 99% of residents on the street are also ready to go. He said the city had surveyors in the neighborhood a few weeks ago, and that the city will next check the structural integrity of the homes.
“It’s time,” he said.
If the project goes through, Nicodemi said, city officials have told the neighborhood they would have to vacate their houses for about four months and they can leave their belongings inside.
Nicodemi said he has a daughter who lives in Rotterdam who can help with temporary accommodations.
The only drawback to the project, he said, is that his new location will not yield a cellar for his property.
“They’re saying you’re going to get a plot up there the same size as this, with a space for a two-car garage and a utility shed,” Nicodemi said.
But Mark Tenace, who lives in an apartment across the street, said he’s against the project.
“I think it’s going to cost the city way too much money to move houses that are 100 years old,” Tenace said. “As soon as you go to try to take it off the foundation, a lot of these houses are going to crumble.”
While the project is being coordinated by city officials, it’s being funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In addition to losing their basements, owners aren’t likely to have similar plots of land, Tenace speculated.
“They’re going to lose their backyards. I’ll lose my garage.” He then asked a reporter, “Do you really think that Schenectady is going to compensate people for that?”
“I’ve been in Schenectady way too long, and they have these great ideas but it just never pans out. They never follow through.”
Despite his doubts, Tenace said, he will likely stick it out rather than pursue other housing because “the neighborhood is still better than the other places, but it’s getting worse.”
The current first phase of the two-phased plan includes a $1.2 million comprehensive mitigation analysis, with site analysis, evaluation of existing conditions, and evaluation of alternatives and the recommended, preferred mitigation solution.
Once Phase 1 is complete, the FEMA will consider awarding just over $7.5 million for construction in Phase 2.
Diotte said that in subsequent phases, the long-term vision is to protect all residents and historic structures from flooding.
The goal for potential future phases would be to relocate the most vulnerable homes from North and North Ferry streets, and elevate less vulnerable homes on North, North Ferry, Governors Lane, Washington Avenue and Cucumber Alley. That possibility depends on future funding, Diotte said.