Whether it’s a dock, sidewalks or most anything else, residents of Schenectady’s Stockade tend to have strong opinions. And they were entirely right in condemning the city’s act of environmental vandalism two years ago when it chopped down some majestic old trees on North Ferry Street while repaving the street and redoing the sidewalks there. It was a major mistake, compounded by the fact that the city didn’t consult people in the neighborhood before doing it.
But the city also messed up with the part of the project it did consult residents about. Determined not to repeat these errors, General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen wisely decided last week to delay a similar project on Washington Avenue for at least a year.
On North Ferry, a number of residents wanted the new sidewalks to retain their historic look, with bricks to frame them, and in a few cases blue stone on the walks themselves. And the city was willing to accommodate them, provided they paid the difference in cost. It got signed contracts from some, but not all — and when the good weather started running out, chose in good faith to go ahead with the project.
What it didn’t count on was the bad faith of some who, not legally bound to pay, refused to do so. With many thousands of dollars at stake, the city should have tried harder to shame or threaten these people into paying up. It should also have collected the money from those who had signed contracts, rather than tell them they didn’t have to pay because, in the words of General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen, “It wouldn’t be fair to charge some.” Governments don’t excuse the many who pay their taxes just because some don’t. They assume that people will live up to their obligations and go after the scofflaws.
In any case, it’s going to be different this time. Olsen says he won’t do the work until he has negotiated with everyone who wants something special, has a signed contract, and money up front. That’s the right way to do it.
But trees, whose roots have heaved some of the sidewalks on Washington Avenue, shouldn’t be left to residents to decide about keeping, or be responsible for. Even if it costs extra to reroute the sidewalk around large trees, as was done on Lowell Road in the GE Plot, that’s how it should be done and the city should pay for it. If rerouting isn’t possible, then the street should be repaved without redoing the sidewalk.
And if it takes another year or two to work all this out, that’s OK. It takes a lot longer than that to grow a tree.