The Schenectady City Council approved Councilwoman Margaret King as the new council president Monday, breaking with the tradition of switching leaders every two years.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker, who was the council president for just one year, 2012, nominated King for the position during Monday’s council committees session.
The council approved King in a quick vote, without any dissent or discussion. The formal vote will be held at the beginning of next Monday’s council meeting.
In other business, the council got the first look at a proposal for Liberty Park, which has been a haven for panhandlers and vagrants.
Last year, city officials trimmed back some bushes. But the interior of the small park near Schenectady County Community College is hidden by large berms, built long ago to create an oasis.
In the proposed redevelopment of the park, the berms would be flattened. The city would also add adjacent land to the park to make a wider footprint.
And the new vegetation would be much smaller, eliminating the places where people hide now.
Police Chief Brian Kilcullen, a proponent of reducing crime through environmental design, supported the idea.
“In there, they’re drinking, doing other things,” he said of the vagrants. “The panhandlers you may see down there, they’re camping out in there.”
He added that until he asked city workers to trim the bushes, police calls to the site were “astronomical,” saying they “could have been avoided, had the design been proper.”
In addition to smaller vegetation, the plan calls for other inexpensive changes, said Mary Moore Wallinger of Synthesis Architects.
She suggested “grass and simple plants to maintain. You can plant them so they don’t catch a lot of trash.”
But the most noticeable part of the park will remain.
“[In the plans] we kept the really big arching tree that you see from everywhere. We wanted to keep that,” Wallinger said. “You’ll have the wonderful canopy. It will make the park seem more established and less barren.”
But, she said, most of the other vegetation should be removed, leaving just three trees.
“Three big trees is going to give you a nice ceiling effect,” she said. “Right now it’s so dense you can’t see five feet into the park. This will open it up.”
It’s not clear how much the plans will cost, but Zoning Officer Steven Strichman said his next step will be to look for funding. He’s hoping SCCC or private developers may be willing to help pay for the park.
But the initial landscaping can be done this year by the city, he said.
“The city can do a lot of the work, removing the berms,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy added that he thinks the new park could be maintained by current staff, even though it will be larger than the current park.
“The berms are very labor intensive,” he said. “So even though this plan is for a bigger area, we could do it with the same amount of labor.”