If city officials and developers of the second phase of the Maddalone/Rosenstein development on Lower Union Street in Schenectady continue to keep their heads in the sand over drainage problems caused by the development, they're likely to get a mouthful of wet sand.
Given the obvious history of drainage problems at the project, it's hard to believe the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority continues to grant approvals for the development while the issues go largely unresolved.
Harleysville Preferred Insurance Co. — the insurance company for developers Christopher Maddalone and Charles Rosenstein — reviewed a claim by the owner of the Union Inn that the project had created a situation that resulted in mud and water flowing into her business' basement.
The flooding ultimately forced the owner to close her business earlier this month. The 147-year-old building had never had flooding in the basement during its entire existence until the last year or so.
After conducting its investigation, the insurance company last summer said its client was responsible for the flooding, sending a letter to the developers declaring that a “change in topography/landscape has caused an increased amount of water runoff to occur."
The company in the same letter chastised the developers for not addressing the problem. The insurance company went so far as to recommend they install a catch basin to redirect runoff and it threatened not to cover any more flood damage if its recommendations for solutions went unheeded.
This was coming from a company that has to pay when its clients get sued. And in this case, the insurance company was protecting its own hide because it determined for itself that its client was liable.
The developers did tear down a building at the corner of Barrett and Union streets, right near the Union Inn, to make room for their project. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. But given that the only variable in the last century-and-a-half is the new development, wouldn't it be reasonable to look at that as a potential cause?
Even if the city and the developers didn't believe the assessment by the insurance company, it's evident the flooding was unusual and that something must have triggered it.
Yet on Wednesday, the Metroplex Authority approved a $90,000 grant for facade improvements. That comes on top of other support it has provided. Does it not see the potential for problems related to the drainage in the area?
Certainly, the city could use more upscale housing and retail space, and it appears to be in high demand. And a project of this magnitude could be a catalyst for more positive changes in the area. The quarrel isn't with the project or the developer. It's with this pesky, unresolved drainage issue.
But at what cost is all that good investment downtown coming? If the flooding issue is not addressed, and other properties are damaged, the developer and the city could be put at risk from more litigation, which could derail or delay this and other projects.
Before this goes any further, the city or the state should conduct a thorough investigation of the cause of this flooding and recommend potential solutions. If it turns out the project really wasn't at fault, then everyone's consciences are clear. Maybe there was indeed another cause of the Union Inn flooding that had nothing to do with the project. Maybe the insurance company's assessment was wrong.
But if the city finds the project is responsible and the developer again refuses to take responsibility, then the city needs to put a halt to the project until the problems are fixed.
Keeping their heads in the sand will only keep the right thing from being done.