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Consider public comments before voting on redesign

Consider public comments before voting on redesign

Planning commission shouldn't vote on new casino plans without listening to public first

Sometime next week, area residents will likely get their fi rst glimpse at the revised revisions for the new Rivers Casino in Schenectady.

And a couple of weeks later, on July 22, the city Planning Commission will review the designs and possibly vote on them.

The decision they arrive at will have long-term impacts and the public’s voice needs to be heard.

When the developers of the casino quietly revised the original design to more accurately refl ect Schenectady’s industrial past, the public’s dislike was almost universal. Many likened it to a 1970s-style shopping mall and others objected to the giant new electronic pylons (signs), which hadn’t been included in the original drawings.

Sensing a public rebellion, the Planning Commission put off a decision

on the design so developers could

go back and “tweak” it to refl ect the

public’s concerns. All good.

But now the developers are set to release the “tweaked” drawings, and we’re concerned that the lack of public input that led to such an uproar over the redesign will have the same effect on the new design.

Before the Planning Commission votes on the revised plans for the casino, it should consider the public’s views this time. That means listening to public comments during the July 22 meeting, then holding a separate meeting at a later date to vote on the project.

Planners can use that extra time to consider what they heard at the meeting and factor it into their approval process. In doing so, they actually might garner some valuable insight into how to improve the project.

If the commission hears public opinion, but then votes to approve the project at the same meeting, how does that demonstrate that they’ve given proper consideration to the comments?

All that would signal is that the commissioners had already made up their minds on the redesign prior to the meeting and were just humoring people by letting them spout off.

If you’re getting a case of deja vu all over again, you’re probably not alone.

We learned just last month that planning commissioners had been meeting privately for some time with developers over the design of buildings on the old Alco site — including the casino — without notifying or inviting the public.

They did this legally by crawling through a loophole in the state Open Meetings Law that requires a quorum be present in order to trigger public notification. The board simply met with developers in small groups to avoid reaching a quorum.

The plot backfired because the public recoiled at being caught off guard. Had they been included in the process all along, the negative reaction might have been softened.

Let’s hope they don’t try to pull the same stunt with the new redesign.

A short delay while the Planning Commission weighs public comments isn’t going to set the project back. Developers need to have their design approved before they begin construction. But the project can’t move forward until the state grants Rush Street Gaming a license to operate the casino. And that decision could be months away.

The citizens of Schenectady and surrounding areas have a vested interest in how this project takes shape, as the design will affect the city landscape for decades.

The Planning Commission, as the citizens’ representatives on this project, must be open to hearing their concerns and must take time to consider their input in its fi nal decision on the design of the project.

The only way for the commission to accomplish that is to hold a public meeting on the revised design and a separate meeting at a later date to vote on it.

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