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What you need to know for 12/11/2017

30-foot sign approved for Mohawk Harbor

30-foot sign approved for Mohawk Harbor

Detractor cites city code, fears distracted motorists
30-foot sign approved for Mohawk Harbor
The entrance to the Rivers Casino & Resort at Mohawk Harbor.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY -- Mohawk Harbor can go ahead with plans to build a 30-foot-tall internally-lit sign at its Erie Boulevard entrance.

On Thursday, the city's Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved a variance needed for the size and height of a two-sided pylon-mounted LED sign to be built at the corner of Erie and Harborside Drive.

The approval came less than two months after the board, by a 4 to 2 margin, rejected a slightly different version of the sign.

Zoning Board Chairman James Gleason said the application was modified from the one the board rejected on Oct. 4, and the board collectively determined the variance was not significant. Board members who opposed the sign in October were primarily concerned about its size, according to meeting minutes.

The revised application sets the sign 3 feet farther back from the Erie Boulevard right-of-way and also includes provisions that the LED brightness can be dimmed, but it doesn't significantly change the size of the sign.

The illuminated sign would advertise up to 22 businesses to be located in the upscale commercial/residential community being built between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River, on the former Alco property. While the adjoining Rivers Casino & Resort has more visibility now, Mohawk Harbor -- much of which remains under construction -- is expected to contain a number of restaurants and businesses unrelated to the casino.

Supporters of the sign argue it is needed to orient people coming from Erie Boulevard to new businesses, including the Marriott Courtyard that opened last year. Without it, they said, there's a danger of people overshooting their destination.

Harborside Drive was built last year to provide access to Mohawk Harbor, and a traffic light was installed last year at the intersection, opposite Maxon Road.

As approved, the sign will stand 30 feet tall on top of a pylon, with a lit sign measuring 265 square feet. The sign is larger and taller than the city zoning code allows without a variance. Earlier this fall, the city Planning Commission agreed to approve the sign on the condition that the zoning variance was granted.

"I think the ZBA and Planning Board did a nice job of understanding what's needed for one of the more significant projects in the Capital Region," said David Buicko, president and COO of the Galesi Group, the developer of the multi-million-dollar project. "People need to know what's in there."

The only member of the public to speak at Thursday's meeting was resident David Giacalone, who told the board the application didn't comply with the intent of the city's sign code, which, among other things, aims to reduce distractions that could contribute to traffic accidents. Giacalone said Mohawk Harbor's businesses don't need the kind of large, bright advertising more typically associated with shopping malls.

He also said he wasn't notified of the meeting, despite having a known interest in the project and being in regular email contact with the city's Development Office.

"On the substance, the biggest take-away for the business owners and people of Schenectady is that a sign more than four times the size of the height allowed is not considered a significant variance," he said Friday.

The city's zoning guidelines allow signs to be up to 7 feet off the ground and to cover no more than 75 square feet without seeking variance. While the application was changed slightly from the rejected version, "it's still this giant, bright sign next to the road," Giacalone said.

Other signs at the Erie Boulevard roundabout south of Harborside Drive identify and promote the Rivers Casino. Rivers, during its 2015-16 design review, sought approval for an 80-foot pylon sign on Erie Boulevard, but it has not pursued that plan.

Mohawk Harbor and the casino have sought and, generally received, a number of zoning variances from the city over the past three years, as the projects have moved through city planning reviews. Gleason said that, to his knowledge, the pylon sign application approved Thursday was the last variance needed for Mohawk Harbor.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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