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Stockade residents narrow down preferred options in flood mitigation project

Stockade residents narrow down preferred options in flood mitigation project

Relocating, elevating homes among top picks
Stockade residents narrow down preferred options in flood mitigation project
Residents view renderings of potential flood mitigation options in the Stockade neighborhood on Thursday.
Photographer: Pete DeMola/Gazette Reporter

SCHENECTADY — Stockade residents have started to whittle down their list of preferred options to make their neighborhood more resilient against flooding. 

The top vote-getters in a list of alternatives presented earlier this week was a strategy of “managed retreat” — or packing up and moving to higher ground — followed by building a levee.

Also making the cut was a combination of elevating homes and streets, which would include relocating some homes.

Any of the options, which will now head to a more refined analysis phase, would require a massive engineering project, dramatically reshaping parts of the neighborhood in ways unseen in generations.

Potential solutions as part of the state- and federally-funded Stockade Flood Mitigation Project fall into two broad categories: Safeguards to keep water out; and those that let the water come in, but protect property. 

Each option has a list of pros and cons, which project leaders outlined as they whizzed through a series of architectural renderings, 3-D models and flood simulations. 

For instance, elevating homes — some as high as 12 feet — will not the require support of every homeowner, but it could result in a prolonged disruption to the aesthetics of the neighborhood. “One by one, individual homeowners would decide if they want to do it,” said Thomas Burgess, project architect with Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects.

Or a levee might keep the water out, but would drastically reconfigure Riverside Park. 

About 75 homes are located in the 100-year floodplain, which is bounded by Front Street, the railroad and Cucumber Alley.

RELOCATING HOMES

An option to elevate and relocate homes on Ingersoll Avenue generated the most discussion as part of the third and final in a series of workshops this week. 

Planners likened relocating the homes away from the floodplain and positioning them facing the park to San Francisco's “Painted Ladies," the series of iconic brightly-colored Victorian homes that have become synonymous with the city.

That proposal would require the consent of 38 homeowners and also see the construction of a new connector street running parallel to Riverside Park. 

Some attendees feared a new street would lead to increased traffic and disturbance issues, both of which the neighborhood has had to contend with.

Others cited reduced views of the riverside as a potential red flag. 

The coalition of engineers, scientists, architects, planners and city officials facilitating the project said the public discussion is only the beginning, and all options are subject to modification based on community feedback. 

“Let us take this in as we look at the alternatives,” said Margaret Irwin, project manager with River Street Planning & Development.

Irwin led residents in a series of exercises on Monday designed to identify and target which community characteristics are important to them, including riverfront greenways, preservation of historic structures and how any physical changes may affect the neighborhood fabric. 

She acknowledged residents could hypothetically be negatively affected in any option, which is why building consensus is important.

“It has to be thought of as a neighborhood strategy,” Irwin said.

Moving Homes Out

Another heavily discussed concept was moving homes on North Ferry and North Streets and Ingersoll Avenue entirely out of the floodplain, which would also require the creation of a link road. 

Those houses would be relocated in open space in the neighborhood. 

An inventory reveals there isn’t enough existing spaces to accommodate all 62 structures; nine would be left out.

Project planners said it was “fairly realistic” some of those property owners may take buyouts. But that would require possible demolition of historic homes.

As part of that plan, homes on Washington Street and Governor’s Lane could be elevated along with the streets themselves. 

Work to shape the river is beyond the scope of the project. But even if it weren’t, stakeholders said bending the river to man’s control wouldn't prevent flooding in the Stockade. 

Ian Law, principal at PLACE Alliance, said the team often returned one main philosophical concept during the process: “If we could go back in time with the information we have now — back when the neighborhood was still evolving and being laid out — would we make the same decisions, or try to stay out of harm’s way and not have this constant battle with Mother Nature?”

LEVEE OPTION

Attendees also expressed interest in learning more about a potential levee.

While a 14-feet-high structure would eat up much of Riverside Park, elements could be folded into the park via architectural flourishes and serpentine pathways.

Such a undertaking would require a system of floodgates and would reduce homeowners’ flood insurance cost in the process. 

Failure of the floodgates, however, is still an option. And the water would still need to be pumped out.

And still other concepts discussed on Thursday would see a widespread combination of elevated homes and streets — or both.

Raised streets would require the participation of all homeowners. 

“We cannot raise the streets without rising the houses,” Burgess said.

If one homeowner refuses to take part, the street would not be raised. 

“Projects funded by FEMA cannot be taken by eminent domain,” said Kristin Diotte, the city’s director of development. Her department is serving as lead agency on the project. 

NEXT STEPS

The ongoing analysis costs $1.2 million. FEMA will allocate $7.5 million for solutions.

Project leaders indicated additional funding sources are available and that it was too early to discuss costs for any potential option. 

Attendees were asked again when leaving the First Reformed Church on Thursday to select their preferred options. 

Armed with that new information, as well as feedback collected throughout the week, project leaders will continue to refine the options and drill down on costs as part of an "alternatives analysis."

“That’s immediately the next phase to jump into once we’ve narrowed this alternatives list,” Law said.

Public input and feedback from property owners within the Stockade Historic District continues to be important. 

Surveys were issued to property owners earlier this month, and those involved have said this information is valued as they move towardt a final decision. 

Surveys are available at https://www.stockaderesilience.com/. Hard copies are also available at City Hall.

“The city is committed to master planning your preferred option,” Burgess said.

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