SCHENECTADY — Sickly trees, dangerous traffic and broken sidewalks.
Those are leading areas of concern for the city’s historic Stockade neighborhood.
Now armed with a new comprehensive streetscape plan, the Stockade Association has a roadmap for moving forward with finding solutions.
“It sets a clear, concise vision of the neighborhood’s future streetscape improvements, determined through intensive public and community input, to be referenced by city staff and the administration,” said city Director of Development Kristin Diotte.
The plan passed out of the City Council’s Development and Planning Committee Monday, a measure necessary to formally link its principles into city planning efforts.
“This was a very important first step that the city is ready to proceed,” said Stockade Association President Suzy Unger. “This way, it becomes official policy of the city.”
The Stockade Association launched the $53,000 streetscape project in 2017 after discussing street improvements for years.
“We needed to come up with an organized approach and help the neighborhood come to some kind of consensus for how to tackle these problems,” Unger said.
The blueprint, which was completed in June, means the Stockade Association will have a guide to reference when improvements are made in the district by the city and neighborhood.
Trees are inevitably linked to the conditions of the sidewalks because roots push up the slate.
Both need to be tackled in tandem.
A previous assessment revealed the overall condition of the neighborhood’s trees are poor. Many are too big for their current footprint; some are planted too close together, and others have been damaged by city trucks.
“The overall condition was poor," Unger said. “Not dead and dying, but not totally healthy."
A full 19 percent are Norway Maples, which are now considered an invasive species despite being planted just 20 years ago, violating a rule for species diversity that says a single species should represent no more than 10 percent of the “urban forest.”
As part of the plan, the association will be able to flag which trees are suitable for which street, both when it comes to the footprint and a species that won’t ultimately rip up the sidewalks. The plan also calls for a maintenance program to prune and replace trees when appropriate.
“Part of it is going to be educating residents,” Unger said. “Sometimes to make the overall forest healthier, we need to remove trees.”
Sidewalks will be handled similarly. Like with trees, the plan will guide property owners toward appropriate shades and materials for sidewalk replacement, including concrete that can be tinted to look like natural stone.
Property owners in the city are responsible for their sidewalks — not the city, said Unger, who urged residents to manage their expectations.
“Just because we did a plan doesn’t mean a big pot of money is going to magically appear and fix all our sidewalks,” Unger said.
And like in neighborhoods citywide, speeding motorists represents a concern, one complicated by a dense neighborhood paired with on-street parking on narrow lanes.
This plan, which requires approval by the full City Council, will also ideally serve as a helpful and uniform guide when considering future improvements to pedestrian, automobile and bicycle infrastructure within the Stockade Historic District, Diotte said.
The next steps, she said, may include adopting some of the specific language of the plan into parts of the city code.
The public will also have an opportunity to weigh in on the plan, which can also be used as a mechanism to leverage funding for its implementation.
Funding to produce the plan came from community donations paired with grants from the Schenectady Foundation, the Wright Family Foundation and the Golub Foundation.
Niskayuna-based Planning4Places conducted the study.
While City Council’s tentative stamp of approval marks the end of one phase of the two-year journey, the real work is just beginning.
“This is the easy part,” Unger said. “The hard part is going to be actually implementing it.”