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Lead Agency Dispute: Schenectady Metroplex v. City of Schenectady

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Commissioner's Determination of Lead Agency
under Article 8 of the
Environmental Conservation Law

PROJECT: Proposed Canal Square Corridor Redevelopment Project; City of Schenectady, Schenectady County.

DISPUTING AGENCIES: Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority and the City of Schenectady Planning Commission.

This decision to designate the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority (Metroplex) as lead agency for the conduct of the environmental review of the proposed Canal Square Corridor Redevelopment Project under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) is made pursuant to Article 8 of the New York State (NYS) Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) and 6 NYCRR Part 617. This decision is based on my finding that Metroplex has the broadest authority over the proposed action and thus is best suited to lead the environmental review.

The proposed action, the Canal Square Corridor Redevelopment Project, is a comprehensive proposal by Metroplex to develop an integrated plan for and provide means and designs for cooperating sponsors, or Metroplex with partners, to undertake a series of development or redevelopment projects in the "Canal Square" section of Schenectady, an area generally consisting of the State Street (NYS Route 5) corridor between Broadway and Clinton Streets plus the blocks bounded by State Street, Clinton Street, Hamilton Street, and Broadway, in the heart of the historic downtown of the City of Schenectady. Proposed component projects include:

  • • expansion of Proctor's Theater facilities, both within the existing theater and into parts of the adjoining former Carl Company building;
  • • renovation of a portion of the former Carl Company building to house a Challenger Learning Center;
  • • construction of a new 12-screen movie theater, "Diamond Cinema", in the southwest corner of State and Clinton Streets;
  • • renovation/reconstruction/reuse of the Cramer, Witbeck, Odd Fellows', and 420-426 State buildings plus the former Hough building site, with an emphasis on creating a mix of class one office space with ground-level retail uses;
  • • purchase or lease and subsequent operation of the Broadway parking garage; and
  • • related streetscaping and roadway reconfiguration, primarily on State Street (NYS Rt.5).

In order for the project to be undertaken as proposed, the following agencies have authority to make discretionary decisions on one or more components of the overall plan:

  • • Metroplex will function in a range of roles, differing for each component project but in total including sponsor, financier, planner, developer, and owner, and is responsible for creation of the master plan under which each component project would proceed;
  • • Schenectady Planning will have site plan review authority over many if not all of the individual component projects;
  • • the NYS Department of Transportation (DOT) must at least approve and may participate in the design and funding of corridor reconstruction and streetscape enhancements proposed for State Street (NYS Rt. 5); and
  • • while no documents asserting or describing jurisdiction in detail were submitted, changes in water or wastewater system connections or capacity would require approvals by the City of Schenectady.

The involved agencies which have expressed a desire to act as lead agency for the environmental review of the Canal Square Redevelopment proposal are Metroplex and City Planning. No other involved or interested agencies responded to or commented on the contesting agencies' filings or to the letter sent by NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (department) staff requesting additional information on the dispute.

In resolving a lead agency dispute, I am guided by the three criteria listed in order of importance in 6 NYCRR Part 617.6(b)(5)(v). These are:

  • (1) whether the anticipated impacts of the action being considered are primarily of statewide, regional or local significance (i.e., if such impacts are of primarily local significance, all other considerations being equal, the local agency involved will be lead agency);
  • (2) which agency has the broadest governmental powers for investigation of the impacts of the proposed action; and
  • (3) which agency has the greatest capability for providing the most thorough environmental assessment of the proposed action.

In this case, there is no real distinction between the disputing agencies as to the first criterion, as both agencies are local entities and all of the impacts identified in both of their filings are primarily of local significance. These potential impacts include direct impacts on designated and eligible historic structures and properties; potential changes in character and intensity of use of Canal Square, adjoining portions of downtown Schenectady, and the greater Schenectady area generally; and related impacts on traffic flow, parking, and infrastructure and service demands in the downtown area.

Accordingly, I move to consider the second criterion, breadth of authority, and on this point I can make distinctions between the disputing agencies. Metroplex, as master designer and financier of the overall action as well as actual sponsor for some component projects, possesses through that design and financing control a substantial ability to add, modify or even eliminate project elements. This becomes especially important when design changes can avoid or minimize project impacts. Metroplex as designer of the overall development scheme has more ability to avoid or reduce impacts through changes to the master plan.

By contrast, Schenectady Planning will have jurisdiction via site plan review over those individual component actions which entail modifications to buildings or other site work; during the site plan reviews, Schenectady Planning may also evaluate proposed projects for conformity with local plans and zoning. Site plan review, however, would not reach to projects involving only interior rehabilitation, nor does it provide clear authority over some of the proposed streetscape work. In regards to mitigation, Schenectady Planning would be limited to mitigating impacts on a project by project basis.

The difference that this reach of authority can make is illustrated well by considering a common issue in downtown developments, that of adequate parking. Should a need for additional parking be identified, Metroplex has the capability to add parking capacity at a range of locations within the general development area while Schenectady Planning could only require individual site size or capacity changes. Thus, using the second criterion of breadth of authority, Metroplex is the most appropriate lead agency for the Canal Square Redevelopment Project because it has clear authority to consider the proposed project in its entirety and to require and implement changes in all aspects of the action, if needed to minimize or mitigate significant adverse environmental impacts.

The third criterion relates to the capacity of an agency to provide for a thorough environmental assessment. Metroplex has indicated that it is already seeking consultants qualified to undertake such a review. Schenectady Planning has stated that it would, as a reviewing agency, rely on Metroplex as an applicant to prepare the components of an environmental impact statement (EIS), reserving its ability to approve or require changes when draft documents are accepted. Metroplex thus possesses a greater ability to undertake, direct and control a comprehensive environmental review of the project as a whole.

For the foregoing reasons and based on the facts presented, I conclude that Metroplex should be lead agency for the conduct of the environmental review of the proposed Canal Square Redevelopment Project due to its possessing the broadest governmental powers to investigate and implement mitigation for any potential impacts.. This decision in no way limits the jurisdiction or responsibilities of the other involved and interested agencies, and I encourage Metroplex to seek and use the specific expertise of Schenectady Planning and the other involved and interested agencies in evaluating potential impacts and developing viable alternatives to mitigate or avoid any unacceptable impacts.

/s/
Erin M. Crotty, Commissioner
Dated: 8/12/03
Albany, New York

Disputing Agencies/Applicants:

  • Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority,
    attn: John Manning, Chair
    City of Schenectady Planning Commission,
    attn: Sharran Coppola, Chair

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • Steve Schassler, Regional Director, DEC Region 4
    William Clarke, Regional Permit Administrator, Region 4 (Schenectady)
    Michael Naughton, Esq., Legal Affairs, Albany
    Betty Ann Hughes, Environmental Permits, Albany

Additional Copies - Involved/ Interested Agencies:

  • Mayor Albert P. Jurczynski, City of Schenectady and SURA
    Gary McCarthy, City of Schenectady Industrial Development Agency
    Peter J. Guidarelli, Schenectady County Legislature
    Frank J. Maurizio, Jr., Schenectady Common Council
    Thomas C. Werner, NYS Department of Transportation
    Ruth Pierpont, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
    Anita Laremont, Esq., Empire State Development Corporation
    Gail H. Gordon, Esq., Dormitory Authority, State of New York
    Anthony Tozzi, Principal Planner,
    City of Schenectady Department of Development

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