1/27/2009

Genessee St. - What's the story?

Posted by MJ





(Images - Residences on Genessee St. Lockport NY.)

Genesee St. has appeared to have taken a turn lately. I wondered if this change was a sign of accelerated decline or some other type of transition. Driving down the street one gets the feeling that every other structure has auction sign, a for sale sign, window boards or just looks vacant.
Grey areas such as these usually continue to decline as other residents scared fo their investments tend to try to "cut their losses". While there are people out there with a pioneering spirit and an overabundance of elbow grease, they are in a small minority. Especially when it comes to the intial (and riskiest) investments to get an area moving forward again. Government apathy can dwindle those numbers down even more.
It would comforting to know that there is some kind of action to deal with this trend in that area. If not for the fate of the neighborhood, then just for the fate of some of great old houses of the like which we may never see built again. All I see see is opportunity for the street, but I know it will only continue downward and spread block by block if left alone to sprawl based market forces and usual gov't policies. Just look at the disinvestment wave in the east side of Buffalo and its push across the Cheektowaga town line.
From an e-mail session back and forth with Mayor Tucker, it appears the city is not only aware but active. The city primarily relies on residents of a neighborhood to report problem properties. Once in the system, codes are enforced. this is what the city is limited to until a property owner gets into tax arrears. At that point that the property can be taken into city control. It is the recent focus on code enforcement in this area that Mayor Tucker attributes to the rise in the number of houses being abandoned and put up for sale.
Instead of just using the hands off approach of selling all the properties to the highest bidder at auction, the city has targeted certain ones to become more involved with. Taken off the auction list, they are offered to interested parties. The city would check backgrounds, references, and that the potentail owner has solid plans for the property being offered. The goal here is to try to ensure that a property is not picked up by a hands-off owner for $5k, rented out immediately with no improvements and milked for profits until untimately abandoned again.
The tremendous challenge that sits here for both the city and home owners also lends to great opportunity if done right and nurtured early on.
Any residents that can chime in on their experiences? What should the long range vision be?

1/21/2009

"Local Archeology"

Posted by MJ




(Images - Abandoned Factory - Buffalo NY)


This past Sunday I had planned to shoot some Lockport pictures pertaining to a post topic but took up a friend on an invite instead to do some exploring. Hopefully I'll get back to the Lockport one this weekend.

Growing up I was always fascinated by history classes such as those about ancient Rome and Greece. I'd day dream about a future filled with time machines, only for the fact that they could transport me in time to a seemingly magical powerful place in which I could roam around and just take it all in. I was also curious to how they could just decline into nothing. The passion most likely led to filling my electives in college with History of Cities, Archeology, Anthropology, etc classes and my local planning pestering.


Growing up in a rust belt city (Buffalo) it was just as mesmerizing to learn how powerful and progressive the area used to be (shame I had to learn it on my own - why are schools so poor in local history?). Just like ancient Rome, a lot of that history has been knocked over by man or slowly reclaimed by nature. In some cases for higher purposes and in others to lay as empty fields or surface parking for decades. But also like Rome, there lay scattered many "ruins". Some of which feel like an American Pompeii, seemingly frozen in time as people were overnight locked out, never to be given a chance to say goodbye.


Old notes, novels, clothing etc rest here and there. Marked-up comic strips reveal workers mental release while dealing with a future that almost certainly was an end. Small personal touches such as strings of Christmas lights over a worker's bench makes one wonder about the character that used to work at it. The odor of machining oil, the touch of foundry sand bring old scenes to life amongst the silence. As interesting as it is to listen to blue collar worker stories from older relatives, walking amongst the ruins adds a whole other dimension.

You'll miss a lot of your surroundings in a car. Be sure to take a stroll at least once in a while even if it is just down the street.

(Image - East Side Buffalo Burnout)

The Buffalo News is reporting that the City of Lockport Fire Dept. will require all new hires to be certified paramedics. I find this to be a worthwhile requirement.

The city will require all new firefighters to become certified paramedics before they are hired, the Fire Board decided Thursday.

Accepting the recommendation of Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite, the board asked the city Civil Service Commission to add the requirement to job specifications before the next examination for firefighter jobs is given in June.

“We’ll be opening that up to a statewide exam so we get the highest possible quality of candidates,” said Peter P. Robinson, who was re-elected president of the board Thursday. “We’re just trying to provide a better level of care for our citizens.”

Passuite said this is a first in Niagara County. Lockport firefighters must move into Niagara County within six months of being hired.

More than half of the city’s 51 firefighters already carry paramedic ratings. Passuite said candidates without that status will be allowed to take the civil service exam, but they must obtain paramedic certification before they can be hired.....



Also a request was made for a new pumper truck.

On another topic, the board formally asked the Common Council to buy a new pumper truck this year, a purchase Passuite said is urgently needed. The truck targeted for replacement is 22 years old.

Patrick Brady, vice president of the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association, presented the board a letter from the union calling for a new pumper. “It’s a safety issue for our guys. They aren’t comfortable driving [the old truck],” Brady said.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker said he would “have to understand the urgency” before he could support buying a new truck.


There was also a small tidbit at the end about a change in source for the paramedic re certifications, to a business owned by one of the fireman.


The chief also told the board he has dropped Niagara County Community College as the source for the Fire Department’s paramedic recertification training after 10 years. Superior Training Solutions, a business operated by city firefighter John Frederickson, is the new trainer.
I wonder what the selection process entailed?

(Image - Transit Rd and Robinson Rd. Town of Lockport)

The LUSJ and The Buffalo News are both reporting similar stories from last night's Joint Transit North Meeting. I also attended out of curiosity due to my love of urban areas and planning. Meeting lasted about 45 mins led by several Town of Lockport officials discussing the process so far and what they had implemented so far. town of Lockport Marc Smith led the discussion overall and it was great to see his enthusiasm over requiring better development. There is a website established at http://www.transitnorth.com/.

Drew Reilly, town planner for Lockport, also presented lively explanation of what the town was trying to accomplish. He started out by going back to his early planning days and working with the Village of Hamburg. To paraphrase he said Hamburg came to his office asking "Why does Orchard Park get all the good stuff and we get all the crap?" The answer was design guidelines. Developers will look for level playing fields where ever they build, even more so in a low-growth area since the volume is not necessarily there to attempt to build a pricier project than their competition. If company "x" is building cheap crap, then company "y" will want to build the same crap to have balanced competition. We can see it in our own lives where we hesitate to put so much money into our houses that we fear our return on investment because of the values of the houses around us are not keeping up.

Drew also mentioned the need for visual elements to supplement the "words" of the municipalities zoning/planning laws. Not only does it make it easier to communicate what the community desires but it saves the developer time by reducing any rework that would have been necessary by not knowing well what the planning board was looking for ahead of time. Here are the visual examples provided by the committee. Each topic has an example of what is desired and conversely what is unacceptable: Final Transit North Guidelines (PDF)

Although the city zoning code is not set up for some of this yet, the master plan from 1998 is. It is complete with verbal and visual descriptions of mixed-use up-to-the-street pedestrian-friendly parking-at-the-rear design wishes. Ulrich City Center is a (partial) example of this in action. Family Video is an example of it not in action by only following basic zoning regulations. It is important that the city update its zoning ordinances.

Mayor Tucker made mention at the end of the team work that has resulted and permeated to other areas, such as sharing business leads/inquiries etc. It's nice to see this happening. Going forward as teammates to a goal of overall growth will serve us better than competing against each other and developing to the lowest of standards.

The toughest part is yet to come in updating of ordinances and making sure those that are past meet the spirit of the plan (this one and the city master plan). Daniel Seaman, the town attorney, and Marc Smith both mentioned the process of adopting laws and then updating them as the learning curve grows and results (or lack thereof) start to be known. It's time time for the first legislative steps to be taken.

I'll wrap this up here to keep this "short" and go over certain aspects in different posts.


1/13/2009

City of Lockport Garbage FAQ

Posted by MJ




In a discussion over at the LUSJ forums why people choose illegal dumping over large garbage pick-up was brought up. Lack of information on large garbage pick-up within the city was mentioned. I wrote city hall since I did not recall much on E-Lockport regarding the "rules" last time I checked. At this time tough there does now appear to be more information here: City Highway Dept.

Mayor Tucker was kind enough to give me some "quick" information and mentioned he would try to get me a more detailed written policy to post up if more information exists. I will update this post if anything else is received. I'll also create a Lockport FAQ link box over on the left for topics such as this, snow removal, etc.

Lockport Garbage pick-up:


  1. If it is put out correctly, it will be picked up. Do not place curbside more than 24hrs in advance

  2. Garbage cans or bundles can not be over 50lbs.

  3. Wood must be bundled in 4ft sections with nails removed or hammered down

  4. Carpeting must be bundled in 4ft sections

  5. Appliances can go out on garbage day or the streets dept can be called for a pick-up date. It is preferred when buying new to arrange disposal through the store. All be sure to have refrigerant removed from refrigerators.

  6. Large limbs that fall can be placed butt end to the street

  7. Grass and yard waste can be placed in an open container on regular pickup day.

  8. Tires are accepted at the land fill on Rt 93 for $2.00 charge. Old Computer equipment (including monitors) is accepted free of charge for recycling. Old TV's incur a $25 fee.

  9. The City provides free recycling bins for clean glass, plastic and tin cans at the landfill.

  10. Large loads of hard construction waste are accepted at the landfill for a fee/ton with a minimum fee. I've used it and it is an easy process at a fair price.

  11. Any other questions call the Highway Dept at 716.433.1267

1/12/2009

Lockport Rink Grant Delays

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News is reporting delays in the grant that is allowing the Lockport Ice Arena and Sports Center to purchase the large empty Benderson owned building on Chestnut St. The $400k grant is delayed due to the filing of a wrong form but is expected to still come through even in light of the current economic/budget issues in Albany. The error looks to push back the opening of the facility to spring 2010 instead of fall of this year.

Ottaviano said Lockport Ice Arena filed a short version of a mandatory environmental-impact statement, but it turns out that a long-form version was
required. That hasn’t been completed yet, he said. Also sought by the Dormitory Authority are an appraisal of the building, a revised budget for the group, and proof that Benderson has extended the real estate contract to allow for the delay in funding. Ottaviano said a private-sector bridge loan has been lined up to pay Benderson even if the grant is further delayed.

Also some further info on future fundraising.

Meanwhile, the Ice Arena board met Saturday with Marie Battaglia, a Buffalo
fundraising consultant, about strategy for a fund drive. Ottaviano said the group needs $3.9 million to install a 200-by-85-foot sheet of ice in the old store, along with a few bleachers and some other amenities.

Although area residents will be asked to donate, Ottaviano said, “The public aspect will not be in the forefront. The first objective will be to approach endowments and
foundations.”

I was (and still am) excited about this project. Having it DT will add people, money and diversity to the core and it will provide an amenity to residents along with bringing in visitors.

1/09/2009

City of Lockport Snow Removal FAQ

Posted by MJ

(Image: Snow on Windshield - Clarence NY)

Well the LUSJ beat me to it ;). With the snow removal complaints pouring in over at the LUSJ after the late school closing on Wed. I wrote Mayor Tucker an e-mail about it and he replied to me late yesterday. Similar information was contained. I'll summarize both the article and the e-mail here as a City of Lockport snow removal FAQ.

  1. City streets are plowed in this order: main streets - around schools - streets on hills, next are secondary streets and finally are the many side streets. If snow is falling continuously side streets are put off to hit the first priorities over again.
  2. Crews of 20 to 25 men in five plow-wing vehicles and a dozen smaller trucks do the work. This is about half of the crew that used to be used a long time ago. I notice the Jeeps plowing around the grade school near me often.
  3. City plows do not contract the road surface directly. Small 1/2" blades elevate the plows off the street to avoid man hole covers that are located on the street. A legacy-issue that is not easily resolved. Tighter streets, curbs etc also come into play for city snow clearing.
  4. Salt is usually reserved for primary streets, intersections, bridges and hills. Sand may be used on secondary streets and most side streets are not treated (although their intersections are). The salt can take its toll on the city's older sewer system.
  5. It takes around 6 hours to hit every street when no vehicles are on the road. This is claimed to be a few hours shorter than it used to take with the larger crews in the past.
  6. There is an extra winter midnight weekday crew for routine street cleaning. On the weekends the police dept can decide if a streets supervisor needs to call in an overtime crew. Once the supervisor is alerted a crew can usually be put together in about an hour.

A bigger issue I think is sidewalk clearing in the AM when the children are walking to school. I know I have a few neighbors that put in the extra effort to walk their snow blower farther than their property. I personally shovel and salt before heading off to work in the AM.

As I've said over at LUSJ forums, the city speed limit is 30 mph. Travelling the speed limit I have no problems coming to a stop at intersections etc. There are no 45 or 55 mph arterials in the city were one needs to be concerned for drivers thinking they should still be driving at the higher speeds. Most people seem to drive way slower than needed as it is. The side streeets on hills though can be a little tricky the day of the snow though. Usually within 24 hours only the side streets are not showing pavement.

1/06/2009

Lockport Main St Inc

Posted by MJ

(Image F&M Building, Main St. Lockport NY)

Heather Peck responded to my e-mail. She supplied the following text in a word document:


Lockport Main Street, Inc.


Lockport Main Street, Inc. is a newly formed non-profit organization dedicated to promoting downtown Lockport, attracting new businesses to Lockport, and providing support to existing businesses in Lockport. Lockport has been included along with Albion and Lyons as one of three communities in western New York to be designated an official “Main Street Community” by the eastern Erie Canal Main Street Program, an organization affiliated with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.


The program will use a four-point approach which focuses on: Design, Promotion, Economic Restructuring and Organization. This approach, developed by the National Trust’s Main Street Center (NTMSC), “advocates a return to a sense of community, local empowerment, and the rebuilding of traditional commercial districts based on their unique assets: distinctive architecture, a pedestrian friendly environment, personal service and local ownership.” The NTMSC will provide technical assistance and training to communities designated as Main Street communities by the Western Erie Canal Main Street Program.


Newly appointed Lockport Main Street, Inc. Program Manager Heather Peck and a board of 11 community and business leaders have high hopes for the program, which has had great success in revitalizing downtowns in communities around the country. Visit http://www.mainstreet.org/
to view national success stories and for more information.

Lockport Main Street, Inc. is currently looking for volunteers to join our four volunteer teams which are based on the National Trust’s Main Street Center’s four-point approach. They are:
Design Team – Focuses on: design education and technical assistance, financial assistance and incentives, and public improvements planning and regulation review.
Organization Team – Focuses on: communications and membership, volunteer and leadership development, and fundraising.
Promotion Team – Focuses on: downtown image enhancement and marketing, retail events assistance, and special events development.
Economic Restructuring Team – Focuses on: data development for downtown business and markets, business retention and recruitment strategies, and property development.


If you are interested in joining one of our teams, please contact Heather Peck by email at: heatherbpeck@yahoo.com. We hope to hear from you!




As noted in the text the National Trust Main Street Center website has a lot more information, though a lot of the how-it's-been-done is left for members. It is still an interesting read and the success stories do show what dedicated enthusiastic volunteers can accomplish.

I've requested a little more information on the volunteer efforts/process and will report back.

Original post here.
UPDATE: 01/07/09:
Received an e-mail from Heather stating that there will be some type of open house for those with possible interest in volunteering. It will occur sometime after procurement and set-up of the permanent office space.

1/05/2009

Lockport's Main Street Program

Posted by MJ


(Image: Main and Pine St - Lockport NY)

The Buffalo News has reported on Lockport's fledgling Main St. Program.


The city’s new downtown promotional effort is trying to build from humble beginnings.

Heather Peck, the program manager, is working at a spare table in the City Hall accounting office while a search goes on for permanent office space.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which in September inducted Lockport into its Main Street Program, urges all communities to place the program office in the business district, not in City Hall.

“This isn’t really a government program. It’s a community program,” Ruth L. Earl, vice chairwoman of the Lockport Main Street Inc. board, said Friday....

I'll be sending off an e-mail to Peck to find out more info on what the volunteer aspects are. It sounds like it could be interesting:

Following the guidelines laid down by the National Trust, the 11-member board is working on finding volunteers for four teams, specializing in organization, design, promotions and economic restructuring.

I'll post up on what I find out.
It's a shame that Lockport (like most others) blindly followed the Urban "renewal" money path that tore down the very buildings (older ones) that support and nurture new businesses. Finding places that can handle the burden of new-build debt is tough and is usually reserved for well established/chain operations. Subsidies are usually required to pay to build up the empty fields/lots our past demolition sins produced. Hopefully there are enough people out there who find the challenge of bringing it back up a worthwhile and rewarding cause.