Tucker - Pilot

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported on the Tucker - Pilot mayoral race.

Mayor Michael W. Tucker realizes that the city election Nov. 8 is shaping up as a referendum on him.
“The longer you’re around, your margin gets smaller,” Tucker said in an interview. “I think everybody has a shelf life. I haven’t reached mine yet.”
Tucker, a Republican who has served for eight years, is facing retired Police Officer Michael J. Pillot, the same Democratic candidate who opposed him in 2007, when Tucker rolled up 72 percent of the vote.
“I don’t think that has any bearing on this race,” Tucker said.
Of his last race, Pillot said, “I don’t think I did stuff the right way. I don’t think I talked to enough people. I didn’t get out enough.”

“I want you to ask yourself: Is the city better today than it was eight years ago?” Tucker said at a candidates’ forum Monday at the Dale Association. “I think we’re in a good place.”
Pillot doesn’t....
 Most of us know of Tucker's record the past 4 years. Anyone have a link or documents on Pilot's running platform? (besides100% bad garbage system and answering our calls at night?).

I grow tired of the hard-times smaller government platforms. No Duh. Does anyone ever run on more spending? How about some actual ideas and plans for getting this ship turned around? I'd be even more inclined to listen to someone running on such a platform since it would show some courage. If they actually have a plan for that spending I could possibly vote for them.

When it all comes down to it, the biggest change in the city will come from us, the residents. It will be our civic involvement that pushes forward our ides and desires for our city. The best we can usually hope for is not too much resistance from those we elected and vocal minority who seem opposed to almost any change.


Halloween Hours

Posted by MJ

The city's Halloween party out front of city hall and the merchant trick-or-treat walk will begin at 5pm Friday evening.

Halloween house-to-house trick-or-treating hours will be Monday the 31st from 4 to 7. 


DT Fix on the Cheap?

Posted by MJ

Over the past there have been some comments on DT, empty buildings, rent rates, etc. Here is great, albeit a tad long, article on a success story out of Newcastle Australia. No private money? No government plans? No government money? No problem?

Let me put a scenario to you. Say you live in an aging, fading industrial town. One that has been on receiving end of repeated shocks from earthquakes and natural disasters to the closure of its largest industries and mass unemployment. A city where an old urban core – a legacy of an era of trams and public transport long gone – has hollowed out and emptied. Retail has moved to the suburbs and a growing suburban sprawl. A city with dozens, if not hundreds of empty buildings in the old downtown. A place where the feedback loop has become so desperately negative that many of the shops and offices that remain are forced to leave by the growing vacancies around them.
How do you turn such a place around? How to bring life and people back to it? How to bring interest, curiosity and commerce? How to make it – or at least some of it – liveable and desirable again and to bring its decaying urban character back into flower?
Almost always, the answers to those questions are about physical things. They involve long planning process, research, workshops and facilitation followed by attempts to attract large amounts of capital to invest in new buildings, public amenities or to kickstart new industries.
But what if you can’t do that?...
...Renew Newcastle, the not-for-profit company that we established in late 2008 is a piece of software. It is a broker. It is an enabler. It is an interface between the aging, decaying, and at times boarded-up built environment and those who seek to use and activate it. It connects the many empty spaces in the city with the passion of people who want to experiment and try things in them. It has facilitated more than 60 projects in more than 30 once empty spaces in just over two years. It has done so without building, buying or owning anything other than some computers and some second-hand furnishings. It does not fund things – nor was it funded itself in its early stages – it just allows them to happen....
...Renew Newcastle started by hacking how much spaces cost and the terms they were available on. While there were over 150 empty buildings in Newcastle few if any of them were cheap or simple to access. They were bound up in complex rules – from bad tax incentives to complex, costly and long-term commercial leases that made it difficult to access them flexibly. Renew Newcastle traded cost for security. We created new rules, new contracts, and convinced owners to make spaces available for what was effectively barter – we would find people to clean them use them and activate them and they could have them back if and when they needed them. We stepped outside the default legal framework in which most property in Australia is managed and created a new one. We used licenses not leases, we asked for access not tenancy and exploited the loopholes those kinds of arrangements enabled. While such schemes are institutionalized in many European countries they have little precedent in Australia – in Newcastle, the entire scheme was devised, brokered and implemented directly from the community without the involvement of a government or formal development authorities still grasping at hardware based solutions. Only after the first dozen buildings had been activated did any funding appear. More than two years later any changes to rules and regulations – to the operating system – are yet to transpire....

It is all very thought provoking and shows how people with the drive and will can change things around them without waiting for the municipality or other large slow moving entities to change.


Refuse Bills

Posted by MJ

Are looking like they will arrive after the elections. The LUSJ and Buffalo News reported.:

The city treasurer’s office is looking at sending property owners’ first bills for Modern Disposal refuse service in 2012.

In late summer, Treasurer Mike White said the office might send two bills this year, one reflecting the city’s cost of trash pickup from January through September, and a second bill reflecting two months of user fees being charged for private pickup and recycling by Modern...

...The city refuse bill will be around $150 per property, White said...

...The timing of its arrival — probably no earlier than mid-November — has caused the treasurer’s office to rethink the billing cycle for Modern service.

The office sending property owners a bill for $150 in November, then hitting them with another bill in December for Modern’s services, is a troubling thought, White said...
It is nice that the city is trying to space the two bills out. It would of been even better if they would have sent us a half year bill around July as the change over was starting to drag longer than initially expected.

Still loving my recycle tote.


Tax Cap Override Hearing

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported:

The Common Council will hold a public hearing on budget adoption night Nov. 2 on a measure overriding the state property tax cap....

The Council called the hearing in a brief special meeting Monday, in effect acknowledging that it can’t meet the 2 percent cap, which Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said applies to the total amount to be collected in taxes, not to the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation

City Treasurer Michael E. White said the 2 percent limit would equal a tax levy increase of about $193,000. The budget as it currently stands increases the levy by nearly $1.1 million, or 11.2 percent.

That comes despite a tax rate reduction of 1.5 percent, or 23 cents per one thousand of assessment.
White said if the Council didn’t pass an override of the tax cap and imposed the tax hike anyway, it wouldn’t be allowed to spend the extra revenue. Instead, it would be required to stash the cash in a reserve fund for future use....



Posted by MJ

The LUSJ reported on "irritating robocalls from the Democratic Party:

...A robocalling blitz, commissioned by the Niagara County Democratic Committee, is under way. The recorded messages, spoken by a woman, are aimed at Republican Mayor Michael Tucker.

A city resident called the US&J on Tuesday to complain about the number of calls she’d taken at her home, their negative tone, and the fact that when she called the number that popped up on her caller ID to request the calls stop, she ended up talking to a woman in Rochester who knew nothing about them....
 I'm happy I have not had a land line since moving out on my own in the late 90's. I do not miss these at all. It is bad enough sitting through them on TV much less being called. Interesting to note is that political robocalls do not fall under the "Do Not Call Registry" since they are not deemed telemarketers. It is too bad since they should be. They are still trying to sell me something :a candidate.
...One of the pre-recorded messages claims Tucker was the recipient of a large campaign donation from Modern Disposal Service, the city’s new refuse hauler. Another asks who’s “running” the city, Tucker, the Harris Beach law firm or, perhaps, deputy city attorney/Niagara County GOP Chairman Mike Norris. Yet another asks why Tucker is “violating the law” by not getting a 2012 city budget in place by early October, as the city charter ordains...

...The messages aren’t surprising to him, he said — but he is taking exception to the claim that he took campaign money from Modern. That isn’t an opinion like “who’s running the city?,” it’s just plain false, he said....
Does anyone know where the "Modern Rumor" started? Funny that a party is suggesting that another party boss "may" be running things. I do not see any democrats on the council too concerned about the budget being planned late to address union concessions etc. Does the Democratic Party have any robocalls alleviating our garbage system fears by proclaiming that Pilot is %100 against it?

Is there any hope for real dialogue or relevant information in politics? At least neither party will be robocalling me.


No To Term Limits

Posted by MJ

The council voted down term limits 4-2 last night. The LUSJ reported:

Andy Chapman’s term limits proposal for city office holders was downed Wednesday in a 2-4 vote by Common Council members.

Chapman, 4th Ward alderman, and Jack Smith, 2nd Ward alderman, cast the two “yes” votes for the proposal, which would have required the mayor to take a break from the office after serving two consecutive terms, and aldermen to take a break after three consecutive terms. The proposed law did not prohibit former officers from running again, so long as they sat out one term....
I could have went either way with this. I had not found to many supporting documents on the local level showing large benefits to term limits. In my mind, 2-yr terms for alderman and 4-yr for mayor are more than enough opportunity to remove someone from office. Personally I would not want to risk the chance to keep a "shining star" in if they were actually to be found.

As the levels of government go up, I can see the allure especially when someone we don't get to vote for runs things because of seniority. It turns replacing representatives into a "set back" as seniority is reset not allowing them to be as effective from the start even if they were full of great new ideas.


Civic Going Outof Business?

Posted by MJ

The Urbanophile has a relevant post on budgets and cost cutting for the sake of cost cutting:

State and local governments from coast to coast are making major budget cuts as they grapple with plunging revenues and years of deferred investment and maintenance. One refrain of some has been that just like with household budgets, government simply cannot spend more than it takes in. Thus painful cuts are the only option.
There’s no doubt this is true in the short term. Clearly, we have to make adult decisions about priorities and can’t spend money on everything, no matter how much shrieking about the end of the world every single special interest group on the planet makes when they are asked to step up to the plate and do their fair share to balance the budget...
...That’s the situation too many places find themselves in. They can’t afford to be cities, and so are really in the process of an extended civic going out of business sale. As with a company that has been issued a going concern warning by its auditor and is about to be delisted from the stock exchange, people smell the whiff of death about it, so it doesn’t attract many customers or investors. Which is to say that people aren’t moving there – they are moving out if anything – and businesses are staying away. Who wants to stake their personal or financial future on a place that might not have a future of its own?...
...This is something merely balancing this year’s budget isn’t going to fix. What’s really needed is to restore investor confidence. That’s going to take more than balanced budgets. Just as most companies don’t fail because their costs are too high, but rather because of the forces of creative destruction, excess leverage, poor product positioning, quality and customer service issues, a bad strategic concept, etc., most cities don’t fail because their budget’s too big, but because they are no longer relevant to the marketplace. They are selling an inferior version of a product that customers no longer want to buy...
...By all means budgets have to be balanced and spending bloat can kill you. Fiscal and operational matters must be attended to. But until these places take a hard, spare no illusions look in the mirror and develop a compelling reason for a person or business to hitch their fortunes to these places instead of thriving ones elsewhere, too many older cities will continue on the slow road to oblivion.
 What reasons would someone have to invest (financially and emotionally) in the City of Lockport at this time? What could/should a future version of the city offer?


Saving History

Posted by MJ

Another Buffalo News article on the value of older structures in neighborhood turnarounds:

Buffalo's preservation success starts in its vibrant middle-class neighborhoods, where homeowners work together to protect, promote and develop a sense of community.
Private investment is key, but even vacant houses have the power to turn neighborhoods around, according to Harvey Garrett, who directs the West Side Community Collaborative
"Instead of knocking them down, take private investment and reuse them," said Garrett. "The East Side and West Side were both considered gone. Even the people living in the neighborhoods didn't see anything worth investing in.
"Today, we [the middle-West Side] have attracted millions of dollars in investment," Garrett said. "We've tripled the property values in the last 10 years. Businesses like the Urban Roots Garden Center and Five Points Bakery were started by people who live only blocks away."...
As I mentioned last week the city has the infrastructure intact to start a trend of growth. The biggest change will come from those living here taking the risk to invest and putting the effort in to civicly participate on behalf of their street and neighborhood. They will also most likely continue the first wave of businesses DT.  The inertia builds from there.

Historically government usually only gets in the way but there always remains the chance that those in charge will start to get creative. Lots of examples exist to get inspiration and to form plans from. From there is is taking a risk to try something new (to us) and watching how it works (or doesn't). 


Candidates Night

Posted by MJ

Buffalo News reported:

LOCKPORT—A candidates’ night for mayoral and Niagara County Legislature candidates in Lockport is set for 7 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.

Sponsored by the Concerned Niagara County Taxpayers Association, the forum is expected to include Mayor Michael W. Tucker and his opponent, Michael J. Pillot, along with Legislator W. Keith McNall and his opponent, Alderman Andrew D. Chapman

The LUSJ reported that Tucker and McNall will not attend this one.
Neither Mayor Michael Tucker nor county Legislator Keith McNall will attend the candidates’ forum being put on Thursday by the Concerned Niagara County Taxpayers Association.

Tucker informed an NCTA member he’s withdrawing after he received a letter from organizer Marge Swan of Cambria indicating the format is different than what he agreed to in a prior conversation with her...

...Tucker and McNall both said they will attend a candidates forum being put on by the Niagara USA Chamber next week.

The 7 p.m. Oct. 24 forum at the Dale Association is open to all candidates for Lockport offices who are in competitive elections, meaning candidates for mayor, 1st, 4th and 5th ward alderman and the all-city 13th District legislator, according to chamber spokesman Kory Schuler...


Plymouth Ave

Posted by MJ

A post in Buffalo Rising highlights the changes on a block of Plymouth Ave on the west side over the past 15 years.

For many years, the first block of Plymouth Avenue between Hudson and Pennsylvania streets was a sore thumb of blight threatening the more stable neighborhoods of Plymouth Avenue between Pennsylvania Street and Porter Avenue, Pennsylvania Street itself and nearby Orton Place and St. John's Place.  The crime and disinvestment found on the block was also a threat to the western end of the Allentown Historic Preservation District. 
According to neighborhood residents, the block was a hotbed of drug dealing and other criminal behaviors. It was not uncommon to find heroin needles lying about, prostitutes turning tricks on corners, or teenagers shooting up under streetlights.  Abandonment, decay, and sheer age have all taken their toll on this block...
I note it to pose that the opportunity of change in the Genessee St area does exist. It is not quick. It is never complete. But match people with great old housing, a walkable neighborhood and the presence of aggressive block clubs and there is hope.

This area next to DT offers an infrastructure that is no longer built (and usually deemed illegal by current zoning coeds). A type of area that a good number of people look for. Those same people are usually the type to put in all the "sweat equity" needed to start the turn around which will eventually make it feasible for more "contractor" based work to be done by future residents.

The city itself needs an aggressive policy to market these properties, provide proper incentives and complete the structural changes necessary to solidify the cities vision for it's future. A lot of people are filling to take a risk if  they see other area residents are vested. It is even sweeter when the city itself is on board and an active parter assisting in the transformation be it through investment, enforcement, incentives etc.

The area can remain fodder for the perpetual pessimists and tax base drain but it also contains the infrastructure for some hard working optimists to start a rebirth that could add to the tax base. More and more examples of reclaimed blocks pop up as people look to connecting with history and an environment built for people. What will be done here to connect with them?


Recycling Off to Good Start

Posted by MJ

Both the Buffalo News and the  LUSJ reported that the initially recycling pickup has gathered more material than initially projected.

Nearly 12 tons of recyclables have been collected in the first three days of curbside recycling in Lockport.

Dawn M. Timm, Niagara County environmental coordinator, said Wednesday that results have exceeded expectations..
She said she was hoping for an average of 3v tons of recycling per day. Modern Disposal began collecting trash and recycling Monday, as the city implemented its privatized refuse system with city-owned totes delivered to every household.
Recycling is being picked up every other week. Each of the five daily garbage routes has been divided into AandBsegments, with this week being an A week for recycling. Next week, those who live in B segments will have their recycling bins emptied for the first time.
The maps of A and B streets were included with the recycling bins. Information also is available at www.curbsidelockport.com ...

I believe that after a certain tonnage the city starts to get money back from recyclables collection. The more we recycle the slightly better off the city coffers will be. It would be nice to see this money (if any) dedicated to new trees or something similar.

My biggest debate at this time is where to put the recyclables until I take them outside.


Ulrich to Sell UCC

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported that David Ulrich is planning on selling the Ulrich City Center.

David L. Ulrich said Wednesday he intends to sell Ulrich City Centre, the downtown commercial area where Lockport’s Friday night summer concerts are held.

The apparent buyer is Timothy Gelder of East Amherst, an executive at Barden&Robeson Corp., the Middleport prefabricated housing manufacturer.
Ulrich said the deal is not yet complete. However, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday transferred the tax break on the complex, which lasts through 2021, to 175 Walnut St. LLC, a holding company created by Gelder.
Ulrich said the 30,000-square-foot complex, which hosts a mix of restaurants, stores and professional offices, has not been profitable since it opened in 2005.
It was built on the South Block, a site on Main Street that had been vacant for more than 30 years, since the former businesses there were demolished under the federal urban renewal program....

I know headlines are supposed to grab readers but the "unprofitable" in the headline rubs me the wrong way. Ulrich may have not made much on it but if someone is willing to buy it there has to be a long term vision of profit.

The site itself is the closest example of great urban site development in WNY. Street side facades and parking in the rear are wonderful. The lack of front door use and no upper floors (residential etc) are some of the misses. But even today, what sits there is way beyond what I would have imagined when surveying the empty south block that existed when I fist moved here in 2003.

I wish the best of luck to the next owner.The Larkin building (and now district) in Buffalo show that anything is possible with committed owners with unique visions.


Brewmaster's Dinner

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News blogged that the Tuscarora Inn is holding a Brewmaster's dinner tomorrow the 12th along with Flying Bison Brewery.

...On Wed., Oct. 12, the Tuscarora Inn (128 Walnut St., Lockport) will hold a Brewmaster's Dinner with Flying Bison Brewery.
Each dish in a five-course dinner will be paired with one of Flying Bison's Buffalo-crafted brews. Seats are $42, including tax and tip, for the 6:30 p.m. meal. Call 434-1288 or email tdeflippo@tuscarorainn.com for reservations.
We did the Chef's Tasting at Sample on Allen in Buffalo over the weekend and had a great evening. It has us looking for similar offerings in the area. Would have been nice to know about this one a little sooner. 

Here's the menu from the Facebook page:

Assortment of NY State Cheeses &
Canapes with “Spars” German-style Meats & Sausages
(Buffalo Lager)

Gulf Shrimp in a Creole scented Beer Reduction on a bed of
Roasted Garlic Whipped Potato finished with Crispy Potato Shoestrings
(Rusty Chain)

Baby Arugula & Micro Greens tossed with White Truffle Oil with crispy “Spars” Double-Smoked Bacon, Oven Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Crostini, finished with a Balsamic Reduction
(Aviator Red)

Smoked Bone-in Niagara County Heirloom Pork Loin with Beer Braised Red Cabbage & Homemade SpƤtzle
(Baron von Bisonfest)

Chocolate Mocha Merangue ‘Bomb’ filled with “Lake Effect’s” Ice Cream made with Flying Bison’s Porter paired with a Tart Raspberry Sauce
(Tuscarora Porter)


Housing VisionsBegins

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported that work has begun on the Housing Visions project in the Genessee - Pine area.

The long-awaited makeover of one of the city’s most run-down residential areas is under way.
Housing Visions, the Syracuse based nonprofit agency, began digging foundations last week for the first three of the nine apartment houses it intends to erect on and near Genesee Street.
That area, just south of downtown, for years has been the epicenter of drug dealing and other crime in Lockport.
The $8.6 million project is projected for completion in December 2012, according to Ben Lockwood, director of development for Housing Visions. The first apartments will be available for rent next summer.
Alderman Jack L. Smith Jr., who lives nearby, is a former block club president who recruited Housing Visions to come to Lockport after learning of its success in constructing clean housing in distressed areas in other upstate cities....
As for the final funding:

...The City of Lockport a year ago granted Housing Visions a 20-year property tax exemption on what are to be called Lockport Canal Homes.

Lockwood said the primary funding source for the project was the sale of $5.8 million in low-income housing tax credits to Enterprise Community Partners, a national low-income housing organization.

State low-interest loans directly to Housing Visions paid most of the rest, although Lockwood said the city contributed $40,000 in addition to making a couple of foreclosed properties available for $1

The designs weren't all that they could have been but that is what happens when city wide design guidelines do not exist. People spend a lot of time arguing over number based zoning when it's the actual forms of the structures and their placements which have the biggest effects.

Let's hope the city supplements this new construction with some infrastructure improvement of their own and some special incentives for private owners in the area.

Update: Historical image for comments.


Ex-Garbage Workers and Trees

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News reported that some of the former city refuse workers, who kept city employment through bargaining away refuse collection as a city job, could initially be put on tree duties.

The end of city-run garbage collection Friday freed up about 10 employees for other assignments, and the city’s chief tree trimmer wants the Common Council to send some of those workers his way.

“If we had enough men, we could put a big dent in our trees,” said Joseph Kane, tree crew leader.

There are an estimated 70,000 trees on city property or along streets in the city right of way, Kane told the aldermen. Complaints about trees that are dying or need to be trimmed flow steadily into City Hall.

Yet the city has only four workers assigned to its forestry budget, said Richard P. Mullaney, city clerk and budget director.

“It would take an army to clean up our tree backlog,” said Alderman Andrew D. Chapman...
  Forestry departments are some of the easiest to cut from as the effects take a while to notice. A tree missing here or there is not noted. It is not until some decades go by and tree-less spots start to outnumber the ones with trees remaining. The next problem is that it will take decades to have mature trees back in those spots. 70,000 trees may sound like a lot but take notice as you drive (or hopefully walk) down Lockport sides streets just how many street trees are currently missing.

Here is a nice document on the 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees ranging from increased property values, to structure shading / cooling , to vehicle / pedestrian safety, less drainage, etc. At least personally, nothing shows an area forsaken by a municipality than one with streets with no street trees left. I use it as a criteria when buying an older house.

A peeve of mine in the city is that when I have notified of a dead branch, the whole tree was cut down etc for 6 ft of the trunk which would remain for 3 years until the tree started growing again. I'd hope that we either have a certified arborist on staff or have one contracted. If the city is hardly planting anymore they better not be needlessly cutting them down.


Modern Collectiojn Started

Posted by MJ

Buffalo News Reported:

The city’s new privatized garbage collection and recycling service will begin today, with Modern Disposal crews picking up the garbage totes on the regular Monday route. City officials said the schedule will not be affected by the Columbus Day holiday.
City officials said crews would work through the weekend on delivering the new garbage and recycling totes. So far, delivery only for Monday and Tuesday customers has been completed.
Although garbage will be picked up every week, recycling will be taken only on alternate weeks. The schedule is in the literature included with the totes or at www.curbsidelockport.com .

Residents who don’t receive their totes or who are given the wrong size should call 439-6752 to report that. Residents will be allowed to change sizes after Nov. 14, and the system of selling stickers to place on items that don’t fit in the totes won’t start until Dec. 5. Until then, extra bags may be put at the curb for free.
Any "North Ender"s out there? Let us know how how it goes. I'm on the Thursday route and have yet to receive my totes. I am looking forward to recycling the old ones.


2.3M in Borrowing OK'd

Posted by MJ

The Buffalo News and LUSJ have reported on last nights council meeting.

1) 2.3M in borrowing was approved.

 The Common Council voted Wednesday to borrow more than $2.3 million for various expenses, including the cost of the 17,000 garbage totes being delivered to homes this week

Other items will include the cost of repairing a sinkhole that kept part of South Transit Street closed for three weeks this spring and the city’s share of the price of a new fire truck delivered last month...
Some more borrowing is expected next year for building roofs and other capitol expenses.

...After January, when the city has more cash in reserve, White said he’ll return to the Council seeking the OK to borrow another $4.5 million, to pay for pending needed projects including roof and wall repairs at City Hall, the highway department salt barn, the water and wastewater treatment plants; heavy equipment for public works; and a new phone system for city offices. Interest rates on bonds are expected to remain low into next year, he said.

2) There will be a public comment session on term limits during the Oct 19th council meeting

The Common Council will hold another public hearing on a proposed term-limits law this month.

Council members unanimously approved a motion Wednesday by 4th Ward Alderman Andy Chapman calling on the city attorney to draft a local law specifying term limits for the mayor and aldermen.

City Attorney John Ottaviano said he’ll simply re-post the proposed law that Chapman suggested last year, which calls for the mayor to take a break from the office after two consecutive terms/8 years and aldermen to take a break after three consecutive terms/6 years.