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My Space?

Residents hopeful as Albany finally prepares to implement a parking-permit system

After more than 20 years of lobbying by Albany residents and local politicians, the New York State Legislature passed a bill last month granting the city of Albany authority to implement a pilot parking permit system for residents in areas of downtown that are most affected by overflow parking from state employees.

Bill S.396-A provides for a residential parking permit area “within three-quarters of a mile radius of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza,” allowing no more than 2,750 residential permits. There will be no permit parking on streets “where the adjacent properties are zoned for commercial, office and/or retail use”; the bill also requires that no less than 20 percent of the radius area be made available for short-term parking for up to 90 minutes. The permits will be in effect only during certain hours of the day, leaving residents to fend for themselves in the evenings. The pilot system will be in effect for two years before being reviewed.

Not surprisingly, this has provoked a variety of responses from both residents and state workers, some of whom are concerned that their interests will not be adequately represented by the task force Mayor Jerry Jennings appointed earlier this month. The task force is charged with sorting out specific aspects of the program—such as where exactly to place the center of the 3/4 mile radius, how much permits will cost, where short-term parking will be located and what hours of the day the permits will be in effect.

The tension between state employees and downtown residents is certainly nothing new. As some longtime residents may recall, Albany implemented a parking permit program in the late ’80s that was in effect for approximately two years before state employee unions brought legal action claiming that the city didn’t have the right to regulate public streets that were maintained with state and federal funds. The New York State Legislature agreed, and shut down the program.

Ongoing issues with residential and commercial parking in other cities across the state eventually compelled the Legislature to look at ways to empower individual cities to enact permit programs intended to address unique parking concerns. According to Albany Common Councilman Richard Conti, who is chairing the newly appointed task force, Rochester was the first to receive the authority to do so under the home rule clause in Article IX of the New York State Constitution. More recently, Rensselaer was allowed to institute a permit system when Amtrak began to charge for parking and customers started overrunning residential areas instead. The opposition of state employee unions in Albany, however, has effectively blocked legislative efforts to wrest parking spaces from state employees for the last 20 years.

For most downtown Albany residents, the long-awaited passage of the bill and resultant speed with which a task force was appointed sounds like good news. A general dissatisfaction with the lack of residential citizens on the task force notwithstanding, many consider it a win against the state employees that have been parking in their neighborhoods for years. Bill Pettit, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association, said, “Personally, I’m thrilled that Paterson signed the bill. I know some of those guys on the task force and they know what they’re doing, plus I think the language was pretty specific that these permits are for residents only. As far as I’m concerned, that’s 2,750 more guaranteed spots than we had before.”

“The Mayor’s intent in appointing this was to signal that we are moving forward,” said Conti. “This task force is more like a technical work group. The state Legislature gave us the outline, but the details have to be developed on the city level. We have to consider things like allocation of short-term spaces, the effect on local small businesses and the displacement of residents in nearby communities. Then we have to deal with administration, regulation and rules.”

Conti did express an interest in keeping all parties involved. “I hope to have our first meeting next week and then to have them weekly until we have this all worked out,” he said. “All of the meetings will be open to the public and we will be open to impact feedback from all of the various stakeholders.”

“When we come up with a proposal,” he added, “there will be additional chances for the public to weigh in—additional public reviews, public council meetings—and it may be further tweaked by the Common Council as well.”

The task force, consisting solely of Common Council members and city employees, does not represent either unions or neighborhood associations directly, although the councilmen appointed to it—Conti (Ward 6), Richard Bailey (Ward 3), Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1) and Anton Konev (Ward 11)—do represent the areas that are likely to be the most affected by the proposed plan: Center Square, the Mansion District, Ten Broeck Triangle and parts of Washington Park. City employees appointed to the task force include Michael Klein (executive director, Albany Parking Authority), Doug Melnick (director of planning, city of Albany), William Trudeau (traffic engineering supervisor), and Patrick Jordan (legal counsel).

Conti and his task force hope to have a complete proposal ready by the end of the year.

—Ali Hibbs


Back in the Saddle

Quirky scientist will resume WAMC radio show in a new format

After a four-and-a half-month suspension from the airwaves, New York state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone will return to WAMC with a new format of his former program In Our Backyard.

After a Monday afternoon meeting with WAMC president and CEO Alan Chartock, Stone said that he expected to be back on the air as early as Friday. The date was confirmed in a statement released by WAMC.

Stone, whose radio program was suspended because he was under investigation for alleged misconduct, attributes his return to the demonstration held Sept. 13 in front of the station. “Do you think that I would have got back on the show this quickly had it not been for the rally?” he asked Monday night, adding that he thinks his involvement in the rally might have surprised the WAMC staffers. “They didn’t think I would participate in something like that because I’m part of the WAMC family.”

WAMC assistant news director Steve Felano will co-host the show, according to Stone. “I think I’m going to like working with him, so I’m happy to have the opportunity to be back. And I think it says something, my coming back.”

Chartock was unavailable for comment; however, he stated in a press release issued on Tuesday that WAMC has waited several months for the Inspector General’s office to determine whether there is validity to the accusations made against Stone.

“So far, there has been no resolution,” the release stated. “We’ve been in constant contact with Ward and in fairness to him and to our community of listeners hungry for environmental news, we’ve decided to restore In Our Backyard. In its new format, Ward will be answering listeners’ questions every Friday on Morning Edition at 7:06 and during the same day’s Midday Magazine.”

“Should the Inspector General’s investigation find merit to the allegations raised by the Times Union article, WAMC will, of course, reconsider its options,” the statement concluded.

Pleased with the new times and format of the program, Stone said he considers this to be good news. “I will be very happy to be back on WAMC with my regular listeners, and with such wide coverage,” he said. “It allows one to talk about the environment to a very large number of people, which is important to me, and I hope that we can put out an even better show than we did before.”

—W.T. Eckert




Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-



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