the makeover begin: Albanys Lark Street.
Photo by Joe Putrock
of the Reconstruction
last, all systems are go for the Lark Street upgrade
The reconstruction of Albany’s Lark Street—a project long
fraught with accusations, disputes and angst—is set to start
Proponents of the plan were always in plentiful supply, but
so were disgruntled residents and merchants, who accused the
city a year ago of pulling a fast switch. The dispute started
when Mayor Jerry Jennings announced that a $6.5 million grant
originally slated for an ambitious, all-out rebuilding and
widening of Lark Street would be used instead for a reconstruction
project on New Scotland Avenue, near the mayor’s home.
Amid the furor—which always seemed to be fueled more by the
sudden way the change was announced than by the change itself—Jennings
promised that Lark Street would still get its due, and with
much less disruption than the original plan. Now the city
says it is living up to that promise.
Come fall, Lark Street should have new sidewalks, better lights,
fewer overhead wires, new trees, new bicycle racks and some
additional decorative touches such as granite crosswalks that
are all packaged under the label “streetscape,” said Willard
Bruce, Albany’s general services commissioner.
What Lark Street will not have is parking on both sides, buried
utility wires and a mile of new utility pipes underground,
ideas that many residents and merchants considered as good
as promised last year.
It was never clear in last year’s debate whether those ideas
had been tacitly approved by the city, or if they were the
wish-list dreams of a planning group of residents and merchants
that took on a life of their own. However, the city’s opinion
that such ambitious and lengthy work would impede traffic
and kill businesses on Lark Street eventually prevailed.
The fact that something, anything, is finally getting done
is being greeted with relief.
think it’s great. I’m glad they’re finally doing it,” said
Elissa Halloran, owner of Elissa Halloran Designs at 225 Lark,
near the junction of Chestnut Street. “It’s been up in the
air so long.”
Joe Romeo, owner of Romeo’s Gifts and one of the longest-surviving
merchants on Lark Street, has seen the street go through good
times and bad in his 18 years there. The graffiti that had
started to appear on buildings along or near Lark Street is
gone, he notes, and he credits the city with stricter enforcement
action. But Lark Street itself could use some sprucing up,
sidewalks are not in good shape,” he said. “In front of my
store, the sidewalk is tilted. The tree has lifted it.”
Both Halloran and Romeo have two concerns: parking and lighting.
Both said that Lark Street needs better, brighter lights.
And both said that with parking already tight on Lark, the
street cannot afford to have either pedestrians or motorists
inconvenienced. That’s a concern shared by Richard Conti,
the Sixth Ward Common Council member.
like to see the project move forward and be completed with
a minimum amount of disruption to the street, the business
community and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Conti said.
“We all know that there’s going to be a certain amount of
disruption. The plan is that the street is never going to
be completely shut down.”
The plan also calls for historic reproduction street lights
to be installed on both sides of Lark, illuminating both sides
of the street for the first time in decades and casting a
brighter glow on the sidewalks and curbs, Conti said.
Preliminary work has already begun on the $2.6 million project,
which is being financed as part of a bond issue by the city,
said Bruce. Niagara Mohawk crews have been replacing underground
gas pipes as a preventive step, because the city won’t allow
a newly resurfaced street to be torn up in the first five
years after construction for anything but a dire emergency.
The pipe replacement should be completed in time for the April
1 start date by Callanan Industries, the Schenectady-based
just happy that we’re moving forward with this project,” Jennings
said. “As far as I’m concerned, Lark Street is a very important
main thoroughfare in the city.”
There are losers and winners in any construction project,
and this one is no different. On the losing side: Lark Street’s
existing trees, which have defied the normally dismal prognosis
for urban greenery. Battered, abused and used as bike racks
by humans and as bathrooms by dogs, the trees are for the
most part flourishing so well that they are getting tangled
in the utility wires.
However, the city consulted with tree experts at the Cornell
University Cooperative Extension, and all agreed: If the sidewalk
work didn’t kill the existing trees immediately, it would
kill them in the next few years by injuring their roots, said
Joseph Cunin, executive director of the Lark Street Business
Improvement District. New trees will be planted when the project
On the winning side: Lark Street’s two warm-weather festivals,
which are still slated to go forward. Art on Lark is scheduled
for June 7, and Larkfest will be held Sept. 13.
have no intention of canceling them,” Cunin said.
Hill residents worry that neighborhood revitalization plans
are stalling again
When three-fourths of the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Advisory
Committee failed to show up for a committee meeting last week,
residents expressed concern that the mayor’s plan to renew
their neighborhood may be stalling.
is a reason why the community members outnumbered the committee
members at that meeting,” said Aaron Mair of Arbor Hill Concerned
Citizens. “We know the best community development plans are
those shaped by the people who the development is supposed
to benefit and, more importantly, have to live with the outcome.”
Presiding before about a dozen Arbor Hill residents, only
six of 24 committee members attended the Jan. 22 meeting of
the advisory committee, a neighborhood revitalization task
force commissioned by Mayor Jerry Jennings and run by the
developing firm the Community Builders, Inc.
Sue McCann, a vice president of Community Builders, agreed
that committee attendance was poor and said it was “the lowest
turnout of the committee’s seven or eight meetings.”
Particularly notable absences were Arbor Hill’s representatives
from the Albany Common Council, Michael Brown and Sarah Curry-Cobb.
Neither returned phone calls for this story.
For years, residents of Arbor Hill, one of Albany’s poorest
districts, have cried for neighborhood improvements: more
options for low-cost housing, increased youth services and
beautification projects, just to name a few.
But members of the community say that working with the city
on turning their neighborhood around has been frustrating.
Typically, they say, city officials ignore residents’ ideas
for improvements to Arbor Hill, instead trying to force their
own revitalization ideas on the neighborhood.
The city has twice before hired private development firms—Norstar
Development USA in 2000 and Dennison Associates in 2001—to
evaluate the community’s needs and proceed with improvements,
but each group’s assessments were successively abandoned.
The city has since formed the neighborhood advisory committee
and hired Community Builders, Inc. to take up the task of
revitalizing Arbor Hill. But neighborhood residents feeling
alienated from the process wonder if the city’s plan for Arbor
Hill will live up to the firm’s namesake.
Draft improvements released at last week’s meeting included
plans for the development of commercial space at the corners
of North Swan Street and Clinton Avenue, and a cultural center
near North Swan Street and Ten Broeck Place. Neighborhood
resident Rodney Davis said the most controversial of all the
proposals was the idea of constructing 80 low-income housing
units on North Swan Street.
residents were not opposed to new housing plans,” Davis said.
“What they wanted to see was more opportunities for home ownership,
not housing rental units.”
The draft plan calls for the construction of 60 one- or two-unit
rental homes, costing $185,900 and $371,800 respectively,
and 20 owner-oriented residences at $123,000 apiece. Neighborhood
residents said the approximately $14 million earmarked for
the new housing could be better spent.
not invest this money in buying up abandoned or foreclosed
property?” asked Mair. “At these prices, you could rehabilitate
every single multifamily structure in Arbor Hill. The city
has a chance [to create] 100-percent owner occupancy and independence
in a community or an 80-percent rental [occupancy] and create
a poverty ghetto.”
But McCann said that creating 100-
percent owner-occupancy housing in Arbor Hill would be taking
things too far, too fast.
is currently only one homeowner on Swan Street,” McCann said.
“Accomplishing that increase would involve selling far more
homes in Arbor Hill than has been possible in the past, and
we believe promising any higher number than  would be
disingenuous because it probably wouldn’t be feasible.”
Mair questioned how easy it would be to sell new homes that
cost $125,000 to build, considering the state of Arbor Hill’s
real estate market. According to James Ader, executive vice
president of the Greater Capitol Association of Realtors,
of the 35 homes sold last year in Arbor Hill, the median sale
price was $70,000. McCann said that the cost of these homes
would need to be “written down significantly,” and that the
neighborhood advisory committee would explore financing and
construction options to keep costs low.
McCann said discussions about the future of Arbor Hill at
this time are very preliminary, and she encourages community
members to influence the process. Mair and Davis, who agreed
that input from Arbor Hill residents could be better, contended
that many community members can’t attend the meetings because
they take place at 8 AM, when many of them are rushing off
to work or getting kids ready for school. In light of the
last meeting’s poor turnout by committee members, Davis questioned
the practicality of holding the meetings at such an awkward
time. And he questioned the city’s commitment to improving
Arbor Hill in general.
plan that the city does is very nice, but what hard dollars
have been committed to this project?” Davis asked. “Do they
have any money that will commit them or is this just another
merry-go-round, a report that will be filed on the shelf?
Who can say for sure, but if I were a betting man, I’d say
that [neighborhood revitalization] won’t be done again. The
city has shown nothing in its past to say otherwise.”
The neighborhood advisory committee meets next on Feb. 5 at
8 AM at 200 Henry Johnson Boulevard.
the makeover begin: Albanys Lark Street.
Photo by Joe Putrock
a Sad State We’re In
(Jan. 29), Gov. George E. Pataki unveiled his $90 billion
executive budget proposal for the state of New York. Offering
his solutions for the state’s two-year budget deficit, which
he placed at $11.5 billion, Pataki proposed to slash spending
on services and cut government jobs, but promised to maintain
New York’s role as the nation’s tax-cutting leader. To cover
the state’s $2.2 billion deficit from last year, Pataki proposed
to enact a state hiring freeze, cut 500 state jobs and recoup
$1.5 billion from the state’s tobacco lawsuit settlement.
For the $9.3 billion hole in this year’s budget, Pataki wants
to cut an additional 500 state jobs and reduce the state’s
contributions to higher education, cutting the Tuition Assistance
Program by a third. Pataki proposed to further weaken the
state’s commitment to education by cutting $1.26 billion from
general school-aid spending. But he also recommended extending
the health-care programs he has previously championed.