In the last 30 years, environmental and preservation groups have perceived planning boards/commissions as rubber stamps, mere welcome wagons for developers. Certainly, the decision last Thursday by Troy's Planning Commission did nothing to alleviate that perception. They approved the demolition of the Freihofer's bakery buildings and the Riverside Club for a new Eckard's Drug store by a vote of 6-2.
However, there are some serious issues that need to be resolved over the way this was handled.
Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, a developer must assess the impact their proposal will have on the environment. This is done preliminarily with a short or full environmental assessment form that asks a series of questions. In some cases, a full blown environmental impact must be completed. Recently, the Capital District Preservation Task Force has found several occurrences in Capital District communities where the forms are not filled out properly, as required by law.
A member of the newly formed Historic Action Network picked up a copy of the environmental assessment for the Eckard's proposal in January. Only half of the form was filled out. The second part, which deals with impact on the environment and historic resources, was not filled out.
However, between the public hearing in January (and public opposition) and the approval last Thursday, Part B of the assessment was written in. The answers regarding the impact on historic and archeological resources were dead wrong, however.
Where the form asked if there would be impact on land, the answer was an existing building would be demolished. In reality, the bakery AND the historic Riverside Club will be demolished.
It has been said that since the Riverside club or bakery was not on the National Register of Historical Places it didn't need to be considered as such. The city's historic sites inventory dates back to the 1980's. Not being on the register doesn't mean it has no historic significance. There are thousands of eligible sites that are not listed. First the site has to be nominated. It was not nominated by the city, nor anyone else.
Would the Riverside club or bakery be eligible if it were nominated? One of the State's criteria asks does it "embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction..." The answer is yes when it comes to the Riverside Club. This early example of Shingle style is rare here. You can read the entire state regulation as it applies to historic preservation on the Web (www.nysparks.state.ny.us/field/fsb/1409regs.htm).
The form asks if there are impacts on historic and archeological resources. It's also checked no.
Over the last 100 years, archaeologists, both professional and amateur, have found remains of prehistoric and historic Native American occupation on both sides of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers.
In 1900, William M. Beachump in a report to the State Museum listed a
recent Indian cemetery opened in lansingburgh in 1897 and a neighboring camp of an earlier type. He also listed an early camping spot nearby on Green Island, and an early site and cemetery in South Troy.
Archeologist A.C. Parker, also in a State Museum report, a few years later, mentions an Indian village site north of the Waterford bridge with an abundance of artifacts. He writes of a cemetery of the Mohawks (probably Mohican) opened on First Street in Lansingburgh. First Avenue runs through the Freihofer property to the bridge following the banks of the river and I wouldn't be surprised if remains turned up there.
Moenemies Castle (a Mohican village) was on Peebles Island but land was also sold on the east side to the Europeans and would be part of the land now occupied by Freihofer.
In 1865, when digging for the car barns for Troy's trolley system (now Hannaford's) an Indian cemetery was unearthed according to the Troy Times. The newspaper article mentions that similar graves were found just south of it (would place it on or near the Freihoifer's site) a few years earlier.
There are well known flint mines just past the Hannaford's where Native Americans fashioned their stone implements.
According to Sydney Hammersley in his History of Waterford (1957), burials were found in Waterford a few years prior to his book, and that the west end of Middle Street was once an indian burial ground. On an early Waterford map, Front Street was listed as an Indian encampment. You may remember just a few years ago Native bones were uncovered and repatriated with ceremony in Waterford.
Presently, there are Indian remains in the State Museum that were dug up where the Laureate Club had their boathouse in Troy off Glen Avenue.
Unamats Castle on the Poestenkill was a well know Mohican village.
My point? There is ample evidence that our shores of the Hudson and Mohawk were well settled by Native Americans and there is a high likelihood that there are prehistoric or historic Native American remains on the Freihofer site. Yet, there is only one way to find out!
I phoned Dr. Edward Curtin, one of the premier archeological consultants in the Capital District to discuss this matter. Dr. Curtin informed me that he was hired by the developer two weeks ago and they asked him for an assessment of the Freihofer site.
Dr. Curtin's reply, which he faxed on February 7th to ADB Engineers & Surveyors, recommended archeological testing. This included a Stage or Phase 1A which consists of a literature search and sensitivity study. This would be followed by a Phase 1B, which is field investigation, with a backhoe to look for remains. Finally, mitigation to occur if anything is found.
When I talked to Dr. Curtin on Friday, a day after the project was approved, he was not yet hired to perform these archeological investigations. Now that the approval has been granted, will he be hired at all?
If you would like to learn more about this archaeological review process you can surf over to the New York State Parks Web page (www.nysparks.state.ny.us/field/fsb/majorphases.htm).
Interesting that none of this was brought up at the hearing.
Commissioner Barbara Nelson made a move to kill the proposal but was defeated. When asked why, she stated that she had tried to get phone calls returned for two weeks to discuss the matter and those were never returned. Add to the fact that a professional archeologist was not hired until two weeks prior to approval, and then not act on his recommendations, raises serious doubts about the integrity of the process.
The Planning Commission's responsibilities are to look at ALL the impacts of a proposed development. They are also responsible for looking out for the best interests of the people of Troy, NOT the developer's interests.
Here is how visitors will be greeted to Historic Troy. Before you come over the Congress Street bridge, a new Eckards. Come to Troy via the Waterford Bridge and you will encounter a new Eckards. Enter the city from Vermont and there might be a CVS greeting you. I will place a bet that there are proposals being drawn right now to build drug stores at the Green Island, Cohoes, and Menands Bridge entrances to the city.
Is this good urban planning? I think not!