Troy’s ‘Federal Dam District’ vision could face obstacles

Troy’s ‘Federal Dam District’ vision could face obstacles

One part of Troy’s finally-revealed-but-not-yet-adopted draft comprehensive plan, which is intended to guide the city’s growth for the next quarter-century or so, outlines seven “major reinvestment” concepts in several different neighborhoods. The concepts are not necessarily prescriptive, the plan cautions, but “are intended to demonstrate potential and provide a framework for change.”

One such concept in North Central is the “Federal Dam District,” which would include all land west of River Street between Middleburgh and 101st streets. Perhaps the defining feature of this waterfront-adjacent area, as its new (potential) name suggests, is the Troy Federal Lock and Dam, which is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  

The plan laments that the facility, unlike “other locks in New York State,” is not open to the public—and vaguely envisions this changing. “The City of Troy should work to ensure controlled public access” to the barbed-wire enclosed facility “as an important educational opportunity on navigable waterways in New York State,” the plan says.

This effort, at least for now, is theoretical. Contacted Thursday, planning commissioner Steve Strichman said the city has not reached out to the Army about the idea. Strichman stressed the plan’s conceptual nature. “I think you’re ahead of yourself here,” he said. “We can’t do every single one of these things tomorrow.” More planning would be required, and potential projects would move forward piecemeal, as opportunities arise, he added.

Asked to comment on the city’s plan, a U.S Army Corps of Engineers, New York District spokesperson said it is “not in negotiations regarding public access, but [is] aware of the city’s planning effort. Unlimited public access within the facility would not meet security standards.”

City councilman Mark McGrath, who represents the North Central neighborhood, said public access to the lock would be “a tough nut to crack,” due to liability issues. Likewise, Brian McCandless, a doctor who owns more than a dozen properties not far from there, said “no one’s holding their breath” waiting for the feds to open the gates.  

The Alt also contacted the state Canal Corporation, asking if it might somehow play a role in securing public access. But a spokesperson said the entity “has no interest in assuming jurisdiction or operational control over the Troy Federal Lock.”

Lock Street

More broadly, the plan observes that, other than River Street, the district lacks “continuous north-south connections.” Absent “a connected street grid, the area has developed as a series of isolated and disconnected land parcels,” many of which are “vacant and underutilized,” the plan says.

One such parcel, a 3.85-acre vacant lot “bounded by Douw Street and Ingalls Avenue between President Street and the river,” will be the site of the long-planned Ingalls Avenue Boat Launch. (Somewhat remarkably, the city’s current web page for that project says “all construction could be completed in 2010.”)

The Federal Dam District would also feature a new north-south route—“Lock Street”—along the Hudson River, “providing new roadway frontage to support redevelopment in the district.” A map suggests this road would pass through another fenced area next to the federal facility, one owned by National Grid. A spokesman for the utility company declined to comment, citing the plan’s preliminary nature.

THA collaboration

The Troy Housing Authority owns a 40-unit affordable housing complex, Fallon Apartments, next to the lock. “In the short term,” the plan says, “the redevelopment and expansion of the Fallon Apartments creates an opportunity to deliver a segment of Lock Street while integrating market rate and subsidized housing.”

As a participant in an increasingly popular federal program, THA is in the midst of transferring its housing portfolio to nonprofit subsidiaries so that it can pursue tax credits and other funding sources. The authority “participated actively in the process that resulted in” the draft comprehensive plan, director of planning Thomas Hulihan told The Alt in an email.

The plan’s map depicts what is presumably a mixed-income housing development that essentially doubles Fallon Apartments’ footprint. “We have no immediate plans to acquire those two city blocks but we are open to the opportunity if it arises,” Hulihan said, when we asked if there were any plans to acquire the two city blocks adjacent to the southern end of the complex.

No-auto zone

“Auto-oriented uses” in the Federal Dam District, like “drive-throughs, auto dealerships, service and gas stations and large outdoor scrap storage areas, will be considered nonconforming uses and expansion of these uses will not be permitted,” the plan says.

A cursory scan of the area indicates there are at least two auto-oriented businesses currently operating in the district: Kevin Brenz Auto Body and Jack’s Auto Sales, both on River Street. The latter business is owned by Jack Cox, whose Troy properties, over the years, “have been the subject of a seemingly endless series of code violations,” the city complained in court papers last year.

Strichman, the city planning commissioner, said preexistent auto-oriented uses would be grandfathered in. “You can’t just zone people out,” he said.

701 River St.

One adaptive reuse project not specifically mentioned in the Federal Dam District concept, though it obtained approval from the city’s planning commission in January, is Redburn Development’s conversion of a large vacant building at 701 River Street into 80 market-rate apartments with ground-floor commercial space.

The city held a public hearing in December regarding a plan to transfer a portion of President Street, which runs behind the building, to the developer for parking and patio space. That transfer, which a Redburn executive at the hearing described as helpful but not make-or-break, has since been dropped amid concerns raised by neighbor Bella Napoli Bakery.

Redburn held a ribbon-cutting last year for School One Lofts—not within the Federal Dam District, but nearby—which features just over two dozen market-rate apartments.

The first public hearing regarding the draft comprehensive plan is scheduled for Feb. 21 at 6 P.M. at city hall.  

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