Houston St. Streetscape Goes Psychedelic

Just when you thought the River Street arch monstrosity was one-of-a-kind, I’ve got news for you: if the City Administrator has his way, Houston St. will be….well,….I can’t really describe it……you just have to see it. Go to the 1/20/15 Committee of the Whole (COW) agenda item #4 Houston Street Update: http://www.cityofbatavia.net/content/articlefiles/13448-15-01-15%20Houston%20Street%20Design%20Status.pdf

Don’t bother reading it at first. Just scroll down to the drawings. No, those blue markings are not there as indicators. Yes, they (City Administrator Bill McGrath and “Staff”) would like to put some sort of blue coating in some psychedelic patterns on the ground. And yes, they purposely want to put obstacles in people’s paths as they try to walk down what should be a sidewalk.

The final design that was approved months ago by the City Council was a practical, slight redesign of the street and adjacent space, adding trees along Houston St. and a bike path next to a sidewalk from Island St. up the hill to Rt. 31 (right now the sidewalk ends suddenly in the middle of the hill). They shot down the architect’s poorly thought out elements like a depressed bike path with curbs on both sides (a nightmare especially for children on bikes, or maybe a new water feature during heavy storms!) and going from diagonal to parallel parking (it would have eliminated some of those already too few parking spots). Here’s the original plan that was approved with some modifications as mentioned above: http://www.cityofbatavia.net/content/articlefiles/9674-Houston%20St%20Concept%20Plan%20and%20Section%204%2020%202012%20Final.pdf

The design they had approved was reasonable, as the street itself needs major work with resurfacing and what lies beneath the street. Adding some trees, better lighting, and a pedestrian connection to Rt. 31 while the street is ripped up anyway is OK. Though I personally would prefer to keep the right turn lane at Houston and 31 instead of replacing it with a new sidewalk (there’s a sidewalk on the south side of the street people can use), I’m not going to argue about it.

Then in December the fireworks started. Bill McGrath wanted to bring the architect back in at a cost of $15,000 to supposedly work out some details with the engineer. Several aldermen got very upset. They had gone over the plans for months and months and had settled on a design. Former alderman Steve Vasilion was adamant that he had asked McGrath when the plan was approved if the city’s engineers could handle the modifications, and that McGrath had said yes. Alderman Susan Stark firmly verified what Vasilion said. So why did they need to bring back the architect?

McGrath insisted there were details that required an architect and that the aldermen were not architects and therefore were not capable of making good decisions regarding Houston St.  McGrath pretty much told the aldermen that they were stupid. Now maybe the aldermen don’t use their best judgment when they trust Bill McGrath, but that doesn’t make them stupid. And there WAS an architect on the City Council–Steve Vasilion. Now, less than a month later, Vasilion has been forced to resign, specifically because he is an architect with his own business. Suddenly someone perceived a conflict of interest between Vasilion’s job and serving on the City Council (it should be noted that Vasilion always recused himself on votes where he had any interest).

So the aldermen asserted that this architectural firm, Altamanu (I’ll comment on this name later), would be contracted only to give aid to the city engineers in carrying out their approved plan. You’ll be able to see in the minutes from the COW meetings after they’re approved Tuesday how the battle played out. It was made very clear to Bill McGrath that the City Council did not want a new rendering of a plan. But McGrath disobeyed Council orders and commissioned the drawing of this blue nightmare that’s on the agenda.

But wait! There’s more! “How much will all this cost?”, you’re probably asking. If you now go back and read the top part of the document, McGrath says, “The estimate of probable cost cannot take place until a concept is arrived at.” In other words, “You have to pass it so you can find out what’s in it.”

Please, if you care about preserving the historical appearance of Batavia and especially how your tax dollars will be spent, contact your aldermen. Each ward has 2 aldermen (except for the Vasilion vacancy). Ward maps and email addresses can be found here:
http://www.cityofbatavia.net/Content/templates/?a=692 . Before you hit Send, take a deep breath and remember that the aldermen didn’t come up with this idea, Bill McGrath and Altamanu did.

Now back to Altamanu. The first thing that popped into my head from 4 years of high school Latin when I heard that name was “other hand”, as in “the one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing”. Manus = “hand”; alter = “other” (as in alter ego). But alter isn’t technically correct, as it keeps the “r” as it declines. The proper word that fits here is altus = “high”, as in altitude. The endings even agree in the ablative case:  alta manu = “high hand”, or more loosely, “upper hand”. While the name of the company was actually derived by combining parts of 2 last names, I can’t help but think Altamanu got the “upper hand” on the Batavia City Council (and us taxpayers) twice now–the first time when they designed River Street, and now when they got thousands of dollars for a new design the Council did not want.

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2 Responses to Houston St. Streetscape Goes Psychedelic

  1. patricia says:

    As an Architect we work for our client and do what our client asks. If we are given free reign we are creative. If we are asked to create a design we traditionally provide an idea of cost as part of service. We are not in the business of exceeding budget for the sake of design unless asked to do so. Our client needs to know what they are going to spend to make the design a reality. Also Architects are not engineers. We coordinate disciplines and oversee but final engineering is done by licensed engineers. If we create a bold design we usually have an idea of the engineering needed behind the design.

    It is a shame that an Architect was pressured to leave his position. He could have provided real checks and balances for a runaway design.

    This entire situation has power trip written all over it. Maybe McGrath should be forced to resign or pay for this unnecessary redesign himself.

    • seektruth says:

      As a matter of practice, comments are not typically posted on Batavia Taxes, as this blog is meant to be informational, not debatable, but the above comment had exceptional points.

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