Mayoral candidates discuss Durkee Street development

Apr. 30—PLATTSBURGH — All three City of Plattsburgh mayoral candidates currently on the ballot this year have concerns about Prime Plattsburgh LLC's proposed housing development project for the Durkee Street parking lot downtown and what may come of it.

When it was proposed, Prime's project — the Durkee Lot Mixed-Use Development — planned to bring 109 residential housing units and 13,400 square feet of commercial space to the city parking lot and utilize $4 million of the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant, awarded to the city from the state in 2016, to do so.

However, the project has since been tied up in litigation with groups that oppose it, including the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition (PCC), which filed suit against the city and Prime several years ago to stop its progress.

So far, PCC has been successful in that goal.

The most recent update for the lawsuit came in August of 2023 when the Appellate Division of the Third Judicial Department upheld a Clinton County Supreme Court decision from February 2022 that invalidated prior city approvals granted for Prime's proposed construction, which stopped the project from moving forward.

Shortly after that decision was made last year, the city announced they would be appealing it to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York state, where it is still pending.

Because of the ongoing litigation, which has no immediate resolution in sight, each candidate in this year's mayoral race has recognized they may have to take on forging a path forward for either Prime's project or a different housing development should they get elected.


Republican mayoral hopeful Don Kasprzak, 68, who was previously mayor from 2006 until 2014, said whatever happens with Prime's housing project or another one moving forward needs to better address the concerns of downtown residents and business owners.

"Plattsburgh is at a point where we do absolutely need all sorts of housing," Kasprzak said.

"And you want to complement it with what's in the best interest of not only the City of Plattsburgh, but also, in this case, the downtown community."

He doesn't believe Prime's project, as is, achieves that goal.

Of the several concerns he has heard about the project, the size of it — should the project eventually make it to construction — is the main issue.

He acknowledged there would need to be some compromise on that aspect if Prime wanted more support from downtown.

"There's a concern that it is too large; it would take too much of the parking space down there," Kasprzak said.

"The people I have spoken with and listened to prefer something between 40 and 60 units and a built-in downtown garage, which then would not impact the general parking lot itself ... That's what I think, ultimately, is going to have to be discussed further if I am elected mayor."

During his campaigning so far, Prime's project, and what may come of it, has been one of the top issues residents and especially downtown business owners want to talk to him about.

He said he understands why.

"Our downtown community has really dealt with a reconstruction challenge that affected all of them down there," Kasprzak said, referring to the complete overhaul of Margaret Street in 2023.

"I really want to make sure that whatever happens downtown that it's the right project, because they really, for the last year, have struggled because of the reconstruction and I just don't want that to happen this time."

He said if he had been mayor when the DRI was initially awarded, he would have made sure the downtown community — the "backbone of the city" he called them — were listened to in the early stages of the planning process.

Kasprzak said doing so may have avoided the drawn-out litigation the city is dealing with today.

"I would have (also) obviously held several meetings, and whether there were disagreements or not, which you always have with these important issues, I would have respected all these opinions," he said.

"And I would have obviously met with the Prime folks and I would have included all of these things with the Common Council as obviously they are the deciding factor, basically, when you start voting on these types of things."

Naturally then, any future housing development in that area would necessitate this same level of communication between city leaders and downtown business owners, he said.

"If you're proactive and can stop some of these things ahead of time or work on them ahead of time, it's better for the community."


Democratic mayoral candidate Wendell Hughes, 56, who will be facing off against Dan Lennon in a primary June 25, echoed concerns about the size of Prime's project and said he was never a fan of the projected location at the Durkee Street parking lot.

"I've lived here my whole life and I just don't know how it fits there," Hughes, current Clinton County legislator for Area 8, which covers parts of the city and Town of Plattsburgh, said. "I really don't."

"Parking is an issue ... and how many people, how much more traffic, foot traffic and everything that comes with having over 100 units (would that bring?) It's hard to imagine that, because I don't think I've ever seen anything to that degree, especially in our downtown."

Instead, Hughes said he would like to see potential housing developments somewhere else in the city.

"We do have some developable areas," he said, mentioning land on Rugar Street and near the old Air Force Base.

"They don't have to be humongous projects."

Additionally, he shared his disapproval over the tax breaks Prime was set to receive through the Clinton County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) 21-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

Those breaks included Prime not paying real property taxes for the first seven years then contributing about 30% in the eighth year with that percentage gradually increasing every other year until the 22nd year when they would be paying the full amount.

"I'm not a huge fan of the PILOT program for that and the way it was structured," he said.

"If they were bringing 300 jobs, I would be real happy about it, but housing..."

Hughes said if elected, he'd explore other ways to incentivize housing developers to come here, possibly through state-led programs.

"The biggest complaint walking around the City of Plattsburgh is our taxes. That's the number one concern you get from residents: we have to keep the area more affordable," he said.

"That's one thing I've learned a lot from the Town (of Plattsburgh) is when they get developers to come in and develop, the town pushes a lot of those costs off to the developer because they should," Hughes continued.

"The taxpayer shouldn't be responsible for some of those investments. If they want to make an investment in our community, I don't think that's a big ask."

Despite his hesitations about Prime, Hughes said he agreed with how current Mayor Chris Rosenquest, who took office in 2021 and has continued the previous administration's court battles with PCC in hopes of seeing the project come to fruition, handled the situation.

"Colin (Read) kind of came up with the plan," he said, referring to the former city mayor.

"And then it went through and now it's in Mayor Rosenquest's lap, we have so much money invested. I think we have to do our due diligence and I think I would have done the same as Chris to this point."


Lennon, 29, a part-time Clinton County assistant district attorney, said "under his watch," any future development, whether that is through Prime or someone else, would need to be more community based.

Similar to Kasprzak, Lennon said it's important to have stakeholders involved and informed on projects as big as the one Prime proposed.

"If this development ever came up again under my administration, under my watch as your next mayor, I would make sure that every stakeholder has a seat at the table and that we do the right thing for the Lake City," he said.

Doing the right thing, he said, would also not include major tax breaks for corporate landlords while local landlords don't get the same benefit.

"We can't give favors to our new friends to the disadvantage of our old ones," Lennon said.

"Now we have a coalition of angry citizens and perhaps rightfully so, because our government wasn't very transparent in pushing that project through."

Lennon said it's the government's job to properly inform the public on issues that may affect them — such was the case with Prime — and his potential administration would do that.

Beyond that, Lennon was hesitant to make any further promises regarding Prime because of its current legal battles. Anything else he said would be "hollow words," he added.

However, he recognized that the Prime project would have addressed the need for housing in the city.

Whether or not the project or another one happens, Lennon says he will find other ways to alleviate the housing issues, which is a major component of his campaign.

That starts with supporting the establishment of a land bank in the city.

"This has worked in other municipalities or counties throughout the state. One specifically is in Albany County, they have a land bank with their housing authority, and it's an opportunity to get entry-level homeowners access to entry-level homes," he said.

"That kind of expands opportunities for working class families, and then expands rental opportunities for lower income households. So those are good ways to improve it and that's broadening the tax base, also."

The city's recent initiative to update its zoning code, which is expected to be completed later this year, will also help development throughout the city moving forward, he said.

"There's opportunities to develop in other aspects of the city, other neighborhoods in the city, that could give us more housing options. I don't think we have to stick strictly to the Durkee Street parking lot," Lennon said.

"I think there's other places that we can look toward to develop new housing opportunities."


Twitter: CarlySNewton