hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial May 2021



For a healthy downtown, density is a good thing


For those old enough to remember the sorry state of downtown Glens Falls in the early 1990s, there is some level on which it seems amazing to read that a developer wants to build a new five-story mixed-use structure, without any public subsidy, at one of the most prominent intersections in the city.

But it’s even more stunning to watch as the city’s mayor, some of its planning and economic development officials and many of its citizens essentially tell the developer to get lost.
As our cover story this month details, the city has spent the past eight months debating developer Chris Patten’s proposal to put up a new apartment building at the corner of Glen and Bay streets, facing the Civil War monument and across the street from City Park and Crandall Public Library. In his initial proposal, Patten envisioned a classic downtown structure with retail and commercial spaces at the street level and apartments above.

The corner lot where Patten wants to build has been an empty patch of grass for the past 45 years, ever since the magnificent old Glens Falls Insurance Co. building – the V-shaped structure at the center of our historical cover photo – was demolished. Introducing his proposal in August, Patten made it clear that he hoped to create a new building of the size and stature of the one lost in 1976.

But in the months since, Patten has repeatedly scaled back his proposal in response to opponents who’ve claimed his building would be too large and too dense, that it would generate too much traffic, that it might cast shadows on neighboring buildings.

Worse, Mayor Dan Hall has latched onto the notion that the current vacant lot represents valuable green space and ought to be kept open in perpetuity. (There is already a well-designed park on a more appropriately sized lot across the street.)

Downtown Glens Falls suffered catastrophic wounds in the Urban Renewal era of late 1960s and early ‘70s, when city officials and civic leaders actively supported the destruction of whole blocks of old buildings. The result was a series of holes in the urban fabric that have persisted to this day. Patten’s proposal represents an opportunity to correct one of the blunders of that era.
When the downtown reached its nadir in the early ‘90s, many of the classic buildings that still survived in the heart of the city were little more than shells, their upper floors empty and decaying above ground-floor storefronts that were underused or vacant. Outside, a one-way street pattern sent multiple lanes of high-speed traffic coursing through the city center, creating a forbidding atmosphere for pedestrians.

Over the past 25 years, Glens Falls has managed to rekindle a thriving downtown core by refocusing on the basic principles of urban design. Chief among these is that development needs to be scaled to pedestrians. That means buildings should be closely spaced, with upper-floor apartments whose residents provide the foot traffic to sustain the ground-floor stores and restaurants.

Precisely because it would increase the density of development in the city’s core, Patten’s original proposal – ground-floor retail with lots of apartments above – offers the potential of a huge boost to downtown’s overall health.

Perhaps there is another developer who might offer an even better proposal for that corner lot. But keeping the lot forever vacant is the worst choice Glens Falls could make for its downtown.


Political Cartoon ©2021 Hill Country Obserever


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