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Plattsburgh hotel development vote by city council ruled invalid

View looking towards downtown Plattsburgh from harborside parking lot
Pat Bradley/WAMC
View looking towards downtown Plattsburgh from the Harborside area

A decision by the Plattsburgh City Attorney is leaving the future of a downtown hotel development in limbo after opponents successfully argued that a supermajority vote was needed to approve a development agreement with the city.

Last Thursday the Plattsburgh Common Council considered a resolution to authorize the mayor to execute a development agreement for a proposed hotel development on an area of property known as Harborside.

Just before the vote weas taken, councilors opposed to the project questioned whether a supermajority was required. The roll call was taken without an answer and the mayor broke a tie vote. Later in the evening City Attorney Dean Schneller said he would research the question and the mayor would not sign any agreement until the validity of the vote was determined.

On Monday the city attorney announced that he had concluded “that a three-fourths majority of the entire Council was required for this measure and therefore the vote failed....and the Mayor cannot sign the Development Agreement.”

Ward 3 Democrat Elizabeth Gibbs says without a clear answer the vote should not have been taken.

“When I said vehemently that night, so last Thursday night, I would like an answer to my question the mayor shut that down and pushed for a vote before we had an answer. We have a mayor who pushed the council into a vote and he broke the tie and it was illegal. This is breathtaking. It was an illegal vote. He broke the law.”

Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly says the city charter does hold that a three-quarters vote is required and so has no quibble with the city attorney’s findings. He believes what really is at issue is that three city councilors oppose the mayor, not the development.

“It doesn’t matter what the issue is they’re going to vote against it, they’re going to lobby against it, get in front of the council and make all of these voluminous speeches about why we shouldn’t do things that Mayor Rosenquest wants to do. You can count on that for the next year. And this is just shameful in my mind rather than thinking about what’s best for our city, what’s best for our residents, what’s best for the future. And that’s how I see it.”

Democratic Mayor Chris Rosenquest initially wrote that despite opponents claiming to be pro-development they have “provided no approach to finding a balanced resolution for growth and seem to lodge opposition simply for the sake of opposition.” He says the project is on hold with no pathway forward without a supermajority.

“The question that I think we should all be asking is, is it fair to allow for one councilor, that’s certainly all it takes is one councilor, to say no, I don’t want the development, I don’t like development or I don’t want economic growth, I certainly don’t want a hotel downtown to support downtown merchants and visitors and tourism. That’s essentially what this law allows and it’s unfortunate. It really is just unfortunate that we have a developer that’s willing to do the work, that has done projects like this successfully in the past, and we don’t have a council that can support it.”

Rosenquest says beyond the hotel development itself, the downtown area has lost an opportunity.

“When we look at the kind of growth that we want for our downtown, the kind of success that we want to see in the arts and support for downtown merchants, this is a perfect opportunity for that. And it’s just unfortunate that no matter what hurdle is removed more hurdles will be put up. And it certainly sends a clear message that there are members on this council that would much rather see projects like this fail than find pathways for success.”

Ward 6 Democrat Jeff Moore had pressed for an answer regarding a supermajority vote during the council meeting. He opposed the project and bristles at the mayor’s comments.

“No one is anti-development. We just voted about two years ago to transfer the Durkee Street property and it was a six to nothing vote in favor of transferring that property. So that is an inaccurate statement that anyone on the council is anti-development. They all voted for development in another case. So that’s false. You know I had some very good reasons for not wanting to vote for that. I represent the people of Plattsburgh. It’s not a popular thing, contrary to what some people might think.”

The Harborside development agreement would have approved the sale of land to a private developer for the construction of a hotel with about 125 rooms, 4,000 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant and other facilities.