Council Votes To Forward UDO To Planning Boards; Commissioner Dalton Dissents

The City Council voted four to one that the third draft of the UDO had sufficient merit to proceed with sending it on to the city and county planning boards for review.

While the planning boards have a limited amount of time to issue their opinions, John Franck pointed out that there is no time restraint on how long the Council can take before deciding on whether to adopt the plan once the boards have completed their reviews.

Commissioners Madigan, Franck, and Dalton have signaled that they will not support a vote on the draft until the COVID restrictions are eased and the public can directly participate in live meetings.

I have selected excerpts from the meeting to provide background on what was discussed.

Co-Chair of Sustainable Saratoga Addresses Council
City Attorney, Vince DeLeonardis Responds To Sustainable Saratoga Issues
Commissioner Dalton Explains Her Dissent
Mayor Kelly Discusses Abusive Emails

Commissioner Dalton Seeks Answers On UDO Impact On City’s Greenbelt

On Tuesday night (May 4, 2021) the City Council will be asked to accept the third draft of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO will determine land-use issues for our city for the foreseeable future. The process at this point will be to refer the draft to the city and county planning boards for review. Following that review the city will hold at least one public hearing before voting on whether to adopt the document.

As they say, the rubber is about to hit the road. This particular road has been a very long one. It began during the tenure of Mayor Joanne Yepsen who contracted with the first consulting group.

The UDO has been controversial. The city is required to adopt new zoning laws consistent with the most recent Comprehensive Plan but the “Unified Development Ordinance” as its name implies incorporates far more than zoning. It determines standards for design and for energy efficiency, for instance.

The UDO’s impact is profound. The legal, aesthetic, and economic issues are extensive and complex. Its scope will impact all of us. It is little wonder then that it is controversial and explains why the crafting of this document has taken so long. The fire in City Hall and the COVID epidemic have also affected this process.

The Mayor and her staff have had an enormous job trying to bring this document to fruition.

The biggest problem in explaining this document to the public has been the challenge to compare the current zoning laws and standards with those being proposed. Usually a document like this would be “red-lined.” That is to say, the language from the existing laws and standards being removed would be identified with red lines through them while additions would be printed in blue.

In the case of the UDO , however, it was not possible to do this. The Mayor’s deputy, Lisa Shields, did a yeoman’s effort to create charts to try to explain some of the changes and make the information more accessible to the pubic.

Having said all this, the process has been burdened by both its scope, the available resources the city has, and the related opacity.

The new consultants that were brought in blundered badly when their original draft included allowing greater density to an area than allowed for by the city’s comprehensive plan. The consultants also used cherry picked numbers to defend the impact on increasing density that their proposal for changing minimum lot size would have. (The density was removed)

At least for me, these actions undermined their credibility and made the work for the Mayor’s staff that much more difficult.

The Need For Responding To Public Concerns

Sustainable Saratoga submitted extensive comments on the second and third drafts of the UDO along with others from the community. Most recently, they sent the Mayor and Council members a one page document identifying their most pressing concerns. Much of the document focused on the city’s greenbelt.

The Sustainable Saratoga people complained that in spite of meetings held with representatives of the city, the city failed to offer any feedback as to why it declined to incorporate most of Sustainable Saratoga’s recommendations for revisions.

In defense of the Mayor and her staff, this project taxed their meager resources. COVID and the retirement of the head of the planning department only exacerbated a difficult situation.

I do not know why the city has rejected the changes identified in the Sustainable Saratoga document. On their face, the items identified by Sustainable Saratoga seem quite compelling as there appears to be a real threat that the new UDO would allow uses in the greenbelt that would degrade its character. Still, land-use law can be quite arcane. There may very well be legitimate reasons behind the city’s decision.

Commissioner Dalton Seeks Answers

Commissioner Robin Dalton has written to City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis seeking answers to the issues raised by Sustainable Saratoga and suggesting they provide more time to answer the outstanding questions.

I spoke to the Mayor’s office. They are very much aware of the importance of protecting the greenbelt and expect to address the issues at the upcoming Tuesday, May 4, Council meeting.


Commissioner Dalton’s email:

On May 3, 2021, at 11:30 AM, Robin Dalton <robin.dalton@saratoga-springs.org> wrote:

Hi Vince, 

If you or someone from building and planning could get back to me on the attached one sheet that articulates concerns, I would appreciate it. 

In particular, my biggest worry is the seemingly expanded uses in the greenbelt >> 

● Intensive uses: Campground, Community Center, Country Club, Schools,

Marina, Private/Social Clubs

● Uses that belong in the Urban Core, where they can be reached more easily by the public: Small Animal Care Facility without Outdoor Area, Children’s Home, Inn, Lodging House, Rooming Houses (all 4 types) 

Just generally speaking, I realize this has been going on for five years & apparently we’ve run out of money, but I don’t find those arguments particularly compelling – especially regarding the worry over expanding uses in the Greenbelt. These concerns were raised in a timely manner & if you are going to allow for delays as requested by the planning board, I’m not sure why my request here is so problematic. I’d rather address something now than kick it down the road, that seems like the least responsible option, in terms of coming to a successful conclusion. 

It does not appear to me that answering the questions here would require any additional expenditure with Camiros nor does it delay this from moving forward in any meaningful way. 

I know how much time has gone into this in the Mayor’s department and how eager everyone is to see this come to a conclusion, I really appreciate your time and all the effort.

Robin


 Sustainable Saratoga Documents

The Great Bass Player And Longtime Saratoga Springs Resident, Tony Markellis Has Died

The Times Union has reported that Tony Markellis died quietly in his sleep on April 29, 2021, at age 68. This is an obit that lists his musical history on the Jambase site. This is a link to Tony’s own website.

Trey Anastasio offered this rememberbance:

“Tony Markellis passed away yesterday,” Anastasio wrote, after hearing the news. “He was a truly remarkable human being. He was kind and had a sweetness to his personality, and he was the baddest bass player I’ve ever heard. I loved Tony, and I always will. I’m having a hard time processing this. Tony was the heartbeat to so much of my life, and to the lives of so many others… I was very lucky to have had a very long phone conversation with Tony only a few days ago. We talked for almost two hours. We caught up on family, friends, and funny pandemic thoughts. It wasn’t often that we talked on the phone like that. I had no idea it would be our last conversation. Now it feels like it happened for a reason.”

Tony had been a fixture here in Saratoga Springs since the mid 70’s. Tony was both a profoundly talented bass player and one of the kindest and most unpretentious people you are every likely to meet.

He played every kind of music that required a bass, and he played with everybody. He toured with Dave Bromberg (no slouch as a string musician). According to Tony’s website, Bonnie Raitt called him “The best *#@%! bass player in the world.”

Tony was quiet spoken. Tony was music. As the bassist he played in the background and as great bassists do, he was the solid foundation any band could count on.

His arrival here in 1975 coincided with the age of Lena Spenser.

I know it is popular to disparage Saratoga Springs in the 1970’s as a moribund, wasteland. For those of us who lived here then it was a fun place. There was a whole culture of great musicians who used Saratoga Springs as their base. It was a charming and quirky world full of interesting people.

Tony was part of that world and he will be deeply missed.

This is a recent video from Cafe Lena with Tony backing up Michael Jerling.

Working Families Party Primary for Supervisor

The Working Families will see a primary race in June for two Saratoga County Supervisor positions from Saratoga Springs. Incumbent Supervisor Tara Gaston, who is also running on the Democratic line, will be competing for the WFP line with Bruce Altimar and Gabriel O’Brien. The top two vote getters will appear on the WFP line in November for the two Supervisor positions.

Gaston was endorsed by WFP, but the party in Saratoga County has seen an influx of new registrants, many of them former Republicans, as part of a statewide drive by the Republican Party to gain a second line for their candidates. I have written about this cynical move by the Republicans in previous posts. The WFP has a progressive platform that would make most Republicans cringe. Alitmar and O’Brien are part of this strategy.

Other Saratoga Springs Democratic candidates endorsed by WFP dropped off the ballot I am told because they were worried about losing primaries given the number new former Republicans now registered in the party.

The primary will take place on June 22 with early voting June 12-20.

Even More Disarray and Discord Among City Dems

Some Democrats are now organizing to put their candidates on an additional independent line, but two of their endorsed candidates are not included.

A new group that calls itself Resilient Saratoga has launched a website and a petition drive to get five of the seven Democratic endorsed candidates on an additional independent ballot line. Missing from the petition are Democratic endorsed Supervisor candidate Tara Gaston and Public Works candidate Domenique Yermolayev.

The Resilient Saratoga site was designed by Progressive Elections, LLC, which describes itself as “a new pro-choice, pro-LGBT consulting firm…”. One of the founders of this firm is Libby Post. Readers will recall that Ms. Post was hired to promote last year’s charter change proposal which failed and also was hired by Patty Morrison when she ran for Finance Commissioner. Ms. Morrison lost that race.

The city Democratic Committee has yet to put out an official announcement of their slate of candidates for the upcoming city elections.

MLK Saratoga Launches Treasure Hunt Adventure to Explore History of Saratoga’s People of Color

MLK Saratoga launches Treasure Hunt.

MLK Saratoga is inviting the community to celebrate their new project, a Treasure Hunt designed to explore the history of People of Color in Saratoga Springs. Their kick off will be a gathering in Congress Park.

  • Saturday, April 24, 2021
  • 3:00 PM  4:00 PM
  • Meet at Spirit of Life in Congress Park

MLK Saratoga has launched a new adventure project which begins to uncover and explore Saratoga Springs’ history of our People of Color … real stories with real impact on who we all are today! So, why a Treasure Hunt? Because we have so much to learn and appreciate about the many hidden “treasures” — right here — that history has ignored, forgotten, or simply white-washed.

You can jump into the Treasure Hunt now by visiting our webpage. (MLKSaratoga.org/treasure-hunt). Download the 2-page map with clues and off you go! Be sure to check back on the website for the answers and to access the “deeper-dive information” PDFs on each of the 10 Saratoga “Treasures.”

Let us know when you have completed all 10 discoveries … we’ll send you a special certificate!

Gotta special Treasure story you think should be added to our future maps?

Email us: OURstory.saratoga@gmail.com

from MLK Website

MLK Saratoga Agrees To Further Dialogue Over Safe Protests

After not hearing from MLK Saratoga regarding issues of safety in social justice demonstrations, I did a follow-up email. They have written back that they plan on issuing a response.


My email to them:

From: john.kaufmannSat, Apr 17, 9:37 PM (5 days ago)
to MLKsaratoga

This is a follow-up to our dialogue begun in recent postings on SaratogaSpringsPolitics.com

The issue of the safety of demonstrators, the public, and the police is of primary concern to me. In the interest of fostering a dialog which I hope can lead us to a more thoughtful consideration of protocols for such events I am asking again that you respond to the following questions posed in my last blog on this subject.

Does MLK Saratoga think that the March 28, 2021, demonstration should have been coordinated with the police?

In light of the fact that the demonstration took over the streets of Saratoga Springs without a permit or coordination with the police, it was an act of civil disobedience. Does MLK Saratoga think that training for the event was needed?

What role, if any, does MLK Saratoga have in minimizing the risk to demonstrators in actions that involve parades and sit down actions in intersections?

Should they be talking to the leadership of demonstrations such as the March 28 action to determine if proper preparation for safety has been planned for?

Thank you in advance for responding.


Their response:

Hello Mr. Kaufmann.

Our apologies for the delay in acknowledging your last post and email.  Our emails typically include our organization signature. In completing the online email form, I forgot that would not be included.

The email post was submitted by me but was from the three chairs.  We will send a fuller response when time permits.

We will be gathering tonight at 6 pm in Congress Park to come together as a CommUNITY in peace and solidarity.

Peace,

Hollyday Hammond

Lezlie Dana

Hollyday Hammond

Garland Nelson

More Disarray and Discord in the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee

The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee has yet to announce their final slate of candidates for this year’s city election. This is especially odd since petitions designating candidates had to be filed by March 25, and the deadline for filling any vacancies that occurred because candidates dropped out was April 2. As documented in earlier posts, the selection of Democratic candidates for the upcoming city election has been reminiscent of the game of musical chairs.

The most recent dispute among Democratic Committee members over candidates came in early April over choosing a replacement for John Franck when he decided to withdraw from the race for Accounts Commissioner. Two candidates expressed a desire to fill that vacancy on the ticket.

They were:

Dillon Moran, readers may recall, originally circulated a petition to run for Commissioner of Public Works this year. He subsequently changed his mind and took himself off the ticket as a candidate for this position and decided instead to put himself forward as a candidate for the newly vacant Accounts position. Mr. Moran had run an unsuccessful race for Public Works two years ago.

Ms. Rella is new to local politics. She has a degree from Columbia Law School and spent over a decade working for a New York City law firm. She was recently appointed to serve on the Civil Service Commission by Mayor Kelly.

Under New York State election law, political party committees set up something called a “Committee on Vacancies” to name persons to run for office on a party’s line when a candidate on a designating petition declines to run or dies.

Five members were designated to serve on the local Democratic committee on vacancies to fill the Accounts position (as well as vacancies that occurred when the Democratic candidates for Finance and Public Works stepped aside). They were:

  • Otis Maxwell
  • Georgana Hanson
  • Emma Cohen
  • Eddie Abraham
  • David Morency

In an unusual move, a number of Democratic Committee members signed a letter to the committee on vacancies in support of Ms. Rella for the Accounts position. [See the letter and a full list of signatories at the end of this post] Among the signatories was Sarah Burger, chairperson of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee. Other notable signatories included:

  • Joanne Yepsen – Past mayor of the city
  • Pattie Morrison – Unsuccessful candidate for Commissioner of Finance
  • Minors Sanghvi – current candidate for Commissioner of Finance and had been a member of the Democratic State Committee
  • Susan Steer – former Zoning Board member and wife of Skidmore Professor Bob Turner (He chaired the unsuccessful 2017 Charter Commission and has continued to be a leader in the efforts to create a city manger form of government in Saratoga Springs)
  • Ann Bullock – Past member of Commission on Charter Change who, along with Bill McTygue accused members of the City Council of participating in pay-to-play awards of contracts. With much publicity they sent their accusations to the New York State Attorney General who took no action.
  • Natalya Lakhtakia – School Board Member

In spite of the significant support Angela Rella had and her impressive credentials, the committee on vacancies voted three to two in favor of Dillon Moran.

Sources tell me that Ms. Rella will be circulating petitions to run for Accounts Commissioner on her own line on the November ballot. I am told that Julie Cuneo is her campaign manager.

Strange Post By Tara Gaston on her Election Plans

Recently the Times Union and other newspapers reported that Supervisor Tara Gaston, in addition to running on the Democratic Line, would be running on a new independent line called Saratoga Stronger Together. The articles reported that Robin Dalton would be running for Mayor on this line and Adam Israel would be running for Commissioner of Finance.

Tara Gaston posted the following statement on her Facebook page, which she subsequently removed, announcing that she would actually not be on the Saratoga Stronger Together line after all. I cannot make sense of her explanation of her involvement (or non-involvement) with Saratoga Stronger Together . I welcome the readers of this blog to offer some sort of clarification.


Letter To Committee On Vacancies


April 1, 2021

To the Committee of Vacancies:

This letter is in support of Angela Rella’s nomination as Commissioner of Accounts.

I have known Angela personally as both a friend and fellow community activist for over 6 years.  I can attest to the quality of her character, integrity and innate intelligence. Angela is discrete and not one to “toot her own horn”, although she is an accomplished attorney who spent over a decade litigating complex commercial cases at a New York City law firm. 

She currently gives back to the community by working pro-bono to assist Saratoga County residents in need. She also works for the Legal Project in Albany representing clients in domestic violence and immigration cases.  She most recently was appointed by Mayor Kelly to the Civil Service Commission. 

Angela resides in town, with her husband Jim and their two school age children.

As Commissioner of Accounts, Angela would be a consensus builder, she works collaboratively, and would be an excellent steward of democratic values and ideals. Presently there are no female candidates on the Democratic line, and the Republicans are running a full female slate expect for the department of Public Works, who is an incumbent. 

I can say without hesitation that Angela would be an excellent addition to our slate. 

The names listed below are of fellow democratic committee members who have expressed verbal support of Angela’s candidacy and support her receiving the nomination. 

Thank you.

Julie Cuneo

Alice Smith

Joanne Yepsen

Andrew Beatty

Peter McTygue

Dianne Pedinotti

Marcy Taylor

Joy King

Minita Sanghvi

Ralph Burger

Natalya Lakhtakia

Betsy Coffey

Mary Carr

Patricia Morrison

Megan McEntee

Sarah Burger

Susan Steer

Patricia Tuz

Ann Bullock

Susan Cohen

​​

Connie Woytowich Announces Run For Saratoga Springs School Board

[JK: I received this press release from Connie Woytowich. Her credentials are quite impressive, and her children all attend school in our city]

Like many parents across the Saratoga Springs City School District, I am looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year with a full-time, in-person educational experience for our children that fosters a healthy routine, puts learning at the center of every decision, and highlights the need for community, mental health awareness, respect for others, a safe learning environment, and a sense of love and belonging. 

In addition to being a parent and community volunteer, I am a lifelong learner with urban, rural, and suburban teaching and leadership experience at the K-12 level. My extensive network in the educational community in the Capital Region and state are a result of my selection and work as a New York State Master Teacher, former PTA President, and former Camp Invention Director

I am running for the school board to continue my service to education and our community. The knowledge and skills that I have honed over the past 20 years make me the ideal candidate for handling the critical issues related to instruction, policy, and budget, especially in light of the pandemic. I urge you to take the time to learn more at connieforschoolboard.com , and I would appreciate your vote on May 18th. 

Ex-County Administrator Spencer Hellwig Sues County and Nine Supervisors Alleging Defamation

According to a Wendy Liberatore story published in the April 13 edition of the Times Union, ex-County Administrator Spencer Hellwig is suing nine Saratoga County Supervisors and the county. Among those named in the suit are Saratoga Springs Supervisors Matthew Veitch and Tara Gaston.

Ms. Liberatore writes:

Fired [JK: Technically he was not fired. His appointment was not renewed] in January after 33 years with the county, Hellwig claims in court papers filed in Albany County that the supervisors “made defamatory statements … which were published to a third party, which were in fact false statements.” The conduct of members of the board of supervisors, the filing continues, “was extreme and outrageous, and was done with an intent to cause or with disregard of a substantial probability of causing, severe emotional distress.”

Times Union

Hellwig’s attorney, however, claims that the supervisors used the issue to “take control over county government and wreak operational havoc on the administrative staff.” And that Hellwig was used as the “fall guy” for the county’s pandemic pay problems.

Times Union

The courts set a high bar for what constitutes the defamation of a “public figure.”

So first of all, is Spenser Hellwig a “public figure?”

According to Wikipedia:

The controlling precedent in the United States was set in 1964 by the United States Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, which is considered a key decision in supporting the First Amendment and freedom of the press.

A fairly high threshold of public activity is necessary to elevate people to a public figure status. Typically, they must either be:

* a public figure, a public official or any other person pervasively involved in public affairs, or

* a limited purpose public figure, those who have “thrust themselves to the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved.” A “particularized determination” is required to decide whether a person is a limited purpose public figure, which can be variously interpreted:[3]

Wikipedia

Assuming Mr. Hellwig is a “public figure” what standard would then have to be met in a defamation suit?

In the context of defamation actions (libel and slander) as well as invasion of privacy, a public figure cannot succeed in a lawsuit on incorrect harmful statements in the United States unless there is proof that the writer or publisher acted with actual malice by knowing the falsity or by reckless disregard for the truth.[2] The legal burden of proof in defamation actions is thus higher in the case of a public figure than in the case of an ordinary person.

Wikipedia

I am not a lawyer but as a lay person this would seem a hard suit to prevail in.

Still, Mr. Hellwig is represented by attorney Michael Koenig with the law firm Hinkley Allen. Founded in 1906 this firm has offices across the United States. They are clearly a highly reputable law firm.