Sustainable Saratoga Weighs In On UDO

I am posting the comments by Sustainable Saratoga regarding the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).  It is important that people are aware of how serious an impact the final UDO document, if approved, may have on the city.  I would urge the readers of this blog to follow this process closely.  Just one example is their proposal to change the current lot size requirements to a fluid version based on the lot sizes specific to a particular area.  The manner by which lot size under this proposal  would actually be determined is never explained.  Potentially, a neighborhood with some small, non-conforming lots could end up with many more units than current zoning allows.  There are other similarly concerning recommendations.  As Sustainable has pointed out, the process by which these changes were arrived at was completely opaque.  The original document submitted by the consultants was rejected by the city’s planning department.  The planning department then oversaw the rewriting of this paper. I made a request for the original paper to compare it with the rewritten version.  I was asked to leave my telephone number but consistent with this process, I was never called. 



The Biggest Contributors to the 2016 Presidential Candidates

The Albany Business Review published the thirty-one largest political contributors in this region.  There were three on the list from Saratoga Springs.

At #2 is someone named Andrew E. Beckwith III who gave $50,000.00 to American Bridge 21st Century and Priorities USA.    American Bridge  has a website that describes itself as a “progressive” organization dedicated to holding Republicans “accountable for their words and actions.”  Priorities USA states on its “about” page that it is dedicated to electing Hillary Clinton.    A Google search didn’t produce anything regarding who Mr. Beckwith is.  Maybe one of the readers out there knows who he is.

At #6 is Joseph Kakaty who contributed $10,800 to Ted Cruz.  A Google search identified this name as the chief marketing officer with the College Loan Corporation whose headquarters are in Las Vegas.  Its website says it handles $10 billion dollars in student loans.  The name also came up in a Google search as the president of Poker Central which, as its name suggests, is dedicated to the world of professional poker players.  He is also identified as a supporter of the Saratoga Children’s Theater.

At #24 is Gary Dake who is the CEO of Stewarts Shops.  He contributed $3,700 to Gary Johnson.  Mr. Johnson is running as the Libertarian candidate.  Among Mr. Johnson’s many positions is the abolishment of Social Security.  Given the large number of part time employees that work for Mr. Dake’s company, the seven and a half percent of their salaries he must pay is probably a significant item on their expense sheet. 

At #28 is Gail Anderson who contributed $3,150.00 to Donald Trump and the Stop Hillary PAC.  Ms. Anderson, the daughter of the late Willard Anderson, is a realtor and developer and principal with the Anderson Group.  The Andersons own a huge chunk of real estate around Exit 14 .  They have been frustrated in their attempts to build a major development there.  They recently won a pyrrhic victory when they won a suit against the City of Saratoga Springs claiming that the city blocked their development claiming discrimination based on race and income.  Their project included some affordable housing.   The jury originally awarded them $1 million dollars.  The appeal reduced the award to $100,000.00.  The significant result of the decision was that it did not provide them a path to their project and they spent far more than $100,000.00 in legal fees.  Ms. Anderson’s support for Mr. Trump might add credence to the position of the project’s opponents who argued that the affordable housing was a tactic in their strategy  to build their massive development.


A Few Brief Stories

Developer Abandons Project after Criticism from Chair of City Design Review Commission

Visions Hotels of Corning, New York, has abandoned plans to tear down the Turf and Spa Motel at 176 South Broadway and build an 89 room Fairfield Inn and Suites.

[Editor’s note: The green area on the right in the photo below is mislabeled as Congress Park. It should be labeled Greenridge Cemetery.}


Steve Rowland, the chair of the  Design Review Commission, had characterized the project as “corporate architecture” better suited for Clifton Park (I guess he managed to insult both the developer and the town of Clifton Park in one sentence :->)

At the  September 21 meeting of the DRC the principal of Visions, Arun “Andy” Patel, had complained about the resistance of the city commission to his company’s design.  “There is a price point that a developer can do a project with,” said Patel.  “Stretch a rubber band, there is only so far we can stretch.  After that it is going to break…we are at that point.”

Responding at the meeting Rowland said he disagreed with Patel.  “You are at the beginning of this process,” he told Patel, “yet… this is the first time we have seen this application [Patel’s company’s application].

Rowland: “I am the first person to tell you, when corporate architecture comes before this board, we’ve got problems.  We don’t accept corporate architecture especially in the most significant corridor in the city.”

“Quite frankly, if that means it’s not doable and it’s not feasible from a financial standpoint, then the next project that comes to that property might be…”

“Forgive me for getting a little testy about it, but this is so early in the process that I don’t appreciate that comment that you are being run around in circles…”


Class Action Against Stewart’s Convenience Stores

A Federal Judge has certified that a class action suit against Stewarts can proceed.    The suit that seeks some $20 million dollars in damages alleges that Stewarts failed to pay its employees fully for their time.  This action paves the way for the plaintiffs to contact additional employees that may have been affected by Stewart’s employment practices.  Among other things, it is alleged that employees were not paid for time at meetings and were not allowed uninterrupted meal breaks and were not properly paid for overtime.  A representative of Stewarts noted that two thirds of the original complaints were not granted class status.


Sonny Bonacio Proposes Project For Troy

Sonny Bonacio and partner are seeking tax breaks to convert two floors of the historic Hendrick Hudson building in Troy to apartments.  He and a partner bought the 80,000 square foot building for $2.4 million dollars in February.

CEO of Saratoga Hospital Talks About Merger With Albany Medical College

Albany Med is about to assume its authority over Saratoga Hospital.  It will control the budgeting, the contracts, the hiring of senior staff, board appointments, and strategic planning.  Saratoga Hospital maintains 171 beds and has expanded greatly during the last decade.

Saratoga Hospital CEO Angelo Calbone told the Albany Business Review that the hospital will be better able to negotiate with equipment providers and insurers as part of a much larger organization.  According to the ABR, the industry is having to move from a fee for service based model to a “performance model [whatever that means].  “The ability to track, report, and communicate with populations is beyond the capabilities of a community-based hospital.  Financial pressures could mount and there may not be any mechanism to manage your way,” said Calbone.

Given the rapidly changing world of medicine, I find Mr. Calbone’s statements considerably more credible than his earlier claims about how his hospital had negotiated an agreement that would maintain its independence.


An Unpleasant Incident At The Charter Review Commission

The Charter Review Commission has scheduled a meeting for the public  to provide input to them for Tuesday, October 18, at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College at 7PM.  The meeting conflicts with the regularly scheduled City Council meeting.  The Charter meeting was changed to this night after it was discovered that the original date conflicted with the  Jewish high holiday, Yom Kippur ,.

A number of people contacted members of the Commission asking that they reschedule their event again so as to not conflict with the City Council meeting.  They were told that flyers had already been printed for the event and  the Saratogian ran a front page story on the hearing so changing it now was no longer feasible.

The issue remained, however, as to how the original decision was made.  After all, if any group should have been aware of the schedule of the City Council, it would have been this commission that has been meeting for months pouring over the minutiae of city government.  Putting all of this in perspective, having conflicting meetings while unfortunate, is far from catastrophic.  Still, in light of the fact that every other major city board and committee avoids such conflicts, it seems unnecessarily provocative to have done this.  In fact, its chair Bob Turner and Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan have had a spirited exchange over the issue.

With that in mind, I emailed Mr. Turner asking why his committee would have scheduled this conflict in the first place [see emails below].  Mr. Turner offered to call me to discuss the matter.  I responded by saying that I would be happy to talk to him but asked that he first email me the explanation to avoid any confusion about the issue.  He emailed back that he would but it has now been some time and I have not heard from him.

I was curious about what discussion among the commission there may have been on the conflict so I watched their meeting of October 11.  City attorney Tony Izzo serves as the attorney for the commission.  Approximately an hour into the meeting a related matter came up and Mr. Izzo attempted to raise the issue of the conflict.  As the video below shows, Mr. Turner told Mr. Izzo that he was out of order.

I do not always agree with Mr. Izzo but he is no grandstander.  He has a wealth of knowledge not only of municipal law, not only of the history of our city, but in particular of the torturous histories of past charter commissions  he has served.  When Tony Izzo volunteers an opinion, it is prudent to take full advantage and listen.

To set the context for this video, Elio DelSette (appointed by Michele Madigan) was arguing the importance to include in the record a letter critical of the commission that had appeared in Saratoga Today.  Gordon Boyd (appointed by Mayor Yepsen) questioned the appropriateness of including a document that he characterized as full of inaccuracies.  It was at this point that Mr. Izzo attempted to enter the discussion by advising the group that placing all records related to the commission had been the routine policy of all previous commissions.  He then attempted to raise the issue of scheduling commission meetings that conflict with Council meetings.  You will observe that it is at this point that Mr. Turner stops him.  For those of us who have worked with Mr. Izzo, his gracious handling of this situation is pure Tony Izzo.

Mr. Izzo was running the recording device.  HIs voice can be heard beginning with “Its been done.  Its exactly what has been done…”  Mr. Turner who is the chair is sitting on the left by the cup with the blue top.  To his left is Gordon Boyd.

[These emails are from most recent to oldest]

From: John Kaufmann []
Sent: Saturday, October 15, 2016 9:56 AM
To: ‘Robert Turner (Government)’
Subject: FW: Conflict

Expected a response and call last night.  Still hoping you respond.

From: John Kaufmann []
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2016 6:31 PM
To: ‘Robert Turner (Government)’
Subject: RE: Conflict

Great.  Send me your response to my email then call me at 584-7395.

From: Robert Turner (Government) []
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2016 4:52 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Conflict

Sure, send me your number.

Bob Turner
Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
Director, Faculty Student Summer Research Program
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

From: John Kaufmann []
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2016 12:31 PM
To: Robert Turner (Government) <>
Subject: RE: Conflict

I would be happy to talk to you but I want to be fair and accurate on my blog so could you please respond in an email answering my October 13 email.

From: Robert Turner (Government) []
Sent: Friday, October 14, 2016 12:11 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Conflict

Hi John,
Sorry I was in Albany this morning and am teaching and meetings all afternoon.  Are you free after 4:30
or so to talk?

Bob Turner
Associate Professor of Political Science and Environmental Studies and Sciences
Director, Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
Director, Faculty Student Summer Research Program
Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

From: John Kaufmann []
Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2016 8:41 PM
To: Robert Turner (Government) <>
Subject: Conflict

I have gotten a number of inquiries regarding the conflict between the Charter Review Commission’s hearing next Tuesday and the city council meeting.  When you changed the date of your hearing because of Yom Kippur, did you realize that there would be a conflict with the city council meeting?  If so, could you explain why this was not a concern?

Circulation Numbers For Regional Newspapers (Saratogian = 12th)

Newspapers for region in order of paid circulation. [Daily/Weekly/Monthly]

Name – Paid Circulation – Free Papers

  1. Times Union [D]                                              44,189
  2. The Evangelist [W]                                         34,750
  3. Daily Gazette [D]                                             32,751                   801
  4. Country Folks (Palatine Bridge) [W]         28,531                   39,011
  5. The Post Star (Glens Falls) [D]                    23,792
  6. Spotlight News (Delmar) [W]                      7,734                     16,100
  7. Leader Herald (Gloversville) [D]                 6,783
  8. Albany Business Review) [W]                      6,737
  9. The Recorder (Amsterdam) [D]                  5,872                     1062
  10. Altamont Enterprise [W]                             4,373
  11. Hudson Register Star [D]                             4,044
  12. Saratogian [D]                                                  3,979
  13. The Record (Troy) [D]                                    3,808
  14. Eagle Press (Cambridge) [W]                       3,100
  15. Daily Mail (Hudon) [D]                                   2,243
  16. Columbia Paper (Ghent)  [W]                       2,202                     138
  17. Jewish World (Schenectady) 2X/Month    1,400                     4,500
  18. Chatham Courier [W]                                     1,190
  19. Windham Journal (Catskill) [W]                 1,145
  20. Chronical/Lone Oak (Glens Falls) ]W]      350                         27,650
  21. Adirondack Sports & Fitness [M]                00                         19,800
  22. Capital Region Weekly (Albany) [W]        0                              187,000
  23. Saratoga Today [W]                                        0                              10,000