Proposal For Affordable Housing Runs Into Political Buzz Saw

Well, the vote on  the SPA Housing Ordinance has been put off yet again following the full throated concerns expressed by the developers and bankers at the workshop on Tuesday, June 13.  The ordinance would require  that in residential developments of 10 or more units, 20 percent of the units for sale or rent be dedicated as affordable to households of moderate or low income.

However you may feel about this ordinance, the way this process has unfolded keeps getting more and more depressing as an example of how easily certain people with power get special treatment.

For those of us who regularly observe the operation of the City Council, the events of the last month regarding this issue have been anything but usual.  Bear in mind that the proponents of this proposal have been engaging the essential players of this drama going back practically a year.  The draft was written by a nationally recognized consultant who specializes in affordable housing.  He has drawn on the experience of communities who have drafted similar legislation across the country.  The proponents of the ordinance have had meetings with developers like Sonny Bonacio and with local banks.  There have also been numerous meetings with members of the City Council.  This was no surprise proposal suddenly dropped on the city.  There was ample notice of public hearings where both proponents and opponents addressed the Council.  Normal procedure and I do mean normal procedure, is that the Council then votes on the proposal.

Forget that.  Suddenly the members of the Council discovered that there are all these critical questions unanswered and the gears of government jammed to a halt.  Commissioner Madigan is quoted at the last workshop as follows:

“The density bonus, the zoning language, pilots, deed language, foreclosure and sunset clause and that’s just off the top of my head. And then I do think we are there. It’s just going to take a little more time to get there.”

I do not question that the items she referenced are controversial or that members of the Council may be uninformed on these issues.  Based on the chatter around the table it was clear that at least John Franck and Skip Scirocco shared her concerns.  My question is why weren’t these issues raised earlier in the process.

I am also skeptical that this can all be worked out with just a little more time. It was clear that for all the professions of some of the players about their desire to make this work, the solutions to the problems the developers and bankers raised with the proposed ordinance will not be fixed with just a few tweaks.  John Witt was the most direct.  According to the Times Union:

“Developer John Witt said he can’t make it happen.

‘I like the idea of more units, but the lowest cost we could get it to would be about $2,500 a month with mortgage, insurance, taxes, utilities,’ Witt said. ‘That’s at a mortgage rate of 4.1 percent and if the land is sold at a cost of zero.’

Witt said his margins are only 5 percent and that he doesn’t have the money to invest in affordable units.”

So now there is no date for a vote and somehow the objections by the bankers and developers are going to be worked out “sometime” in the future.

Let me be clear, I am sufficiently ignorant regarding the ordinance that I have no idea whether some or, for that matter, all of the concerns scattered on the Council table by the opponents are valid.

I do, however, have certain basic insights  into the players in all of this.  I know that the bankers and developers are skilled people who have survived because they work very hard at maximizing the profit margin of their projects.  This is not a criticism of them.  This is the nature of what it takes to succeed.

I have noted on this blog repeatedly that I am something of a fan of Sonny Bonacio who is a most likable fellow when he turns on the charm.  I love his energy and I think he has done a lot across the capital district to create a variety of beneficial projects.  Caffe Lena immediately comes to mind, and he is doing some creative things in Troy which can use as much help as it can get.

I do, however, also remember that when he wanted to  convert Moore Hall into micro apartments he was adamant before  the Zoning Board of Appeals that taking down the building and replacing it with something more acceptable to the neighborhood was not financially feasible.  Of course, it turned out that it was feasible and the new condos for that site are under construction as I write this posting.

I seriously question the ability of the Council members to assess the arguments and changes that will be forward by those objecting to the ordinance.  I am particularly concerned that this will all be done at private meetings with individual Council members which in itself is not wrong but which will cast a serious cloud on whatever emerges (if something actually finally emerges).

I would offer a way forward that I think would be beneficial to both the Council and the public.  Tell the opponents that they need to sit down with the proponents of the ordinance and try to work it out with them.  In the event that they cannot come to an agreement, ask the opponents to draft their proposed changes and ask the proponents to draft a position paper that lays out their problems with the changes and how the proponents’ proposal addresses the basic concerns raised by the opponents.

The Council could then take whatever action they deemed appropriate and the public would be in a position to assess the outcome.  This would meet that badly overused term called transparency.

It is my hope that the Mayor and Council would support this approach.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Lays Its Heavy Hand On Saratoga Springs – Local Church Offers Sanctuary

In a June 7 article, Wendy Libertore reported in the Times Union about recent arrests by ICE in Saratoga Springs and the community’s response.

The previous week ICE arrested sixteen men. 

On June 5 the Saratoga Springs Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church voted unanimously to offer sanctuary to those facing deportation. Speaking on behalf of the church, Terry Diggory  told the TU that “This is not a partisan stand.  We are taking a political stand for the welfare of the community because the rhetoric under the Trump Administration has turned distressing.”

Citing the reliance on undocumented workers by the flat track and the “hospitality industry”, a number of politicians and business people expressed their concern about the policy.

This is a link to the full story in the TU:

http://www.timesunion.com/allwcm/article/Church-to-provide-sanctuary-to-illegal-immigrants-11202578.php

Here is a link to a story from Channel Ten News about more arrests that took place yesterday in Saratoga Springs:

http://news10.com/2017/06/15/ice-arrests-11-people-in-saratoga-springs/

 

 

 

 

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Lays Its Heavy Hand On Saratoga Springs – Local Church Offers Sanctuary

In a June 7 article, Wendy Liberatore reported in the Times Union about recent arrests by ICE in Saratoga Springs and the community’s response.

The previous week ICE arrested sixteen men. 

 On June 5 the Saratoga Springs Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church voted unanimously to offer sanctuary to those facing deportation. Speaking on behalf of the church, Terry Diggory  told the TU that “This is not a partisan stand.  We are taking a political stand for the welfare of the community because the rhetoric under the Trump Administration has turned distressing.”

Citing the reliance on undocumented workers by the flat track and the “hospitality industry”, a number of politicians and business people expressed their concern about the policy.

This is a link to the full story in the TU:

http://www.timesunion.com/allwcm/article/Church-to-provide-sanctuary-to-illegal-immigrants-11202578.php

Here is a link to a story from Channel Ten News about more arrests that took place yesterday in Saratoga Springs:

http://news10.com/2017/06/15/ice-arrests-11-people-in-saratoga-springs/

 

Deputy Commissioner of Finance Resigns

Deputy Commissioner Susan Dugan-Armstrong has resigned her position after two months and will return to her original job which was as content coordinator for the city’s website.  Ms. Dugan-Armstrong had replaced Lynn Bachner.  Ms. Bachner had previously held the position under Commissioner Matt McCabe as well as Commissioner Madigan.

Madigan told the Times Union that “We arrived at the decision together.”  Ms. Madigan praised Ms. DuganArmstrong noting that being the deputy in the Finance Department is “a tough job”.

Commissioner Madigan is seeking a replacement.

 

 

 

Rosalie Sorrels, Great Folk Artist And Long Time Friend Of Lena Spenser And Saratoga Springs Dies

Rosalie Sorrels has died.  She was one of the great singers coming out of the folk music revival.  She was also a close friend of Lena Spencer’s (Caffe Lena).  Ms. Sorrels spent extensive periods of time here in our city.  I know that the common take on Saratoga Springs during the 70’s was that it was a dying backwater of closed stores.  In fact Lena helped nurture a lively subculture of artists of which Ms. Sorrels was a prominent member.  This city was a wonderful home for a variety of artists and musicians…it as affordable.

This is a link to a very good obituary.  You have to read quite a bit to get to the section on Lena and Saratoga Springs but it is well worth it.

http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/hbo/2017/jun/12/idaho-folk-singer-sorrels-83-rip/

The New York Times dedicated half a page to this wonderful tribute to her:

 

City Council Delays Action On Affordable Housing Zoning Change

Your faithful blogger struggled through the half hour of video during which the city council discussed delaying action on the affordable housing proposal put forward by Sustainable Saratoga.  The wandering discussion was impenetrable to this otherwise self described well informed observer.  I called on Chris Mathiesen who asked for the delay to write something explaining what happened.  The phrase transparency is currently the most abused word in the U.S. lexicon but in the case of Commissioner Mathiesen it is fully appropriate.  Here is his brief response:

I decided to delay the vote on the Inclusionary Zoning Amendment to our Zoning Ordinance after consulting with our City attorney, Vince DeLeonardis and our land use attorney Mark Schachner.   The referral to the County Planning Board, a requirement for an amendment to our zoning ordinance, has been unusually troublesome.  Their most recent response, communicated to us on Friday, June 2, stated that we had submitted an incomplete application.   We feel that the application is fully complete.  To clear up any confusion or miscommunication, I decided that the County Planning Board should be made aware of our determination to go forward with a vote at the next City Council meeting (scheduled for Monday, June 19).  Our City attorney will be sending a letter stating this so that the County Planning Board will be aware when they meet again on Thursday, June 15.
In the mean time, two Council members have stated that they would like to have another workshop before voting on this matter.  This special Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 13 at 1:30.  We will have the opportunity to speak again with both developers and lenders.
Chris Mathiesen

One disturbing aspect to this was the Council decision, initiated by Commissioners Franck and Madigan, to have the developers and bankers sit at the table with the Council for the upcoming workshop.

There was at least one public hearing at which many people both pro and con turned out to address the Council on this matter.  I understand Commissioner Mathiesen’s decision to extend the process to insure full community involvement in light of the County Planning Boards allegation that the economic analysis was incomplete.  Let’s understand, though, that the County Planning Board is a kind of “subcommittee” of the real estate industry.  It suffers from the same cronyism which is the hallmark of our county government.  Still, to protect the city I can understand Commissioner Mathiesen’s decision.

 What I have difficulty with is why the bankers and developers should be granted the privilege to sit at the Council table with the elected officials.  Regrettably this is symbolic of the power and influence exerted by these very special interests.  Friends, it makes a big difference in a discussion when you sit at the table.  It would have been far better had the Council decided to extend the hearing and had these players address the Council from the public gallery like the rest of the citizens of this city.

 

Standard and Poor’s Has Issued AA+ Rating to the City

[JK:I received this release from the Finance Office]

S&P Ratings Says Saratoga Springs is AA+ for Sixth Consecutive Year!

MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT: June 6, 2017 Contact: Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan Telephone: (518) 587-3550 ext 2577; (518) 526-9377 Email: michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org STANDARD & POOR’S SAYS SARATOGA SPRINGS IS AA+ for Sixth Consecutive Year! Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan is pleased to report that Standard & Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) awarded the City a “AA+” for 2017 and affirmed its “AA+” rating on the City’s outstanding bonds. An exceptional rating for a municipality, this is the sixth consecutive year that the City has received AA+, all during Madigan’s tenure as Commissioner of Finance. Likewise, S&P retained the City’s “stable outlook”, as well as its Financial Management Practice Assessment of “good”. S&P describes the City as a “commercial and industrial center for the surrounding areas as well as a popular summer destination due to Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, and Saratoga Performing Arts Center”. In the course of its analysis of the City, S&P considered the following qualities: Very strong economy; Strong management conditions, with “good” financial policies and practices; Very strong budgetary flexibility;

Very strong economy;

Adequate budgetary performance, but given the city’s history of adequate to strong budgetary performance, we expect the city to maintain or slightly improve its current budgetary performance levels;  Very strong liquidity, as well as strong access to external liquidity; Strong institutional framework. S&P states “We consider Saratoga Springs’ economy very strong…We view the city’s management as strong, with good financial policies and practices…Management is conservative with revenue and expenditure assumptions…Budgetary flexibility is very strong with an available fund balance in fiscal 2016 of 26% of operating expenditures, or 11.2 million…The city has consistently had very strong liquidity and we do not expect a change to these ratios.” Commissioner Madigan states: “The City and its taxpayers are benefiting from the excellent policies, practices, budgeting and fiscal management of my administration. I will continue to lead with the conservative fiscal practices and sustainable City budgeting that protects the City’s AA+ rating. It is critical to all departments and our constituents as we strive to improve City infrastructure, maintain beautiful historic buildings, provide trails, recreation and open space, and keep the City safe. I am very proud of this outstanding bond rating and pleased to bring it home to the City of Saratoga Springs.”

 

A full report will be delivered to the City Council and the public at the June 6, 2017 City Council Meeting.

 

 

 

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 ext. 2557