To properly view these photos double click on them individually
I have great sympathy for the owners of the Mouzon House. The restaurant business is extremely challenging. They have worked very hard to build an excellent restaurant whose reputation for the quality of its food and the courtesy of its staff is well deserved. I can speak from experience.
It is clear that they feel profoundly threatened by the structure being proposed by the City Center and they have campaigned hard to block its development.
In the course of doing so, they have played on many of the common prejudices. To begin with, the image of a parking garage for many of us, conjures images of cracking walls, dark smelly stairways, ominous and huge towers blocking out the light and huge, threatening edifices.
There is also the image of a large, well funded, government agency ruthlessly crushing its critics and opponents.
None of this is true regarding the City Center and its proposed structure.
The first thing to understand is that because the City Center is a public entity they were not required to go through the normal zoning requirements. In spite of this, the City Center is pursuing the required approvals by the city’s land use boards as though they were a private developer.
Then there is the issue of the solar panels on the Mouzon House. The panels are not photo voltaic. They are passive thermal panels meant to heat hot water. The Mouzon House installed these without the required building permits or the approval of Design Review. A reasonable person in looking at the timing of their construction and their circumvention of the required steps could conclude that they may have been installed as a strategy to throw a legal impediment in the path of the City Center.
The fact that the ordinance regarding solar panels that the Mouzon House used has now been changed does not mean that the decision was retroactive as many of the City Center critics have maintained. In fact the City Center is still required to go through the Land Use boards for approval. This is not to say that the change did not greatly benefit the City Center and that their chances of success have not been improved. I have argued in a separate blog that this change has an important and beneficial impact for all downtown development. The fact is that the Mouzon House exposed the very serious problems with the existing ordinance. It is instructive that no landowner in the city core that would be affected by the change spoke against it other than the owners of the Mouzon House. If the change had been solely to benefit the City Center one would have expected that other landowners who felt they would be adversely affected by it would have come forward.
Some have suggested that the City Center should have offered to put the panels on the Center’s proposed structure but because the panels are thermal and are meant to heat water, this was simply not a feasible solution. The City Center, in its negotiations with the Mouzon House, continues to discuss options that may help mitigate the impact of the structure to their business.
It is important to put the project in perspective of the needs of the city as a whole. One of the principals of the Northshire Bookstore made an impassioned plea regarding the need for customer parking. This is the need most commonly expressed by downtown business owners. It is also critical to understand the importance of the City Center in sustaining the downtown. Most of us do not appreciate how difficult it is for merchants to get through the winter months. The conventions attracted to the City Center place thousands of people right in our city’s “center.” The recent expansion of the City Center means more attendees which means more people in town to shop and eat downtown. The planned parking structure is important not only to accommodate the increased volume at the City Center but will relieve the parking crunch for other downtown venues (including the Farmer’s Market) as well.
A Serious Look At the Proposed Structure
So let’s look at what is really being proposed. Below are a number of photos meant to give people a better sense of the project. These are meant to expand on photos in an earlier blog that showed renderings of the actual buildings.
We all come at this kind of thing with our own eye, but the footprint of this building shows that while it is a large structure, it is not as large as many people think
The City Center has an excellent record of maintaining its facilities. It would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility that the proposed building would be allowed to deteriorate but it seems unlikely.
As the photos show, the Mouzon House will not be cheek by jowl with the proposed structure.
The proposal includes a significant buffer to the street in order to plant trees as planned by the City Center. There is a ten foot grass median from the curb. There is another ten foot shared biking/walking path and then there is an additional three foot buffer between the path and the structure. There will not be an imposing prison like wall running along High Rock Avenue.
It is important to remember that this parking structure will be built at no cost to the city with the City Center Authority paying for all operating and maintenance expenses as well. In addition the City Center will be paying an annual lease payment (currently proposed to be $70,000.00) to the city and the city will be receiving a share of the parking revenues (currently proposed to be half) as well as sales tax.
Multi Use Building
This is not to dismiss the current plan to issue an RFP for a multi-use structure. If the structure can accommodate the parking in the current proposal along with whatever additional parking that the new uses will require, this would be outstanding. I have expressed my skepticism about all of this coming together but time will tell.
A Civil And Thoughtful Assessment
It is wonderful that people care so much about our city that this project has generated such interest and at times passion. I have been enormously impressed by the people I know from Sustainable Saratoga. The city is extremely fortunate that we have a group of such quality working on behalf of our city. I have also had many interactions with Mark Baker in the recent past. I have found him to be not only accessible and open but extremely well informed. I think that the city is fortunate to have him running our City Center. The point of this post is simply to argue that the proposed project has significant merits that should be considered in our discussions.