I attended the Planning Board Meeting on Wednesday night. On the agenda was the text amendment that was referred to the Planning Board by the City Council for an advisory opinion. The text amendment is being “promoted” by Saratoga National Golf Course in order to accommodate their very ambitious plans.
The discussion was extremely convoluted so some background on the process follows. Please try to bear with it.
Formally, the text amendment is about a change to the overall zoning definitions for the conservation (green) district. It is not suppose to be about any particular project. Of course, this is a kind of kabuki dance because there is only one golf course in the conservation district and the text amendment is related to definitions for permissible structures for golf courses in the district. The most obvious point of contention is defining a golf course club house as containing lodging involving one hundred guest rooms. Most people would describe such a building as a hotel but hotels are not allowed in the conservation district. There are also some additional, smaller, residential units that are meant to be kind of mini houses to accommodate groups but specifically barring any cooking facilities.
In the meantime, things are even more convoluted due to confusion about what is actually under consideration. Is it the specific text amendment referred to the Planning Board by the City Council or is it one of several versions that have been subsequently amended by Saratoga National Golf Course? The members of the Planning Board were unclear about what they should be dealing with. Making it even more confusing is that the revision and the revision of the revision were not labeled in a clear way to know which the latest iteration is.
If this was not enough, Chairman Mark Torpey noted that the final version of the city’s comprehensive plan had not been posted on the web site. As he pointed out, one of the key elements in determining the appropriateness of the text change was whether it complied with the comp plan. He noted that without access to the final version of the comp plan, the ability for the pubic to evaluate the proposed change was problematic.
In the end, the Planning Board agreed to put off a public hearing and a full discussion of the text until the next meeting. They did, however, agree to allow Michael Toohey, the attorney for SNGC to address the board.
Toohey had nothing substantial to say but it took him at least twenty-five minutes to say it. The most memorable thing he said was that the SNGC was about to donate the most land in the history of the city with the exception of the State Park. This is a claim he has made before but what exactly constitutes this donation is yet to be clarified.
The most disturbing event was the decision to pay for the attorney the city uses on real estate matters to work with Toohey. This recommendation was made by Tom Lewis. Mr. Lewis, who was appointed by Scott Johnson was, for many years, the chairman of the City Rep ublican Party. He was also employed as an executive at Stewarts for real estate acquisition. Given the economics and politics of this issue, Mr. Lewis is one of several seats at the table representing the interests of SNGC. Tom Lewis recommended that the city’s real estate lawyer (he is on retainer) work with Toohey to insure that the wording is legal. The idea that the city tax payers are footing the bill to assist the developer with the language for something that the city has yet to decide it wants is highly questionable.
In the meantime, for those of you as obsessive as me, here is the set of documents sent by the city to the planning board along with an amusing memo by Toohey as to what constitutes a club house