Planning Board Work Shop On Text Amendment To Conservation District AKA Saratoga National Golf Course (The Short Version)

First, let me set the stage. This was supposed to be a “workshop” of the Planning Board about a text amendment to the city zoning ordinance for the conservation district sent by the city council for “advise.” It was not suppose to be about a specific project (har, har, har!)

As those of you who have been following this will know, there was supposed to have been a meeting between Mark Schachner who represents the city in land use questions and Michael Toohey who represents Saratoga National Golf Course to try to work out language. According to Mark Torpey, chair of the Planning Board this meeting never took place. He and Kate Maynard, the city planner, indicated it had been canceled due to concerns raised about the appropriateness of such a meeting. Thank Theresa Capazzola whose letter pointing out the problems of such a meeting apparently was effective. I posted her letter in an earlier blog.

I will give the short version of what happened and then go into more details for those of you who are interested in the blow by blow.

Torpey raised two questions about the specificity of the language in light of the fact that zoning changes are suppose to be broad and generic. Schachner concurred and said he had grave doubts about such an amendment holding up in court. He noted that it was quite clear that it addressed a very specific property which could be challenged as spot zoning.

Later, seeing that the text amendment was dead, Cliff Van Wagoner, to salvage the text amendment on behalf of the developer (my editorial comment) recommended removing all specificity from the text amendment. Gone were any reference to one hundred rooms for the hotel/clubhouse, the six lodges/cottages, the prohibition for dining facilities in the cottages, the 3000 foot setback of the property from the entrance, access to open space, and the fifty foot height limit.  Instead, the text amendment now has a definition for a clubhouse that is quite vague.

Here is the text that will be presented for a public hearing and vote by the Planning Board on August 12:

A structure or clustered group of structures associated with a full size 18 hole golf course, that may include locker rooms, spa, health and fitness center, golf and fitness related retail, restaurant and banquet facilities, business center, lodging.

How this will be implemented is totally unclear. Is it consistent with the comprehensive plan? Is it consistent with the conservation district and if not, is it a new “thing” that could go into the conservation district?

Will the Planning Board, when it gets to the site review stage have the authority to 1) determine how much lodging, 2) how much commercial development, 3) what a business center is and how large it can be, 3) where will these buildings be located, etc.?

Five of the seven members of the board were appointed by Mayor Johnson and they are clearly allies of Saratoga National Golf Course.   Let’s hope we never get to site review.

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