I met with City Planner Kate Maynard on Friday. While she was quite cooperative and open, most of my questions went unanswered because in general, she did not have answers.
The amended language to the zoning law change requires that a conservation analysis must be done. A conservation analysis is done to distinguish constrained land versus unconstrained land. Constrained land includes things like wetlands, precipitous slopes, archeologically important land, and a vague term that is something like areas of unique value. Basically, unconstrained land is everything else and constitutes the land on which it is possible to build. In the case of the RR1, excluding all the “constrained land” from development, the remaining land is the “unconstrained land.” Of this remaining land, 50% must be set aside for green space leaving the developer with the remaining 50% to build on.
I asked who does this “conservation analysis” and she told me that the applicant (builder) does it. While the wetlands and steep slopes have clear definitions, the areas of special value do not. She noted that the planning staff have input on this. In the end, it will be the Planning Board that will be the final arbiter.
Similarly, I asked her about a section that required the buildings be clustered. I asked what the definition of clustered is. She read me a statement that while not quit vague, allowed for wide discretion. The Planning Board will be the final arbiter of what clustering is.
Normally, in a reasonable world, the vagueness of these terms would not be a problem. Unfortunately, the majority of our Planning Board has demonstrated how little encumbered they are by terms many of us would take for granted. For example,”rural residential zoning” is supposed “to provide low density residential and agricultural uses in order to preserve open space and a rural character.“ Most of us would no consider a one hundred room hotel to fit into this setting. Not so for Scott Johnson’s appointees tot he Planning Board. Tom Lewis and Cliff Van Wagner openly argued that a “resort” with a one hundred room hotel, a business center, and a fitness center is perfectly compatible with this zoning. They along with the other two Scott Johnson appointees voted to confirm this position by voting to send the proposed revision to the city council.
Saratoga National’s land includes land that they have a ninety-nine year lease for with Yaddo. I asked Ms. Maynard whether this land which they do not own would be calculated in determining the “unconstrained land.” I also asked how a “perpetual” easement as called for in the text amendment could be carried out on this land. She did not know and indicated it would be dealt with later..
I noted that Saratoga National is located on multiple parcels of land and asked how this would affect the “conservation analysis.” She did not know.
In order to build the original golf course, Saratoga National had to agree to a permanent easement on what I think was one hundred and thirty-five acres. I asked how this would be handled in doing the conservation analysis. She did not know and again indicated that this would have to be determined if the project went forward.
One might read this and think that Ms. Maynard was being evasive. I can only tell you that she appeared sincerely cooperative and that many of these issues are unclear and will have to be addressed if the zoning change is approved.