The Saratogian published an article in today’s (September 29, 2015) edition covering the Saratoga P.L.A.N. fund raiser titled “Feast of the Fields” which occurred on September 24th. According to the story, the event was a fabulous success drawing some five hundred attendees. It was also generously supported by a litany of restaurants in the area that provided food.
The mission of PLAN is laudable. It describes itself as follows:
“Saratoga PLAN is dedicated to preserving the rural character, natural habitats and scenic beauty of Saratoga County so that these irreplaceable assets are accessible to all and survive for future generations. We help landowners conserve their farmland, woodlands and natural habitats to sustain the county’s “quality of place” and the environment, economy, and public health. Saratoga PLAN helps communities create plans that balance growth with conservation to sustain the Saratoga Region as a great place to live, work, visit and farm.”
Who could possibly have any reservations about their important work? It turns out that the story of PLAN is more complex than this very noble mission suggests.
Increasingly, developers are being required to set aside land that will either be restricted in its future development or accessible to the public as part of agreements with municipalities when the developers are seeking large projects that exceed existing zoning limits. To do this they need a not-for-profit that can either take possession of the land or oversee and enforce agreements that affect the use of the land. Such agreements may involve the building of facilities accessible to the public or may require that only agricultural uses be allowed on the land. This is the kind of thing that produces those grossly overused words “Win-Win.” In fact, there is no question that in many cases the results of these deals are extremely valuable assets to our communities. Still, it is important to view these deals with a sober and jaundiced eye. This is especially the case, when the boards of these not-for-profits include developers.
In the case of PLAN, it is chaired by John Munter who is a developer and a contributor to Saratoga PAC. As most people are fully aware, this PAC was organized as push-back to the growing legitimacy and strength of Sustainable Saratoga. One would have to be quite naïve to be unaware that this PAC, made up of the titans of real estate and construction, covet the potential profits that compromising the city’s greenbelt would bring. They are hoping to use their considerable wealth to elect pubic officials more amenable to their aggressive development vision.
As noted in previous posts, Saratoga PLAN has received at least one very large donation from Saratoga National Golf Course. I would guess that SNGC either discounts the use of their facilities for the fundraiser or actually donates them for free. As also documented in earlier blogs, PLAN appears to have abrogated their responsibilities to enforce the easement agreement they have with SNGC. As part of the Special Permit to build the golf course, SNGC was to build two nature trails with proper signage for the public to enjoy. No reasonable person would describe the “trail” that runs through their golf course as a real trail let alone a “nature” trail. PLAN is responsible for overseeing the compliance of Saratoga National for these trails.
As also noted in previous blogs, SNGC is limited to three large events a year. By the parking standards laid out in the site plan, an event with five hundred guests would represent a large event and based on SNGC’s web site, it would appear that this would be just another event that exceeded the limit for the year. There is a certain very sad irony that, given PLAN’s stated mission, that they would contribute to the violation of the city’s greenbelt by having the event at SNGC.
The Saratogian article also noted the presence of Mayor Yepsen at the event. In and of itself, there is nothing improper in the Mayor’s attending the event. In fact, Commissioner Mathiesen also attended the event and I would expect that other elected officials were there.
Again in a previous blog, I posted emails that I sent to both the Mayor and to the city building inspector about the apparent violations of both the “trail” and the limit on large events. The Mayor’s office is responsible, through the building inspector, for the enforcement of the city’s land use laws and agreements. To date, I have not heard from either the Mayor or the building inspector regarding the potential violations. One would hope that Mayor Yepsen might have found it awkward to attend an event which she knew might be in violation of the city’s agreements and which she was under pressure to look into.
I do not believe that it is unreasonable to assume that many of the major developers attended this event. It is also reasonable to assume that others, in addition to Mr. Munter, are members of Saratoga PAC which is dedicated to undermining the city’s greenbelt. There is something deeply unsettling to think of this lavish event at which people are congratulating themselves on how they are protecting open space is itself a violation of our greenbelt agreements. By including the city’s elected officials as part of this event it adds an even greater unseemliness. If in fact, they are exceeding their limit on large events, it says a lot about the arrogance and cynicism of Saratoga National especially because they are currently seeking to greatly expand the operation.
I have a fantasy involving the city building inspector walking into the ballroom with a bullhorn announcing, “this is an illegal event. Clear the hall.”