City Council Hearing About The Zoning Amendment That No Longer Existed

Just when you thought the campaign by Saratoga National could not get any more Byzantine, it did.

The subject of the hearing  tonight was supposed to be the changes to the city zoning law and the Comprehensive Plan recommended by the Planning Board. 

The City Council met on Monday for its regular “agenda meeting.”  At Monday’s meeting Michele Madigan made a point of telling her colleagues that she could not support the Planning Board’s amendments.  What I found interesting was the universal reaction among people I know.  They were highly skeptical about her actually blocking Saratoga National’s plans.

So the next day (the day of the actual hearing), low and behold, Michael Toohey sent a revised version of the zoning changes to the CouncilThe hearing was now absurd since people were being asked to testify about a document that for all intents and purposes was obsolete.  Nevertheless, the hearing was allowed to proceed over a dead document.  It is quite stunning the power of Saratoga National to arbitrarily rewrite the language of a city ordinance over and over.

Here is the full text of the “new” changes submitted by Toohey (the bold type indicates the changes to the Planning Board’s recommended wording)


.Amendment to Chapter 240 of the City Code of the City of Saratoga Springs, New York entitled Zoning Ordinance by the addition to “Appendix A – Definition of Terms” the following definition:

Golf Resort”. A full regulation size 18 golf course and associated structures which may include amenities such as clubhouse, locker rooms, spa, health and fitness center, golf and fitness related retail, restaurant and banquet facilities, business center and temporary lodging.

And an Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance by the addition to “Section 6. Supplemental Regulation” a new subsection 6.3.6 Golf Resort as follows:

“6.3.6    Golf Resorts

The following shall apply to any Golf Resort located within the Rural Residential District (Conservation Overlay District) in addition to any requirements related to a Special Use Permit or Site Plan Approval:

Intent: Facilities for golfing have existed in the City of Saratoga Springs for many decades. The well-planned and orderly construction of one or more golf resorts in the City is consistent with our identity and reputation as a world class resort area. It is important, however, to establish requirements for golf resorts that will not interfere with City priorities including but not limited to open space, greenbelt conservation, and scenic beauty. A properly designed golf resort development with sufficient open space and natural resources protection and opportunities for public recreation could provide positive contributions to the City as well as to the long term preservation of the surrounding greenbelt.

Minimum Lot Size: A Golf Resort shall not be located on any parcel(s) of land containing less than 300 contiguous acres.

Clustering: All structures and related site development shall be situated within a limited and defined portion of the lot(s) which allows not less than 50% of the lot(s) to remain as permanently protected open space. A minimum of 35% of the developed area shall remain permeable.

Setback: All facilities other than the golf course, golf school, pump house, restrooms, storm shelter facilities and maintenance facilities shall be located at least 3,000 feet from the primary road entrance.

Height Restriction: No structure may be more than 50 feet or three stories in height.

Lodging Facilities: There may be not more than 100 guest rooms in a single structure providing temporary lodging. Additional temporary lodging may be provided in not more than six (6) smaller, freestanding structures containing common areas and up to eight (8) guest rooms but with no associated kitchen facilities. Temporary lodging facilities shall not be used as seasonal or year-round residences.

Residential Use Restriction: Other than temporary lodging facilities approved pursuant to these provisions, no single family or multi-family residential development or use shall occur on any Golf Resort property.

 Preservation of Open Space: The developer of any Golf Resort shall dedicate not less than 50% of the unconstrained land for open space purposes. The open space protected pursuant to this section must have “conservation value” which shall be determined by a conservation analysis as described in City Code Section 241-12B(2). The amount of land available for non-golf and recreational purposes in a Golf Resort shall be limited to the land available for development after the conservation analysis or forty (40) acres, whichever amount is less. Other than a maintenance area, golf school, golf course and recreational physical improvements, all buildings constructed within the Golf Resort shall be within the Clustered Area described in subparagraph “C” above. This open space protected pursuant to this section must provide a new recreational opportunity available to the public in an area where there has not been such an opportunity, public access to an important natural park area, or the permanent protection of an important environmental resource. Such land shall be contiguous and of such size and shape as to be usable for either passive or active recreation or for preservation of a substantial amount of land with conservation value. As a condition of Special Use and/or Site Plan Approval, the Planning Board may establish such conditions on the ownership, use and maintenance of this open space land as it deems necessary to ensure the preservation of such land for its intended purpose. Open space land shall be protected by a perpetual conservation easement and may be offered for dedication to the City, County or State governments, transferred to a nonprofit organization acceptable to the City Council, held in private ownership or help in such other form of ownership as the City Council finds appropriate to properly manage the open space land and protect its recreation and/or conservation value. If the organization designated to own and/or maintain the open space land or any successor organization fails to maintain the property in a reasonable condition in accordance with the plan for its intended use, the City may assume responsibility for such maintenance and assess the cost against the property owner. The developer of any Golf Resort shall be responsible for maintaining the open space until it is legally accepted by the City or other designated entity.”

Inconsistency: In the event of any inconsistency between or among any of the provisions of these Supplemental Regulations or any other provision of the City Zoning Law, the provision(s) most protective of open space conservation values shall apply.

Comprehensive Plan

This Amendment to the Zoning Code is consistent with the Adopted Comprehensive Plan of the City of Saratoga Springs and, as a result, there is no need for an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.


Toohey promised the council that no matter what, Saratoga National would limit their development to no more than forty acres.  Michele Madigan’s assurances that this project would be limited to twenty-five acres seems to have been breached.  He implied that the rest would be in some kind of easement but his explanation was fuzzy to say the least.  I have made a number of efforts to plough through this document but I find it very confusing as to what can be built where.  I suspect this is not simply a matter of poor writing.  Saratoga National has now got the bit in their teeth.  Notice how unclear the document is as to what kind of commercial activity they can now do out there.  In some ways, this document appears worse than the previous one.  You can build a lot of stuff on forty acres.

None of this in fact made any difference to those who testified because no one addressed the wording of the old document. What people did was basically state that they were either for a resort or against it.  As always, Harry Moran of Sustainable Saratoga provided a substantive statement on the issue.

Saratoga PAC turned out in force.  They lined up early at the microphone and they dominated the first half of the testimony.  Pretty much everyone who spoke for it had donated money to the PAC and represented the traditional network of money and power in the city.  They made the expected points over and over.  “Saratoga must move forward or die.”  “We are losing business to other destination golf resorts.”  “The city will enjoy a boon of new tax revenue.”  “The opponents of the project only say ‘No'” etc., etc.

As the evening wore on the opponents of the change basically spoke about how the impact of having such intensive activities would commercialize what is supposed to be a quiet, rural, greenbelt.  They questioned just how generous the easements would be.  They spoke passionately about the frustration of having to fight over and over again to protect the greenbelt.

John Franck noted that in light of the new wording that it was unlikely that there would be a council vote before the next election.   What a surprise!

2 thoughts on “City Council Hearing About The Zoning Amendment That No Longer Existed”

  1. Interesting. So after weeks of refusing to say whether she was for or against the Planning Board recommendation on the zoning and comp plan changes for SNGC, Michele Madigan all of a sudden comes up with a definitive “no.” And coincidently her “no” comes just before yet another proposal comes from Mike Toohey. The public now gets dragged through yet another series of meetings and hearings on what in the end will be the same old bad idea–a resort in the greenbelt.

    Candidates in the upcoming November election should take note of the recent Democratic Primary where PAC candidate Sarah Burger who wouldn’t speak about the SNGC proposal was soundly defeated by staunch greenbelt defender Chris Mathiesen. In the general election, though, voters may not have such a clear choice. Franck has no opponent. Safford, Yepsen’s opponent, has said he wishes the whole project had happened sooner. Madigan’s opponent, Ken Ivins, has said he would “probably” vote for the proposal. What the 2 incumbents who support SNGC and have opponents might find, however, is that while many of us may not vote for the Republicans, we may also not vote for them. And that may be all it takes for Yepsen and Madigan to lose. Dodging a vote before election day will not save them. They would have to clearly state before the election that they are opposed to a resort in the greenbelt as Mathiesen and Scirocco have stated. SNGC has shown clearly that they cannot be trusted to fulfill any promises they make. Madigan and Yepsen should put an end to all this torturous maneuvering on behalf of SNGC and be true to those who supported them in the last election expecting them to be custodians of the greenbelt not brokers for developers.

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  2. I was also at the Council hearing. When I arrived about 6:45PM, the chambers were full, so I joined the crowd of about 30 or 40 people in the hall where a projector and screen were set-up for the benefit of those unable to find seats inside. Judging from their tee-shirts, half of my companions were from the Carpenters Union. For the most part, they seemed bored with the proceedings, reading papers and joking around.

    Most of the pro Golf Club expansion speakers seemed to be working from the same list of talking points, much the way Roger Ailes preps the Fox News presenters every morning with catch phrases to sprinkle into their shows throughout the day. In this case, the points included:

    1. Failure to approve the variance (overlay, zoning change, whatever you want to call it) would mean a loss of revenue to other nearby destination resorts, such as the Sagamore at Lake George.

    2. Opponents should learn to compromise and not reject this project out of hand.

    3. Increased tax revenue would lower property taxes.

    4. There would be more high-paying jobs for the community.

    5. There would be an increase in business downtown.

    In addition to Harry Moran of Sustainable Saratoga, John gave an entertaining description of his attempt to find and navigate the Nature Trail. He also pointed out many specific violations of the terms of the variance which was granted when the Saratoga National Golf Club (SNGC) was originally established.

    A woman, whose name I didn’t catch, made some excellent factual points, as well. She mentioned that establishing the Golf Club in the Greenbelt in the first place was the compromise and that this expansion is simply a land grab after the fact. In addition, she mentioned that the average worker there makes only $8,000 per year (I imagine that many are part-timers or seasonal) and that the economic impact of sporting venues in Saratoga is way down the list of top economic generators. A few years back, a study found that the biggest local drivers of the economy were actually Saratoga Hospital and Skidmore College. (I remember that study, but could not immediately locate a copy.)

    Another gentleman pointed out that despite the growth of million dollar houses and multi-million dollar projects over the past 20 years, there has never been a reduction of property taxes. Increased revenue just goes to fund increased costs.

    Let me add that by definition, a “destination resort” implies that you never have to leave the grounds for food or entertainment. Expect on-premises restaurants and shops to keep many guests from visiting downtown Saratoga. In fact, with easy access from Exit 14, they may never even realize that a downtown exists.

    I should also point out that a decade ago, the Anderson Group tried to build the 260-unit Spring Run Village on property immediately adjoining the SNGC’s. If the SNGC gets it’s way, you may expect the Anderson Group to revive their plans, too.

    For the most part, supporters of the SNGC had no hard facts to present, economic or otherwise. Despite their large turn-out, their appeal was largely based on the premise that all growth is good, with not much else to say. It was up to a hand-full of opponents to present actual facts and figures.

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