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 Council. The 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.
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!