Yepsen Joins Madigan and Franck In Threat To City’s Greenbelt
In December of 2014 the Saratoga Springs Council voted unanimously for a resolution offered by Chris Mathiesen to ban Planned Unit Developments in the city’s conservation district. Each member of the council waxed eloquently about the importance of the city’s greenbelt. They all fell over themselves expressing their support to maintain the rural character of the outside district.
It is clear that it was this event that precipitated the establishment of Saratoga PAC. Some have claimed that the City Center Garage is also a key element of their agenda. This is refuted by the simple fact that Commissioners Mathiesen and Scirocco supported the resolution to move the proposed garage forward but in spite of this were not endorsed by the PAC.
The failure of the construction/real estate/finance sectors to amend the Comprehensive Plan to allow PUDs in the greenbelt was a wake-up call to them. In spite of their heavy representation on the Comprehensive Plan committee they could not muscle PUDs into the greenbelt.
It is also important to understand that the network behind Saratoga PAC realized that they needed to do more than organize a way to influence elections, they needed to mobilize to effectively lobby the City Council to change the nature of the debate.
It is important to understand the basic principles here. The Comprehensive Plan’s goal was to insure that the conservation district was not only green in general but just as important, that it rigorously restricted any activities that would serve to undermine the rural character of the greenbelt. All intensive retail and hotels were to be directed to the downtown. It was understood that businesses have as their goal, to expand in order to make their operations more profitable and successful. Once these operations are allowed in the rural area it creates the social forces to undermine the bucolic ambiences which was the goal of the Comp Plan.
So the press was on. The same people behind Saratoga PAC began mobilizing their network to email, call, and meet with the members of the City Council. They turned out in force at City Council meetings. Suddenly, Commissioner Madigan began advocating for Saratoga National Golf Course by attempting to change the definition of a club house to include a hotel with a hundred rooms. John Franck thought it was a terrific idea. A coalition of Madigan, Franck, and Yepsen referred the idea to the Planning Board over the objections of Mathiesen and Scirocco.
Suddenly the Saratoga PAC people and their followers started showing up at meetings and they found that in Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck they had a newly receptive audience.
Mayor Yepsen who has done her best to avoid any substantive statements on the issue has now come out in an interview with Saratoga Today supporting Saratoga National Golf Course on the basis of the promised easement of land. Here is a link to the full article
There are now three narratives regarding Saratoga National Golf Course.
One, put forward by Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck touts all the land that will be protected from development. They rely on an incredibly tortured argument originally crafted by an attorney hired by the city, that somehow the Comp Plan allows for hotel and retail in the greenbelt.
The other, put forward by Mathiesen and Scirocco, points out the obvious. Creating a resort that includes a large hotel and major retail fundamentally violates the Comp Plan.
There is a third narrative. This narrative is that the easement promises are a cynical fig leaf put forward by Yepsen, Madigan, and Franck to divert the discussion from the central issue of not only the dubious violation of the city’s Comprehensive Plan but to avoid addressing the issue of why retail and hotel operations are damaging to the rural character of the greenbelt.
If you watch any of the Council discussions or review the comments from the candidates that have appeared on this blog you will note that the proponents simply refuse to discuss the question of the appropriateness of the hotels and retail shops in the greenbelt. They simply change the subject to how they are supposedly going to protect green space or how what they want to do is somehow legal.
The central thing to remember is that the players in this know full well that in the end the courts decide what is legal. If the majority of the City Council approve a hotel and retail, then the only option to block the action would be in the courts. Litigation of this kind would be extremely expensive and Franck, Madigan, and Yepsen would have the city’s taxpayers money to defend the decision. They know that trying to sue this city would be prohibitively expensive.
The grim reality is that we voters who care about this issue have very little choice. John Safford openly advocates an extreme version of property rights that would go even further. He has made it quite clear that he considers the conservation district an obstacle to development. Ken Ivins supports SNGC’s plans to become a resort.
There are really only two candidates who have made clear that they both understand what a conservation district is and why the proposal by Saratoga National Golf Course is a profound threat to the future of our greenbelt. They are Chris Mathiesen and Skip Scirocco.