Commissioner Mathiesen Addresses ZBA On Moore Hall

Commissioner Chris Mathiesen submitted the comment below to the Zoning Board of Appeals opposing the current proposal by Bonacio Construction for Moore Hall.

At the community meeting Skip Scirocco spoke in opposition of the proposal and said he would be notifying the ZBA.  I do not know whether he sent them comments.

To the Saratoga Springs ZBA,

Let me first acknowledge that I have the upmost respect for and understanding of the independent status of the Zoning Board of Appeals.  The ZBA carries out a vital role in our City.  As a member of the City Council, I have no right to interfere with the decision-making process of the ZBA. As one of only five individuals who are duly elected to represent our citizens, I do have an obligation to listen to their concerns.  I also have a right and, sometimes an obligation, to provide feedback to City government regarding issues that may have serious immediate or long-term neighborhood or City-wide impact. I have been contacted by a number of our citizens who have had concerns about the Bonacio Construction Co. proposal to re-develop Moore Hall.  On Saturday, Dec. 5, I and the other four members of the Council had the opportunity to meet with citizens during a special Council meeting that was held at Empire State College on Union Avenue.  We also were given permission to walk the Moore Hall site.  Unfortunately, the Bonacio Construction Co. chose not to send a representative and so much of what we learned about the project has been provided indirectly. From what I have been told, the proposal to re-develop Moore Hall would require approval by the ZBA for Area Variances seeking relief from minimum lot size and minimum on site parking requirements.  The Bonacio Construction Co. is also proposing that parking be allowed in setbacks.  The parking would be provided in existing lots that abut White St., along the alley behind the main building and along an access driveway the would be constructed from a new curb-cut on Union Avenue.   Neighbors are concerned primarily about the density of the residential use and the parking impacts on the neighborhoods.  I may be mistaken but I believe that, in the past, area variances that sought increases in residential use such as this would be considered as Use Variances since the relief sought is not merely dimensional but actually having to do with a density of use.  This apparently is no longer the case but I do think that it does point out the importance of giving very serious consideration to neighborhood impacts when considering residential density of use. As the Board considers the Moore Hall application, it must give consideration to all five factors including: 1. Whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood….   In this case, it is hard to imaging how an application which is so short of the 1.5 parking spaces per unit standard would not have an impact on the neighboring streets. 2. Whether the benefit sought can be achieved by some method feasible for the applicant to pursue…   According to what we have been told, the applicant plans to leave in place all the one story auxiliary buildings on the property including the cafeteria.  It is my opinion that removing those buildings could solve a number of problems with this project.  Demolishing all those buildings, leaving only the multi-story main building, and gutting the ground floor of the main building so that it could be used for parking under Moore Hall rather than as residential units would significantly increase the on-site parking possibilities and would reduce the number of residential uses on the property. 3. Whether the requested variance is substantial.  Both the relief from on-site parking requirements and residential density limits are very substantial.  Given the significant density of use request, it would seem to be particularly important to mitigate the on-site parking deficiencies. 4. Whether the variances will have an adverse impact on physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood…   There is much to consider with this standard.  On the one hand, there is parking and traffic.  On the other hand, developing this parcel would solve a long-standing neighborhood problem.  As the building continues to deteriorate and be vacant, the negative impact on the neighborhood is only heightened. 5. Self created.  The conditions on the Moore Hall property pre-date this application as well as the applicants.  This is truly not self created.  Mr. Bonacio should be given credit for even considering this project.  It is very challenging.  It is my opinion that, with mitigation of the neighborhood impacts with an increase in on-site parking and a reduction of residential units as I described above, the re-development of Moore Hall could represent an improvement for the neighborhood and have a positive impact on the City as a whole and on the availability of relatively moderate cost residential units. Chris Mathiesen Commissioner of Public Safety

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