Excuse Me, Mr. Bonacio, I do not believe that belongs to you.

Sonny Bonacio seems to have become the celebrity developer.  Unfortunately, for Sonny, the coverage is not always favorable.

Mr. Bonacio, in a joint project with Roohan Realty, built a super expensive set of condos at 268 Broadway immediately adjacent to Congress Park.  Rumor has it that one of the tenants is a sheik from the Middle East.

268 Broadway street
268 Broadway

268 Broadway

Apparently, when the structure was built, it encroached on to city owned land including  Congress Park.  There apparently were two different encroachments that will now require post facto easements or changes in what occupies the land.

Dennis Yusko broke the two stories on this and I include them with this post.  I am just adding a few items to help fill in the stories further.

Transformer From Above
Transformer Location
National Grid Transformer (Doesn’t look like it is underground)
Park From Transformer
View Of Park From Tranformer

One of the problems has to do with a large transformer that was required to provide electricity to the Bonacio structure.  At a City Council meeting some time in 2006, Commissioner Thomas McTygue asked for an easement for the transformer.  In the brief discussion it was presented as a request from National Grid to place it “underground.”  Mr. McTygue remembers it as a request by National Grid to replace a power pole.  It passed the Council unanimously.  As it happens, National Grid placed it on top of a slab on property that was part of our park which is under the New York State Parks and so required approval from the New York State Legislature.

Walkway and Patio
Walkway and Patio
View of Canfield Casino From Patio
Walway Toward Canfield
View Of Canfield Casino From Walkway


The other piece of land involves a patio and walkway adjacent to the Bonacio building that encroaches on city land.  There was no request by Bonacio and Roohan for an easement and none was issued.

It is important to note that in the Planning Board minutes back on September 13, 2006 they record that  “Sonny Bonacio said there would be no penetration to the park but there would be glass there.” 

At another point in the same meeting “Amy Durland asked where the park actually was on the site plan.  Sonny Bonacio showed the board the property line.  Amy Durland asked if the proposal currently went into the park.  Mike Ingersoll [Bonacio’s architect with the L.A. Group] clarified that the project is only on their property.”

More recently, after the issue of the apparent infringement arose, Kieth Ferrar, Bonacio’s attorney claimed that a hand written deed they had was the basis of their claim to the land now in dispute.  It is noted in the minutes of the meeting that “Keith provided a deed from 1892 (which is very difficult to read)…”

I would say that hard to read is something of an understatement.

4 26 1892 Deed-2
Deed Page #1
4 26 1892 Deed-1
Deed Page #2


More recently in April of 2015, when the City’s Realty Board began to try to untangle this mess, in a rare moment of candor, Keith Ferarra, attorney for Bonacio  is quoted in the minutes as follows: “Keith Ferrara was asked how the easement came to be and he responded saying ‘Just did it, ask for forgiveness, Let’s see how it turns out.”  Later, Mr. Ferrara said he could not remember saying this.

Here are Dennis Yusko’s articles.

Exclusive: Bonacio seeks easement at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs

By Dennis Yusko on April 27, 2015 at 5:24 PM

Bonacio Construction has requested an easement from the city on a piece of Congress Park that the company may have encroached upon while building its Park Place condominium project, according to city records.

The company recently applied for access rights to an approximately 300-foot by 25-foot piece of city-owned parkland behind 268 Broadway, where it built a concrete patio and walkways, city officials said. The Saratoga Springs Real Estate Board is reviewing the easement request, which Bonacio Construction recently submitted after completing work on the six-story, 215,000-square-foot complex, according to Mayor Joanne Yepsen.

“They may need an easement to approve walkways and landscaping they did on park property,” Yepsen said when asked about it.

Congress Park is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and the City Council and state Legislature could make the final decisions on Bonacio’s land-use request, the mayor said. The Park Place building itself does not infringe on public land, according to city officials.

Bonacio Construction received city approvals to build the residential and commercial project along Congress Park and Broadway in 2006. Now, nine years later, questions about an easement — a legal right to use someone else’s land — have surfaced.

“After reviewing the plans, there is considerable property involved, and more investigation is needed to determine what the impact is,” Real Estate Board members said of the easement request, according to minutes from its March 5 meeting.

At the board’s next monthly meeting on April 2, Keith Ferrara, chief operations officer for Bonacio Construction, suggested that a 123-year-old property deed handed down from a previous landowner included an easement to build on the piece of Congress Park.

However, according to minutes of the meeting, when he was asked how the easement on Congress Park came to be, Ferrara had responded, “Just did it, ask forgiveness — let’s see how it turns out.”

Reached by phone last week, Ferrara said he didn’t remember saying it that way and said he thought the company’s work on a “unusable” portion of the park was permitted through the 1892 deed.

Bonacio Construction is not offering money or land in return for the easement, Ferrara said. “This is just taking a 100-something-year-old easement and cleaning it up,” he said.

The Real Estate Board, a little-known advisory committee, is chaired by City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis. Other voting members are Kameron Klippel, the city’s receiver of taxes, Brad Birge, administrator of planning and economic development, Tony Popolizio, the assistant assessor, and city police Officer Kevin Veitch.

DeLeonardis said the old property deed was handwritten and difficult to read, and the Real Estate Board must investigate if the document authorized the company to use parkland, or if additional approvals were necessary. The board is also looking into an anonymous claim that a city official or officials verbally approved an easement at the construction site years ago, DeLeonardis said.

“Right now we are in the preliminary stages of finding facts,” DeLeonardis said. “It’s important to note parkland is impressed with the public trust for the benefit of the people and state, and the use of land for anything other than park purposes requires approval of the state Legislature.”

Asked why the project never received state approvals, he said, “That’s a good question, and we’re looking into that now.”

The city approved Park Place in 2006. The Planning Board voted to allow the Design Review Commission to serve as lead agency in an environmental review process. The commission decided the project would not have a negative environmental impact on the surrounding area, but required the company to hire an archaeologist to monitor excavation of the site, according to city records. The project changed slightly as it evolved, DeLeonardis said. “Right now, we really have more questions than answers,” he said.

The Real Estate Board is expected to continue to discuss the easement application at its next meeting on May 7.

Bonacio’s project extended into Congress Park, Saratoga officials say

Areas of condo site violate boundaries of park, city land

By Dennis Yusko

Published 7:49 pm, Thursday, January 21, 2016

Saratoga Springs

Bonacio Construction encroached on state parkland and city property with a six-story condominium project it built along Broadway and Congress Park, and the city may need action from the state Legislature to correct part of the problem, city officials said.

A recently completed land survey determined the construction company built on taxpayer-owned land behind the 215,000-square-foot Park Place building, and a National Grid transformer that serves the building sits on a small section of bordering Congress Park, which is owned by the state, Public Works Commissioner Anthony Scirocco announced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Further review of the project, which the city approved in 2006, revealed the City Council voted in 2007 to provide National Grid an easement to build the utility transformer behind the condominiums, City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis said. The city granted the easement for $1, according to a copy of the agreement, on land that it doesn’t own, according to Scirocco.

“There’s no way the City Council can grant an easement,” Scirocco said Tuesday. “The only way the easement can be granted is through the state Legislature because it’s state historic property.”

What land was used to complete Park Place became an issue last year, when the city engineer’s office noted potential land encroachments behind the building while reviewing final as-built drawings for the project. Bonacio Construction then requested an easement from the city on an approximately 300-by 25-foot piece of city-owned land behind 268 Broadway, where it built a patio and walkways as part of Park Place, according to city officials.

Scirocco had a land survey of the area completed to delineate exact boundaries. Performed by Environmental Design Partnership, the study found small segments of Park Place intruded on parts of city and state land, DeLeonardis said. He gave two examples: the National Grid transformer and a fenced-in picnic and barbecue area that was built on city property between the Palio and Holiday Inn buildings.

The Park Place building itself does not infringe on public land, DeLeonardis said. He said there had been some confusion over the park’s boundaries because the Broadway portion of a wrought-iron fence that surrounds the park and is thought to denote property lines was removed years ago, possibly during a major fire. City officials reviewed a number of old maps, documents and deeds to determine boundary lines with the help of Bonacio employees, DeLeonardis said.

The Saratoga Springs Real Estate Board was reviewing Bonacio requests for easements on city land that was used. But Congress Park is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and using it for anything other than park purposes requires approval of the state Legislature. The city is potentially looking at having to get authority from the state to allow the National Grid transformer to remain on Congress Park, or undertaking efforts to relocate the station, DeLeonardis said.

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the company was open to moving the structure. A spokesperson for Bonacio Construction could not be reached.

dyusko@timesunion.com • 518-454-5353 • @DAYusko




Commissioner Madigan To Report On Status Of Hospital Expansion: Proposal Still Undergoing Changes

From: Michele Madigan []
Sent: Saturday, January 30, 2016 2:19 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: Saratoga Hospital PUD Amendment


Regarding the Hospital PUD Amendment:  I did indicate at the last Council Meeting that I was moving toward bringing the Hospital PUD Amendment forward to the three remaining Commissioners for a Discussion and Vote.  However, at this time, I find that we do not have accurate updated language for the PUD Amendment and until we receive accurate language from the City Attorney, City Planning Department, and the Applicant I cannot bring this forward to the Council for a Vote. My office has been working diligently to address this for the past two weeks, but there are still some inaccuracies in the legislation that require input form the City Planning Dept. so the legislation is not yet complete.

Additionally, it has come to my attention that a petition has been filed by residences in opposition of the Hospital PUD Amendment, but I have not officially received the formal petition and therefore have not had a chance to review the petition.

I plan to add a Discussion item to my agenda on Monday morning at the City Council Pre-Agenda Meeting and hope to gather more information so I may fully inform the public as to the status of the Saratoga Hospital PUD Amendment.

Thank you,

Michele Madigan
Commissioner of Finance

Hospital Expansion Dropped From City Council Agenda

The City Council process is to distribute a tentative agenda on Fridays.  On Mondays the Council meets to discuss this tentative agenda in order to finalize it for Tuesday’s meeting.

This is a link to that tentative agenda. Commissioner Madigan had originally said the hospital expansion would be discussed and voted on at this Tuesdays Council meeting.  That item does not appear on her agenda. http://www.saratoga-springs.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/02012016-1243


Hospital Expansion Blocked: Another Neighborhood Demonstrates The Power Of Community

[I received this release this afternoon]

For Immediate Release

January 29, 2016

Re: The proposed rezoning for Saratoga Hospital Expansion


Mr. Andy Brick 489-9423, Counsel representing the residents of neighborhood

Mr. Jack Despart 239-273-7931, Morgan St. Neighbor

On Friday afternoon, January 29, 2016, attorney Andy Brick, acting on behalf of the residents of Morgan St., Myrtle St., Seward St, Woodlawn Ct., and much of Birch Run filed a protest petition at Saratoga City Hall requiring the City Council to pass the Hospital-requested proposed rezoning legislation with a super majority, or 4 out of 5 votes. Normally legislation would be passed with a Council majority of 3 out of 5 votes.  Saratoga Hospital would like to expand it’s PUD into the residential area of the Northern part of Morgan St.  The neighborhood would like to keep this area zoned residential.

The Protest Petition City Ordinance Section ( is a mechanism residents can use when they do not want to see rezoning happen in their neighborhood. If a petition is filed, 4 affirmative votes are needed to pass the rezone.

“The residents not only provided enough signatures, but they also provided signatures from just about the entire residential neighborhood,” stated Andy Brick, attorney representing the residents. He continued, “We have not only met the criteria in order to force a super majority vote by City Council, but we surpassed it.”

Because two members of the City Council have officially recused themselves, citing conflicts of interest, the City Council only has 3 possible votes and therefore is unable to obtain the 4 votes necessary to pass the rezoning legislation needed in order for the Hospital to expand into the residential neighborhood.

“This is a case of David beating Goliath,” said Jack Despart, Morgan St. resident. He continued, “When we first heard of this expansion, everyone told us we couldn’t win, the Hospital has too many resources and connections, and we didn’t have a chance.  But, we came together as a neighborhood and a community and it worked.  I’m so proud of our neighbors, each and every one of them.”

Despart further explained, “We all want the best for the Hospital and the community but we honestly feel the Hospital failed to recognize the rights of its neighbors and that makes many of us very disappointed. There are several other alternatives already situated within commercial zoning and within a close proximity to the Hospital, which were never properly explored.”



Blogger Files Complaint With City Ethics Board Re: Moore and Lewis

I decided to follow-up on the recent Times Union article that focused on Tom Lewis, member of the Saratoga Springs Planning Board, and William Moore, chair of the Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals regarding  issues of recusal.

I contacted the chair of the city’s Ethics Board to better understand what the standards for recusal are for Saratoga Springs land use board members.

Justin Hogan is the Ethics Board chair.  Here is a link to his biography from the website of J Strategies Link To Bio where he is employed.  J Strategies appears to be a hybrid public relations/lobbying/media consulting firm.  For a number of years Mr. Hogan worked for the New York Senate “members’ services” office.  Both the Democratic New York State Assembly and the Republican dominated Senate have these offices.  It is common knowledge that these two offices basically are political operations meant to help elect the members.  They sail very close to the wind so to speak.  Mr. Hogan was also the political director for Republican Jeanine Pirro’s 2006 failed campaign for Attorney General.  Back in 2004 he was field director for the Bush/Cheney campaign in West Virginia and the head of media operations for the Republican convention that year.  Most recently, and before taking his current job, he was Director of Development for the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy at the University at Albany.

Lest my Republican friends think I am going after them, J Strategies president, Jaime Venditti was an analyst for Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Following that she was “the Vice President of a Central New York government affairs firm where she oversaw the management of all clients. Jaime was responsible for all client media campaigns ranging from media tours, event planning, press conferences, editorial boards, and media placement. In addition, she managed the firm’s lobbying, legislative affairs and public relations efforts for many of the firm’s corporate and not-for-profit clients.”

There is nothing partisan about J Strategies…

Mr. Hogan was originally appointed as chair of the Ethics Board by Mayor Scott Johnson in 2009.  Most recently he was reappointed by Mayor Joanne Yepsen.

On Wednesday, January 27 I spoke with Mr. Hogan on the phone.  As you might expect he is quite affable but trying to clarify the city’s ethics codes was something of a challenge.  I was able to clarify a very few things.  First, the Ethics Board’s opinions are only advice.  The board has no enforcement authority.  Second, they have subpoena power but it has never been used.

When I tried to clarify if there were circumstances in which the appearance of a lack of impartiality would require recusal I found myself in a verbal maze with Mr. Hogan.  When I raised the question about whether a board member would have to recuse themselves if their best friend appeared before them, he responded about how it is a small town and everyone knows everyone, and in the famous words of Jerry Seinfeld: yada yada yada.  So I asked him what he would do if he were on a board and his best friend came before that board.  I never could get an answer.  As for the issue of Tom Lewis, his house that Sonny Bonacio is building, and Bonacio’s appearances before the board that Lewis is on, Mr. Hogan’s first response was that we lacked the facts.  I pointed out that it was unlikely that we would be able to determine whether Bonacio had done anything special for Mr. Lewis.  I also noted to him, as proof of the “appearance” of a potential lack of impartiality, the front page story in the Times Union.  He then indicated that the only way he would answer that question was if it was formally submitted to the Ethics Board.

So Wednesday, January 27th I formally submitted the appropriate inquiry form to his board regarding Tom Lewis and William Moore.  This will at least clarify for me and for the public whether these cases involving Lewis’ and Moore’s refusal to recuse themselves have violated the city’s ethic code.

Subsequent to our conversation I received the following email from Mr. Hogan:

From:      Justin Hogan [justahogan@yahoo.com]

Sent:       Wednesday, January 27, 2016 2:06 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:  Re: Board of Ethics

Mr. Kaufmann,

To follow up on your question regarding the code of ethics and the conduct of City employees and officers please see section 13-3 B. (d), http://www.saratoga-springs.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3948. I have also pasted the section below. Please let

me know if there is any further information I can provide or if you have any more general

questions about the ethics board and procedures.



(d) The foregoing City officers and employees are listed due to the unique nature of their offices and positions which, in turn, raise ethical conflicts unique to those offices and positions. This list is not to be deemed all-inclusive. Every City officer and employee shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct consistent with the spirit of this Chapter as well as the actual provisions and strive to act so as not to raise suspicion among the public that he or she is likely [my emphasis] to be engaged in activities that are in violation of his or her trust.


The standard seems to be that one must show that the person is “likely to be engaged in activities that are in violation of his or her trust.”  Proving “likely” would seem to be an unnecessarily high hurdle to get over.

I know that it is difficult to draw the line at what point one’s closeness to another person becomes a problem.  I am reminded of the problem the legal community had in dealing with the outlawing of pornography.  I know that one wag put it well when they said, “I do not know how to define pornography but I know it when I see it.”  I would say the same about the appearance of a lack of impartiality.

Reprint Of Jennie Grey Story On Moore’s Violation of Zoning Ordinance

[Some readers had problems navigating the Saratogian and asked that I post the story]

Zoning Board chair’s home project questioned

Neighbor: ‘violation is an abuse of power, disregard of the authority of the board’

Moores House

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> When the chair of a land-use board comes before that very board with an application of his own, the other members are left to sort out any issues and make a fair evaluation. Lately, that’s been challenging for the Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), since its chair, William Moore, has sought an area variance modification for the home office above his detached garage.

Some neighbors have approved, and some have objected, as seen at the board’s Jan. 25 meeting, when Moore’s application came before the members.

Moore’s house and garage are located at 75 South Franklin St. in the Urban Residential-3 District. He uses the finished space on the second floor of his garage for his business, The Appraisal Company, of which he is president. Having hired one employee, an assistant who works out of the space where Moore applied to modify his variance.

Vice Chair Keith Kaplan presided over this agenda item when Moore recused himself. Moore stepped out into the hall to let the other board members have discussions and make decisions without his presence.

ZBA member Susan Steer questioned whether having a home occupation, such as this business office, was permitted in an accessory structure like a garage. Kaplan read aloud the requirements a home business must fulfill when using space in an accessory building: only 15 percent of the structure can be used as business space; only the home’s occupants and one other person can work there; the sole employee working at that location may use the space; No more than 10 trips to the home office can be made daily by customers; onsite parking for the one employee must be provided; just one exterior wall sign is permitted; and no outdoor storage is allowed.

“So, habitable space would be permitted over the garage,” Kaplan said. “It would be a work space. Business or professional office facilities, workshops and studios are all allowed.”

The original 2013 variance’s language said no kitchen or bathroom facilities, and no overnight stays. Moore did install water and sewer lines, and build a half-bath, which drew the notice of a neighbor.

Anthony Dawson, chief executive officer of Moto Holdings, which owns property located at 77 South Franklin St., has objected to Moore’s building.

In an email to the Saratogian, Dawson wrote, “The ZBA granted conditional approval; conditions were crystal-clear in regards to the accessory building: no kitchen or bathroom — put another way, no water or sewer connection; and then no overnight stays.”

Dawson said that shortly after the final inspection was done and the certificate of occupancy was issued, Moore engaged contractors to install water lines, connect to sewer and finish the interior walls of the garage. Moore then relocated his business to that location.

“In the beginning of December 2015, I put city officials on notice,” Dawson wrote. “No action was taken; instead, I received a notice for the public meeting regarding Moore’s application.”

Moore wrote to the Saratogian also pointing out, “I got my original variance for the following: one foot on the side back requirements and a 3 percent increase in square footage in the accessory building (the garage). I also applied to have finished space over my garage, which would include a half bath, and no shower and no kitchen, and yes, no overnight stays.”

He said this language is typical in variances, as the ZBA has never wanted to give people the chance to make space in a garage or a carriage house be an additional living unit.

“There are two building permits on file: one for the house and another for the garage,” he continued. “I always had permission to finish the space above my garage as approved by the zoning board with a half bath. My certificate of occupancy for both house and garage were issued in March 2015. If the bath was not allowed, I would never have received a certificate of occupancy.”

As for putting in the lines, Moore said, “I did not have plumbing done after I moved in, as you need a street opening permit as well as a permit for the water. This would prove exceptionally difficult, considering the sewer connection is in the alley, and the water connection is on South Franklin. Sewer was connected in December 2014, and we had to open the street in February 2015 on South Franklin for water and natural gas. The city does inspections on all these items, as well as giving plumbing permits for water and sewer connections.”

After Dawson wrote to Senior Planner Susan Barden, she emailed him, “William Moore has submitted an area variance application to modify his previously approved variance that permitted finished/habitable space in the detached garage. The current application is to permit a home occupation in the approved space. The city’s zoning ordinance permits home occupations within the principal structure and not in an accessory structure. Please be aware that the condition of the prior approval states, ‘No kitchen or bath facilities, or any overnight stays will be permitted in the finished space in the accessory structure.’ The approved plan was to have a half bath with a toilet and sink.”

At the Jan. 25 meeting, Kaplan took up the issue of the bath. He said that having a half-bath was within the scope of the conversations the board had previously had about the project.

“Our mistake was in not saying ‘bathing facilities’ but just ‘bath,’” he said.

In other words, the variance did not permit a full bathroom containing a tub and shower, but a half-bath, with just toilet and sink, would be allowed for the workers in the home office. Kaplan said the application should be corrected to make this clear.

Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo reminded the board that any application of Moore’s must be sent through the same procedure as for any other applicant.

Board member James Helicke asked planning staff if there were other instances in Saratoga Springs of such home offices in accessory buildings.

“We permitted a certified public accountant, I remember,” Barden said. “I’ll do some research to see if there are more cases.”

Dawson wrote, “Mr. Moore created this situation and grew out of space, and should go back to renting or leasing adequate, legal space offsite from which to operate his business, just as any other company would have to do. That is the remedy to this situation, not special treatment from the city officials to remedy a situation he created by disregarding conditions imposed by the board.”

During the public hearing for Moore’s application, attorney Andy Brick of Donald Zee spoke for Dawson. The lawyer said that Moore ought to be seeking a use variance for the property, not an area variance.

“Home occupation must take place in a dwelling,” Brick cited. “The board should reject this application, and Mr. Moore should resubmit it as a use variance, which would need a State Environmental Quality Review Act process.”

Other neighbors of Moore’s spoke during the hearing, mostly in favor of the home office usage.

Maureen Curtin of 224 Grand Ave. said she thought the use of the garage space was legitimate. She did object to Moore’s application, classifying the neighborhood as largely commercial.

“The neighborhood is 74 percent residential,” she said.

Frank Capone of 119 Grand Ave. said Moore had dramatically enhanced the home on Franklin Street. Jack McKeever of 120 Grand Ave. agreed.

The ZBA then discussed what would happen if Moore’s business expanded; while Steer persisted that a home occupation wasn’t allowed in an accessory structure.

Dawson wrote, “Clearly, this violation is an abuse of power and a disregard of the authority of the board that Mr. Moore chairs. If this were any other resident, the remedy would be fines from the date of violation until the disconnection; the same should hold true here. No accommodation should be made by the ZBA to remove conditions they required because the chairman disregarded them. Additionally, I feel he should be removed from the board.”

Izzo said he would review the applicable code and cases, and write a brief for the board.

The public hearing will remain open until the next ZBA meeting, Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.


Commissioner Madigan’s Email Lights Things Up In The World Of The UDO

It seems that Michele Madigan’s email to Mayor Yepsen about the UDO has had an impact.[see “Comm. Madigan Weighs in on UDO oversight” in previous post]  Not only has Mayor Yepsen responded defending the UDO process but more interestingly, today the UDO website has been reborn.  The site had been moribund since December 9th .  Today they have added a few comments and published the notes from their original public meeting in October.  Of particular note is that the original schedule is gone and in its place is a new much revised schedule.   The “diagnostic review report” will now be published in March instead of November as originally promised.  Public input now begins next week, not October, and the process is to be completed in January, 2017. The original contract, as I understood it, was to begin when the City Council approved the agreement back in August and was to run for twelve months.  As far as I can tell, there has been no discussion or vote by  the Council to change the contract dates.

Here is a link to the UDO web site.

Below is Mayor Yepsen’s response to Commissioner Madigan along with my response to Mayor Yepsen.

From:             Joanne Yepsen [joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org]

Sent:              Wednesday, January 27, 2016 9:08 AM

To:                  Michele Madigan

Cc:                  Christian Mathiesen; Skip Scirocco; John Franck; Lynn Bachner; John

Kaufmann; <bbirge@saratoga-springs.org>; Kate Maynard; Joseph Ogden

Subject:         Re: UDO Contract And Workshop Revised

We have been providing updates regularly, have had Beehan in to Council meetings, held an open meeting and now look forward to kicking off the public engagement with an all day and evening workshops. We hope you can all attend. It’s a very technical process but an important step for our city and all cities to take after a comp plan update. NYSERDA grant was secured and accepted by the Council and now we must follow all their requirements which we are doing. I’ll ask our Planning staff to send out the schedule as it’s been coordinated to date. This will also appear on my agenda again on February 2.  If you still have questions, please feel free to email them to Tina who is working closely with Beehan Planning.

Thank you.


From:             John Kaufmann []

Sent:              Wednesday, January 27, 2016 6:07 PM

To:                  ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Cc:                  ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘John Franck’

Subject:         Re: UDO Contract And Workshop Revised

Joanne—Thank you for “ccing” me on your latest correspondence regarding the UDO. I was surprised, though, that you claimed that you have been “providing regular updates.” Until today there have been no updates on the UDO cite since December 9, and I am not aware of any updates having been provided on your agenda at regular Council meetings. Behan Planning and Design representatives did indeed attend one Council meeting when the contract was approved last fall but not since to my knowledge. There was one open meeting on October 22 to give the public information on the UDO process. The “Meeting Notes” from this event were just posted today on the UDO site.

I noticed also that a new Project Schedule was posted on the UDO site today. This is interesting in a couple of ways. First of all, you mentioned in your email that you were looking to forward “kicking off the public engagement.” On the original schedule, which has now disappeared from the website, this was to happen in October and November. The new schedule now has pushed the whole project forward into January 2017. My understanding was that the Behan contract was for one year and so would end in September 2016. Has the contract now been extended and if so when was this voted on by the Council?

Still left unanswered is the question of what happened to the Advisory Committee that was to have oversight on this project.

I look forward to your clarification of how and when this contract with Behan Planning and Design was changed. Please let me know if there were any discussions at Council meetings, other appearances by Mr. Behan at Council meetings, or any other updates that I have missed and I will be happy to take a look at records I may have missed.


Tom Lewis:Does He Even Know The Rules Of Recusal?

In Dennis Yusko’s recent TU article he quoted Tom Lewis, member of the Saratoga Springs Planning Board, as saying that  leaving a meeting physically when recusing oneself is “overkill.”  One of my readers was kind enough to email me the following section of the Saratoga Springs ethics rules:

The City Code of Ethics at Sec. 13-3 (Q) (see below) requires requires that any officer of the City (including Planning Board and ZBA members) who recuses from voting on a matter the board he/she is a member of to “…immediately remove himself or herself from the room when the matter is being discussed.”

  1. Recusal.

When a City officer or employee is required to recuse himself or herself under this Code of Ethics, he or she must state that he or she is doing so on the public record, if available, or, if not, by submitting a written statement. The employee or officer must then immediately refrain from participating in the matter further and must physically remove himself or herself from the room when the matter is being discussed. [emphasis added]

Our Supervisors: Loyal To The County Government But Not To The Tax Payers Of Saratoga Springs

In an earlier post I reprinted an expose by the Times Union regarding Saratoga County’s fiasco with Siemens Corporation.  Briefly, Siemens convinced the county that it could save many, many thousands of dollars if it built a co-generation plant to provide power to its now defunct nursing home, Maplewood Manor.  According to the Times Union the plant, which was built in 2002, was badly designed and it lost money from the very outset.

In 2012 in an attempt to save money the County decided to rid itself of the nursing home.  Unfortunately for the County the company purchasing the nursing home made getting rid of the plant  a condition of the purchase .  It was only then that the County  decommissioned the plant.  According to the TU, Spencer Hellwig, the County Administer, first alleged that the plant was “revenue neutral.”  When confronted with the facts he back pedaled in a stumbling attempt to minimize the losses related to this boondoggle.

I then wrote to our two Saratoga Springs Supervisors asking what actions they planned to take to determine how all of this happened and who was responsible.  It remains unclear, for example, just how much money was lost.  Even though the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency agreed to cover half the cost of a study of the problem plagued plant, the County insisted the study  be limited to just the most recent year.   Even without the full study, we can safely assume that  hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of dollars were wasted  (the plant cost $3 million dollars just to build).

Warren County had a similarly disastrous experience with Siemens and there the Sherriff’s Department is currently conducting a criminal investigation.

Following is a summary of the response to my email by both Supervisors.  The full texts of the emails are included at the end of this post.  I

Matt Veitch

Mr. Veitch a Republican, first noted that he had not been involved in the original decision to hire Siemens.  He then repeated that the plant had to be decommissioned as part of the deal to sell the nursing home.  In a charming piece of irony he ended by noting that for him the matter was closed and then opined that it was too bad that the problem was not identified earlier.  I cannot keep myself from offering the snarky observation that I fully agree with him that it is too bad that they did not identify the problem earlier.   In fact, that is the very point of my email.  Shouldn’t the County do an analysis as to how this fiasco occurred in order to help prevent future problems?  If an employee failed in this matter and cost the county a staggering sum, should they not be accountable?  And  does Siemens have any liability in this matter?  None of this appears to be any concern of Supervisor Veitch.

Peter Martin

Mr. Martin who is a Democrat and an attorney took a more sophisticated approach to slipping the issue.  He promised just to send my piece on to Mr. Hellwig and the County Attorney.  Since I included the article from the TU that noted Mr. Hellwig’s inept attempt to cover up the mess, I was not encouraged by Mr. Martin’s offer.  What is clear is that he personally made no commitment to actually pursue the matter

So much for protecting the taxpayers’ money.

For those interested in the details, here are the emails.

The Emails

From:    Peter Martin [martinsaratoga@gmail.com]

Sent:     Tuesday, January 19, 2016 2:36 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:               Re: Energy Plant


Hi John,

I am forwarding your inquiry to the county administrator for his thoughts.

I have no personal knowledge of discussions surrounding the acquisition and development of the

co-gen plant as that preceded my time on the county board by a dozen years. At the time of the

decommissioning, I was informed that the purchaser of the Nursing Home required the County

to decommission the plant as a condition of sale. I am not certain whether Siemens lived up to

their contract from 2002, but the statute of limitations on contract claims generally in New York

state is only six years, so this would be an item for the county attorney to determine whether

there is any viable claim.



From: John Kaufmann [mailto:kaufmann@nycap.rr.com] Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 1:52 PM To: ‘Matthew E. Veitch’ Subject: RE: Co -Generator

I very much appreciate your response.  While I understand the necessity of the decision to decommission the co-generator plant in light of its sustained liability, your response does not address the questions which most taxpayers would want answered.

  1. How did the County come to agree to build a plant that was doomed by its design to fail?  As you may note in the TU article, in the case of Warren County, they did investigate their own similar experience with Siemens Building Technologies, and they are now exploring  potential criminal culpability regarding the then county administrator and this company.
  2. How was it that the County allowed the plant to continue to operate at a loss for more than ten years?
  3. Did Siemens misrepresent what the plant would achieve?  If so, why is the County not pursuing litigation to recover some of its losses?
  4. Did the County fail to incorporate in their agreement with Siemens a requirement that it achieve the proposed savings and if not, why not?
  5. Were any current employees or Supervisors involved with this fiasco?

Without answers to these questions it appears that the County is uninterested in looking into what systemic problems may exist in the County’s procedures that need to be addressed.  This concern is only underlined by the contradictory statements made by County Administrator Spencer Hellwig.  With respect Matt, the unwillingness of the County to pursue  answers to these questions will make many wonder if the County has something to hide.




From: Matthew E. Veitch [mailto:mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov] Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2016 7:35 AM To: John Kaufmann Subject: RE: Co -Generator

Hi John-


I don’t see any need for any further investigation.  I see it as a decision from the Board, trying to do right by the taxpayer, that didn’t meet expectations.  You can make your own decision as to how you want to characterize it.  Maybe I should have said “It’s too bad we couldn’t get out from under this sooner,” as there was a 10-year maintenance agreement with Siemens that we had undertaken.


Here’s my rationale for why I believe this:


  1. In 2002, Maplewood Manor was already losing a substantial amount of money, and the Board of Supervisors was looking for any way possible to try and stem the tide of the losses.


  1. Siemens came in and presented the Board with a proposition that claims would save the County up to 50% of their energy costs at the facility.  I believe the State also indicated they would increase the Medicaid reimbursement rate for Maplewood IF the County would make upgrades to the facility, not an insignificant thing, as the Medicaid reimbursement being too low was the primary reason why the Nursing Home was losing money.  Siemens gave the Board and Administrator all the projections on how much energy it might save.  The Board agreed to have Siemens to build the Co-generation plant, with a 10-year maintenance contract; which if it met the projections would have saved signification money for the County.  I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what the main discussions were at the time.  The Supervisors at the time were Skip Scirocco and Phil Klein, and Spencer Hellwig was not yet the County administrator.


  1. It was probably known fairly quickly that he Co-Gen was not meeting it’s expectations, and my guess is that the Administrator and Public Works Director (again, a different person than who we have today) attempted to get the Co-Gen up to it’s savings potential, working with Siemens through their maintenance contract.


  1. As the maintenance contract was nearing its end, 10 years later (new Supervisors, new Administrator), Maplewood Manor was losing even more money, not related to the Co-Gen plant.  At that point, the County was also ready to privatize Maplewood Manor, because of those losses.  A Study was commissioned to confirm what the County already probably knew: the Co-Gen plant was not meeting its promised savings, and that a new maintenance Contract for more money was being proposed by Siemens.  The case was then made to the Supervisors that the plant should be decommissioned.


  1. The Board then voted to decommission the Con-Gen, and as I stated before, at least for me, because of the reasons I stated:  A new Nursing Home owner wouldn’t want it, and at the same time it was costing us rather than saving us, and so we should decommission the plant.


The decision to have the Co-Gen built I believe was made with the best of intentions, with the taxpayer in mind, as was the decision to decommission it.  So I am comfortable saying this issue is closed and there is no longer anything for me to do in regard to this.  My job now is to move forward and to try and make the best decisions I can for my constituents.


Enjoy your day.


Matthew E. Veitch

Supervisor-Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

City Hall

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

(518) 587-2198


—–Original Message—– From: “John Kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com> Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 1:43pm To: “‘Matthew E. Veitch'” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov> Subject: RE: Co -Generator


Thank you for responding to my email.

According to the TU story, the co-generation plant was overbuilt and functioned inefficiently from the very beginning.  Whatever the impact the subsequent fluctuations in natural gas prices may have had on the losses, if the TU story is to be believed, the project was ill conceived from the start.  Many thousands of dollars were wasted year after year.

I was confused by your response.  In your note you stated that for you the issue is closed, and you “have no plans to take any further action…”  You also say, though, that “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get out from under this sooner.”  Matt, isn’t that really the question that needs to be answered?  Why did it take so many years for the County to act on a project that, according to the TU hemorrhaged money for years?

The public is increasingly frustrated that there does not seem to be any accountability when the taxpayers’ money is squandered.   You are someone who prides himself on being  a fiscal conservative. It is hard to understand why you do not share the outrage that people reading this story experience.  I would have expected you, as a manager of the public’s money, to call for a thorough independent review of this debacle.

The key questions have not been answered.    Who was responsible for the design failure of the plant?  Who was responsible for monitoring its effectiveness?  Why did it take so many years for the County to acknowledge the on- going waste of money?

Don’t the taxpayers of Saratoga County have a right to know the answers to these questions?

I hope that you will reconsider your decision to take no further action. I look forward to your response.

Thank you


From: Matthew E. Veitch [mailto:mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov] Sent: Monday, January 18, 2016 6:22 PM To: John Kaufmann Subject: RE: Co -Generator

Hi John-

I wasn’t Supervisor in 2002, so I had no hand in setting up the Co-generation plant.

I believe my votes were to decommission the facility both on Law & Finance committee as well as at the full board meeting when the issue came up.  As far as I can remember, both issues in the TU report were why I voted they way I did.  I seem to recall that we were told that we needed to decommission in order to privatize the nursing home, and that a the new operator wouldn’t want to have a money-losing plant as part of the package.

I see this issue as settled, so I have no plans to take any further action regarding this.  Unfortunately, a promising project as it was presented didn’t live up to its expectations. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get out from under this sooner.


Matthew E. Veitch

Supervisor-Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

City Hall

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

(518) 587-2198


—–Original Message—– From: “John Kaufmann” <kaufmann@nycap.rr.com> Sent: Monday, January 18, 2016 4:59pm To: “Matthew Veitch” <mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov> Subject: Co -Generator

Could you comment on the Times Union story regarding the co-generation plant for Maple Manor. Is the story accurate? If it is, what actions do you expect to take regarding this matter? Here is the story: $3 million Saratoga project big loser before closure Saratoga County leaders, told of shortfalls, deflect blame By Dartunorro Clark Published 6:32 pm, Saturday, January 16, 2016 Ballston Spa A $3 million co-generation plant built by Saratoga County and Siemens Building Technologies lost hundreds of thousands of dollars even though county leaders publicly touted the success of the project, which was designed to provide self-sustaining energy to a county-run nursing home. A Times Union review of engineering studies and other records for the project — which were never made public — indicate county leaders were informed of the project’s failures even as they publicly blamed energy-market conditions for the losses. The project began in 2002 when Saratoga County officials were eager to upgrade the utilities at Maplewood Manor, a 277-bed nursing home. The county struck a deal with Siemens Building Technologies to install a cogeneration plant for $3 million to produce heat and electricity, which at the time was touted as a way to save money by cutting the facility’s annual utility bill in half. Nearly 15 years later, however, the plant has been decommissioned, the equipment sold and the nursing home privatized. Documents obtained by the Times Union through a Freedom of Information Law request, and interviews with people familiar with the project, show the county’s estimated losses reached $180,000 a year by the time the facility was proposed for decommissioning. The revelations come as other government projects involving Siemens have come under scrutiny. In October, the Warren County Sheriff’s Department released records from a multi-year criminal investigation that said there was probable cause to consider criminal charges against a Siemens engineer, and that a company representative may have falsified documents related to a cogeneration plant built for that county’s nursing home in 2004. The sheriff’s report suggested Warren County Administrator Paul Dusek could have faced a misconduct charge for his role in advising, and allegedly misleading, county leaders about his understanding of the deal.


The sheriff’s investigation found Siemens officials may have inflated energy savings. Internal documents obtained by the investigators included a spreadsheet labeled “Contract $” with savings listed at $118,512. But another entry labeled “Actual $” calculated the savings at $68,262, according to the sheriff’s report. An investigator characterized the discrepancy as “intentional deception.” The sheriff’s investigators also found evidence a Siemens supervisor chided an engineer who complained about the alleged fraud and encouraged him to be a “team player.” The employee later quit.

In November, the Times Union reported that Rensselaer County officials took part in a “fact-finding” meeting with members of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman‘s Taxpayer Protection Bureau on the county’s use of so-called “energy performance contracts,” including $56 million in energy performance projects with Siemens. The attorney general’s office declined to discuss the scope of the inquiry.

In Saratoga County, county officials commissioned a $37,000 study on the cogeneration plant as the end of a 10-year maintenance agreement with Siemens approached in 2012. An engineering firm, New York-based Guth DeConzo, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which paid half of the cost of the study, were hired to assess the performance of the facility. But, at the insistence of county officials, the scope of the study was limited to one year and did not examine prior years of performance.

Still, the study recommended county officials decommission the plant and re-connect the nursing home to National Grid because it was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, at least at the time it was proposed for decommissioning, according to documents.

When it was announced, the project was expected to trim Maplewood’s $264,000 annual electricity and gas bill to $131,000 — the cost of the natural gas needed to fuel three natural-gas-fired generators — and the project was expected to pay for itself within 10 years of operation.

When questioned about the cogeneration plant two months ago, Spencer P. Hellwig, the Saratoga County administrator, said the cogeneration plant became “budget neutral” and the county saved hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years. Hellwig also said Medicaid rates and elderly cost-of-care concerns were the reasons to privatize the nursing home, which was sold to Zenith Health Care Group in January 2015 for $14.1 million. He also said the new owners had no use for the plant.

In the study commissioned by the county, the cogeneration project was characterized as economically unsuccessful.

“Cogeneration isn’t necessary to provide heating and cooling to your clients. Cogeneration is an economic proposition,” a Guth DeConzo presentation said. “If cogeneration isn’t (saving money), there (are) limited additional benefits. … It does not appear that continued operation of cogeneration plant is economically feasible, as compared to re-connection to National Grid.”

In an interview last week, Hellwig backpedaled when asked about the documents revealing the money lost by the cogeneration plant. Hellwig said the cogeneration plant became financially unsuccessful due to a number of factors, including market changes and energy costs. But his comments marked a shift from November, when he characterized the plant, overall, as successful but said decommissioning it had to be done prior to privatization. He said at the time of the original agreement in 2002, however, the county felt assured in the savings proposed.

“The expectations that were in place are why the decisions were made,” he said.


Still, county officials, including Hellwig, and the outside engineering company hired by the county to oversee the decommissioning, previously said falling electricity rates were reasons for decommissioning the cogeneration plant, which worked by converting natural gas to electricity and using the “waste heat” generated in the process.

But according to historical data from NYSERDA, natural gas and electricity rates showed annual decreases on average statewide for residential, industrial and commercial customers over the period in question.


For instance, according to NYSERDA, from 2011 to 2012 residential rates decreased from $13.64 to $12.87 per 1,000 cubic feet for natural gas, and 18.26 to 17.62 cents per kilowatt-hours for electricity,



Commercial rates fell from $9.28 to $7.79 for natural gas and 15.81 to 15.06 cents for electricity. Industrial rates decreased from $8.15 to $6.87 for natural gas and 7.83 to 6.69 cents for electricity.

Also, the county’s study noted the energy capacity that the cogeneration was built for was largely underutilized, which indicated it was inefficient for the nursing home at the onset. And when the 10-year maintenance deal expired in 2012, and the plant was proposed for decommissioning, Siemens was proposing a new $168,000 annual maintenance contract with an “escalation rate” of 4 percent, which the study concluded was “exceptionally high.”


Coupled with lack of savings, sources said, it became advantageous for the county to cut its losses.

“This is largely due to the reality that a large percentage of the equipment is idle for a good portion of the year, and has to still be maintained,” the study said.

Siemens stands by its project and its role in providing upgrades to the county and the cogeneration project.

“Siemens is proud of the work completed at Maplewood Manor, which added further protection from potential power failures at the facility,” said Amanda Naiman, a company spokeswoman.

There is no indication the Saratoga County project with Siemens is being reviewed any agency.


More Information


  • 2000 Saratoga County sought proposals to upgrade equipment at the 277-bed Maplewood Manor Nursing Home and to improve energy efficiency. The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors recommended that a proposal submitted by Siemens for the construction of a cogeneration project be accepted, according to documents, with the intent to have the project paid for over a 10-year period with no cost to the county. The cost of the project was approximately $3 million.
  • 2002 The county home went off the grid and the cogeneration plant was installed.
  • 2012 The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted to commission a $37,000 study, produced by NYSERDA and outside engineering firm Guth DeConzo, to assess the performance of the cogeneration plant at the end of the 10-year agreement. The study revealed the cogeneration plant was underperforming and losing about $180,000 a year by not being connected to the grid. The committee voted unanimously to pay $20,000 to Guth DeConzo to decommission the cogeneration plant and reconnect the facility to National Grid to provide electric service. The committee also voted to resell the cogeneration equipment, which at the time had an estimated fair market value of $60,000 to $100,000, to recoup some of the investment.
  • 2015 The county’s Maplewood Manor Local Development Corp. voted to sell the nursing home to Zenith Health Care Group for $14.1 million. Zenith renamed the Ballston Avenue facility Saratoga Center for Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care. The company’s newly formed entity, Saratoga Center for Care LLC, is licensed to operate 257 beds, down from the former 277.


dclark@timesunion.com • 518-454-5008 • @DartDClark