Commissioner Madigan Weighs In On UDO Oversight

[Michele Madigan gave me permission to post this]

From: Michele Madigan [michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org]
Sent: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 5:55 PM
To: Joanne Yepsen
Cc: Christian Mathiesen; Skip Scirocco; John Franck; Lynn Bachner; John
Kaufmann
Subject: Re: UDO Contract And Workshop Revised

Mayor,

I have no idea what the process is for the UDO at this time.  I am pleased that Tina Carton [See Yusko/TU article below] has been hired to provide oversight to the UDO.  However,  I have always advocated for a review committee appointed by the Council to oversee our Comp Plan changes within the context of our Zoning Ordinances.  This was supposed to happen under the UDO, but now it is without a Council appointed committee.  So far I’ve had one brief meeting with Behan and really don’t have a lot of time to meet regularly and try to educate myself on all the changes that may be coming our way.  Honestly, I am not a land use expert and would prefer to have an appointed representative reporting to me on the UDO process and potential changes.

Perhaps you can provide the Council and public with an update at the next Council Meeting?  Including how the Council will handle oversight regarding changing and updating our Zoning Ordinances.  I have always believed an appointed committee is the best way to manage this process – at least for me.    My preference is to appoint someone knowledgeable about city land use policy to assist Behan with the UDO and monitor, contribute, and report back to me.

Thank you,
Commissioner Madigan


Saratoga Springs hires a sustainability coordinator

By Dennis Yusko on January 5, 2016 at 10:27 PM

  •  Tina Carton (Taken from her Linked-In page) Carton, an active supporter of Solarize Saratoga, will start in the job on Monday, according to Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who appointed her at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The position pays a salary of $45,000. It had been vacant since 2009, when it was defunded amid budget cuts. A grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority will cover $33,740 in wages each of the next two years. Carton will work with the city’s Open Space Advisory Committee, Complete Streets Committee and Climate Smart Community Task Force, and report to Bradley Birge, administrator of planning and economic development.
  • “I’m quite confident everyone will be happy with our selection,” Yepsen said.
  • “Thank you very much for this opportunity,” Carton told the council. She said she looked forward to trying to move the city forward.
  • Tina Carton of Saratoga Springs was appointed Tuesday to the full-time city position of administrator of parks, open land and historic preservation, also called a “sustainability coordinator.”
  • Carton Pic

UDO Contract, What Contract?

The struggle to protect our city is an endless challenge.  The Unified Development Ordinance is shaping up to be yet another opportunity for the real estate industry/Chamber of Commerce to try to take another bite of the apple.

The original contract  with Behan Planning and Design to write the UDO(see document below) was at least a reasonable plan for allowing the public to carefully scrutinize the process. It appears, though,  that the Mayor who is identified as the “project manager”, has simply ignored the key elements of this contract.  Instead of an advisory committee receiving regular reports from the consultants and these reports being made available to the public there has been virtual silence for almost five months.  Deliverable dates promised by the consultant have been ignored.  One hopes that other members of our City Council will ask the clearly needed questions about why the contract has not been adhered to.

In the meantime, the consultants have announced an event for public input that appears to be designed for the attorneys and developers rather than the public.  The all day and evening event is scheduled for a weekday which for people outside the real estate industry is a problem in and of itself.  As described in the press release, “The purpose of this community workshop is to collect additional public input and suggestions on potential changes to the city’s Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations and related development codes…”   I follow this stuff fairly closely and I am overwhelmed by this charge.  What I could have dealt with is materials outlining what changes from the existing codes are being contemplated.  If the reports promised in the original contract had been regularly posted, I along with many others, could have weighed in on whether the contemplated changes were good ideas.

Concerned over the apparent abrogation of the contract with the consultants, the lack of ongoing transparency, and the poorly designed meeting to get community input, I have emailed the Mayor and the City Council asking that they clarify the status of the contract.

In addition to the email to the Council I am including the press release for the upcoming workshop and the section of the contract identifying what was originally agreed to.

From:    John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:     Monday, January 25, 2016 9:45 PM

To:         ‘Joanne Yepsen’

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

Subject: UDO Contract And Workshop Revised

A Workshop Designed For Lawyers and Developers

I have received the press release regarding the public UDO workshops on February 4 planned by Behan Planning and Design. I was struck by the following from the invitation. “The purpose of this community workshop is to collect additional public input and suggestions on potential changes to the city’s Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations and related development codes.” I have serious reservations about how effectively the average citizen (as compared to attorneys and developers) can participate in this. Selecting a weekday for this event adds to the feeling that these workshops are more directed to the real estate industry than to the general public

How Can A Contract With A Consulting Firm Be So Completely Ignored?

I have reviewed the contract between the City and Behan Associates which the city agreed to last August. I have also reviewed the UDO website that laid out the tasks and timelines for the project. I am quite concerned that the deliverables in the contract for this project, according to the available records, seem to have been either grossly delayed or abandoned.

The UDO website states that the consultants were to meet with “stakeholders” during October and November. Up to now, the only stakeholder that the consultants have met with has been the Chamber of Commerce although I understand that last week they contacted Sustainable Saratoga about arranging a meeting.

The contract also stipulates that an “advisory committee” made up of representatives of the City’s Departments along with representatives from City Boards was to be established. The contract further states that the consultants “will provide ‘check points’, such as copies of any diagnostic reviews, recommended changes, draft outlines and copies of the draft code, over the course of the work to provide the city staff and public (my emphasis) regular opportunities to review the progress and ensure a totally open and transparent project. These materials will be hosted online and made available to the public.”

Under task #1, the contract promises that “Behan Planning and Design, in association with sustainability specialists Brendle Group, will form a Team to prepare and submit a Project Execution Plan, with draft Project Benefits Metrics Report (PBMR), for review and approval by NYSERDA as required by the grant. The draft PBMR shall include proposed performance metrics, projected benefits, and methods for data collection and calculations along with a project schedule and milestones for key project activities.”

The UDO website promises that by the end of November they would publish a “diagnostic review report.” According to the contract this is a review of “the latest Comprehensive Plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations. This review will serve to identify what changes are required to bring the city codes into compliance with the new Comprehensive Plan, synchronize related city policies and standards, and identify other recommended changes which would improve sustainability of the city.”

It is now January 25th, approximately five months into this contract and based on the publically available documents, none of this has been done.   The UDO website had not been updated since December 9th until today when they announced their workshop.

On January 8, I submitted a FOIL request for any documents regarding Behan Associates and the UDO.  I received a response from the City advising me that they would provide these documents within the twenty business days as required by law. I have not yet received these documents. The city has until February 5th to provide them.

I have two questions:

  1. On what authority was the “advisory committee” abandoned? This committee should have been a critical oversight tool to insure that the consultants were properly focused and would have provided insight for the public at large into the on-going direction and progress of this project.
  2. If the UDO process was going to be so radically changed, why was the City Council not involved in the decision and why was the contract not modified to reflect these changes?

Rewriting our city’s ordinances will have a huge impact on our future. It is hard to understand why, five months into this project the public has had so little information available to understand what, if anything, is going on.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Deliverables From Contract:

BehanContract1a

BehanContract2a

BehanContract3a


 

Press Release On Workshop

 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 January 24, 2016

Contact:

Joseph Ogden, Deputy Mayor

City of Saratoga Springs, NY

Tel: (518) 587-3550, ext. 2523

Email: Joseph.Ogden@saratoga-springs.org

__________________________________________________________________________

Mayor Joanne D. Yepsen and Behan Planning and Design Announce Community Workshop On City’s

Unified Development Ordinance Project

The City of Saratoga Springs will be hosting an all-day community workshop to discuss desired development code changes as part of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) project. Local residents, business owners and other interested stakeholder groups are encouraged to sign up for a discussion time-slot. The sessions will be held at Empire State College, 2 Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m on Thursday February 4th.  Interested participants should visit the project website at http://www.saratogaspringsudo.com to find full detailed schedule and instructions on how to sign up for a discussion topic.

The purpose of this community workshop is to collect additional public input and suggestions on potential changes to the city’s Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations and related development codes prior to the consultant’s completion of a Zoning Diagnostic Report, which is intended to provide the focus for the draft UDO.

City planning staff and Behan Planning and Design will be in attendance faciliate discussions relating to zoning and development regulations. Local residents, property and business owners are invited and encouraged to sign up. All suggestions and comments received from the public will be collected for use in the development of the draft UDO.

This meeting is the second in a series of public events designed to discuss the UDO project. The UDO project will update local development codes and standards to align with the adopted 2015 Comprehensive Plan and introduce initiatives which are aimed to improve the long-term health and sustainability of the city. Additional public meetings will take place as the project evolves to maximize public participation throughout. For more information or to provide input at anytime, please visit: http://www.saratogaspringsudo.com.

The project is part of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Cleaner, Greener Communities program, a major statewide initiative encouraging communities to incorporate sustainability goals and principles into local decision-making, and then form partnerships to transform markets that lead to the reduction of emissions and the generation of economic development benefits. The program, administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), also empowers communities to take action, providing technical resources and decision-making tools on land use, housing, transportation, energy, economic development and environmental practices, resulting in a more vibrant and prosperous New York.

Cleaner, Greener Communities is funded through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation’s first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector.

 

# # #

 

 

Sonny Bonacio’s Building Program For Tom Lewis and William Moore Makes The Front Page of the Times Union

Another great story by Dennis Yusko for the Times Union. This is on the problems of conflict of interest in government.  Link To TU article

 


 

Growth sparks concerns about conflicts of interest in Saratoga County

Robust development hikes risk of conflict of interest for those on land-use panels

By Dennis Yusko

Published 7:48 pm, Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tom Lewis wears many hats.

He was a Stewart’s Shops real estate agent for 22 years, getting approvals from planning and zoning boards for the convenience store chain to build new stores.

During that time, Lewis was appointed to the Saratoga County Planning Board in 2003 and the Saratoga Springs Planning Board in 2011, which put him at times on both sides of the approval process.

Lewis also served as county treasurer for 17 years.

Last summer Lewis disclosed that Dave Trojanski was constructing a new home for him in Saratoga Springs, but he did not abstain from voting on city applications submitted by Trojanski Builders, which has merged with Bonacio Construction.

Lewis, 69, says he neither issued nor received favors for the home project and recuses himself from matters in which he has a financial stake.

“I try to follow the rules because it’s foolish not to,” said Lewis, who in 2013 became deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, earning $74,630 a year.

 Critics say state laws are weak on the issue of public officials’ conflicts of interest. But as years of robust development reach the doors of residents in bustling Saratoga County, some want Lewis and other community planners to be held to higher standards when their personal or professional business intersects with their public duties.

In recent months, residents in the county’s largest towns have confronted planners over potential conflicts of interest and argued for stronger requirements that people abstain from votes.

“It’s come to a boiling point, a tipping point,” said Vince Aceto of Clifton Park, in describing battles over development in southern Saratoga County.

A former member of the Shenendehowa school board and Clifton Park-Halfmoon Library board, Aceto joined dozens of homeowners last fall in opposing a 4,800-square-foot child care center proposed near their homes off busy Route 146. He said conflicts arise because some members of the town’s volunteer land-use boards work in real estate and other commercial enterprises.

State law prohibits public officials from voting on issues in which they have a direct financial interest, though conflicts of interest also can be defined by local ethics boards and courts, said Mark Davies, a government ethics expert who co-chairs the Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee of the New York State Bar Association‘s Municipal Law Section.

He said a recusal is effectively equivalent to a “no” vote if it makes it impossible for those voting to get a majority. “You really shouldn’t recuse unless there’s a good reason. On the other hand, you should definitely recuse if you, your family or business is benefiting financially,” he said.

Serving on multiple land-use boards can be incompatible because members should not review their own decisions, Davies said. Ethics boards decide gray areas, such as the political activities of board members, so those with a declared conflict of interest should refrain from sitting with other board members during deliberations in order to prevent accusations of improper influence, he said.

As county Planning Board chairman, Lewis recused himself from voting 11 times on 10 projects between June and November, mostly on city projects he already had voted on as a city Planning Board member. “I never voted on the Stewart’s projects, but I do now,” he said.

 Another member of the county Planning Board, Don McPherson, an associate principal and landscape architect for The LA Group, abstained 13 times on 11 referrals during six months. Edwin Vopelak, vice president of technical services and chief engineer at C.T. Male Associates, recused himself six times. Members who recuse themselves can remain at meetings and listen.

Lewis said requiring board members who’ve recused themselves to leave the room during deliberations goes too far. “I think it’s overkill,” he said. The county board does not have alternate members who can step in and replace members who withdraw from votes.

On Wednesday, more than 500 planners and elected officials from across the state are expected to attend the Saratoga County Planning and Zoning Conference 2016 in the Saratoga Springs City Center. The annual day of education sessions is one of the largest events of its kind in the state. Jason Kemper, the county planning director, said engineers, architects and builders provide valuable input into land-use decisions.

“When you have members on your board that work in full-time jobs that involve some part of the planning or zoning approval process, you are going to get recusals,” Kemper said. “It is up to municipalities to determine the frequency that the recusals happen and if those recusals are impacting the function of the board, especially if alternate members are not available.”

Lewis and his wife, Sandra, bought a 0.17-acre vacant parcel at 60 Franklin St. from Joseph Boff in September for $343,750. He hired SBDT Ventures (Sonny Bonacio and Dave Trojanski) to build the family’s home. Bonacio Construction hung a sign at the construction site, and in recent years, also built a home for Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman William Moore. Lewis said he didn’t need to recuse himself from reviewing applications submitted by Bonacio Construction and Trojanski Builders because he shared no financial interest with them from the home construction.

“I don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong,” Lewis said.

A real estate appraiser and ZBA chairman, Moore purchased a lot at 75 S. Franklin St., for $70,000 from Christopher Cuccio in June 2014 and three months later hired Bonacio Construction to build him a home. Moore did not publicly reveal his business relationship with Bonacio, one of the region’s prominent builders, at meetings nor abstain from voting on applications requested by Bonacio after Moore’s home was completed in February.

Moore said last week that he’s built four homes in the city, and hired Bonacio for the one on South Franklin Street because the builder came in with the lowest bid. “I probably should have disclosed Sonny built my house, I’m not saying that’s unreasonable,” Moore said. “But I have a clear conscience. Anyone who has ever done business with me wouldn’t even question that.”

 John Kaufmann of Saratoga Springs, a blogger who writes about politics, did question it. He argued that to avoid the appearance of impropriety, Lewis and Moore should have recused themselves from judging projects of builders they hired. He wrote that while the planners may not have broken laws or ethics rules, only they knew for certain if they were given special treatment from the builders. It was unfair of them, he said, to ask the public to simply trust them. “The city needs to establish a higher standard in its ethics requirements,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who owns a private consulting business, reappointed Moore to a seven-year term. She also announced she would recuse herself from voting on an expansion proposal submitted by Saratoga Hospital because she was in discussions with the hospital foundation to provide it private services. Yepsen said she reported the possible conflict to the city Ethics Board, which told her to refrain from voting. Accounts Commissioner John Franck also said he would not weigh-in on the hospital’s proposed 75,000-square-foot medical office building in a residential area, saying his accounting firm had worked with area homeowner associations, which oppose the project.

During the review of the child care center last fall in Clifton Park, opponents of the project focused on the fact that the town Planning Board’s vice chairman, real estate broker Joel Koval, was working as listing agent for the property. While Koval abstained from voting, he remained seated with the board. Aceto accused him of making facial grimaces, flipping his tie and chatting with other board members during a review of the project, which was recently approved. A discussion over Koval’s mere presence grew so heated, town leaders eventually asked him to leave the Town Hall room, a recusal policy the town intends to continue following.

“He has an unfair advantage because of his position and that’s not the way government is supposed to operate,” Aceto said of Koval. “He can recuse himself from a meeting, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have influence in what happens.”

But Koval, 55, said he serves on the board to help his community and because it runs in his family — his father served on the same board. Koval said he had no problem removing himself from votes in which he stands to gain financially, and never received anything in return for a vote.

“It can be frustrating because you’re there as a volunteer trying to do your best, and people see nefarious things,” Koval said.

In October, Koval’s brother, Thomas, who is an electrical contractor, was appointed to the Planning Board in neighboring Halfmoon. His appointment, board alternate Margaret Sautter said at the time, raised concerns over possible conflicts of interest, as Thomas Koval, 50, owns Koval Contracting and has gone before the board for permits in the past.

Conflicting roles and development have been issues in Halfmoon for years. Robert Chauvin simultaneously worked as attorney for both the town and Belmonte Builders for years. In 2013, prosecutors asked the state attorney general to investigate Chauvin’s business dealings in Halfmoon. That was prompted by a Times Union story that revealed Chauvin, while working as a town attorney for 25 years, allegedly concealed from the public his financial interests in numerous large residential development projects, including some with builder Peter Belmonte Jr., who purchased lots and built homes in Chauvin’s subdivisions.

Chauvin said he recused himself from all Belmonte projects. He became a state Supreme Court justice in 2012.

 

I Will Take That As A No…?

As I understand the Mayor’s email (see below) neither she nor her office agreed to the language that Mr. Shimkus sought regarding weakening (making more flexible) the language in the Comprehensive Plan.

My Last Email To Mayor Yepsen

From:    John Kaufmann [john.kaufmann21@gmail.com]

Sent:     Friday, January 22, 2016 10:13 PM

To:          ‘Joanne Yepsen’

Subject:               Chamber and Comp Plan

In your last email you indicated you would review my question carefully and respond by the end of the week. It is now Friday night and I have not heard from you.

I mean no disrespect but this is my fifth email to you. if I do not receive an answer to my original question by Wednesday, January 27th, I will assume that you do not wish to answer and I will not correspond with you further on this matter.

Mayor Yepsen’s Response

From:    Joanne Yepsen [Hidden For Privacy]

Sent:     Saturday, January 23, 2016 1:35 PM

To:          john.kaufmann21@gmail.com

Cc:          joseph.ogden@saratoga-springs.org; joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org

Subject:               Response

Mr. Kaufmann:

(The entire server is down for City Hall, so to get this response to you, I send through my personal email address.)

This is in response to your previous inquiries which I am happy to address at this time.

As you may recall, when I came into office, the Comprehensive Plan Committee had been appointed and meeting for seven months; I had no appointments to the committee. By the summer of 2014 the Comprehensive Plan Committee (CPC) had grown increasingly divisive and less productive.

Members of the committee were threatening to walk away entirely, thereby derailing months and months of time and effort by the committee, city staff and financial esources, the city’s consultant ($60,000 contract approved by previous Mayor and Council) and the general public.

In an effort to move the process to a better place so we could give our citizens a long over-due Comprehensive Plan update, members of my staff (the deputy mayor, the Office of Planning and Economic Development, our CPC consultant MJ Engineering, as well as myself on a couple of occasions) met with many members of the Comprehensive Plan committee to discuss their frustrations and concerns about the overall process, and on how best to move forward. Neither myself, nor my staff, ever met exclusively with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce with regards to the Comprehensive Plan.   City staff did meet with Mr. Shimkus, among many other committee members (many of whom requested a meeting) but only in his capacity as a member of the CPC. The CPC members we worked with identified areas that were significant sticking points and our goal was to identify those points for additional, productive conversation at the committee level.

The Mayor’s Office, myself included, never insisted that any particular word, phrase, or language be used in the plan. In addition, it should be noted that with the exception of the 53 items that were unable to be resolved at the committee level, every section and every word of the CPC’s final work product was brought before the City Council, publicly reviewed, discussed and voted on prior to its inclusion.

Currently, we are gearing up for our Unified Development Ordinance project (UDO), which is, for those who are not familiar with it, a review and analysis of our city’s zoning laws, policies, and regulations which must be done shortly after an updated Comprehensive Plan. Please keep in mind, the comp plan is a vision, something to aim for and work towards and zoning is the primary tool to implement this plan so the UDO process and product will be critical.

Please be advised that my office has not met with the Chamber, or any other outside organization regarding the UDO. Our consultant for the UDO, Behan Planning and Design, is in the process with meeting with various organizations in the city, including the Chamber. This weekend, we are issuing a press release announcing a large community workshop to be held all day and evening on February 4th, the point of which is for our consultant to be the beneficiary of additional public input prior to their drafting of the zoning diagnostic report.

It is my hope that you can share the information with others so we can set the record straight and so that we can conduct our UDO project with the utmost public faith, cooperation, and full participation, starting with the workshops on February 4.

Respectfully,

Mayor Yepsen

 

Original Email On Mayor Yepsen And The Chamber

On Dec 27, 2015, at 5:32 PM, “John Kaufmann” <john.kaufmann21@gmail.com> wrote:

Joanne, in reading the comments on the Unified Development Ordinance site I came across comments apparently submitted by the Chamber of Commerce. The text is below. They assert that they met with you and that you came to an agreement with the Chamber to weaken the language for many items replacing  words like implement, establish, or require with words like review, consider, evaluate, etc.

Is this an accurate description of what transpired?

From UDO Web Site Re Chamber’s Comments

Through the Mayor’s office, there was one effort made to find common ground that resulted in the use of some specific words in various recommended actions that we believe specifically indicates a clear preference to create flexibility including:

  1. “Update” the open space plan not implement.
  2. “Review and update” the City’s Historic Preservation plan not implement.
  3. Adopt “reasonable” guidelines that “encourage” restoration not require.
  4. “Review” guidelines for stream buffers not establish.
  5. “Encourage” the development of residential and commercial buildings that exceed minimum state level energy efficiency not require or establish or implement.
  6. Ensure an adequate size and width for public right of ways “wherever feasible.”
  7. “Consider” establishing a Generic Environmental Impact Statement to address citywide traffic impacts not establish or implement.
  8. “Evaluate” form-based zoning not establish or implement.
  9. “Consider” establishing dedicated funds for affordable housing not create.
  10. Thank you for your prompt response.

The Final Hearing On The Hospital Expansion: Whistling In The Dark

Tuesday night was the last evening for the on-going hearing on the proposed expansion of Saratoga Hospital.  The Council will vote on the issue at their next meeting, February 2nd.

As noted earlier, at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting the hearing on Saratoga Hospital’s expansion plans began with Mayor Yepsen and Commissioner Franck recusing themselves.  Mayor Yepsen cited potential work she was seeking with the Hospital Foundation.  Commissioner Franck explained that he served as accountant to both the Morgan Street Homeowners Association and to the Birch Run Homeowners Association.

This left three Council members: Commissioners Madigan, Mathiesen, and Scirocco.  The City Charter requires a minimum of three Council members to pass legislation so all three would have to vote in favor of the hospital’s proposal for it to pass.

The hearing then proceeded.  We heard much of what we heard at the two previous public hearings.  Staff from the hospital as well as representatives from the hospital board spoke of the need to be competitive in a challenging market.  A number of people argued that proximity to the hospital can mean the difference between life and death.  They also argued that by locating the offices together it would allow patients to more easily make visits to multiple doctors.

The neighbors countered with a number of arguments.  One particularly amusing counter argument had to do with the odds of successfully coordinating putting together appointments with more than one doctor on the same day even if they were in the same location.  Most of us know how challenging it is these days just to get an appointment with one specialist so his comments drew laughs.

Neighbors spoke of their concern that the hospital’s expansion would exacerbate the flooding they already experience.  They spoke of their concerns about traffic.  In fact, later in the meeting when City Planner Kate Maynard addressed the Council she noted that the traffic along the adjacent streets was expected to double.   People spoke of how much they have loved living in their respective neighborhoods and spoke of the impact that this imposing structure with its large parking lot might have.  They took strong objection to the hospital advocates’ repeated assertions that they had been in close contacts with the affected neighbors.

One of the most interesting presentations was done by Andrew Brick , an attorney hired by the neighbors. Unfortunately, I do not have a copy of the Comp Plan map but the site of the proposed doctors’ offices is in just a small part of a much larger area in that part of town that the Comp Plan has designated as “transitional.”   “Transitional  land”  is land that the hospital could potentially develop. Mr. Brick pointed out that the drawings presented by the hospital showed a road to nowhere and water and sewer lines that seemed to arbitrarily end, all located on an additional site in this “transitional” area.

It seems likely that the hospital’s current expansion plan represents just one step in what is a much larger plan to grow. The City Council needs to require the hospital  reveal what other long term plans they have to expand and how those plans will meet the needs of the city in order to properly evaluate this one step they are asking for now.

Another problem is the lack of objective information and independent analysis concerning the hospital’s proposal.  It is difficult to evaluate the hospital’s assertions about the importance of having doctors lodged within walking distance of the hospital based only on the evidence presented by local supporters of the hospital.  The City Council in one sense is being asked to determine if the benefit to the community of the hospital’s expansion outweighs the rights of the neighbors to maintain the quality of life of their neighborhood. Without some independent professional analysis of the effect that doctor proximity has on patient care it would seem difficult for the City Council as laypeople to make this determination.

The road to the hospital’s expansion began with the dubious process of inserting a change in the Comp Plan to allow change in a residential area without sufficient transparency and opportunity for public discussion. It is little wonder then that the hospital’s argument that their expansion plans are all about patient care lack credibility for many.

For the City Council to make an informed decision I feel, as I stated at the public hearing, that two steps need to be taken.

  1. The City Council needs to require that the hospital be fully transparent about all plans for the future growth of the hospital in Saratoga Springs
  2. The City Council should engage an independent consultant to advise them on evaluating the hospital’s arguments and help them determine if possible alternatives exist to meet the hospital’s needs.

Only then can the public be more confident that a fair and equitable decision is made that will be in the best interest of the community.

 

 

More Appointments By Mayor Yepsen

In addition to the regular appointments to the land use boards, Mayor Yepsen appointed three alternates.  They will fill in when regular board members are unable to attend or participate.

Amy Durland

Mayor Yepsen appointed Amy Durland for a two year term as an alternate for the Planning Board.  Ms. Durland has served in the past as a full member of the Planning Board and chaired the Board. There are two people whose dedication to the struggle on development issues has been just extraordinary.  Amy is one of them.  She is meticulously thorough and scrupulously honest and fair.  She has logged in more hours at these meetings than any human should bear.  Should any member of the Planning Board recuse themselves or be unable to attend meetings, the community will be the better for it.

Oksana Ludd

Ms. Ludd was appointed to serve either one or two years as an alternate on the Zoning Board of Appeals.  I am unclear which is her term.

There is an exception to every rule.  I have expressed dismay at the many members of our boards who are from the real estate industry who routinely rule in favor of said industry. 

Ms. Ludd is an attorney who specializes in real estate.  This is a link to her: Link

I have been assured by people I respect that as a member of the Comprehensive Plan Committee she was a major asset regarding protecting the city’s greenbelt.  Her background made her a very effective voice for thoughtful land use practices.

Cheryl J. Grey

I know relatively little about Ms. Grey.  She is married to Kenneth Grey who has been involved in the Smart Streets initiative and who is with the Marshal and Sterling Insurance Company.  Friends tell me that they have both been involved in preservation issues.  Ms. Grey coaches LaCross.

From what I gather if she has an opportunity to fill in on the ZBA she should be a fair and constructive force.

 

 

 

A Small Event With Large Consequences

Sometimes the most significant events are overlooked when they occur and their importance only becomes evident much later.  This post is about one such event. The topic of this posting probably will not appear in any of our newspapers or on television but its far reaching repercussions make this one of the most important blogs I have written.

This post is about Mayor Yepsen’s appointments to our land use boards at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Under the existing City Charter the Mayor of our city enjoys the unrestricted power to make appointments to our land use boards.  There are no requirements that the Mayor advise the public of the choices prior to their appointment.   No approval from the other members of the City Council is required

The enormous power of our land use boards only becomes apparent to many in the community when they find themselves affected by a major land use decision.  The neighbors of Moore Hall have had that  education.  The neighbors of Saratoga Hospital are starting down that road to enlightenment.  Those who have been involved in the conflict over the attempts to commercialize the city’s greenbelt have learned this lesson.

While the City Council  plays a major role in many aspects of land use issues, the boards are just as, if not more, powerful.  If the hospital gets its approval for their expansion from the City Council, the Planning Board will be affecting how traffic will flow.  They will decide whether to accept proposals for blasting in the area.  They will make similar decisions about what happens with Moore Hall and they will decide many, many issues if Saratoga National Golf Course gets approval to become a resort.

The terms for the members of both the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board are seven years.  Scott Johnson who served for multiple terms was able to fill both these boards with his appointments.  He chose people whose loyalty to the real estate industry was beyond reproach.

It was the hope of many of us that when Mayor Yepsen was elected  she would reconstitute the boards with people who were independent of the zealous development industry and whose decisions would show greater sensitivity to the citizenry at large.  It was understood that given the terms of these board members the changes in their composition would take many years.

Last night  Mayor Yepsen announced her latest appointments and any illusions that her reelection would result in a shift in the make-up of these boards were dashed.

Mayor Yepsen Reappoints William Moore to Continue as Chair of the Zoning Board of Appeals for Seven Years

Mr. Moore was originally appointed to the Zoning Board Of Appeals by Scott Johnson.  Moore is a real estate appraiser.  Like many of the real estate people who serve on the land use boards, the people who come before him are often potential clients.  As should be obvious, this places Mr. Moore in an interesting position.  Were he to routinely rule against the people in the real estate industry coming before him, it would do little good for his business.  On the other hand, being a good old boy who regularly assists them places him in a particularly good situation for later business.

I was able to observed Mr. Moore first hand as he chaired the meetings regarding the Bonacio application for variances for Moore Hall.  Mr. Moore’s bias towards well connected applicants was stunning.  Mr. Moore has the applicants for variances sit at the table with the ZBA members.  In contrast, any who oppose the variances are relegated to the seats beyond the railing.  If you sit in the “gallery” you immediately understand your status as compared with those who are privileged to sit up close and personal with the board.

Mr. Moore made no attempt to limit the time of the attorney representing Bonacio at the meetings in spite of the fact that the attorney’s remarks were often not germane to the specific standards of the variance under consideration or were wholly redundant.   In contrast, when it came time for the public to comment, Mr. Moore sternly advised them that they would be limited to two minutes each. He then attempted to cut off the attorney representing the neighbors when he had used up his two minutes.  Only an angry response from the many neighbors at the meeting along with some who offered to give up their time to the attorney allowed the neighbor’s representative to finish his remarks.

During each of the meetings Mr. Moore took the opportunity to praise Mr. Bonacio’s proposal.  In hindsight, this pandering was particularly disturbing because Mr. Bonacio had recently completed building Mr. Moore’s house.  Not only did Mr. Moore not recues himself from a decision affecting someone he had so recently had a business relationship with but he saw no need to advise the public of the potential conflict of interest.  Even later when this was brought to his attention he did not see any problem with his relationship with Mr. Bonacio and his review of Mr. Bonacio’s projects.

After it was disclosed that one of the members of the ZBA had joined Mr. Bonacio and his attorney for drinks following one of the meetings about the Moore hall project, Mr. Moore  showed a complete indifference to the concerns of the neighbors.   In fact, he publically shared a laugh with the lawyer for Mr. Bonacio over the incident.

Mayor Yepsen has decided that Mr. Moore is the best person in this city to lead the Zoning Board of Appeals for the next seven years.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen appoints Jamin Totino to a seven year term on the Planning Board

Mr. Totino is  Director of Student Academic Services at Skidmore College. Link to Skidmore Profile

Mr. Totino was originally appointed to the Planning Board by Democratic Mayor Valerie Keehn.  With Keehn’s defeat, Mayor Johnson began filling vacancies to the city’s land use boards with appointments who had ties to the real estate and development  industry.  Mr. Totino, an affable man, developed a cordial relationship with his new colleagues.  In fact, he cooperated with them so well on votes and  connected socially so well them that he became the development community’s favorite Democrat I am told.   He apparently was considered so reliable that Mayor Johnson chose to reappoint him when Totino first term was up.

Totino resigned before his second term ended.  Eventually the long and often dull meetings became too much for him.  He did not have the incentives of business opportunities that his other friends on the board enjoyed.

More recently, Commissioner Scirocco  appointed Totino to the Comprehensive Plan Committee.  As the readers of this blog may recall, the Committee had a series of votes meant to facilitate more intense development in the greenbelt by allowing Planned Unit Developments (PUDs).  This proposal was repeatedly defeated in seven to six votes.  This article by Tom Dimopoulos gives a good overview.  Link To Story

Then  Mr. Totino, Todd Shimkus, president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Jaclyn Hakes, the consultant working with the Comp Plan committee met together at the Mayor Yepsen’s invitation. At the next Comp Plan meeting, Mr. Totino, who had consistently voted against opening the greenbelt to more development suddenly and surprisingly changed his vote.

The public outcry at this Comp Plan Committee vote was so intense that it prompted Commissioner Mathiesen to introduce legislation banning PUDs in the greenbelt.  At a standing room only meeting the Council unanimously adopted Mathiesen’s resolution.

Shimkus was furious. He complained bitterly that the Mayor could not be trusted which simply reaffirmed the rumors about her involvement.  To say the least, it was an embarrassing moment for Totino.  Nevertheless, he sent out an email in which he defended his vote using the exact argument put forward by the Chamber that PUDs provided the tools needed for flexible development.

Mayor Yepsen believes that he is the best person that she can find in our city to serve on the Planning Board for the next seven years.