An apology to commenters

My apologies to those of you who have sent comments to this blog in the past week.  I have been away and have had very poor internet connections.  Jane has filled in as substitute blogger  in my absence but has not had access to comments. I am back where I can connect again and will be posting the comments that have been accumulating.

Thank you for your patience.

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The High Rock Lot RFP Tech Review Committee Report: A Comprehensive Reality Check

The City Council held a special meeting at 5:30PM Thursday to hear the report of the High Rock Lot RFP Tech Review Committee.  The Committee was made up of appointees of each Council member and was set up to compare the two proposals received in response to the High Rock RFP sent out last year.

The meeting opened with a public comment period.  Rick Fenton announced a meeting the Citizens for High Rock would be holding at the Library Saturday afternoon from 2-3 the title of which is “People before Parking”. Mark Lawton asked for a public meeting to review the proposed lease with the City Center to build a parking structure.

Joe Ogden, the Deputy Mayor  and chair of the Tech Review Committee, began the committee’s presentation by explaining  the matrix the committee had constructed to try to compare the proposals from Hyman Hemispheric and the Paramount Realty Group in a variety of areas including parking, office/retail space, housing, integration with downtown, and financing. Ogden noted that in general the Paramount proposal was more detailed, the Hyman proposal more general. The complete matrix and other materials the committee put together for their presentation are posted on the city’s website:  http://www.saratoga-springs.org/  Their report was the only item on the Council meeting’s agenda.  The entire meeting can be viewed on the city’s website at http://www.saratoga-springs.org/agendacenter  Go to the February 25th meeting. I found the presentation to be very clear, well organized, and informative and helpful in sorting through these proposals and assessing their viability.  I would urge all my readers to look at the committee’s materials and also take time to watch the video of the meeting.

For those who are interested in the blogger’s account of what went on, here it is:

Ogden had various members of the committee report on different topics covered in the matrix.

Parking

Parking was reported on first.  The unanimous conclusion of the committee was that neither proposal had included enough parking to meet the needs of the City Center and the new parking needs created by the new construction being proposed. The RFP had called for a minimum of 600 spaces.  It was pointed out that this number was not intended to include additional parking needs created by new uses. There was much discussion about the number of parking spaces needed both at this point and later in the meeting.  John Franck challenged the committee’s numbers which estimated the proposals submitted would create a need for a total of 1,000 to 1,150 spaces.  The T6 area of downtown does not require new construction to provide any parking. The committee, however, felt that it was important to think about the ability of the neighborhood to absorb additional parking demands. It was pointed out that that area of the city would be losing the Collamer parking lot and that the new apartments going in the Algonquin building would mean those new tenants would be claiming other parking that had been available for rent. There was also the comment that there was the expectation that the Saratogian lot was slated for further development again adding to congestion in this area. This area was identified as one already stressed in terms of parking needs and traffic and the committee felt strongly that the proposals for the High Rock lot needed to address the additional demands that the proposals were creating for more spaces.  Creating adequate parking to meet new construction needs has been a reoccurring issue as the city grows most recently seen in the Moore Hall proposal where the neighborhood was expected to absorb the cars of new tenants.  The developers for High Rock seemed to be making a similar assumption that they could simply have their tenants and new customers they would attract compete for already scarce spaces in the High Rock neighborhood.

This report also noted that the expectation was that the developers would be sitting down with the City Center to understand their needs and integrate them into their plans. This apparently didn’t happen and there were varying accounts given as to why this didn’t happen.

Urban Form

Next was a discussion of “urban form”. Again it was pointed out that Paramount had given quite detailed plans and Hyman had presented essentially massing blocks representing possible structures in possible spaces and possible arrangements. Concern was expressed about both proposals’ ability to address the  challenges of the land at the site. Hyman’s plan would require significant excavation into rock.  Paramount is planning to put a parking level below grade something that others building in the area have found complicated by bedrock and the water table. The committee questioned whether the two developers had factored in these complications into both their building plans and their finances.

There was also concern expressed that both plans called for one exit and entry on to High Rock. This was identified as an already stressed  area . It was pointed out that no traffic study had been done so it was not possible to determine if High Rock had the capability to absorb this traffic pattern.

Finances

The committee members reporting on finances stated that “concerns remain with respect to the specifics of how each project will be financed and how any future revenue may or may not support the overall cost of the project.” They said that Hyman had given them no detailed financing  information  and no development budget, but proposed to buy the lot for $2.6 million. Paramount had also not given a detailed financial accounting. Both developers had indicated they would need or were interested in obtaining IDA money. One of the committee members, Rod Sutton, is the chair of the Saratoga County IDA. He pointed out that IDA funding was unlikely for either project since the IDA does not usually fund retail, housing, and office projects.

Q and A

The Council members then asked the committee a number of questions. John Franck was particularly aggressive challenging the committee’s conclusion that a larger number of parking spaces were needed than either proposal  offered. The committee members again replied to him that although parking is not required in the T6 area the land use boards usually want to consider what kind of stress will be put on the neighborhood if parking is not addressed.  They reiterated that the committee was unanimous in concluding that neither of the proposals would be adequately addressing the parking needs they would be creating.

Chris Mathiesen pointed out that Lake Ave and High Rock is already a problem area and he was concerned about making a bad situation worse.

Michele Madigan pointed out that the City Center parking proposal would only be encumbering one third of the lot reserving the rest of the parcel for future decisions about development.

The Developers Comment

Each developer was then given 15 minutes to respond to the report and Council questions.

Hyman claimed they had attempted to speak to the City Center but had not gotten a response and ended up FOILing them. Yepsen asked if they could increase parking and if they could be more specific about their architectural plans. Hyman responded that they could increase parking but could not get to the 1,000 spaces the committee felt were needed.  Mike Phinney, architect,   said that they had hoped to be chosen and then planned to engage with all the stakeholders to meet all their needs. “Buildings pop up over time” he said. There are a lot of possibilities and they would look at options.  He reiterated that they would like to have a big office building as part of their plan but that there was huge flexibility. He didn’t indicate where the employees of this big office space would park. Basically he reiterated what had been said at their original presentation and gave no specifics about architectural details, building materials, etc.

Paramount said they met with Mark Baker and couldn’t get firm numbers as to the City Center’s parking needs. He said their proposal conformed to the Comp Plan and that there would be different rooftops than the ones shown in their drawings.

Chris Mathiesen asked about the possibility of building a parking structure on the narrow lot across from the City Center on Maple Avenue. Paramount said they could do that and get 300 spaces there and said they had done an engineering study.

Michele Madigan asked Mark Baker to reply to some of the comments that the developers had made.  Mark had a different account of the interactions between the developers and the City Center.  He also pointed out that although Paramount claimed they had done an engineering study on the narrow Maple Avenue lot, no one had seen the study.

No action was taken by the Council.  Michele Madigan promised Mark Lawton that all details of a proposed contract between the city and the City Center for construction of a parking garage would be fully discussed and the subject of public hearings.

Bonacio Will Remove Walkway Built on Park Land

Jennie Grey has written an article in today’s Saratogian updating the issue of Bonacio Construction’s encroachment onto Congress Park land when they built Park Place. (see below) Bonacio will remove the walkway built on park land and the City Council will ask the State Legislature to give the city permission to allow the National Grid transformer to remain.  If permission is not granted, National Grid will have to move the transformer built to  serve the Park Place building.

 

 

Former City Council wrongfully allowed developer to build on Congress Park land

Former City Council allowed Bonacio Construction to encroach on Congress Park land

Neighbors to ZBA:39 Murphy Lane–a Case of Bait and Switch

The item on Monday night’s Zoning Board of Appeals agenda for 39 Murphy Lane read: “area variance modification for proposed changes to a previously approved barn conversion to single-family residence; seeking additional relief from the minimum front yard and rear yard requirements in the Urban Residential-3 District.”

I will provide a link to the video when it is available but here are my impressions from the evening.

First of all the Board met with two members, Skip Carlson and Adam McNeil, being replaced by alternates. Having alternates to fill in when Board members cannot be present seems like a good idea but raises a lot of questions I’m not sure have been thought through.  For instance, two alternates sat through and participated in the discussion of the Murphy Lane variances but there was no vote last night. Will the alternates be brought back for the vote on March 7 or will the regular board members who have now missed the discussion be voting?  Would the vote come out differently if the alternates not the regular Board members were voting? Some of the same questions could be asked of all the items on last night’s ZBA  agenda .

The review of Murphy Lane began with the applicant’s attorney trying to explain why the barn renovation they had brought before the Board had turned into a new construction single family house. She claimed that the applicant’s final purchase of the property was contingent on the renovation plans being approved by the ZBA. Since the applicant didn’t actually own the property she didn’t inspect the sills, walls, etc. and allegedly had no idea of the actual state of the barn.  Now the applicant is a real estate agent. It is hard for me to believe that she would make a purchase offer on a structure if she were unaware of its condition.  Anyway, her lawyer contended that once she started work on the structure it was all of a sudden discovered that there was significant deterioration and then one thing lead to another and sadly her intention to save the building gave way to replacing it with new construction. The good news, the attorney said ,was that they could eliminate one of the variances already granted and could reduce the others mainly it seemed by reducing the overhang of the roof.

Keith Kaplan noted that serious changes had been made and that a full basement that had been put in  was not in the original plans presented to the Board and had raised the whole structure two feet. He noted that the applicant and her lawyer were not ignorant applicants who were unaware of building requirements and procedures. Why, he asked them, when they decided to change the plans and put in a full basement didn’t they come back to the Board for approval.

The applicant first said she did it because she could get more storage space out of a basement.  Then, when pressed,  she said she had read the plans wrong and didn’t know she had to come back to the Board.  She just wanted to put in a basement she said.

Kaplan noted that the plans as submitted had not transpired and that made it difficult to balance the neighbor’s needs with the needs of the applicant.

Susan Steer made a strong statement criticizing the applicant. She said she was appalled by what had happened to the structure.  She had voted against the original variances and had no intention of approving the applicant’s new request. She wondered how far the whole project would have gone had the neighbors not been vigilant.

Gary Hasbrouck asked what degree of change in plans triggers a stop work order.

Steve Shaw, the city building inspector, noted he had received complaints from neighbors that the project was not going forward as presented. Shaw noted that changes are not unusual as a project proceeds. For instance if a stone foundation is being worked on and crumbles and requires an alternate plan that is not a big deal, but the building department should be consulted first. In the case of 39 Murphy Lane he said the changes increased significantly the amount of non compliance. Hasbrouck, the developers’ best friend on the Board, continued to question whether raising the foundation two feet affected the criteria they were supposed to use in granting variances and seemed to minimize the changes that had occurred in the plans for Murphy Lane.

James Helicke got straight to the point. “How is this a renovation?” he asked. “What percentage of this structure is part of the original barn? I see all new.”

William Moore admitted that when he voted for the variances he didn’t picture what is there now and would not have approved what it has turned into.

Helicke pointed out that the applicant herself had stated in her application that “Tearing down the barn and starting new would cause a detriment to the neighborhood and community character” and that this was obviously a self-created problem.

Sheri Grey, one of the alternates, commented that the barn should still be in existence to call it a renovation and that she felt this was not a re-use of existing space.

Moore asked Shaw what would happen if the new variances were not approved. Shaw replied that the project could not proceed and that the applicant would have to come back with another plan.

Kaplan asked for additional information to clarify the change in height. Shaw pointed out that a significant amount of fill had been brought into the site so it was not flat anymore and this would affect an attempt to measure the original height of the building versus what was being proposed. Other Board members asked for a comparison of the height of the project to surrounding structures.

At 7:55 the neighbors had their chance to speak. Mr. Moore did not limit speakers to two minutes this time. The neighbors were articulate and focused in their remarks. Many came armed with photos showing the original barn and the new structure for the Board to compare. The new owners of 74 White Street noted that they had decided to buy their property based on the assurance that the barn renovation would create a “cute little cottage” as William Moore had described it and felt they had been subjected to a bait and switch.  They noted that the plans were constantly changing so it was hard to make an informed decision.  They noted a number of indignities they had gone through including construction workers urinating in their yard, construction debris being dumped in their yard, and vehicles using their yard as a turn around.  When they brought all this to the attention of the applicant she merely told them to call the builder. Other neighbors testified that the applicant had told different stories about who would inhabit the new structure. Some were told the applicant herself and her family would move in. Others were told someone who lived in Florida and just came up for the races would move in. Some neighbors were told there would be an apartment in the basement. One neighbor was told the applicant planned to just flip the house. Other neighbors pointed out that the new height and window placement meant that the structure would overlook their yards and invade their privacy. Others noted that if this applicant were allowed to get away with this project it would set a precedent for other applicants in the future to do what they want and as one neighbor put it come to the board to “ask forgiveness, not approval.” A number of neighbors argued that the previous variances had been granted for work on a barn that no longer existed and so those variances were now null and void. The applicant should start over and apply for new variances based on new construction of a single family house on the plot.

Once again I was proud to live in a neighborhood where neighbors turned out to support each other and where so many spoke with clarity and argued so persuasively. But all this is to be continued. No vote was taken on the project.  The Board requested more information from the applicant. Possibly new players will be at the table next time if Carlson and McNeil, both of whom had approved the previous variances, are present.  Stay tuned—the project at 39 Murphy Lane will be back before the ZBA on March 7.

 

 

Another Disgrace For The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors

For sixteen years I was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council (President Johnson’s war on poverty).  During that time I frequently worked with the Saratoga County Public Health Nursing Service.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I admired these women (they were all women).

Their work with my agency was above and beyond their normal duties but these women, who visited homebound elderly and disabled, did whatever it took to help the people they were caring for.

I was appalled to read in today’s Gazette that Saratoga County is discontinuing this agency’s home nursing services.  The county alleges that there has been a dropping demand for these services and that the program has been losing money.

Of course, in the spirit of the way the county is run, the nurses were notified on the same day that the county publicly announced that it would discontinue the service.  According to the Gazette, as early as November, the county had applied to the New York State Health Department to end the service.  Apparently, they have given thirty days notice to both the employees and the people being served that the service will end.  I have no idea how difficult it will be for the existing clients to find another source.  I feel just as confident that the county has done no planning for transitioning the clients since they have kept this entire business secret.

One might ask, why is it that private agencies can make this service work financially but our county cannot?  People asked the same questions when the county closed our nursing home and sold it to a private for profit corporation.  They never got an answer.

So what happened with transparency?  Wouldn’t a decision like this involve some sort of public debate by the county supervisors and some sort of vote?  I know it is rather quaint of me to ask that question.

So where are our Supervisors?  In the past I would have emailed them about this but I have learned that both Peter Martin and Matt Veitch are incapable of action in these matters or of thoughtfully responding.  I will save Supervisor Veitch the trouble of emailing me his response.  He will simply repeat the position of the County Administrator that the service loses money and that other private agencies will fill the gap.  If I ask him to offer any proof of these assertions he will simply tell me that the issue is closed.  Peter Martin will email me back that he is forwarding my email to the County Administrator.

Neither of these two men will have any idea about the harm that this may do to some very vulnerable people.  They simply do not care.

Here is the story:

Saratoga County to end home nursing visits

Layoffs of 12 nurses, six clerical staff also announced

The Saratoga County Public Health Nursing Service is going out of the home nursing business next month, with the anticipated layoff of 18 county employees.

County officials said the county will stop doing home visit nursing on March 22, with an anticipated layoff of a dozen nurses and a half-dozen clerical staff.

County officials said the change is driven by dropping demand for the service and its financial losses, but the county employees’ union, the Civil Service Employees’ Association, is expressing outrage.

The union said the information only reached it on Thursday — the same day the county announced the service elimination to the public, though without revealing the pending job cuts.

“CSEA has learned that the county laid out plans over a several-month period beginning in October continuing straight through to discussions with the state Department of Health,” said CSEA Regional President Kathy Garrison. “All actions on the part of county officials were carried out in secrecy with no notice to employees or residents. CSEA received notice yesterday.”

According to the county’s statement released late Thursday, last summer the Board of Supervisors hired an outside consultant to complete an analysis of the county’s certified home health agency, which recommended the county exit the business, in part because the service is also available privately. There is no record, however, of that report having been made public.

The request to close the program was submitted to the state Department of Health last November, county officials said, and was recently approved by DOH.

Giving 30 days notice that the services will end, the county can also stop taking any new referrals, effective immediately.

County Administrator Spencer Hellwig noted that the changing health care landscape and financial losses of home nursing services mean many other counties have also dropped the service in recent years.

“In 2012, there was 36 counties with certified home health programs, and now there are 12,” he said on Friday.

None of the other counties in the Capital Region provide county-funded home nursing, according to a Health Department data base.

The number of referrals for home care from hospitals or doctors has been dropping, and the county has been losing money providing the service, officials said, despite Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursements.

Hellwig said the county lost $316,000 providing the service in 2014, and will have lost around $350,000 in 2015, once figures are finalized.

The same kind of services are available from six non-government nursing services that provide “excellent” care, county officials said.

The nursing service has 86 employees, 29 of whom work in the home health care program. Hellwig said 11 will be moving into other jobs, while the details of the layoffs still need to be negotiated with CSEA officials.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, a former county supervisor, said she was concerned about both the loss of services and the loss of jobs.

“As mayor I can say I’m very concerned and I can only imagine what the residents feel when they get the letter saying the service will no longer be provided,” she said.

The public health nursing department, based in the county’s Saratoga Springs office building, has been slowly transitioning into a more broad-based public health agency for at least a decade.

The nursing service is putting more attention on addressing public health issues like reducing smoking, providing immunizations, screening for lead exposure, evaluating community health risks, and addressing concerns about communicable diseases.

The state Health Department has pressured the county to create a more full-service public health department, getting away from the in-home nursing mission.

According to the county announcement, the nursing service will stop taking Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance payments for providing home health care at the end of the business day on March 21.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, swilliams@dailygazette.net or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

 

Renderings And Fact Sheet From City Center

City Center Parking Slides 10
Overpass #1
City Center Parking Slides 12 (2)
Walk Way Looking North
Highrock North 2
Looking West
City Center Parking Slides 11 (3)
Overpass #2
Highrock North 1 Revised
Looking Northward

 

CITY CENTER PARKING  STRUCTURE                   12-21-‘15

                                                FACT  SHEET

What is the “parking structure”?

The City Center Authority is proposing to build a 480 space parking facility on a portion of the High Rock Parking lot-directly east of the City Center; net gain of 292 parking spots.  Balance of High Rock lot left for future development.

Who will construct and pay for the structures maintenance?

The City Center Parking structure will be paid for and maintained by the City Center. There will be no expense to the City.

Why is additional parking needed?

The success of the City Center and the vibrancy of downtown businesses have created the need for several hundred more parking spaces, year round.

Who will be able to use the parking?

The newly created parking inventory will be available to everyone (shoppers, guests and downtown employees) not just attendees at the City Center.

Will the new parking be paid parking?

Yes. The rate is 1st hour free, 2nd hour $1.00, all day (8 hr.) $5.00 and overnight rate $10.00

Is this leased property and if so what will the City receive?

The City Center parking facility will use only the northerly portion of the High Rock Lot,  leaving 93  free surface spaces.  The lease is proposed as a 25 year agreement.  The City would receive $50,000. annual lease payment, + 50% of the net revenues; after operating costs, debt service and reserves.

What will this provide besides basic parking?

Direct, covered connection to the City Center and Broadway. It includes an accommodation for the  downtown “shared path” for the Green Belt and a civic area (AGORA) which may be the  home of the Farmer’s Market and host venue for other community events.

How will this parking facility work with High Rock Park?

It will create a gate-way into the park area, adding more light, life and activity. Plus more parking.

How much will this cost the City Center?  

$10.5  million dollars

How long will it take to build?

8 to 10 months. Phasing will be used to eliminate as much disruption as possible.

Mathiesen Pursues Change In Comp Plan to protect area threatened by hospital

Unfortunately, I doubt Commissioner Mathiesen can even get  a second, but Commissioner Mathiesen continues in his role  representing the “little people.”

Article From The Saratogian

Mathiesen calls for a Comprehensive Plan change

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 02/17/16, 6:00 PM EST | Updated: 2 hrs ago

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> At the Feb. 16 city council meeting, Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen set a date for a public hearing that could affect Saratoga Hospital’s plan to construct a medical office building on Morgan Street. He is calling for a reversion of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan map “institutional” designation on Myrtle Street north of Church Street and on Morgan Street to the prior designation of “residential.”

Mathiesen has said he sides with the residents there who are opposed to the project.

“I don’t think this parcel should be used for anything other than residential use,” he said.

Last year, the council adopted a new comprehensive plan, which made provisions for the proposed hospital expansion. Mathiesen now says the plan should be amended to eliminate that expansion.

“At the time, the council had a lot of other matters before it and didn’t give the attention it should have to this parcel,” he said. “Plus, I don’t think neighbors were aware of the hospital’s plan then.”

The hospital’s $14 million expansion project was proposed to help consolidate physicians and patients in one space in close proximity to the hospital, and to provide better patient care and efficiency. Saratoga Hospital has therefore planned to construct a new medical office building on Morgan Street solely for its physician employees and their staffs. The proposed building would be constructed roughly 200 yards north of the hospital’s main location at 211 Church St.

Specialties to be housed in the new building may include oncology, general surgery, bariatric surgery, urology, pulmonology, nephrology, cardiology and general family practice.

For the hospital to construct this Morgan Street building, the city council would need to vote to amend the now-residential zoning and make the 8.5 acres part of the existing Saratoga Hospital planned unit development (PUD) in that area. The city planning board has already returned a favorable advisory opinion on the PUD to the city council.

Since filing its application in August 2015, the hospital has been working cooperatively with area neighbors to address concerns over such issues as building height, lighting, stormwater management and traffic.

The city council has been hearing from the hospital, its development team and the residents. The neighbors have been very clear in stating they don’t want their residential neighborhood rezoned to take in so much business and traffic as they say the hospital offices will create.

Saratoga Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Angelo Calbone said, “Saratoga Hospital has been in this neighborhood for 100 years. So I understand the concern residents have. We are being very sensitive in how we plan to place this medical office building. We are first and foremost a hospital, dedicated to our patients; but next, we want to be a good neighbor.”

Matters became more complicated when Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Accounts Commissioner John Franck recused themselves from any discussion or vote on the hospital PUD, citing a conflict of interest. Yepsen may do work for the Hospital Foundation in future, and Franck does the taxes of two homeowners’ associations near the proposed medical facility site.

When the neighbors sent a petition, that resulted in the council needing a super-majority to vote, which it lacks because of the recusals.

“So if the PUD expansion application is dead in the water for the hospital, I didn’t want the zoning of that Morgan Street property left in limbo,” Mathiesen said. “It’s a beautiful, historic piece of land. I want to change it back to residential.”

He also said he’s suggested to the hospital that it seek an alternative parcel of land to build on, rather than pour more resources into getting the rezoning.

Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo said a proposed amendment to the Comprehensive Plan required a certain amount of notice before holding a public hearing. The date was set for March 15 at 6:45 p.m.