I spent the day at the Unified Development Ordinance workshops a few weeks ago. I have to say that it was quite fun. John Behan was the facilitator of most of the individual groups I sat in on and he kept the discussion lively and interesting.
I did not attend the evening general session but the most interesting things to me were who did not attend the day’s events and how little of the discussions focused on specific changes to the city ordinances. Todd Shimkus, the head of the Chamber of Commerce did not attend. David Carr and Mike Ingersoll of the LA Group attended. Samantha Bossart, the executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation was quite active. The city’s planning staff was heavily represented all day.
The initial session in the morning filled three large tables with about fifty people. The rest of the day, aside from staff there were about thirty participants. Again, I did not attend the evening general session.
Here are some brief observations:
- Charlie Brown, chairperson of the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee, shared his prepared statement which I posted several days ago. The statement questioned why the advisory committee called for in the contract with the city had not been established. John Behan did not respond directly but offered that the drafts, as they evolved, would be posted on the UDO website.
- Matt Jones, noting with good humor how uncomfortable he was agreeing with me, noted the need for the land use boards to operate more efficiently. We both agreed that there was a critical need to expand the staff of the planning office including building inspection and code enforcement.
- Bob McTague expressed a concern I heard a number of times, that the greenbelt needed to be rigorously protected.
- Samantha Bossart noted it would be helpful if the materials for land use meetings included a check list of the documents and issues to be discussed. She argued that if all the required information is not submitted for a particular project/application, that the board should postpone consideration pending receiving all required documents. She also argued that preservation should be seen as a key element in sustainability.
- There was a very interesting discussion that involved David Carr from the LA Group and an engineer from Glens Falls about the issue of public lighting. This involved not only the issue of light “pollution” but what could be done to conserve energy by rethinking what should be lit and how bright that lighting should be.
- A couple who had recently moved here from Chicago talked about the program in Chicago that involved compost. Apparently Chicago has special receptacles that are provided to the community for composting as a way of minimizing what goes into the waste stream.
- There were some interesting discussions about how the city should address the growing short term rental market given the growing popularity of Airbnb and VRBO. As it turns out and as was noted in a recent post, the city has launched an enforcement campaign while simultaneously rewriting the ordinances for this.
- The issue of enforcement came up repeatedly but not about rental issues. People were quite upset at the apparent violations of city ordinances for things like setbacks, sidewalks, height, etc. that draw no penalty from the city. Tony Izzo, the city attorney, argued that proper enforcement would require additional staff for licensing, administration, and prosecution.
Given the generality of many of the suggestions, I asked John Behan how this would translate into ordinance language. He said it would be the responsibility of his firm to craft the language. His firm would be publishing an “ordinance diagnostic” report which I was a little unclear about but which I think will lay out the issues that need to be addressed in crafting the ordinances.
Mr. Behan said the site would post all the comments they receive and identify who submitted them. At some point a draft representing 50% of the final document would be posted on their site. He said they might have another workshop.