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 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.
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.
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.