Sandy Cohen Responds To John Witt On Downton Walk

From Sandy Cohen:

I assume no one is surprised that I am responding to John Witt’s indictment of my earlier post, so I will attempt to speak to each of his points:

  • Anyone developing that particular lot for single- or two-family housing will have to remove the asbestos and chemicals from the property. (This is not a favor. It is a requirement.)
  • I cannot speak to the water main, but the proposed decorative eight-foot fence, as mentioned in other correspondence, will serve to shut out neighbors — both from the property itself as well as the sun during periods of the day.
  • Whether or not property values will be raised when a high-density condominium development enters an established single-family neighborhood remains to be seen. Many homes on Jumel Place are either over or close to 100 years old; so the likelihood of the city allowing new buyers to tear down existing homes to aspire to the levels of size and price that Downton Walk will bring to the area is somewhat low in a city that prides itself on historic preservation. (And, selling out is pretty much the only way anyone gets to enjoy a rise in property value. Otherwise, it is reflected only in higher taxes.)
  • Infill in urban areas means filling such places with compatible units. A multi-family condominium complex is NOT compatible within single-family/two-family zoning.
  • No one would have had any problem with four duplexes, either side-to- side or lower and upper. They would have been compatible, and they would have demanded a massing of only FOUR structures on the property (rather than seven), in as much as duplexes are connected with a common wall or floor-to-ceiling. That would have left space for greenery, for setbacks, for privacy. It also would have been much more in keeping with the Saratoga “row-house” construction.
  • It’s never productive when a respondent attempts to impugn an individual’s reputation. And it’s even worse when it deteriorates into untruth. Truth be told, no, I do NOT currently rent out my garage apartment. (I did for maybe 5 years total of the almost 26 years I have lived on the property.) But homes with garage apartments are not considered multi-family dwellings. (At most, they would fall into a grandfathered two-family category and, likely, are why two-family is accepted in the UR-3 zone. My property is grandfathered into the zoning laws, as it was built in 1878.) But, perhaps Mr. Witt is confused by the fact that my younger daughter currently lives in the garage apartment. She moved back to Saratoga in 2014 and has lived there since then. I do not charge her rent; and she, by the way, never had anyone knock on her door to see if she would like a multi-family condominium complex developed behind us.

If anyone thinks they can find that I have ever had a renter inside my home, have a go at it. (But you will be wasting your time.) I moved into the home in 1991, as a renter myself, with my two children. I raised them there — through both their tenures in the Saratoga Springs School system; and I have continued to live there once they left for college and beyond. The previous owner — who was related to the original owners who built the home and the one at 206 Lake — rented it to me for almost 10 years before he would agree to sell it to me.

We have NEVER had anyone rooming in the home with us. Perhaps Mr. Witt is confused by my eldest daughter having lived there for a year in 2013-2014 while she participated in a residency program at Saratoga Clay Arts Center, owned by Jill Kovachick. And, coincidentally, while she lived there, no one knocked at her door to ask if she would like to see a multi-family condominium complex developed behind us. During much of that time, I stayed in her home in Florida, to give her privacy. But, let me be clear, my home on Lake Avenue is my private, single-family, primary residence and has remained that way the entire time I have owned it.

My letter never attacked Mr. Witt personally. I believe I even called him a reputable builder. Much of what was written in that letter was questioning the ZBA for not requiring him to apply for a Use Variance, as necessary, along with reevaluating his Area Variance filings, since, in fact, they had all expired due to his failure to file an extension.

Based on our City’s Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Codes, multi-family units (which is how condominiums are defined in those documents) are not allowed in what the Comprehensive Plan calls CRN-1 nor in what the Zoning Codes call UR-3, which is where Jumel Place is located. To attempt to put a multi-family condominium complex inside that area requires a Use Variance, because it would be changing the zoning of part of that area. It is attempting to USE the area in a way it was neither planned nor zoned to be used.

Additionally, in the variances Mr. Witt has filed, he has not made his case regarding why four, two-family homes/duplexes would not solve his problems. It would give him eight homes to sell, rather than seven, so one would believe it would be even more profitable venture. As mentioned earlier, the difference is the number of actual structures, as two-family duplexes are adjoined wall-to-wall or floor-to-ceiling. I, for one, would be interested in seeing the beautiful row-house effect it could make while using less of the land surface and adhering to Saratoga style.

I also find it interesting that his filings mention some homes in the 2,000-2,700 sq. ft. range. Now, I’m reading that some might expand to 3,000+ sq. ft., which will likely either take up even more of the land or will increase in height – utilizing three floors, which is also part of the problem of massing and blockage of daylight.

I have never disputed Mr. Witt’s credentials; but please know that I also am not a neophyte to the development world. After several years abroad working on international tenders and other things for heavy civil engineering multi-national companies, my introduction to Saratoga Springs was being sent here to find a piece of land to develop what is now Interlaken. I found the land, worked on various phases of plan development, and headed up the marketing side of things. (I was also in charge of shepherding the Offering Plan through its stages before submittal to the State. I’m certain Mr. Witt will “enjoy” that part of condominium/townhouse development, if he prevails with Downton Walk as presented.) Personally, I’m hoping he won’t have to tackle that. I also worked on The Olde Nott Farm in Rexford and enjoyed a stint in marketing at The Michaels Group. So I, clearly, am not against development and progress in Saratoga Springs. And, lest you think I’m a NIMBY, rest assured that I am not. I simply do not want such a crowded complex back there when it needn’t be. And I am looking at dangers that lie ahead with such a breach of zoning laws.

So, now that Mr. Witt and I know each other’s credentials, can we please get back to the basic issue at hand? He needs to file a Use Variance with the ZBA. And the ZBA needs to look at this seriously. This is not a minor issue. As I have said before and will continue to say, if they grant what he currently wants, it will set a dangerous precedent wherein it will become easier and easier for future builders to interrupt the extensive planning and authentic style that Saratoga enjoys today.

One thought on “Sandy Cohen Responds To John Witt On Downton Walk”

  1. Since when is John Witt the code enforcer of this town? It’s none of his business whether any of the neighbors rent part of their homes or garages. In fact, the city is encouraging people to rent their garage lofts as living space, for affordable housing. Something this city desperately needs, and will never be provided by the “you-know-who’ builders who only care about how much profit they can make.

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