Still In The Game

JohnWithFriendOnMonomoyShoals
John and a local

Readers may have noted a slowdown in postings on my site.  As the picture documents, I have been rather absorbed over on Cape Cod.  Still, when not eating, sleeping, and fishing, I do find time to follow local events.  I have just posted a major story and am working on another one… Whoa!  Hooked up!  Gotta Go!

 

Feature: The Unfortunate And All Too Familiar Story Of Anita Daly’s Appointment To County Mental Health

 

Introduction

I recently received an analysis and narrative that documents the history of the hiring of Anita Daly, ex-Supervisor for the town of Clifton Park to a position with the Saratoga County Mental Health Department.  Before publishing the piece I sent copies to Peter Martin and Matt Veitch who are the Supervisors from Saratoga Springs giving them an opportunity to respond.  I also sent a copy to Dr. Frank Arcangelo who chairs the Saratoga County Community Services Board.  The only one to respond was Matt Veitch.  The apparent use of the Saratoga County Department of Mental Health as a vehicle for partisan political appointments is deeply troubling particularly given the extremely vulnerable population that they serve.   The history of the hiring Dr. Prezioso as director of this agency was thoroughly documented on this blog earlier.  In fact, it was one of the reasons I started this blog.  The New York State Department of Mental Hygiene  cited Dr. Prezioso  at his previous job for sexual harassment and his present administration of the county agency has been severely criticized by many staff members. It seems the same players, the Supervisors and Arcangelo and CSB, who were involved in securing a position for Prezioso at the County Mental Health Department are now also responsible for the Daly hiring.

  The author of the piece prefers to remain anonymous.  I include below his original piece along with his response to Matt Veitch’s response.  I thought it was interesting that while Veitch defended the Board of Supervisors in this matter, he pointedly declined to address the ethics of Anita Daly’s  behavior.

Analysis / Narrative

A Case Study: Saratoga County Government in Action

The recent appointment of a sitting member of the Board of Supervisors to a newly created $66,234 title in the County Mental Health Department presents as an interesting case study of the internal operation of Saratoga County government and the contrasts between its adopted policies and their selected application.

And a story published in the Monday, May 16, edition of the Albany “Times Union” serves to remind how many members of the political class, at all levels, abuse their offices for personal gain and, in so doing, further erode public trust and confidence in government.

The May 16 story reports on the soon to be made Clifton Park Town Board appointment to fill the unexpired term of Anita Daly who recently resigned her seat on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors to take a newly created job in the County Mental Health Clinic along with a 250% salary increase and a proportionate increase in pension benefits.

But we get ahead of ourselves.  Let’s go back to the beginning of this story, which seems to have its start in December 2015, shortly after Daly was re-elected Clifton Park Town supervisor and even before she took her oath of office.

It is now well reported that the Chair of the County Board of Supervisors has acknowledged  Daly’s desire to find full time government employment and was willing to resign from the Board of Supervisors to take advantage of a more lucrative appointment. “We don’t make a lot of money working at the county,” Chairman right said of the annual salaries paid to the part-time county supervisors. Daly was paid $18,580 in 2015. “That’s not a lot of money to try and live on. You can’t really hate somebody for trying to better themselves.

Fair enough, but the chair neglected to note that all but four members of the Board also receive substantial compensation as members of their respective town boards and many also enjoy private or other public sector employment.  And if a potential elected officials cannot “make a lot of money working for the county” perhaps they should not run for office.  It it not “public service” and not “service the politician?”

To his credit the chair acknowledged in a “Times Union” story that the February resolution that will allow the Clifton Park Town Board to appoint Daly’s successor was directly a result of Daly’s well known interest in quitting her elected position and gaining a full-time job. Thus he seems to admit that at least as early as February the County administration had set in motion a strategy to create a job tailored for Daly, ensure that no Civil Service examination would initially be necessary and allow her soon to be vacant seat on the Board of Supervisors to be filled by the Town Board.

Chairman Wright further referenced discussions to vest the appointment with the Clifton Park Town Board were only recently fast-tracked after county officials told the Republican-controlled Board of Supervisors that if it did not pass the provision, the appointment would rest with the governor.

The Public Record:

What Is Known (and Not Known) The available public record on Daly’s appointment begs several unanswered questions regarding the role and function of various officials and committees of the Board of Supervisors, the defined statutory role of the County Community Services Board and the propriety of a legislator voting to create a title for which she was a candidate.

More on all that later, but first let’s present the case details in a non-value laden form, as they are known from existing public records.

On April 13, 2016 Supervisor Anita Daly of Clifton Park announced her resignation effective April 19.  Her resignation statement was memorialized in the Board of Supervisor’s  April 13 Agenda session minutes and specifically referenced “… weeks  of  discussions  with  you (the chair of the Board).”

These acknowledged “ … weeks of discussions … “ with the chair of the board preceding her resignation and appointment would suggest that such discussions began in mid-March at the latest and perhaps much earlier.

It is also known that Daly was to become the Mental Health Clinic’s Education and Community Relations Coordinator effective April 22, a few day following her resignation.  It remains to be determined when the actual appointment was made and who signed the required documents.

Prior to her resignation much was taking place in Clifton Park and at the County Seat to ensure a seamless, quiet transition.  Paramount, of course, was the need to make sure her seat on the Board of Supervisors would be filled by the Republican hierarchy.

The chronology below presents the significant actions taken by the County Administration, key committees of the Board of Supervisors and the Clifton Park Town Board to accommodate Daly and ensure that her successor possessed the required political pedigree.

The chronology also references the meetings of the Public Health Committee of the Board of Supervisors and the County Community Services Board which were held during the same time frame – January through April – but at which NOTHING was presented or said about the then proposed deletion of one job and the creation of the one Daly would be appointed to.

This appears particularly interesting because both the Public Health Committee and the County Community Services Board seem to have MANDATED roles in the creation of the new title and appointment.  Roles they did not play because, apparently, they were never advised of what was taking place until after the fact.

The role of the Public Health Committee is described in the Rules and Regulations of the Board of supervisors and includes the following language: “ … and to have general supervision over the  operations and programs of the Saratoga County Public Health Nursing Service and the Saratoga County Mental Health Center.”  Certainly “general supervision” would pertain to abolishing and creating job titles in the Mental Health Center.

And what of the County Community Services Board?  This Board is a “local government unit” as defined in the NYS Mental Hygiene Law and its members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors and specifically vested by State Law with the “full powers necessary for the administration and execution of its duties to appoint and employ … full and part time officers, employees and consultants …” of the County Mental Health Clinic (see NYS Mental Hygiene Law, Section 41.13 (a) and (d).

Yet, in spite of this apparent statutory role in the administration of County Mental Health staffing, the Community Services Board – according to its published meeting minutes – was not even made aware of the creation of the Daly job until after the fact.  At its February 24 meeting the Community Services Board  was simply advised of the new job by the Mental Health director. Here is how that announcement was noted in the minutes of the Community Services Board’s February meeting.

“DIRECTOR’S REPORT/OLD BUSINESS“

“Staffing”

“Regarding the Nurse Practitioner  item – there  is  a  provision  in  the  contract  with  the  hospital  that  would  make  the  NP  item  a  hospital  employee.  The  hospital  is  not          willing  to  change  the  wording of the contract which prevents the County from hiring for  this position.”  [JK: This would interfere with the County patronage system]

“The funds for the Nurse Practitioner item will be used to fund a new position-Education and Human Relation Coordinator.”

Chronology January 11, 2016

Public Health Meeting:  No mention or discussion of   abolishing Nurse Practitioner in Mental Health and establishing “Education and Community Relations Coordinator.”

January 17, 2016

County Community Services Board Meeting:  No mention or discussion of abolishing Nurse Practitioner in Mental Health and establishing “Education and Community Relations Coordinator,” although it alone is  vested by NYS Mental Hygiene Law with the power to “…appoint and employ … “  [JK: Echo of Prezioso hiring]

February 3, 2016

Personnel and Insurance Committee Meeting: Recommends creation of “Education and Community Relations Coordinator” title in Mental Health and sends recommendation to Law and Finance Committee, bypassing \Public Health Committee.

February 8, 2016

Public Health Meeting: No mention or discussion of abolishing Nurse  Practitioner in Mental Health and establishing “Education and Community Relations Coordinator.” Note:  While the  Rules of the Board of Supervisors require the PUBLIC  HEALTH COMMITTEE  “To  oversee  generally  all County  health  programs, including the Physically Handicapped Children’s program;  to consult with the County Community Services Board;  and to have general supervision over the  operations and programs of the Saratoga County Public Health Nursing Service and the Saratoga County Mental Health Center,” the Committee never took up or acted to recommend the action initiated at the February 3 Personnel and Insurance Committee meeting.

February 8, 2016

Clifton Park Town Board Meeting: Res. 27 of 2016 sets public hearing on Local Law to establish procedures for filling vacancy in the office of County Supervisor.

February 10, 2016

Law and Finance Committee Meeting: Recommends amending  compensation  schedule to abolish one  position  of  Psychiatric Nurse  Practitioner  and  create  one position of Education and Community Relations Coordinator in the Mental Health Clinic and passes same to Board of Supervisors Agenda  which met 30 minutes later.

February 10, 2016

Agenda Meeting, Board of Supervisors: Moves recommendation to amend compensation schedule to abolish one  position  of  Psychiatric Nurse  Practitioner  and  create  one position of Education and Community Relations Coordinator in the Mental Health Department.  Supervisor Daly votes  in favor of the proposed change.

February 23, 2016

Board of Supervisors Meeting:  Board adopts resolution amending the County compensation schedule by abolishing one position of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and creating the new title of Education and Community Relations Coordinator.  The title now exists and is funded.

February 24, 2016

Saratoga County Community Services Board Meeting:  The Board is advised by the Director of Mental Health that “The funds for the Nurse  Practitioner item will be used to fund a new position-Education and Human Relation Coordinator.”

March 7, 2016

Clifton Park Town Board Meeting: Res. 58 of 2016 adopted Local Law No. 1 of 2016.  Once filed with the Secretary of State’s Office it will go into effect and the Town Board will be able to appoint Daly’s successor.

April 13, 2016

Agenda Meeting:  Daly reads letter addressed to the chair of the Board announcing her resignation from the Board of Supervisors effective at the end of the April 19 meeting.  Daly says:  “After  weeks  of  discussions  with you,  I  am  here  today  to  announce  my  resignation  from  public office as a member  of  the  Saratoga  County  Board  of  Supervisors, rrepresenting  the  people  of  Clifton  Park  effective at  the close of the April 19, 2016 County Board Meeting.” Presumably those “ .. weeks of discussion … “ dealt with the minutia of all this but apparently failed to address the potential application of the County Code of Ethics adopted by the Board of Supervisors  (which Daly voted for) that would seem to have prohibited her from voting to establish the very job she was to fill, and require disclosure of her interest in it (see below).  She neither disclosed nor recused from voting to create the position. The pertinent sections of the County Ethics Code follow. Section 42-3 Prohibited activities; disclosure of interest; Prohibited activities. All County officials, employees, appointees and volunteers must avoid conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest. A conflict or potential conflict exists whenever such person has knowledge, actual or constructive, that he or she has or will foreseeably have any interest, direct or indirect, which conflicts with his or her duty to the County or which could adversely affect the individual’s judgment in the discharge of his or her County responsibilities.

Disclosure of Interest.  Any official, employee, appointee or volunteer who at any time during the last two years had or now has, or who will have or intends to acquire a direct or indirect interest in any matter being considered by the County of Saratoga or by any official, board, agency, officer or employee of the County of Saratoga, and who participates in any discussion with or gives an opinion or advice to any board, agency or individual considering the same, shall publicly disclose forthwith on the official record the nature and the extent of such interest.”

April 19, 2016

Resignation effective April 23

New job

So there it is in a nutshell.


Matt Veitch Responds

From: Matthew E. Veitch [mveitch@saratogacountyny.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2016 11:15 PM
To: John Kaufmann
Subject: RE: Comment

Hi John-here’s my comment-

The Personnel and Insurance committee is the committee for the
abolishment and creation of positions at the County, and
almost all Personnel decisions (for all departments) for
consideration for the Board of Supervisors go through this
committee.  Public Health does not have to (and likely would
not) originate the process to create the position, or be very
much involved in it, except to be made aware that the
personnel committee was working on it.  The record spells that
out.  Public Health was not ‘bypassed’ since that is our
process.  Perhaps the wording on the role of Public Health and
other Committees in the Board’s Rules should be changed in
references to staffing or positions. Nothing precludes Public
Health from proposing a position, but if that were to occur,
it would be referred to Personnel & Insurance for evaluation,
and then if approved by Personnel, referred to Law & Finance.

As far as the Community Services Board is concerned, I’m not
sure if statutorily they have the power to block or reject a
decision the County makes in regard to staff positions at the
Mental Health Center.  So I have no comment on that part of
your blog post.

As far as discussions regarding the position: Former
supervisor Daly and I never had any direct discussions
regarding her interest in this position.  As Chairman of the
Board last year, this was not discussed in any meeting that I
can remember.  Of course, Supervisor Wright was the incoming
Chairman, so as has been reported and public statements made,
she was discussing it most likely with him at that time or
early this year.

I can tell you that when the resolution creating the Mental
Health Coordinator position was presented, I supported moving
forward with this position, as how it was explained to me made
sense in terms of serving our residents
better.  Potential candidates for the job were not discussed.

As far as the resolution to change how County Supervisors are
appointed for the Town of Clifton Park-There is the
legislative function of what they did, and what the purpose
was.  Basically their local law and the County resolution
match the process for both the City of Saratoga Springs and
City of Mechanicville, the other communities with ‘County
only’ Supervisors.  The City’s process (which now matches
Clifton Park) would have the exact opposite effect if I were
to resign-a Democratic City Council would get to appoint my
replacement, most likely a Democrat.  My guess is that the
City got its approval in a past year when a resignation of a
Supervisor was imminent and the City’s Party in power at the
time wanted ‘their person’ appointed.

Also-it is not customary at the Board of Supervisors or my
place as a Supervisor from a neighboring community, to dictate
how another town wishes to do their ‘process’.  You would need
to ask the Town Supervisor or board members from the Town why
they needed to pass the resolution when they did.  I voted in
favor because it was something that the town wanted.  If it
was fast tracked to make the appointment process more
convenient for the town because of Supervisor Daly’s goals-
well again I didn’t know for certain that she would be getting
the job.  If it was known, then it’s unfortunate that it was
not shared at that time with the Supervisors.

As I recall, the resolution was presented to The Board as
‘cleaning up the record’ to make the appointment process match
for all ‘County only’ Supervisors, on the Town’s initiative
after a review of their policies.  The statements made by the
Chairman to the press as to why we moved forward with the law
do not match what was presented to me as a Supervisor voting
on the items that came before me.  Maybe we remember it
differently.

As far as the ethics of it all…you would have ask Supervisor
Daly about why she voted for the creation of the positon or of
any subsequent votes or statements she has made about it.  All
ethics decisions made by any elected official to recuse or
disclose (or not to) or vote on items that come before them
need to be weighed by the individual. I won’t comment on the
ethics decisions of others, and I don’t feel it is my place to
do so.

Speaking for myself, I recuse or disclose in situations where
I decide I need to, and do my best to be up front about any
conflict of interest I may have with matters that come before
the Board of Supervisors.  If I were in the same situation,
and a position at the County became available or was created
that I (or a close relative) might be interested in, I would
make sure to be up front with the public regarding my interest
in it or relationship to it and recuse, disclose or abstain
from voting on anything pertaining to it.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to respond.

Matthew E. Veitch
Supervisor-Saratoga Springs
474 Broadway
City Hall
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
(518) 587-2198


Anonymous Author Responds

We appreciate Supervisor Veitch’s response to the piece on the recent resignation of then Supervisor Daly and her virtually simultaneous appointment to a newly established County Mental Health Clinic job, one which she voted to title and salary while still a member of the Board.

The original piece noted the role and function of County Public Health Committee as detailed in the most current Rules and Regulations of the Board of Supervisors.  Those rules are unequivocal and exclusively assign to the Public Health Committee  the ” … general supervision over the  operations and programs of the Saratoga County Public Health Nursing Service and the Saratoga County Mental Health Center.”  Certainly “general supervision” would pertain to abolishing and creating job titles in the Mental Health Center.

He seems to argue that the clear language of the Committee’s mandate to have “general supervision” over the operations and programs of the Mental Health Center does not include recommending new program content and its appropriate staffing pattern.  Such an argument turns logic on its head, for how can the Public Health Committee play its statutory role in program design if it is not even made aware of the concept until it has been advanced to the full Board of Supervisors?  It can not.

To overcome this obvious contradiction he simply suggests that the rules be retroactively changed.  Common sense dictates that if the Public Health Committee is to have supervision over, in this case, programs of the Mental Health Center then it should be the starting point for a program design that includes a needs analysis, cost benefit review and program design.  This should, as we shall see, be a role played in consultation with the County Community Services Board.  Instead, the Daly job proposal went straight to the Personnel and Insurance Committee and was passed immediately to Law and Finance and  then – and literally –  a few minutes later to the Agenda Session of the Board of Supervisors.  The minutes of those meeting reference ABSOLUTELY NO discussion, comment, question, etc.

Next, and perhaps more troubling, is the fact that the County Community Services Board – established by and given its authority in NYS Mental Hygiene Law – was, according to its minutes first told of this new job by staff on February 24, AFTER the Board of Supervisors had already  established it.  This although state law vests the Community Sevices Board with the “full powers necessary for the administration and execution of its duties to appoint and employ … full and part time officers, employees and consultants …” of the County Mental Health Clinic (see NYS Mental Hygiene Law, Section 41.13 (a) and (d).

Veitch dismisses all this by spinning the issue.  He says that he does not know if the Community Services Board can ” … reject or block a decision the County makes in regard to staff positions at the Mental Health Center.”  In so doing he admits that it was the  “County” and not the Community Services Board, solely vested with the appointing authority, that filled the title.  Time does not here permit other issues related to ignored role of the CSB to be explored.

He responds to the curious matter of the parallel course traveled by the Board of Supervisors and the Clifton Park Town Board to assume the authority to appoint a successor to Daly at the same time that her new job was being created by ‘guessing’ the motive but then, in a matter of fact manner affirms that this manipulation was “fast tracked” beginning in January as a ‘convenience’ to the Clifton Park because of Daly’s know ‘goals.’  Of course, the real issue is not what the Town and County did to allow Daly’s successor to be appointed by the political hierarchy, but rather that the action telegraphed what has all the appearances of a tailor made job created for a sitting member of the Board of Supervisors and employing an abbreviated process.  That seems the real issue and  one that we can’t fault Supervisor Veitch for avoiding.

Finally, we appreciate Matt’s comments on the issues raised by the apparent failure of Daly to “disclose” and “recuse” her interest in the job – as seemingly required by the County Ethics Code – that she was then about to vote to create and salary.  He says, to his credit,  that – in the same position – he would have followed the Ethics Code mandates.

So we appreciate Matt’s response to the post, particularly because he makes so little effort to challenge any of its content and, in fact, seems to affirm most of it.  The Board of Supervisors and particularly its standing and appointed committees and boards really need to take control of their own agendas and be responsible for their defined responsibilities.  Allowing staff and the administration to manipulate or dictate is no longer acceptable because it becomes an embarrassment at best and something far more problematic at worst.  Time for some to get off their duffs and start asking questions.

Too bad we no longer have a press willing or able to review these matters for the public. This kind of legislative and political game playing to benefit one of their own is only made easier by a weak press and a lazy political opposition.

Jumel Place Neighbors On Monday Night’s ZBA Meeting

THIS MONDAY EVENING – MAY 23 – ZONING BOARD – “DOWNTON WALK” – LIKELY FINAL VOTE.

EVERY COMMENT IS CRUCIAL

Hi folks,

Hang in there, and please come to the next (and possibly final) meeting. We need you!

Thanks to all who attended the last ZBA meeting.

The zoning board will vote on our appeal (and, we fear from their comments at the last meeting, not in our favor). They will then go right back, the same night, to considering the “Downton Walk” proposal, and may vote, then and there, to approve the whole project. This could be a done deal in one shot, so we need to get as many people in the room to make a quick comment. John Witt will have supporters in the room. Without as many of us as possible attending and speaking, we will lose.

Again, this is about more than just this particular proposal. If it is approved, it will set a disastrous precedent for this city.

The agenda for this Monday’s meeting is here:

The two items are “#2887 DOWNTON WALK APPEAL” and “#2759.1 ANW HOLDINGS RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT”

While we don’t want to overwhelm with detail, there are two sets of crucial points below (“A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT POINTS TO STRESS” and “THE 5 CRITERIA THE BOARD CONSIDERS”) that will be helpful to forming our comments to the board and in how they will make their decision. Below that is complete background info on the project.

Thank You

Please feel free to contact:

Sam Brewton (206 Lake Ave)

sambrewton@earthlink.net

—-

A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT POINTS TO STRESS:

*In 2013, Mr. Witt was granted the same variances he is re-applying for now (the variances lapsed, so he has to re-apply). He and the board have leaned heavily into “well, we passed this before, so let’s do it again”. However, in 2013 we were dumbstruck when the board granted approval. We feel they made a bad decision. Today is a new day, a new application, and a chance for the board to look more closely at the massive variances Mr. Witt is asking for.

*We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should build on this parcel. We are opposed to the mass and scale of the proposal and want our zoning laws to be enforced.

*We agree the old building should be replaced, but that is not reason to grant these massive variances and allow this project to depart radically from zoning. A reasonable project would still accomplish the goal of replacing the old building.

*We are NOT at odds with the few neighbors who have supported this project based on their desire to see the old building gone. We just want it to be replaced by something reasonable. The developer is counting on our fear of “getting nothing” if we don’t allow “everything”.

*Witt has stated that he will sell these homes for $700,000 to $1,500,000. He has also stated that in order to make a profit he has to build and sell seven. We believe that a reasonable proposal of five homes could certainly still be profitable for him.

*Our aim is to make the Zoning Board require Mr. Witt to come back with a more reasonable proposal, more in line with the zoning laws that were intended to protect us from projects like this.

THE 5 CRITERIA THE BOARD CONSIDERS (and some of our possible answers):

1. WHETHER THE BENEFITS SOUGHT BY THE APPLICANT CAN BE ACHIEVED BY ANY OTHER MEANS.

The core benefit to the city and neighborhood is eliminating the current structure. This can be accomplished by building fewer homes and requiring minimal area variances. Whether or not this is as economically advantageous to Mr. Witt is not a zoning issue.

2. WHETHER GRANTING THE VARIANCES WILL PRODUCE AN UNDESIRABLE CHANGE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OR A DETRIMENT TO NEARBY PROPERTIES.

These huge, tightly packed-in homes are out of character with this historic neighborhood. The square footage of the proposed homes is clearly greater than the existing surrounding homes, in some cases double and triple. Rather than creating privacy as claimed, this proposal produces a walled environment, which separates the new homes from less expensive housing next door.

3. WHETHER THE VARIANCE IS SUBSTANTIAL.

It is blatantly inaccurate to describe this project as minimal. All the variances being requested (variances listed below) by the applicant are very substantial.

4. WHETHER THE VARIANCE WILL HAVE ADVERSE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS ON NEIGHBORHOOD OR DISTRICT

5. WHETHER THE ALLEGED DIFFICULTY WAS SELF-CREATED.

The difficulty was self-created by the developer by asking for too much.

 

. . . For those who want more background, read on:

OVERVIEW – IN A NUTSHELL

-One home is allowed on this lot, or five, if the property is subdivided. But space would be needed to accommodate an access road, so four homes seem more likely if the proper route, in line with zoning, were taken.

-Witt is asking to NOT subdivide yet be allowed seven buildings instead of one (a massive departure from zoning).

-He is calling them “individual condominiums”. He needs the land to be commonly owned, since, if not subdivided, who would own the property?

-Each home will be selling for between $700,000 and $1.5 million

-Our zoning allows 30% of the parcel to be covered by buildings. He wants to be allowed to cover 46% (a 52% increase from what is allowed).

-By not being required to subdivide and calling these “condominiums” he relieves himself of the setback and maximum coverage requirements of our zoning laws and can arrange the seven buildings any way he wants, tightly packing them in.

-On the north side of the parcel he is required by zoning to leave 25 feet between the backs of his buildings and the adjoining properties. He wants to be allowed to reduce that requirement to only six feet. The backs of these 32 foot high buildings would be virtually on, and towering over, the property line, with no room for buffer or trees. All existing trees would be cut down.

-These buildings will be large (see below), and out of character with the neighborhood.

-As of yet, Mr. Witt has not made any concessions or compromises to his plans. He has stated that if he is not allowed the full extent of what he is asking, this project would not be profitable enough for him. We feel this is a false claim – that he could certainly make a profit with a more reasonable project, more in line with zoning.

OUR APPEAL

Our appeal challenges Mr. Witt’s claim that he needs only AREA variances (listed below) to build these seven “individual condominiums” on this one lot. We believe that a USE variance is required, since he is not subdividing the parcel and wants his seven buildings (instead of the ONE legally allowed) to reside on one commonly owned property in “multi-family” fashion. But multi-family, by definition, is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3). We oppose the scale of the AREA variances as well; but, in filing this appeal, we want the board to address our belief that a USE variance is needed for a condominium development of this sort. It is important to understand that a USE variance requires a very different approval process in our city.

SIZE OF THE PROPOSED HOMES

So far there are no actual measurements per unit, only Witt’s very generalized predictions.

The (rounded) square footage (reflecting all living space – not just footprint) of some of the existing houses on Jumel are: 1400, 900, 1200, 1300, 1500, 1200, 1500, 1900, 1600, 2000.

Witt’s footprints (footprint=first floor only) are: 2,449, 1357, 1472, 2099, 2739, 2340, 2070. A guess-timate of second stories would lead us to predict Witt’s proposed homes to be clearly larger — and possibly double or more — than most of the other existing houses on the street. Even his footprints alone are larger than the full square footage of a good number of the surrounding homes. From his rendering of the facades it looks as if the homes will also have a third story (see attached pdf).

overhead

overhead angle 2

overhead angle 1

heights and facade

“AREA” VARIANCES WITT IS REQUESTING

1) The maximum building coverage allowed on this lot is 30%. The applicant is asking to be allowed to cover 46%, or 52% more than what is allowed. Granting this request would be a massive increase from what is allowed by zoning.

2) The applicant is asking for maximum principal buildings on one lot to be increased from one to seven, a 600% increase. Only five single-family units are allowed by law on this property — BUT ONLY after the property is subdivided. Why is this property not being subdivided? To go from one to seven houses is a massive increase.

3) The rear yard setback required for each unit is 25 feet. The applicant is asking that this requirement be eliminated by 100% for five units, going from the 25 feet required to zero (0) feet. For the remaining two units he is asking for a 76% reduction in the rear yard setback from 25 feet to 6 feet.

4) The front yard setback required for the two front units is 10 feet. The applicant is asking for only a one (1) foot setback, a 90% reduction in the front yard. The applicant claims that this is so “our (2) front porches [can] be placed on the unit.” However, his drawings show that he is not proposing porches, only overhangs.

5) The fence height allowed in this UR-3 residential area is six feet. The applicant is asking for an eight-foot fence, a 33% increase in height over what is allowed. Why is this necessary only for this development? Is the applicant trying to exclude the rest of the neighborhood? A fence this high would create an exclusive walled enclave shutting out the existing neighborhood.

OUR STANCE

-We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should develop this property.

-We all agree that the existing building is an eyesore and should be replaced

-But, first and foremost, we contend that this multi-family proposal (he is asking to build 7 homes as “condominiums” on one non-divided lot) requires a USE variance, as multi-family is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3)

-And, at the same time, we are opposed to the massive scale of the AREA variances he is requesting and of the project as currently designed.

-We feel that the current design and density of the proposal and the number and size of the proposed homes are out of character with this historic neighborhood.

-We want a revised more reasonable proposal MORE IN LINE WITH OUR ZONING LAWS.

 

 

Hearing On Panhandling Issue

Saratoga Springs seeks solutions when dealing with vagrants

Hearing1

A speaker comes to the microphone during Thursday’s Public Safety Forum. Jennie Grey — jgrey@digitalfirstmedia.com

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 05/20/16, 5:37 PM EDT |

Hearing2

The audience gathers at Thursday’s Public Safety Department Forum in the Music Hall. Jennie Grey — jgrey@digitalfirstmedia.com

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> With aggressive panhandlers becoming a challenge downtown, the city council is actively seeking solutions. Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, whose department is the most affected by the issue, held an open forum titled “Vagrancy in Saratoga Springs” Thursday in the Music Hall.

“Our downtown was reinvented in the ’80s and is now doing extremely well,” he said. “We owe this to the active Chamber of Commerce, the tourism bureau and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. But as wonderful as things are now, it’s still a fragile miracle. People are concerned.”

The issue

Citizens have come forward with public comments, letters and petitions against the aggressive acts of some panhandlers, who yell abuse, physically block or pull on passers-by, and misuse public and private property.

Children’s Museum of Saratoga Executive Director Michelle Smith said she’d had eight recent instances of vagrants troubling the museum. These ranged from a man shaking his fist at a driver who wouldn’t roll down her window to finding human feces in the stairwell leading to the basement.

“It’s very difficult; very concerning,” she said. “We would like the police to come by more often. It’s very unsettling to be so unsafe.”

“No city is exempt from homelessness,” said Shelters of Saratoga (SOS) Executive Director Michael Finocchi.

The homeless who come to SOS are victims of domestic violence, have mental illness, lack affordable housing options, are underemployed, have chronic health conditions, have chemical dependency or were recently incarcerated.

The definitions

One of the first points of clarity Mathiesen raised was that vagrants and homeless people have rights, just like any other citizens. He called Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo to the microphone to speak on this.

Izzo said that first, it’s important to understand the issue here. Vagrants can be defined legally as idle people without visible means of support, as tramps or beggars. Vagrants may well have homes and cars, whereas homeless people lack housing.

“If you follow a vagrant at the end of the workday, you might see him get into his car and drive home,” Finocchi said.

The rights

People have the right to panhandle, Izzo said, since asking for money is a form of free speech. Being drunk in public is also not a crime. Loitering is not a crime.

“So we are limited in the types of laws that can be written that pass a constitutional test,” he said. “We are working on writing a city law against sitting or lying on the sidewalk. There are lots of reasonable exceptions, such as sidewalk sales.”

The solutions

Wellspring Executive Director Maggie Fronk said that one of the wonderful things about this community was that everyone works together to brainstorm ideas. Her organization helps support people fleeing domestic violence and sexual abuse. Wellspring has given 15,000 bed nights annually for such individuals.

“We all want to make the city safe and thriving for everyone,” she said.

Police Chief Greg Veitch said people should call the police whenever they felt uncomfortable or threatened by vagrants.

“But you can’t confuse the police with being a solution to the problem,” he cautioned. “We can’t arrest our way out of this issue.”

He said the police did not do homeless sweeps or roundups, which would be illegal. The homeless have the right to be in public places.

Finocchi said, “You need services in place for the homeless.”

SOS runs a 35-bed case-managed shelter, the only one in three counties. It’s a drug- and alcohol-free environment where the onus is on the individual to do the right thing. SOS also runs the emergency shelter Code Blue and a street outreach program.

The shelters run a drop-in center one day a week. Finocchi said having that center open more days would help SOS build relationships with the homeless and get people the services they need.

He shared success stories: In 2014, SOS sheltered 400 individuals. Some 44 percent of guests left with an income of their own. Some 109 were permanently housed, and four graduated to affordable housing units.

“We do ask people not to give money directly to the homeless,” Finocchi said. “Many of these individuals have mental-health issues, which they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, and that’s where the money from panhandling often goes. In Schenectady or Troy, panhandlers can make $200 in a week. In Saratoga Springs, they can make $200 in a day.”

Educating the summer tourists is also key, he said. SOS recommends buying the homeless a meal instead of giving them money.

The nonprofit is also working with downtown businesses to install locked drop boxes where people can place money to be donated to the shelters. That way, the funds will be used for good instead for drugs.

One man who stood up to speak at the forum said the city ought to aggressively address the problem and help our neighbors to real independence.

“We need to make sure we aren’t giving money to support people’s vices,” he said.

Brian Farr, a substance abuse counselor, took the microphone and said, “Hats off to everyone who is here and cares about this community.”

He said that for 17 years, he had worked with thousands of people with addiction issues: rich, poor, those who owned mansions, those on the street. Farr emphasized the importance of recognizing substance abuse and addiction as diseases, not merely vices or bad habits.

“Part of what you’re seeing in the homeless is the results of addiction,” he said. “And Saratoga is an awesome place to get sober.”

Farr is currently chair of Recovery Advocacy in Saratoga.

The successes

A former shelter resident came forward to speak. On his own since age 8, he was employed steadily until he was hit by a truck. Now, after his time in SOS, he is working for a local philanthropy and living in his own apartment.

“The past five years have been heaven,” he said. “This city is a miracle. And everyone who comes can get help if he just asks.”

Nancy Black told of her arrest for driving while intoxicated and how the consequences changed her life. She warned against giving the panhandlers money.

“Positive changes can come with proper services and help,” she said.

 

Mathiesen Effort To Amend Comp Plan Fails

Proposed change to Comprehensive Plan voted down by council

Morgan Street

This lot on Morgan Street is where Saratoga Hospital hopes to build an office structure. jennie grey – jgrey@digitalfirstmedia.com

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 05/18/16, 5:09 PM EDT | Updated: 1 day ago

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> With two recusals, the city council voted 2-1 against amending part of the Comprehensive Plan at the May 17 meeting. Two parcels Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had hoped to change from an institutional designation back to their original residential will therefore remain institutional, and Saratoga Hospital can continue to propose an expansion project on that land.

“I think this never should have gotten so far,” said Mathiesen, the sole assenting vote. “The designation shouldn’t have been changed in the first place. But the city council had a lot of work to do on the Comprehensive Plan and didn’t pay enough attention to this change.”

Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said she did pay attention and remembers the map reviews. She and Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco voted against the plan amendment, although both said they appreciated Mathiesen’s bringing the matter to the council. The three had a lengthy public discussion before the vote.

“I just don’t see a benefit in changing the plan,” Scirocco said. “It doesn’t make sense to change the designation of these pieces of property. It opens up a whole can of worms, leading to possible requests for more changes.”

He and Madigan said they were in favor of the hospital’s expansion.

The hospital’s project, a $14 million medical office building, has been planned to consolidate the facility’s physician employees, their staffs and their patients in one space in close proximity to the hospital, and provide better patient care and efficiency. The hospital would like to build on nearby Morgan Street, about 200 yards north of the facility’s main location at 211 Church St.

However, the application has been stalled due to residents’ protests, the city council’s ethics and Saratoga Springs politics.

During the May 17 public comment period, Ina Harney of Seward St. expressed the concerns most of her neighbors have. They worry about the growth of the hospital taking over the neighborhood; they are anxious about traffic and parking.

For the hospital to construct this building, the city council would need to vote to make the 8.5-acre Morgan Street lot 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.

The city council is where the hospital’s application has stalled. The mayor’s agendas have called for four public hearings on the PUD, a number both the hospital administration and city council members have called unusual and excessive. During these hearings, hospital staff and residents of the neighborhood have spoken at length. Finally, after months of hearing about the project, the council seemed prepared to vote on the PUD extension.

Then at the Jan. 19 city council meeting, Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Accounts Commissioner John Franck unexpectedly recused themselves from further discussion or voting on this hospital issue.

Yepsen, a professional fundraiser/consultant, recused herself because she had applied to and discussed working with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation, which would give her an indirect financial interest in the hospital’s expansion plan. Yepsen presented her situation to the city board of ethics, which directed her to abstain from voting on the zoning change.

Franck, a certified public accountant, recused himself from the zoning change vote because the Morgan Street Homeowners Association and the Birch Run Homeowners Association are clients of his private business. He does financial work for both groups. These housing developments are located near the hospital, and residents of them are among the members of the vocal citizens protesting any PUD expansion there.

Jan. 29, these residents submitted a petition to the city attorney’s office. Their attorney, Andrew Brick of Albany, said this legally triggered a super-majority, meaning that at least four city council votes must be cast before the PUD could be expanded. With the two recusals, such a vote is impossible at this time and in this situation: Only three commissioners are left on the five-person council to vote.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have five people sitting at the table,” Scirocco said. “It doesn’t make sense for three people to decide for five.”

Madigan agreed the commissioners were too few there.

“The residents of the entire city, not just the Morgan Street neighbors, deserve a fully functioning city council,” she said. “This is one of the most baffling and embarrassing situations I have ever seen on the city council.”

Resident Dave Bronner of Royal Henley Ct., spoke during the meeting’s public hearing, mentioning the concern some citizens have expressed about these recusals.

“This is an important $14 million expansion project for the hospital and the community,” he said. “We need to know why the mayor didn’t recuse herself in October when she first applied for work with the Hospital Foundation and why she did recuse herself in January, when the hospital had decided not to employ her at this time. I hope the mayor isn’t punishing the hospital with this recusal.”

Alice Smith, who lives on nearby Woodland Court, said she thought the mayor had done well to recuse herself. Smith also said changing the Comprehensive Plan designation back to residential was the right things to do.

Jack Despart of Morgan St. lives across the road from the proposed medical office building. He said he too was in favor of the Comprehensive Plan change.

During this period of the council being stymied, Mathiesen, a steadfast advocate for the neighbors, had first proposed changing the institutional designation back to its original residential. He said the lot was a beautiful piece of property for residential building.

As far as traffic and parking, he said Morgan Street was not ready to take on many more vehicles. He would also like the hospital to build parking garages instead of spreading out so many acres of parking lots.

“More traffic and parking would have a direct affect on the neighborhood,” he said.

The Jones Firm’s Matthew J. Jones, an attorney for Saratoga Hospital, said the hospital would wait until a full complement of council members could vote on the PUD.

“Probably that will be after the next election,” he said.

Scirocco said, “The work of the wise is to repair the work of the well-intentioned.”

 

Interesting Article Re Richard Higgins Who Owns Moore Hall

Bharara subpoena shows interest in Albany lofts project

Arbor Hill project developers are big Cuomo donors

By Chris Bragg

Published 9:29 pm, Monday, May 16, 2016

Albany

The company behind a 22-unit affordable housing project in Arbor Hill is among nearly two-dozen firms mentioned in the federal subpoena served to Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s administration in late April, according to a person with knowledge of the document.

The subpoena seeks information about Swan Street Lofts LP, which is the company behind the renovated apartments called Academy Lofts at The Barn that opened to residents in December 2013. The project, located at North Swan and Second streets at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Academy, provides low-cost units for living and working residences for artists.

It is a project of the Albany Housing Authority, which hired Norstar Development, a company based in Ontario, Canada, that has significant operations in Buffalo and is led in the United States by Richard Higgins, a former state housing czar under Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Norstar helped secure financing for the project and was the general contractor, according to the executive director of the Albany Housing Authority, Steven Longo, who said his organization had not been subpoenaed or contacted by federal authorities.

Like Swan Street Lofts, Norstar is a company of interest in the federal subpoena, which asks about the actions of certain Executive Chamber officials on behalf of the listed companies. People and entities connected to Norstar have given Cuomo at least $157,000 in campaign donations since the beginning of 2010. Its efforts on this project were led by Lori Harris, who heads up the company’s Albany efforts, and herself is a former state governmental housing official.

Many of the companies in U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara‘s subpoena were clients of lobbyist Todd Howe, who is at the center of the probe. But Longo said Howe’s name “to the best of my recollection never came up during this job.”

No one has been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in the probe. Norstar declined to comment.

The project received help from several government sources. In the 2011 round of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s regional economic development council awards, the Albany Industrial Development Authority was granted $5.4 million in low-cost financing, and the Department of Homes and Community Renewal authorized $2.4 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits. Empire State Development provided $4.5 million in Restore NY grant funding, and $350,000 in local support through the Federal Home Loan Bank and Historic Tax Credits, according to a 2013 news release from Cuomo’s office.

The $4.5 million from the Restore NY grant program was a bump from what was originally intended for the project. Money for the rehab of buildings on and around Henry Johnson Boulevard was shifted after the projects didn’t get off the ground, a move favored by Albany officials that eventually won the consent of Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic development agency.

A firm representing the Swan Street LLC in the deal was Cannon, Heyman and Weiss, an Albany law firm that puts together the financing for affordable housing projects through

tax credits and incentives. The principals of Cannon, Heyman and Weiss and their firm have also been major donors to Cuomo, giving at least $125,000.

The Academy Lofts at the Barn project also includes 14,000-plus square feet of space for work studios, rehearsal suites, performance space, a digital media center, retail space and offices for the professional artist community, according to Cuomo’s press release.

 

 

Jenny Grey Story On Zoning Board Of Appeals Re Downton Walk

Board hears neighbor’s appeal

DowntonWalkRendering

Downton Walk is a Witt Construction development planned for Jumel Place and under zoning-board appeal by a group of concerned neighbors. Photo provided.

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 05/11/16, 4:47 PM EDT | Updated: 2 hrs ago

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Neighbors are continuing to speak out about a proposed development of several homes in their quiet east Side neighborhood.

At the May 9 zoning board of appeals meeting, the issues of interpreting code and setting precedents came under discussion as a group of citizens appealed a developer’s application to build seven homes on a single 0.79-acre Jumel Place lot.

The developer in question is John Witt, president of Witt Construction, who proposes to build seven single-family condominiums on the site, with the land owned in common. The design plan shows a cluster of $700,000 to $1.5 million Tudor-style homes whose exterior charm has not won over all the local residents.

These concerned citizens live in the neighborhood surrounding Jumel Place. Their stance is that condominiums are defined in Saratoga Springs zoning code as multifamily dwellings. Multifamily structures are not allowed in an Urban Residential-3 (UR-3) Zoning District, where Jumel Place is situated. The neighbors also say only five single-family units are allowed on that size lot, if the property is subdivided, which it currently is not. No application for subdivision has been made.

Since building condominiums on that parcel would constitute a different zoning use, say the appellant neighbors, Witt should first obtain a use variance.

“We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should build on this parcel,” the residents wrote in a letter to their neighborhood and to the city at large. “Our aim is to make the zoning board require Mr. Witt to come back with a more reasonable proposal, more in line with the zoning laws that were intended to protect us from projects like this.”

In background information for this letter, the residents explained their point of view: “By not being required to subdivide and by calling these units ‘condominiums,’ he relieves himself of the setback and maximum coverage requirements of our zoning laws, and can arrange the seven buildings any way he wants, tightly packing them in.”

Tuczinski, Cavalier and Gilchrist Principal Jonathan Tingley, the neighbors’ attorney, presented several views of how the property and the neighborhood might look if the buildings were set closely together.

“Seven homes on a single lot constitute multifamily use,” he argued. “And if this sets a precedent, then in the UR-3, a single lot could be used to build any number of dwelling units.”

Such a cluster of dwellings would amount to an apartment complex, he said. Multifamily units are legal and appropriate in the UR-4, UR-4a and UR-5 districts, but not in the UR-3.

Yet if subdivided, the ensuing lot lines would violate almost all the prescribed setbacks, Tingley said, making for a number of area variances.

Members of the board expressed several concerns, among them the question of whether residents could make such an appeal.

Vice Chair Keith Kaplan said, “I’m troubled that the neighbors can appeal like this and possibly stop the zoning process. I worry about the process grinding to a halt.”

Consulting planning board attorney Mark Schachner assessed this neighbors’ group as having definite aggrieved-party status by virtue of their living so near to the Witt lot.

“I strongly recommend the board not try to dismiss this appeal,” he said with emphasis.

Other issues included coding definitions. Board member Susan Steer noted that condominiums were classified as multifamily dwellings in the ordinance and yet as single-family units in this project application.

Nearly all the board members expressed some confusion over why the appeal focused on defining reasons for a use variance, instead of only an area variance, since the neighbors had long protested the project’s scope and density before this. Tingley said the focus on the use issue gave the appeal broader standing. The development of the entire district would be affected by the appeal’s outcome.

“This matter has wide repercussions for interpretations of code and the definition of ‘condominium,’” said member James Helicke. “Here, the definition is about ownership, rather than use.”

Board Secretary Adam McNeill said any concern about multifamily dwellings spreading all across the UR-3 district was overblown. Any applicant for such a project would have to come before the board and be granted an area variance, he said.

“To say that permitting this development sets a dangerous precedent is alarmist,” he said. “It’s like crying wolf.”

Witt’s attorney, Libby Coreno of Carter, Conboy, Case, Blackmore, Maloney and Laird, spoke about procedure, precedent and case law as pertaining to this appeal. Her main point was that the substance of the zoning code was what mattered.

“No matter what a zoning board thinks a city council meant, it’s the plain language of the code that is applied,” she said.

She said the Witt project was not a multifamily condo development, but single-family units on a single lot.

Resident Maureen Curtin said the project should be permitted to build only five single-family or four two-family units under the law.

“Many residents feel variances are abused in the city,” said Saratoga Springs Politics blogger John Kaufmann. “This board may facilitate Mr. Witt circumventing the process and jamming great amounts of dwelling units on the property.”

Witt countered, “Single-family units or duplexes are a permitted use in this district.”

Schachner read pertinent code definition aloud to the board: “‘Residence – multifamily’ is defined as ‘a residential structure containing three or more dwelling units.’”

But again, condominiums are defined in Saratoga Springs zoning code as multifamily dwellings.

“It seems as though there are several possible interpretations in the laws,” said resident Kira Cohen.

After creating and signing an online petition about the issue, now with 478 signatures, resident Sam Brewton wrote, “We’re not against developing this plot, but we oppose the massive scope of the requested variances, loss of setbacks and cramming-in of more buildings than this lot is zoned for. What’s the point of zoning if it can be this easily skirted? This lot can be successfully developed, and we’d welcome this same developer if a more reasonable plan were presented.”

The ZBA will decide on the appeal at its next meeting on May 23 at 7 p.m. in City Hall.