The Planning Department: A Little Courtesy Would Be Welcomed

Some land use board members and perhaps others have wondered why members of the public get upset trying to resolve land use issues in this city. I offer the following as instructive of what it can be like to deal with the City’s Planning Department and in particular with City Planner Susan Bardon.

On March 8th of last year I emailed Ms. Bardon raising an issue regarding a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals.  I requested that when she forwarded my question to this person that she copy me.

On March 10th when I had not heard from her, I emailed her again asking the status of my request.

Later that day I received the following from her:

John,

Your question has been communicated to Mr. Kaplan.

Thank you,

Susan

 According to Mr. Kaplan, Ms. Bardon never forwarded my email to him.

On April 14th of last year, I emailed Lindsey Gonzalez in the Planning Department asking why a ZBA workshop had not been videotaped.   Ms. Gonzalez did not receive my email due to a mistake in the email address.  On April 20th Ms. Gonzalez, having received my email, forwarded my request to Ms. Bardon.

On April 30th, having heard nothing from Ms. Bardon, I followed up making the request to her again.

This is a follow-up to my inquiry regarding why the workshop on April 11 for the ZBA was not included in the video on the city’s web site.  As the email below documents, you received this inquiry on April 20.

I look forward to your response.

On May 2nd I received her response:

Hi John and thank you for the reminder.

We start the webcast when a quorum is present and the board starts conducting business.

Also, there are times when board members meet to discuss legal strategy with one or more attorneys representing the City.  At these times there is no webcast. Susan

Most recently, on June 3rd of this year, in light of the Kaplan incident I sent Ms. Bardon the following email:

Would you please see that the members of the ZBA receive copies of this email and copy me.  If you do not plan to do so, would you please advise me clearly on this.  As you may recall, Mr. Kaplan claimed that he never received the last email I asked you to forward.

JK

On June 28 at 11:36, having heard nothing from Ms. Bardon,I sent this follow-up:

I am resending an email I sent to you last week.  Please confirm that you have received this.

That same day, I received the following email from Ms. Bardon at 1:21:

I have received your email and it has been forwarded to the board.

Pitney Farm Plans Progress

Plans unveiled for community farm in Saratoga Springs

By Brett Samuels June 27, 2016

Photographer: Erica Miller

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Ingersoll

Mike Ingersoll, with the LA Group, reveals the new plan during the Pitney Meadows Community Farm Unveiling Event in Saratoga Springs on West Ave. on Sunday afternoon, June 26, 2016.

  •  Members of Pitney Meadows Community Farm Inc., the group spearheading the preservation project; local government leaders; and Michael Ingersoll, a partner at the LA Group land-planning firm, spoke to about 150 people gathered at Pitney Farms about plans for the property. The idea is to maintain the farmland and keep it as open, farmable space, while using the rest of the property as a community farm to teach visitors about modern agriculture, train farmers and sell locally produced food.“This is prime real estate, and that this is staying agricultural, the community should be proud of that,” Ingersoll told those in attendance.Paul Arnold, one of the leaders of Pitney Meadows Community Farm Inc., said the group is aiming to purchase the land by Nov. 1. The city is committing $1.16 million from its open space fund to buy the conservation easement, which would prevent the land from being used for non-agricultural purposes in the future.“We want them to keep coming back,” Arnold said. “We want them to be able to learn where green beans come from, or why peppers turn from green to red.”The project has been in the works for years and has been supported by the city and the county, Yepsen said.The Pitney Farms land was originally going to be owned by Saratoga PLAN, but the group dropped out of the project in April. Project leaders said Sunday’s event is just part of the beginning stages of the process, which a couple of people involved with the effort said could take about five years to complete.The Pitney family has owned the farm since 1862, said Bill Pitney, who added that he’s excited the property is going to be used by the community.
  • The cost of attending Sunday’s event was $50. Before the plan was discussed, attendees sat under a tent beside one of the barns on the property and were served dinner and could purchase beer and wine. Proceeds from the event went toward the project, Arnold said.
  • In total, the project is expected to cost about $15 million over the five years. Major fundraising hasn’t begun yet.
  • “This city wants this, and this city is fully behind this,” Yepsen told attendees.
  • Several speakers addressed those in attendance before the actual sketch was displayed. Project leaders and local government officials, including Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner and Saratoga Springs Mayor Joan Yepsen, spoke with pride about the project and discussed the importance of Pitney Farms to the community.
  • Arnold added that he thinks residents in the area are excited to not have the land turn into housing or another type of development project. He wants people to feel connected to the farm, he said.
  • He added that the mission was to balance preserving what’s on the property currently with the addition of new buildings that would house events and educational programs. So far, response to the proposed project has been enthusiastic, he said.
  • A sketch of the plan revealed that project organizers intend to keep half of the land as farmland, leaving it as it is now. Other buildings currently on the plot of land along Western Avenue will remain there and be repurposed as educational stations, Ingersoll said. A few new buildings might be added farther back on the property, and walking trails could be added along the farmed area leading to the back of the 166-acre site.
  • SARATOGA SPRINGS — Plans for a community farm development years in the making were unveiled Sunday evening when local and project leaders gathered to detail the future of Pitney Farms.

Remember the “Affiliation” stories? Albany Med Just Ate Saratoga Hospital

 

Last fall, Saratoga Hospital posted the following Q&A on their web site:

“What will the relationship be between Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital? Is this a merger?

This is not a merger. [My emphasis added]   As an affiliate of the Albany Medical Center health system, Saratoga Hospital will continue to have its own Board of Trustees and senior management team. We will continue to be known as Saratoga Hospital, and will be identified as an affiliate of Albany Medical Center. Perhaps most important, although Saratoga Hospital will continue to take the lead in serving the Saratoga region, we will have a partner to help us increase our patients’ access to highly specialized care and technology.

“Who will lead and operate Saratoga Hospital?

“Under the terms of the letter of intent, the current Saratoga Hospital leadership team and Board of Trustees will remain in place.”

As recently as October 27, 2015, in a joint press release with Albany Med they stated: “

 Under the terms of the letter of intent, Saratoga Hospital will retain its name, local leadership and governance, and oversight of services delivered in the community.”

Contrast these statements with stories from the Times Union and the Albany Business Review:

From The Times Union:

Saratoga Hospital files with state to make Albany Med its parent

No cash or assets would be exchanged under deal

By Claire Hughes

Published 7:15 pm, Monday, June 13, 2016

Albany

Saratoga Hospital has filed its application with the state to make Albany Medical Center its parent and co-operator, an affiliation the two health systems announced they were pursuing in October.

The state Health Department is reviewing the proposal, which is similar to the arrangement Albany Med established with Hudson-based Columbia Memorial Health at the beginning of the year.

The proposal would give Albany Med authority over Saratoga Hospital’s budgets and strategic plans, the hiring and firing of Saratoga Hospital’s chief executive, incurrence of debt, and hospital policies and procedures. Each health system would have representation on the other’s boards. [My emphasis added.  Affiliation?  Orwellian?]

No cash or assets would be exchanged under the deal.

Officials at both hospitals declined to comment on the proposal.

In October, Saratoga Hospital officials said the affiliation with Albany Med would enable it to expand medical services.

The affiliation would also theoretically allow the organizations to pursue contracts together with insurance companies.

The proposed affiliation comes as government-led health reforms seek to reduce the need for costly hospital stays, and both public and private insurers are changing the way they pay for care. Under an emerging payment system called global budgeting, health systems will be paid a set fee per patient for providing all the patient’s care.

To adapt to that change, hospitals have in recent years sought to become the hub of health systems that provide all levels of care, acquiring doctors’ practices and building community-based primary care and urgent care offices.

Health systems also need to have a broad geographic reach to achieve improvements in “population health” — the health of the entire community — a goal that is being supported with substantial state funds.

 

From The Albany Business Review:

Picture Of Saratoga Hospital

Donna Abbott-Vlahos

Albany Medical Center and Saratoga Hospital have finalized an affiliation agreement the two health care providers have been working on since October.

The agreement would establish Albany Med, the region’s second-largest hospital system, as the “parent and co-operator” of Saratoga Hospital. It has been submitted to the state Department of Health for approval.

Donna Abbott-Vlahos

It’s similar to an agreement Albany Med reached with Columbia Memorial Health to the south.

With the addition of Saratoga and Columbia to its network, Albany Med’s system will rival St. Peter’s Health Partners, the largest hospital system in the area. Albany Med CEO Jim Barba has been focused on building the reach and range of the academic medical center’s services.

Bringing in more services across a broader geographic reach will help position Albany Med remain an independent, locally controlled system to weather the constant challenges of an evolving health care system, Barba has said. Mergers and affiliations have become more common in the health care space.

That broader reach will also help Albany Med achieve goals in population health, where providers seek to proactively manage the well-being of people to keep them out of the hospital. That’s seen as a way to reduce the ballooning costs of health care.

The agreement’s goals, based on a summary on the health department’s website, are to optimize clinical services and health benefits and forge a strong relationship between Saratoga Hospital and Albany Med. The affiliation will lead to efficiencies through clinical and administrative integration and create a better delivery system for communities served by Albany Med and Saratoga.

Albany Med has more than 9,000 employees and the affiliated physician group is the largest in the region, with 465 local doctors. The academic medical center is the region’s only Level 1 trauma center and is the “hospital’s hospital,” providing highly specialized care.

The system has about 30 current or planned locations outside of the core Albany County area and has continued growth at its New Scotland Avenue campus in Albany.

Saratoga Hospital’s system, with a 171-bed hospital in Saratoga Springs, also includes a nursing home and several other outpatient locations. Albany Med and Saratoga partnered on an advanced urgent care location in Malta.

Under the agreement, Albany Med would have approval of Saratoga’s budgets and operating plans, hospital policies and procedures and contracts for clinical and management services. Albany Med would also have authority to appoint or remove the CEO, according to information submitted to the health department. [My emphasis added:  Affiliation?  Orwellian?]Those actions are subject to certain conditions based on the hospital’s own bylaws.

Like the agreement with Columbia Memorial, Albany Med and Saratoga Hospital will each have representation on one another’s boards.

The affiliation agreement was reached May 17.

A spokesman for Albany Med declined to comment. Saratoga Hospital CEO Angelo Calbone could not be immediately reached.

 

City Hosts Meeting On Making Our Streets Welcoming And Safe

I received this release from Commissioner Madigan.  It looks like it should be a good program.  [Note: The Charter Commission is supposed to meet in the same room at the same time.  I assume that this program will take precedence]


All,

The City Mission of Schenectady has graciously offered to present to the City of Saratoga Springs information about their Ambassador Program on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 7:00 pm at City Hall in the City Council Chambers.  For more information about this program please visit their website at http://schenectadyambassadors.com

I believe this group has potential answers and solutions to many of the issues we have encountered in our city … issues our surrounding neighboring city’s have been dealing with for many years. The meeting will consist of a presentation and video by the Schenectady Ambassadors and it is my hope that we will have members of the Schenectady business community in attendance to discuss the many success of this program. Michael Saccocio, Executive Director for the City Mission of Schenectady, Christopher Silipigno, Associate Executive Direcotor and Business and Donor Development for the City Mission, and Jake Bowman, with Schenectady Ambassadors will be in attendance. There will also be the opportunity to meet with Ambassadors following the meeting and time for networking and the exchanging of business cards. It is essential we have support from our business community, residents, Shelters of Saratoga, and all interested stakeholders at this meeting. Please forward / share this information with anyone you think would like to attend this Council Workshop / Presentation.

I look forward to seeing you at this special meeting. Lets work to determine if their existing and successful program has direct applications for the City of Saratoga Springs.

Thank you,

Commissioner Michele Madigan

Disgraceful Condition Of Downtown Walkway

Readers have contacted me about the disgraceful condition of the walkway that runs west from Broadway to the parking lot beside Putnam Market.  This walkway does not belong to the city.  I have emailed Mayor Yepsen asking what can be done to address this situation (see below – it covers the issue in more depth).  I will post Mayor Yepsen’s response when I receive it.

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From: John Kaufmann
Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2016 4:18 PM
To: ‘Joanne Yepsen’
Cc: ‘Christian Mathiesen’; ‘Skip Sciroco’; ‘Michele Madigan’; ‘John Franck’;
‘Vincent DeLeonardis’
Subject: Walkway

I have been contacted by people disturbed by the walkway that abuts Putnam Market.  For at least a month there have been sawhorses blocking part of the path there (see picture).  In addition, there does not appear to be any maintenance of the area.  The walkway is strategically located at one of the center points of the city but it has been allowed to become an unsightly embarrassment.  Trash has been allowed to accumulate there (see pictures).

I have been in touch with the Public Works Department and have learned that this area is privately owned and is not under the jurisdiction of Public Works.  I understand that the heating system that is supposed to keep the walkway free of snow needs to be
repaired.  I expect that this might be a major engineering project and can understand that this cannot be fixed overnight.  I have learned that the owner does not expect to begin work on this until after the racing season is over.  Whether this is a reasonable time frame, I do not know.  What I do know is that the walkway is dirty and unbecoming of our city.
Has the city taken any action on this matter?  If not, can the city take action to require the owner to keep the area clean and to expeditiously do whatever repairs are necessary to remove the sawhorses?

I know you take as much pride in our city as any citizen of this community and expect that you share people’s concerns that this problem be addressed.    Could you please keep me advised on this and I will share the progress with the people who read my blog.

 

Another Neighborhood Attempts To Protect Itself From The ZBA

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Tracie Millis III is the president of the Maple Avenue, Marion Avenue, Maple Dell Neighborhood Association.

As a little background, Mr. Millis family goes back eight generations in our city.  Following his career in the U.S. military he worked at the Watervliet Arsenal as a contracting officer before retiring in 1995. He was more recently the executive director of the New York State Military Heritage Institute which is a support group for the Military Museum on Lake Avenue.

At the June 21st Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Mr. Millis spoke in opposition to an application to grant a use variance to allow a dentist office at  34 Marion Avenue which is in a residentially zoned neighborhood.

At the meeting Stephanie Feradino, who represented the owners, spoke from 8:20 to 9:20.  Mr. Millis spoke for eight and a half minutes and two neighbors spoke for four minutes each.  Keith Kaplan was chairing the ZBA meeting in the absence of Chairman William Moore.  Following the first neighbor’s brief comments, Mr. Kaplan admonished the public not to use their time repeating anything said previously.  Ms. Feradino is an articulate and talented attorney.  Brevity, however, is not her strength.  Mr. Kaplan made no attempt to expedite her very long presentation.   Given that Ms. Feradino had submitted her arguments to the ZBA in writing, to allow her unrestrained time to make her case and then admonish the neighbors who, in contrast, were the soul of brevity seemed unfair but sadly consistent with the ZBA’s attitude toward the public.

In the course of the ZBA questioning of Ms. Feradino it became painfully obvious that the ZBA was disposed to grant her client’s application.  Board members spent considerable time discussing with her how her client might buffer the property from the neighbors regarding lights and noise to the point that they discussed specific plants the applicant might use.

It is hard to believe but no one on that board even acknowledged that given the other commercial development in the area around Maple and Marion Avenues that granting this variance might accelerate the decline of this residential neighborhood.  This is simply another example of how low in its priorities defending existing zoning is for this board.  Mr. Millis presented a petition representing twenty-eight homeowners from the neighborhood trying to defend their community.  For those skeptics, I invite them to watch the video of the meeting which is up on the city’s web site.

Here is Mr. Millis’ statement:

 

Saratoga Springs Board of Appeals:                                                                                       20 JUN 2016

This is the THIRD (3rd) time we have appeared in front of this Board of Appeals speaking against a proposal to SPOT ZONE, 34 Marion Avenue, as Commercial.

In the instant case the required application cites addresses that are not correct, fails to prove an “unnecessary hardship”, cites an “OLD” appraised value (1994), and further attempts to confuse the “ORIGINAL” listing price to the appraised value (Then vs Now).

The “Unique Financial Hardship” stated is Not Accurate.  The owner has been attempting to sell this property since at LEAST 1983!  Whereas he has occasionally rented it – It has always been offered for sale by local realtors.

The “History of Marketing” is not reflective of the facts either.  Whereas they only cite the offered price since 2005, we have tracked it further.

The price for this residentially zoned property, that is 0.43 acre, has been offered for sale from $499,500 to the supposedly present (2014) $135,000.  For less than ½ acre?  For a vacant building lot?  Residentially Zoned!

This alleged Hardship is a 100% Self-Created Hardship! We state that undisputed fact EVERY time we appear here to discuss the “Infamous Healy Property!”  He is simply requesting too many dollars for a small Residential lot in Saratoga Springs.  Are you kidding us?

The zoning does not allow for this proposal.  We fought to get that exact zoning for over 30 years in the prior/current Master Plans since 1981.  We want to protect our homeownership investments, and obviously there can be NO Hardship claimed by the proponent.

I now present our Original Neighborhood Petitions signed by over twenty eight (28) Single Family Residential home Owners directly impacted by this proposed project.

We are ALL opposed to its approval!

Tracy Millis III

Neighborhood Association President

Further, and I probably should not admit this – I went “off script” and exclaimed to the Board that we have invested Many hours (and years) in the development of the “Master Plan” relative to how the Northern Gateway of Saratoga Springs should NOT resemble South Broadway!  For over 40 years Saratoga Springs has stated in their Master Plan that our “Northern Gateway” should not resemble South Broadway with the Honkey-Tonk businesses.  Marion Avenue extends from the Arterial to SOUTH of the Triangle Diner!  All the properties within that Codified distinction are, wait for it now – Single Family RESIDENTIAL!!  Hello!  The Triangle Diner is in Greenfield! All of the properties on the West side of Marion Avenue are Zoned as RESIDENTIAL!  Changing one, especially one at the end of OUR ZONING border, invites nothing less than catastrophe for the Residential owners that invested in their homes. The bottom line is this – An individual that purchased a RESIDENTIALLY zoned property in 1982, for 40K$, and thereafter offered it at 499K$ for RESIDENTIAL use, cannot thereafter claim A HARDSHIP because nobody bought the property!  Hello?  $499K for less than 1/2 acre? As Residential? DUH?

 

Murphy Lane Zombie Barn Stalks Zoning Board of Appeals

On Monday night Ms. Jean D’Agostino, owner of the late barn on Murphy Lane, appeared again before the ZBA with her attorney, James A. Fauci   Briefly, Mr. Fauci claimed that the variances to build a one family home on the site of what had been a barn, had no constraints.  He asserted that his client had a right to erect a home on the site as high as sixty feet as allowed by the zoning for that district.  He claimed that there was no basis to require an additional height variance.

Keith Kaplan, who was chairing the meeting in the absence of William Moore, said the stop order was not based simply on the height as had been stated in an email by building inspector Steven Shaw to Ms D’Agostino.  He referenced the inconsistency of what Ms. D’Agostino had done in contrast with her application that was approved by the ZBA.

What followed was a chaotic discussion in which Mr. Fauci insisted that his client be told clearly why Mr. Shaw had issued a stop work order.  At this point board member Adam McNeil interceded and proposed that a written explanation be drafted and sent to Mr. Fauci.  Attorney Mark Schachner, who is a consultant to the city on land use issues, intervened to support Mr. McNeil.  Mr. Fauci then asked why, since Mr. Shaw was sitting behind the ZBA table, the city building inspector could not simply explain why he had issued the stop work order.  At this point Mr. Kaplan interceded to cut off the discussion.

Dear reader, the neighbors of the late Murphy Lane barn have been asking, to some extent the exact same question for the last five months of this debacle.  They have repeatedly asked why the ZBA in light of the fact that Ms. D’Agostino in her application specifically stated that she would not tear down the barn because it would be a detriment to the neighborhood,then tore it down, did not void the variances she had received.   In its effort to accommodate Ms. D’Agostino, the ZBA has dodged this question for months.

The discussion on Monday night laid bare the poverty of the way the ZBA has handled this whole business.  I expect that Mr. Schachner and Tony Izzo will now sit down and try to prepare a document that will explain why the project was stopped that will withstand the potential lawsuit that may follow.