In a previous blog, I reported on the proposal to build a shelter for Code Blue. Link To Earlier Post. The Zoning Board of Appeals recently approved the required variances for the project. Subsequently, homeowners in the neighborhood decided to appeal the decision and turned out to a ZBA meeting. The ZBA denied hearing their appeal citing that they would have had to make the appeal within 60 days of the determination by the building inspector. The neighbors’ attorney unsuccessfully challenged this arguing that the determination by the board should have triggered the clock.
Mayoral Candidate Mark Baker issued a press release critical of the Mayor. The Gazette quoted Mr. Baker as follows:
‘Baker went on to say that past approaches to the city’s homelessness problem and “lack of public input and thoughtfulness” from the mayor’s office has led to “real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown.”’
I thought accusing the mayor of “encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown” seemed rather harsh so I sent him an email asking him:
What actions has the mayor taken that has contributed to this?
What actions would you take to address this if you were mayor?
To Mark’s credit he both called me to discuss the issue and at my request sent me the original press release along with a response to my questions. While I support the construction of the shelter I have sympathy for the concerns of the neighbors and I thought that Mark’s concerns were more thoughtful after reading his entire release.
Many of the neighbors complained that they had been unaware of the project until after the ZBA had approved it. In seeking a variance or in submitting an appeal of a Zoning Board of Appeals decision the neighbors within one hundred feet are required to be notified. Given the controversial nature of this project it would seem prudent to have reached out further. A more systemic approach to this problem would be to widen the area to be notified by amending the city’s zoning ordinances.
The following are Mark’s response to my questions and his press release.
From: Mark Baker
Date: July 2, 2017 at 2:21:00 PM EDT
To: John Kaufmann
The Mayor’s office should be the first to engage the community and any specific neighborhoods when a significant action or project is being discussed or proposed. The Mayor’s role should always be to listen, inform, educate and build consensus. With a project with such high visibility and interest as a permanent home for Code Blue, it would have been prudent and productive for the Mayor to bring together the entire impacted neighborhood, not just those within 100 ft.
Lacking transparency, public input, and engagement by the community leads to suspicion, misunderstanding and discord which all too often leads to expensive litigation.
The lack of leadership from the Mayor’s office may have contributed to continued concerns of homelessness, vagrancy and panhandling impacting neighborhoods and downtown.
This complex human service issue and potential solutions must be understood by the public, impacted neighborhoods, and neighboring towns to be truly successful.
As Saratoga Springs Mayor, I will put all Saratogian’s first in seeking solid first step solutions by working in partnership with all involved agencies, the faith community, and residents.
Mark E Baker