On Tuesday, August 8, I interviewed Mark Baker, Republican candidate for Mayor of Saratoga Springs.
Originally from Wisconsin, Mark spent 33 years as the executive director of the Saratoga Springs City Center.
I sent him the questions we would be discussing and asked him to respond in writing to facilitate our discussion when we met in person. Included below are the answers he sent me.
Mark is far from most people’s idea of a stereotypical politician. We had a wide ranging thoughtful discussion of city issues free of popular buzzwords and platitudes.
The one troubling part of our conversation for me was our discussion of the city’s greenbelt. While Mark supports the comprehensive plan’s requirement for low intensity development in this area he was not willing to be more specific than that. My attempt to get him to take a position on Saratoga National Golf Course’s quest to expand to become a resort were fruitless. He said he was not familiar with the details of whatever ended up being their final proposal.
I think it speaks well for Mark that he agreed to meet and spend considerable time with me particularly in light of the fact that we do not totally agree on every issue. Development in the greenbelt is a high priority issue for me. I came away from our conversation feeling that while I do not know how he would respond to future proposals from players like SNGC I think he may be open to changes in the greenbelt that I would oppose.
What Mark did demonstrate is that he is accessible to voters in this city no matter what their political perspective and that he will listen and engage them in a thoughtful way.
From Mark Baker:
Given my gmail and primitive computer I will have to answer your questions separately below versus editing your questions or attaching to your questions. I will go in the order as presented;
City Center: The City Center was the “key-stone” to an excellent home grown economic development plan to help Saratoga re-emerge as a year ’round destination community. The City Center was at the heart of the renaissance of the downtown retail and food/beverage businesses. This influx of convention and year round guests has helped build sales tax revenues and downtown growth with quality/boutique retail and unique restaurants. It was also a part of the infill of downtown.
Saratoga has become what was envisioned over 3 decades ago as a vibrant, economic driver, and year round destination location. The City Center was the major element in this vision.
I am running and will succeed as Mayor under our current Commission form of government. I am confident I will build consensus with the individual Commissioners, show leadership and allow the City Council to properly serve the needs of this great city.
Regarding the proposed “wholesale” change in our form of government, I find several areas troubling in the new proposal; cost and more importantly, accountability. While it is healthy to have dialogue and discussion about alternatives, I believe at this time it is best for Saratoga Springs to remain with the current Commission form of Government.
As Mayor, I will bring to the Council, for its consideration, proposals for specific Charter Sections to be considered for modification.
The most recent proposal for donated land to accommodate a safe and possibly more cost effective “pedestrian/bike trail” should be quickly assessed and reviewed. If the new proposal is in fact a “better way” to accomplish the mutually endorsed goal of a bike access across Rt 50 to the Spa, it should be weighed against the current plan and the best solution embraced.
The other issues (pending Article 78 and ED) regarding the current plan need to be considered in assessing the trail options.
Tying up a great concept (bike trail accesses) in litigation and not moving forward is not a palatable solution.
Land Use Boards:
The function and realities of our current zoning and the role of the respective Land Use Boards, always need to be reviewed and “tooled” to stay current and fresh in their directives, interpretations, and jurisdictions.
All proposed development should be handled fairly, with due diligence, and given clear, timely review and guidance from the Land Use Boards.
Each project, may need to be reviewed from a unique and refined perspective–i.e. why we have the respective Boards.
Interpretation of commercial versus non-profit projects may require a different optic to assure that the public benefit is being assessed in the approval or denial process.
My concern was with process and also the interpretation of the term “boarding house”. I am not opposed to the concept of offering a human service answer to those in need especially the homeless. This project is very unique and the greater community-private and public (not just those within 100′) need a clear understanding of goals, operational format and safe-guards.
Communication and transparency on this project is paramount to dispel half truths and fear.