I met with Mayor Kelly and City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis on April 10.
I have had mixed experiences in dealing with elected officials as the readers of this blog know, but I was quite impressed with Mayor Kelly. She was knowledgeable regarding the UDO and a number of other issues we discussed. But what I also found encouraging was her manner of engagement. She was clearly open and involved in the conversation. This is not to say that she is not careful about what she says. Her answers were often cautious and sometimes she declined to address my questions. The things elected officials say have consequences. Statements made can have unfortunate legal consequences and glib responses can risk damaging the trust in working relationships. I simply felt that Ms. Kelly was answering my questions thoughtfully and her restraint appeared to be prudent.
When the city adopts a Comprehensive Plan it must then revise its zoning ordinances to reflect the changes from the previous Comprehensive Plan.
In addition to issues such as the details of the setbacks of buildings from roads and property lines, a Comprehensive Plan includes how the city plans to address many issues such as traffic, solid waste, storm water management, etc.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority gave the city a grant for $200,000.00 to go beyond simply amending its zoning laws. They wanted to support a more comprehensive project that would more explicitly address questions of sustainability.
The city’s website describes the project as follows:
The City has received a grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to update its land use regulations (Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations, Standard Construction Details) and synchronize its policy documents (Open Space Master Plan, Complete Streets Policy, and the Urban and Community Forest Master Plan) in accordance with the newly updated Comprehensive Plan, into a coordinated, user-friendly document.
The contract to accomplish this was awarded to Behan Planning and Design (BPD) in September of 2015 and was anticipated to be completed in a year. The contract included a timetable for deliverables but the project was plagued by delays early on. On September 15, 2017 BPD delivered to the city a draft that according to its cover page represented 80% of the final document. << https://saratogaspringsudo.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/udo-full_17_0915.pdf >>. In accepting the document, Mayor Yepsen’s office appeared to acknowledge the document as representing the completion of the bulk of the work. Around that time, a representative of BPL did a presentation of the work to the City Council.
At the first meeting of the City Council in 2018, the new mayor, Meg Kelly, offered a resolution terminating the contract with BPL. There was no discussion as to why the contract was being terminated prior to completion and the motion was unanimously approved. As best I can recall, the original contract with BPL (covered by the NYSERDA grant) was for approximately $125,000.00 and of that the city had spent $92,000.00.
Mayor Kelly’s office then issued a new RFP to complete the work of BPL. There were no responses to this RFP.
Subsequently the city issued a new RFP which pretty much looked like the original RFP that had been awarded to BPL.
In light of all of this, I requested to meet with Mayor Kelly to find out what had happened and how she expected all of this to play out now.
When I met with the Mayor I noted that when the Council terminated the contract with BPL there was no discussion. So what happened?
The Mayor told me that she did not think it would be helpful to revisit decisions made by her predecessor or to rehash the delays that plagued the project. She told me that completing the UDO is essential to properly implement the Comprehensive Plan the city adopted so her concern is to get this done as expeditiously as possible. Mayor Kelly told me that her concern was finding a consulting firm that was capable of addressing what is a very complex project and that could get it done with reasonable speed. She indicated that they have been in touch with a number of firms appropriate to this project and those discussions lead her to believe that they will secure a firm that can do the work.
There is $48,000.00 left in the NYSERDA grant. The mayor acknowledged that the cost of doing the work will likely exceed this. I asked her where that money would come from. She told me that it was best to first find out how much the project will cost and have a solid proposal available before seeking the additional funds.
The bids are due to be opened on April 18.