Magical Barn To House Conversion On Murphy Lane: Latest Developments

People who have followed this blog will remember the debacle of the city’s handling of the “conversion” of the “barn” [Some would say large shed] to a house on Murphy Lane in 2016. The real estate agent who bought the barn applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a host of variances stating in their application that they were going to save the barn and convert it to a home. To do this they needed variances for everything from set backs to required parking spaces as it would face a narrow alley. In violation of the assurances they put in their application for variances, they tore the existing structure down anyway. In a particularly controversial action the structure is much higher than the original. This was a poster child case for the abdication of responsibility by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The city halted construction, but due to gross mishandling by the ZBA, its staff person, Susan Barden, and the Building Inspector at the time, Steve Shaw, the city ended up in court and in the end had to allow the project to go forward. For details do a search on this site for Murphy Lane.

Recently, the property was listed for sale for a whopping $722,000, and among the specifications in the ad was that the property has two parking spaces. The seller successfully received a variance to allow for only one parking space. The allotted space off the ally barely accommodates one car. There is nowhere on the property for a second parking space. Here are some pictures of the property. Note how narrow the alley is if a car is parked in front of the house making it difficult for the neighbor with the red vehicle to get out of their driveway, and these pictures do not show how narrow the ally becomes when snow piles up.

So it appears that the seller is misrepresenting the property. A neighbor who has been the victim in this project complained to the city about what appears to be an improper representation. The neighbor noted that the seller has laid pea gravel in front of the house which appears to be in the city right of way.

The Mayor’s office referred the complaint to Commissioner of Public Safety Peter Martin. The Public Safety office includes the office of code enforcement. I emailed Peter Martin on June 21 asking about the right of the owner to advertise the property as having two parking spaces and to lay stone in front of the property. I did not receive a response so on June 26 I wrote Commissioner Martin again asking if he would respond.

The Commissioner promptly responded to my second email with the following indicating that his department was going to put “No Parking” signs up:

Re: Murphy Lane

I have traveled Murphy Lane to look at the issues that you discuss and I have sent our police chief and fire battalion chief as well.  We will be posting fire lane – no parking signs on Murphy Lane. These signs are created by an outside firm and it can take several weeks to have them created.  The issue concerning compliance with building plans (height, etc.) should be reviewed by the city building department before issuing a Certificate of Occupancy.  We do not have enforcement powers with respect to the veracity of realtor advertisements.  Let me know if there is anything that I missed.

Peter R. Martin

The CO has already been issued so this still left the issue of the apparent misrepresentation regarding the parking spaces. I should allow that maybe I am missing something that explains all of this. I called a local realtor whose opinion I respect and asked what recourse there was about this kind of thing. He suggested that I contact the manager of the local realtor office that issued the listing.
I called that office and spoke to its manager. Understandably she appeared rather stunned and confused. She probably rarely hears from bloggers regarding her office’s listings. First she offered to connect me with the agent/seller. I declined. She then said she would look into it and get back to me.
I will advise the readers of this blog if and when she gets back to me.

Local March For Immigration Justice

Saturday, June 29, 11:00 AM: MARCH FOR IMMIGRANT JUSTICE
Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, proceeding to SPAC entrance (Jazz Festival weekend!).
This is the Capital Region event for a nation-wide day of action called by Immigrant Justice Now.  Goals:
–End Child Separation.
— End family detention.
— Provide mental health support for the children and people the US has traumatized.
Contact Chloe Blanch:  Facebook.
Co-sponsored by Saratoga Immigration Coalition.

Democratic Primary for Commissioner of Finance To Be Determined by Absentee Ballots

An unofficial tally appears to have Patty Morrison ahead of Michele Madigan by 19 votes in the Democratic Primary to determine who will be the Democratic candidate for Commissioner of Finance in the general election in November. According to the Saratoga County Board of Elections there are 96 absentee ballots that will be counted on Tuesday, July 2. Should Madigan lose the Democratic primary she will still be on the November ballot on  the Working Families and the Independence Party lines.

FBI and Homeland Security Raid Offices Of Firm Associated With Ronald Riggi

According the the Times Union, the FBI and Homeland Security raided Turbine Services Inc. which had been the company run by Ronald Riggi. He apparently was on the premises during the raid. Riggi had been the CEO of the company for many years but in the TU report they indicated they were unsure of his current relationship to the company while the Gazette reported “Turbine’s CEO is listed elsewhere online as Ronald Riggi.”  Riggi is the husband of Michele Riggi, an aspiring socialite. They own the starter castle on North Broadway.

Here is a link to the story.

Church Neighbors Meet with Madigan, Morrison, and Kelly re: Code Blue

Neighbors of the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church on Circular Street met with Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, Mayor Meg Kelly, and candidate for Finance Commissioner Patty Morrison on the evening of June 23 to discuss their concerns about the proposal to house Code Blue on the church’s property. Here is a recording of that meeting with presentations by each of the invited guests followed by Q and A.

The recording is about an hour long but the differences in the thoughtfulness of the responses and the depth of knowledge of the three speakers about the issue of homelessness in Saratoga Springs is quite dramatic and well worth listening to.

Times Union Watch: The Sad State Of Journalism As Practiced by Wendy Liberatore: The Eddy Miller Story

For a number of years I had the pleasure of working with Dennis Yusko who was the TU reporter covering Saratoga prior to Ms. Liberatore. While Dennis had great enthusiasm for exciting stories, he never leaped into print. He did his own fact checking to make sure that the story was real and not some political ploy. He wanted to know who the players were and what their agendas were. He wanted to know if their allegations were backed up by law and fact.

Regrettably Ms. Liberatore does not maintain these kinds of standards. Her story about Bill McTygue and Ann Bullock’s charges against Eddy Miller is illustrative of how Ms. Liberatore covers news.

The basic structure of her stories follow a consistent pattern. Someone makes a damning accusation of another person (usually an elected official). Their motivation for making the allegation is usually hardly masked. Most times they want to damage the target’s reputation in order to support a competing candidate or they are promoting legislation that their target does not embrace. For a responsible reporter this would trigger skepticism and prompt a thorough review of the allegation to determine if it still deserves a published story. Instead, Ms. Liberatore creates the appearance of fairness by providing the target of the attack the opportunity to respond (defend themselves).

Her very act of reporting the allegation in a newspaper like the Times Union gives the attack the patina of credibility. No matter how strong the defense offered by the target of the attack, the reputation of the victim has been tainted.

Her story about allegations made by Bill McTygue and Anne Bullock in the June 13, 2019 edition of the TU is a case in point.

In the story McTygue and Bullock allege that Eddy Miller and Joanne Foresta violated the city and the state’s ethics rules. They further assert that all the members of the city council somehow also violated the same ethical standards.

To begin with Ms. Liberatore might have picked up on the fact that in their letter they asserted that Ms. Foresta and Mr. Miller were married which they are not. This might have been a tip off that meticulous accuracy was not at the heart of their allegations.

Central to their allegations is the fact that Mr. Miller is the chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party which endorsed the incumbent city council members who are running for re-election. Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock also single out Commissioner Madigan for being the recipient of a $500.00 donation from the Independence Party.

Their letter notes that on May 21, the city council unanimously approved energy contracts “…procured, it is believed, through EnergyNow.” Here again, “it is believed” should have been another tip off that the authors might not have all their facts in order.

We then get to the nub of their allegation… Well, maybe allegation is not quite the right term because the authors don’t quite assert the facts of the impropriety, they conjecture about them:

“All of this begs the question, did city council members agree to use the services of EnergyNow, formed by the chairman of the Independence Party [JK: SIC-He is only the chair of the county party] and apparently [JK: Emphasis added] owned by individuals connected to the Independence Party, resulting in significant tax payer-funded payments to EnergyNow and those individuals, in exchange for endorsements and campaign support by the Independence Party of those City Council members?”

So what we have is Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock speculating about the possibility of wrong doing.

Even their conjecture is based on a statement that does not stand up to the most modest scrutiny. Those of you particularly observant will note that the vote of the council they refer to was to contract with two actual energy suppliers, not to EnergyNow. So there were, in fact, not “significant tax-payer-funded payments to EnergyNow.”

The authors, in their letter, reference state and city ethics violations which similarly do not stand up to even the most cursory review of the actual statutes and standards. I am including the full text of their letter and along with the detailed analysis by the city attorney that documents their misrepresentations of the codes and regulations.

How I handle these kinds of allegations is also rooted in my assessment of who is offering this information to me. In this case, Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock have extensive histories of hostility to Ms. Madigan and Mayor Kelly.

In addition, and not included in their letter, Ms. Foresta was an employee of Gordon Boyd who owned a company called EnergyNext. At the time, EnergyNext had a contract with the Chamber of Commerce to act as a broker to arrange for the best prices between local energy suppliers and chamber members. The city, as members of the chamber, used EnergyNext and in turn, Ms. Foresta was Mr. Boyd’s contact person. Recently, Mr. Boyd sold his company and Ms. Foresta and Mr. Miller set up their own company to continue working in the field. I think it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Boyd who is linked to both Ms. Bullock and Mr. McTygue in multiple ways is the source for these allegations.

People send me similar allegations to those offered by Mr. McTygue and Ms. Bullock. I am just a blogger and not the reporter for a major area newspaper but when people send me material like this I have two possible responses. Usually I ask them to provide me with documentation that supports their allegations. If what they offer is sufficiently important, I may actually follow up and do my own research. I would never consider disseminating the ruminations of people with an agenda unless I had rigorously established its validity.

Calling up the target of an attack (in this case Commissioner Franck) to have him defend himself is not my idea of research.

Ms. Liberatore and the Times Union are abusing the power they enjoy from being a major newspaper. Neither the newspaper in general nor Ms. Liberatore in particular seem concerned about the damage that their reckless behavior may have on the people they may hurt in publishing baseless attacks.

A Problem With Patty Morrison’s Mailer

Patty Morrison, who is competing to be the Democratic nominee for Commissioner of Finance in the upcoming June 25th primary, has sent out a mailer to registered Democrats. In the mailer she makes the following allegation regarding her opponent, Michele Madigan:

“Supports developer requested rezoning variances”

In Saratoga Springs, zoning variances are the responsibility of the Zoning Board Of Appeals. The City Council has no role in them.

Making a statement like this is very troubling. Aside from demonstrating that Ms. Morrison does not understand how land-use issues are dealt with in this city, it reflects an approach to public discourse that is unnecessarily combative while playing loosely with the truth.

This city has endured years of poisonous meetings where gratuitous conflict has clouded discussion. Mayor Kelly has achieved what many thought impossible: meetings that are collegial and efficient. I think the above allegation has to make many of us worry how Ms. Morrison would affect this dynamic were she to be elected and serve on the Council.