A group calling itself Save Morgan Street have put out a mailer that both attacks Saratoga Hospital and urges voters to cast ballots against Commissioners Michele Madigan and Skip Scirocco in this Tuesday’s (11/5) election.
The mailer itself is in violation of the New York State Municipal Law governing elections and campaigning. In order to spend money on activities that support or oppose candidates, New York requires a group to register with the New York State Board of Elections. If they spend less than $1,000.00 they must then report both the contributions they receive and their expenditures to the County Board of Elections. If they go over $1,000.00 they must report this information to the state. I have checked with the Saratoga County Board of Elections and the website for the New York State Board of Elections and this group is not listed anywhere as a committee.
This omission by them could be an oversight but it is emblematic of the carelessness reflected in the content of their attack.
Dr. David Mastriani has written an excellent piece for Saratoga Today to respond to the Morgan Street group’s mailer so I will not repeat his points. [JK:I was unable to get a link to the story so the image of the article appears at the end of this post. Saratoga Today can be picked up all over town]. I would just note as one example of the gross errors in this document that it alleges that the hospital wants to build forty-two homes as part of the project. In fact, the Comprehensive Plan’s designation for the parcels does not allow any structures other than medical offices.
Here are some additional points of clarification:
1. The letter urges votes against Commissioners Scirocco and Madigan because they allege these Commissioners voted twice in support of the Hospital. No such votes ever occurred.
The mailing refers to two events. In the first case, the Hospital had applied to the city to build their medical building as a Planned Unit Development. There was never a vote because both Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner John Franck abstained. Four votes were required to pass the resolution and since the abstentions left only three Council members eligible to vote, the vote never occurred. Similarly, a later attempt by Commissioner Chris Mathiesen to change the Comprehensive Plan so that an office building could not be built in the neighborhood failed to get a second from any of the other Commissioners. Again there was no vote.
2. The neighbors assert that the Hospital attorney used “a loop hole” to circumvent a requirement to notify the neighbors of a zoning change. This kind of allegation ignores how the city makes land use decisions.
The Hospital first tried to get city approval, as noted earlier, through the Planned Unit Development process. The neighbors had been notified of this and it was their opposition that required the super majority vote which never took place because of Yepsen’s and Franck’s abstentions.
The Hospital’s request for a change in the zoning of the land they wished to develop was next considered as part of the Comprehensive Plan process.
The process by which the city decides on the appropriate use of land within its boundaries is routinely done through the drafting of a Comprehensive Plan. The Comprehensive Plan Commission is appointed by the Mayor. It crafts the plan through a process of meetings that are not only public but videoed.
In the course of their deliberations the most recent Commission approved a number of recommendations for changes in land use in addition to the area where the Hospital wished to build. The process was both very public and extremely contentious. The Commission failed to finalize the document due to the irreconcilable divisions in the group. The City Council under Mayor Yepsen then resolved the outstanding recommendations and unanimously adopted the plan which included the changes in the designation of the land where the Hospital wished to build.
While the decision to allow for the change the Hospital sought in the plan was done in an open meeting and passed unanimously there is no question that the neighbors were unaware that this proposal was being considered. There is no requirement in this process to notify neighbors of changes that are being considered throughout the city. This had nothing to do with some kind of loophole exploited by an attorney.
3. The flyer asserts that the city is promoting the Hospital project because there is a “…webpage on the City’s Official website with a ‘FAQ’ sheet for the expansion.” They are referring to the original 2015 Planned Unit Development application that failed but by law is required to be accessible to the public. To comply with the law the application was posted on the city’s website. This is a very old document that is no longer active. They also note that the PUD proposal refers people with questions to a representative of the hospital rather than to the Planning Department. This is because as a PUD the responsibility for the application rests with the applicant and not the Planning Department. These all fit within the requirements of how PUDs are approved or denied.
I have sympathy for the people in the neighborhood. People are understandably concerned about the impact of a large project. They do their cause no service, unfortunately, by making ill informed and inaccurate accusations.