Has The UDO Been Highjacked?

In past posts I have discussed the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). This ambitious project was partially funded by the New York State Energy Redevelopment Authority. It was meant to incorporate both our zoning regulations and our design issues into one inclusive document with an emphasis on improved energy and environmental elements.

Recently, the consultants produced a new zoning map for the city which was meant to implement the city’s Comprehensive Plan. This was the source of considerable controversy because it included the rezoning sought by Saratoga Hospital and rezoning in the area by Railroad Run.

For some reason the consultants who have been crafting the UDO proposed a change in the zoning for the area by Railroad Run from what was in effect a residential area to one that would include significant commercial development.

The UDO’s zoning map was supposed to be simply following the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The neighbors of Railroad Run strenuously objected to the change in zoning pointing out that the change was not supported by the Comprehensive Plan. The city’s Planning Board agreed with the neighbors and the controversial zoning proposed by the consultants was reversed.

Some of us found it hard to understand how the consultants could have made such an error. It is important to note that the consultants are working closely with the city’s Planning Department. Regrettably that office, headed by Bradley Birge, has had a history of being a handmaiden of the real estate industry.

Now it appears that the consultants and the Planning Department are again proposing changes which seem to be inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. This approach would involve changing the definitions of zoning areas.

Based on an analysis done by the Dublin Square Homeowners it seems they are taking an even more ambitious approach to expand development.

  • They would alter the UR-3 zoning district which would impact potentially some three thousand homes in the city.
  • Single-Family lot size would be reduced from 6,600 sq.ft. to 5,000 sq.ft., a25% reduction in required building lot size, therefore a significant density increase.
  • Two family lot size would be reduced from a minimum of 8,000 square feet to 6,600 square feet, a 17% reduction.
  • They would permit “Cottage Court” or “Pocket Neighborhoods.” These would be similar to the “Downton Walk” development imposed upon the neighbors on Jumel Place. Over the strenuous objections of the neighbors the Zoning Board of Appeals granted the developer numerous variances resulting in what looks rather like a giant space ship has landed in the neighborhood. The Zoning Board of Appeals fortunately has new members who would probably now oppose such a project but it is unclear what if any variances would be required to build a similar project should the UDO be adopted as currently proposed.
  • Nonresidential buildings with a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet would be permitted despite the fact that the Comprehensive Plan states only existing (emphasis added) commercial businesses are allowed in the UR-3 zone.

Here is the complete text of the email that was sent to the City Council by the Dublin Square Homeowners:

January 14, 2020

TO: City Council Members

FR: Dublin Square Homeowners

RE: Proposed January 7, 2020 Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Draft is not “in accordance with a comprehensive plan” (Comp. Plan p.64)

CC: City Deputies, Residential Homeowners

We are writing you now so you are aware of our grave concerns with the January 7, 2020 UDO draft. We need your help because this UDO draft does not reflect what was discussed and agreed to in the 2015 Comprehensive Plan.

For the first time since 2013, we are being presented radical proposals for the UDO, basically a rewrite of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan by the city’s Planning Department and their consultants.

As most of you know, we have fought hard and endlessly to maintain the current densities in our neighborhoods, and we believe the intent and language of the Comprehensive Plan assures us of this protection. However, the January 7, 2020 UDOdraft does the complete opposite. It short:➢

If the proposed January 7, 2020 UDO is approved, the following would be allowed in the UR-3 District which includes more than 3,000 homes:

• Single-Family lot size would be reduced from 6,600 sq.ft. to 5,000 sq.ft., a25% reduction in required building lot size, therefore a significant density increase.

• Two-Family lot size would be reduced from 8,000 sq.ft. to 6,600 sq.ft., a 17.5% reduction in required lot size, creating more density increase.

• “Cottage Court” or “Pocket Neighborhoods” are proposed throughout the city’s UR-3 district, similar to what is being built on Jumel Place, despite strong opposition by UR-3 residential homeowners.

• Nonresidential buildings with a minimum lot size of 10,000 sq.ft, are proposed despite the fact the Comprehensive Plan states only EXISTING commercial businesses are permitted in UR-3 neighborhoods: “Although the Core Neighborhood is primarily residential in character, existing neighborhood-scale commercial uses may currently exist to complement residential uses.” (Comp. Plan, p.58)

What the draft UDO does is moves our current UR-3 neighborhoods toward a T-4 commercial district. This will result in high-density residential and commercial development with all the associated water, sanitary, traffic and congestion issues that accompany this type of development and a major change in neighborhood character.

We are aware that Planning staff and their consultants will present the draft UDO to the pubic on January 22 and 23. We will be there. And, we want to call this to your attention now, as it is such a radical departure from what was agreed to in the Comprehensive Plan. 

The discussions and vote by the Comprehensive Plan Committee Members called for maintaining residential densities at their current levels. This was the vision and the intent of the 2015 Comprehensive plan and this needs to be carried over into the new UDO.

On June 14, 2016, residential homeowners met with Planning Department Director Bradley Birge and his staff. At that meeting, we were told by Mr. Birge that the Planning Department had no intentions or plans to increase density in any residential neighborhoods in the new UDO. 

So why is a 25% increase in density now being proposed in the UR-3 District. Why arePocket Neighborhoods being proposed now, which were never part of the discussion orincluded in the Comprehensive Plan? Why are new commercial businesses being proposed in residential neighborhoods when the Comprehensive Plan clearly states that only existing businesses are permitted?

The hard work by residential homeowners over the past seven years has allowed the city of Saratoga Springs to maintain the traditional residential character of its neighborhoods. It has been a battle for us to keep “Saratoga’s quintessential residential character and charm,” (Comp. Plan p.57) beginning with the Comprehensive Plan meetings in 2013 and continuing through multiple drafts of the UDO since 2015.

We need your help. Please strongly object with us to the changes being proposed in the draft UDO that do not align with the 2015 Comprehensive Plan that the City Council Members approved.

Thank you,

Dublin Square Homeowners

Frank Capone, President

A draft of the UDO is available on the city website. Public comments on the draft can be submitted through February 7. Camiros, the city consultant, will present and discuss the draft at the City Council meeting on January 21 at 7PM. There will be three public workshops with Camiros and the city Planning Staff on the proposed UDO. They will be held:

January 22 at 2:30PM, Empire State College, 2 Union Avenue, Room 126

January 22 at 6PM, Empire State College, 2 Union Avenue, Room 126

January 23 at 9AM, Recreation Center, 15 Vanderbilt Avenue

Saratoga Springs Launches Ambitious Campaign To Deal With Homelessness

On Thursday, January 9, a coalition was formed to attempt to address the homelessness issues in Saratoga Springs. Called the Saratoga Collaborative To End Homelessness, it will be facilitated by Erin Healy who is a native of Saratoga Springs and works out of Brooklyn as a consultant focusing on homeless issues.

The coalition brings together players from government and the private sector. It will involve Shelters of Saratoga along with the police, hospitals, mental health workers, and representatives of our city and our county government.

In late February there will be a two day event to develop plans followed by what they call a sprint to experiment with solutions.

An excellent story from the Gazette Newspaper notes:

The coalition will consist of two key teams: a leadership team of government officials and agency leaders tasked with “clearing the path” of financial, regulatory and other hurdles; and a design team of mental health, substance abuse and homelessness workers charged with planning and implementing the group’s on-the-ground strategies.

As someone who enthusiastically supports this effort and who was the executive director of the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council for sixteen years, I have to express some reservations about how much one community can do to solve this problem. The roots of homelessness lie in the lack of affordable housing and without a massive federal effort such as we saw in the years when Jefferson Terrace and Stonequist Apartments were built, addressing this fundamental issue on a local level will be profoundly limited. Still I wish this new group success.

I will be especially interested in seeing what role the county plays in this.

Apparently The Outgoing Republican Administration In Milton Wiped The Town’s computers including even the software like Microsoft Word

Great story by Wendy Liberatore for the Times Union on possible sabotage by the outgoing Supervisor of the town of Milton (our neighbor to the Southwest).

A slate of reformers led by Republican Benny Zlotnick who ran on the Democratic line defeated the endorsed Republicans who ran the town in an extraordinary election.

Now, as it turns out, someone from that administration wiped out the town’s computers before the turnover to the challengers. This included not only all the documents but even the software like Microsoft Word. It is unclear whether there are backups that can be restored.

The New York State Archive laws require municipalities to maintain key public documents. It is unclear what criminal laws may have been violated including the destruction of town property.

This has to be filed under bizarre. It is really hard to believe that someone would do something like this intentionally. Efforts by the Times Union to reach Ostrander were unsuccessful.

Gazette: Update To City Open Space Plan and Study of Saratoga Lake

Stephen Williams has covered Saratoga Springs for the Gazette Newspaper for decades.  His long experience and his fairness make him an outstanding reporter.   Given the continual retrenchment in newspapers we are very lucky to have him as a resource.

He has written two recent stories with environmental dimensions.

City To Update Its Open Space Plan

His stories in the Gazette are behind a paywall.  I urge the readers of this blog to subscribe to the digital version of the Gazette so they can read Mr. Williams’ full stories.  Here are some highlights from the story on the update to the city’s open space plan that appeared on January 1.

It has been fifteen years since the city updated it open space plan.  In 2002 city voters approved a bond issue allowing the city to borrow $5,000,000.00 which was used for a number of projects including the development of the city’s waterfront park on Saratoga Lake and the purchase of an easement for the Pitney Farms project.  This money has now been exhausted.

The city has now contracted with the firm M. J. Engineering and Surveying of Clifton Park for $44,600.00 to update the open space plan. 

The story reported that:

“The update will establish criteria for the spending of funds, inventory available open space and discuss opportunities for land preservation, parks, and lands for both active and passive recreation, according to the request for proposals.”

The updated plan will be important in seeking moneys for additional projects such as the development of the Greenbelt Trail around the city.

Saratoga Lake Study

Here is a link to the full story.

The Regional Economic Council has awarded two grants to the town of Stillwater to study Saratoga Lake. 

$45,000.00 has been made available by the Department of State to identify where excess nutrients and sediment are coming from.  They pose a threat to the health of the lake.

$30,000.00 coming from the Department of Environmental Conservation will be used to reduce and treat stormwater runoff. 

In Williams’ article he quotes the Supervisor for Stillwater:

“We’ve been applying for anything and everything that could help us deal with water quality issues in the lake,” said Stillwater Town Supervisor Ed Kinoski. “We’re looking for the best possible means to catch whatever we can coming into the lake, whether it is soil or nutrients.”

There is a lot more in the article and it is well worth reading the entire story.

Times Union Watch: Poor Editing Or Manipulative Writing?

In her article in the Times Union on the New York State Independence Party’s contributions to the candidates endorsed by the Saratoga County Independence Party Wendy Liberatore wrote:

The 11-day pre-election financial disclosure forms also shows an Oct. 18 expense allocation of $6,071.06 listed simply as “Michele Madigan.” Residents in the city received several glossy fliers for those running on the Independence line — including Madigan, who lost the Democratic primary to Patty Morrison.

January 2, 2020 TU

The morning of January 2, Ms. Liberatore sent the following email to Commissioner Madigan. As will become clear, Ms. Liberatore apparently did no research regarding the documents she is referencing which I expect someone provided to her. The result was a question that had as its assumption that Commissioner Madigan had acted improperly. Imagine, dear reader, if you had been the recipient of an email like this?

I see that the NYS Committee of the Independence Party in Long Island was funded by Saratogians, some of whom already donated to folks running under the One Saratoga banner.

I also see that the committee paid you more than $6,000.

I’m wondering if you would like to comment on why people would send money to Long Island and not a local committee.

Also wondering why the committee paid you money and not any of the other candidates.

Thank you,

Wendy

Commissioner Madigan emailed back to Ms. Liberatore that she knew nothing about this and that she should direct her inquiries to the source of the document, the New York State Independence Party. Commissioner Madigan sent a cc to Ms. Liberatore’s editor, Casey Seiler.

Later that afternoon she received the following email from Mr. Seiler:

On Jan 2, 2020, at 12:48 PM, Seiler, Casey <CSeiler@timesunion.com> wrote:

Ms. Madigan:

See attached for the $6,071.06 payment from the Independence Party of NY Campaign Account, which is listed in the “expense allocation” section as going to you. (It’s the only expense allocation in the 11-day pre-general report.) It could very well be that it went to your campaign and not to you personally, but that’s not the way it’s listed here. If you/your campaign didn’t receive this sum from the IPNYCA, please let us know. Any light you could shine on this would be most helpful.

Thanks,

Casey

So Casey is going with the narrative that the money may have gone to Commissioner Madigan personally. Commissioner Madigan promptly responded that neither she personally nor her campaign committee received these moneys. She did point out to him that he was ill informed about the nature of the document he was referencing.

This is the first I’ve heard or seen this. I am unfamiliar with schedule R, but a quick review of it online tells me it’s an expense allocation form – “they spent“ money and apparently they are saying it was on “Michele Madigan”. You’ll need to ask them why.  

As I explained in my previous post on this issue, the Schedule R “allocation”form is meant to provide additional transparency to the expenditure report. The expenditure report lists what was actually paid out by the group and to whom it was paid. For example it might include “Smith Printing” for $1.00. Schedule R is meant to document who benefited from the expenditures as in “John Doe running for dog catcher.” John Doe did not receive the dollar. The printing of a flyer for that amount was meant to benefit Mr. Doe’s campaign.

Kevin Madigan, Commissioner Madigan’s husband and campaign treasurer, wrote to Mr. Seiler repeating Commissioner Madigan’s admonishment that this was a matter for the New York State Independence Party that was responsible for the documents.

This was Seiler’s response.

On Jan 2, 2020, at 1:52 PM, Seiler, Casey <CSeiler@timesunion.com> wrote:

Kevin: This is a $6,071 expense [JK: Emphasis added] to support one campaign, according to this filing; there are not similar expenses for other candidates in the report. (The party, or at least this committee, is woefully overdue in its reporting obligations, according to Wendy.)

What the filing show (sic)are more than $10,000 in donations  to this organization from a number of individuals and corporate donors in Saratoga Co., almost all dated 10/1 or 10/2, and slightly more than two weeks later the spending tagged “Michele Madigan.”

We’re not saying you should be aware of it. We’re asking if you are aware of it. If the answer is you know about the mailer from the Independence Party but not its source of funding, that’s what we’ll print. [JK: Emphasis added] Best, Casey

So Mr. Seiler has backed off on Commissioner Madigan getting the money personally. He still doesn’t seem to understand the difference between an “expenditure” (an actual payment) and an “allocation” (an indication of which candidate benefited from the expenditure). There was no expenditure to Madigan or her campaign committee.

It also borders on the absurd that he wants to know if Commissioner Madigan is aware of the content of the state filings by the Independence Party. His email notes the apparent ineptitude by the state Independence Party which seems to imply that Commissioner Madigan is somehow implicated.

If you review the text from Ms. Liberatore’s article at the beginning of this blog you may agree with me that a person reading this article might think that Commissioner Madigan or her campaign received the moneys. There is also the gratuitous reference to Patty Morrison beating Commissioner Madigan in the Democratic primary. The moneys the story references were related to the general election not the primary.

There is a legitimate story buried in all of this. Clearly some very well heeled players in the Saratoga Springs area used the state Independence Party apparatus to support the local Independence Party candidates. It also seems odd that whoever filled out Schedule R listed only Commissioner Madigan as the beneficiary when clearly the other endorsed candidates also benefited and were part of the mailings.

Unfortunately, consistent with the Times Union coverage of Saratoga Springs news, they have to add bling in what apparently is their quest for clicks on their web page. They are seemingly indifferent to the kind of damage this sort of cavalier reporting can do to those they cover.

State Independence Party Served As A Conduit For Moneys To Local City Council Campaign

The Times Union published an online story on January 2, 2020 regarding the role of the New York State Independence Party in last November’s Saratoga Springs election. It reported that a number of local business people made significant contributions to the New York State Independence Party which then used this money to do mailings on behalf of candidates in Saratoga Springs.

The text in the lower left corner reads: “Paid for by the NYS Committee of the Independence Party of New York – Not printed at tax payers (sic) expense”

Below is a list from the New York State Board of Elections of the contributors to something called “The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account.” All these donors are from the greater Saratoga Springs area.

$1,000.00 –D.A. Collins Construction: Major construction firm that sold land where hospital hopes to build its medical office building.

$500.00 -Phinney Design Group: Architectural and Design Firm. Among its many clients are New York Racing Association and Saratoga National Golf Course.

$150.00 –George “Skip” Carlson: Vice President for External Affairs with Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Mr. Carlson served for many years on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. [JK: As far as I can tell, he never voted against an application for a variance]

$500.00 –Elizabeth Jameson: Downtown merchant. Owner of Frivolous Boutique.

$1,000.00 –Matthew Jones: Attorney. Represents Saratoga Hospital

$5,000 -Thomas Newkirk: Principal owner of Saratoga National Golf Course among other investments in the area.

$250.00 –Frank Parillo: Saratoga Prime Properties LLC. Among his extensive holdings are the old Saratogian Building on Lake Avenue and the 38 High Rock Avenue.

$500.00 –Michael Toohey: Attorney – Go-to developer attorney. Vice Chairperson of Saratoga Hospital Board of Trustees.

Saratoga CoWorks: Downtown business that offers “shared space” office services.

$1,000.00 -Charles Wait: Chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust

$250.00 –SCH PAC, Albany, NY (Could not find any info on who this is.)

Total: $10,650.00

Expenditures

This is from the New York State Board of Elections. It lists the expenditures made by the New York State Independence Party Campaign Account.

$600.00 – BAKER PUBLIC RELATIONS
350 NORTHERN BLVD
ALBANY, NY 12204

$750.00 – CAMPAIGN UNLIMITED
47 FLINTLOCK DRIVE
SHIRLEY, NY 11967

$2,500.00 – CAPITAL ADVOCATES LLC
3 AURORA AVENUE
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY 12866

$2,971.06 -DIGITAL PRESS
5 SAND CREEK ROAD
ALBANY, NY 12205

$1,000.00 NYS INDEPENDENCE PARTY HOUSEKEEPING ACCOUNT
47 FLINTLOCK DRIVE
SHIRLEY, NY 11967

Total $7,821.06

As an observant reader may notice, Campaign Unlimited shares the same address as the NYS Independence Party Housekeeping Account. This address is a private residence. So it appears that the Independence Party leadership took a fee of $1,000.00 for handling the money. It also seems like there may have been a little self dealing going on here as whatever Campaign Unlimited might be, they took $750.00 for their services.

Who is Capital Advocates LLC?

Capital Advocates LLC is a consulting firm located in Saratoga Springs. William Teator is its principal and founder. It appears that he began his career in 1994 as the press secretary for Gerald Solomon. Mr. Solomon was the Republican Congressman representing Saratoga Springs for many years. From 1999 to 2002 Mr. Teator was the government affairs consultant for the Solomon Group LLC, a lobbying firm. In 2003 he established Capital Advocates and became affiliated with the Livingston Group LLC that had acquired the Solomon Group. The Livingston Group is a lobbying organization established by Robert “Bob” Livingston who had been the Republican Congressman from Louisiana. According to this recent article in Politico, Congressman Livingston had been in line to replace Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House when his rather lurid past involving extra-marital affairs, exposed by Hustler magazine, led to his resignation. As part of his resignation he called for Bill Clinton to join him. Clinton was on the verge of his impeachment in the House. As the readers of this blog who are old enough may recall, President Clinton declined Bob’s offer.

The Livingston Group now finds itself entangled in the Trump impeachment. Livingston represents a number of Ukrainian Clients. Livingston was referenced by Catherine Croft, former National Security Council Director responsible for Ukraine, in her testimony in the impeachment hearings. She testified that he had contacted her to urge her assistance in getting rid of the then ambassador to the Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She testified, “He (Livingston) characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as an ‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros…” She said she was unclear on whose behalf Livingston had contacted her and Politico’s attempt to reach Livingston on this issue failed.

Allocation Report

Among the reports submitted to the NYS Board of Elections by the New York State Independence Party Campaign Account was a Schedule R. According to the Board of Elections the purpose of this report is:

Schedule R is used by Party committees, constituted committees and authorized multi-candidate committees to allocate campaign expenses among the candidates they support according to the relative benefit each candidate received from the expenditures. (These amounts are cumulative per candidate for the campaign cycle.)

The purpose of this report appears to be to identify on whose behalf the moneys raised were spent. In their October filing they identified Michele Madigan as the beneficiary, and the amount spent on her behalf as $6,076.06.

While Michele Madigan enjoyed a high profile in the mailings that I remember receiving, the mailings featured all the candidates (see sample above). In fact, one of the mailings primarily featured Skip Scirocco. This report appears to reflect a cavalier attitude regarding the committee’s responsibilities to accurately document their activities.

The State Independence Party Fails To File Final Report

The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account was required to submit a final report of its contributions and expenditures in a “Post General Report” within twenty-seven days following the election. This is an important report because there is usually a great deal of activity right before the actual election which this report is supposed to address. As the election was on November 5, the report was due by December 2. It is unfortunately not unusual for these reports to be late. There is no penalty for being late and the Board lacks any authority to enforce compliance. [JK: Hard to restrain myself from some snarky comment about this]

It Is What It Is

The reality is that the practices laid out in the Times Union article are not unusual nor unique to the Independence Party. There is nothing especially sinister or particularly creative about supporting candidates’ campaigns through donations to the parties that have endorsed them. It is how candidates regularly get around the limits of what they can receive directly, and all parties operate in this manner.

The Supreme Court in its Citizens United decision pretty much destroyed the weak remnants of limits on campaign financing. If you are not familiar with the decision here is a link to the Wikipedia explanation.

My Conversation With Eddy Miller, Chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party

Full disclosure: I consider Eddy Miller, the chairman of the Saratoga County Independence Party, to be a friend.

I spoke with Eddy about the The New York State Independence Party Campaign Account. Eddy reminded me that during the recent campaign period he had undergone open heart surgery and was not involved with those events. He made clear to me, however, that he had strongly advocated to the state leadership of the Independence Party to help the candidates in the Saratoga Springs election that his party had endorsed. He also noted that the local Saratoga County Independence Party Committee that he chairs had scrupulously followed all the reporting requirements regarding both the contributions they received and the expenditures that they made.