Excellent Insights On UDO by Chris Mathiesen

[JK: I wrote to Chris Mathiesen to get his take on the UDO. Chris chaired the Zoning Board of Appeals for seven years. His response to me was a very clear and concise assessment of the things that appeared sharpest to him. I hope he will weigh in more as the city provides better documentation for the UDO and as he has the time to go through the UDO draft itself.]


I am in Florida for the week so I don’t have access to my zoning maps.

I did look at the City’s zoning map on my I pad just now which gives a pretty good resolution of the document.

I don’t think the fact that that 27% of variance requests were for properties in the UR-3 zone is that high given the number of properties that fall under this designation and the fact that most of those parcels were developed long before zoning ordinances were formulated. As you look at the map, you see that parcels in UR-3 come in all shapes and sizes. Their common trait is a lack of common traits.

I was disappointed to read that advocates for the proposed reductions lot size in UR-3 were arguing that property values and ability to sell those properties had been undermined by the current zoning ordinance. Anyone with general knowledge of the history of property sales in our City would know that homes in the UR-3 areas have done extremely well for their owners. It would be better to stick to claims that are not so easily undermined.

I have not attended any UDO workshops since those that were held late last spring. At the time, I was impressed with the consultants that were endeavoring to complete this procedure which I had originally thought would have been done long before I left office at the end of 2017. The Council approved the Comprehensive Plan in June of 2015. I am amazed that the corresponding UDO has not been approved nearly five years later.

I attended the City Council meeting on February 4 and I have to agree with the sentiments expressed by many of our citizens during the public comment portion of the meeting. It is very difficult to find all the changes that are being proposed in the draft of the revised zoning ordinance as presented at this time. I tried. A red-line version would be most helpful.

Given my limited understanding of the proposed revisions to the ordinance, my comments are of questionable value. I support two changes. I have no problem with the proposal to allow developers to increase the height of buildings in our downtown in exchange for providing additional units for families with more moderate incomes. Historically, many buildings in our downtown had heights much greater than those that make up most of our current architecture. Increased residential density in our downtown is a good thing. It allows for greater support for our downtown commercial entities. It is the cornerstone of the ‘City in the Country’ concept. It is development which relies less on vehicular traffic and requires no increase in City infra-structure. Also, it would be nice to have more economic diversity among residents in the City’s core.

I also strongly support the changes in notification requirements for properties subject to land use board hearings and zoning changes. This may seem like an unimportant issue to some people and there has been significant resistance to this for years from our Planning Department. The UDO calls for signs being physically displayed on properties for a period of time prior to the land use board or City Council hearings pertaining to those properties. For years, the only notifications went to property owners within 100 feet or 250 feet of the subject properties (depending on the type of hearing being conducted). Too often, projects were approved and building permits issued before others in a neighborhood or a section of the City knew anything about them. Other municipalities in our area have been requiring the posting of signs for many years. I feel that it is a fundamental transparency issue. It is long past the time that Saratoga Springs should have been incorporating this requirement to assure all of our commitment to open government.

Regarding the changes proposed in the UR-3 zone, I am not a supporter. It is my sense that the original dimensions and lot sizes were established in order to encourage a more ideal use of properties in this district. Yes, the changes proposed might reduce the work load for the Planning Department somewhat. But the existing standards have worked well for many years. It would be better if the City Council instructed the UDO consultants to bypass their recommendations for zoning changes in UR-3.

Chris Mathiesen

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