Sustainable Saratoga Raises Serious Concerns Re UDO

In a restrained, thorough, and thoughtful paper, Sustainable Saratoga analyzes the current draft UDO. Their paper raises troubling issues about threats to the greenbelt, expanded discretionary powers to the city’s land use boards, design of the city’s gateways, better buffering for the city’s waterways, and the need to strengthen the city’s urban forest program.

Most helpful is that in addition to raising these concerns, their paper offers language that would address these issues.

My reading of their work is that it offers the city a path to take a flawed document and turn it into a tool that could be of enormous benefit to those who love our city.

While I urge the readers of this blog to take the time to read the Sustainable paper, many may find its text challenging. In order to assist the readers of this blog, I am going to post a series of short blog posts meant to highlight and explain a number of key changes being recommended by Sustainable.

In the meantime, below is the cover letter to their white paper along with a link to the document on their website.

Mayor Meg Kelly
Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan
Commissioner of Accounts, John Franck
Commissioner of Public Safety, Robin Dalton
Commissioner of Public Works, Skip Scirocco


RE: COMMENTS ON DRAFT UDO

Dear Mayor and Commissioners,

Sustainable Saratoga is a not-for-profit organization that promotes sustainable practices and the protection of natural resources, through education, advocacy and action, for the benefit of current and
future generations in the Saratoga Springs area. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO), a document of great importance to the community.

Sustainable Saratoga has reviewed the draft UDO and, while it contains some good sustainability features, we have some significant concerns regarding provisions relating to the city’s greenbelt, environmental protections, and housing affordability.

Require more rural standards and less intense uses in the greenbelt and gateways:

In light of the Comprehensive Plan’s guidance “that greenbelt uses should be proposed more thoughtfully and sparingly,” Sustainable Saratoga is extremely concerned that the addition of dozens of new uses in the RR zone contradicts both the spirit and letter of the Comp Plan.

A significant number of commercial and institutional uses, such as RV Parks, should be eliminated from the RR district and in the Gateway districts (all of which are located in the “Country Overlay Area” – or the city’s greenbelt).

The UDO also fails to provide any meaningful design standards for structures and site changes that will preserve the required rural character of the greenbelt.

The voluntary design standards for the Gateway Design District #1 in the current zoning ordinance and the voluntary rural design standards in the
current conservation subdivision ordinance should be reinstated and made mandatory.

Also, rural design standards for the conservation subdivisions should be expanded and made mandatory for all projects within the greenbelt, not just for projects covered in conservation subdivisions.


Require stronger environmental protections, especially for waterbodies:

Mounting evidence, worldwide and local, has established that the status quo has not protected us against climate change, species collapse, loss of habitat, and other environmental threats.

As such, Sustainable Saratoga recommends that the city adopt standards that will increase protections for our valuable water resources and minimize fragmentation of open space.

Sustainable Saratoga emphatically recommends stronger protections for all classes of wetlands, streams, and floodplains, by increasing buffers and
reducing fragmentation, be added to the UDO.


Include more opportunities for diverse and affordable housing: The provision of housing affordable to a community’s workforce is an important sustainability tenet.

Sustainable Saratoga recommends adding affordability features and strategies to the city’s toolbox of options, including adding new residences by permitting the conversion of carriage houses and accessory structures as long as they are
affordable to the city’s workforce. In addition, the UDO should allow innovative housing opportunities such as cohousing, cooperative housing, tiny houses, microunits, and senior-oriented rooming houses and concierge housing.

And, while we advocate for a density bonus in every zone in the city for
affordable housing, the city should not rely on incentive programs to result in new affordable units, because this has not happened in the past.

Instead, the city should exercise its legislative authority to enact meaningful affordability expansion provisions, such as inclusionary zoning, so that more
integrated affordable units will be built.

Attached is a list of Sustainable Saratoga’s more detailed comments.

These comments provide more relevant detail to the categories of comments described above, and also offer recommendations in the areas of energy, urban forestry, downtown and neighborhood development, and outdoor lighting
standards.

Sustainable Saratoga urges the city to revise the UDO to more accurately and meaningfully implement the key policies of the 2015 Comprehensive Plan. We appreciate that the city is providing a second draft UDO, including maps, before the final draft is issued.

We ask that the second red-lined draft also include explanations of the proposed changes, so the public can be more aware of the basis of the UDO
provisions as they are modified.

Of course, we are always available to discuss these recommendations with you and would be happy to do so.


Sincerely,
Art Holmberg, Chair

Wendy Mahaney, Executive Director


Cc: Deputy Commissioners Finneran, Ladd, Masterson, & O’Neill

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