City Responsive To Public Concerns Over UDO

At the March 3 City Council meeting, City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis, reviewed concerns raised by the public regarding the first draft of the Unified Development Ordinances (UDO). He also shared some of the changes being recommended by his team for the next draft.

These are the recommended changes he cited in his presentation:

  1. The proposal to reduce the minimum lot size for the UR3 district of the city should be dropped.
  2. The proposed reduction in the required side setbacks between houses should be dropped.
  3. The proposal to allow “cottage court/Pocket Neighborhoods” should be removed. [JK: The closest thing to this concept would be the notorious Downton Walk on Jumel Place.]
  4. The proposed list for allowed uses in the greenbelt should be culled. As an example of a use that should be removed he cited RV (Recreation Vehicle) parks.

Mr. DeLeonardis was careful in an email to me to qualify these changes as being “recommended.” I am assuming that the recommendations would be made to the consultants, Camiros, and that no final decision has been made. Still, it is reasonable to assume that as Camiros is under contract to the city, that recommendations made by the city would be accepted.

Let’s Hear It For Saratoga Springs!

Many of the people I have spoken to regarding the UDO cynically dismissed the value of submitting comments. Routinely I heard from them that public comment was a formality and that attempting to affect the outcome of the UDO was pointless.

I find this attitude understandable but very frustrating and fortunately many Saratogians did submit comments. Mayor Kelly, her deputy Lisa Shields, and City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis spent many hours not only at the four public sessions they ran but at individual meetings with neighbors. I can only report to the readers of this blog that they were sincerely interested in the concerns of the people of our city.

My conversations with the other members of the City Council were similarly marked by an openness to the concerns they were hearing from the public.

I can understand why people feel cynical. The history of the land use boards and the city Planning Staff has not been good. The travesty of Downton Walks is a poster child for the indifference and at times condescension that concerned neighbors had to endure when trying to raise their concerns with these institutions.

Still, times change. The administration of Mayor Kelly is very different from the world we endured when Scott Johnson was Mayor.

This city can rightfully be proud of how we as a community have evolved.

4 thoughts on “City Responsive To Public Concerns Over UDO”

      1. JK-

        Glad you’re OK.

        Wanted to share last night’s Skidmore College radio broadcast on the subject.
        It was pretty good (tongue-n-cheek sort of way).
        Might be the last for this semester.

        You can find it on MixCloud:

        -JC 😉

        Like

  1. John,

    A comment.

    Land use – and how and where we allow it – has long been a contentious issue here. And I understand why there are those among us who are cynical about the planning process. There have been several actions that can rightly be cited as examples of poor land use decisions, bad policy or the failure of some review board members to truly understand their function and the limits of their authority. But your post seems to suggest a linear evolution of the process, from less to more open and transparent and from less to more willing to involve the community.

    I’m not sure that is correct. I see the change not as linear but cyclical. A cycle largely driven by the underlying political climate and the quality of the appointed land use board members. To be sure, the current administration seems to understand that it is essential to create and maintain public confidence in the integrity of the system. But so have other administrations although certainly not all. But it is also important – in my view – for the general public to remember that land use decisions should be made within the framework of the rules we have. Boards do not and should not have great discretion.

    ZBA decisions are to made consistent with state law. The ZBA is, after all, an appeals “court” and its decision are to be made based on the criteria in the General City Law, not on public opinion or political influence. And the ZBA should always keep in mind that it is without authority to act in a matter that represents a defacto rezoning of property. This is why members should know and understand their roles before accepting appointment.

    The planning board has more discretion but it must be used judiciously. A proposal cannot be disapproved only because is it is controversial. Nor should it be approved – even if publicly and politically supported – if it cannot meet the criteria in the land use regulations.

    All of this underscores the importance of appointing members who are unencumbered by political influence, understand that ex-parte discussion must be avoided as much as possible, are less likely to face potential conflicts of interest, know their roles and can allow the public and applicants equal status during the process. We have seen in other communities – some here in our own county – what can happen when board members are compromised or view their service as a resume builder or entree to elected office.

    Best regards,

    Lew Benton

    Liked by 2 people

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