Council Votes To Forward UDO To Planning Boards; Commissioner Dalton Dissents

The City Council voted four to one that the third draft of the UDO had sufficient merit to proceed with sending it on to the city and county planning boards for review.

While the planning boards have a limited amount of time to issue their opinions, John Franck pointed out that there is no time restraint on how long the Council can take before deciding on whether to adopt the plan once the boards have completed their reviews.

Commissioners Madigan, Franck, and Dalton have signaled that they will not support a vote on the draft until the COVID restrictions are eased and the public can directly participate in live meetings.

I have selected excerpts from the meeting to provide background on what was discussed.

Co-Chair of Sustainable Saratoga Addresses Council
City Attorney, Vince DeLeonardis Responds To Sustainable Saratoga Issues
Commissioner Dalton Explains Her Dissent
Mayor Kelly Discusses Abusive Emails

Commissioner Dalton Seeks Answers On UDO Impact On City’s Greenbelt

On Tuesday night (May 4, 2021) the City Council will be asked to accept the third draft of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO will determine land-use issues for our city for the foreseeable future. The process at this point will be to refer the draft to the city and county planning boards for review. Following that review the city will hold at least one public hearing before voting on whether to adopt the document.

As they say, the rubber is about to hit the road. This particular road has been a very long one. It began during the tenure of Mayor Joanne Yepsen who contracted with the first consulting group.

The UDO has been controversial. The city is required to adopt new zoning laws consistent with the most recent Comprehensive Plan but the “Unified Development Ordinance” as its name implies incorporates far more than zoning. It determines standards for design and for energy efficiency, for instance.

The UDO’s impact is profound. The legal, aesthetic, and economic issues are extensive and complex. Its scope will impact all of us. It is little wonder then that it is controversial and explains why the crafting of this document has taken so long. The fire in City Hall and the COVID epidemic have also affected this process.

The Mayor and her staff have had an enormous job trying to bring this document to fruition.

The biggest problem in explaining this document to the public has been the challenge to compare the current zoning laws and standards with those being proposed. Usually a document like this would be “red-lined.” That is to say, the language from the existing laws and standards being removed would be identified with red lines through them while additions would be printed in blue.

In the case of the UDO , however, it was not possible to do this. The Mayor’s deputy, Lisa Shields, did a yeoman’s effort to create charts to try to explain some of the changes and make the information more accessible to the pubic.

Having said all this, the process has been burdened by both its scope, the available resources the city has, and the related opacity.

The new consultants that were brought in blundered badly when their original draft included allowing greater density to an area than allowed for by the city’s comprehensive plan. The consultants also used cherry picked numbers to defend the impact on increasing density that their proposal for changing minimum lot size would have. (The density was removed)

At least for me, these actions undermined their credibility and made the work for the Mayor’s staff that much more difficult.

The Need For Responding To Public Concerns

Sustainable Saratoga submitted extensive comments on the second and third drafts of the UDO along with others from the community. Most recently, they sent the Mayor and Council members a one page document identifying their most pressing concerns. Much of the document focused on the city’s greenbelt.

The Sustainable Saratoga people complained that in spite of meetings held with representatives of the city, the city failed to offer any feedback as to why it declined to incorporate most of Sustainable Saratoga’s recommendations for revisions.

In defense of the Mayor and her staff, this project taxed their meager resources. COVID and the retirement of the head of the planning department only exacerbated a difficult situation.

I do not know why the city has rejected the changes identified in the Sustainable Saratoga document. On their face, the items identified by Sustainable Saratoga seem quite compelling as there appears to be a real threat that the new UDO would allow uses in the greenbelt that would degrade its character. Still, land-use law can be quite arcane. There may very well be legitimate reasons behind the city’s decision.

Commissioner Dalton Seeks Answers

Commissioner Robin Dalton has written to City Attorney Vince DeLeonardis seeking answers to the issues raised by Sustainable Saratoga and suggesting they provide more time to answer the outstanding questions.

I spoke to the Mayor’s office. They are very much aware of the importance of protecting the greenbelt and expect to address the issues at the upcoming Tuesday, May 4, Council meeting.

Commissioner Dalton’s email:

On May 3, 2021, at 11:30 AM, Robin Dalton <> wrote:

Hi Vince, 

If you or someone from building and planning could get back to me on the attached one sheet that articulates concerns, I would appreciate it. 

In particular, my biggest worry is the seemingly expanded uses in the greenbelt >> 

● Intensive uses: Campground, Community Center, Country Club, Schools,

Marina, Private/Social Clubs

● Uses that belong in the Urban Core, where they can be reached more easily by the public: Small Animal Care Facility without Outdoor Area, Children’s Home, Inn, Lodging House, Rooming Houses (all 4 types) 

Just generally speaking, I realize this has been going on for five years & apparently we’ve run out of money, but I don’t find those arguments particularly compelling – especially regarding the worry over expanding uses in the Greenbelt. These concerns were raised in a timely manner & if you are going to allow for delays as requested by the planning board, I’m not sure why my request here is so problematic. I’d rather address something now than kick it down the road, that seems like the least responsible option, in terms of coming to a successful conclusion. 

It does not appear to me that answering the questions here would require any additional expenditure with Camiros nor does it delay this from moving forward in any meaningful way. 

I know how much time has gone into this in the Mayor’s department and how eager everyone is to see this come to a conclusion, I really appreciate your time and all the effort.


 Sustainable Saratoga Documents

The Great Bass Player And Longtime Saratoga Springs Resident, Tony Markellis Has Died

The Times Union has reported that Tony Markellis died quietly in his sleep on April 29, 2021, at age 68. This is an obit that lists his musical history on the Jambase site. This is a link to Tony’s own website.

Trey Anastasio offered this rememberbance:

“Tony Markellis passed away yesterday,” Anastasio wrote, after hearing the news. “He was a truly remarkable human being. He was kind and had a sweetness to his personality, and he was the baddest bass player I’ve ever heard. I loved Tony, and I always will. I’m having a hard time processing this. Tony was the heartbeat to so much of my life, and to the lives of so many others… I was very lucky to have had a very long phone conversation with Tony only a few days ago. We talked for almost two hours. We caught up on family, friends, and funny pandemic thoughts. It wasn’t often that we talked on the phone like that. I had no idea it would be our last conversation. Now it feels like it happened for a reason.”

Tony had been a fixture here in Saratoga Springs since the mid 70’s. Tony was both a profoundly talented bass player and one of the kindest and most unpretentious people you are every likely to meet.

He played every kind of music that required a bass, and he played with everybody. He toured with Dave Bromberg (no slouch as a string musician). According to Tony’s website, Bonnie Raitt called him “The best *#@%! bass player in the world.”

Tony was quiet spoken. Tony was music. As the bassist he played in the background and as great bassists do, he was the solid foundation any band could count on.

His arrival here in 1975 coincided with the age of Lena Spenser.

I know it is popular to disparage Saratoga Springs in the 1970’s as a moribund, wasteland. For those of us who lived here then it was a fun place. There was a whole culture of great musicians who used Saratoga Springs as their base. It was a charming and quirky world full of interesting people.

Tony was part of that world and he will be deeply missed.

This is a recent video from Cafe Lena with Tony backing up Michael Jerling.