Saratoga National Golf Course and the City’s Greenbelt: Back In Play?

In an earlier post I noted that a number of major players with interests in the city’s greenbelt could be expected to try to move projects forward that have been rejected in the past. A recent letter sent to the Planning Board by Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan regarding a Saratoga National Golf Club (SNGC) proposal seems to prove that is the case.

Commissioner Madigan sent a letter to the city’s Planning Board asking them, as part of their review of the Unified Development Ordinance, to look at the “Saratoga National Golf Course Project, including the definition of a golf course associated clubhouse” that was proposed by SNGC in 2015. The proposal, that was unsuccessful in 2015, would have allowed for an ambitious expansion of SNGC.

The only document that I have seen that reopens the expansion question is the letter from Commissioner Madigan. The city maintains a website dedicated to the UDO. It includes the records of the many public comments that the city has received. I may have missed it, but I can find no comments submitted by SNGC regarding amending the UDO.

I have also FOILed the city seeking any correspondence from SNGC regarding the UDO. Inquiries I have made suggest there is no such correspondence, but if my FOIL should result in any I will post them on this blog.

Commissioner Madigan’s letter to the Planning Board does not just ask the Planning Board to review the SNGC issue, she goes on to advocate for the proposal asserting that were the expansion approved it would result in millions of dollars in tax revenue for the city and create some two hundred and sixty jobs.

I have attempted to find out from Commissioner Madigan how she arrived at these numbers. She refers to some “notes” as the source but my inquiry of the source of these notes has so far not been addressed. I have also asked what prompted her to write to the Planning Board regarding SNGC.

While we have exchanged quite a few emails and texts I have, to date, been unable to get answers to my questions.

The Troubling Record of Saratoga National Golf Course

Saratoga National Golf Course is a beautifully designed and maintained venue. It is an asset to the city. Beyond the pleasure it provides to local golfers who can afford its fees, it draws people from outside of Saratoga Springs to our city.

Having acknowledged their benefit, their history includes some troubling moves they have made over the years.

In previous posts I have identified a number of actions taken by SNGC that I have found problematic.

In their approved site plan they committed to creating two nature trails for the public. In an earlier post I documented the difficulty I had in locating one of these trails. At the time there was a map located adjacent to Route 9P showing the locations of these trails. One of these trail maps lays out a path that does not exist. My attempt to locate the mystery trail was rather a comic episode. For the full story of my adventure/journey in search of the mystery trail here is the link. More on the magical trail.

SNGC asked for approval for a restaurant that was supposed to simply serve golfers and their friends according to my understanding. This modest project became the huge, high end steak house Prime.

They promised to limit large events to just three a year. The definition as to what was a large event had to do with exceeding the approved parking. The language in the site plan approved by the Planning Board was so poorly worded that according to correspondence I had with Mayor Joanne Yepsen ‘s office at the time it was unenforceable so SNGC routinely exceeds the parking with large weddings and other events.

These are some further links to the magic trail and to the bizarre contortions on how it is the city is unable to control special events at SNGC.

Saratoga National Golf Course stymies effort to locate their alleged nature trail

More Bizarre Stuff with Saratoga National Golf Course: The City Has No Record of Who Would Enforce Compliance With Special Permits

Mayor (Yepsen) Responds To Whether Saratoga National Complies With The Special Permit Requirement

Quiz: Is This A Special Event At Saratoga National Golf Course

The Planning Board

The Planning Board will be taking up the UDO beginning on Thursday, July 8, 2021.

Commissioner Madigan’s letter refers to the fact that in 2015 the City Council referred the SNGC proposal to the Planning Board for an opinion in a three to two vote. Time did not allow me to look up exactly how the Planning Board handled the request, but the fact that nothing came of the SNGC proposal suggests that the Planning Board did not look kindly on it.

Commissioner Madigan’s letter.

My Correspondence With Commissioner Madigan

From Kaufmann To Madigan June 28

I have come into possession of an undated letter from you to Mark Torpey in his capacity as chair of the planning board. It includes a request for an opinion that would allow Saratoga National to enjoy a much broader definition of a club house.

In the letter you assert that the granting of this expanded definition would result in additional revenue of $2,000,000.00 and would create 260 new jobs. How did you arrive at these figures?

From Kaufmann To Madigan July 1

Michele, I sent you the email below. Do you plan to respond?

From Madigan To Kaufmann July 2

Sorry John. I’ve been away all week. I sent this to the planning board. They are stats I had from the last time this project came forward regarding job creation and economic impact.

From Kaufmann To Madigan July 2

Where did these stats come from? Why are you soliciting an opinion on this?

From Madigan To Kaufmann July 2

Has the planning board discussed my letter as to date as I’ve heard nothing?

From Madigan To Kaufmann July 3

[JK: I receive an email from Commissioner Madigan with no content. I send her back an email “??”

From Madigan To Kaufmann July 3

Are you not getting my emails? I’m out and about today.

Kaufmann To Madigan July 3

The last email had nothing but the header to/from

Madigan To Kaufmann July 3

It’s probably because I’m on the road. I’ll be home late Monday.

Kaufmann To Madigan July 5

Michele, I don’t believe they have [JK: Responding to her question as to whether the Planning Board had addressed her letter]. Could you please answer my questions?

Could you please explain why you sent the letter to the planning board?


[JK: I include the original text question]. In the letter you assert that the granting of this expanded definition would result in additional revenue of $2,000,000.00 and would create 260 new jobs. How did you arrive at these figures?

Related Text Exchanges

July 3 Kaufmann To Madigan

Did you receive my emails are [on] Saratoga National?

July 3 Madigan To Kaufmann

John. I’m at Cape Cod. I responded this morning to an email I saw.

July 5 Kaufmann To Madigan

Status of your reply?

July 5 Kaufmann To Madigan

Your reply was non-responsive to my questions. I have emailed you again.

July 5 Madigan To Kaufmann

That’s all I’ve got right now. I’m on route home. You asked where I got the stats. I told you from notes back when they first put this forward.

Chamber may have similar. I’m asking for a definition of clubhouse.

An opinion.

July 5 Kaufmann To Madigan

Why are you pursuing this? It was rejected in the last comp plan.

What notes?

What was the source of these notes?

[JK: I received no further communication from Commissioner Madigan]

12 thoughts on “Saratoga National Golf Course and the City’s Greenbelt: Back In Play?”

  1. John,

    You and Jane have been here long enough to understand what is going on here. Developers will always attempt to commercially invade the Greenbelt and to undermine the ‘City in the Country’ until they get their way. They are very clever, manipulative and powerful. Follow the money!

    Sadly, many people take for granted the success of our City without realizing how we have been differentiated from other municipalities. Our strict zoning measures have served our City well. It will be very sad if we see Saratoga Springs succumb to the commercial sprawl that characterizes our neighboring communities.

    Chris Mathiesen


  2. The green belt zoning was one of the largest policy mistakes in city history.

    Study after study, domestically and internationally, demonstrate that green belt zoning artificially increases the cost of housing.

    Saratoga Springs has an affordable housing crisis because it has a housing supply crisis, caused primarily by Green Belt Zoning.

    You can maintain adequate green space and build the appropriate number of dwelling units.

    Time for the city to shrink or eliminate the “Green Noose” choking off affordable housing in Saratoga


    1. The idea that the Greenbelt and affordable housing in the city are incompatible is a concept based in a lack of imagination or will to make it work, not inherent to the situation. We don’t have enough affordable housing because builders and the City, including many residents who “have theirs”, don’t want it. Simple as that.


  3. It’s actually a concept based on data and facts. Use your Google machine.

    Builders don’t create affordable housing units because you cannot build a 300k home on a 5 acre lot, as is mandated in too much of the city’s zoning. (Lot minimums)


    1. I am not sure where in the City Zoning Ordinance is the 5 acre lot requirement. Rob needs to get his lot size requirements straight.

      The existing ordinance allows for creative ways for residential uses in the green belt. Homes can be constructed on smaller lots when other portions of the property are set aside for green space.

      Also, I don’t know what studies Rob is citing that would be critical of zoning in our City but the statewide planning and zoning conferences that I have attended point to Saratoga Springs as the standard that other municipalities should attempt to achieve.

      Chris Mathiesen


      1. I would really like a citation of these conferences. What a joke.

        So you do know that for at least 30 of the past 40 years Saratoga Springs has been the fastest growing city in New York percentage wise, right? Every decade the City’s population goes up. And every decade the population of African-Americans goes down. You, of course, know this has a lot to do with the lack of affordable housing in the City. Is this the “standard” that other municipalities hope to achieve? Have you ever looked into this? Did they discuss this at your planning conferences? No? That’s too bad considering everybody is making a lot of hay about equality these days.

        The City plans in a vacuum. While the so called “greenbelt” does a great job of restricting development in Saratoga Springs it only encourages more development in more (truly) rural areas adjacent to the City. You don’t care about this but you should. Google “Saratoga Lake Development.” Real planning is done on a regional basis. That way competing municipal interests can form a cohesive policy. But unfortunately Saratoga Springs doesn’t play well with others.

        The City spent years trying to wriggle out of a functional Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance designed by the Innovative Housing Institute. The problem was quite simple: The keepers of the greenbelt who for years claimed all problems could be solved with a dense downtown REFUSED to grant extra density (height) downtown in exchange for affordable units and bonus market units. The first and best chance for inclusionary zoning was literally lost over one (1) single extra story of construction above and beyond what was prescribed in the zoning ordinance. Of course, this was all a ruse anyway. None of the power brokers ever wanted inclusionary zoning anyway…they just wanted to act like they cared to stave off a federal fair housing suit…which they failed to do.

        There is nothing special or revolutionary about Saratoga’s exclusionary zoning schemes. Municipalities all over the nation use minimum lot size requirements to frustrate the development of affordable housing. 2 acre minimums are no different than 5 acre minimums. As a result, the City’s “creative” ordinance hasn’t produced a single affordable unit in the “greenbelt.” In fact, the City’s most recent UDO no longer accommodates duplexes in the greenbelt. Shockingly, Sustainable Saratoga didn’t highlight this as an issue amongst their litany of complaints.

        In reality, TRULY progressive cities who TRULY want affordable housing enact MINIMUM density requirements.

        Click to access hip-min-density.pdf

        You should check it out Chris and promote it at your next fancy conference.


    2. Forget google, let’s talk logic.

      “You can’t build a 300k home on a 5 acre lot”.

      1. You can. 2. Who says you have to build on a 5 acre lot? 3. Thinking a single family home on a large piece of land is the only way to build affordable housing and therefore affordable housing is only possible in the Greenbelt is that lack of imagination I was talking about.


    1. Yes, it is possible when dedicated professionals and volunteers work for 20+ years and SSHA offers 3 acres of free land. To suggest this same thing happening outside downtown is a “sacrifice” is just a tad bit hyperbolic considering the vast majority of the “greenbelt” is a massive wetland (i.e., it cant be developed).


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