Commissioner Madigan Proposes Inclusionary Zoning Players Put Proverbial Cards On Table

I congratulate Commissioner Madigan on her effort to have developers/bankers produce amendments they would like to see to the inclusionary  zoning proposal and sit down with Sustainable Saratoga for a public discussion of their  differences.  Here is her email to Chris Mathiesen.

From: “Michele Madigan” <michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org> To: “Christian Mathiesen” <christian.mathiesen@saratoga-springs.org> Cc: “Brad Birge” <bradley.birge@saratoga-springs.org>, “John Franck” <john.franck@saratoga-springs.org>, “Skip Scirocco” <skip.scirocco@saratoga-springs.org>, “Joanne Yepsen” <joanne.yepsen@saratoga-springs.org>, “meg kelly” <meg.kelly@saratoga-springs.org>, “Maire Masterson” <maire.masterson@saratoga-springs.org>, “frank coppola” <frank.coppola@saratoga-springs.org>, “Michael Veitch” <michael.veitch@saratoga-springs.org>, “Eileen Finneran” <eileen.finneran@saratoga-springs.org> Sent: Thursday, June 22, 2017 9:44:17 AM Subject: IZ Workshop with Planning Dept.

Commissioner Mathiesen,

After a brief email exchange yesterday, (but many discussions) with Commissioner Franck and hearing from the public, we both believe that another IZ workshop is required and would be beneficial.

An additional way to handle the IZ ordinance is to have both the Developers/Bankers sit down with Sustainable Saratoga (the original sponsors of the IZ ordinance).  This should be directed by Planning Dept. (and yourself as sponsor) and attempt to resolve the differences that I believe still exist in order to bring IZ to a successful vote. While I can redline the document, I can’t say that I can accomplish this in the allotted two weeks from the last workshop.  I may need an additional two weeks or more and even then I’m not an expert on such an all encompassing zoning ordinance.  I’m working on other fairly high-level projects on behalf of the City, just one of which is Parking. and it looks as though you would like a public update on Parking so that is where my energies will like over the next few weeks.

If the developers and bankers are negotiating in good faith (and I believe that they are) they will draft the changes they require to make this work.  If the proponents have a problem with these then they need to draft the reasons why and how their approach will address the issues.  After that the Council and the public will have clarity and the Council can weigh in on IZ. [JK: My emphasis added]

Thank you,

Commissioner Michele Madigan

 

 

Sustainable Saratoga’s “Tree Triage” App Wins Smart City Technology Competition

[JK: News release from Sustainable Saratoga]

Sustainable Saratoga’s “Tree Triage” App Wins Smart City Technology Competition

We’re excited to announce that our innovative new mobile app, Tree Triage, took top prize in the Saratoga Go! Smart City Technology Competition on Wednesday. Saratoga Go! challenged individuals and businesses to create and pitch solutions that improve quality of life for residents, businesses and institutions, or visitors to the City.  The Tree Triage app, developed by our Urban Forestry Project Chair Tom Denny, is a user-friendly way for the City’s Dept. of Public Works (DPW) and Arborist to enter all tree plantings and tree removals into the existing tree inventory. Routine maintenance of the tree inventory, which will preserve both its planning value and funding value, is far more cost-effective than having to replace the tree inventory if it becomes outdated. With Tree Triage, the DPW can record tree information in less than a minute at the tree site. Smarter infrastructure is key to making our City’s operations more productive and efficient. Thanks to Tree Triage, sustaining and growing our urban forest — a critical component of our community’s infrastructure — will be easier than ever!

Proposal For Affordable Housing Runs Into Political Buzz Saw

Well, the vote on  the SPA Housing Ordinance has been put off yet again following the full throated concerns expressed by the developers and bankers at the workshop on Tuesday, June 13.  The ordinance would require  that in residential developments of 10 or more units, 20 percent of the units for sale or rent be dedicated as affordable to households of moderate or low income.

However you may feel about this ordinance, the way this process has unfolded keeps getting more and more depressing as an example of how easily certain people with power get special treatment.

For those of us who regularly observe the operation of the City Council, the events of the last month regarding this issue have been anything but usual.  Bear in mind that the proponents of this proposal have been engaging the essential players of this drama going back practically a year.  The draft was written by a nationally recognized consultant who specializes in affordable housing.  He has drawn on the experience of communities who have drafted similar legislation across the country.  The proponents of the ordinance have had meetings with developers like Sonny Bonacio and with local banks.  There have also been numerous meetings with members of the City Council.  This was no surprise proposal suddenly dropped on the city.  There was ample notice of public hearings where both proponents and opponents addressed the Council.  Normal procedure and I do mean normal procedure, is that the Council then votes on the proposal.

Forget that.  Suddenly the members of the Council discovered that there are all these critical questions unanswered and the gears of government jammed to a halt.  Commissioner Madigan is quoted at the last workshop as follows:

“The density bonus, the zoning language, pilots, deed language, foreclosure and sunset clause and that’s just off the top of my head. And then I do think we are there. It’s just going to take a little more time to get there.”

I do not question that the items she referenced are controversial or that members of the Council may be uninformed on these issues.  Based on the chatter around the table it was clear that at least John Franck and Skip Scirocco shared her concerns.  My question is why weren’t these issues raised earlier in the process.

I am also skeptical that this can all be worked out with just a little more time. It was clear that for all the professions of some of the players about their desire to make this work, the solutions to the problems the developers and bankers raised with the proposed ordinance will not be fixed with just a few tweaks.  John Witt was the most direct.  According to the Times Union:

“Developer John Witt said he can’t make it happen.

‘I like the idea of more units, but the lowest cost we could get it to would be about $2,500 a month with mortgage, insurance, taxes, utilities,’ Witt said. ‘That’s at a mortgage rate of 4.1 percent and if the land is sold at a cost of zero.’

Witt said his margins are only 5 percent and that he doesn’t have the money to invest in affordable units.”

So now there is no date for a vote and somehow the objections by the bankers and developers are going to be worked out “sometime” in the future.

Let me be clear, I am sufficiently ignorant regarding the ordinance that I have no idea whether some or, for that matter, all of the concerns scattered on the Council table by the opponents are valid.

I do, however, have certain basic insights  into the players in all of this.  I know that the bankers and developers are skilled people who have survived because they work very hard at maximizing the profit margin of their projects.  This is not a criticism of them.  This is the nature of what it takes to succeed.

I have noted on this blog repeatedly that I am something of a fan of Sonny Bonacio who is a most likable fellow when he turns on the charm.  I love his energy and I think he has done a lot across the capital district to create a variety of beneficial projects.  Caffe Lena immediately comes to mind, and he is doing some creative things in Troy which can use as much help as it can get.

I do, however, also remember that when he wanted to  convert Moore Hall into micro apartments he was adamant before  the Zoning Board of Appeals that taking down the building and replacing it with something more acceptable to the neighborhood was not financially feasible.  Of course, it turned out that it was feasible and the new condos for that site are under construction as I write this posting.

I seriously question the ability of the Council members to assess the arguments and changes that will be forward by those objecting to the ordinance.  I am particularly concerned that this will all be done at private meetings with individual Council members which in itself is not wrong but which will cast a serious cloud on whatever emerges (if something actually finally emerges).

I would offer a way forward that I think would be beneficial to both the Council and the public.  Tell the opponents that they need to sit down with the proponents of the ordinance and try to work it out with them.  In the event that they cannot come to an agreement, ask the opponents to draft their proposed changes and ask the proponents to draft a position paper that lays out their problems with the changes and how the proponents’ proposal addresses the basic concerns raised by the opponents.

The Council could then take whatever action they deemed appropriate and the public would be in a position to assess the outcome.  This would meet that badly overused term called transparency.

It is my hope that the Mayor and Council would support this approach.

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Lays Its Heavy Hand On Saratoga Springs – Local Church Offers Sanctuary

In a June 7 article, Wendy Libertore reported in the Times Union about recent arrests by ICE in Saratoga Springs and the community’s response.

The previous week ICE arrested sixteen men. 

On June 5 the Saratoga Springs Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church voted unanimously to offer sanctuary to those facing deportation. Speaking on behalf of the church, Terry Diggory  told the TU that “This is not a partisan stand.  We are taking a political stand for the welfare of the community because the rhetoric under the Trump Administration has turned distressing.”

Citing the reliance on undocumented workers by the flat track and the “hospitality industry”, a number of politicians and business people expressed their concern about the policy.

This is a link to the full story in the TU:

http://www.timesunion.com/allwcm/article/Church-to-provide-sanctuary-to-illegal-immigrants-11202578.php

Here is a link to a story from Channel Ten News about more arrests that took place yesterday in Saratoga Springs:

http://news10.com/2017/06/15/ice-arrests-11-people-in-saratoga-springs/

 

 

 

 

ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Lays Its Heavy Hand On Saratoga Springs – Local Church Offers Sanctuary

In a June 7 article, Wendy Liberatore reported in the Times Union about recent arrests by ICE in Saratoga Springs and the community’s response.

The previous week ICE arrested sixteen men. 

 On June 5 the Saratoga Springs Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church voted unanimously to offer sanctuary to those facing deportation. Speaking on behalf of the church, Terry Diggory  told the TU that “This is not a partisan stand.  We are taking a political stand for the welfare of the community because the rhetoric under the Trump Administration has turned distressing.”

Citing the reliance on undocumented workers by the flat track and the “hospitality industry”, a number of politicians and business people expressed their concern about the policy.

This is a link to the full story in the TU:

http://www.timesunion.com/allwcm/article/Church-to-provide-sanctuary-to-illegal-immigrants-11202578.php

Here is a link to a story from Channel Ten News about more arrests that took place yesterday in Saratoga Springs:

http://news10.com/2017/06/15/ice-arrests-11-people-in-saratoga-springs/

 

Deputy Commissioner of Finance Resigns

Deputy Commissioner Susan Dugan-Armstrong has resigned her position after two months and will return to her original job which was as content coordinator for the city’s website.  Ms. Dugan-Armstrong had replaced Lynn Bachner.  Ms. Bachner had previously held the position under Commissioner Matt McCabe as well as Commissioner Madigan.

Madigan told the Times Union that “We arrived at the decision together.”  Ms. Madigan praised Ms. DuganArmstrong noting that being the deputy in the Finance Department is “a tough job”.

Commissioner Madigan is seeking a replacement.

 

 

 

Rosalie Sorrels, Great Folk Artist And Long Time Friend Of Lena Spenser And Saratoga Springs Dies

Rosalie Sorrels has died.  She was one of the great singers coming out of the folk music revival.  She was also a close friend of Lena Spencer’s (Caffe Lena).  Ms. Sorrels spent extensive periods of time here in our city.  I know that the common take on Saratoga Springs during the 70’s was that it was a dying backwater of closed stores.  In fact Lena helped nurture a lively subculture of artists of which Ms. Sorrels was a prominent member.  This city was a wonderful home for a variety of artists and musicians…it as affordable.

This is a link to a very good obituary.  You have to read quite a bit to get to the section on Lena and Saratoga Springs but it is well worth it.

http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/hbo/2017/jun/12/idaho-folk-singer-sorrels-83-rip/

The New York Times dedicated half a page to this wonderful tribute to her: