New Life For The Pink Palace On Union Avenue?

Sonny Bonnacio organized a neighborhood informational meeting to present a proposal to rehab the “Pink Palace” on Union Avenue.

BonnacioAndIngersoll

Sonny Bonnacio is on the left and Mike Ingersoll of the LA Group is talking on the right.  The gentleman in the middle is Sonny Bonnacio’s colleague.

Pink Palace

This is the old Skidmore dorm, Moore Hall. Back in 2006, North Star Development bought the property with plans to tear the palace down and replace it with several large buildings that would incorporate upscale condos. Unfortunately, 2008 sunk the project.

As explained by the principal of North Star, he and Bonnacio have a tentative agreement to develop the property. It was apparent that for purposes of expediting and simplifying the approval process they want to make minimal changes to the property.

Apparently the building was built like a bunker which meant that even after sitting idly a decade it is structurally sound. Concurrently, it would be hugely expensive to take the building down. Complicating things is the fact that the ceilings are only seven feet six inches high and while the corridors are unusually wide, the rooms are quite narrow. So the plan is to build 54 micro, one bedroom apartments. The apartments will be 550 to 700 square feet and rent for $1,200 to $1,400 dollars.

The developers think there is a market for these apartments to serve young executives working downtown at the three advertising firms and other local businesses.

The area is already zoned for apartments. Their problem is that the zoning law requires them to have 1.5 parking spaces for each apartment and the parking lot behind the building that empties on White Street has only about 50 spaces. Therefore, In order to go forward with this project they will have to get a zoning variance to address the parking.

There was a very good turnout of homeowners from the neighborhood. While the people were sympathetic to the project, there was clearly concern about the lack of parking and about the impact that all the new tenants would have on traffic on White Street and Regent Street.

Sonny Bonnacio promised to have another meeting once their traffic consultants came up with proposals.

Party On At Saratoga National Golf Course (Limits? What Limits?) Corrected Version

(Due to a formatting Problem, the earlier version of this post was truncated.  Here is the corrected version)

In 1998, when the Saratoga National Golf Course was proposed, the developers pitched it sotto voce.  The emphasis was on how it would fit into the bucolic tone of the city’s conservation district (greenbelt).  One of the conditions they accepted was that they would limit their “special events” to no more than three per year.  These events were defined as any gathering that required more than their regular parking.  This requirement was contained in the Special Permit they were issued.  This same permit allowed them two hundred regular parking spaces and another seventy-three for overflow.  Geof Bourneman, who was the City Planner for many years and who was the Planner at the time, believes that the overflow was not to be included when calculating what was a special event.  This would mean that they could only have three events each year that brought more than two hundred cars to their property. 

It may be that at some point in the last seventeen years they were able to amend their Special Permit to allow for more spaces.  I asked at the City Planning Office to review any amendments to the original permit.  Unfortunately, I have had to FOIL for this and the city has about five weeks to provide it to me.  I am sure I will get it but it may happen after the city decides on the SNGC expansion.

I visited the City Planning Offices on Monday at City Hall and spoke to Steve Shaw who is the Building Inspector.  He is also responsible for enforcement of things like the limit on “special events” at Saratoga National Golf Course.  I asked him if he knew what the limit was at SNGC for “special events?”  He did not know.   I asked him about how Saratoga National Golf Course is monitored for compliance.  Steve is a very nice guy.  He told me that the Planning Board passes many, many of these kinds of regulations on to the Planning Department without considering how they will be enforced.  He was candid with me that no one was actually monitoring Saratoga National Golf Course to see that they comply.  Basically he told me that if someone makes a complaint or inquiry that he would have to contact them to find out.  In effect, Saratoga National Golf Course is supposed to police itself. 

So I went to the Saratoga National Golf Course web site to see what kind of capacity they have for events.  I cut this from their site:

Saratoga National Social Event Spaces::

  • Grand Ballroom (75 – 200 guests)
  • Howard Room & Lounge (20 – 50 guests)
  • Crystal Room (20 – 40 guests)
  • Veranda and Patio Terrace (50 – 300+ guests)
  • Blue Stone Patio Tent (50 – 200+ guests)

Just a cursory review of their site turned up large events.  They put on two nights of a special Travers Race party in the Blue Stone Patio Tent that their web site said was sold out.  That venue holds 200+ (how much plus is plus?)  As the list shows, there was plenty of capacity left in other venues on their grounds.  Their restaurant, Prime, alone seats 220.  What are the possibilities that on a Friday and Saturday night on Travers weekend that the restaurant was fully occupied?  Sounds like we are well over four hundred people for that night.

I also noted a full page advertisement for a St. Jude “Gala” fundraiser for September 3rd.  Here is a link to the web site of the sponsor.  http://www.angiodynamicsforhope.com/ What are the chances that this is going to be big?  So in one week, there is the real possibility that they will have filled their quota.

Given the “rigorousness” with which  they have adhered to their agreement to operate a nature trail on the west side of their property, there is every chance that they are taking similar liberties with their “special events.”

Per the Building Inspector’s direction, I have sent an email inquiry regarding a potential violation at SNGC.  Bearing in mind that Mr. Shaw will be asking SNGC to self report on their events, I am a little skeptical about what he will receive.  I feel quite confident that whatever he may receive, it will happen after the city decides on the zoning and Comp Plan changes SNGC is seeking.

Finally, I have spoken to people who live around Lake Lonely.  They tell me that to them it seems that the golf course frequently puts on fireworks events with the accompanying irritating noise.  SNGC also has outdoor music which can be heard from a considerable distance.  Most of us would not consider these activities consistent with the low intensity use of the Conservation District.

Here is a link to  the page on the SNGC web site that promotes their hosting of weddings.  Does that strike you as consistent with rural residential/agricultural environment? http://saratoganationalevents.com/weddings.php

How about corporate events: http://saratoganationalevents.com/corporate.php  They offer the same facilities for these events as they do for the weddings.

The point of our Conservation District is to have an area that has “low intensity” use meant to go with the rural and bucolic character of the country part of our city in the country.  It was with this in mind that SNGC was supposed to limit its “special events.”  Just think what it will be like when it becomes a resort.

Al McKenney – A Special Person Who Will Be Missed

Al McKenney was a very special person.  He harkens back to the “old days” of Saratoga Springs.  By old I mean the 1960’s and 1970’s when a variety of people gravitated to Lena Spencer and her Caffé Lena.  I always thought of these folks as free spirits whose love of music and fun led them out of the main stream.  I guess today we would call them eccentrics.  Al McKenney life embodied those qualities.  I would still run into him at the ‘Chopper or coming out of Celtic Treasures.  Someone wrote a lovely obituary about him that appeared in the September 3rd Saratoga Today.  Here it is.

Alan McKenney

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wearing suspenders and a purple beret and making daily downtown rounds to share lively chats about politics, music and books, Alan “Captain Fun” McKenney was often called the Unofficial Mayor of Saratoga Springs, NY. He passed away at home in Saratoga Springs on August 15, 2015, amidst his legendary collection of music and books.

Born August 31, 1944, Al was raised in Ashland, MA, by his parents, Margaret Isabel McKenney (neé Honey) and Wallace McKenney, with his brother Owen (deceased) and sister Susan. It was there he discovered the love of music that would form the focus of his life.

As a teenager studying at Boston University in 1964 he immersed himself in the city’s burgeoning folk music scene, soon deciding it had more to offer than college. He spent four years exploring the music clubs and working with troubled children at the Judge Baker Guidance Center. Al had a wonderful way with kids, enjoying their silly humor and quickly developing with them a heap of “inside jokes.”

By 1968, the nation’s progressive social movements and growing hippie culture were causing a generational rift everywhere. Embracing the best of the spirit of the age, Al and a couple friends asked the teens of Ashland what they needed. They wanted a coffeehouse, so he helped them open one in the Ashland Federated Church. Called The Mandela, it offered writing and art supplies along with music, and while the kids handled most of the management, Al began booking the weekend folk concerts. The first two acts were Bob White of Saratoga Springs, and the Millard Fillmore Memorial Orchestra and Chorus (Don Armstrong and Tom Mitchell) also of Saratoga. They both told him about Caffè Lena, the Saratoga Springs coffeehouse that opened in 1960 and had become a major stop on the folk circuit.

Al arrived in Saratoga in 1971 on St. Patrick’s Day, having hitchhiked from Ashland to join folksingers Utah Phillips, Rosalie Sorrels, Bill Vanaver, Andy Cohen and several others in forming Wildflowers, a musicians’ booking cooperative. The group lived communally in a big apartment on Grand Avenue and the meetings were held at Caffè Lena where owner Lena Spencer would welcome them with hot lasagna dinners.

By 1973, Wildflowers had broken up and Al found work road managing concert tours, first for David Bromberg and later for Boys of the Lough, Clannad, Martin Bogan and the Armstrongs, and several other prominent acts. He traveled the globe as a tour manager for the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program.

Al also served for many years as the stage manager and emcee of the Smithsonian’s National Folk Festival, Pete Seeger’s Great Hudson River Revival, The Philadelphia Folk Festival, and the Kent State (OH) Folk Festival. He developed such a rich network of friendships in Kent that the people of Kent and Brady Lake, OH, consider him “one of their own.”

Starting in his teens Al collected records, then cassettes and CDs, along with books about music. He amassed more than 10,000 albums and he knew and loved them all. Each day he would find out which musicians were celebrating their birthdays and would give their records a spin to celebrate. He could quote liner notes from decades of jazz, folk and blues albums and he provided a first class music education to anyone who expressed an interest.

Al freely shared lessons learned from beating back the addictions that plagued him during his middle years. By working multiple jobs and keeping expenses to a minimum he repaid every penny of debt accumulated during the dark days and kept clean and sober right to the end, remembering with compassion and love those friends who lost the addiction battle.

Al is survived by his sister, Susan Winter, of Franklin, MA, and nieces Jennifer and Trish, along with hundreds and hundreds of friends, including Paul O’Donnell and William Pouch of Saratoga Springs, Franklyn Whitney of Middle Grove, NY, and Diane “Simba” Piros of Kent, OH.

Memorial gatherings will be held in Massachusetts at the Ashland Historical Society from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, August 30, 2015 and in Saratoga Springs at Gaffney’s on Sunday, September 13, 2015 from 1 to 6 p.m.

Arrangements are under the direction of the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Homes of 628 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs (584-5373).

The Mystery Trail – We Found It!!! …Kinda

At 1:00 PM today, I met a good friend at the parking lot that is supposed to be the trailhead for the West Nature Trail at Saratoga National Golf Course.  It was pushing ninety degrees.  I scoped the situation out in search of our path.

GlassForPath

I studied the PLANN maps.

IStudyMap

There was no sign of anything that looked like a nature trail.

Here is what the PLAN map shows (click to enlarge):

TrailPanoramaDocumented

Here is what the area looks like on Google Maps (click to enlarge):

Image Of Golf Road Google

So my friend and I walk along the fringe of the road where the map says the trail is.  We are basically just walking on grass by the side of this road. There is nothing that  even remotely resembles a trail here. Unfortunately, since this road runs along a number of fairways, we had to hazard being hit by a golf ball.  Fortunately, no one hits us.  Your intrepid blogger is not covering a war zone but he and his friend courageously walk on.  

I do not think bizarre is too strong a word for walking through a golf course with no signage or even anything that looks like a trail and trying to believe one is hiking a nature trail. See if you can find the “nature trail” in this picture of me on what the map says is the path.

HiddenPath

Finally we came to the area where the map says the trail veers away from the road.  Here we encounter a woman who appears to be a golfer.  She is dressed appropriately.  She is standing beside the women’s tee.  She is quite courteous.  We see beyond her a small break in a little island of trees.  There is no sign or other markings and the break is so small that you could easily miss it.  I did on my previous trip:

HiddenTrail2

Much to our surprise, the lady knows where the “nature path” is.  She points to the clump of trees.  We thank her.  Rather than tee off, she drives off with a wave.  I think this is odd but move on.

When we enter the trail we find that it has obviously been recently pruned and cut.  There are leveled flowering plants  with their flowers still bright and there are small pieces of wood that have been recently brush hogged judging by how white their exposed wood is. 

FreshCutWeedFlowers

Fresh cut wood

FreshCut

In the middle of this small island of trees we find a sign!  It is the PLAN trail map and there is another sign that declares “nature trail” and points onward.

MapInTiny

NatiureTrailTinySign

This little trail might be only  fifty feet long but the signs for it  are posted in the middle of this trail amongst the trees so they cannot be spotted by a passerby.

This “nature path” leads us out to the golf cart path and next fairway.  It has to be the shortest nature trail in history.  Here is a picture of where we came out.

TinyNatureTrailRear

This is what we came out to:

FauxNatureTraul

As we exit the copse we encounter a young man in a utility cart.  He asks us if he can help us.  Apparently my friend and I do not look like golfers.  We tell him we are looking for the “nature trail.”  What amazing good fortune.  He knows where it is and invites us to follow him.  As we follow him, another cart arrives.  In contrast to our guide who is dressed for landscaping, our new friend is nattily dressed as though he just stepped out of the pro shop which he probably did.  He wants to know whether we have been talking to any golfers.  We tell him we had just spoken to a woman a few minutes earlier.  He is courteous but considerably cooler than our guide.  He warns us to stay on the path for our safety.  We thank him.  We are now at the point where apparently the trail to Yaddo is.  The two gentlemen in their carts move off to confer and watch us enter the extension of the path to Yaddo. 

It is hard to see but this is a picture of the two men and their carts.

OurTwoExcorts

This is the bucolic golf cart “nature trail” that took us to the Yaddo trail

TrailToYaddoTurn

This is a picture of the path that now leads to land owned by Yaddo.  Note that there is no signage.

NatureToYaddo

If it were not for our guide we would not confidently have taken this path.  As we walk along this path, just far enough in so that it could not be seen from the golf course, we find a sign announcing that we are on the nature path.  The thing that impresses is that this is a brand new sign.  Below is a picture of this sign and another we encounter further on.  Even in these inept photos you can see how glossy and clean this sign is as compared to the one further into the woods.  Again, it is evident that someone has recently come in and done some landscaping to clean up this trail.  It could be coincidental and they just happened to perform improvements on the trail just prior to our visit.

New Sign

BrandNewSignCN4560

Old Sign

OldSign

As we walk along what turns out to be a nice trail we realize that we are still in some danger.  The white objects in this picture are golf balls.  Fortunately, my friend and I walk the trail without incident.  We do, however uncover this:

GolfBalls

Some zealous golfer has apparently resorted to using a tee to get out of a very difficult situation.  Now I am not a golfer but I do not think that when you are in the woods, you are allowed to do this kind of thing. 

Golf Tee

GolfTee

We take the trail and find more cuttings and this fresh tire mark.  Could have been the person with the tee but we are far enough into the woods that it was probably whoever was cleaning up this trail. 

Track

We come to what appears to be the Yaddo property because the trail narrows and the path becomes mostly grown over.

EndOfPath

We turn around and head back.  When we emerge from the trail, we are amazed to find the same woman who showed us where the path was earlier.  She is standing by her cart a modest distance away.  She is not holding a club.  She asks us how our outing is going.  We replay, “Excellent.”  We exchange waves and head on our way.  We have to stop several times when people on the tees and fairways are in the process of hitting balls close enough to us to represent a risk. 

We return to our cars.  We are unhurt and considerably wiser for our effort,

So the trail does exist.  Most of it is on a golf course which few would categorize as a nature trail.  Whoever placed the few signs we found in the woods could not have made finding the trails harder if they had tried.

At the risk of sounding a bit old fashioned, I think when you make a commitment to a community to do something, the honorable thing to do is to keep that commitment.  It seems entirely possible that Saratoga National Golf Course does not want people walking along their fairways who are not paying to play golf.  It is extremely troubling that Saratoga PLAN who holds the easement and is responsible for enforcing it has apparently seen no need to take any action as regards this trail.  It is even more troubling that while the PLAN web site proudly publicizes the east trail easement that completely skirts the golf course as it goes through a swamp, any publicity about this trail is conspicuously absent.

The city is going ahead with the process of revising our zoning laws and Comprehensive Plan so that this golf course can be upscaled into a full resort.  If the way Saratoga National has acted in fulfilling their obligation to provide this “nature trail” is any indication of how they keep their commitments, it does not bode well that members of our City Council are now considering allowing SNGC to radically expand their encroachment in the greenbelt.

 

A Special Invitation

You are cordially invited to an outing at Saratoga National Golf Course. I am inviting the more adventurous of you to join me in an expedition to locate the “West Nature Trail” of the Saratoga National Golf Course. Kevin Bette, one of the principal owners of the golf course has assured me that there is good signage out there and since Mr. Bette would never lie, I am hoping that some caring souls will help me find the signs.

We will meet at 1:00 PM at the sand parking lot immediately to the left of the grand entrance to the golf course. Bring sunscreen, water, a hat, and good walking shoes. If you plan to come let me know so you are not left to wander alone among the flying golf balls. Email me at kaufmann@nycap.rr.com