A little over a week ago I sent the following email to all the candidates running for the Saratoga Springs City Council this year. Here was the email:
The Planning Board has sent to the City Council their recommendations for amending both the city’s zoning laws and the Comprehensive Plan in order to allow a resort in the city’s RR1 district (the city’s greenbelt). This is a highly controversial issue and the public is very interested in knowing your position on it. Every candidate agrees with the importance of transparency. In that spirit I am asking all the candidates running for City Council positions the following question:
If you had to vote on the amendments to the city’s zoning law and Comprehensive Plan as recommended by the Planning Board, would you vote yes or no and why?
The first responses I received and published were from Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen and Mayoral candidate John Safford. The posts were on August 30 and August 31 respectively if you want to go back and read their full statements. I must say that in each case they were quite clear in answering the question. Mathiesen said he was opposed to allowing a resort and Safford said he was in support.
I subsequently received responses from Joanne Yepsen who is running again for Mayor and Ken Ivins who is running for Commissioner of Finance. I have enough respect for the people who read this blog to decide for themselves whether they think their answers properly respond to the question asked. In the case of Ken Ivins he sent me a link to his website and I copied the text as printed below.
This is Joanne Yepsen’s statement:
“The process we are currently engaged in with Saratoga National proposal is playing out as it should. Our land use boards are in place for a reason we need to respect the process as it is being carried out. I have certain concerns with how much land will be conserved and how that forever greenspace will be managed and accessed by the public. Furthermore, I am concerned with how this project comports with our Comprehensive Plan. Our City spent nearly two years on our comprehensive plan and I look forward to continuing its implementation as designed. I will continue to evaluate the proposal with these main issues as my paramount focus. Before I make a decision, I need to be satisfied the plan will be good for our city and residents.”
This is Ken Ivins statement:
Where does Ken stand on Saratoga National Golf Course
The Saratoga National Golf Course proposed expansion has many people in the community taking some very strong stances and people are asking me where I stand on this project. I have been out talking to many voters in these past couple of months and the general feeling is that people feel extremely positive about this project. I, likewise, am in general agreement that it has the potential to be a constructive project for our city. But, as we all know the “devil is in the details.” There are a number of questions that I need answered before I would cast a positive vote.
I will elaborate my concerns a little later but let me first mention something that I find very disturbing. On March 10, 2015 our current Commissioner of Finance deposited a campaign contribution of $250 from a lobbying firm named Northeast Government Consulting (www.ngclobby.com/). On their website they describe themselves as:
“Northeast Government Consulting, LLC (NGC) is a full service lobbying and consulting firm with solid government experience to deliver bottom line results for clients in the Northeast United States.”
They list a number of clients one of which is named Laker Development Group, L.L.C. which has a Saratoga Springs address. I have heard but have not been able to verify their relation with Saratoga National.
I believe that a local official receiving campaign funds from any lobbying group should raise eyebrows at the very least and it questions their objectivity. If it is true that this is tied to the Saratoga National project then even more questions should be raised.
Returning to the original topic, as I mentioned this project has many upsides, including adding much needed revenues to our city coffers (something to look at seriously with the probable loss of VLT funds down the line). I believe this fiscal sustainability is why a large number of residents would like to see this project proceed.
The key I believe is that we should not just open the door and let Saratoga National have a free hand. We still need to maintain the unique characteristics of the city we love. There have been issues raised regarding promises made and maybe not kept. I also hear that the easement may still have some legal questions to answer.
There is an old saying “trust but verify.” I would want a system also put in place that would verify that any promises made are kept.
The planning board recommendation calls for additional public hearings. Unlike one of our currently elected officials I believe this should be done. I never took a vote on a matter of this importance without hearing from as many sides as possible and weighing all the pluses and minuses. To do otherwise, I believe, is completely irresponsible and no way to conduct open and transparent government business.
Ideologically I understand critics, reminding us the golf course knew full well when they first built on that land, and given their special permit, there would always be constraints, and there should be. But, the large question that looms over all these back and forth arguments is what’s best for Saratoga Springs as a whole, both short term and long term? Can we add another attraction for our city, helping to offset a future possible loss of VLT funds, while at the same time minimizing the impact of our greenbelt? I believe in theory we can reach that goal. But, important concerns need to first be satisfied and the process needs to happen transparently and inclusively.
So if I was on the council now would I vote for this project? Probably, but only after more information is gathered, a system to verify promises made, and most importantly, the public is heard and their thoughts taken into consideration.
As for Michele Madigan, Sarah Burger, Bill McTygue, Skip Scirocco, John Franck, and Rick Wirth, I heard nothing.