City Council Hearing About The Zoning Amendment That No Longer Existed

Just when you thought the campaign by Saratoga National could not get any more Byzantine, it did.

The subject of the hearing  tonight was supposed to be the changes to the city zoning law and the Comprehensive Plan recommended by the Planning Board. 

The City Council met on Monday for its regular “agenda meeting.”  At Monday’s meeting Michele Madigan made a point of telling her colleagues that she could not support the Planning Board’s amendments.  What I found interesting was the universal reaction among people I know.  They were highly skeptical about her actually blocking Saratoga National’s plans.

So the next day (the day of the actual hearing), low and behold, Michael Toohey sent a revised version of the zoning changes to the CouncilThe hearing was now absurd since people were being asked to testify about a document that for all intents and purposes was obsolete.  Nevertheless, the hearing was allowed to proceed over a dead document.  It is quite stunning the power of Saratoga National to arbitrarily rewrite the language of a city ordinance over and over.

Here is the full text of the “new” changes submitted by Toohey (the bold type indicates the changes to the Planning Board’s recommended wording)

.Amendment to Chapter 240 of the City Code of the City of Saratoga Springs, New York entitled Zoning Ordinance by the addition to “Appendix A – Definition of Terms” the following definition:

Golf Resort”. A full regulation size 18 golf course and associated structures which may include amenities such as clubhouse, locker rooms, spa, health and fitness center, golf and fitness related retail, restaurant and banquet facilities, business center and temporary lodging.

And an Amendment to the Zoning Ordinance by the addition to “Section 6. Supplemental Regulation” a new subsection 6.3.6 Golf Resort as follows:

“6.3.6    Golf Resorts

The following shall apply to any Golf Resort located within the Rural Residential District (Conservation Overlay District) in addition to any requirements related to a Special Use Permit or Site Plan Approval:

Intent: Facilities for golfing have existed in the City of Saratoga Springs for many decades. The well-planned and orderly construction of one or more golf resorts in the City is consistent with our identity and reputation as a world class resort area. It is important, however, to establish requirements for golf resorts that will not interfere with City priorities including but not limited to open space, greenbelt conservation, and scenic beauty. A properly designed golf resort development with sufficient open space and natural resources protection and opportunities for public recreation could provide positive contributions to the City as well as to the long term preservation of the surrounding greenbelt.

Minimum Lot Size: A Golf Resort shall not be located on any parcel(s) of land containing less than 300 contiguous acres.

Clustering: All structures and related site development shall be situated within a limited and defined portion of the lot(s) which allows not less than 50% of the lot(s) to remain as permanently protected open space. A minimum of 35% of the developed area shall remain permeable.

Setback: All facilities other than the golf course, golf school, pump house, restrooms, storm shelter facilities and maintenance facilities shall be located at least 3,000 feet from the primary road entrance.

Height Restriction: No structure may be more than 50 feet or three stories in height.

Lodging Facilities: There may be not more than 100 guest rooms in a single structure providing temporary lodging. Additional temporary lodging may be provided in not more than six (6) smaller, freestanding structures containing common areas and up to eight (8) guest rooms but with no associated kitchen facilities. Temporary lodging facilities shall not be used as seasonal or year-round residences.

Residential Use Restriction: Other than temporary lodging facilities approved pursuant to these provisions, no single family or multi-family residential development or use shall occur on any Golf Resort property.

 Preservation of Open Space: The developer of any Golf Resort shall dedicate not less than 50% of the unconstrained land for open space purposes. The open space protected pursuant to this section must have “conservation value” which shall be determined by a conservation analysis as described in City Code Section 241-12B(2). The amount of land available for non-golf and recreational purposes in a Golf Resort shall be limited to the land available for development after the conservation analysis or forty (40) acres, whichever amount is less. Other than a maintenance area, golf school, golf course and recreational physical improvements, all buildings constructed within the Golf Resort shall be within the Clustered Area described in subparagraph “C” above. This open space protected pursuant to this section must provide a new recreational opportunity available to the public in an area where there has not been such an opportunity, public access to an important natural park area, or the permanent protection of an important environmental resource. Such land shall be contiguous and of such size and shape as to be usable for either passive or active recreation or for preservation of a substantial amount of land with conservation value. As a condition of Special Use and/or Site Plan Approval, the Planning Board may establish such conditions on the ownership, use and maintenance of this open space land as it deems necessary to ensure the preservation of such land for its intended purpose. Open space land shall be protected by a perpetual conservation easement and may be offered for dedication to the City, County or State governments, transferred to a nonprofit organization acceptable to the City Council, held in private ownership or help in such other form of ownership as the City Council finds appropriate to properly manage the open space land and protect its recreation and/or conservation value. If the organization designated to own and/or maintain the open space land or any successor organization fails to maintain the property in a reasonable condition in accordance with the plan for its intended use, the City may assume responsibility for such maintenance and assess the cost against the property owner. The developer of any Golf Resort shall be responsible for maintaining the open space until it is legally accepted by the City or other designated entity.”

Inconsistency: In the event of any inconsistency between or among any of the provisions of these Supplemental Regulations or any other provision of the City Zoning Law, the provision(s) most protective of open space conservation values shall apply.

Comprehensive Plan

This Amendment to the Zoning Code is consistent with the Adopted Comprehensive Plan of the City of Saratoga Springs and, as a result, there is no need for an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan.

Toohey promised the council that no matter what, Saratoga National would limit their development to no more than forty acres.  Michele Madigan’s assurances that this project would be limited to twenty-five acres seems to have been breached.  He implied that the rest would be in some kind of easement but his explanation was fuzzy to say the least.  I have made a number of efforts to plough through this document but I find it very confusing as to what can be built where.  I suspect this is not simply a matter of poor writing.  Saratoga National has now got the bit in their teeth.  Notice how unclear the document is as to what kind of commercial activity they can now do out there.  In some ways, this document appears worse than the previous one.  You can build a lot of stuff on forty acres.

None of this in fact made any difference to those who testified because no one addressed the wording of the old document. What people did was basically state that they were either for a resort or against it.  As always, Harry Moran of Sustainable Saratoga provided a substantive statement on the issue.

Saratoga PAC turned out in force.  They lined up early at the microphone and they dominated the first half of the testimony.  Pretty much everyone who spoke for it had donated money to the PAC and represented the traditional network of money and power in the city.  They made the expected points over and over.  “Saratoga must move forward or die.”  “We are losing business to other destination golf resorts.”  “The city will enjoy a boon of new tax revenue.”  “The opponents of the project only say ‘No'” etc., etc.

As the evening wore on the opponents of the change basically spoke about how the impact of having such intensive activities would commercialize what is supposed to be a quiet, rural, greenbelt.  They questioned just how generous the easements would be.  They spoke passionately about the frustration of having to fight over and over again to protect the greenbelt.

John Franck noted that in light of the new wording that it was unlikely that there would be a council vote before the next election.   What a surprise!

S.A.V.E. Is Back!

I received this release from the folks at Saratogians Against Vegas Style Expansion (Welcome back):


September 15, 2015

Election Season Heats Up: SAVE Saratoga Steps Back into The Ring

Saratoga Springs, NY – As election season heats up in Saratoga Springs and the contentious divide surrounding development in the Greenbelt draws new candidates and never before seen PAC’s to the arena, SAVE Saratoga speaks out with their enduring mission and commitment to the citizens they represented in 2014 to keep casino gaming and on-going development threats out of the city.  “SAVE will play a role in the upcoming election because we made a promise to the thousands of citizens who trusted us to organize and keep a casino and destination resort out of our city.  We’re presenting for public record tonight, for the first time, the handwritten signatures of those more than 5,000 people.  They are still here.  And we are still here”, said Colin Klepetar, co-founder of the advocacy organization during Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting.

SAVE Saratoga will be presenting each local candidate for the November election a survey which they will use to create a voters favorability scale.  The questions will reflect the group’s ongoing mission to protect the city from increased gambling and development that is at odds with local control and which threatens our downtown district.  The results of the survey will be shared widely with the public.

“These signatures should be a powerful reminder to our City Council members, Mayor and candidates.  In total, our grassroots organization gathered 5,879 signatures in just over five months, going door-to-door, talking to folks at the farmer’s markets and local events,  and at organizing meetings.  5,879, is significant because since 2003 (that’s as far back as we could find records for on the Saratoga County Board of Elections website) no other County Supervisor, Mayor or Commissioner has received that many votes of support.  Even when they have been unopposed.  SAVE Saratoga has a massive following and because Saratoga Springs will always be an attractive outpost for gambling and outside interests, we must stay vigilant and we must continue to educate and organize the public,” said Klepetar.

SAVE Saratoga’s Enduring Mission:

SAVE Saratoga is committed to maintaining and protecting the outcomes of our successful campaign in 2014 to keep full-scale table gaming and a destination resort casino out of Saratoga Springs. SAVE will continue to work on behalf of the over 5,000 citizens who spoke up to affect this protection. Moving forward, SAVE Saratoga will work to educate the community on ongoing issues related to full-scale table gaming and destination resort casinos, as well as development that is at odds with local control and which threatens our downtown district; create transparency between candidates for local elections and the citizens of Saratoga County; and, collaborate with local organizations, elected officials and citizens to ensure the protection of the City’s Downtown Core as the driver of our local economy and the unique and historically successful balance of the City in the Country.

Join Us on Facebook: SAVESaratoga

Follow on Twitter: @SAVESaratoga

Mayor Yepsen: Where Transparency Would Really Count

According to the November 16, 2013, edition of the Saratogian, Joanne Yepsen beat Shauna Sutton by only 342 votes in what the headline characterized as a close race.  This was when Scott Johnson was very unpopular and Ms. Sutton had been his deputy.  The unofficial tally was 4,123 for Yepsen and 3,781 for Shauna Sutton.  Link To Article

There is a distinct irony that John Safford is running on a platform based on the repeated slogan of transparency.  As most people may remember, this was exactly the same theme that Mayor Yepsen ran on.  

John Safford has made it quite clear where he stands on the proposed changes in the zoning laws and the Comprehensive Plan that the Council is considering (see August 31 post “John Safford Responds To Questions About Amendment To Zoning Law and Comprehensive Plan.”)   He stated, “I would have approved the hotel at National long before the convoluted process that has unfolded subsequently.”  You may not agree with him but he doesn’t pull any punches.  If Mayor Yepsen were to come out clearly and boldly against the changes she would obviously address the transparency issue by matching Safford in her willingness to be upfront with the public about where she stands.  More importantly, she would be able make the defense of the greenbelt the defining issue in the election and distinguish herself from Safford.  Saratogians believe strongly in the value of our greenbelt and the need to protect it.  The Mayor has spoken eloquently in defense of the greenbelt in the past.   Were Mayor Yepsen to define this election on the issue of protecting the greenbelt , I think she would win the election decisively.  If she waffles, she gives Safford a weapon against her.  He can argue that on this central and controversial issue, the voters have a right to know where the candidates stand.  He can point out his own willingness to be straight with the voters and contrast himself with Mayor Yepsen.

Sustainable Saratoga On Saratoga National Golf Course

This city is so fortunate to have the resource of Sustainable Saratoga.  Their analysis and their presentations are always clear, rhetoric free, and eminently civil.  I wish that I could write and talk as clearly as these folks.

They have posted on their web site an appeal to people to speak at the coming public hearing and they have offered a carefully crafted analysis of the problems with the proposed revisions to the city’s zoning law and comprehensive plan.  I urge people to read their analysis.   Sustainable Saratoga Link

Flyer Correction

The software I use to generate my blog controls certain things.  In the case of the flyer, for the people who “Follow” this blog, they got their regular email with the flyer but the heading said “By John Kaufmann.”  This is because the post is by me so it makes it look like I created the flyer.  The fact is that I am “graphically challenged” and a very creative person designed this rather than me.

City of Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee To Take On Saratoga National Golf Course Issue

In previous posts I have noted the long and proud history of the City Democratic Party in its steadfast defense of the Greenbelt.  With that in mind, I called Charlie Brown, the current Chair of the City Committee to ask if he and members of the Committee would be commenting regarding the proposed changes to the zoning of the conservation district and comp plan to accommodate Saratoga National Golf Course’s desire to expand.  He told me that because of the time he had to devote to the recent primary that he was not up on the details of the changes.  When I told him where he could find the information on the proposal the Council will vote on, he told me that on such a controversial issue he would not feel comfortable speaking publically on the matter.  He also said that for the same reason he did not think it appropriate for the executive committee to take a position.  The conversation was cordial.  I expressed my disappointment and our conversation ended.  A few minutes later he called me back and said on further consideration he hoped to poll the committee regarding the issue and to have the executive committee act depending upon the response.  I welcomed the idea and offered to post whatever he wanted to say on my site verbatim if he wanted to send me something.  This is what I received:

From:    Charley Brown []

Sent:     Saturday, September 12, 2015 12:43 PM

To:          John Kaufmann

Subject:               Re: test

Hi John,

Sorry for the late response, I have been on the phone…

Our committee issued a 9 page statement to the Comp Plan. Review committee in full support of the Green Belt concept(s) when the first changes to the RR  zone was being discussed and then I, as Chair, followed up with a number of statements opposing those changes…

We, the Exec comm. and our full committee have continued to follow, and discuss, the various proposals for Saratoga National.  However, the most resent proposal, which to my knowledge did not become public until late this week, has come at a time when our full attention has been focused on a primary election. Starting yesterday, I have spoken a number of our Exec about the possibility of a statement at the next City Council meeting, 4 days from now.  It is our hope that Tuesday night will be only a public hearing on this issue and not be followed up by a vote….

Preparing a statement for the Tuesday night meeting does not seem likely due our long standing policy that the Chair does not speak out on particular issues unless there is a strong majority vote of the full committee supporting the statement.  (The Chair speaks for the committee, not for his or herself).

I will continue speaking with the Exec. and will bring up this issue with our full committee at our next full committee meeting, Sept 19th….


While it is too bad that the decision will happen after the hearing, it looks like the City Council vote will not happen that night.  In that light, Mr. Brown’s decision to have the committee directly act on the issue is to be lauded.  Were the Committee to have the courage to take a stand on this issue it could very well affect the outcome.