This is an interesting article from Grid Saratoga from several years ago. Attorney Stephanie Ferradino pitched the idea of turning a major part of the conservation district into a resort district. Sound familiar? Worth the read.
|Joe Levy went to the LWV debate and here is his report on it:
I was at the event and want to mention a few observations while they’re still fresh in my mind. For the record, I’m not a registered Democrat and don’t have a horse in this race.
First, as I approached the UU building, a Burger supporter was installing lawn signs on the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the street in front of the venue. An LWV representative made it clear that campaigning of any sort was not allowed and the signs were then removed. Inside, there was a full house of about 150 people, give or take. The audience was asked by the LWV moderator to refrain from comments, jeers, or cheers during the forum and that courtesy was generally observed.
Questions from the audience were written on 3×5 note cards and passed on the moderator, with each candidate answering the same question in alternate order within a 1.5 minute time limit. There was also an optional opportunity to comment or respond back, which rarely happened.
For the most part, the candidates were in agreement on a wide variety of issues from disaster preparedness to maintaining the integrity of the Green Belt to keeping the city owned ambulance service. They nit-picked over the staffing of fire trucks, last call at the bars, and civilian review of complaints relating to police actions.
They differed strongly in relating how Ms. Burger came to resign as City Attorney. Ms. Burger said that she was being asked to perform duties that in her view were unethical; Dr. Mathiesen said that the five council members were all in agreement that she wasn’t a good fit (read: not a team player) and gave her the choice of resigning or being fired.
Although their general disagreement over the Collamer lot and land swap was well-documented by John in his interviews with Tom McTygue and Dr. Mathiesen [ https://saratogaspringspolitics.com/2015/08/16/the-strange-and-on-going-tale-of-the-collamer-lot-sale/ ], one question that I had (and asked) was finally answered. Although Ms. Burger was acquainted with Joseph Zappone as a fellow lawyer, she came to distribute his last minute offer to buy the Collamer lot in her then official capacity as City Attorney. During the public comment period, Mr. Zappone presented his surprise offer and it was passed on to Ms. Burger by the clerk. She gave it a read and then had copies made to distribute to the five council members for their perusal. Apparently, it was as much as a surprise to her as it was to everyone else in the room and she had no prior knowledge that it was coming.
Regarding the Saratoga PAC, Ms. Burger said that she spoke with their representatives earlier, but couldn’t figure out what their angle was, and decided not to accept any money from them (I guess she hadn’t seen the list of donors or she might have figured it out). Previously, Dr. Mathiesen also said he would not accept money from that group and called for reform of campaign finance laws in general.
Finally, in the event that one or the other lost the Democratic primary (as is sure to happen), neither would agree to endorse the winner. Yes, politics does make people crazy.
There will be a candidate Forum sponsored by the Saratoga League of Women Voters:
Saratoga Springs Public Safety Primary Candidate Event
Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 7 pm
Candidates: Sarah Burger, Christian Mathiesen
Location: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Saratoga Springs, 624 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
The Democratic primary takes place this Thursday, September 10, 2015, from 12 noon to 9 PM.
At the last City Council meeting, John Franck announcedthat there would be a public hearing on the new language in the city zoning code and in the city comprehensive plan to allow resorts in the city’s conservation district at 6:45 pm on September 15th. This would be prior to the regular council meeting at 7:00. I think it may take more than fifteen minutes for the public to weigh in on this.
He told the Gazette Newspaper that he hoped the city council would vote on it that same night.
If you care about trying to protect the greenbelt I would urge you to contact members of the city council and to speak at the hearing. Chris Mathiesen and Skip Scirocco have already stated they are against the change. John Franck has stated he is for it. The two potential swing votes are Madigan and Yepsen.
I want to thank all of you who have supported my blog by visiting it or by establishing yourselves as “followers” so that you automatically receive my posts via email.
The good news is that it has become a huge success. Yesterday I had over 500 people visit my blog and they had 831 views which means in blog parlance that they looked at 831 posts. In addition to this I have over sixty followers so about 560 people read posts on that day. In a city of 28,000 that is a very impressive number and the kind of people who visit my site are the kinds of people who engage others in conversation about our city.
I hope the blog will become an increasingly positive force for both informing our community and for holding our elected officials accountable.
Tomorrow I will be leaving for my annual fly fishing trip to the Canadian Rockies. Jane and our dogs will still be here in Saratoga to monitor the goings on. In addition, I will receive the usual helpful emails from people assisting me in learning what is going on. I plan to find time in the evenings to continue my posts but there may not be as many.
A lot of clothes and fishing equipment ready to go west.
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.
In this week’s Saratoga Today, Bob Manz who heads the Saratoga PAC wrote a letter in which he praised Rick Wirth and Sarah Burger for meeting with them seeking their endorsement for Public Safety Commissioner. He castigated Chris Mathiesen for declining to meet with them.
Some of you will remember that in an earlier blog I asked all three Public Safety Commissioner candidates if they would seek the endorsement and support of the PAC. As thoroughly documented in my blogs, the PAC is comprised primarily of companies related to construction and real estate and was formed in opposition to provisions in the city’s new Comprehensive Plan that continues to protect the greenbelt from development such as proposed by Saratoga National Golf Course. Mr. Manz heads D.A. Collins which is probably the largest construction company in the area.
When I asked Sarah Burger and Rick Wirth whether they would seek or accept an endorsement and money from the PAC they offered “transparently evasive (hard to put those two words together)” answers. This is covered in my July 27 post titled “To Candidates For Public Safety: Will You Feed From Saratoga PAC’s Money Trough.” In contrast, Chris Mathiesen made clear that he was not interested in legitimizing them by seeking their support.