City Council Delays Action On Affordable Housing Zoning Change

Your faithful blogger struggled through the half hour of video during which the city council discussed delaying action on the affordable housing proposal put forward by Sustainable Saratoga.  The wandering discussion was impenetrable to this otherwise self described well informed observer.  I called on Chris Mathiesen who asked for the delay to write something explaining what happened.  The phrase transparency is currently the most abused word in the U.S. lexicon but in the case of Commissioner Mathiesen it is fully appropriate.  Here is his brief response:

I decided to delay the vote on the Inclusionary Zoning Amendment to our Zoning Ordinance after consulting with our City attorney, Vince DeLeonardis and our land use attorney Mark Schachner.   The referral to the County Planning Board, a requirement for an amendment to our zoning ordinance, has been unusually troublesome.  Their most recent response, communicated to us on Friday, June 2, stated that we had submitted an incomplete application.   We feel that the application is fully complete.  To clear up any confusion or miscommunication, I decided that the County Planning Board should be made aware of our determination to go forward with a vote at the next City Council meeting (scheduled for Monday, June 19).  Our City attorney will be sending a letter stating this so that the County Planning Board will be aware when they meet again on Thursday, June 15.
In the mean time, two Council members have stated that they would like to have another workshop before voting on this matter.  This special Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, June 13 at 1:30.  We will have the opportunity to speak again with both developers and lenders.
Chris Mathiesen

One disturbing aspect to this was the Council decision, initiated by Commissioners Franck and Madigan, to have the developers and bankers sit at the table with the Council for the upcoming workshop.

There was at least one public hearing at which many people both pro and con turned out to address the Council on this matter.  I understand Commissioner Mathiesen’s decision to extend the process to insure full community involvement in light of the County Planning Boards allegation that the economic analysis was incomplete.  Let’s understand, though, that the County Planning Board is a kind of “subcommittee” of the real estate industry.  It suffers from the same cronyism which is the hallmark of our county government.  Still, to protect the city I can understand Commissioner Mathiesen’s decision.

 What I have difficulty with is why the bankers and developers should be granted the privilege to sit at the Council table with the elected officials.  Regrettably this is symbolic of the power and influence exerted by these very special interests.  Friends, it makes a big difference in a discussion when you sit at the table.  It would have been far better had the Council decided to extend the hearing and had these players address the Council from the public gallery like the rest of the citizens of this city.

 

Standard and Poor’s Has Issued AA+ Rating to the City

[JK:I received this release from the Finance Office]

S&P Ratings Says Saratoga Springs is AA+ for Sixth Consecutive Year!

MEDIA ANNOUNCEMENT: June 6, 2017 Contact: Commissioner of Finance, Michele Madigan Telephone: (518) 587-3550 ext 2577; (518) 526-9377 Email: michele.madigan@saratoga-springs.org STANDARD & POOR’S SAYS SARATOGA SPRINGS IS AA+ for Sixth Consecutive Year! Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan is pleased to report that Standard & Poor’s Rating Services (S&P) awarded the City a “AA+” for 2017 and affirmed its “AA+” rating on the City’s outstanding bonds. An exceptional rating for a municipality, this is the sixth consecutive year that the City has received AA+, all during Madigan’s tenure as Commissioner of Finance. Likewise, S&P retained the City’s “stable outlook”, as well as its Financial Management Practice Assessment of “good”. S&P describes the City as a “commercial and industrial center for the surrounding areas as well as a popular summer destination due to Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, and Saratoga Performing Arts Center”. In the course of its analysis of the City, S&P considered the following qualities: Very strong economy; Strong management conditions, with “good” financial policies and practices; Very strong budgetary flexibility;

Very strong economy;

Adequate budgetary performance, but given the city’s history of adequate to strong budgetary performance, we expect the city to maintain or slightly improve its current budgetary performance levels;  Very strong liquidity, as well as strong access to external liquidity; Strong institutional framework. S&P states “We consider Saratoga Springs’ economy very strong…We view the city’s management as strong, with good financial policies and practices…Management is conservative with revenue and expenditure assumptions…Budgetary flexibility is very strong with an available fund balance in fiscal 2016 of 26% of operating expenditures, or 11.2 million…The city has consistently had very strong liquidity and we do not expect a change to these ratios.” Commissioner Madigan states: “The City and its taxpayers are benefiting from the excellent policies, practices, budgeting and fiscal management of my administration. I will continue to lead with the conservative fiscal practices and sustainable City budgeting that protects the City’s AA+ rating. It is critical to all departments and our constituents as we strive to improve City infrastructure, maintain beautiful historic buildings, provide trails, recreation and open space, and keep the City safe. I am very proud of this outstanding bond rating and pleased to bring it home to the City of Saratoga Springs.”

 

A full report will be delivered to the City Council and the public at the June 6, 2017 City Council Meeting.

 

 

 

Michele Madigan

Commissioner of Finance

City of Saratoga Springs

474 Broadway

Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

518-587-3550 ext. 2557

New York Times Publishes Gordon Boyd Letter

Getting a letter to the editor published in the New York Times is quite an achievement and Gordon Boyd did it today, June 11, in the Sunday edition no less. 

I have known Gordon and his wife Sharon for over forty years beginning in the 1970’s when he ran the city’s first health food store on Caroline Street.

Gordon is currently a consultant for EnergyNext .  He has an extensive civic history in Saratoga Springs.  He ran for County Supervisor in the 70’s and unsuccessfully ran in a Democratic primary for Mayor against Valerie Keehn.  He was also a leader of the county Independence Party at one point. 

Gordon has also given generously of his time and money in a variety of social causes.  He worked as a volunteer with prisoners at the Mount McGregor Correctional Facility before it closed.  He also was instrumental in restoring an important historic organ at the prison.

He has been playing a key role in Bethesda Episcopal Church’s ambitious project to build a new parish house and community center.

Gordon’s energy and dedication to community is really extraordinary.  While working on the Bethesda project and maintaining a full schedule as a consultant for EnergyNext, he has put in countless hours as a member of the Saratoga Springs Charter Review Commission.

Here is his letter to the editor:


To the Editor:

When it comes to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, not all of the roots of American unease stem from a denial of climate science. Some can be attributed to overreach by environmentalists.

The controversy over natural gas extraction from shale — hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — is an example. It was obvious to nearly everyone in the energy business more than a decade ago that natural gas could displace coal for both environmental and economic reasons, and it has done so, decisively.

But environmentalists and some governmental regulators who opposed fracking alienated local business leaders and landowners whose hopes were hanging on a resurgence of energy development in places like the Southern Tier of New York, Pennsylvania and the Appalachian states.

If opponents had embraced shale-sourced natural gas as a bridge to a carbon-free future, the economic and political base for agreements like Paris would have expanded. Instead, anti-fracking groups alienated the political-economic backbone of rural and small-town areas, and many residents climbed on the climate-denial bandwagon and voted for Donald Trump. The environmental community allowed the perfect to become the enemy of the good.

GORDON BOYD SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.

The writer is a consultant for EnergyNext.


While I congratulate Gordon on his many achievements including the publication of this letter,  I have several problems with what he has written.

There is little doubt that the explosion of availability of natural gas resulting from fracking has had a devastating impact on the coal industry.  Natural gas is unquestionably less environmentally destructive than coal.  But less is a relative term. The failure of our country to aggressively embrace clean, renewable energy technologies as a strategy to reduce greenhouse gases leads to an apocalyptic future. Subsitituting  natural gas for coal only means perhaps a slight delay. 

In addition there are  the immediate problems of earthquakes induced by fracking (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-08/why-oklahoma-can-t-turn-off-its-earthquakes) along with the extensive pollution associated with a poorly policed industry.

Gordon’s contempt for the “environmentalists” is regrettable.  He invokes the “perfect is the enemy of the good” saw.  I would argue  that those who present themselves as the “realists” in the case of climate change are the ones who are myopic.  It seems every month climate scientists are being forced to reassess their projections in light of new data that shows their estimates are too conservative.

Finally, it simply begs credibility that opposition to fracking was instrumental in the election of Donald Trump and the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Treaty.  If fracking had not existed as a controversial energy extraction technique the outcome of the presidential election would have been the same.  There have been many theories offered as to why Donald Trump won but Gordon is the first person I know of to offer opposition to fracking as the Trump card.

 

City Democrats Endorse Meg Kelly For Mayor

At their June 8th meeting the Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee endorsed Meg Kelly for Mayor.  Currently Ms. Kelly serves as the deputy mayor.  I am linking to an article on this from the Saratogian.

Link To Article

Ms. Kelly offered the same vague generalities about being for open space, downtown business, good management, etc.  Hopefully Ms. Kelly will be willing to be more specific on these questions in the future.

 

A Potpourri Of Stories

Unnamed Person Plans To Primary Skip Scirocco for the Republican line for  Commissioner of Public Works.

A member of the Charter Review Commission picked up blank petitions this week at the Board of elections. These petitions are the ones used by candidates wanting to run for local  office in Saratoga Springs.  While the Commission member declined to identify the candidate whose name will go on the petitions, he confirmed  the person would be running against Skip Scirocco seeking the Republican line for Commissioner of Public Works.

Large Condo Project Proposed For Downtown

HenryStreetCondosHenryStreetCondosRendering

According to the Albany Business Review, Robert Bucher, Jr. of Design Logic Architects PC has announced plans to build a $21 million dollar condo project at 128 Henry Street.  The project includes roof top terraces and an art gallery on the first floor.  Design Logic Architects is based in Albany.  The project will have 30 condos ranging in price from $599,000.00 to $840,000.00.  The proposed lot at 128 Henry Street is currently owned by Frank Parillo who has extensive property interests in the area including the Hampton Inn. 

Saratogian To Move

The Saratogian sold its current office building to Frank Parillo in 2012 and has been leasing the space they are in since then.  In the paper’s June 6 edition they announced plans to move to new offices at 7 Wells Street.  The Saratogian has resided at their current site on Lake Avenue for some 80 years.  Their current location has 14,000 square feet of space.  Their new location will have 3,700 square feet.  I think this downsizing is symbolic for a newspaper that has been in distress for a number of years.

 

City Democrats: Then and Now

Recently Suzanne Kwasniewski submitted a comment that noted my past criticisms of the city’s Democratic Party for its failure to take concrete positions on any of the controversies that have faced the city in recent memory.  She asked that I share what sort of positions the party took during Jane Weihe, my wife’s tenure as its chair.  She said she wanted to compare them.

Below I include both a reprint of Ms. Kwasniewski’s comment along with Jane’s response.


May 22, 2017 at 12:35 pm Edit

John, Your source wasn’t all that well-informed, since she couldn’t tell you the name of both supervisor candidates. Since complaining about the SSDC platform is a favorite activity of yours, how about sharing the SSDC platform developed under Jane’s leadership so we can compare? Thanks.



Suzanne-

I apologize for not responding sooner to your inquiry about Democratic platforms when I was chair. I am only back in Saratoga for a couple of days and I was hoping I could quickly put my hands on some of the campaign literature we put together and post it. Unfortunately it was not as easy to find this stuff as I had assumed—too many boxes and files accumulated over the years! So the best I can do until I can get back to the boxes is to tell you some of the positions we took as a committee and that our candidates campaigned on.

For one thing we took a strong stand against introducing casino gambling to Saratoga when it was proposed in the early 1990’s, something I was surprised the current committee was silent on. We also took stands against specific development projects we thought were inappropriate for the greenbelt such as the Anderson proposal to put an office park at Exit 14. Again I was surprised that the committee did not take a position on SNGC’s expansion proposal that clearly violated the zoning in the outer district.  Only Chris Mathiesen articulated a position that I would have thought the whole committee should have supported.

We took a stand against the adoption of the1987 Master Plan (as it was called then) that called for rezoning major areas of the city for greater density. We called for a new master plan that would preserve low density development in the outer district and direct new development downtown.   This was the campaign where then Skidmore professor and committee member Ron Edsforth coined the phrase “Keep Saratoga Springs a small city in the country” to describe our vision of how we thought Saratoga should develop in contrast to what the Republicans at the time were proposing in their Master Plan.  Interestingly enough in that campaign we also called for an EMT station to serve the eastern plateau where development was just beginning to accelerate.

All and all we aimed to be concrete not just theoretical in our positions. It’s easy to be for Saratoga being “a city in the country” these days.  Who in town isn’t ready now to mouth that phrase? What should distinguish candidates and parties is where they land on actual proposals that threaten this concept.

Jane Weihe