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.


I studied the PLANN maps.


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

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


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.


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:


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. 


Fresh cut wood


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.



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.


This is what we came out to:


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.


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


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


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


Old Sign


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:


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


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. 


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


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.


Saratoga National Golf Course stymies effort to locate their alleged nature trail

After leaving two messages since Friday, at about 2:00 PM today, Monday, Kevin Bette of Saratoga National Golf Course finally returned my call.  It is hard to reconstruct our discussion because Mr. Bette talks at an extraordinary rate and the conversation tends to be quite unfocused.  Basically he told me that only he could show me the trail.  He said that the other staff there was not properly informed to answer any questions I might have.  He then told me that he was not available this week and would be away over the Labor day weekend.  As it happens, I am going to be traveling for most of September starting on Sunday.  I asked him if he could not allow someone at the course to just show me the trail.  I told him I could not understand the necessity of him coming up here when all I really wanted was to know where the trail went.  This led to him going on about how the trail  dead ends and so it is really not used.  He then launched into a reverie about how great it would be if I would work on developing a city wide trail system that would incorporate their trail.  I think this gives you a rough idea about what it is like to try to have a discussion with Mr. Bette.  I told him that while I would be in support of additional connecting trails, my understanding of a nature trail is that it has intrinsic value and does not require other trails.  I then told him that I would be happy to have an agreement with him and whomever he chose to show me the trail not to ask any other questions.  I would simply have the person show me where it was.  He then went on at a rapid rate that made it impossible to get a word in about how it needed to be him who showed me the trail for a plethora of reasons that came down to the fact that he did not trust anyone else to deal with me.  I asked could he please find a little time this week to show me the trail and he went on at great length about the fact that he runs five companies and does not have time.

He then asked me what it was I wanted from his group.  I told him that I had actually been prepared to accept what I had understood his group to be offering. i.e. that they wanted to build their facilities 3000 feet from the road on twenty-five acres and put the rest in a permanent easement.  This prompted a positive geyser of words about how it was the City Council that wanted to first adopt these changes in the zoning and that his group was prepared to do whatever it took but that they had to operate according to the City Council.  I tried to explain to him that without some enforceable commitment for what his group had  offered as an easement I could not support going forward.  This again led to five minutes of variations on how their hands were tied.  I then quoted Ronald Reagan’s famous aphorism: “Trust but verify.”  I told him that I needed something that was clear and enforceable.  After another long statement by him about how much he and his partners cared about the property and how they were bound by the process of first getting the zoning they needed, I finally interrupted him (it was not easy)and told him how much I appreciated him calling me and wished him an enjoyable Labor Day weekend after which I was able to graciously end our conversation and hang up.

The idea that no employee at Saratoga National Golf Course can be allowed to show me where this alleged trail is raises the obvious question of what is Mr. Bette afraid that an employee might inadvertently tell me?   The fact that for two weeks neither PLAN nor Saratoga National can provide me with someone who can show me where this alleged trail is only adds to the suspicion that the “nature trail” is a fiction.  My suspicion is that the trail is simply a document showing a line traversing the golf course using golf cart paths which meets the legal requirement of the Special Permit issued by the city but cannot  honestly be called a nature trail. It raises serious questions about the value of the promises Saratoga National makes.

Mathiesen Responds To Question On Planning Board And Changes To City Comp Plan And Zoning Laws

Commissioner Mathiesen Posted The Comment On My Blog.

Chris Mathiesen commented on Testing The Candidates On Their Commitment To Transparency

In the August 25 post of this blog, I quoted Michael Toohey when he alleged that he had an agreement with Saratoga PLAN to …I am not waiting to receive your question. I was opposed to the referral to the Planning Board regarding the ridiculous re-definition of the term ‘clubhouse’. I stand opposed to the new effort that has since evolved by the Planning Board to now amend the zoning ordinance in order to significantly expand commercial uses at SNGC. I do not feel that such an expansion of commercial uses at SNGC is consistent with the concept of the type of enterprise that was originally envisioned there and it certainly is not consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan..

Beyond that, I am not comfortable with the way that the City seems to have looked the other way as the golf course clubhouse has incrementally expanded its uses so that it now functions as a banquet house that operates entirely separate from the golf course operations. I can find no justification for such a use in a Rural Residential district.

SNGC has been a great addition to our City. I have attended many functions there. The owners are nice people who have been very generous to our community. However, there is no listed use in RR-1 that would include the operation of a banquet house.

I will be suggesting that there is no good reason to schedule a public hearing on this since there is hopefully no support for this proposal among Council members.. Should the Council decide to go through with the public hearing and the Council must vote on this question, I will be voting NO.

Chris Mathiesen

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Testing The Candidates On Their Commitment To Transparency

In the August 25 post of this blog, I quoted Michael Toohey when he alleged that he had an agreement with Saratoga PLAN to handle the easement that would be required for Saratoga National Golf Course’s expansion.  I also shared that I had had a conversation with the executive director of PLAN in which she told me that she had had no conversations with anyone about an expanded easement.

I sent an email to Mr. Toohey asking if I might have a copy of the documents that he referred to.  Here is the email:


From:    John Kaufmann []

Sent:     Tuesday, August 25, 2015 7:35 PM

To:          ‘’

Subject:               PLAN Letters

At the August 12, 2015 Planning Board meeting you told the Board that you had letters of agreement

with Saratoga PLAN to do the additional easement “in place” as part of the expansion of Saratoga

National Golf Course.  Would it be possible for me to get copies of these letters?  I would be happy to

come by your office and pick them up and pay for any copying costs.

Thank you

I did not really expect to receive anything from him.  It is extremely unlikely that he actually has anything given what PLAN told me.

This brings to mind something more disturbing that seems endemic to an element of our culture and in particular to the troubling condition of our public institutions.

I truly urge the readers of this blog to spend just a few minutes of their time actually watching Mr. Toohey’s presentation to the Planning Board.  Here is the link to it: Toohey Addresses Planning Board Move the timer to 36:53.

I do not think it is unfair to characterize his presentation as droning and mind numbing.  What he does is go through a list from the city’s Comprehensive Plan trying to explain how what Saratoga National Golf Course hopes to do fits into the plan.  It includes digressions where he references birds, bees, etc.  What he never addresses through this tedious cataloguing is whether SNGC’s proposal violates the provisions of the conservation district such as density, commercialism, or intensity of use (traffic, congestion, etc.) which are the central concerns for SNGC’s critics.

Contrast this with three other presenters that night.

  1. Harry Moran of Sustainable Saratoga speaking against the proposed amendment Moran Speaks Item A3 Timer: 65:55
  2. Matt Jones representing the application of the City Center for a subdivision  Matt Jones Speaks Item A4 Timer: 50:35
  3. The attorney representing the owners of the Mouzon House opposing the subdivision. Pedinotti Attorney Item A4 TImer:50:12

The point here is not whether I agree with any of these three people regarding their arguments.  The point is that in contrast to Mr. Toohey each put forward succinct and clear articulations for the consideration of the Planning Board.

There is no question about the success of Michael Toohey’s career.  He has represented many of the largest and most successful real estate players in Saratoga Springs.  The question is what the nature of his success is. The issue here is not to personalize an attack on Toohey but to help explain how power works in our city.

I think the answer is that Mr. Toohey’s role is not actually to convincingly argue his case (again I urge the readers of this blog to watch the video).  His role is to provide the cover for people who wish to do something and need the appearance that what they want to do is appropriate.  In the case of the Planning Board, Saratoga National Golf Course had the majority it needed on the Planning Board before they walked in the door of the council chambers.

This very expensive charade provides the artifice that some members of the Planning Board and some members of the City Council need to create the appearance that  all of this is being thoroughly thought through.   Clarity in this case is an indulgence.  If anything it runs the risk of exposing the poverty of the position.

The only thing that breaks through this edifice of illusion is a strong public response.  The most common response to controversial issues is for our politicians to do everything they can to avoid taking a position.  The corollary to Mr. Toohey’s stratagem for politicians is that they are:

  1. Studying the issue
  2. Waiting to hear more from their constituents
  3. Are not entirely happy with X but when pressed for an explanation as to exactly what their reservations might be  use some excuse to avoid an answer (options #1 or #2).

We saw this with the casino.  For many weeks the members of the Council dithered trying to avoid taking a position.  Only when Skip Scirocco notified members of the council that he would be introducing a resolution opposing a full casino did the Mayor suddenly decide to introduce her own resolution and did the Council suddenly line up to publicly oppose a casino.  Every member of the Council knew that a huge crowd would descend on the meeting.

There is nothing like an informed and motivated public to demolish the kind of fog of rhetoric that an attorney like Mr. Toohey uses.

Unfortunately, there are limits to how many people can turn out to meetings.  While many people care deeply about these issues they have families and jobs that demand most of their energy.  Successful campaigns like opposing the casino or PUDs in the conservation district involve many hours for volunteers to publicize and organize turn outs.  In contrast, developers have the money to hire lawyers and to make large contributions to the campaigns of the politicians they need to influence.

With this in mind, I am going to contact both the sitting members of the Council and the candidates running for office and ask them to share their thoughts on the Planning Board’s recommendation for changing the zoning laws and Comprehensive Plan to allow a [golf] resort in the city’s conservation district.

I will post their responses unedited for people to see.

Here is the text of my message to them:

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?

I have attached a copy of the document to this email.

I will publish anything you write unedited on my blog for the benefit of my readers.  Length is no problem.  Please respond by Friday, September 4th.  If you do not respond by then, I will assume you have chosen not to comment.

Thank you for participating.

The Continuing Quest For The Saratoga National Golf Course Nature Trail

As noted in an earlier blog, having failed to find the West Nature Trail at Saratoga National Golf Course, on Monday I contacted PLAN.  I asked their stewardship coordinator, Devin Rigolino if he could come out there with me and show me where it is.  He said he was quite busy but would get back to me to work out a time. 

Mr. Rigolino called me Wednesday afternoon.  He told me that Joe Lucas, the superintendent of grounds for Saratoga National, would provide the tour for me.  He said Mr. Lucas “knows every blade of grass.”  I have to fess up to being kind of excited.  I love to learn new things and I was hoping to learn more about golf courses as well as understand where exactly the nature trail is.

During the call I asked Mr. RIgolino why there was excellent information about the east nature trail that goes to Lake Lonely but nothing about the (mysterious) west nature trail on PLAN’s web site.  This is the web site that crosses Saratoga National using its Golf Cart Paths.  He said that they were interested in promoting the use of Lake Lonely and the need for clean water.  He also said that they have a partnership with a boat livery.  I said that I could understand why they might emphasize that trail but could not understand why they had absolutely nothing about this other trail.  He said “good point.” 

I called Mr. Lucas that day and left a message   for him to call me.  Not having heard from him, I called the next day but did not hear from him again.  Early in the morning on the third day he called me and told me that Kevin Bette would give the tour and gave me his number.  Mr. Bette is one of the principals of Saratoga National.  I immediately called him.  The number turned out to be his Latham office.  His secretary put me through to his voice mail and I left a message asking that he call me.

It is now after 5:00 PM and I have not heard anything.  I am looking forward to finding the mystery trail and to walking with Mr. Bette when he gets back to me.  Fear not, dear readers, I will persevere and you all will learn, with me, where this mysterious nature trail is.  Maybe we can all have an outing there once I know where it is!  I am sure Saratoga National would love to have us.

Michael Toohey: Agreement? What Agreement?

Agreement?  What agreement?

On Monday morning, I called Maria Trabka, the executive director of P.L.A.N. to try to understand why there was no signage for the West Trail on Saratoga National Golf Course other than the map at the parking lot and to better understand what was going on with the trail.  She was quite gracious but said that she knew little of the details regarding the trail.  She said that Devin Rigolino was PLAN’s Stewardship coordinator and that he was in a meeting at that moment but she would have him call me.  She wanted to know more about who I was and I told her I was a blogger and I would email her my information, including my telephone number immediately following our conversation. 

I then told her that I had understood from remarks made by Michael Toohey that PL.A.N. had agreed to handle the easement for the proposed expansion of Saratoga National Golf Course.  She told me that she had had no conversations with anyone on this.  I noted to her that in looking at their mission to preserve farmland and other sensitive areas that protecting a golf course seemed a bit afield.  She responded that they were concerned about maintaining open space and that it would seem that doing so would be in their mission.

I mentioned this to a friend who offered to review the video of Michael Toohey’s presentation to see precisely what he had said.  I was enormously grateful because Toohey’s presentations are painfully dull and unfocused.  This particular presentation went on for at least thirty-five minutes.

The Proverbial Smoking Gun

What they found was the following statement by Michael Toohey.  He was promising the Planning Board at its August 12 meeting that Saratoga National Golf Course was going to be part of creating a bike path that would be integrated as part of a city wide system :

We can create path systems throughout our land that will be monitored by Saratoga PlanWe already have letters from Saratoga PLAN that say they would be willing to take the conservation easements that we are proposing. That’s already in place. So that can be done to make sure that it’s not us monitoring this or political entity monitoring this but in fact a well-known and highly respected environmental group. Those things are already in place.”

To view M. Toohey making this statement, select this link.  Michael Toohey’s Statement  Move the timer pointer to 36:35.

A Bike Path Through Their Golf Course?
First let me say that Saratoga National Golf Course is a beautiful and as impressive as its owners have described it.  On the day I wandered along the golf cart thoroughfares looking for the “nature trail”, I saw people dressed in classic golf clothing looking quite dapper consistent with their surroundings.  I was dressed neatly in a solid blue tee shirt and olive cargo shorts with brown leather clogs.  To give you an idea as to how much I stood out, I was asked twice by people if they could help me. 

I find it hard to believe in light of the image of this golf course that they want hikers walking on golf cart thoroughfares through the center of their course.  I find it even more stunning that they may be thinking of having  bike riders share these thoroughfares with golf carts.

The Tour

Later that afternoon, when I had not heard from Mr. Rigolino, I called PLAN.   As it happens, he answered the phone.  I told him of my difficulty in finding the West Trail.  He told me that there was a sign in a stand of trees on the course.  I explained to him that because the fairways were not marked, I was unable to successfully negotiate the trail so I never found the sign he was referencing.  I noted to him that the easement agreement with the golf course required clear signage.  I asked him how much of the “nature trail” was tarmac golf cart thoroughfare?  He said about two thirds of it.  I asked him why the map at the parking lot did not match the easement map.  He expressed surprise and told me he thought the path was pretty much what was agreed upon with the easement.  I asked him about the bathrooms called for in the easement.  He said that the public could use the bathrooms in the clubhouse.  I noted that the nature trail that went to Lake Lonely was quite remote from the clubhouse.  He indicated that putting such buildings on the trails would be intrusive which I had to agree with.   

I then suggested that to clear this up as much as is possible, could he take me on a tour of the trail.  He said he had a busy schedule and he would have to get back to me.  I asked him if he could indicate approximately by when he might do this.  After a pause, I asked him if he could get back to me by Thursday and he agreed to do that. 

Follow Up

I have emailed Michael Toohey asking if I might have a copy of the letter of agreement from PLAN to do an easement of their golf course as part of their expansion. 

Meeting With City Planner Kate Maynard Re Saratoga National and Zoning Changes

I met with City Planner Kate Maynard on Friday.  While she was quite cooperative and open, most of my questions went unanswered because in general, she did not have answers.

The amended language to the zoning law change requires that a conservation analysis must be done.  A conservation analysis is done to distinguish constrained land versus unconstrained land.  Constrained land includes things like wetlands, precipitous slopes, archeologically important land, and a vague term that is something like areas of unique value.   Basically, unconstrained land is everything else and constitutes the land on which it is possible to build.  In the case of the RR1, excluding all the “constrained land” from development, the remaining land is the “unconstrained land.” Of this remaining land, 50% must be set aside for green space leaving the developer with the remaining 50% to build on.

I asked who does this “conservation analysis” and she told me that the applicant (builder) does it.  While the wetlands and steep slopes have clear definitions, the areas of special value do not.  She noted that the planning staff have input on this.  In the end, it will be the Planning Board that will be the final arbiter.

Similarly, I asked her about a section that required the buildings be clustered.  I asked what the definition of clustered is.  She read me a statement that while not quit vague, allowed for wide discretion.  The Planning Board will be the final arbiter of what clustering is.

Normally, in a reasonable world, the vagueness of these terms would not be a problem.  Unfortunately, the majority of our Planning Board has demonstrated how little encumbered they are by terms many of us would take for granted.  For example,”rural residential zoning” is supposed  “to provide low density residential and agricultural uses in order to preserve open space and a rural character.“ Most of us would no consider a one hundred room hotel to fit into this setting.  Not so for Scott Johnson’s appointees tot he Planning Board.  Tom Lewis and Cliff Van Wagner openly argued that a “resort” with a one hundred room hotel, a business center, and a fitness center is perfectly compatible with this zoning.  They along with the other two Scott Johnson appointees voted to confirm this position by voting to send the proposed revision to the city council.

Saratoga National’s land includes land that they have a ninety-nine year lease for with Yaddo.  I asked Ms. Maynard whether this land which they do not own would be calculated in determining the “unconstrained land.”   I also asked how a “perpetual” easement as called for in the text amendment could be carried out on this land.  She did not know and indicated it would be dealt with later..

I noted that Saratoga National is located on multiple parcels of land and asked how this would affect the “conservation analysis.”  She did not know.

In order to build the original golf course, Saratoga National had to agree to a permanent easement on what I think was one hundred and thirty-five acres.  I asked how this would be handled in doing the conservation analysis.  She did not know and again indicated that this would have to be determined if the project went forward.


One might read this and think that Ms. Maynard was being evasive.  I can only tell you that she appeared sincerely cooperative and that many of these issues are unclear and will have to be addressed if the zoning change is approved.


Your Blogger’s Great Adventure At Saratoga National Golf Course

First, an admission.  My late mother was her club’s women’s golf champion for decades.  I did not get any of her golf genes.  For me to play this game would require fairways with containment  walls and very large holes in which to sink puts.  In spite of this, I hold no grudge against the sport.

As part of my research into Saratoga National Golf Course, I secured copies of the two easement documents that they executed in order to get approval for their course.  The agreements were with Saratoga P.L.A.N.

The agreements include maps showing what was agreed upon.   In particular, the documents show two “nature trails.”

In order to serve my readers, I decided to go out to the golf course and walk the trails.  My first problem was that I could not find either trail.  I drove to the parking lot at the clubhouse and using the easement agreement maps attempted to locate the trails.  My difficulties began with the fact that there is no obvious signage.  Exacerbating the problem was the fact that none of the tees have any identifiers telling you which one they are.  Speaking to a friendly father and son, I learned that the golf carts that players are required to use, have GPS systems in them that show you where your cart is and display the course including the tee numbers.

So after fruitlessly wandering around in the heat, I called Geoff Bourneman who told me he was pretty sure there was a parking area for a trail at the front gate.  So I drove back to the front gate and I noticed that slightly to the west there was an old gate and what appeared to be a small sandy parking area.  I drove over there and found a small sign and several small maps.

P.L.A.N.'s Sign and Map

The Good

The maps showed two trails.  One trail led east to Lake Lonely.  I took this trail first.  This trail turned out to be quite lovely.  The first half was a bit noisy as it parallels Route 9P but eventually it veers away from the road and the noise.  There is a very nice bridge that goes over a stream and I watched a large snapping turtle with very impressive claws, leisurely swimming downstream.   The path is very well maintained by the golf course and is level and easy to walk.  It runs through the woods so that even though it was a very hot day, it was quite comfortable on the trail.  Eventually it ended at a very well maintained platform with benches overlooking Lake Lonely.  This is a very easy walk that can be done round trip in less than forty minutes.

View Of East Trail

View of East Trail

The Bad

With this success under my belt, I attempted to find the other path.  I noted earlier that I did not get my mother’s golfing genes.  I did inherit my father’s lack of a sense of direction.  I made a mighty effort to determine where this trail was.  At the parking place there was a map and a set of directions which I am including with this post.  There were no pamphlets and I tried to use the easement map that I had printed out and annotate it with the directions and the map on the sign.  This turned out to be very confusing.   As best I could tell, I think that following the agreement that the easement was based on, someone decided to change the actual trail.  I tried to reach Maria Trabka, the PLAN executive director but she was not in. 

This is the map of the west trail.  It is only marginally clearer in person then it is in this picture.

Map of West Trail

Here are the directions (For some reason the web software rotates this image):


I tried to get a map of the course from the clubhouse but they did not have any.  There is absolutely no signage.  As I noted, none of the tees or fairways are marked.   I think the instructions basically have you walking along the golf cart macadam from the gate on 9N to the other end of the golf course where an arrow on the map points to Yaddo.   This is made all the more confusing because the easement map calls it a “nature trail.”  Most of us do not think of a golf cart road as a nature trail.  Eventually, it became quite clear that I was never going to be sure I was on the right trail and I gave up.

When I returned to my office, I went on the P.L.A.N. web site and found that the site references the east trail (the lovely one) but there is no reference to the west trail (the mystery one).

Here is the map displaying the trails that was exhibit A in the easement agreement.  For those of you with exceptional eyes you will see that the map in the parking lot shows a different trail from the one in the easement:

Easement Map

The easement agreement seems to confirm the right of Saratoga National to change the trail at their discretion.   Here is the language.

“1. Grantor grants this easement over the paths depicted on the map of Saratoga National Golf Course preparted by L. Sipperly and Associates, dated April 27, 2001, which is attached hereto and made part hereof as Exhibit “A’, for use by the public as hiking trails;provided, however, that grantor reserves the right to alter the paths from the course depicted on the map (my emphasis added) marked as Exhibit “A” if grantor reasonably deems it necessary for use of its golf property.”

The agreement also seems to include a requirement for proper signage and restrooms.

“2. It is agreed between the parties to this instrument that the general public will enjoy the following rights in the hiking trails:

a. The right to use developed and marked hiking trails (my emphasis added) pursuant to rules and regulations established by grantor on days and during the hours that grantor’s golf course is open for use by the public…

b. The right for use of certain facilities provided by grantor, including a parking area and restroom facilities (my emphasis added), during hours that the trail is open.”

The following language further affirms Saratoga National Golf Course (Grantor) responsibilities to do a proper job of making sure the trails can be found and followed.

3. Grantor has developed a hiking trail, built bridges and drainage facilities, will construct and post signs in a style consistent with the signage on grantor’s golf course property (my emphasis added), and established necessary maintenance facilities for the use of such trail, as the parties have heretofore agreed appropriate, and the hiking trail and related facilities shall be maintained by grantor in a manner that is satisfactory to their continued use by the public as a hiking trail.”

I assumed that P.L.A.N. was responsible for insuring that Saratoga National Golf Course adhered to this agreement.

I will be contacting Ms. Trabka next week to seek clarification on all of this.

It is important to note that this easement was critical for Saratoga National Golf Course to win approval to build its golf course.  SNGC may have enthusiastically embraced agreeing to the easement but it is clear that they had no choice if they wanted to move forward on the original project.

The relationship between P.L.A.N. and SNGC is a complicated one.  SNGC had donated $10,000.00 a year to P.L.A.N.  If SNGC gets approval to build their resort, they will need P.L.A. N. to be a party to their next easement.  I noted in the August 20, 2015 issue of Saratoga Today that P.L.A.N. will be putting on their big annual fundraiser at Saratoga National Golf Course.  

Planning Board Sends Advice To City Council: Predictably Bad

[The Planning Board Also Addressed The City Center’s Parking Plan.  I will post what happened with this tomorrow night]

On Wednesday night the Planning Board met and on the agenda was the request of the City Council for advice on a text amendment for the definition of golf clubhouse in the city’s greenbelt.

An entirely new text amendment appeared at the Planning  Board meeting from what the Board discussed at last week’s workshop.  Chairman Mark Torpey presented this new language as having come from Commissioner Michelle Madigan.  Mark Schackner, the attorney who specializes in land use issues for the city, interrupted Torpey saying that it was not from Madigan but that he had drafted it at the request of a council member who wanted language that would withstand a legal challenge.  Of note was that Schachner did not name the council member and the members of the council were courteous enough not to ask.   A good question to have asked is why the city was paying its attorney to work out language which was clearly on behalf of Saratoga National Golf Course.  This is but one of a long string of twisted logic and procedures that have plagued this process as the friends of Saratoga National have stretched every conceivable angle to assist them.

The amendment, a copy of which is linked here, has three parts to it.

  1. The first part is an amendment to the zoning code for the Rural Residential District (greenbelt) which would allow Golf Resorts with special use permits and site plan review.
  2. A new item in section 6 of the zoning regulations.  This section defines certain terms like Mobile Homes and Adult Book Stores.  In this case it takes most of what was in the text amendment that Schachner said were too specific and puts them in a new definition for something called a Golf Resort.  It includes things like “lodging facilities” and among those facilities are a structure with no more than 100 guest rooms and “freestanding structures with up to ten guest rooms and no associated kitchen facilities.”  If all this sounds familiar it is because it was all in the original text amendment.  It also included a requirement to “…dedicate no less than ___% of the ________land for open space purposes.”  The numbers were left blank for the planning board to fill in.
  3. An amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan that would specifically provide for a golf resort in the city’s RR1  district (greenbelt).

Chairman Torpey then opened the floor to the public for comment.  Attorney Michael Toohey then spent well over thirty minutes pitching the importance of his client’s plans. Interestingly he referred to his client as “the applicant” and proceeded to go through the proposal line by line and make comments like “we can agree to this” as though he were reviewing  a private contract between this client and the city.

I would like to whine to the readers of this blog that having to listen to Michael Toohey is the worst thing about doing this blog.  My issue here is not that I disagree with him, which I do, but that he is one of the worst speakers one has to endure at these meetings.  In a voice that is flat and that lacks any kind of interesting inflection, he laboriously and with little coherence rambled on about how great his client is and how everything they want to do adheres to the principles of the comprehensive plan.  No one ever asked him why, if what they want to do is consistent with the comprehensive plan that the same plan needs to be amended to allow the golf resort.  The poverty of his presentation was made particularly evident when the other two lawyers addressed the council later in the meeting regarding the City Center’s application for subdividing the parking lot along Highrock  Avenue.  In contrast to Toohey they were both clear and succinct in terms of the content of their arguments; spoke with clear voices that emphasized their key points, and were brief and to the point!   How Mr. Toohey is able to get all the top briefs on big land development jobs is a mystery to me because it is not based on his ability to make clear arguments.  Given that his original text amendment was discarded, it does not seem that his legal work is that impressive either.  Thank you for reading this rant.

Following his statement, the “friends of Saratoga National” on the Planning Board then made the appropriate sycophantic statements about how great Saratoga National is and why what they want to do is so great for the city.  Eventually Mark Schachner actually interceded to caution them that this is not supposed to be about a particular project or parcel and that they needed to desist in this line of discussion.  The clear import of his remarks was that they were exposing that this was in effect designed for one land owner which would make the changes subject to a suit over spot zoning.

What followed were the friends of Saratoga National in the audience who spoke on how great Saratoga National is.  They were apparently unmoved by Mr. Schachner’s advice.

Toohey then asked that the number of “standing buildings be increased from five to six” and Tom Lewis and Cliff Van Wagner promptly proposed that the document be amended to reflect this.

Mark Torpey then gave a very clear and thoughtful explanation as to why he could not support the changes.  He noted that the existing zoning limited land use to residential housing and inns which were limited to 25 rooms.  He noted that the existing zoning limited height to be 35 feet.  He further noted that the zoning allowed only 2 units per acre and that the acres to be considered for this rate were the ones left after all wetlands and other areas not suitable for building were excluded and that 50% of the land that was left was excluded.   He offered that it seemed quite clear that the proposal was utterly inconsistent with this.

He was supported by Janet Casey, the only other member of the Planning Board not appointed by Scott Johnson.

Cliff Van Wagner at this point felt the need, in light of Schachner’s warning, to make a long and dubious argument about how it was possible that someone might later purchase enough contiguous land from different owners to build a golfing resort in which case they would be bound by these new rules.  (I cannot believe that I sat through all this stuff for this blog).

We then had to listen to three of the four Johnson appointments repeat at length that all of this was consistent with the comprehensive plan.  No one had the bad taste to point out to them that Schachner wanted them to amend the comp plan to make what they want possible.

We also had to listen to Tom Lewis warn us about the sprawl that we could face if Saratoga National were to build McMansions out there.  He offered up the number fifty.  Torpey then noted that the rules (see above about the regulations for RR1 that minimize such development) would not allow such a large project and that such a declaration was a “red herring.”  Tom Lewis then said, “20, whatever!”

They then took up the question about what to put in for the percentage of the land that would have to be set aside for open space.  Toohey told them to put in 50%.  We were again subjected to a rambling discourse on how generous this was.  Torpey noted that it was impossible to make any determination of this given the existing data.  One thing was crystal clear, the promises offered about making everything but the twenty-five acres that the development was to be built on into an easement to perpetually be available to the public were gone.

It was, however, apparent that Saratoga National had the votes.  The vote was taken.

In the affirmative:

Tom Lewis (on the staff of Senator Marchione, past chairman of the Republican Party, and past land manager for Stewarts)

Cliff Van Wagner (past unsuccessful, Republican candidate for Commissioner Finance and past chairman of the planning board under Scott Johnson)

Dan Gaba, Realtor

Howard Pinsely of Espy Industries


Mark Torpey, employed by New York State Energy and Development Authority

Janet Casy, professor at Skidmore College

Planning Board Meeting On Text Amendment For Saratoga National Golf Course

Tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm the planning board will be meeting to finalize their “advise” to the city council on the text amendment of the city zoning ordinance for the conservation district (greenbelt).  The revised text eliminates all specificity for set back, size of the “hotel/clubhouse,” height, etc.  This raises the question as to whether such a facility can actually go into the conservation district.  The issues are many and the clarity is non-existent.  It will be interesting to see what the planning board which is completely dominated by the friends of developers will do.

There will be an opportunity for public comment.