Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
Contact Thomas

SARATOGA SPRINGS – This weekend’s concert by The Orchestra of St. Luke’s will mark the second of six concerts brought to Saratoga Springs this year born of a newly forged partnership between Caffè Lena and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 

The collaboration between the two venues, each which has staged more than a half-century of performances, will encompass jointly curated and presented programs at both venues, with the location varying by season.

The Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of Americas foremost chamber orchestras, will make a first-ever appearance in the Capital Region on April 25 in an exclusive performance at Lena’s café.

“I was in New York in January talking with some friends over coffee when they mentioned they had this program of baroque chamber music they were doing,” recalled SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol.  “It was written by Bach to be performed at Café Zimmerman - a coffeehouse in Leipzig where all the artists and intellectuals would gather at the time Bach was living there. When I heard it was at a coffeehouse, I thought: Oh my God, that has got to come to Caffè Lena. It’s a perfect collaboration between SPAC and Caffè Lena.” 

And while this weekend’s show is sold out, tickets are still available for the third spring program, which will be staged at Caffè Lena May 4 and features Louisville, Kentucky-based folk band Harpeth Rising.  Tickets are available at: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2910973.

In June, the series shifts to SPAC, where three free Sunday afternoon concerts, one each in June, July, and August will be staged at the new gazebo.

“Very soon we’ll be announcing the summer component to the partnership which will include a monthly Caffè Lena Day at SPAC,” Sobol explained.  “It’ll be the whole afternoon, from 12 to 5, and families will be able to come and hang and make music a real part of the afternoon in the park.”  The three summer concerts are being curated by the café’s executive director, Sarah Craig.

“When we sat down and started talking about artists, every band Sarah mentioned to me I flipped over. Everything she mentioned I love,” Sobol said.

“I looked for artists that have a huge energy and a rich intensity that can hold up well in an outdoor environment,” said Craig, adding that the schedule of musicians, when solidified, could number as many as three performers on each of the three days. And while the teaming-up of the two Saratoga Springs powerhouses marks the first official collaboration between the venues, there is a long list of artists – from Bob Dylan to Melanie to Don McLean – who have performed at both, as well as a synergy historically fostered by Lena Spencer, who invited musicians appearing on the SPAC stage to come and perform after-hour concerts at her Phila Street café.

With six months under her belt as the new leader at SPAC, Sobol said one goal is creating new ventures while maintaining the venue’s time-honored traditions. 

“I was being very conservative until I got the lay of the land. I haven’t touched the big resident companies because they’re so important to the DNA of SPAC, but we’ve been making some enhancements – like this Caffè Lena partnership, and within the next couple of weeks we’re going to be announcing all sorts of partnerships with some of our other cultural family members,” Sobol said. “There are so many organizations here, my feeling is the more we all work together the more we raise Saratoga up.“ 

Who: Matt McCabe.

Where: Saratoga Guitar, 480 Broadway.

Q. When did you first come to Saratoga Springs.

April of ’94, and I opened the store in June.

Q. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the city in that time?

A. In the last 23 years there have been quite a few changes in the landscape with the high-rises, the condominiums and more storefronts. It’s a city on the move. It’s growing. I don’t think it’s as rampant as some might think. It’s a small city, so the changes are more amplified but the image is there because of the success of downtown.   

Q. What are you doing today?

A. Re-stringing guitars, trying to pay bills.

Q. Do you still play guitar and sing on stage?    

A. I still do with whoever will have me. I play at the Olde Bryan Inn during racing season with some guitar compadres, and throughout the year I do a host of other concerts, benefits and gigs as they arise.        

Q. What brush have you had with fame?

A. Being the business this is and with the bands touring through the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and attend a lot of concerts, go backstage and meet many of the artists. You get the occasional celebrity coming to town on their own R&R who stumble in. I remember Sam Shepard the actor coming in. He was very nice.  

Q. What did you want to be when you were a kid?

A. A veterinarian. That was all I ever thought of being. That and a baseball player. Everything else happened by accident.      

Q. You were city Commissioner of Finance for Four Years. Do you miss it?

A. I love being able to serve the public, but the vacuum gets filled immediately. When you’re in, you’re in. When you’re out, you’re out. And life fills up, so I have that time to miss it. I certainly look back on it fondly. It was a challenge, but it I did my best and I thoroughly enjoyed working for the people of Saratoga Springs.    

Thursday, 20 April 2017 17:05

Notes From City Hall

Workshop Set for Affordable Housing Ordinance

A City Council workshop on the much-debated SPA Housing Ordinance will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 4 at City Hall, Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced this week. The ordinance, if approved, would have a citywide effect on future development.   

A New Home for Retired Police Horse Jupiter

The council authorized an agreement - at no cost to the city -  to allow the transfer of retired police horse Jupiter to police officer Aaron Moore, who will care for “my fellow officer and partner as he transitions into retirement after serving our community.”  Jupiter, who is 24, will be transferred to Ballston Lake, “where he will be well taken care of by my wife and myself,” Moore wrote, in a letter read to the council by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen.

Council Gives Thumbs-Up to Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD

The council unanimously accepted a SEQRA Determination and approved the proposed Pitney Meadows Community Farm PUD - reporting that the project will not have a significant adverse impact on the environment.  The PUD, or Planned Unit Development, was sought for the development of a 35,000+ square foot agricultural center at the Pitney Meadows Farm, on West Avenue. The center will sit on a small non-farming portion of the land.

Projects slated to begin later this year include the development of the community gardens, the children’s greenhouse, gardens, and some trails and the renovation and repurposing of 11 historic buildings currently on the farm.

Last November, the council approved the $1.165 million city purchase of the development rights of the 166-acre Pitney Farm, to ensure the farm land remains a farm in perpetuity.

City Approves Purchase of Lands Adjacent to Loughberry Lake

The City Council unanimously approved the city’s purchase of two parcels of land, amounting to just over two acres, adjacent to Loughberry Lake. The parcels are just north of state Route 50 and will be purchased from Krista and Jason Tommell for $135,000 in Open Space Bond Funds. As well, $5,000 was approved for expenses associated with the purchase.

Should Loughberry Lake no longer be used as a reservoir in the future, the parcel could potentially serve as a pocket park with access to the waterfront for active or passive recreation.

Learn How to Grieve Your Assessment

A Grievance Class will be held 5:30 p.m. on May 9 at City Hall, Accounts Commissioner John Franck announced this week.

Grievance Day in Saratoga Springs is Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Grievance board members will be hearing grievances from 9 a.m. – noon; 1 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Residents can choose morning, afternoon or evening sessions and must submit completed application and documentation to the Assessment Office in order to be scheduled for a time. Applications will be available after May 1.

Upcoming Meetings

The Planning Board will hold a workshop at 5 p.m. on Monday, April 24 and a full meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall. 

The Zoning Board of Appeals will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27 at City Hall.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – By the time the early 1970s rolled around, any promise perceived of a train bound for glory on a fast track to the Aquarian Age had instead become supplanted by a cranky subway car departing a graffiti-stained station with a congregation of misfits aboard.

It is these characters of humanity – Rake the hustler, Fick the junkie, Al the alcoholic, and Franny the transvestite prostitute – put on display, in all their grit and glory in the staging of Skidmore Theater’s presentation of “Balm In Gilead.” The play, scripted by Lanford Wilson, premiered Off Off Broadway at La MaMa in 1965 and a generation later re-set to take place in the early 1970s.

The geography is uptown Manhattan, the setting an all-night diner where characters drift in and out against a backdrop of booths and swiveling stools that lean on a cheesy, diamond-motif counter topped by metal napkin holders, red and yellow plastic-spout squeeze bottles, and a big, clunky cash register.

Under the direction of Phil Soltanoff -  a veteran of recent projects staged in Austin, Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York City - the two dozen or so Skidmore College players convincingly convey a scenario with a talented realism that certainly pre-dates the time before their own existence on earth if not their parents, in providing a voyeuristic experience of a collection of characters whose lives are simultaneously humorous and tragic.

Sydney Tennant portrays the doe-eyed Darlene - a naïve, newly transplanted New Yorker - with credible splendor, marathon monologuing deep into the night, expressing every single thought that pours from her mind with a blend of child-like innocence and annoying animation. She engages even the most hardened characters seated in the 24-hour diner in a shared humanity, if only for a fleeting moment. When she concludes her soliloquy by saying “Anyway, to make a long story short…” it cracks everyone up, characters and audience alike.  

In John - the grungy, apron-draped cafe manager portrayed by Jacob Hudson who alternates his time between cooking in the kitchen and showing non-paying customers the door - and Kay, the yellow- garbed waitress played by Anabel Milton who runs around taking coffee orders and wiping down tables – the play depicts a solid foundation of the drab, bleak realities of the working class. It stands in high contrast to the commotion of platinum blonde wigs and wounded blue jeans, hot pants, leather thigh-high boots and fishnet stockings, silver sequined miniskirts and post-hippie fringe in a sleaze-and-glam cacophony that lives somewhere between a New York Dolls concert and a Starsky & Hutch TV show. 

Lulu Fairclough-Stewart especially shines as the oh-so-bored, scarlet-haired Ann, providing a perfect foil to Darlene’s ramblings, nursing a cigarette and firmly encased in her hard shell of emotional body armor, before heading back into the street, past a shuttered bodega and an alleyway framed by trash, to make her living. Chris Naughton is convincing as well in a lead role as the mustached drug dealer Joe, for whom the naïve Darlene falls.  

The ensemble as a whole weaves its work like a large orchestra, a series of direct and non-direct actions conveying the mayhem with an authenticity; These student actors bring the scenes to life.

 An appropriate soundtrack blares out the diner jukebox throughout: Frank Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Meeting Across the River,” “Thunder Road,” and “Jungleland,” and “Waltzing Matilda” sung by Tom Waits, that fittingly sprinkles the optimistic hope of escape onto on-the-nod moments of despair. 

After the final curtain call, the characters return for one more go-around the diner, reminiscent of the dusky cycling at the conclusion of the Rolling Stones documentary “Gimme Shelter,” and which leaves the open question: are we moving on to a grander time in this life, or being forced to return to our destiny, time and again?

Skidmore Theater Presents “Balm In Gilead,” by Lanford Wilson. Director: Phil Soltanoff.

Performances at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 23.   Skidmore College: Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Mainstage. Tickets are $12 adult, $8 students and faculty. After the April 22 performance of Balm in Gilead, the Skidmore Theater Department will host its annual house party. “That 70’s House Party,” is a celebratory event to recognize the department’s achievements this year.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The twins are 13 now, the effort to fulfill their special needs a continuing work-in-progress.  

“I have to say my boys have some difficult challenges, but they’re hard workers and every day they make progress, every day they learn,” explains the boys’ mother, Kristin Howarth. “It’s not a sprint, but a marathon. You just keep pushing and keep teaching and keep helping them make those milestones.”

A little over a decade ago, Howarth and her husband relocated to upstate New York. The twins were about 18 months old when The Howarths noticed the boys seemed delayed in meeting some of their developmental milestones.

“We started a music program with the boys when they were just over a year. We looked around at the group and saw what the other kids were doing and what my kids weren’t,” Howarth recalled. “At around a year old there’s a certain number of words that a typically-developing child will say, that our guys were not saying. It made me ask some questions. It was a significant factor that made us speak out and have discussions with our pediatrician,” Howarth says.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be screened for general development using standardized, validated tools at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months and for autism at 18 and 24 months, or whenever a parent or provider has a concern.  

By their first birthday, a child will typically say “mama” and “dada” and voice exclamations like “uh-oh!” as well as trying to repeat words they hear from their parents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC’s milestones checklist may downloaded here: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/checklists/all_checklists.pdf.

An early intervention therapist was sent to work with the family, visiting the home four days a week over the next six months, after which Gavin and Noah were diagnosed with autism, also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

“When you do hear it, it’s a blow and all of these things you picture as a parent come crashing down: Will my children ever play sports? Will they have friends and go to the prom? Will they drive? will they get married?” she wondered. There’s no welcoming committee when your child is diagnosed with autism. No one comes and knocks on your door to say: Here are some things that you can do; Here’s a go-to guide. You basically leave the doctor’s office after that diagnosis and you think: What do I do now?”

The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children, in multiple communities in the United States, has been identified with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD - roughly 30 percent higher than estimates previously reported in 2012. The data also show that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls.

Howarth searched the Internet, but answers were hard to come by a decade ago. “They were diagnosed at just over two years of age and it quickly became pretty obvious to us that there weren’t a lot of resources in our area, short of traveling down to Albany,” she says. “It was a challenge because we live up in Queensbury. We figured, why can’t we create it? So, we did.”

Gavin and Noah were the driving force behind the creation of Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA). The organization provides resources, education, recreation and advocacy services. Howarth provides advocacy, program development, consulting and education through the group. 

“It was a very emotional time and that was also one of the factors in starting the group. We wanted to give children as many opportunities as we could, just like their typically developing peers, because they’re kids first. Autism is secondary.”  

Howarth’s group is comprised of volunteers who help connect parents with children diagnosed with autism, with resources.   “We also provide activities every month so parents can get together with their children and talk to other families and meet other people in their school district - families involved in the group, somebody they can feel comfortable talking with,” says Howarth, who adds that she has also accessed valuable services from Saratoga Bridges. “They have some wonderful things that provide services for families such as ours.”

UNYAA and Saratoga Bridges are teaming up to co-host this weekend’s Autism Expo at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The family event will feature more than 85 vendors and exhibitors, a variety of activities and games, arts and crafts, and sensory toys for kids.  More than 1,000 people are expected to attend Sunday’s expo.

“It’s an amazing event under one roof. We have all these resources for families who can talk to different vendors, providers, and people who offer different services for kids in the spectrum,” Howarth says.

ASD is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.

“They have to be taught in a different way and broken down into simple steps. People don’t really understand what autism is, but really, it’s just that their brains are wired differently. They don’t learn the way we do, or they may not interpret things the way we do,” Howarth says.

All of the causes of ASD are not known. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental and genetic factors.

“They look typical, but they don’t process information – both incoming and outgoing – so it can be a challenge for them to just pick up those social cues like another child might.”

The sixth annual Autism Expo will be held noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The event is free and features exhibitors from camps, school programs pre-k through college, technological apps for autism, recreation and therapeutic programs, a bounce house and arts and crafts.

Upstate NY Autism Alliance (UNYAA) is a not-for-profit alliance formed by dedicated parents of children experiencing the affects of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For more information, go to: http://www.upstatenyautism.org/. Saratoga Bridges has provided programs to people with disabilities and their families for more than 60 years. For more information, go to: http://www.saratogabridges.org/

Thursday, 13 April 2017 22:37

Saratoga’s Quest for Affordable Housing

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Several plans are currently being considered to address the city’s push to help local workers retain city residences. Workforce housing specifically is a gap Mayor Joanne Yepsen has identified as a primary need to be filled.

Site plans are anticipated to be in place by early-to-mid May for the development of more than 100 workforce housing units on a near five-acre parcel of land on South Broadway, according to a report by the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force, which held its monthly meeting at City Hall this week.

The proposal calls for the development of 120 one and two-bedroom units with a rent structure of 60 to 100 percent AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. AMI, or the Area Median Income for a family of four in Saratoga County is about $84,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Saratoga Diner, which closed in 2012 and occupies the land, will be razed. The owner of the property – who plans to lease the land – has indicated that the horse atop the diner will be salvaged and likely remain with his family.  

An Orlando, Florida based developer involved in the project has created local partnerships to help facilitate the project. “I think it’s going to be a stunning design,” Mayor Yepsen said.  The South Broadway scheme will include a retail business component.

 

Housing Units Slated for Stonequist, Jefferson Terrace

A Request for Proposal, or RFP, is expected to be issued shortly regarding two other projects that could site 110 additional “affordable” units. Eighty of those units are expected to be developed adjacent to the Stonequist apartments, projected at 40 to 100 percent of AMI, with another 30 units at the former site of the William H. Ford Community Center, at Jefferson Terrace. Both are under the ownership of the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority. The latter site will feature eight housing units reserved for military veterans, eight units for victims of domestic violence, and are based on 30 percent of income, in which vouchers may be used.

 

West Side Plan Calls for 10 New Buildings

Two potential west side projects seek to collectively site 10 new buildings, a five-story hotel, more than 400 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space adjacent to the Saratoga Springs train station. Residences would include 114 units dedicated for senior housing, 66 units for senior assisted care, and 160 apartment units which seemingly would fall under the “workforce” or “affordable” housing category. Seventy-two residential for-sale condominiums, a retail business component, and a new five-story hotel and spa would also be part of the project.  

 

City-Wide Affordable Housing Ordinance Vote Slated for May

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen remains hopeful the City Council will vote in May on an Inclusionary Zoning ordinance that would have all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city include as much as 20 percent of those units deemed affordable to people with lower to moderate incomes.

The city Affordable Housing Task Force has advocated for the SPA Housing Zoning plan, and would integrate persons of all income levels across the city ,said Task Force Chairwoman Cheryl Hage-Perez.The proposal has met disapproval, however, from some local groups who indicate they would rather see “site-specific” programs – such as the South Broadway plan. Such a plan sites those seeking affordable housing in one place. Some builders have also expressed concern that while the ordinance would allow them a 20 percent density bonus in construction to make the project financially viable, city zoning restrictions would hamper any such extended development, and are requesting zoning regulations also be increased by 20 percent to aid structural development.  A City Hall workshop will be scheduled regarding the ordinance, although a date has yet to be set.  

 

Code Blue Permanent Shelter Moves Closer to Nov. 1 Opening

Plans for a permanent Code Blue emergency homeless shelter, which would operate during cold-extreme weather months, cleared its first hurdle at the city Land Use boards this week when the Zoning Board of Appeals approved that the project move forward.

Plans call for the 6,400 square-foot site to be built as an addition to existing Shelters of Saratoga properties on Walworth Street. Officials said this week they are targeting a Nov. 1 opening for the 61-bed facility. Should that timeline not be met, the possibility exists Code Blue may continue to operate at the Soul Saving Station on Henry Street where it is currently located. Last February, local business owner Ed Mitzen and his wife Lisa announced they will pay for the costs for the new shelter to be built. The plan was slated to go in front of the city Planning Board on Thursday, April 13.

 

Upcoming Meetings

The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday April 17, and a full council meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18 at City Hall.  

The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 19 at City Hall. 

Task Force Chairwoman Cheryl Hage-Perez
Thursday, 13 April 2017 22:29

The Red X

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – They first began to appear on the front of buildings in the city a year or two ago. More recently, structures in areas of high visibility – South Broadway, Henry Street, and Van Dam Street, among them – have been adorned with a square placard marked with a red-letter “X.”

The signs, which grace the faces of approximately 40 buildings in the city, are used by fire and emergency service crews as a “do not enter” alert and indicate the building is structurally unsound or hazardous to safety in some way, explains Saratoga Springs Fire Department Lt. Aaron Dyer.

Building inspections are conducted annually and the placards are periodically added removed as is determined structurally.

Mostly, the red-letter X placard represents an abandoned or vacant structure; if by chance someone is inside during a fire – such as a homeowner conducting repairs or someone trespassing on the property - a decision is made by a member of the command staff about whether to enter the facility, Dyer said. Otherwise, the blaze is battled from the outside the building and any neighboring structures are protected from exposure to flames. 

 

Who: Roy McDonald.

Where: Saratoga Springs Public Library.

Q. What are you doing today?

A. I’m with my granddaughter, Jane, at the library. She comes over every Wednesday for a wonderful reading program they have for little kids. My three daughters all used to go to the program when it was at the old Saratoga Springs Public Library.

Q. What occupies your time these days?

I have a wonderful wife, and children and grandchildren and now I’m able to spend a little more time with them.  I’m very blessed. I’m also on a variety of boards: New York State Military Museum Board of Directors, the Saratoga Bridges Board of Directors, Wildwood School System Advisory Board, the CAPTAIN’S Advisory Board. I’m very active in disabilities at the statewide level. I have two autistic grandsons who are the focal point of my life, and I’m going to have my sixth grandchild in May. 

Q. You spent a lot of time in public service as State Senator, as Assemblyman, and as longtime Supervisor for the town of Wilton.  To what extent do you still follow politics, locally and nationally?

A. I have nothing but positive things to say about the local situation. Nationally, I think people need to be a little more focused to get something accomplished, rather than being negative. 

Q. Is there something you’re most proud of during your years of public service?    

A. I’m very honored I had a long career and that I was able to do a lot of things in the town of Wilton, Saratoga County, in the Assembly and the Senate. I also had a business career. I’m very gratified. I love them all.  It’s like having children, they’re all equal. I specifically look at the town Wilton when I was Supervisor for 23 years. People say: you did a lot of stuff. But, nobody gets everything done by themselves. There’s good people in a lot of these places. We accomplished a lot and today the town of Wilton is the envy of just about every town in the state of New York.     

Q. What’s the most recent movie you have seen?

A. I went to see Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman (“Going in Style”) a couple days ago with my wife. We go to a lot of movies. We go to the one in the mall, and we go to the new one in Saratoga Springs as well.

Q. What brush have you had with fame?

A. I met President George Bush (43) and I met President Obama. The irony is most of the conversation was about baseball. President Bush was a Texas Ranger fan and President Obama was a Chicago White Sox fan and when they asked me who I liked, I said: the New York Yankees. OK? And they just smiled. And everybody knows I’m a Buffalo Bills fan.

Q. Have you gotten over Scott Norwood’s famous “wide right” kick that resulted in the Buffalo Bills losing to the N.Y. Giants in Super Bowl XXV ?

A.  I had the honor of meeting (former Bills’ quarterback) Jim Kelly some years ago and we talked about that. He told me it was one of the worst moments of his life. But he liked Scott Norwood. And you know “Tuna”? (Former Giants’ coach) Bill Parcells lives in the Saratoga area and I met him one morning at a Stewart’s. I was wearing a Yankee hat and he came up to me, said he was a Yankee fan and asked me, “Do you root for the Giants?” I said, no, actually I root for the Buffalo Bills. And he asked, “Do you forgive me?” And I said, “no,” ha. But, he’s a very good man.    

Q. How has Saratoga Springs changed over the decades?

A.  Saratoga Springs is the best city in upstate New York. I think it’s one of the best cities in the country if you look at proportional size. I think it’s a safe city, the people are very family-oriented - and that’s the key. You protect the people, the taxes are reasonable, and the suburbs: Wilton, Malta, Clifton Park, Halfmoon; I’ve watched school systems like Schuylerville and South Glens Falls, and Ballston Spa become tremendous school systems. I’ve seen it with Saratoga Springs when my children went to school, and Shenendehowa, and now the smaller schools are getting the benefit of this. So, we’ve been blessed. And most importantly, we’ve been blessed with good people. People who move here, or are from here and stay here. It’s beautiful.    

The southern gateway into the city may appear radically different in the near future if all goes according to plan.

A proposal currently under consideration calls for the demolition of the Saratoga Diner - closed in 2012 -  and the development of more than 100 workforce housing units in its place on a five-acre parcel of land on South Broadway. Mayor Joanne Yepsen this week met with a Florida developer who anticipates soon submitting an application for the proposed plan. The owner of the property, who was not publicly named, first engaged Yepsen in discussions about potential leasing uses for the land three or four years ago, according to the mayor.

“The owner said, ‘I don’t want to sell, I want to lease. What does the city need?’ I said workforce housing,” Yepsen said.

The lease proposal calls for the development of 120 affordable workforce housing units in a mixed-use configuration consisting of residential apartments and retail space. More than 100 of the rental units would be offered to those earning in between 60 and 100 percent of the AMI - a $50,400 to $84,000 range - while 14 units would be offered at a “fair-market rent” to military veterans. AMI, or the Area Median Income for a family of four in Saratoga County is about $84,000, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Parties involved in the potential transaction anticipate an official deal being in place by late April, or early May. 

Originally known as the Spa City Diner, sections of its more recent incarnation as The Saratoga Diner date back to the late 1940s. It was a once-popular stopover spot for visiting performers and political dignitaries such as Mario Cuomo, Liza Minelli, Count Basie – who was particular to the beef stew, according to published reports, and singer Tom Jones – a fan of the diner’s spaghetti and meatballs. The Spa City Diner in 2001 was re-named the Saratoga Diner. It closed for good in 2012.   

In an attempt to meet affordable housing needs in Saratoga Springs, the city also is pursuing potential plans for a large development off West Avenue, adjacent to the Saratoga Train station, as well as a project behind the Stonequist Apartments, where a mixed-income, mixed-use development facing Circular Street could feature as many as 60 to 100 housing units.   

Public Hearing on Spa Housing Zoning Ordinance Draws Large Crowd

A public hearing slated to take 10 minutes regarding a plan to site a percentage of “affordable” housing in all new developments across the city, consumed the better part of an hour Tuesday night. The SPA Housing Zoning plan – based on a 2006 ordinance that was never enacted – calls for all new housing developments and apartment complexes across the city to include 10 to 20 percent of the units deemed affordable to people with lower to moderate incomes.  

The Inclusionary Zoning, or IZ, would target potential renters and homeowners alike. Eleven members of the public as well as those representing area organizations addressed the council during Tuesday’s public hearing. Of those, three said they were in favor of some kind of affordable housing measures, but not the IZ as it currently stands, and six people said they were in favor of the IZ, at least as a starting point to address the city’s housing needs.

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had initially hoped the City Council may be able to vote on the measure as soon as May, but following a discussion that raised the concerns of local developers who would build the projects and of the banks that would finance them, members of the City Council expressed that it might be in everyone’s interests to hold one or two special workshops specifically on the topic in the near future, although no date for such a gathering was set.   

New Tap Room Coming to Saratoga Springs in June

The City Council unanimously approved an Economic Development Revolving Loan Application for R.S. Taylor & Sons Brewery Tap Room. Richard Taylor, who operates a tap room on his 50-acre farm in Washington County, is looking to open a 1,600 square-foot tap room in the Congress Street plaza in June.  The type of loan, initially federally funded, is for $75,000, carries a 3 percent interest rate, and calls for assurances that one position of employment is created for every $25,000 borrowed.   

Collamer Lot/ East Side EMS Land Deal: “It’s Time To Move On”

Nearly four years to the date since Chris Mathiesen first began working on a pair of land transactions that would have the city sell a parking lot adjacent to Broadway’s Collamer Building and subsequently purchase a Union Avenue parcel to build an East Side Fire/EMS station was publicly declared a dead deal by the public safety commissioner on Tuesday. “It’s time to move on,” said Mathiesen, invoking a sentiment not unlike an emotionally abandoned lover in a relationship gone-wrong. The arrangement had been mired in a lawsuit – in which the city reportedly spent at least $50,000 in legal fees – an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, and a long period of inactivity. It is believed some type of City Council or legal action may now be necessary to officially nullify the potential deal.   

Upcoming

The Zoning Boards of Appeals will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, April 10 at City Hall.

The Planning Board will hold a workshop 5 p.m. Monday, April 10 and a full meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, April 13 at City Hall.

The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force will hold a meeting 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, April 11 at City Hall.

Library Election and Budget Vote on April 13

On April 13, citizens of the Saratoga Springs School District will elect a library trustee and vote on the 2017-2018 library budget.  The election will be held in the Library’s H. Dutcher Community Room from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Saratoga Springs School District residents who are registered voters are eligible to vote.  A public hearing concerning the budget and an opportunity to meet the trustee candidates will be held 7 p.m. on Monday, April 10 in the H. Dutcher Community Room.Library Trustees are asking the voters to approve a tax levy of $5,103,600 for FY 2017-2018, which is a 0.5 percent increase from the amount approved for the 2016-17 fiscal year.   The library serves the residents of the Saratoga Springs Enlarged City School District.  The proposed budget can be found by visiting the library’s website at: www.sspl.org.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The mysterious man you may have noticed creeping across the fringes of city neighborhood lawns in the pre-dawn hours last weekend has been identified.  

“I cooked up an idea that I thought would be a little bit of fun,” admits Todd Shimkus, who in his weekday role serves as president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce. “It actually turned into a lot of fun.” 

Shimkus and city resident Susan Halstead have engaged in a traditional April Fool’s Day duel that dates to Halstead’s time as chamber chairperson. At that time, Halstead contacted board members about a special Executive Session being called to inform them that Shimkus was embezzling funds. “He was on a golf course in Florida and his phone just started blowing up,” Halstead laughed.

“April Fool’s Day is her favorite day of the year and she is ruthless,” said Shimkus, who hatched his plan several weeks ago, by ordering political-style lawn signs to announce Halstead was running for mayor.  “I thought adding “A Vision for The Future,” was pretty funny,” Shimkus said, referring to the word-play that points to Halstead’s ownership of a local vision center.

“I identified friends of hers in the city and at five o’clock in the morning I got up, drove around and put signs in their yards. I didn’t tell anybody what I did and then (on Facebook) pretended to be in Virginia for the day.” 

Shimkus eventually fessed up, a day later. “She texted me and had a sneaking suspicion that it was me.” In November, city voters will head to the polls to elect a mayor for the next two years. Halstead was asked if she, after all, was considering tossing her hat in to the political ring. “De-fin-ite-ly NOT,” she said with a laugh. “It was a Todd Shimkus April Fool’s Day prank. And he paid me back big-time.”  

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Blotter

  • COURTS Charles B. “Chip” Locke, 44, of Porters Corners, pleaded guilty on April 12 to third degree grand larceny, a felony, in connection with the theft of funds from the Greenfield Home School Association. Locke served as treasurer for the Greenfield HSA and admitted to stealing approximately $15,070.70, according to Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen. Locke is scheduled to be sentenced on June 8, during which it is anticipated he will be ordered to serve six months in jail and pay back full restitution to the Greenfield HSA during a period of five years of probation.      Clifford…

Property Transactions

  • BALLSTON SPA 58 Cypress St., $309,900. Heritage Builders Group LLC sold property to Kathleen and Benjamin Kalesa, Jr.  16 Saddlebrook Blvd., $454,549. Legacy Custom Homes LLC sold property to Brenda and John Thomas, Jr.  810 Route 50, $175,000. Kirby Burnt Hills Realty LLC sold property to RECKDE LLC.  37 Sycamore St., $360,000. Claudette Nealy sold property to Alex Varghese and Mary Pladocostante.  GREENFIELD 35 Southwest Pass, $253,000. Ramon Posada sold property to David and Omega Moya.  17 Rebecca Dr., $430,000. Steven and Suzanne Cousineau sold property to Daniel and Young Elinskas.  280 Middle Grove Rd., $335,000. Carol Hopper sold property…
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