Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Mayor Joanne Yepsen looked up at the 50 or so people who crowded into City Hall Wednesday afternoon and spoke to the reason for the gathering. “We don’t want to become a community that only the elite can afford,” the mayor said.

The City Council’s special mid-day meeting on Dec. 14 effectively kicked-off an 18-month project to address affordable housing in Saratoga Springs.

“Residents are saying, ‘We are pricing ourselves out of our own city,’ meaning that the market rates are higher than what they can afford. I think it’s time for us as a council to address some of the short-term needs as best we can with some long-term solutions,” Yepsen said. “And affordable housing may not just be an option any more – it may be required by the federal government.”

The 1968 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), was amended in 2015 with a final rule that states communities must address affordable housing needs and come up with a consolidation plan to carry out actions. That plan is specifically due from Saratoga Springs in May 2020, with submissions due at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by October 2019. “We are planning this will take us about a year and a half to put together, so we’re starting at the right time,” Yepsen said.

Survey Says: Additional Housing Needed

A 228-page market study regarding housing needs in Saratoga Springs conducted during the summer by GAR Associates indicates a strong demand for additional housing in the city, and recommends multiple rent tiers targeting different income bands in the development of workforce, family, and senior housing. The study points to Saratoga Springs’ disparity in income levels as a supporting case to be made for affordable housing projects that specifically feature workforce-oriented and mixed-income housing, where attorneys would live in the same building as busboys, explained Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Executive Director Paul Feldman.

“Affordable housing to me is not only by the HUD standards (residents should not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing), but for Saratoga Springs it’s taking care of our hospitality industry and making sure that the workers can get to work and live close to jobs,” Yepsen said. “So, it’s workforce housing for our hospitality industry and it’s allowing young professionals to move and work here.”

The study reported the average listing price of a new single-family home in Saratoga Springs is $504,000, the average annual earning salary is about $70,000, and that of the more than 600 housing units built in the city during the past decade -in addition to another 200 or so on the table in the future - none include an affordable housing component. “What the market study shows is that 80 percent of the people who need more affordable housing are Saratogians,” Yepsen said. “They currently live here and are having trouble paying their bills. Eighty percent of the people are our own people - and that’s why I’m taking this to heart. We need to do this. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a plan.”

There are several options to be explored, from working with private developers, to nonprofits. A decade-old Inclusionary Zoning ordinance revived by Sustainable Saratoga earlier this year calls for the dedication of a small percentage of all future units built be designated for moderate, or low-income households. In exchange, builders would receive a bonus that allows an increased density of the project. The IZ would also spread the dispersal of mixed-use affordable housing across the community.

“If the IZ ever passed the council, it would mean every developer, from here on in, would include a percentage of affordable housing,” Yepsen said. The proposal currently sits at the city and county planning boards for their respective advisory opinions, after which it will be required to pass through the city’s Land Use boards before being returned to the council for a potential vote. In a community with high-income characteristics such as Saratoga Springs, incentives often have to be provided in order to create the support for municipal approvals associated with affordable housing.

The Middle Class Gap

Yepsen said looking at the housing gap from a continuum of care spectrum, the path begins at the Code Blue emergency shelter, continues on to Shelters of Saratoga, and transitions to public housing and eventually private housing. But, that’s where the path ends. “That middle gap, to me, is what really is the crux of the problem, because you’re not eligible for help, yet you can’t afford the high-end condos either, so you end up stuck in the middle,” Yepsen said. “And Saratoga Springs is going to be feeling that more, unless we can at least introduce some other price points for housing in the city. It is for me, a priority and that is the reality of the situation. The question now is: What does the council want to do about it?”

The survey reports that land adjacent to The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority’s Stonequist Apartments would be ideal for a large mixed development. Currently, the city is looking at grant funding opportunities to develop 20 to 26 new affordable housing units at Jefferson and Vanderbilt Terrace. “We’re thrilled that we’re a thriving economic community and we don’t want that to change at all,” the mayor said. “Our package of assets and cultural opportunities are going to thrive and grow, but we’ve got to take care of our own too. We need to be both - an economically thriving tourist community and a residential year-round affordable community, with a high quality of life.”

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The demolition team arrived from Schenectady alongside the Thursday morning sun and began the delicate disassembly of a fragile 19th century building on Caroline Street ravaged by fire on Thanksgiving Day.

Efforts to salvage the structure, which included securing a third engineering opinion late Tuesday, proved unsuccessful.

“The result is not what we hoped,” said Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation Executive Director Samantha Bosshart, in a statement issued Thursday morning.

The fire displaced residents of five apartments and forced the closure of four businesses on Putnam and Caroline streets. A faulty electrical extension cord located in a small storage area in the rear of the Mio Posto restaurant was targeted as the cause of the blaze. The structure deemed most seriously affected was a vacant brick building at 26 Caroline St. that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and which had most recently housed the Living Room.

Two initial engineering reports deemed the building unsafe and recommended total demolition. On Monday, Bosshart approached the City Council on behalf of the Preservation Foundation and offered $2,000 to secure a third structural opinion and questioning whether any part of the building could be salvaged. The City Council, by a 4-0 vote, approved an emergency declaration seeking that third study, which was conducted Tuesday by Mike Miller of Ryan Biggs Associates.

“We walked through the building and it’s a devastating site, destroyed,” reported city attorney Vincent DeLeonardis afterwards, adding that preliminary findings of the third study were consistent with previous reports. No formal report had yet been presented, but DeLeonardis recited an email received from Miller, which read in part: “The extent of damage has compromised the structural integrity of the building at 26 Caroline Street and forms an unsafe condition. This forms a risk to the public in front of the building as well as to the adjacent properties. Further collapse of the building could occur at any time.”

In response, the Preservation Foundation reported that it did not know why steps couldn’t be taken to preserve the façade, particularly since they had yet to receive a copy of the owner’s structural report dated Nov. 30 that specifically addresses that topic, or a copy of the Ryan Biggs preliminary report. “The Foundation looks to the future of this site and working with the property owner and the Design Review Commission to ensure that replacement infill is appropriate in scale and design,” added the organization.

“I have a lot of options and will have to go through them one by one,” said the building’s owner by Louis Lazzinnaro. Prior to the fire, Lazzinnaro said he was hoping to refurbish the existing building, “but unfortunately that’s not going to happen now, so we’ll see what makes sense.”

Lazzinnaro said he purchased the building two or three years ago, and was still waiting for definitive answers regarding damage coverage from his insurance company. He’s currently working with an architect to create conceptual drawings of what might replace the building and while it’s too soon to tell what may be developed in the space, he said he assumes it will be a mixed-use development. “I had an independent engineer to see if the façade could be saved, but because of the way the building is - there’s no open space in the back - everything has to be done from the front,” Lazzinnaro said. “Most importantly, no one was hurt during the fire and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt during the demolition.”

The demolition will be done slowly and cautiously given the current state of the building’s integrity and is expected to take 1-1/2 to 2 weeks, according to early accounts. The stretch of Caroline Street where the buildings were damaged by fire will remain closed during the demolition. DeLeonardis said the Ice House was “not terribly affected” by the fire whereas Mio Posto is “in very rough shape, but is not as structurally precarious as 26 Caroline.” The structural status of Mio Posto restaurant on Putnam Street is not currently known.

The four businesses affected by the fire - Sperry’s restaurant, the Ice House, Mio Posto restaurant, and Hamlet & Ghost – remain closed. Brendan Dillon, co-owner of Hamlet & Ghost said he is hopeful the craft cocktail bar may re-open by New Year’s Eve.

Friday, 02 December 2016 17:27

Notes from City Hall

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs Residential Rehabilitation Grant Program provides those with limited resources the opportunity to make necessary repairs to increase the safety, security, and energy efficiency of their homes. The program may provide up to $15,000 in necessary repairs for single-family households. Resident homeowners with rental units (up to three) may be eligible for an additional $5,000 per unit if they rent to income-eligible persons at fair-market rents for a minimum of four years. The income eligibility guidelines are HUD-mandated and are subject to change. The requirements for income-eligible people to obtain this grant include a necessary occupancy time of four years, and a resident within city lines. Program guidelines and grant applications are available at the Office of Planning and Economic Development in City Hall. Upcoming Meetings at City Hall Monday, Dec. 5 – City Council Pre-Agenda Meeting, 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 5 - Planning Board Workshop, 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6 - City Council Meeting, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 7 - Design Review Commission Meeting, 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 8 - Planning Board Meeting, 7 p.m. City Boards: Did You Know? The Saratoga Springs Planning Board is a seven-member citizen board appointed by the mayor to 7-year staggered terms. The Planning Board has jurisdiction over the development of most new multi-family, commercial, institutional and industrial projects. The City Council gives the Planning Board the following independent authorities to review development activities within city boundaries: Site plan review; Floodplain Variances; Soil Erosion and Sediment Control; Special Use Permits; Subdivision Review. The Planning Board also provides advisory services to the City Council, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Design Review Commission on various development activity. The seven-member board, and respective date of term expiration is as follows: Mark Torpey, chair 12/31/20; Robert F. Bristol, vice chair 12/31/19; Clifford Van Wagner 12/31/18; Tom L. Lewis 12/31/16; Howard Pinsley 12/31/17; Janet Casey 12/31/21; Jamin Totino 12/31/22. The Planning Board meets the 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month.
Friday, 02 December 2016 17:01

After the Fire

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The lingering smell of smoke still permeated the air one week after a Thanksgiving Day fire displaced residents of five apartments and forced the closure of four businesses on Putnam and Caroline streets. A faulty electrical extension cord located in a small storage area in the rear of the Mio Posto restaurant was deemed the cause of the blaze. The structure most seriously affected, a vacant brick building on Caroline Street that most recently housed the Living Room, has been deemed structurally unsound and faces demolition. There is no set timeline of when that demolition may occur. City attorney Vincent DeLeonardis said inquiries were made as to whether the building’s façade may be salvaged, but it appears that salvaging any part of the structure will not be possible. The building, commonly referred to as sitting at 30 Caroline St., is listed as being located at 26 Caroline St. on tax forms and is owned by Louis Lazzinnaro. The 19th century brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. The organization continues to explore the possibility of preserving the building or the facade, she added. The building at 68 Putnam St. – housing the Mio Posto restaurant where the fire originated - appeared to have sustained serious damage as well, although engineers have yet to make a structural determination regarding that building. Saratoga Springs Fire Department crews encountered heavy smoke and fire conditions when responding to the incident shortly after 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 24. The fire extended throughout the first floor and ceiling areas and eventually burned into adjacent buildings housing Hamlet & Ghost - at 24 Caroline St. - and to the vacant building which formerly housed the Living Room bar. Hamlet & Ghost, Sperry’s restaurant, and the Ice House also sustained varying amounts of damage. “I was here that night, had just left and was a couple of blocks away when they called me and told me what was going on,” said Brendan Dillon, co-owner of the craft cocktail bar Hamlet & Ghost. “Us and Sperry’s are dealing with some similar stuff - a lot of water damage and smoke damage - and I think the Ice House has some structural stuff to deal with. This whole block was filled with smoke for a long time.” Residents from 24 ½ Caroline Street were safely evacuated. Dillon estimated it could be two to three weeks until his business reopens, and in response has kicked off a fundraising campaign to help support Hamlet & Ghost’s 18-member staff and their families until they are able to come back to work. “It’s something to keep our staff paid and happy for the next couple of weeks,” said Dillon, as workers piled scorched debris into a metal dumpster outside. “It’s a hard time of the year for anybody to be out of work and making sure we have some funds coming in to pay them was a big thing.” The GoFundMe emergency campaign has raised more than $10,000 and contributions may be made by visiting: https://www.gofundme.com/hamlet-ghost-emergency-fundraiser. A benefit will also be staged 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at The Merry Monk, 84 Henry St., and will feature a silent auction and sale of Hamlet & Ghost gift certificates and merchandise. A portion of the event’s food and beverage sales will also be donated to benefit Hamlet & Ghost employees. The fire began at about 2:30 a.m. and fire crews were still on scene 14 hours later overhauling and extinguishing small pockets of hidden fire. The Saratoga Springs Fire Department was assisted by members of Malta Ridge, Rock City Falls, and Ballston Spa fire departments. Wilton EMS and Empire Ambulance also responded to the scene.
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Performing Arts Center has chronologized its five-decade history in a limited edition, 350-page commemorative coffee table book. SPAC50 brings alive unforgettable memories and little known insights into the founding and development of the celebrated arts venue. “SPAC50” explores the venue’s music, dance, and educational offerings through 11 themed chapters, including contributed essays by field experts such as Denise Warner Limoli, associate professor of dance at Skidmore College, and Tom Denny, professor emeritus of music history at Skidmore College. Accompanying the text are over 450 images, many of which have never been published, as well as reflections from the artists and leaders who shaped SPAC’s past. A robust timeline of season highlights traces five decades of artistic excellence in all genres, ranging from the classical arts to rock and roll. SPAC50 will be available on Thursday, Dec. 8 at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway, in a free, open-to-the-public launch party from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The book may be purchased for $75. Refreshments will be served and guests are invited to share their favorite SPAC memories. Prior to Dec. books can also be purchased online at spac.org.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Check, one. Check, two. Check. Check. Check.

If Bobby Carlton was trying to confuse the wait staff inside the redbrick bistro that boasts creative food, craft drinks and live music, it clearly wasn’t working.

Armed with their three Fender instruments – two guitars and a bass, their boxes of special effects – seven soundwave bending foot-pedals, and the back-beat thwomps of a drummer gluing it all together, Dryer celebrated the release of their new five-song EP at One Caroline last weekend, showcasing the harmonious weavings of punk-driven power chords and melodious hooks that the band has brought to the nation’s stages the past 24 years.

“We’re still a dirty bar venue kind of band playing loud rock music,” said Carlton, who co-founded Dryer with bassist Rachael Sunday in 1992, soon after she had left Skidmore College and was working at Strawberries record shop on Broadway. Drummer Joel Lilley joined the group in 1993.

“It’s really crazy. I didn’t know a band could go that long,” the guitar player said, laughing. “We did what we could do in the time we were a touring band, and we had some great experiences. We were able to tour the U.S. several times and we slept on a lot of floors, played a lot of clubs and got to meet some shady people.”

After a decade of touring and recording, the threesome broke up in 2002. The owner of a New Jersey-based record label convinced them to reform for what was to be a one-off show at Putnam Den in 2010. “At that time it meant calling Rachael, who I hadn’t talked to in eight years, and asking if she’d be into it. So, I threw it out there and surprisingly Joel and Rachael were both on board to do the show. The turnout was so huge that we were like: Oh, people really do enjoy Dryer. So we just started playing together again.”

In 2014, the band added guitar player Brian Akey, who had played with the Massachusetts based band Winterpills. “They were the darlings of the New York Times for a while. Brian moved to Saratoga Springs and someone introduced us,” recalled Carlton. “He just came up one night and expressed interest in playing with Dryer. We’d been a three-piece band for 20 years and never strayed from that, but when Brian came in I was excited about the idea of having another guitar player,” Carlton explained. “Here’s the thing: I know exactly what kind of guitar player I am. I’m not real proficient, but I know about power chords, so I like the idea of having this whole other layer of guitars – and it really works.” The showcase of sound blends raw riffs, sweet vocals and an underlay of melody-laced guitaristry. “The moment Brian came in it opened things up quite a bit and changed the landscape. It makes it more fun.”

The band’s four-member interplay is evident in both their live sets and the new five-song EP. “Bright Moon, Bright Sun,” which marks Dryer’s first issue as a quartet and its first overall release of new music since 2002. Now nearing the quarter-century mark since the band’s formation means finding a new way for the creative mind. “You have to adjust. For me, I cut my teeth on punk rock music coming out of the city – basement shows and CBGB’s in the early days and the whole D.C. scene, so that part still is there for me. I think if I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t want to be playing music anymore in this capacity,” Carlton said. “I might stay at home, Instagram a photo here and there of me playing a song. But, I’m still playing shows, I’m still traveling to clubs and I think that comes from the fact that I grew up in that era of punk rock music. The Ramones and The Descendants were huge inspirations for me. They had that ‘Get out and do it, no matter how old you are’ attitude.

“You know you can choose to sit home and do nothing – which is fine – but that’s not me. We’re still doing it at a capacity that’s good for us,” he said. “When I was in my twenties and Dryer was touring, I was sleeping on a dirty floor and thinking: oh man, I’m in Michigan, playing a rock show. I made it! But now, I’m still being creative and I’m sleeping in my own bed at night. That to me is making it.”

“Bright Moon, Bright Sun” is available on a variety of digital streaming sites, and the band has plans to release the tracks on a vinyl format in the future. For more information, visit: https://dryerrockmusic.com/

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 19:37

The Inside Scoop on Barbara Lombardo

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Ten thousand days of newspapers. More than a million published words.

Barbara Lombardo has served as a leading voice in the community for more than a generation - her words educating, entertaining, and often inspiring open dialogue of a variety of issues among political leaders and city residents alike.

“I got into journalism during the era of Watergate,” the longtime journalist and managing editor of The Saratogian explained to a crowd gathered at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to hear her speak about her 38-year career in the local news business. “There was a great feeling of what you could do – and not just tearing down a president – but in your own community.” She joined The Saratogian staff in June 1977 working the City Hall beat and by age 30 became the newspaper’s managing editor, directly supervising the newspaper’s day-to-day operations, overseeing editors, writing her column “Fresh Ink,” and helping to launch a countless number of journalists’ careers. The origins of Lombardo’s own career were founded in a series of serendipitous moments.

“I took journalism classes as a lark and got hooked. As it turned out, someone at The Saratogian had died and I was offered a job to start as soon as I finished grad school,” she said during the discussion at the library, moderated by longtime area writer Maria McBride Bucciferro. “I fell in love with Saratoga. I married my college boyfriend and we raised our children here. Things just worked out wonderfully.”

Lombardo cited a lengthy list of a dozen publishers she worked with during her five-decade career that alternated between collaborative camaraderie and ethical conflict. “There was one publisher - and I won’t name him - but a story in the Associated Press his first day on the job was about one of the big department stores that was being sued for discrimination against its workers and having to pay a big fine. That department store was one of our biggest advertisers,” said Lombardo, recalling pressure that was placed on her to stifle the news piece. “The publisher didn’t want me to put that story in the paper at all, let alone where I did put it: on the front page,” she said.

She spoke about memorable stints alongside publisher Linda Glazer Toohey in the 1970s - at the time one of the youngest female publishers in the country - and a decade later with Monte Trammer, whose actions Lombardo cited as a role models for newspaper ethics. “Monte was at a session with a publisher of another paper when somebody asked: ‘If I buy an ad for your company what do you get in exchange for news coverage?’ The publisher of the other paper said that if you buy an ad, you get a story. Monte said that our news columns were not for sale. That’s just as true today,” Lombardo said. “It’s not like you don’t get some pressure, but say you’re doing a story about apple picking and you go to three or four apple orchards to get comments. I believe strongly that you should go to the orchards that are advertising with you, because it’s an opportunity for you to support the companies that are supporting you. But it doesn’t mean you would only go to them, or give somebody special preference.”

These days she teaches a journalism class at the University of Albany, which she’s been doing since 2008, and maintains an online blog, titled “Done with Deadlines,” at: http://www.donewithdeadlines.com/. “One of the things I always loved about journalism in Saratoga was that we were in a competitive market,” she said, explaining that the competitive scramble for scoops, sources and stories in the pre-Internet days had a definitive timeline that no longer exists. “Once that deadline came it was over. Now, it’s never over. You constantly have to be out there - and with fewer and fewer resources. I’m also concerned now with things being archived online on some cloud somewhere and not in newspapers, or microfilm like they used to be.”

During her time at the Saratogian, Lombardo saw the American newsroom transform from a bricks-and-mortar foundation that housed journalists skillfully trained at scribing barrels of ink, to an open-air market of unfettered opinions, blurring the lines of reality and cluttering cyberspace. The Internet has, at least in part, posed a slew of challenges for the industry.

“The biggest challenge is how to make money out of the way people are getting their news now – which is on their phone. Newspapers have traditionally relied on their advertising from print and they have not succeeded in raising the same amount of revenue from advertising online. That’s been the crux of problem,” Lombardo said. Allowing public commentary alongside articles in real time can be both a blessing and a curse, at times providing new leads and sources while at other times allowing a forum for anonymous posters to verbally skewer public figures and private citizens alike.

“There’s a responsibility to try to avoid some of the comments and on some stories cut the comments off, because they can be so heartless or personal. I believe that’s part of the downside of the Internet: the ability to say things anonymously,” she said. “What I personally enjoyed was the thrill of the chase, pursuing a story that sometimes could be a bad event, but you feel that you’re doing something good,” Lombardo said. “Things that make a difference in the community. Sometimes that might make some people unhappy, but overall it can make peoples’ lives better.”

Jerry Carpenter Jr. died in June, a few hours shy of his 21st birthday, his family by his side.

In an emotionally moving ceremony Tuesday night at City Hall, Carpenter’s family thanked Saratoga Springs Police Officer Bill Arpei for answering the call to tend to the Saratoga Springs High School graduate in his time of need. 

“On that day, June 2, that afternoon, the call was received by an officer for a young man in cardiac arrest,” family friend Donna Flinton told a chamber room crowded with residents and council members gathered to decide the city’s business. The call was placed by Carpenter’s sister. From Jefferson Terrace, the emergency was reported as a young man in severe medical distress.

“Officer Arpei responded within minutes of the call and assessed everything. He started chest compressions and continued to do so even after EMS came to take over,” Flinton said. “Unbeknownst to the officer, Jerry had only one working lung as well as a host of other complications. With Officer Arpei’s CPR, his not giving up on our boy and EMS’ help, Jerry was resuscitated.”

Although resuscitated, the young man whose obituary remembers him as an innocent soul with a brave heart who spread love to all who knew him, passed away a week later.

“The officer was asked to be kept in the loop, and we did,” Flinton said. “We informed Officer Arpei that Jerry had passed, and of the funeral arrangements, hoping he would perhaps come. He sure did. And in full uniform. It gave the family and myself great pride to know the Saratoga Springs Police Department would allow Officer Arpei not just to attend, but to salute as we passed by,” she recalled. “With that, my friends, everyone just cried. That was our time. And that was the time he gave us. He not only refused to give up on him, but he cared - and caring and compassion is not always prevalent in today’s society.”       

One of the young man’s sisters handed Arpei a keychain, to signify the day her life forever was changed and the moment the officer was welcomed as a member of the family. With the presentation of a statue she noted how they would never forget the officer’s actions.

“When we look at you, we see Jerry,” Flinton said. “Because of you, his mother was able to sit with him for the last few days he had, hold his hand and tell him he could go dance in heaven with his grandfather. His grandmother was able to kiss him one last time and tell him that she loved him.  His sisters were able to say goodbye and lay with him as he took his last breath - and we celebrated his birthday - because in some country he was 21,” she told the officer, who joined the city police department five years ago. “These are the moments the family will cherish forever and they know they wouldn’t have had them if it wasn’t for you.”  In the crowded council chamber overcome by silence some in the crowd choked back tears.

 “We feel it was time to express our family’s gratitude towards one of our own,” she said. “Saying just thanks, we think, is not appropriate. But that’s all we’ve got.” Residents and council members alike stood up and the chamber erupted in a lengthy ovation.  

 

City Approves Purchase of Pitney Farm: Westside Farm to Stay a Farm Forever

After much deliberation, the council unanimously approved the city purchase of the development rights of the 166-acre Pitney Farm on West Avenue.

The city is spending $1.165 million - $1.13 million outright and $35,000 in closing costs –   to purchase the development rights to ensure the farm land will remain a farm in perpetuity.

Members of the council had expressed hope that a portion of the 166-acre farm could be used to house recreation fields for youth sports such as soccer, field hockey and lacrosse. DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco was especially adamant that the city may have done a better job negotiating the fields into the land contract, as the city lacks those resources.

The closing is scheduled to take place in mid-December. At the same time, the city will issue a bond anticipation note. The interest will be 0.95 percent, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan said.       

A contract of sale for the farm was signed between the Pitney Family and the newly created 501(c)(3), Pitney Meadows Community Farm. The vision for the farm includes the creation of a community agricultural resource center to function as a teaching facility and incubator, as well as offering access to the community to cultivate gardens and enjoy nature trails on the property.

 

City Amends Sidewalk Sitting Ordinance – Penalties Reduced, Law Still in Effect 

The city's controversial “sit and lie ordinance,” which was adopted in June and makes it unlawful for any person to sit or lie down upon a public sidewalk, was amended by the City Council this week. The changes include a streamlining of exceptions to the law; those exceptions allow for medical emergencies, or in curbside areas permitted for street performers, as well as easing penalties for code violators. 

The previously adopted penalties called for a minimum $50 fine for first offenders, escalating to misdemeanor charges with the potential of up to 30 days of jail time and fines of up to $500 for repeat offenders. The new penalties call for a maximum $50 fine for first offenders. Subsequent offenders would be subject to a fine not exceeding $250 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 days, according to the city’s general penalties for offenses, posted on the city website.   

The New York Civil Liberties Union submitted testimony alleging both the original law and the amended proposal targets homeless people and is unconstitutional and should be rescinded altogether. Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen – who brought forward both the original and amended proposals – argued that the ordinance was based on other municipalities’ existing ordinances and that “it does pass constitutional muster.”  The council members were in general agreement in expressing belief that the ordinance is related to pedestrian safety issues and does not target the city’s homeless population. The amended ordinance was approved 4-1, with city Mayor Joanne Yepsen casting the lone vote against. “I don’t like this law and I don’t see a need for it,” said Yepsen, who also cast the lone voted against the initial proposal in June.    

 

On a High Note, City Center President Says Goodbye

Longtime Saratoga Springs City Center President Mark Baker delivered the City Center Authority’s annual report for 2015 to the council on Tuesday. In 2015, the City Center hosted 154 events and secured 252 days of paid activities - marking the highest number of annual paid events in the building’s history. The 2016 schedule already tops that number, Baker added, and reported $2.1 million in sales tax revenue was generated in 2015 for the local community. More than 155,000 people attended events last year.

“For 33 years it’s been a pleasure to serve for you and with you,” said Baker, who last week announced he will retire as the organization’s president at year’s end. “In the last 33 years I think it’s become most obvious that there is no place like Saratoga Springs – our history, our style, our grace,” Baker said..   

 

‘Eyesore’ at Interlaken to be Demolished, Replaced by Single-Family Homes

The council unanimously voted to support a Planned Unit Development SEQRA determination regarding a property on Crescent Avenue in the Interlaken community. The long-abandoned home will be demolished and the land subdivided into four parcels where four single-family homes will be developed. Residents of the neighborhood addressed the council, alternately referring to the existing building as “an eyesore” and “a neighborhood blight,” and outnumbered those opposed to the building’s demolition by a 10-1 margin.  

 

City Public Art Policy Approved; Changes Coming for City Arts Commission

The council unanimously approved a public art policy that will provide a civic planning process for the acceptance and placement of artwork in public areas.

The city Arts Commission – a 20-member advisory board appointed by the mayor in 2015 - will review submissions using artwork and site selection criteria and may recommend to accept or reject an artwork. The Commission is tasked with reviewing proposals for consistency with the city’s goals and where appropriate, recommending acceptance or rejection of such acquisitions for the city. “Public art,” in this scope, is defined as publicly accessible artwork that enriches the city through its aesthetic qualities, considers the social and physical context of the site, and addresses the goals of the city.

The Arts Commission will also undergo changes to its member bylaws. Starting in January 2018, the committee will be comprised of a maximum of 11 members; four will be selected by the commissioners and the balance appointed by the mayor. Currently, all 20 members have been selected by the mayor.

 

 

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Inside the office on a sublevel of the Collamer Building, a pair of couches sit in a comfortable corner. A toy kitchen patiently awaits the attention of a child’s playing hands, and rows of books line the far wall.

“We have the easiest door to walk in,” says Maggie Fronk, executive director of the Wellspring office, which opens its doors five days a week and hosts seminars that are confidential and free of charge. A hotline, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, annually fields about 1,400 calls that come in from across Saratoga County.

“When somebody comes in, we talk to them about what their situation is and about what domestic violence is. It’s a pattern of power and control,” says Fronk, who joined Wellspring 14 years ago. The organization has supported survivors and strived to end relationship and sexual abuse for the past 35 years.

“There are many different forms of abuse. There’s emotional control, psychological control, financial control, social isolation, sexual victimization. So many times people will call us and say, ‘But I’ve never been hit.’ In their mind they’re saying, ‘this is not domestic violence.’ Well, it is,” Fronk says. “We have a ‘power and control wheel’ that talks about all kinds of abuse and we’ll show that to them. The person that says, ‘I don’t know if I even should be calling,’ will look at that and say, ‘Oh, I do have all those other kinds, I’ve just never been hit.”

Wellspring’s crisis intervention and survivor services provide safe housing to adults and children either fleeing or homeless because of domestic violence, as well as comprehensive support in the form of counseling, legal advocacy, and case management. In 2015, the organization provided almost 15,000 safe bed nights of shelter and supportive housing, counseled 700 individuals escaping their abuse, and provided education about the signs of relationship and sexual abuse to 6,500 members of school, and community groups.

“Wellspring gave me a new lease on life and I’m going to take full advantage of it,” said Tina, who married at 18, divorced at 21, and was forced to give up on her dream of going to college after graduating high school. For three years, she endured an abusive marriage. She married her second husband in 2001 and gave birth to her first of three children in 2007. “Unfortunately, women who are victims of domestic violence tend to attract predatory mates,” Tina said.

“My first husband was an alcoholic and here it was, like a bad dream, happening all over again. He began drinking very heavily and the abuse began to get worse.” Pregnant with her second child in 2008, Tina temporarily moved back to her parents’ home and gave her husband an ultimatum. “I told him he had to rehab.” Things seemed to work for a while, but it would not last. “The police were called to our house several times. He punched me in the face and gave me a black eye. It took me a long time to realize I couldn’t fix him, that my love couldn’t carry it through. A lot of women think that if they’re nice enough, if they’re pretty enough, then they can fix things,” she said. “But they can’t.”

An incident involving child neglect that was brought on by her husband’s drinking convinced her the marriage was over. Tina wasn’t working and when the child support payments stopped coming, she became involved in a child custody conflict which continues to this day.

“The psychological effect of that spun me into a dark, life-threatening world of depression. I was in a state of turmoil and didn’t know what to do.” By chance, she came across a Wellspring business card. “I was a mess,” Tina recalled. “I reached out and called their hotline. Immediately, I felt there was a glimmer of hope.” Through Wellspring, she began picking up the pieces of her shattered life. The organization helped with housing, and she recently secured a job at a retail store on Broadway.

“At times it’s been a nightmare of a life, but I’ve realized my true value, my true worth and I have three little kids who I have to make a new path for, so they don’t follow in my footsteps,” she said. “Yes, there will be stumbling blocks, but you have to persevere. I’m not going to let my life be stopped by an abuser who I’d given 22 years of my life. I’m not going to give up on my education. I’m not going to give up on my kids. I’m humbled by these experiences. And I don’t take for granted one minute of my life.”

“We have a commitment to end relationship and sexual abuse in the community and I see that happening,” Fronk says. “We do that by involving the whole community. If you see something, talk to somebody. Tell them there’s a place to get help. Make the call.“

Wellspring maintains office hours Monday through Friday in Saratoga Springs. To reach the office during business hours, call 518-583-0280. To reach the 24-Hour Hotline, call 518-584-8188. For more information, visit: http://www.wellspringcares.org/.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Mark Baker was there the day they first put the shovels to the ground on Broadway.

This week, after a 33-year career, the only president the Saratoga Springs City Center has known announced his retirement, to take effect at the end of the calendar year.

Baker came to Saratoga via Wisconsin in the summer of 1983 and remembers hearing about the grumblings of those opposed to the construction of the new building he would oversee in 1984. Decades later he would bear witness to lively debates regarding the design of the building’s multi-million dollar expansion, its booking policies absent of a gun show, and its push for the development of a parking garage. Baker has presided over the Saratoga Springs City Center from its humble beginnings - 24 events accounted for 43.5 days of use in 1984 – and helped it reach the 170-or-so event mark it is anticipated to land this year, with more than 261.25 revenue-producing days. Advance bookings into 2017 are already expected to exceed 2016 sales figures and current bookings for conferences and conventions have been scheduled into the year 2021.

“I have vested much of my professional career, and personal commitment to the success of the City Center,” Baker said in a statement. “I want to be able to pass this incredible facility on to the next leader, with care and well wishes.”

Throughout his tenure, Baker said the City Center has maintained the same mission: to be a positive economic engine for downtown Saratoga Springs. Following the loss of the 5,000-seat Convention Hall in a 1965 blaze, there was much wrangling in the city about what Saratoga should build. By the late-1970s, Glens Falls built its Civic Center, and Albany had The Egg. In Saratoga Springs, it was eventually decided to construct a facility that would bring people into town and provide the opportunity for them to stay. In retrospect, it was the right project at the right time, Baker said. City Center Authority Chair Joseph Dalton said interviews are underway for potential candidates to replace Baker.

Baker, who anticipates retiring Dec. 31, said he is willing to remain in office until the transition of leadership takes place. It is expected Baker will remain on the City Center staff in a limited role to oversee and orchestrate the construction and launching of the City Center parking structure. “It is critical to get this important asset built for the future of the City Center,” Dalton said.

Workshop on Monday for a New Neighborhood Watch Program

A workshop will be held on Monday at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to start a discussion about forming a new Neighborhood Watch program in downtown Saratoga Springs. The free workshop – which is being organized by the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and the city Police Department – will take place 5 to 6 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 14. “We’re hosting this workshop to bring neighbors living and working downtown together so they can look out for one another,” Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “We’ve also committed to creating and distributing Neighborhood Watch signs which will be a visible reminder that the community has taken the necessary steps to deter crime and that this area is being observed.”

Upcoming: The City Council will host a pre-agenda meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 14, and its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15 at City Hall. It is anticipated the City Council will move to amending the recently approved law prohibiting sitting or lying on public sidewalks. Also expected is a vote regarding the conservation easement for the city to purchase the development rights of the Pitney Farm, and vote regarding the Saratoga Springs Complete Streets Plan.

City water and sewer utility bills are due for the fourth quarter on Tuesday, Nov. 15. City and county taxes, as well as utility bills may be paid in person at the Office of Finance in City Hall, by mail, or online at www.saratoga-springs.org. These payments can also be made at Adirondack Trust Co. and Saratoga National Bank. You must have your tax stub to make payments at these locations.

The Design Review Commission will host a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16 at City Hall.

The New York State Department of Transportation will host a public information meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 16, to discuss a project to replace the Crescent Avenue bridge over the Northway in Saratoga Springs and the East High Street bridge over the Northway in Malta, both in Saratoga County. The bridges, both built in 1962, are safe but aging to the point where this project is necessary. The project is expected to begin in late 2017 and last until the end of 2018. The meeting will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Music Hall on the third floor of City Hall.

Blotter

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Property Transactions

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