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Friday, 09 May 2014 08:11

City Council: ‘Interested’ But Maybe Not ‘Involved’

By | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A public hearing on final revisions to the St. John Neumann senior housing development plan and zoning map amendment proposed by the Bonacio Corporation preceded the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 6. Those who spoke at the hearing were generally favorable to the project, with one resident voicing some concerns about possible traffic problems with children in the neighborhood. Among those who spoke in favor of the project was Father Paul Borowski of St. Clements RC Church, the current owner of the Neumann property.


Essentially, the council’s final concerns revolved around the structure of the language regarding the amount of land in the parcel that would be reserved for buffering, and the residential density of the project. The applicant’s attorney, Michael J. Toohey, proposed that a restriction be added to the deed which would reserve just over two acres of buffer area in the 11-acre parcel from future development except for park, trails and related ‘passive’ development and that this portion be removed from density calculations. This would cap the number of residential units for all time at 92 (the current Bonacio plan calls for 85) and that number would be fixed for any potential future deed-holders. 


With these conditions satisfied, the council, which was favorable to the project from the beginning, passed the two resolutions unanimously, clearing the way for the new senior housing development.


During the public comment period, an issue was raised by several members of the “Trackside Neighborhood Association” about the designation of one-way streets in the area around Lincoln and Frank Sullivan Place during the summer racing season. The residents said that they had not been adequately notified. Resident Mary Farrell said that this would impose a financial hardship upon her due to the loss of parking revenue on her lawn during the race meet. 


Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen responded that he believed the notice was adequate, that this would be reviewed after the race meet and modified if necessary and that he was open to discussing the issue with residents. 


Officials from the Saratoga Casino and Raceway (SCR) –

Skip Carlson, vice president of external affairs along with Tony Stellato, civil engineer with CHA Engineering and Brian Davis, director of design and development – made a presentation about their proposed hotel/event venue expansion. Prior to the presentation, Mayor Joanne Yepsen, noting that SCR’s revision of their application had downgraded the city’s status from an “involved” agency to “interested” – due to the fact that SCR will not require an additional water and sewer hookup for their proposed new facilities. 


This is more than nuance. The change in designation means a further restriction on the city’s official ability to review SCR’s plans; currently the State Gaming Commission is the lead agency for reviewing this proposal. The mayor noted though, “The city has every intention to have a seat at the table.” She went further and took note of many city resident’s advocacy that the city file an article 78 motion to place itself as lead agency, although City Attorney Mark Schachner ventured his opinion at the microphone that the city had attempted to do this when SCR expanded last in 2006, and lost that effort to be named lead agency. 


Mr. Schachner’s analysis of the current law is that it would make it more difficult for the city to win an Article 78 motion than in 2006, and that it would be costly for the city. Rather, he urged that there be the type of cooperative spirit that he observed from SCR in coming to the council to present it’s plans.


In fact, SCR is intending to go further in referencing city agencies than it is currently required to do legally. They have pledged to appear at the city planning board twice to present its plans. Their first planning board presentation will be on Wednesday, May 14. 



Saratoga Springs City Center President Mark Baker, who advocated that the city do all it can from a “legal, legislative and civil” standpoint to oppose SCR’s expansion, also delivered the City Center’s annual report for 2013. Mr. Baker noted that the facility had maintained its high plateau that it established after its expansion in 2011. Overall, the City Center enjoyed a remarkable 80 percent occupancy, generating an unaudited $1.9 million in sales tax revenue for the city.


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