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Displaying items by tag: city council
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council met Tuesday night, Sept. 21 to discuss a variety of issues. The meeting included four council members. City Mayor Meg Kelly was unable to attend the meeting due to a personal issue, said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who ran this week’s meeting.
City Seeks Public Input Regarding Upcoming Cannabis Deadline
• Cities in New York have until Dec. 31 to opt-out of potentially siting dispensaries, and/or on-site consumption facilities as it relates to a local cannabis industry in their respective communities.
Correlated to alcohol, Dispensaries are akin to a liquor store, while On-Site Consumption is more akin to a bar, explained city Attorney Vince DeLeonardis.
To opt out, a Local Law would need to be adopted and public hearings held in advance of a Local Law, so any move to opt-out would need to be conducted sooner rather than later. Municipalities must opt out to not be a part of the measure moving forward. If interested in permitting marijuana retailers or social consumption sites, the city need not do anything.
Financial ramifications: a 4% local tax is to be imposed if the city allows the measure to move forward –3% would come to the city of Saratoga Springs, and 1% would go to the county, DeLeonardis said.
Next Move on Civilian Review Board is Up To City Council
Jason Golub, a member of an independent city advisory committee tasked with studying police reform, provided an update regarding the formation of a potential city Civilian Review Board.
“I think there is plenty of evidence that a Civilian Review Board will add value to our community. I think it protects civilians, I think it protects police, I think it adds transparency and accountability,” Golub told the council Sept. 21.
Golub had previously served as co-chair of the city’s ad hoc Police Reform Task Force – which had recommended the implementation of a CRB as part of a 50-point plan evaluated by the council earlier this year. The council voted to accept a police reform plan shortly before the state-mandated April 1 deadline, although a handful of the 50 items were removed because the city did not have the authority to implement them, or because they required further evaluation, city attorney Vince DeLeonardis said at that time.
This week, Golub pointed to specific points as being critical to forming a successful board. Those points included securing the support and involvement of police and political leaders, ensuring the board is comprised of credible and impartial members, and setting appropriate funding that would secure budgetary needs over multiple years, as opposed to year-by-year where they may be subject to ever-changing political winds.
Golub also provided a framework for a timeline. He suggested six months be spent in preparation and in advance of hearing any potential cases, as well as using that time to ensure that funding is in place, and setting two years for a pilot program. “To me that would be the next logical step from where we are today.”
Absent of future City Council direction, Golub indicated last Tuesday’s presentation would serve as a final update. The City Council will now need to determine if taking steps to form a CRB is something it wants to move on. The council is scheduled to next meet on Tuesday, Oct. 5.
Council Looks to Future Saratoga Springs as a Bike-Friendly City
• The council unanimously voiced its support for a resolution from the Saratoga Safe Cycling Coalition and presented by Bikeatoga that calls for the city’s continued budgetary funding of future bike lane signage and striping projects.
“As we pass this resolution I want to make the council aware that we want to work with (the department of) Public Safety, Traffic, Complete Streets, and Bikeatoga to come up with some good projects to connect our community with good bike lanes,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan. Madigan reported there is currently $233,000 available to spend on an “upcoming good, overall Complete Streets project” as well as $100,000 in the mayor’s Capital Budget passed during last month’s council meeting - “so, we’re already looking at $333,000 - which is a fair amount of money to start looking at an engineering plan and scoping out some good bike lines internally for the city.”
City Supervisor Matt Veitch additionally noted there have been multiple talks regarding bike route systems at the County level. “We’ve come up with a proposal to present to the county for bike routes that would be sign-bicycle-routes on county roads connecting various communities,” Veitch said. “There will be at least one road in every single community designated as a bike route, and a few local roads as well that we’re going to hopefully get some of the towns to sign off on and make connections to county roads.” Veitch said the goal is to bring the measure to the county Board of Supervisors for approval in October.
Next Steps for UDO - Public Hearings in October, Vote in November
• A presentation was staged Sept. 21 regarding the proposed city Unified Development Ordinance, or UDO – a tool which aims to streamline the review and approval process as it relates to zoning and subdivision regulations. Public Hearings regarding the UDO, which may be reviewed on the city’s website, are slated to take place during the next two scheduled council meetings Oct. 5 and Oct. 19, with a potential vote to adopt on Nov. 16.
Concept Plan for New Parking Garage
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A special meeting of the City Council was staged at the Saratoga Springs City Center Nov. 13 to present to the public conceptual plans for the development of city-owned land, located just east of Broadway.
The presentation introduced a proposed six-story parking garage, up to 18,000 square feet of commercial space and small park. The project would extend across a current paved lot, one block east of City Hall and the Saratoga Springs City Center.
“This is the initial stage of a concept plan, meant to begin the discussion,” city Mayor Meg Kelly specified, undoubtedly cognizant of the contentious history that previous parking garage proposals at the same location had returned.
“They’re just ideas,” seconded Mike Ingersol, of the LA Group, who showcased the Flat Rock Park presentation. “It’s not meant to be built as you see it here.”
The concept was developed by the Flat Rock Working Group – which was created by Mayor Kelly earlier this year. The group – comprised of area residents, City Center Authority representatives, county leaders, city officials and other community members – have met a handful of times since the spring to come up with solutions to the City Center’s insistence that more parking spots are needed for the Center to remain competitive with other municipalities and continue to function as an “economic engine” for the city’s downtown district.
As depicted, the parking structure would house 754 spaces in all: 161 on the ground level, 165 Level One, 117 Level Two, 124 Level Three, 124 Level Four and 63 space on Level Five.
The development of the project to create 754 spaces in the parking structure, would eliminate about 277 free parking spaces on the current paved lot, resulting in a net gain of about 477 spaces.
During the public comment segment of Tuesday’s meeting, a good number of residents took their respective turn at the mic to express concern over the sheer number of spaces proposed for the new lot, suggesting that number could be decreased and the space it would free up instead targeted for other uses.
“I’m not sure (754) is the right number of spaces and maybe we need to have discussions about what the right number of spots would be,” Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin said, following the public comment period.
The proposal calls for a small park to be developed at the Lake Avenue end of the project, a series of solar panels that extend along High Rock Avenue, a commercial building and the parking structure with a pedestrian bridge connector above Maple Avenue that connects to the City Center. The Greenbelt Trail, when extended, would run adjacent to the project along High Rock Avenue and into the Lake Avenue park.
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan suggested the space potentially incorporate aspects of New York City’s High Line – a former elevated freight line that has been transformed into a public space that features gardens, unique city views, art exhibits, live music, food and outdoor seating. Madigan also suggested using at least one of the three floors of the 18,000 square foot commercial building as a makerspace.
The city currently owns and manages eight lots with approximately 1,288 “off-street” parking spaces, according to the Parking Task Force parking space inventory. There are an additional 1,302 public “on-street” parking spaces.
According to documents obtained earlier this year,
the parking availability in Saratoga Springs is as follows:
- Public on-street parking (City owned and managed): 1,302.
- Public off-street parking: 1,288 as follows: Woodlawn 3-level deck parking – 384; Putnam St 2-level deck parking – 185; Walton (Church St.) 2-level deck parking- 222; High Rock upper & lower surface & Lake Ave. lot parking: 278; Spring St surface lot parking – 98; Henry St surface lot parking – 19; Woodlawn surface lot parking – 60; Collamer surface lot – 30.
Additionally, non-city-owned and managed spots include: 83 spaces at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, and 2,552 spaces defined as “private off-street parking.”
In The Past
A multitude of proposals featuring a parking garage on the lot – some of which have been met with public contention as well as with legal action - have been discussed during the past several years. Among them have been The City Center Authority parking garage proposal that recommended the leasing of the city-owned lot to put up a garage with space for nearly 500 vehicles.
Paramount Realty Group previously proposed a 607-space parking garage, 166 housing units and nearly 50,000 square feet of commercial space, and the Sequence Development group said it would like to buy the property and site a mixed-use project with more than 220,000 square feet of retail, office and residential development overall — as well as a parking facility with 592 spaces. None of the plans previously discussed or presented have been implemented for the city-owned site.
“I think these are all good ideas talked about tonight,” the mayor said in concluding Tuesday’s meeting, adding that public comments will be taken into consideration as discussions continue into the future. The next steps will include the City Center Authority’s conducting of surveys and gauging costs for such a project, according to the organization’s executive director, Ryan McMahon. The City Council may also consider a resolution declaring its support that the City Center Authority bringing forward more detailed designs.
While a time frame and no specific finances were discussed, it would appear parties engaged in the process likely hope to have a definitive plan within a year, as November 2019 marks the next city election, with all five seats of the current City Council up for vote. Members said they are also interested in potentially tapping into Gov. Cuomo’s Empire State Development program, which awards grants to assist in the funding of projects.
Up in Arms
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The never-ending battle between the Saratoga Springs CSD Board of Education and Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools (SPFSC) continues to rage on. After the school board voted 5-4 on October 9 to end the practice of school resource officers carrying firearms, some parents and community members decided to fight back. This included the creation of Saratoga Parents for Safer School, “an organization built by parents and community members in the wake of the Oct 9, 2018 decision by the Saratoga Springs Board of Education to remove the historically proven armed security monitors from campus. The organization’s goal is to reauthorize the armed grounds monitor program.”
On Thursday, November 1, SPFSC met with school administrators and board members to discuss school safety and the next steps. With the meeting lasting about an hour, all topics related to school safety were discussed. According to a press release from SPFSC, the members left the meeting with a commitment from the board to do the following:
1. Conduct a risk assessment survey with the Department of Homeland Security.
2. Engage with the Saratoga County Sheriff’s department about adding more School Resource Officers throughout the district.
3. Engage with the Saratoga Springs police department and city government about adding School Resource Officers and other ideas to improve school safety.
“While we appreciate the school administration’s willingness to listen to our concerns, our organization made it clear to the administration that these commitments were not enough and do not fully address our safety concerns. Saratoga Parents for Safer Schools will continue to work with the board, and community to regain the same level of school security that the district had over the past 30+ years,” the press release continued.
SPFSC brought their resolution to the City Council on Monday, November 5, and it was adopted 5-0.
The City Council resolution calls for “trained, educated, experienced and certified individuals, namely active law enforcement personnel, to carry firearms” and recommends a collaborative plan between the city council, the school district, the county board of supervisors and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s office be put in place “which will again permit appropriately trained and certified individuals to possess a firearm while on school grounds including, but not limited to, the potential expansion of SROs to all schools within the District.” This resolution is the first step towards increased safety within our schools.
“However, we will continue to work diligently to ensure these suggested measures, and more, will be adopted by the school district. With the current city shortage of Police Officers, we still need to pursue the option of allowing recently retired, skilled and qualified Officers to protect our children,” the SPFSC stated.
According to News 10, who received a statement from the Board of Education:
“The Saratoga Springs City School District is committed to creating a safe and supportive learning environment for all students, staff, and visitors. The Board of Education and District Emergency Response Team place a strong emphasis on utilizing a comprehensive approach to school safety. This includes supporting the social and emotional health of all students, maintaining strong partnerships with local law enforcement, ongoing training and drills to prepare for emergency situations, and continuous improvements to our safety and security infrastructure and procedures. For the past several months, district administration worked with the Board of Education to research the authorization process of qualified individuals to carry firearms on school property while performing their job duties. The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits anyone from knowingly possessing a firearm on school grounds without proper authorization. In the past, some grounds monitors possessed a firearm on district property without knowing that prior written permission was required from the Board of Education. When district officials determined that the practice was not in compliance with the current law, grounds monitors were instructed not to carry a firearm on school property until proper authorization was obtained. School district officials and the Board of Education did their due diligence by researching this topic for several months gathering feedback from our partners in law enforcement, our school district insurance carrier, our school district attorney, listening to public comments, learning about best practices from neighboring school districts, and a presentation from the District Emergency Response Team. At the October 9th Board of Education meeting, the Board voted against approving the authorization. Safety is an underlying theme in everything that we do and the safety and security of students is our number one priority. The Board of Education appreciates the dedication and support of our full-time School Resource Officer who is an active duty, armed City of Saratoga Springs Police Officer. The district also continues to staff both full and part-time grounds monitors who help maintain a safe and orderly environment in and around our schools. The District is in the process of evaluating our current safety and security procedures, including conducting a risk/ threat assessment of all schools by an independent school safety specialist. The District will continue to gather feedback from all stakeholders and will be hosting a school safety community forum in the upcoming months to share the results of the threat assessment and recommendations that the BOE will consider to help improve our overall safety plan. The District appreciates the support that has been offered by the Saratoga Springs City Council and the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors for sharing in the responsibility of ensuring that our schools are safe for all students.”
SPFSC is unsatisfied with these developments, claiming that the BOE did not take the recommendations of the Saratoga Springs Police Department, nor did they talk to the Sherriff’s office, or speak to anyone at National Associate of School Resource Officers (NASRO), among other things. The next BOE meeting will be held on November 13 at Maple Avenue Middle School.
This Is Not A Drill: City Emergency Plan Put to Real-life Test
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Inside the gymnasium, on the south side of the city, a basket and backboard tower over a long row of white tables. Sturdy swivel chairs and a mesh of computer wires stretch across the foul lines. A filing cabinet stands at the top of the circle abutting a bookshelf that extends to center court.
“All the inner workings of City Hall,” says Mayor Meg Kelly, gesturing across the 30,000-plus square feet of gymnasium space where city employees are busy at work. These new temporary quarters will act as their offices for the next 12 months.
A Friday night lightning strike upon City Hall in mid-August acted as the catalyst for the change, after a drainage pipe on the roof was struck and melted, causing heavy rains to pour into the building which has served as the center of Saratoga Springs’ government since 1871.
The city’s new and previously untested emergency management plan was put to a real-life test.
“The Emergency Management Plan was put into effect immediately when the lightning struck,” Mayor Kelly says. “As soon as it went into effect, we had all the people converge. Everyone’s got a job to do and everybody has their role.” City Fire Chief Bob Williams was designated incident commander. Marilyn Rivers, director of risk and safety, and Assistant Police Chief John Catone had boots on the ground – a job they basically took over for 24 hours, Kelly says. The city's emergency dispatch center was relocated to the county's facility. “We moved it that first night, because we just didn’t know how much damage there was going to be. The water just kept coming, all over the place.”
The commissioner of public safety is charged with developing and periodically updating the city’s Strategic Emergency Management Plan. In 2016, assistant Police Chief Catone completed the near-two-year project of compiling potential disaster concerns in Saratoga Springs and how to best address them. The plan is comprised of approximately 500 pages of documents and annexes and was the first new comprehensive plan for the city in a decade. It includes risk preparedness, response, and recovery in the aftermath of potential catastrophic weather events, terrorism incidents, school shootings, workplace violence, and public exposure to hazardous materials, among other things.
“The plan worked very well,” Mayor Kelly says. “The biggest thing with our plan was – number one - that we had a plan. A lot of cities don’t, and I would recommend that if you are a city you do need to get one. We’re not under that plan anymore, because now we’re up and operating. We were up and running in six days.”
Like any first-time implementation, there are lessons to be learned, Kelly added. “You do learn. A lot of things worked, some we’ll go back and look at. One area we need to improve was the court system, which wasn’t in the plan. We need to get that in there because they’re in our (City Hall) building.” Court sessions are currently being held in the Lincoln Bath building on South Broadway.
City workers were initially displaced in a variety of locations across the city, with DPW officers at the Canfield Casino in Congress Park, legal staff and commissioners of Finance and Public Safety at The Mill on High Rock Avenue and Risk and Safety located at the Lake Avenue Fire Station. There is a move to consolidate most of the workers at the Recreation Center on Vanderbilt Avenue, which when fully relocated will house about 65 employees.
The $6.5 million recreation center – which faced some public opposition as well as an unsuccessful court action prior to its development – opened in 2010 and was wired to be computer-friendly.
“We have the fiber in this building, which made it easy for people to just come and plug right in: bing, bing, bing and we’re up and running,” said DPW Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco. “That’s important because it’s not all over town. When they built this, they put infrastructure in here to accommodate the new technology.”
“We did look at several places all around the city, but very few are large enough to hold us, and if they were they didn’t have the fiber,” Kelly says. “It would take four to five months to get the fiber (for communications) to the building, and it’s so expensive to have that happen. So, that’s why we’re staying here.”
The city is working with the YMCA, Skidmore College, and the Saratoga Springs School District to relocate as many of the city programs that had been held at the center as possible. “The programs are going on if they can, if not then they’ll be brought back in a year when we’re moved out of here. This is an emergency situation,” Kelly says. To that end, the city Recreation Commission will host a Recreation Master Plan Public Meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 4, at the Mabee Building, 2nd floor Community Room, on 31 Church St.
While the gymnasium section of the building is for employees only, a separate section of the building holds offices the public is likely to need, such as those seeking licenses and other information. A “greeter” has also been placed at the center to help direct people where they need to go and is something that has officials thinking there should be a similar point person installed when City Hall reopens.
The work environment at the rec center – essentially a city government without walls – has gone well moral-wise, Kelly says. “I think everybody seems to work a lot more together in this environment. I’ll tell you, we have a very strong group of employees here to pull this off, because it doesn’t happen easily. Everyone we asked for help has jumped right in.”
THE STATUS OF CITY HALL
“We’re shooting at re-opening in a year from now,” Scirocco says. “We met with engineering architects last week and we’ll be moving forward on our master plan for City Hall. Right now, we’re in the process of doing demolition and there is some testing on where the asbestos is. Once that happens, we’ll get an abatement contractor and we’ll probably do the abatement and any other demo work that needs to be done.”
The configuration of offices at City Hall is anticipated to change. A second courtroom, which is required, is targeted for the second floor where currently a single courtroom is located. That would effectively force the relocation of the public safety offices and the law library. The Saratoga Music Hall, which is located on the third floor and sustained the most damage, will be reconstructed and will remain a music hall. Cost estimates regarding the damage is anticipated before the end of this calendar year.
“It’s a good opportunity to make changes – some which we’re obligated to do, some to be more efficient and safer. So, that’s the goal,” Scirocco says.
UPCOMING MEETINGS, which will be staged at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The City Council holds a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 1 and a full meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday; The Design Review Commission meets 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, and the Planning Board meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4. Additionally, at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 3, the city will publicly open and read sealed bids for preliminary and final engineering for the Complete Streets Saratoga Greenbelt Downtown Extender as it relates to Lake Avenue bike lanes.
Saratoga Springs City Council: May 3
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the City Council Meeting on Tuesday, May 3, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan presented her preliminary year-end report for fiscal year 2015. A summary of the highlights of this report appears on page 19.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen announced her five appointments to the Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board. This panel, designed to facilitate good communication between the local community and the NYRA Board has 15 members - five each are appointed by NYRA, The Chairperson of the County Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s office. The Mayor’s appointments were John Carusone, Dr. William Wilmot, Skip Carlson, Michelle Primacello, and Cindy Hollowood.
The City unanimously approved a resolution entitled ‘Authorization for Mayor to execute Settlement Agreement and Mutual Releases regarding The Anderson Group v. the City of Saratoga Springs,’ which sets in motion closure regarding a piece of long-standing litigation against the City. During the discussion and vote, no particular amount was mentioned, although later in the evening, during the Finance Department’s agenda item called ‘Budget Amendment-Legal Liability’, Commissioner of Finance Madigan noted that the amount was $750,000, which would come from the City’s unrestricted, unassigned fund. This budget amendment also passed unanimously.
In the original case, on July 2, 2010, a verdict of $1 million was awarded to the Anderson Group in US District Court, finding that zoning policies used by the City of Saratoga Springs had a discriminatory impact on African Americans and families with children. The Anderson Group, an Albany, New York builder, sought to construct a mixed-income housing development, called Spring Run Village, a development with 50 to 60 affordable units, on property they own outside the downtown area. The jury found the City had rejected the Anderson's application and rezoned the site from a classification where high-density residential and commercial uses were “preferred” and “encouraged” to a classification where such a development was prohibited.
A wide-ranging, 40-minute discussion on the subject of ‘Citizens' Complaints About Aggressive Panhandling’ took place, with Shelters of Saratoga Executive Director Michael A. Finocchi at the guest microphone for much of it. At the outset, a major distinction was made between homelessness and aggressive panhandling. For instance, it was noted that many panhandler’s are from out of town, may even work in shifts, and conduct their activities like a business – in other words, this may be the ‘occupation’ they have chosen. Homeless people are in need of a wide variety of services, but in most cases are looking for the means to better their situation. Finocchi also pointed out that the city currently has no drop-in daytime shelter or 24/7 mission, as is the case in many cities that are coping with this problem A key point, raised often, is that the best way to stop panhandling of any kind is to stop giving people money. During his agenda, Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen announced that a Public Safety forum will take place on Thursday, May 19 at 7 p.m. in the City Council room, and that forum will cover the topic of vagrancy and related issues. Rebecca Davis will soon have a follow-up article to her April 29 cover story on this subject, in which this discussion, the legal perspective, and the thoughts of local business owners and community members will be examined in greater depth.
OP-ED: On Ethics and Fairness
Toward the end of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Commissioner Mathiesen led a discussion on the subject of a ‘Response to Mayor Yepsen's Open Letter to the Citizens of Saratoga Springs,’ which appeared in our pages on April 22, and was written in response to our cover story (“Recusal or Refusal”) of April 15. The full recording of the meeting is archived on the city website (www.saratoga-springs.org). While final decisions from the City’s Ethics Board, on several inquiries related to this subject, are still pending (some have been filed over three months ago!), some things need to be made clear now.
In Tuesday’s discussion, the Mayor repeated her claim that she was somehow treated unfairly. But, in my opinion, Saratoga TODAY was more than fair in affording the Mayor an entire page to respond, and this was the fairest vehicle we could extend, given the extremely tight timeframe. During Tuesday’s discussion, the Mayor indicated that she submitted facts to the Ethics Board that the Commissioners and this newspaper’s readers were not privy to. The Mayor had an opportunity to put these facts in her open letter, but chose not to.
Eventually, I would like to write a piece that might propose some positive outcomes regarding this ethics controversy – for all concerned. We will continue to try to advance the discussion, while leaving you to draw your own conclusions. One final thing: I reiterate that I stand 100 percent behind our April 15 story.
2013 16th Annual SRA Invitational
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 16th annual Saratoga Invitations is set to host upwards of 1200 teams from the Northeast this Friday, April 26 to Sunday, April 28. After about 900 entries in 2012, the Invitational has continued to see growth, as it becomes more and more renowned as one of the fastest regattas available for competition.