Thomas Dimopoulos

Thomas Dimopoulos

City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
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Thursday, 12 January 2023 13:22

Saratoga Springs: Under Development Year-Round

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The construction of new developments and the demolition of aging structures, appeals made of current zoning requirements and applications that seek area variances are presented to the city’s Land Use Boards throughout the year. 

Ultimately, the recommendations and decisions made by those boards, staffed by resident city volunteers, go a long way into shaping what Saratoga Springs will look like. 

Those three Land Use Boards are:

• The Saratoga Springs Planning Board. A seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to seven-year staggered terms.  Next meeting: 6 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26. 

• The Saratoga Springs Design Review Board. A seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to five-year staggered terms. Next meeting: 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 18. 

• The Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). A quasi-judicial seven-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to seven-year staggered terms. Next meeting: 6:30 p.m., Monday, Jan. 23. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — John Sayles has directed more than 18 films – “Matewan,” and “Eight Men Out,” among them, written screenplays for iconic ‘80s horror movies “The Howling,” and “Alligator,” and directed a trio of Bruce Springsteen’s most famed music videos – for the songs “Born in the USA,” “Glory Days,” and “I’m on Fire.” 

As an author, Sayles has written numerous novels and short stories since 1975. 

“In a two-hour movie I don’t tell the audience here’s a character, okay, here’s another one, now see the world the way they see it. In a book you can do that,” Sayles explained, in an interview published by Creative Screenwriting in 2016. 

Sayles will celebrate the release of his new book, “Jamie MacGillivray: A Renegade’s Journey,” with an appearance at Northshire Bookstore Saratoga in March.    

“Jamie MacGillivray: A Renegade’s Journey,” will be published by Melville House (736 pages, $32) in late February. The story is set in 18th Century Scotland and America and begins in the heat of a vicious war. At the Battle of Culloden, in Scotland in 1746, Jamie MacGillivray narrowly escapes a roadside execution only to be recaptured and sentenced to indentured servitude in colonial America “for the term of his natural life.” 

Sayles is slated to celebrate the book’s release at Northshire Bookstore on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, in late March. 

BALLSTON SPA — The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors reelected Moreau Town Supervisor Todd Kusnierz as its chairman and Clifton Park Supervisor John Shopf as vice-chair, at the board’s annual Organizational Meeting on Jan. 4 at the county complex in Ballston Spa. 

The reaffirmation by 18 of the 20 supervisors in the room marks Kusnierz’ third consecutive one-year term, with Stillwater Supervisor Ed Kinowski casting the lone vote against, and Saratoga Springs Supervisor Tara Gaston abstaining from the vote. 

“Thank you to my colleagues for the opportunity to serve a third term as your chairman. It has been a distinct honor and pleasure to represent your interests on behalf of Saratoga County residents,” said Kusnierz, who was accompanied by members of his family at the meeting.  “Together we have enacted policies that have helped make Saratoga County the fastest growing county in upstate New York…last year we passed 390 resolutions, smashing the previous record of 347 that was set in 2021.” 

Kusnierz also recognized Town of Edinburg Supervisor Jean Raymond - serving her 36th year on the Board - as the longest-serving supervisor in the county’s history. 

The 23-member Board of Supervisors represents towns and cities throughout the county and serve as the legislative and executive authority of county government. They will oversee a $378.3 million county budget for Saratoga in 2023.

During the meeting, supervisors approved their meeting schedule for 2023; meetings will take place at 4 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month (except for next month’s gathering on Feb. 23) at the county complex.          

The Board also approved its Rules for Meetings in 2023. Specific to Public Input: 15 minutes will be set aside at every regular meeting to allow members of the public to address the Board of Supervisors on matters relating to Saratoga County business. 

Anyone wishing to speak must sign their name and address on a sign-up sheet prior to the start of the meeting, and each speaker will be allotted three minutes time. Public comments may also be sent via mail or email to the Clerk of the Board. The rules are similar for anyone wishing to speak during a designated Public Hearing regarding a specific matter. 

Public commentary is segmented near the very end of the meeting, just prior to adjournment. Supervisor Gaston recommended that the public input segment be relocated closer to the start of the meeting to ensure that commentary may be made prior to the board’s vote on a particular resolution, but the amendment received no second to the proposed motion from the board. Chairman Kusnierz added that there was ample time for the public to communicate with board members in advance of a vote.    

Various director and board member appointments were also announced to service a variety of county sub-committees. 

The Chair of the Board is charged with appointing members to the county’s 12 Standing Committees; Those committees are typically where the initial work is debated regarding topics later sent to the Board of Supervisors for their ultimate approval.  The Law and Finance Committee specifically is the last Committee meeting scheduled prior to the Regular Meeting of the Board of Supervisors, and Items approved by the Law and Finance Committee constitute the agenda of the Board of Supervisors Regular Meetings. 

On Jan. 4, Kusnierz announced the appointment of Clifton Park Supervisor Jon Shopf as Chairman of the Law & Finance Committee, and Supervisors Matt Veitch (Saratoga Springs), Phil Barrett (Clifton Park), Diana Edwards (Day), Joe Grasso (Charlton), John Lant (Wilton), Kevin Tollisen (Halfmoon), as committee members.   

Members for several other Standing Committees – including Buildings and Grounds; Economic Development; Health and Human Services; Public Safety, and Public Works were not announced Jan. 4, but the positions will be filled “in the immediate and near future,” and in advance of February committee meeting dates, Kusnierz said.    

• Four new Directors were appointed two-year terms to the Board of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, Inc. They are: Justin Baker, of Saratoga Springs; Phillip Barrett, of Clifton Park; Jeremy Connors, of Halfmoon, and Jeffrey Jones, of Clifton Park.  The Board of Supervisors in 2014 authorized the formation of the Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership, Inc., as an economic development local development corporation in accordance with Not-For-Profit Corporation Law.

• Four new members were appointed two-year terms to the County of Saratoga Industrial Development Agency. They are: Tom Lewis, Philip Klein and Rod Sutton, all of Saratoga Springs, and Michael Mooney, of Gansevoort. 

• The Board of Supervisors additionally adopted resolutions appointing new Commissioners to county Sewer District 1, new Directors of the county Capital Resource Corporation, and Soil & Water Conservation District, and new Board Members to the county’s Community Services Board, Fire Advisory Board, Fish & Wildlife Management Board, Traffic Safety Board, Water Authority Board. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Eight-hundred and sixty-four city residents voted on funding nine projects during Saratoga Springs’ Participatory Budgeting process, which took place earlier this month. 

The pilot program, introduced by Finance Commissioner Minita Sanghvi, made available $100,000 in funding and invited residents to cast votes Dec. 3- Dec. 11 on a variety of projects they would most like to see addressed. 

The nine projects placed on the ballot this inaugural year of the program were selected by the Participatory Budgeting Committee from a larger pool of 20 proposals submitted by individuals and organizations. Current committee members are: Mary Estelle Ryckman, Chair; Norah Brennan, Vice-Chair; and members Jeff Altamari, Devin Dal Pos, Douglas Gerhardt, Tim Holmes and Danielle Lepper. 

The majority of votes came from the 65 to 74-year-old age group, and “Urban Forestry Project” scored as the highest vote-getter overall.   

The 846 votes - 843 were made via online, and 3 via paper ballot - represent about 3.5% of city residents over 18 years of age. Typically, localities can expect 1-2% response rate in the first year of Participatory Budgeting, Sanghvi said. 

The Saratoga Springs City Council approved the spending plan for all nine of the projects at its meeting Dec. 20. The program is anticipated to be renewed in 2023. 

Thursday, 05 January 2023 14:52

Council Approves City Fee Schedule for 2023

SARATOGA SPRINGS — During its meeting on Dec. 20, 2022, the City Council approved a new City Fees schedule for 2023. Those fees encompass: building permits for new residential and commercial construction; streetside flag and sandwich board fees; rental costs for the Music Hall ($200 for a three-hour weekday rental, $400 weekends), the Canfield Casino ($3,200- $3,500 city resident for a five-hour event, $3,700- $4,000 non-city resident), as well as fees for events at Congress, High Rock, Flat Rock and Waterfront parks; marriage, dog, and taxi licenses; lodging and eating/drinking licensing fees, and various Recreation Department program fees. 

Getting ticketed for most parking violations – including alternate side parking, parking in a no-parking zone, and going over the allowable time limit will set you back $45 (discounted $5 for cash payment). 

The 32-page document may be found on the city’s website.              

Thursday, 05 January 2023 14:52

Council Appoints Kristen Dart as Chair of CRB

SARATOGA SPRINGS — During its meeting on Dec. 20, 2022, the City Council approved the appointment of Kristen Dart as Chair of the Civilian Review Board. Dart, the grand-daughter of the late Tuskegee Airman Clarence Dart, had previously served on the Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force. On her application for membership to the CRB, Dart wrote that during her time at the mayor’s office in Providence, Rhode Island, she worked with the police chief and public safety commissioner to establish new department procedures to ensure collaboration between the department and the community.   

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Several city officials gathered in the Saratoga Springs High School parking lot Monday, Jan. 2 to distribute cases of water to residents, following a weekend water main break that caused issues across the city.

On Jan. 1, the Department of Public Works issued a Boil Water Advisory as a result of a water main break in the vicinity of Excelsior and East avenues, and DPW Commissioner Jason Golub announced repair crews were addressing the issue.   

“Forty-six and one-half pallets, 70 cases in a pallet, 24 bottles in a case,” said Tara Gaston, who alongside fellow city Supervisor Matt Veitch worked the north side of the distribution line. Overall, that’s some 78,000 bottles of water, give or take, throughout.

City Mayor Ron Kim and Accounts Commissioner Dillon Moran were stationed at the south side; DPW Commissioner Jason Golub, various deputy commissioners and an assortment of other city officials also worked the lines. 

“This highlights what we already knew – our infrastructure is aging and needs to be replaced, and the other thing it highlights is a need for a centralized communication system,” Golub said. 

43 pallets worth were purchased by the city from DeCrescente Distributing Company, and 3-1/2 pallets were donated by Saratoga Eagle, Gaston added. 

On Jan. 3, the city informed residents that the situation has been resolved. “Satisfactory total coliform bacteria sample results have been received by this office,” read the statement. 

BALLSTON SPA —The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors staged their final regularly scheduled meeting of the calendar year on Dec. 20 at the county complex in Ballston Spa. 

The county announced it anticipates receiving approximately $22 million in sales tax revenue above the $141 million it had budgeted for this calendar year. The “robust” sales tax revenue year comes atop what was a conservatively estimated 2022 amount, County Administrator Steve Bulger said. 

The Board subsequently approved its’ Law and Finance Committee recommendation to appropriate $5 million to county municipalities, which will be proportionally distributed in accordance with the Saratoga County Sales Tax formula. As such, the towns receiving the largest amount of the distribution are Clifton Park (just over $1 million), Halfmoon ($590,000), Wilton ($494,000), and Malta ($456,000). Those funds are stipulated to be used “for any lawful purpose.” 

The city of Saratoga Springs, while not a participant in the County Sales Tax formula, will receive $300,000 for projects to be proposed by Supervisors Tara Gaston and Matt Veitch, and approved by the county Law and Finance Committee 

Additional Actions

• The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved a declaration to act as Lead Agency for the proposed construction of the “New Fixed Base Operator Terminal Building” at the Saratoga County Airport, and issued a “Negative Declaration” under SEQR to indicate the proposed project and actions will not result in any significant environmental impact. 

The project proposal includes the demolition of existing Hangar 1, redevelopment of the entrance corridor and existing parking area, the construction of a new terminal and the rehabilitation of the apron connecting to the new terminal building. That new terminal is slated to include waiting areas, concession spaces, conference space, and a pilot lounge area. A solar panel array will be installed on the hangar portion of the new terminal building.    

•The city of Saratoga Springs sent a brief correspondence to the county requesting the Board contact the NY State Liquor Authority with the request that current county bar closing times be changed from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. The correspondence was read aloud during the county meeting. There was no board response to the city’s correspondence and the suggestion was not brought to the floor as a resolution.

•The Board authorized the acceptance of a 2022 Domestic Terrorism Prevention Grant for $172,413 from the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. The grant covers the period between Sept. 1, 2022 and Aug. 31, 2024. According to the resolution, the funds will be used to support the county’s capability to prevent targeted violence and domestic terrorism through the use of Threat Assessment and Management, or TAM teams, and the development of comprehensive domestic terrorism plans. 

•The Board approved the use of $85,000 from the county fund balance to increase the payments of a currently existing agreement for the purchase, training and maintenance of body-worn and in-car cameras, and Taser equipment for the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office. In total, those new agreement terms are to be: $830,948.81 for the term May 1, 2022 through April 30, 2023, and $561,147.74 per year for the 4 years beginning on May 1, 2023 and continuing through April 30, 2027. 

• In 2020, the county Board authorized a “trial” Alternative Work Arrangement Policy for certain Departments whose operational duties are capable of being performed outside of the normal work hours. This week, the county approved reported that feedback from departments to the Human Resources Department indicated that implementation of the trial Alternative Work Arrangement Policy returned positive impacts on county operations. Following the recommendations of the director of Human Resources, the Board approved the policy be adopted and that it no longer be considered as a trial policy.

The policy – while not appropriate for all Saratoga County departments -  may be applicable to those where an alternative work arrangement is feasible and appropriate, and where an employee’s standard workday may be flexed due to employee needs and/or the operational efficiency of a department, according to the resolution. The total number of employee work hours in the work week as well as the compensation will remain the same as is currently. Employees interested in applying for the procedure must make a written request to their respective department head; that department head will ultimately decide whether to grant or deny the request. The goal of the Alternative Work Arrangement Policy is to assist the county in recruiting and retaining a diverse and talented workforce, and improve productivity amongst employees, according to the county. 

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Following a lengthy discussion which pushed this week’s City Council meeting close to the midnight hour, officials approved a measure moving forward that directs the city attorney petition the N.Y. State Liquor Authority to prohibit the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m. for any new city establishment seeking to secure a liquor license, or for any currently existing business seeking a license renewal.

Citing public safety reasons as its inspiration to roll back bar closing times from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., the resolution passed by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Ron Kim, and Commissioners Jim Montagnino and Minita Sanghvi voted to approve the measure; Commissioners Jason Golub and Dillon Moran voted against.   

The adopted resolution specifically directs the City Attorney to petition the SLA when “an establishment, individual or entity of any kind seeks a liquor license, seeks renewal of a liquor license, or seeks modification or amendment of a liquor license,” to prohibit the sale of alcohol by that entity beyond 2 a.m. as a condition of the granting of a license. 

“The State Liquor Authority not only has the discretion to issue conditions on the granting of licenses, but (the SLA) is responsive to community requests regarding those conditions,” said Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino, who authored the city measure. 

The city process under the resolution seems clear regarding new businesses seeking licenses for the first time, however, appears a bit murkier when related to existing businesses seeking license renewal.   

“It’s my understanding that new applications are treated somewhat differently than renewals by the SLA – new applications are given more scrutiny,” Montagnino said. On-premises wine and liquor licenses are issued for two years, according to the SLA.

“With regard to the renewals, generally, unless there are problems with the application or the applicant, the renewals are granted. I would note that in the event of a renewal application for premises that have had problems in the past…I think the SLA would take a little harder look and maybe exercise their discretion,” Montagnino said. “In a situation where there were previous problems, the SLA may be more receptive…in the case of a renewal we would review the history of that establishment from the time of its last renewal and may add information in our letter to the SLA for them to use in exercising their discretion.” 

Several attempts made by the current, as well as previous councils to alter bar closing hours have been unsuccessful. One clear path to altering the time of a “last call” requires the approval of the county Board of Supervisors for the change be implemented countywide, and to subsequently forward that request to the State Liquor Authority to ultimately rule on the matter. The city resolution presented this week documents the county’s reluctance to do so, noting: “the County has, to this time, not acceded to the City’s request.” 

The term of license depends on the type of license you have. If you have a retail license to sell only beer for on-premises or off-premises consumption, your license lasts for three years. Off-premises liquor and wine licenses (liquor and wine stores) are also issued for three years. If you have a seasonal license, it must be renewed every year.

In response to an inquiry of general practices, the State Liquor Authority responded via email with the following statement: 

“About our licensing processes: Each and every on premises businesses – including those currently operating in Saratoga – is required at the time of application to provide notice of at least 30 days to the municipality in which it intends to operate.  This allows the municipality time to provide the SLA with any desired input into the business’ operation.  A municipality’s choice not to provide input generally signifies agreement with the business and business model proposed in the municipal notice.  If however the municipality provides input opposing the proposed business or their method of operation, the SLA will place the new business’ application on a Board agenda, so that the positions of the business and the municipality may be heard by the SLA Full Board. 

“The Full Board reviews each application on a case-by-case basis, weighing the merits of the individual application while placing due weight on the recommendations of local law enforcement, municipal officials, and members of the community.” 

Thursday, 15 December 2022 11:59

Last Call - What’s Next for Local Bars

SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the aftermath of a 3 a.m. shooting on Nov. 20 during which three people were injured in the Saratoga Springs’ downtown bar district, some city officials have identified altering bar closing times as a preventative measure that would assist the public’s safety. 

Doing so, however, will not be an easy task. 

Currently, bars in approximately two dozen of the state’s 62 counties may stay open until 4 a.m. – Saratoga County among them. Altering the closing time – city officials appear to favor a 2 a.m. closing – would require the county Board of Supervisors give their approval of an earlier closing to be implemented countywide, and to forward that request to the State Liquor Authority to ultimately rule on the matter. 

Previous councils in Saratoga Springs have initiated that process three different times in recent years, with the county board either refusing to agree, or turning a deaf ear to those requests. 

“When it comes to the issue of bar closing times in our city, there has been a long-standing debate about what we should do,” Matt Veitch told the City Council during its Dec. 6 meeting. It was a meeting during which the council voted down a proposed amendment that threatened to revoke the permits of bars and cabarets should their patrons become engaged in any criminal offense after 2 a.m. 

Veitch serves on the 23-member Saratoga County Board of Supervisors and is specifically one of two supervisors elected to represent the city of Saratoga Springs, which in county weighted-vote terms indicates the representation of just over 14,000 residents. 

“I don’t see the county (Board of Supervisors) going for a 2 a.m. bar closing county-wide,” Veitch said. “I do see them supporting the city and looking to change that on their own.” 

Veitch added that during the city’s most recent attempt to alter closing times, made last year, the county’s legislative committee “rather than forwarding the request to the State Liquor Authority to change the bar closing times or to stop the item, moved an item on the county’s legislative agenda urging the state to allow for more local control of this issue. Rather than having this done on a countywide basis, basically change the state laws to allow the Liquor Authority to accept changes of bar closing times from any county, town, city or village that requests it.” 

Veitch likened it to the state’s recent cannabis legislation which allows individual municipalities to opt-in or out, and more akin to the Municipal Home Rule Law – which would allow local governments to set the parameters for their own respective municipalities. 

“Give localities the power to make their own decisions. This is how bar closing times were handled in the state until about the 1990s,” he said.  “I will admit it is a long-term process and one that probably is a longshot in succeeding, but it is one I know the county is willing and work to support the city on.” 

The majority of the state’s 62 counties have earlier than 4 a.m. closing times, “so, counties have acted,” Saratoga Springs Mayor Ron Kim said.

In late September 2013, bars in Warren County went to an earlier closing time, from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m., after state regulators unanimously approved a proposal submitted by Warren County’s board of supervisors. Then-Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond made the initial call for action after a series of violent, late-night incidents in the city’s South Street district, an area with a handful of bars and nightclubs, as reported by Lucas Willard of WAMC. Diamond had originally proposed a closing time of 2 a.m. to County government, but that proposal was met with opposition.

Among the state’s counties more highly populated that Saratoga, Monroe County - population 750,000, and Onondaga County - 470,000, both have 2 a.m. weekday closing times. Many other counties have set their respective earlier closing times at 1, or 2, or 3 a.m.        

“We are the largest city in this county, we pay a ton of taxes that support the county, and yet they’ve punted on this issue,” Mayor Kim said, expressing frustration that the county board’s lack of agreement to a countywide 2 a.m. closing would push the city down a more difficult path in pursuit of its goal. “Changing at the county level would be much easier than going to (the state) Albany and trying to change it, because then we have to deal with Manhattan, we have to deal with all sorts of larger cities. And that’s essentially what the county is saying: We’ll help you get down to Albany. Well, I know how to get to Albany. The problem is it’s very unlikely we’re going to get Albany to listen to us.”

Legislative bodies aside, the desire of an earlier closing also faces resistance from some downtown operators. Kelsey McPartland, owner of Lucy’s Bar on Caroline Street, said a closing modification that would require a “last call” at 2 a.m. would result in a net loss of $24,000, while a 1:15 last call requiring the premises be vacant by 2 a.m. would result in a loss of more than $40,000.    

Saratoga Springs City Police Chief Shane Crooks forwarded a letter to the council which explained his preference of an earlier closing time and reported on 2021 data collected by the police department that shows the necessary use of force - either in the making arrests or in separating of combatants – peak at the hour between 2 am and 3 am in Saratoga Springs. 

“Between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. is the peak for calls for service and use of force,” added city Public Safety Commissioner Jim Montagnino. “It’s been years, if not decades of inaction, and we’ve reached a point where we had a shoot-out on Broadway and we still have not taken any concrete step to try and change the situation.” 

Mayor Kim said while discussions were routinely held regarding downtown safety during his previous tenure as city Public Safety Commissioner from 2005-2009, he didn’t recall discussions that informed about people who were armed with guns. “So, something has changed fundamentally down there. If we take no action, we will be blamed for that failure,” Kim said. “We need to do something, and I believe that if the City Council doesn’t, we will be held responsible down the road.” 

Council members agreed they will continue to seek methods to alter the city’s 4 a.m. bar closing time to address late night/ early morning public safety concerns, particularly during weekends. City officials expressed the desire to approach the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors with their request. The county board holds its final meeting of the calendar year at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at the county complex in Ballston Spa. The last regularly scheduled City Council meeting of the year will be held at 7 later that same evening, at City Hall in Saratoga Springs. 


New York State Restaurants, Bars and Taverns

Alcohol may be sold for on-premises consumption up to (typically excludes Sundays and some holidays).

1 a.m.: Broome (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Chemung, Chenango (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Ontario (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Otsego (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Schuyler, Seneca (Fridays, Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Steuben, Tioga (Saturdays: 2 a.m.), Tompkins, Yates. 

2 a.m.:  Allegany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Clinton, Cortland, Genesee, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Madison, Monroe, Niagara (Fridays, Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Oneida, Onondaga, Orleans, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Wayne, Wyoming (Mondays: 1 a.m.) 

3 a.m.: Delaware, Essex, Franklin, Putnam, Warren.   

4 a.m.: Albany, Bronx, Columbia (Saturdays: 3 a.m.), Dutchess, Erie, Fulton, Greene, Kings (Brooklyn), Montgomery, Nassau, New York (Manhattan), Orange, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster, Washington, Westchester. 

(Source: most recent data available NYS Liquor Authority). 

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