City Beat and Arts & Entertainment Editor
SARATOGA SPRINGS – An eight-week course of classes in mindfulness meditation and stress reduction will take place - in person - at Caffe Lena, starting April 10.
The Saturday Morning Sessions are held 8:30 to 10 a.m. and run April 10 through May 29 and provide instruction in formal mindfulness meditation methods including a body scan, gentle yoga, sitting meditation and walking meditation.
“We know from research that the eight weeks works well for major changes in people’s mental health and well-being. And we do know it creates lasting traits like tolerance, patience, loving kindness, compassion,” says Pierre Zimmerman, of One Roof holistic health center in Saratoga Springs.
The practices offer students a means of self-regulation and encourage the cultivation of greater awareness. Students learn to reduce their particular symptoms of psychological and somatic distress as well as to respond to challenges with less reactivity and greater clarity. The course also provides instruction in informal mindfulness meditation practices such as being in nature and eating with awareness.
Midway through the course, students learn about the physiology of stress and how it relates to their individual stress reactivity patterns. Using the latest scientific research, we explore how the act of mindful noticing activates innate internal resources that can change our perception of daily events, including stressful ones. This altered appraisal allows students to use a broader range of both internal and external responses so that they need not remain locked in stress patterns.
The Stress Relief & Management program takes place at Caffe Lena, 47 Phila St. Pre-registration is required. Masks must be worn at all times, and coronavirus safety measures, including distancing, will be practiced.
The complete schedule and fee information is available at: https://www.oneroofsaratoga.com/saratoga-stress-reduction/. To register or for more information, call 581-3180 and contact the administrative director at ext. 300 or Dr. Selma Nemer at ext. 307.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The work continues at the Oklahoma Training Track where an approximate-$1 million project is underway.
The New York Racing Association received approval from the New York State Franchise Oversight Board in January to proceed with improvements of the training track in advance of the anticipated 2021 racing season.
The upgrades will include a new base, improved drainage, a width expansion of the track where possible, and a plan for new safety railings – which specifically accounts for about $350,000 of that estimated $1 million cost.
Members of the Franchise Oversight Board said in January they were working with Saratoga preservationists related to the width expansion of the track, as the project will likely impact existing pine trees that were planted alongside the track in the mid-1980s. The training track has not had any significant renovation in 40 years.
The Oklahoma Training Track signals the start of “spring training,” in advance of the summer racing meet at the main track located across the street at Union Avenue. It typically opens in April, although in the pandemic-affected year of 2020, a delayed opening pushed the opening to the first week of June. Last year’s summer meet was held without fans in attendance.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — At the conclusion of his eight two-year term as City Accounts Commissioner, John Franck will not be seeking reelection, the longtime councilmember announced this week in a statement.
“It has been my honor to serve the city I love,” said Franck, citing an ongoing family medical concern as the reason.
All five seats on the City Council, as well as both supervisor positions, are up for vote in November. Franck is the third of five current council members who have announced they will not be running in the fall. City Mayor Meg Kelly – who has served two, two-year terms, and Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan – who has served five terms - each said they will not seek re-election.
Additionally, current Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton recently announced she will seek re-election, but that she will do so as a “no party” member, after changing her party registration to no longer being an active member of the GOP.
Recent changes in election law have altered the landscape regarding the involvement of the number of political parties. Voters previously registered with the Green, Libertarian, Independence, or SAM party, are now considered No Party (NOP).
The four political parties that now remain in New York State are Democratic, Republican, Conservative, and Working Families.
While all registered voters are eligible to vote in the November General Election, No Party voters are not eligible to vote in any Primary Elections, which takes place June 22.
Prior to the February 14 deadline that allowed registered voters to change their party affiliation - and therefore be eligible to vote in primaries of that new party they joined - 71 Saratoga Springs residents previously registered with other parties or unaffiliated with any party, switched their affiliation to the Working Families Party, according to voter enrollment documents secured from the Saratoga County Board of Elections.
The Working Families party line in Saratoga Springs now counts 107 voters. Those 71 new members of the Working Families Party line came from various previous affiliations: 30 were previously registered Republicans, 17 Democrats, 7 Independence Party members, and a combined 5 members previously enrolled with the Conservative, Libertarian and Green party lines. Twelve had no previous party affiliation. The shift in enrollments may have ramifications leading up to the election season.
Potential candidate interested in running for a city position who does not have the endorsement of any of the four existing parties may do so independently, via independent nominating petitions. The number of petition signatures required varies according to municipality.
In Saratoga Springs specifically, potential candidates interested in running for the City Council would need 305 signatures. The timing-window to secure those signatures begins April 13, and they must be filed the week of May 18-25.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — WellNow Urgent Care, which opened an office on South Broadway in January, announced it will begin distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to eligible patients at its Clifton Park, Latham and Saratoga Springs centers, effective immediately.
Appointments are required to receive the vaccine and can be booked online at Clifton Park, Latham and Saratoga Springs. Appointment times will be released as more vaccines become available. For an updated list of vaccine appointments available, go to: www.clockwisemd.com/hospitals/6471/appointments/schedule_visit.
Once an appointment is booked, patients will receive a text confirmation and will be asked to complete e-registration prior to their visit. Vaccines are 100% covered by insurance for those with insurance, and of no cost to those without insurance. Some COVID-19 vaccines require two doses for effectiveness; appointments for the second dose will be made at the time patients receive their first dose. All WellNow centers are staffed by a Provider who can administer care in the unlikely event of a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine.
More than 13,000 Saratoga County residents – approximately 5.8% of the county population - have tested positive overall with COVID-19, approximately 1,650 of those confirmed cases in Saratoga Springs.
As of this week, more than 80,000 Saratoga County residents – 35.5% of all county residents – have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The FDA has issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the use of the Pfizer BioNTech, Moderna and Janssen vaccines, although manufacturer brand may vary by location. Patients must meet New York State eligibility requirements to receive the vaccine and may be asked to present proof of eligibility at the time of their visit. For an updated list of priority groups eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, visit covid19vaccine.health.ny.gov.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs City Council Wednesday night voted to accept the Police Reform and Reinvention plan, in advance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s April 1 deadline.
Last year, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Gov. Cuomo signed an executive order requiring each local government in the state adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021, with municipalities not certifying adoption of a plan prior to the deadline subject to having their state aid jeopardized.
Wednesday night, during the 60-minute public comment period, one speaker after another, with few exceptions, raised questions regarding the council’s lack of willingness to fully accept the 50-point plan, as submitted by the ad hoc Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force, in its entirety. The topic of implementing a Civilian Review Board was a major theme.
The city council draft of the plan specifies that the council agrees with the task force recommendation of a Civilian Review Board “in principle,” but stipulates an evaluation process is necessary to determine potential legal, union, Charter and community elements that may impact the ability of its development.
“The Council is not under any type of directive or mandate to accept every single recommendation provided by the (city) task force,” said city attorney Vince DeLeonardis, adding that he had confirmed this directly with the deputy secretary of public safety under Governor Como’s administration.
Of the 50 recommendations, there are two items the city does not have the authority to implement, he said. Those are to divert seized assets, and to ban county, state and federal law enforcement from entering the city if they participate in a DOD program.
Two other recommendations the council identified as requiring further review: the ban of no-knock warrants, and to implement a Civilian Review Board.
“These recommendations have not been rejected, but instead called out for further evaluation...the components of a Civilian Review Board will need to be determined by the City Council, including the purpose, scope and function...further evaluation is required,” DeLeonardis said.
As a next step, the council agreed that an independent advisory committee be created to ensure plan implementation, and that such a committee be established by the mayor by June 1. That advisory committee may further review the issues of no-knock warrants and the development of a Civilian Review Board.
“One of the first priorities of the independent advisory committee will be to review the recommendation for a Civilian Review Board. The scope of authority and responsibilities of such a board must be defined and then considered within the provisions of the City’s Charter before it can be established,” city Mayor Kelly said, in a prepared statement, released just after the conclusion of Wednesday night’s meeting. “As with other boards commissioned by the City, a Civilian Review Board would also be subject to applicable laws, rules, regulations, budget appropriations, collective bargaining and contractual obligations.”
The council approved its updated draft plan 4-1, with Commissioner John Franck casting the lone vote against.
The Downtowner Hotel
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Downtowner Hotel is seeking modifications to an approval from the city Design Review Commission for exterior changes to the existing structure at 413 Broadway. It is anticipated the DRC will review the application at its next meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7.
Additional applications under consideration for the meeting include: an Architectural Review of 18 townhomes – exterior; an Advisory Opinion to City Council regarding the proposed installation of missing link sidewalks located in the right-of-way within the city’s Historic District (project title: Saratoga Springs Missing Sidewalk Links Project), and modifications to an approval for exterior modifications – specifically a south façade porch extension, new east façade porch – at Mouzon House.
• A sketch plan conducted by the LA Group regarding a subdivision at 110-114 Nelson Ave. was submitted to the city Planning Board on behalf of applicant JW Hemmingway LLC, and property owner CRND Properties, of Watervliet.
The sketch plan calls for 2.16 acres to be subdivided into 12 lots. The land, which is currently vacant, sits opposite the Saratoga Race Course on the Nelson Avenue side, and across from Frank Sullivan Place. In addition to the independent lots, the property is also proposed to site a “neighborhood rooming house,” according to plans, that will house three guest suites.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — A proposed 21st century development may return the corner where Broadway meets Washington Street to the visual splendor it enjoyed in the 19th century.
A newly proposed application under review by the city’s Land Use Boards calls for the construction of a five-story apartment and hotel structure on Washington Street that would tie in with the neighboring former Rip Van Dam Hotel, and the property of the Adelphi Hotel.
The application, filed by 353 Broadway Acquisitions, calls for the construction of approximately 86 new apartment units – 30 two-bedroom units and 56 one-bedroom units (for a total 116 bedrooms) - as well as 31 one-bedroom hotel rooms. The hotel office will be set in the existing stone house at 23 Washington St.
The corner building which houses a Starbucks Coffee Company store will remain. The existing building adjacent to it at 5 Washington St. will be demolished.
The dimensions of the proposed five-story structure on Washington Street would stand 70 feet in height, 118 feet in width, stretch 273 feet long, and would require a dredged/ excavated area of just over a half-acre.
Plans also call for new street frontage walkways on both Broadway and Washington Street to overall improve the streetscape. Vehicle access will be on Washington Street and a split-level parking layout, on the lower level and ground floor, will include spots for about 100 vehicles.
Earlier proposals approved for a portion of the site but never materially developed in the past have included the construction of a 176-room hotel with a 200-seat banquet hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The City Council will host the second of two special meetings regarding proposed police department reforms on Wednesday.
The meeting will be held via zoom at 7 p.m. on March 31 and will include public comment, after which the council is anticipated to vote on the matter, in advance of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s April 1 deadline.
Last year, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Gov. Cuomo signed an Executive Order requiring each local government in the state to adopt a policing reform plan by April 1, 2021. Municipalities not certifying adoption of a plan prior to the deadline are subject to having their state aid jeopardized.
The first of two special City Council meetings to address police reform was held via zoom on March 23. The near-two-hour meeting, which grew testy at times among some council members, included approximately 40 public speakers, the overwhelming majority of whom urged the council to “adopt and ratify” a 50-point plan submitted to the council by the ad hoc Saratoga Springs Police Reform Task Force. Among the 50 points are Task Force recommendations that the police department be precluded from initiating no-knock warrants under any circumstance, and that a Civilian Review Board, or CRB, be implemented.
A group of residents gathered on the steps of City Hall earlier this week to call on the council to adopt and ratify the plan and to express that the council be clear in its language by stating specific steps should be outlined for a CRB to be implemented, and not merely as being potentially considered. It was an expression similarly echoed by a great majority of comments made by public commentators during the council meeting that followed: specifically, from “accepts for consideration recommendation,” to “adopts for implementation.”
The city’s most recently updated resolution draft may be viewed on the city’s web site, at: saratoga-springs.org. The March 31 meeting will be broadcast live on the city’s web site. Those interested in making public comments to the council during the meeting must do so via Zoom, and a Zoom registration link is also available on the city web site.
WILTON — Mt. McGregor and Grant Cottage Historic Site are preparing to launch a new vision for the future of the historic site, which would include a series of improvements and some new development.
Potential plans include improved parking access, the expansion of trails, the development of a rustic gazebo and replica train station that once stood at the site, a pavilion that could host more than 100 people, and using a five-acre parcel that was once part of the former Mount McGregor Correctional Facility recreation yard for signature events.
Former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant spent six weeks at the cottage in 1885, completing his final memoirs prior to his death.
“Grant Cottage really started out as a little place in northern Saratoga County where Ulysses S. Grant was invited up to because he had terminal throat cancer,” Grant Cottage President Tim Welch explained, during a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors last week.
“He was invited up because the temperature was so hot in New York City in 1885, his doctors didn’t think he would survive to complete his memoirs. He spent only six weeks in Saratoga County, but he completed his memoirs and Mark Twain published them. He wrote his memoirs because he was dead broke. His son got him into a Ponzi scheme and he lost $200,000 – everything he had – and he had like 89 bucks in his checking account. So, that’s why he wrote his memoirs. Within a year after his death, his wife got a check for $450,000 in royalties from Mark Twain, which today is worth $11 million,” Welch said. “This is part of the story we have to tell as we attempt to expand the footprint of Grant Cottage with the Master Plan the LA Group is helping us put together.”
The expansion would help the site meet a growing interest and entice more visitors to the cottage specifically and the area in general, officials said. Attendance restrictions brought on by the pandemic aside, there have been positive signs of late regarding the site. Last year, the History Channel announced its presentation of a three-part mini-series on U.S. Grant, with the Grant Cottage featured in the docudrama. Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, which filmed at the cottage in October 2019, Grant Cottage also was the recipient of a $10,000 donation from DiCaprio. This past January, Grant Cottage was approved as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.
Grant Cottage was headed to closure on the 100th anniversary of Grant’s death in 1985 until a group of concerned citizens got together to save it by having a volunteer staff and keeping it open to the public for five months of the year.
The cottage is looking to reopen for the season “in the next several weeks,” Welch said.
MALTA — The Luther Forest Technology Campus may soon be adding to its list of residents.
The campus, which sits in the towns of Malta and Stillwater, has long been home to GlobalFoundries as its sole tenant. Scannell Properties, a privately owned real estate development and investment company, is looking to develop up to five large warehouses consisting of millions of square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space at LFTC, bringing about 2,500 new jobs to the county along with it.
“It would be significant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is the sheer number of jobs involved. They’re talking about 2,500 jobs, which would absolutely be a game-changer, a generational change in terms of economic activity,“ said Timothy Dunn, councilperson on the Malta Town Board.
GlobalFoundries employs about 3,000 people, but many are of a specialized high-tech variety. Dunn explained that the Scannell project would appear to seek the employ of a more varied skill set and offering jobs that run the gamut from tech and tech-related jobs to light manufacturing and distribution. “I think it would be a huge opportunity for the local work force. The ability to get those jobs to local people is really high I think, and would be a big benefit,” Dunn said.
Before the project can proceed, the towns of Malta and Stillwater would need to allow a mix of uses on the land that Scannell would employ.
The company is based in Indiana and was founded in 1990. Its focus is on build-to-suit and speculative development projects, and cites more than 350 completed development projects with a geographic reach across 44 U.S. states, as well as in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK.
“A company like Scannell that’s looking to make a strategic investment based on market demand is exciting. They develop property and work with companies that would have the highest propensity to want to do business in our area based on the marketplace and all of the strategic assets that we have in our region,” said Shelby Schneider, President and CEO of Saratoga County Prosperity Partnership. “It’s exciting to see. They develop property for Fortune 100 companies around the country. If they have confidence in the marketplace, they relay that confidence on to Fortune 100 companies.”
Scannell has an option to buy more than 200 acres of land south of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant, and is in communication with local municipalities regarding the land use changes to the planned development district necessary for the development of the potential project.
A discussion was held among members of the Malta Town Board during its workshop earlier this month and it is anticipated discussions will continue during a full town board meeting on March 29. A town board Action Meeting takes place April 5. It is believed a similar process will be undertaken in Stillwater.
The project has also been forwarded to the Malta Town Planning Board as well as the Saratoga County Planning Board for review. “So, we’ll be anticipating input from both of those entities,” Dunn said. “Once we’ve gone through all these steps it will be up to the town board to make a decision whether to approve or not approve the amendment of the Planned Development District – which is ultimately what precipitated this whole discussion.”
BALLSTON SPA — At its monthly meeting, held March 16, the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of a police reform report presented by its appointed seven-member “Executive Order 203 Compliance Group.”
The group was charged with conducting a comprehensive review of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office - including strategies, deployment practices, and policies - and submitting a report of potential recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, as per Gov. Cuomo’s Executive Order in 2020.
The group stated the following recommendations:
1. Facilitate and establish an advisory committee to continue to seek public input and community involvement in reviewing policies and procedures utilized by the Sheriff’s Office beyond April 1, 2021.
2. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to take steps necessary to maintain compliance with the New York State Law Enforcement Accreditation Program.
3. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to maintain policies consistent with the model policies as provided by the New York State Municipal Police Training Council.
4. Encourage the Saratoga County Sheriff to study and implement training and programs related to topics such as: diversity and cultural education, and elimination of bias.
5. Recommend that the Saratoga County Sheriff explore the development of a body camera and in-car video program for agency. A draft policy should be submitted to the Public Safety Committee for review and recommendations. Recommend that the Board of Supervisors consider funding the establishment of the Sheriff’s body camera and in-car video program to include equipment, storage, and requisite staff for the review and management of video records.
6. Encourage the Sheriff to consult with the Board of Supervisors and its Public Safety Committee in exploring the feasibility of creation of a Professional Standards position or group within the Sheriff’s Office in lieu of the current ad-hoc method of collecting and investigating complaints, reviewing and updating policy and auditing agency performance.
7. Encourage the Sheriff to amend policies and procedures as needed to facilitate collection of additional demographic data on law enforcement contacts to include data related to race and ethnicity.
8. Facilitate the establishment of a County created and maintained list of resources for the public and county employees to reference in lieu of contacting or deploying law enforcement personnel for certain non-law enforcement incidents.
9. Encourage and Recommend the Sheriff continue to engage and support the inclusion of mental health resources in the daily functions of the Sheriff’s Office to the benefit of both the community and members of law enforcement.
10. Recommend to the Sheriff to examine whether methods exist to use equipment with military appearances where necessary to control public disruption and protect lives, but in a manner that reduces the possibility of instilling fear or apprehension on the part of citizens engaging in legitimate public assembly and speech.
“This is an important step forward for our Sheriff’s Office and our County,” said Theodore Kusnierz, Chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. “We wanted to find updated approaches to policing in Saratoga County to ensure that our officers could do their jobs as effectively as possible while also making sure that our entire community feels safe and protected, and I believe this report and its recommendations will help us do that.”
Saratoga Springs City Supervisor Tara Gaston cast the lone vote against. While she said she favored the recommendations, Supervisor Gaston expressed concern that some of the recommendations – those instituting the use of body cameras and in-car videos, among them – lacked more urgent language that would see those recommendations implemented. “I’d like to see this not as a possibility to explore, but as a plan to be developed,” Gaston said.
The county Compliance Group reported that from 2016 through 2019, there were between 11 and 22 use of force reports per year. None involved the discharge of a firearm. Over that four-year period, 25 civilian complaints were received, 11 of them sustained. One complaint alleged excessive force, and one complaint alleged bias. Neither allegation was sustained.
Regarding last summer’s event in Saratoga Springs that involved a planned “Back the Blue” rally and a counter-protest by the groups “BLM” and “All of Us,” the Compliance Group said that while it had conducted no structured fact-finding hearing regarding the July 30 event, it did not identify any specific instance of misconduct on the part of any Sheriff’s Department employee.
“Nevertheless, many comments were made concerning the use of the MRAP and the “militarization” of police departments in general,” reads the group’s report. “Accordingly, the Compliance Group believes that the Sheriff should examine whether methods exist to use equipment with military appearances where necessary to control public disruption and protect lives, but in a manner that reduces the possibility of instilling fear or apprehension on the part of citizens engaging in legitimate public assembly and speech.”
Members of the Saratoga County Executive Order 203 Compliance Group are: Dr. Michael Prezioso, Director of the Saratoga County Mental Health Clinic, Chairman Undersheriff Richard Castle, Vice Chairman Darren O’Connor – Supervisor – Town of Malta Thomas Richardson – Supervisor – City of Mechanicville Opal Hinds – Community Member Karen Heggen – Saratoga County District Attorney Andrew Blumenberg - Saratoga County Public Defender.
The 30-page report may be found at: www.saratogacountyny.