Thursday, 20 January 2022 13:16

Saratoga’s Building Approval Process is Broken

By Carol Obloy | Letters to the Editor

The building approval process in Saratoga Springs is broken! The public is ignored, the Land Use Boards (Zoning Board, Planning Board, Design Review Commission) have lost sight of who they represent. The developers hold court with fancy photo-shopped presentations.

When 800 individuals sign a petition opposed to a project; when only one individual claims support for a project; when a respected community organization whose purpose it is to monitor development says the building “doesn’t fit in this context;” you sit up and take notice. You don’t ignore what is blatantly obvious. You assess the information presented by both the public and the applicant. You don’t dismiss the public’s information just because they are not professional engineers, architects or developers. Instead, cursory acknowledgement was given to the facts presented by the public regarding the proposed 269 Broadway project at the January 12 Design Review Commission (DRC) meeting.

I am under the impression that the function of the Land Use Boards is:

1. To gather information regarding applicant proposals from the applicant, from mandated Federal, State and Local requirements, caravans and the public comment.
2. To assess that information and form a recommendation regarding the feasibility of the applicant’s proposal as befits our community.
3. To seek a common ground to resolve issues in the best interest of the community they are appointed to represent.

Instead, at the January 12 DRC meeting regarding the proposed 269 Broadway project some members of the DRC had things to say such as,  “beautiful,” “I love this building,” “looks great,” “it’s funky.” REALLY!

Nowhere is it stated that personal opinion should factor into a final decision and yet time and time again members of the Land Use Boards make many decisions based on their personal likes or dislikes. Granted they are entitled to their personal opinions. However, personal opinion should not be wagging the tail of decisions. Yet meeting after meeting. I have heard members lay out their personal opinion as the reason for their support of a project.

 Seldom do you hear a member of a Land Use Board preface a decision by stating, my decision is based on an assessment of what I saw myself on the caravan, or the comments and research provided in the public comment or some legally required report.

Often what occurs, as was the case on January 12, a member of a Land Use Board makes a statement as an “expert witness” such as was this statement by one member of the DRC “I don’t object to the location. It is the urban core. The urban core doesn’t have to be between Spring Street and Lake Avenue…” I suggest that member of the DRC speak with City Historian, Mary Ann Fitzgerald regarding the urban core in Saratoga Springs.

I also suggest that more credence be given to information presented by the public. At the January 12 meeting the public presented information regarding the distances of existing buildings on Broadway both in the four- lane sector and the two - lane sector to demonstrate the tunnel effect factor. It was blatantly obvious that the members of the DRC did not assess this information. However, the photo-shopped pictures presented by the developer were readily used as was Google maps information retrieved by one DRC member. Again, I say, REALLY!

If the DRC members were doing their job thoroughly, they would have asked the public presenter where his information came from. They would have found out that the presenter went to the source, Broadway, with a 100’ measure. The facts given at a DRC meeting or any other meeting need to be checked and truthful.

My fellow citizens of Saratoga Springs we need to fix this broken system as soon as possible. The public is entitled to a voice and a presence at all public meetings. Your participation in public meetings is paramount if our city is to remain the jewel it is. 

In addition, public officials, the Mayor who appoints the members of the Land Use Boards, the City Commissioners called upon to provide information, the City employees who staff the Land Use Boards and members of the Land Use Boards who generously volunteer their time and expertise must give serious consideration to the public they represent. It is imperative if the process for development in our City is to be more than a perfunctory process that gives advantage to developers. 

The public may have only three minutes to be listened to but they have every right to be heard and respected. This is our City!

- Carol Obloy

Read 185 times