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SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city this week discussed legislation signed March 31 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo legalizing adult-use cannabis.
The new law in New York legalizes use and possession of cannabis of up to three ounces for those over 21 and older.
”I realize our last City Council meeting was actually on 4/20, and if I had been more clever I would have discussed this then,” quipped city attorney Vince DeLeonardis, referencing the April 20 or 4/20 so-called national holiday for cannabis culture.
DeLeonardis told the council that multiple state agencies are being established to administer programs, issue licenses, and investigate and enforce infractions related to cannabis. The agencies include the NYS Cannabis Control Board and the Office of Cannabis Management.
“This is anticipated to be very similar as to how the state regulates alcohol through the State Liquor Authority,” DeLeonardis said.
Besides the newly legislated use and possession of cannabis in New York, the law allows for retail dispensaries and on-site consumption establishments, but those are not expected to take place until at least late 2022. Municipalities do have the ability to opt-out of allowing these, but to do so they must adopt a Local Law by Dec. 31, 2021, which will also be subject to a public referendum.
Revenue-wise, there will be a 4% tax imposed upon the cannabis, with 3% of that 4% coming to the city. In other words, if the city of Saratoga Springs does not opt-out it would receive 75% of the 4% tax, and Saratoga County would receive the other 25%.
That 4/20 designation, according to an article published by Time magazine in 2018, traces back to five students at a Marin County, California high school, who in the early 1970s would say “420” to each other as code for marijuana, in advance of their meeting at 4:20 p.m. by a campus statue “to partake.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — All five seats on the City Council, as well as both supervisor positions, will be up for vote in November. Of those five council positions, at least four will look different, effectively creating a major overhaul of governing powers in City Hall.
To date, 11 potential candidates have filed “designated petitions” to run for the five council seats. Six candidates have similarly filed regarding the city’s two supervisor positions up for election.
This week, Democrat Ron Kim announced his candidacy for city mayor.
“We have gone through difficult times. We’ve lost good friends. We have seen suffering. We have witnessed injustice. As a community we will only recover if we come together,” Kim said, during his announcement staged in front of Saratoga Springs’ 9/11 Memorial in High Rock Park. Former elected city Democrats Peter Martin and Tom McTygue were in attendance.
“I want to help this community come together. I will do it as your next mayor, as the People’s Mayor working for all of us,” Kim said. “In this new post-pandemic era, we need to have a kinder and more effective city government.”
Kim, a local lawyer who served as Saratoga Springs’ Commissioner of Public Safety from 2006 to 2010, said If elected mayor, his top priorities would include building a long-discussed eastside public safety station, assisting city businesses in reopening safely while also developing long-term strategies to protect their viability, “reimagining” the city police force so there is accountability and transparency, and working with federal and state funding to develop green policies that create a carbon neutral Saratoga Springs by 2030.
The position of city mayor is one of several seats on the city council that will be inhabited by new candidates. Eight-term Accounts Commissioner John Franck, five-term Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and two-term Mayor Meg Kelly have each announced they will not seek reelection. 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.
WHO IS RUNNING:
The 17 designated petitions filed by candidates are aligned with the four currently existing political parties. Recent changes in election law have altered the landscape regarding 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.
The deadline for candidates to file designated petitions was March 25. Independent petitions - that is, potential candidates interested in running for a city position under a newly created party – may still actively pursue their candidacy. In Saratoga Springs specifically, these independent candidates would need to secure 305 signatures. The timing-window to secure those signatures begins April 13, and they must be filed the week of May 18-25.
What this means is that in addition to the 17 candidates aligned with existing parties vying for seven city seats, additional candidates, independent of the four existing parties, are expected to soon come forward. Of the 17, only three currently hold office and are seeking re-election.
According to the Saratoga County Board of Elections, the 17 candidates who have filed designated petitions, their party affiliation, and the seat they seek is as follows:
Mayor: Ronald Kim (D), Heidi Owen (R, C).
Accounts: Dillon Moran (D), Samantha Guerra (R,C).
DPW: Domenique Yermolayev (D), Anthony “Skip” Scirocco INCUMBENT (R, C).
Finance: Minita Sanghvi (D), Joanne Kiernan (R,C), Sierra Hunt (WF).
Public Safety: James Montagnino (D), Tracey Labelle (R,C).
Supervisor (two seats): Tara Gaston INCUMBENT (D, WF), Shaun Wiggins (D), Matthew Veitch INCUMBENT (R,C), John Safford (R,C), Bruce Altimar (WF), Gabriel O’Brien (WF).
Supervisor seats will be up for vote in nearly all county municipalities in November, as well as an array of council and justice positions. County Sheriff and County Clerk will also be up for vote at Saratoga County.
In Saratoga Springs, among approximately 20,000 registered voters, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 2,000, according to the most recent (Feb. 21) party affiliation enrollment report from the New York State Board of Elections. That percent breakdown is roughly registered Democrats: 42%, registered Republicans: 32%, registered but unaffiliated with any party: 25%. City voters registered with the Conservative, and the Working Families parties account for the remaining less than 1%.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Railroad Run. Waterfront Park. Pitney Meadows Community Farm.
Last updated in 2002, the city is inviting community participation in a survey to help update its Open Space Plan. The survey deadline is April 16.
Originally developed in 1994 and updated in 2002, the Open Space Plan for the City of Saratoga Springs included a set of policy recommendations such as the preservation of wetlands, stream corridors and the development of trail systems aimed at furthering the communities’ vision of the “City in the County.”
Following recommendations from that update, an Open Space bond fund program was created to protect, preserve, enhance, and improve environmentally sensitive, recreational and scenic land.
By definition, Open Space is targeted as land which is not intensively developed for residential, commercial, industrial or institutional use, and may be publicly or privately owned. What land is defined as open space depends in part on its surroundings. A vacant lot or a small marsh can be open space in a big city. A narrow corridor or pathway for walking or bicycling is open space even though it is surrounded by developed areas.
Survey results will aid Saratoga Springs in updating the 2002 Open Space Plan and establish open space goals for the next five years. The update will inventory open spaces, identify special areas for protection, and establish priorities and potential funding to guide future acquisition and preservation.
The deadline to complete the survey is April 16, and it may be found on the project website at saratogaspringsopenspaces.com.
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 — 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.
County & City Police Reforms
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The city is targeting an April 1 deadline to comply with an Executive Order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo stating that municipalities across the state adopt local plans for police department reform. Two special meetings of the City Council – to take place March 23 and March 31 - have been scheduled to review and approve recommendations for Saratoga Springs police reform.
Last June, in the aftermath of the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota and subsequent protests across the nation demanding change and accountability among the law enforcement community, Cuomo directed a comprehensive review of existing police force deployments, strategies, policies, procedures, and practices be conducted, and plans for reform adopted by local municipalities by April 1, 2021 to be eligible for future state funding.
Last week, the results of a survey used by them to assist in finalizing their recommendations to the Saratoga Springs City Council was posted online. The 97-page report may be read at: saratoga-springs.org.
On March 5, the 13-member Saratoga Springs Police Task Force released its 108-page report: Reinvention Plan: Toward a Community Centered Justice Initiative.
“It contains more than 50 recommendations intended to improve the policies and practices of the Saratoga Springs police Department,” city attorney Vincent DeLeonardis explained to the council during its meeting on March 16. “It is now up to the Council to review and deliberate on the proposed recommendations and determine which of those recommendations will be implemented – and how.”
A draft of the report may be viewed on the city website at: saratoga-springs.org.
“This is a big first step that we’re taking here, but it has to go on. We can’t possibly reform everything in seven months,” city Mayor Meg Kelly said, regarding the amount of time which the Task Force was granted to conduct their review – in between the time of Gov. Cuomo’s order and the city’ s adoption deadline.
“We have to have a plan moving forward and I think that’s what we’re doing with this resolution. We’re going to continue working with the Commissioner of Public Safety (Robin Dalton) and working with the chiefs to continue on the reform,” she said. “We have to submit something April 1 and then we can continue to work through all these changes. Police reform has to continue after April 1, it doesn’t end.”
Two special meetings of the City Council were scheduled to specifically review the task force recommendations for police reform. Those meetings will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 23 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 31. The meetings will be live streamed via Zoom and on the city’s website, and public comment will be allowed at both meetings.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Public Safety Department is comprised of a full-time administrative office staff, a Police Department, Fire Department, Code Enforcement Division, Central Dispatch, Traffic Maintenance, Animal Control Officers and a Health Officer. There are approximately 161 full-time and 11 part-time employees. The part-time employees work as school crossing guards, vehicle traffic controllers, part time cleaners, part time clerk and summer laborers at the traffic garage.
• The Fire Department operates out of two fire stations and serves the City of Saratoga Springs, which encompasses 29.07 square miles of residential, commercial, and agricultural properties and parks.
• Fire Department 2020: The Saratoga Springs Fire Department responded to 4868 calls for service, which represents a 7.38% decrease overall from 2019. Specifically, there were 85 calls for service regarding fires – the highest number of fire responses since 2017.
• Ambulance 2020: 3,454 Emergency medical calls, a daily average of 9.46, and 2,269 transports.
• The Police department currently employs 72 sworn law enforcement officers. Over the past five years, averaged approximately 30,500 calls for service, 1,290 arrests, and 28.33 incidents involving uses of force per year.
• Police Department 2020: 30,880 calls for service. The Investigations Unit assisted in 39 missing person cases in 2020, and officers deployed Narcan on 16 separate calls for service.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — One year after battening down the hatches in response to the oncoming 2020 pandemic, area performance venues are starting to piece together their plans for reopening.
“The one-year anniversary of shuttering the venue, with no clear end in sight - but then came the sudden news that performing arts venues in New York State are allowed to re-open at 33% capacity on April 2,” said Caffè Lena Executive Director Sarah Craig, in a posting on the venue’s website. “It means we can stop treading water and we can start swimming toward a goal.”
The café plan is to reopen April 2 with safety protocols in place. While guidance would allow 35 people at the venue, the capacity will be limited to an audience of 24.
“We won’t serve food and drink yet. That means masks can (must) stay on from entry to exit,” Craig said. “We’re getting the air filter systems that we didn’t think we’d need ’til September. Even so, we’ll keep the windows open a little. Wear a sweater.”
Caffè Lena first opened in May 1960 as a small beatnik coffeehouse, Bob Dylan first visited the club in 1961 and played a full weekend of shows for which he was paid a total of $50. Appearances by Rosalie Sorrels brought admirers like Hunter S. Thompson and William Kennedy to the venue, and in the fall of 1965, Don McLean made his first of his many appearances at the café.
In the 12 months since everything shut down, the café counts 209 livestreams it had broadcast and $100,000 raised for musicians.
In the meantime, Lenas continues to broadcast a slew of productions via its online platforms. For more information, go to: caffelena.org.
“We’re at the beginning of the end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, during his March 9 presser. “The end is the vaccine. The vaccine is the weapon that wins the war. It’s going to still be an annoying few months, but we’re getting there.”
Plans are also underway at the 700-seat theater-in-the-round space at Universal Preservation Hall (UPH).
“We will open the hall in July for the School of the Performing Arts for Kids – a rock music camp for middle-schoolers, and our goal is to become an exhibit hall in the summer,” says Teddy Foster, campaign director at UPH.
“I don’t know what April will bring, so right now we are holding tight, but we will be doing another exhibit this summer – which was our plan all along, to become an exhibit hall in the summer and put on really cool, family-friendly exhibits which will also help draw people downtown.”
Last year’s interactive summerlong exhibition featured music-themed pinball machines and memorabilia from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that featured artifacts used by everyone from Dolly Parton to Alice Cooper.
“Even in the middle of the pandemic last summer our pinball exhibit brought in 2,000 people,” Foster says. In “normal” times, UPH anticipates it will serve an estimated 65,000 visitors per year, with a $3.5 million annual economic impact as a year-round venue space, according to a statement issued in 2018,
The building was erected in 1871 and served as a Methodist church for its first 100 years, as well as playing a role in the city’s civic life by providing a venue for visiting statesmen including Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan and Frederick Douglass. But by the 1960s, it had fallen on hard times. Local preservationists organized a nonprofit group and helped save the structure. More recently, Foster oversaw an operating alliance created with Proctors, and a $13.5 million renovation project that followed was celebrated with a fabulous opening night performance featuring Rosanne Cash last Feb. 29 to re-christen the grand hall.
This coming summer’s exhibition, which Foster didn’t identify by name, is currently being negotiated and anticipated to open in late July for a display that will be active for a number of months. When the venue does reopen to the public, everything will be staged in a safe manner, Foster says. “One of the things that makes UPH so safe to be in is we have an extremely high-tech HVAC system and we clean like maniacs, so people will be able to come into our building with confidence because it’s safe.”
For more information about UPH, go to universalpreservationhall.org.