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SARATOGA SPRINGS — Wednesday’s “Special” City Council meeting lived up to its noteworthy title: so special it was that it never took place.
The meeting was called to discuss funding for the May 30 special election when voters will be asked to decide whether to maintain the status quo of the city’s century-old commission form of governing, or change to a council-manager form.
Following eight months of committee meetings, community surveys and interviews conducted with city employees, the Charter Review Commission - a 15-member group independent of the council - recommended a special election be held on May 30. The group estimates total budget expenses to be about $46,000, in addition to approximately $37,000 in costs associated with a special election. There has been growing disagreement among council members debating the timing and costs of holding a special vote in May, versus placing the issue on an extension of the standard November ballot, which is when all five council seats will also be up for vote. Those in favor of the May date say adding a Charter vote to an already busy city election season would muddle matters. City Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner Chris Mathiesen were the two lone members attending Wednesday’s meeting, leaving the board one member short of a quorum, and forcing the 17 people and two council members in attendance to leave City Hall without discussing the matter.
Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco issued a statement following the cancellation of the meeting to say after “it had been indicated that both Commissioner Madigan and Commissioner Franck would not be in attendance,” he also would not be attending. “I feel it only fair that when voting on an important issue that impacts all city residents, and our future as a city, that all members of the council are in attendance.”
Commissioner Michele Madigan said in a statement, that after learning Commissioner John Franck “would not be attending the meeting for professional reasons,” she contacted the mayor’s office to ask the meeting be cancelled because she wanted all five members of the City Council to be present to discuss and vote on the budget amendments from the Charter Review Commission. Some in attendance remarked after the cancelled meeting that council members opposed to a change in the form of governing were using delay tactics.
The City Council has until February 20 to approve the request to fund the Commission’s expenses as well as the special election; if it fails to do so, it is believed the mayor has the ability to approve the amount of funding sought to defray expenses for the Commission’s budget and for the special election.
Under the council-manager form of government, the city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and long-term considerations such as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council would be charged with hiring a highly trained non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery. Managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council. Among the Commission’s other recommendations are: increasing the number of council members from five to seven and terms of service from two years to four years putting a system in place to ensure members come from all corners of the city, and giving council members confirmation power over all mayoral appointments to city boards and judicial appointments. The next regularly scheduled meeting of the City Council is Feb. 7.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Ten new buildings, a five-story hotel, more than 400 residential units and nearly 30,000 square feet of retail space may soon rise from the rustic landscape of the city’s west side.
The city’s Land Use boards are evaluating two projects that seek to develop a stretch of vacant land from the south end of the Saratoga Springs train station to Washington Street/ Route 29, and just west of West Avenue.
“You are looking at significant development,” said Bradley Birge, administrator of planning and economic development for Saratoga Springs.
The Station Park project, which would be built out over five phases, calls for two buildings to be dedicated as a mixed-use space with each building housing 36 residential units, and a total of 22,000 square feet of retail space. The 72 residential units would be for-sale condominiums, said Lou Giardino, chief development officer of the project for Top Capital of New York. The Rochester-based firm has secured a purchasing option on the 17 acres of the land where it would develop the $80 million project, if the city grants its approval.
Additional development would include two buildings - each providing 57 units for senior housing and 33 units for senior assisted care, a 110-to-120 unit five-story hotel and spa, a pool and fitness center, and a free-standing building with an additional 6,200 square feet of retail space. Nearly 600 parking spaces would span across the location to cater to residents, retail workers and shoppers.
The second proposal, submitted by the Missouri-based Vecino Group seeks to develop one three-story building and three four-story buildings to stand just east of the Station Park proposal and near the Washington Street post office. The 160 apartment units contained within seem to fall in the “workforce,” or “affordable” housing categories, although detailed information has yet to be released and phone calls made to the Vecino Group and their local partners at the LA Group that sought comment about the project proposal were not returned.
“They’re two separate and very independent projects coming forward at the same time,” said Birge. “They don’t come as a partnership, but we’ve tried very hard to encourage them to collaborate and at least share their plans (with each other) so that we can approach them in a comprehensive manner.”
“We’ve met with the Vecino Group and support their project,” Giardino said.
According to city officials, two additional firms are also currently readying proposals for further development in the immediate vicinity of the Station Park project, although the size and scope of those two potential projects are not currently known as those plans have yet to be submitted to the city.
The west side build-up is intentional and by design, said city Mayor Joanne Yepsen.
“When we updated our Comprehensive Plan – the first new one in the city in 14 years – we identified West Ave as a growth area, along with Weibel Avenue and South Broadway,” the mayor said. “We’ve also been proactive in looking for a partner who would be involved in affordable housing.” The Vecino Group project would seem to answer some of the city’s affordable housing needs.
The West Avenue corridor has witnessed an increase in development over the past dozen years. In 2004, a $6 million renovation project was conducted at the Saratoga Springs Train Station. Three years later, The YMCA of Saratoga opened its $10 million, 75,000-square-foot community and fitness center 1/4 mile south of the Saratoga Springs Junior-Senior High School. And in 2009, Empire State College completed its Center for Distance Learning facility at its West Avenue property, located a few yards from the college’s graduate studies and international programs building, which was built in 2004. s
Uber in Saratoga Springs Future?
A proposed resolution of the City Council in support of legislation to permit ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft to operate locally has been tabled, after it became evident the resolution would not, at this time, have unanimous council support. Commissioners Chris Mathiesen and Michele Madigan expressed concerns about the quality of service that would be provided, and what the long-term effects might be for cab companies currently operating in the city. “I’ve heard a lot of rah-rah stuff about how this will be great for upstate, but I haven’t heard any specifics,” Mathiesen said. Regardless of whether the City Council eventually adopts a resolution, the ultimate decision about whether rideshare companies would be allowed to operate upstate will be made by the state legislature.
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land
The City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved authorizing the mayor to take steps in executing a property acquisition for the Geyser Road bicyclepedestrian trail. Up to $80,000 has been appropriated for the purposes of the city to acquire a portion of a handful of different parcels through the power of eminent domain. The two-mile trail runs from the town of Milton/ Saratoga Springs city line, to Route 50. An initial feasibility study regarding the trail was conducted in 2009, and the first public meeting in 2013. Construction is slated to begin this spring, and conclude by the end of the calendar year. One area resident and an attorney representing the Saratoga Spring Water company – both of whom would be affected by the acquisition – respectively raised questions with the council about maintenance and upkeep of the trail, and potential safety issues regarding the development of the trail and delivery truck traffic. By law, the city is required to provide just compensation to the owner(s) of the private property to be taken. Written statements from the public regarding the acquisition will be accepted by Jan. 31, by emailing: Bradley Birge, city administrator of planning & economic development at: bbirge@saratoga-springs-org. Documentation will be returned to the City Council within 90 days for a final decision.
Appointment to Board
Mayor Yepsen appointed Amy Smith, owner of the Saratoga Arms hotel, to the Downtown Special Assessment District Board. Smith’s appointment is through July 2018 and will complete the term of Colleen Holmes, who resigned due to family health reasons. Board members typically serve four-year terms. Additional members of the Downtown Special Assessment District Board include: chairman Harvey Fox, Mariann Barker, Mike Ingersoll, Dean Kolligian, Toby Milde, Ray Morris, Tom Roohan and Rod Sutton.
A new date and time has been set for the mayor’s State of the City Address. The event will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 30 at the Saratoga Springs City Center. The Zoning Board of Appeals will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 at City Hall. The Charter Review Commission will host meetings at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 24 and Thursday, Jan. 26 at City Hall. The Planning Board will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — If all goes according to plan, city residents will vote in a special election on May 30 that may alter the way Saratoga Springs has been governed since its incorporation as a city in 1915.
Plans call for a ballot providing voters with two options: keep the current City Charter and the commission form of governing as is, or revise the charter with a new form of governing. That proposed new form - the council-manager form of government, was approved by a 14-0 vote by the Commission late Thursday.
The Commission has staged meetings and conducted interviews and surveys during the past seven months. Among its recommendations are increasing the number of council members from five to seven, their terms from two years to four years, and putting a system in place to ensure members come from all corners of the city.
“There’s no magic number, but we felt seven was the right number and it’s also the average number of members in councils across the country,” Charter Review Commission chairman Bob Turner told the City Council on Tuesday. Additionally, the proposed four-year terms – similar to approximately 70 percent of city governments in America - would reduce the frequency of fundraising and campaigning, Turner said.
The commission’s lengthiest discussion concerned the merits of neighborhood districts versus at-large elections. Under the current system, commissioners are elected in city-wide elections. Under a neighborhood district system, council members are elected from a neighborhood or smaller geographic area. Candidates would have to live in the district they represent. Neighborhood districts would make a positive contribution to the electoral and governance process of the city, according to the commission. Neighborhood districts would also make it easier for new candidates to run for office since they would only have to reach out to approximately 4,500 voters instead of 18,000. Commission studies indicate that the vast majority of City Council candidates during the past 15 years have come from a small cluster on the central east side of the city, and argue that neighborhood districts would ensure more geographic representation in City Council affairs.
The Commission also supported giving the City Council confirmation power over all mayoral appointments to city boards and judicial appointments pending state law.
The May 30 date is the last Tuesday that a special election can be held while also allowing new candidates to choose to run for the City Council in 2017, based on whether the charter referendum succeeds or fails.
“A special election in May also gives any candidates for public office the full picture of what the voters want for their form of government, one way or the other,” said commission member Gordon Boyd, in a statement.
What is the Council-Manager Form of Government?
Under the council-manager form of government, the city council approves the budget, determines the tax rate and focuses on the community’s goals, major projects, and such long-term considerations as community growth, land use development, capital improvement plans, capital financing, and strategic planning. The council hires a highly trained non-partisan, professional city manager to carry out these policies with an emphasis on effective, efficient, and equitable service delivery. Managers serve at the pleasure of the governing body and can be fired by a majority of the council.
The council-manager form is the most popular structure of local government in the United States. Among cities with a 25,000-49,999 population, 63 percent of cities have a council manager structure, 31 percent have mayor council, and 1% has the commission form of government. Currently, Saratoga Springs and Mechanicville are the only cities in New York that have the commission form of government, according to the Commission.
Pat Kane, vice-chairman of the 15-member citizen board, said he anticipates total costs to be about $46,000 - $20,000 for legal drafting costs, $20,000 for community information outreach, and about $6,000 in clerical support expense. Additionally, a special election would cost $37,000. There has been push-back among some current council members regarding the timing and the expense of a special election. Specifically, Commissioner John Franck contends that residents will be less likely to make the effort to vote in a special election than they would be in a more traditionally timed vote in November. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen countered that in November all five current council seats will be up for re-election and that adding a charter review vote would only serve to complicate matters and not allow the issue the appropriate focus it deserves.
The council has until late February to approve the request to fund the Commission’s expenses as well as the special election; if it fails to do so, it is believed the mayor has the ability to approve the amount of funding sought. Representatives of the Charter Commission met with members of the city finance department Wednesday, and it is anticipated the council will discuss the funding requests in the near future. The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Feb. 7, although a “special” council meeting to specifically discuss the matter may be called for prior to that date.
SARATOGA — A letter from the NYS Police Pistol Permit Bureau mailed to gun owners and reminding them of requirements to recertify their licenses every five years has triggered a defiant response from Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo, who said he will not have his deputies enforce the SAFE Act provision by “harassing already law-abiding citizens.”
The Pistol Permit Bureau’s letter informs gun owners that if a permit was issued prior to Jan. 15, 2013, the deadline to submit recertification is Jan. 31, 2018. “I will not commit resources by taking deputies off the street to enforce this SAFE Act provision when our deputies have important work to do keeping our communities a safe place to live, work and raise families,” Zurlo said, in a statement. “The purpose of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office is to serve and protect the residents of this county, not to harass already law-abiding citizens with the SAFE Act’s Pistol Permit recertification provisions.”
A similar sentiment was echoed by fellow Republican County Clerk Hayner. “Recertification is creating another undue burden to law-abiding pistol permit holders who have invested time and resources obtaining their pistol permit license here in Saratoga County,” Hayner said.
“I’m really surprised (Zurlo) would say something like that, because his job is to enforce the law, said Patricia Tuz, Capital Region Coordinator for New Yorkers’ Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit organization with a mission to reduce gun violence through legislative advocacy and education. “But, he is an elected official and sometimes elected officials say things they believe their constituents want to hear, and then later they reconsider,” Tuz said. “So, I hope he reconsiders.”
The NY SAFE Act, signed into law by Gov. Cuomo in January 2013 in the weeks following the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, amended state law to include an expanded ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as requirements for background checks. Safeguards included requiring those with existing pistol permits to renew or recertify permits every five years. One year later, the Saratoga County Sheriff and County Clerk worked with the county Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution prohibiting New York State from using the Saratoga County Seal for SAFE Act purposes.
A series of statewide polls conducted by Siena College over a two-year period indicates an average of about 60 percent of respondents support the Safe Act, approximately 33 percent are opposed, and the balance have no opinion on the matter. Regionally, the measure garners more support in the New York City area, than in upstate. “Views on the SAFE Act have remained largely unchanged over time. It has the support of more than three quarters of Democrats and New York City voters and a strong majority of independents and downstate suburbanites. Upstaters are closely divided, with a bare majority opposed and Republicans are strongly opposed,” Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg said in 2015.
Gun owners may recertify pistol permits and check their recertification status on the State Police website at: https://firearms.troopers.ny.gov/pprecert/welcome.faces.
The state police have made it very easy to re-certify with an online form,” Tuz said. “It’s like having a driver’s license, where you have to renew it every few years. It’s a privilege to own a gun, just like it’s a privilege to drive a car.”
A spokesman for the State Police said no comment would be made in response to Zurlo’s statement.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The 18-year-old was between classes and walking through the halls of her high school last week when the actions of a fellow student jarred her into consciousness. “A kid from one of my classes, who I don’t even really know did the Nazi salute. I stopped and looked at him and didn’t even know what to say,” said senior class student Channah Goldman.
She continued walking, to the school library, where she sat at a desk, took out her books and looked down at the series of symbols carved into the desk top. “There were swastikas all over the desk,” said the student, who has visited concentration camps overseas and has seen the fingernail scratches on the chamber walls of victims who were killed. “I felt physically ill and moved to another desk. And there was another one.”
Goldman said a librarian was apologetic and immediately set to the task of cleaning the desks. The student’s captured images show carvings embedded so deeply the desks required a sanding-over and new artwork drawn atop them to obfuscate the hate symbols. Both the incidents were brought to the attention of the school, and it appears they are being resolved internally, according to Goldman, but when her 14-year-old brother, who is also a student in the school district, noticed an Instagram account which appears to represent “Saratoga High School Fourth Reich,” and referenced neo-Nazis, the police got involved.
“My brother came across it and showed it to me,” Goldman said. “He showed it to my family and everyone was really concerned. The school started looking into it and taking it seriously.”
“When we first learned of the Instagram Account, we were involved from the get-go,” said city Police Lt. Robert Jillson. “At this point, we haven’t deciphered the creator of the account, but we did go in and interview in excess of 30 students who followed the account.” The city police department has a school resource officer, or SRO, who works at the school full-time. Investigators determined that students who had opted to follow the account did so based on the name recognition of their high school, but had not delved deeper into the account to learn of its neo-Nazi references. “The intention of the people who created the account, that could be concerning, and we’d like to know and the school would like to know the intention behind it,” Lt. Jillson said.
Swastika graffiti has recently been discovered in at least two locations in the city – near the Caroline Street elementary school and on the Spring Run Trail, as well as other places in the region. The anti-Semitic acts are not new, internationally, or regionally. One hundred and forty years ago, Joseph Seligman, an American banker and financial advisor to the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, was famously said to have been barred from staying at the fabled Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs because the hotel’s owner, Judge Henry Hilton, insisted that Jews be excluded from the hotel. According to historian Lee Livney, the “Hilton-Seligman Affair” was featured and editorialized in newspapers coast-to-coast at the time, and has come to be known as a focal point of the origins of American anti-Semitism.
A letter penned by Michael Piccirillo, Superintendent of Saratoga Springs Schools, on Wednesday informed members of the school community about the Instagram account.
“I wish to make clear that the views expressed on this site (SHS4R) are not representative of the school district’s beliefs nor are they authorized in any way or representative of any club or activity associated with the school district. The Saratoga Springs City School District denounces any speech which promotes acts of hatred or violence against any individual or group,” Piccirillo said. “The SHS4R page directly refers to a site that espouses white supremacy and anti-Semitic rhetoric. In addition, the moniker SHS4R inappropriately and without any permission directly relates the name of our high school to concepts expressed by Nazi Germany.” The letter concludes: “It is incumbent upon us to take an active role in exposing intolerance and teaching our children to celebrate diversity as a strength. We ask all parents to speak with their own children about such ideals and encourage the same diversity and inclusiveness we promote at school. Together we can strengthen our culture and build a strong foundation supported by acceptance and the celebration of our diversity.” Piccirillo was away from the office mid-week and unavailable for direct comment, according to a school spokesperson.
“This is not new and it’s not specific just to the Saratoga School District, but the urgency in which they reacted is commendable,” said Goldman’s mother, Kelly Hillis. “I cannot be more satisfied with what the school did. They could’ve kept it quiet but chose to bring it out into the light and make it a learning opportunity. As far as the kid giving the Nazi salute, the kid was spoken to the next day. With the swastikas, I immediately spoke to someone at the school and within 24 hours someone at the school called me to apologize,” said Hillis, who added she believes the hateful symbols were carved into desks by kids who don’t know any better and that the school can only do so much. A large part of the responsibility of teaching acceptance for, and the beauty of diversity takes place in the home between parents and children, she said. “They haven’t been taught that the symbols are hateful symbols.
“My hope is by bringing this into the light, other kids will say: hey, here’s a kid in my school. She’s my friend. She’s one of us, and look how others are making her feel bad. Just to bring that home,” she said. “Just to bring that home.”
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Matt Sames thinks it makes sense to open a Pet Lodge with a focus on “doggie daycare” in dog-friendly, walkable Saratoga Springs. And when he stumbled upon some great property, perfect for a little wine bistro, he thought he’d give that a try, too.
The successful businessman opened his first Pet Lodge in 2005 with his partners, Bill Davis and veterinarian Tom Brown. The business offers doggie day care, kitty camp, pet boarding, webcams, and everything possible to assure a safe, healthy, happy experience for pets. Pet Lodge has now grown to five locations: Latham; Glenville; Clifton Park; Plattsburgh; and Williston, Vermont. Sames said he is trying to get approval to build the Pet Lodge near the Hibachi Sushi Bar restaurant on Route 9.
“We started discussions with the City about a year ago,” he said. “It’s going a little slower than we would like, but it seems to be an extremely thorough process. The project currently lies somewhere between the zoning board and the planning board. There are a lot of layers in the planning process, and they won’t meet again until after the holidays.”
Sames said he’s had his eye on that area for years, but his business plan was forestalled when his daughter, Hannah, was diagnosed with a rare disease a little over 8 years ago. He turned his attention to fund raising through Hannah’s Hope Fund and hiring a scientific team to come up with treatment, which it looks like they have done.
“We are really ecstatic, it looks like it may be helping her,” said Sames. “It was pretty monumental. One of the doctors said it would take ten years and $10 million to save her, and it ended up 8 years and little less than $8 million. We also treated five other children with the same rare disease.”
All that joy couldn’t help but spill over into his business life, so following his dream to put a Pet Lodge off exit 13N was natural. And then when he discovered the 20 Bowman Street property that is zoned for a restaurant, he thought he could also fulfill his dream of owning a wine bistro.
“It’s going to be small,” he said. “The whole bottom floor will only be 1,500 square feet, including the kitchen and bathroom. It’ll have a robust wine list and small plates, some assorted vodkas and a couple craft brews – we’d like to have some local flavor.”
Sames said they went in front of the planning board, but the vote was tabled when some of the neighbors came out against it.
“I guess they were worried about noise,” said Sames, “but the board members are going to go look at it, and it will be on the agenda again. We’re not going to have outdoor music, and the whole place is only 54 seats. I’ve never seen a raucous wine place, and I don’t intend to be the first.”
Sames said he just really liked the location, and since it’s already zoned for it he thought why not, and he’s already found a great couple to operate the place, but if it falls through, he won’t look elsewhere. His family and Pet Lodge are his priorities. For more information, visit www.petlodges.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Rochmon Record Club – the cyber-age moniker of Ballston Spa’s Chuck Vosganian - landed at Universal Preservation Hall Tuesday night, and he brought Led Zeppelin’s classic 1973 album “Houses of the Holy” with him.
Accompanied by a pair of booming speakers, a Powerpoint presentation, and a turntable that spun the album’s tracks in sequential order, Vosgonian offered in-between-song commentary and quirky anecdotes about the tunes and the band members who performed them.
Once a month, Rochmon invades the physical space of a regional performance hall to digest and re-discover the classic tones of the rock and roll era. Next up in January, Rochmon will return to UPH to dissect Deep Purple’s 1972 album, “Machine Head,” which beat out Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells A Story,” Queen’s “Sheer Heart Attack” and Hall & Oates’ silver-covered album during a raise-your-hands vote conducted among the dozens of music fans who attended Tuesday’s Led Zeppelin night. For more information, visit the Rochmon Record Club on Facebook.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — City residents could be voting as soon as next spring on a referendum to change the way the city has governed for the duration of its 101-year history.
This week, the 15-member Saratoga Springs City Charter Review Commission unanimously approved the drafting of a new charter, and in a 12-3 straw poll voted to draft a motion for a new form of government. The work will begin immediately to prepare a proposal for an alternative form of government to be considered by the commission, with the goal of being placed before the voters in spring 2017. A new form of government, if approved by voters, could go into effect as soon as 2018. “Changing a city’s charter is not something to be undertaken lightly,” said charter commission chairman Bob Turner. “I think the members of the commission felt very confident in their understanding of the city charter to make their decision. It was a long process, but well worth it.”
Turner said the commission’s goal was to conduct the most comprehensive and in-depth review of Saratoga Springs’ city government that has ever been executed. Interviews were conducted with 20 current and former city council members, 10 city hall department heads, and six other mayors and city managers, in addition to separate surveys of City Hall employees and potential City Council candidates. A town hall meeting and 30 committee and subcommittee meetings were held over the past 6 months.
City Workers: Commission Form of Government Doesn’t Work
A 16-question survey distributed to City Hall and Public Safety employees from Nov. 25 to Dec. 8 received 75 responses. More than eighty per cent of those workers have worked at City Hall for at least six years. The majority responded that political conflicts or tensions between department commissioners affected workers’ ability to do their jobs and nearly half said they didn’t trust deputy commissioners to make decisions in the best interest of the city. As to the commission form of government specifically, 71.8 percent of the city employees said they don’t believe it provides for effective management of the city, and most opted instead for either a strong mayor, or city manager form of governing.
Five members – the mayor plus four commissioners heading the departments of Public Safety, Public Works, Finance, and Accounts, respectively – comprise the Saratoga Springs City Council, which operates in a commission form of government. That is, each council member is responsible for administering their own department as well as serving as legislators. The concept was founded in Galveston, Texas in 1901 after a storm ravaged the city, killing more than 5,000 people and creating the need for a useful way of post-disaster governing. Five department heads were given equal say in how the city should be reconstructed. It proved to be an efficient measure. The city of Houston adopted a similar form four years later. By 1912, 206 cities in 34 states followed suit, from Margate City, New Jersey - with a population of 129, to Oakland, California, with 150,000 residents at the time. Saratoga Springs followed suit shortly after it was incorporated as a city in 1915.
Survey: Commission Form of Government Excludes Diverse Voices and Talent, Chairman Says
In a second recently issued survey by the charter review commission, a pool of 182 potential City Council candidates who were queried revealed that changing from the commission form of government would dramatically increase the number of people willing to run for City Council. Only 8.2 percent responded they would be “somewhat,” or “extremely likely” to run for one of the four commissioner positions in the current system of governing. More than three times as many said they were “somewhat or “very likely to run” were they to serve as a part-time legislator and did not have any administrative responsibilities.
Commission positions are paid an annual salary of $14,500 and hire a full-time deputy to run their office. Interviews with current and former commissioners revealed that many found it challenging to balance a full-time job with the dual demands of running a major department and legislating, a combination unique to the commission form of government. Seventy percent of the survey respondents reported working full-time.
“We clearly have a large pool of civically engaged citizens who want to serve the city, but are unable to make the time commitment required under the commission form of government,” Turner said. “The data shows we are excluding a diverse set of voices and talent.”
The Commission has met two to three times each month since June to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the charter. The next meeting will take place 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 at City Hall.
Upcoming Meetings: The City Council will host a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19 and a full council meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20 at City Hall. The Zoning Board of Appeals will host a meeting 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19 at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS — City Mayor Joanne Yepsen looked up at the 50 or so people who crowded into City Hall Wednesday afternoon and spoke to the reason for the gathering. “We don’t want to become a community that only the elite can afford,” the mayor said.
The City Council’s special mid-day meeting on Dec. 14 effectively kicked-off an 18-month project to address affordable housing in Saratoga Springs.
“Residents are saying, ‘We are pricing ourselves out of our own city,’ meaning that the market rates are higher than what they can afford. I think it’s time for us as a council to address some of the short-term needs as best we can with some long-term solutions,” Yepsen said. “And affordable housing may not just be an option any more – it may be required by the federal government.”
The 1968 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), was amended in 2015 with a final rule that states communities must address affordable housing needs and come up with a consolidation plan to carry out actions. That plan is specifically due from Saratoga Springs in May 2020, with submissions due at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by October 2019. “We are planning this will take us about a year and a half to put together, so we’re starting at the right time,” Yepsen said.
Survey Says: Additional Housing Needed
A 228-page market study regarding housing needs in Saratoga Springs conducted during the summer by GAR Associates indicates a strong demand for additional housing in the city, and recommends multiple rent tiers targeting different income bands in the development of workforce, family, and senior housing. The study points to Saratoga Springs’ disparity in income levels as a supporting case to be made for affordable housing projects that specifically feature workforce-oriented and mixed-income housing, where attorneys would live in the same building as busboys, explained Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Executive Director Paul Feldman.
“Affordable housing to me is not only by the HUD standards (residents should not spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing), but for Saratoga Springs it’s taking care of our hospitality industry and making sure that the workers can get to work and live close to jobs,” Yepsen said. “So, it’s workforce housing for our hospitality industry and it’s allowing young professionals to move and work here.”
The study reported the average listing price of a new single-family home in Saratoga Springs is $504,000, the average annual earning salary is about $70,000, and that of the more than 600 housing units built in the city during the past decade -in addition to another 200 or so on the table in the future - none include an affordable housing component. “What the market study shows is that 80 percent of the people who need more affordable housing are Saratogians,” Yepsen said. “They currently live here and are having trouble paying their bills. Eighty percent of the people are our own people - and that’s why I’m taking this to heart. We need to do this. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a plan.”
There are several options to be explored, from working with private developers, to nonprofits. A decade-old Inclusionary Zoning ordinance revived by Sustainable Saratoga earlier this year calls for the dedication of a small percentage of all future units built be designated for moderate, or low-income households. In exchange, builders would receive a bonus that allows an increased density of the project. The IZ would also spread the dispersal of mixed-use affordable housing across the community.
“If the IZ ever passed the council, it would mean every developer, from here on in, would include a percentage of affordable housing,” Yepsen said. The proposal currently sits at the city and county planning boards for their respective advisory opinions, after which it will be required to pass through the city’s Land Use boards before being returned to the council for a potential vote. In a community with high-income characteristics such as Saratoga Springs, incentives often have to be provided in order to create the support for municipal approvals associated with affordable housing.
The Middle Class Gap
Yepsen said looking at the housing gap from a continuum of care spectrum, the path begins at the Code Blue emergency shelter, continues on to Shelters of Saratoga, and transitions to public housing and eventually private housing. But, that’s where the path ends. “That middle gap, to me, is what really is the crux of the problem, because you’re not eligible for help, yet you can’t afford the high-end condos either, so you end up stuck in the middle,” Yepsen said. “And Saratoga Springs is going to be feeling that more, unless we can at least introduce some other price points for housing in the city. It is for me, a priority and that is the reality of the situation. The question now is: What does the council want to do about it?”
The survey reports that land adjacent to The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority’s Stonequist Apartments would be ideal for a large mixed development. Currently, the city is looking at grant funding opportunities to develop 20 to 26 new affordable housing units at Jefferson and Vanderbilt Terrace. “We’re thrilled that we’re a thriving economic community and we don’t want that to change at all,” the mayor said. “Our package of assets and cultural opportunities are going to thrive and grow, but we’ve got to take care of our own too. We need to be both - an economically thriving tourist community and a residential year-round affordable community, with a high quality of life.”