Displaying items by tag: saratoga city council
The year was 1973 and downtown Saratoga Springs was facing a crisis. Twenty-two storefronts were vacant, with almost all the 2nd and 3rd floors empty. Simultaneously construction of the Pyramid mall had begun at exit 15. The perfect recipe was brewing for a downtown disaster.
Today we face a similar challenge. Communities are locked down in a global pandemic, which includes social distancing and reduced numbers allowed in businesses. We already have empty storefronts and business owners worry more may be coming. Deja vu? Not to worry.
In 1973 local citizens stepped up to the challenge…and today local citizens are once again stepping up to the challenge. Two similar crises, separated by decades, but in both circumstances, leadership, optimism, and community action came together to save the day.
First let’s look at the past. It was the mid-90’s and Joe Dalton of the Chamber of Commerce, along with Bob Bristol of The Saratoga Associates, called a meeting with a dozen property owners. This informal meeting led to the creation of a dynamic ‘Plan of Action’ which would guide the city for years to come. Within weeks dozens of citizens had volunteered to work on the project.
Bill Dake of Stewart’s Shops steered it for the first six months, after which Charles Wait of Adirondack Trust Company served as its chairman. “A lot of people did a tremendous amount of work” said Bill Dake. “As people saw the positive impact taking place, more people got involved. Downtown got its own personality!”
A lot of people got involved in the ‘Plan of Action’ from attending charrettes, to planting trees, to major facade improvements, but the key issue may have been getting the City Council to remove the restriction on restaurants and bars serving outside on Broadway’s wide sidewalks.
“It gave Broadway a unique personality as people watching was the best and cheapest entertainment there was,” added Dake. Rumor has it the sidewalk activity had been curtailed years before after the Mayor’s daughter was “mooned” by an over-served patron from one of the bars. But I digress.
One of the first projects that took place was a massive clean-up…something tangible that would yield immediate results. From there an all-volunteer crew dug holes and planted 80 mature trees in the business district, the number reaching 250 within 20 years!
With visible progress taking place, property owners dug deep and funded a basic design plan. That, coupled with a new 1 percent sales tax increase and federal Community Development funds, and the ‘Plan’ was taking on a life of its own. From façade improvements to streetscapes and parking, downtown Saratoga Springs transformed itself, and within a decade 70 percent of the downtown businesses were new; vacancy was a rarity, a testament to community action!
Fast forward to November 2020. With decades of growth under its belt, downtown Saratoga Springs has been the envy of small towns across the nation…but the wheels of progress are quickly slowing. Vacant storefronts are popping up and long-time events which are part of our fabric have been cancelled.
However, led by the DBA (Downtown Business Association), scores of volunteers are once again mobilizing and have reimagined a downtown holiday celebration. “When we realized that there was no way to have Victorian Streetwalk this year, the DBA knew we had to do something to promote downtown and keep our holiday tradition alive” said DBA President, Deann Devitt. “The more we thought about it, the more we realized that we needed to make downtown a destination for the entire Holiday season and remind people how unique Saratoga is!”
At that point they approached Saratoga Springs Special Assessments District with their ideas. “They immediately agreed to partner with us and provide us with a $10,000 grant to help spread the holiday spirit throughout the City. And with that grant, a month-long celebration called Victorian Streetscapes was born!”
Next, they reached out to their friends at Discover Saratoga who were happy to collaborate on the effort. “We hope that this will give one more reason for folks to come downtown throughout the season to take in the holiday atmosphere and of course, shop local!” said Darryl Leggieri, President of Discover Saratoga. “We must continue to work together as a united community, and help our neighbors and local businesses succeed during these difficult times.”
Once the actual planning began, the amount of support from local business owners began rolling in. The Charlton School, with the help of Saratoga Land Management Corp., stepped up with a 19-ft Norway Spruce for downtown. Elms Farm donated thirty, 6-ft. trees for storefronts while Allerdice and Dehn’s Flowers worked on critical behind-the-scenes details. Also instrumental in organizing the event were Mayor Meg Kelly and Commissioner Scirocco and their teams.
Let’s not forget about Santa! Although he won’t be in his cottage this year, Santa IS Coming to Town! He will be driving through Saratoga neighborhoods visiting children on a vintage fire truck provided by King Enterprises.
Devitt finished with “The reality is, during these unprecedented times, it truly ‘takes a village’ to support our local businesses, and without question, this city, its residents and fellow business owners have been that village.”
Public Hearing Sept. 5 to Amend Street Performer Ordinance
A Public Hearing will take place 6:55 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at City Hall - just prior to the council’s next scheduled meeting - to amend the Street Performer ordinance, which regulates street performers and was originally adopted in 2015. (That ordinance may be viewed here: http://www.saratoga-springs.org/documentcenter/view/2595 ). Assistant City Attorney Tony Izzo is currently crafting the amendment.
The regular meeting begins at 7 p.m. during which the council may take action regarding the acquisition of property by the use of eminent domain as it relates to the proposed Geyser Road Trail.
City Approves 2018-2023 Capital Budget
The Council voted 4 -1 to approve the city’s six-year Capital Budget Program, which counts 26 projects at a cost of $11 million – nearly all of it to be bonded - for the year 2018.
Madigan voted against the measure, consistent with a r stance she has taken in previous years, explaining that she feels the Commissioner of Finance needs to have flexibility regarding the budget as the city operates under a 2 percent tax cap, and that the budget has an impact on the property tax rate.
The costliest project, ranked #14 on the 2018 priority list, recommends $3 million be set aside for the design and construction of an East Side Fire and EMS facility. The public safety project has long been on the city’s radar as a supplement to its two other existing stations, which are located near downtown Saratoga Springs, and on the city’s west side. Land has not yet been acquired for the land necessary for the project. “To require to bond for this is premature,” Madigan noted.
The two other seven-digit cost proposals for 2018 are capital improvements of the Kaydeross Avenue West Pipe - a $1.2 million DPW request - and the addition of a radio tower in the city, which ranks number 1 overall on the project list and calls for $1.3 million to be bonded.
The water pipe upgrade indicates that the water mains on Route 9 and Nelson Avenue Extension are undergoing “severe external corrosion,” according to the Department of Public Works, which proposes a four-year program be implemented to replace the main and “avoid catastrophic failure.” The city has approximately 150 miles of municipal water mains – about 20 miles of which in the core of the city is comprised of cast iron pipe more than a century old and is in need of replacement, according to the DPW.
The radio tower project signifies efforts by the Public Safety Department and the Safety Committee to correct significant communication deficiencies in the city's emergency communications systems and existing “life safety issues” that currently exist with community emergency communications, according to the DPS. The roof of the Stonequist Apartments complex is under consideration as a potential location to site the tower.
Spa Solar Park Gets its Day in the Sun
Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan announced the 2.5-megawatt solar array, The Spa Solar Park, will be fully energized this week. A public ribbon-cutting ceremony and community celebration is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Sept. 12 – time to be determined – at the site on the city’s landfill. “This has been a long time coming,” Madigan told the council this week.
The City received support for the Spa Solar Park development from New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) through the Governor’s NY-Sun Competitive PV Program. The landfill is city-owned property with otherwise limited use. The project is environmentally sound. The solar panels will be sufficient to match approximately 40 percent of the city’s energy requirements.
City Receives $2.3 Million VLT Aid
In her submission to the council of the city’s Second Quarter Financial Report of 2017, Madigan noted VLT aid was received June 30 and represents full payment for the year. The $2,325,592 received in 2017 was equal to the amount received the previous year.
Commissioner Chris Mathiesen announced the Public Safety Department will host a Public Safety Forum at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 in the City Council Room at City Hall.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – City residents and visitors alike will soon have a centrally located resource to bring their ideas to foster a better understanding of cultural differences, as well as express concerns about potential human rights violations.
“Luckily, we’re a very safe city, but I’ve had enough proof and input from our citizens that we’re not immune to problems,” said city Mayor Joanne Yepsen, who after appointing five people to a human rights-focused planning committee is “moving forward to the next level” and coordinating a seven-person Human Rights Task Force.
“It’s hate crimes I’m most worried about: prejudice, not accepting one another as equals - basic human rights,” Yepsen said. “We’re going to be proactive but also in a reactive mode, too, if anything were to occur like the swastikas.”
Last November, spray-painted swastikas surfaced on city streets. Police conducted a hate speech investigation after a social media site that referenced neo-Nazis mentioned Saratoga Springs High School, and a senior class student of Jewish descent came upon anti-Semitic acts.
“The idea of this human rights group came up a year ago. This is a need. It wasn’t because of the Trump election,” Yepsen told a group of reporters gathered in the mayor’s office, before the question could be asked. “It was more a case of: we need to be a better city. And being a better city means we take care of our citizens. I would like to have a resource to help ensure we can maintain our status as a community that fosters mutual respect and understanding among racial, religious and nationality groups in the city.”
The Schenectady County Human Rights Commission served as an informational resource, said Yepsen, who also consulted with state legislators. The Schenectady Commission, which was established in 1965, is a policy-making body composed of 15 commissioners appointed by the County Legislature. The proposed seven-member Saratoga Springs task force will differ in regards to the amount of power it may wield.
“The Commission in Schenectady County can take calls and work on cases. We’re not going to be qualified to do that, but we do have a lot of organizations in town that are, and we can suggest a list of referrals – like EOC, like the Racecourse Chaplaincy, like the Legal Aid Society,” Yepsen said.
“We depend greatly on people from other cultures to work here. Let’s face it, there are 2,500 different people working for the racing industry and many of them are Latinos. I think there are seven different dialects spoken on the backstretch alone and more and more of these families are settling in our city as community members. We also have a lot of restaurant workers who come here and try to make a go of it, so we’re trying to respond to their needs.”
The city’s Human rights Taskforce will focus mostly on education, programming and collaboration. The mayor cited the city’s annual series of public events and programs celebrating the work of Martin Luther King Jr. as a model of what can be done year-round related to human rights to foster a better understanding of cultural differences.
Anyone interested in joining the Human Rights Task Force can apply via the City of Saratoga Springs Board Application form on the city’s website. Deadline for applications is April 12 and Mayor Yepsen said she hopes to appoint members to the seven-person group at the April 18 City Council Meeting.
Charter Review Commission Releases Charter Draft
The Charter Review Commission has released a draft of a proposed new Charter for Saratoga Springs city government. The 24-page document may be viewed at: https://saratogacharter.com/. A referendum will be held in November.
The City Council will hold a pre-agenda meeting 9:30 a.m. Monday, April 3, and a full meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at City Hall.
The Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) Technical Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) will hold a meeting 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 4 at Saratoga Music Hall.
The Design Review Commission will hold a meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 4 at City Hall.