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Friday, 20 January 2017 11:26

Notes from City Hall

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: [email protected] 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.

Upcoming

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.

 

Published in News

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.

Published in News

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.”

Published in News
Friday, 23 December 2016 10:04

A Christmas Miracle

BALLSTON LAKE — They were told they were the lucky winners of a contest that granted them a three-day stay in a North Country hotel. For the Lefebvres – wife Kristin and husband Andrew and the kids Angelo, and Te’a, and Milana, and Anamaria - it was a respite for a family that could use a break. Yet, still, there was more.

The family of six shares a home on Ballston Lake with Kristin’s father and her older brother, Tommy, who suffers from severe autism and for whom Kristin is co-guardian. Seven-year-old Milana suffers from daily seizures and unexplained fevers and requires 24/7 care. Shortly after the Lefebvres’ 4-year-old daughter, Anamaria, was born, Kristin’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. “She passed very fast,” remembered Kristin, whose life as a parent to four children not-yet-in-their-teens can be stressful enough, to say nothing of the additional role as caregiver.

Since Milana was born, there have been frequent visits to Boston Children’s Hospital to see a variety of specialists in the hospital’s Complex Care Service, which provides comprehensive, coordinated and centralized care for children with complex medical needs. Milana’s illness is one for which there is no known medical reason. “There isn’t an overlying diagnosis to explain everything. She has had all kinds of genetic testing, and there is no explanation,” Kristin said. “I think it’s a good thing they can’t tell me she’s going to live for X number of years. I actually like that better. We ask, ‘Is she going to walk?’ because she has something like a walker and there’s a chance she can walk a little better in her equipment, but they don’t really say either way. They tell us, ‘I don’t know.’”

Securing outside help for assistance with the management of the home has been difficult, because people get frightened with her daughter’s daily seizures, she said. The three-day respite at the hotel was most welcome. “It was just so nice to not have to cook or run to appointments,” Kristin said. “We just stayed in the hotel the whole weekend.” Yet, still, there was more. At the family home 40 miles away, creatures were stirring all through the house.

“I was somewhat in on it,” Kristin admitted. “I knew they were coming, but until we got home I had no idea of the full picture of their work.” When the family returned to their home on a Sunday afternoon, they were amazed at what to their wondering eyes did appear. “When we arrived, what we saw was overwhelming. There was Santa. There were carolers and elves. There were 100 people outside the house - people who didn’t even know me,” she said. “The kids were looking out the window and were just completely surprised.”

The welcome committee was the creation of a partnering between the nonprofit organizations The Giving Circle and Jake’s Help from Heaven. The Giving Circle - an all-volunteer organization based in Saratoga Springs, was founded a decade ago by Mark Bertrand with a mission to seek out communities in need, connect them with the resources that could help, and to work locally with underserved families in Saratoga County.

“My two girls had met Mark from The Giving Circle. I explained they were special people who knew elves and when they saw all that was going on, I said: ‘You know, this is the magic of the elves,’ Kristin said. “They were just floored.” And yet, still, there was more.

When the Lefebvres departed for their three-day Lake George vacation - under the pretense of winning a contest - a team of volunteers descended on the family home and got to work. They created new rooms for the kids, renovated some rooms and reconfigured others; they decorated a Christmas tree and placed gifts beneath it; they painted walls, constructed shelves, installed interior paneling, and hooked up new efficient appliances to replace the cranky old appliances of a generation ago. Years of accumulated clutter was removed.

“It was an amazing sight. When we got back and looked, we were: Oh my gosh,” Kristin said. A special surprise also awaited her brother, who is a Yankees baseball fan. “My brother is autistic and hadn’t gotten a lot of attention since my mom passed. He got a big new room done up in a Yankees’ theme and during all the celebrating with the Christmas tree and the presents, one of the elves handed him a phone - it was a call from Mariano Rivera,” she said.

“Being a caregiver all the time, your world could get really small, really fast. You can feel you’re on an island sometimes and that’s why this project is so touching,” Kristin said. “For these people to come in and show that kindness, you know that we’re not alone, like we’re part of a community and that people do care. Having those people come in reminded me that people are out there.”

Published in News

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.”

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Check, one. Check, two. Check. Check. Check.

If Bobby Carlton was trying to confuse the wait staff inside the redbrick bistro that boasts creative food, craft drinks and live music, it clearly wasn’t working.

Armed with their three Fender instruments – two guitars and a bass, their boxes of special effects – seven soundwave bending foot-pedals, and the back-beat thwomps of a drummer gluing it all together, Dryer celebrated the release of their new five-song EP at One Caroline last weekend, showcasing the harmonious weavings of punk-driven power chords and melodious hooks that the band has brought to the nation’s stages the past 24 years.

“We’re still a dirty bar venue kind of band playing loud rock music,” said Carlton, who co-founded Dryer with bassist Rachael Sunday in 1992, soon after she had left Skidmore College and was working at Strawberries record shop on Broadway. Drummer Joel Lilley joined the group in 1993.

“It’s really crazy. I didn’t know a band could go that long,” the guitar player said, laughing. “We did what we could do in the time we were a touring band, and we had some great experiences. We were able to tour the U.S. several times and we slept on a lot of floors, played a lot of clubs and got to meet some shady people.”

After a decade of touring and recording, the threesome broke up in 2002. The owner of a New Jersey-based record label convinced them to reform for what was to be a one-off show at Putnam Den in 2010. “At that time it meant calling Rachael, who I hadn’t talked to in eight years, and asking if she’d be into it. So, I threw it out there and surprisingly Joel and Rachael were both on board to do the show. The turnout was so huge that we were like: Oh, people really do enjoy Dryer. So we just started playing together again.”

In 2014, the band added guitar player Brian Akey, who had played with the Massachusetts based band Winterpills. “They were the darlings of the New York Times for a while. Brian moved to Saratoga Springs and someone introduced us,” recalled Carlton. “He just came up one night and expressed interest in playing with Dryer. We’d been a three-piece band for 20 years and never strayed from that, but when Brian came in I was excited about the idea of having another guitar player,” Carlton explained. “Here’s the thing: I know exactly what kind of guitar player I am. I’m not real proficient, but I know about power chords, so I like the idea of having this whole other layer of guitars – and it really works.” The showcase of sound blends raw riffs, sweet vocals and an underlay of melody-laced guitaristry. “The moment Brian came in it opened things up quite a bit and changed the landscape. It makes it more fun.”

The band’s four-member interplay is evident in both their live sets and the new five-song EP. “Bright Moon, Bright Sun,” which marks Dryer’s first issue as a quartet and its first overall release of new music since 2002. Now nearing the quarter-century mark since the band’s formation means finding a new way for the creative mind. “You have to adjust. For me, I cut my teeth on punk rock music coming out of the city – basement shows and CBGB’s in the early days and the whole D.C. scene, so that part still is there for me. I think if I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t want to be playing music anymore in this capacity,” Carlton said. “I might stay at home, Instagram a photo here and there of me playing a song. But, I’m still playing shows, I’m still traveling to clubs and I think that comes from the fact that I grew up in that era of punk rock music. The Ramones and The Descendants were huge inspirations for me. They had that ‘Get out and do it, no matter how old you are’ attitude.

“You know you can choose to sit home and do nothing – which is fine – but that’s not me. We’re still doing it at a capacity that’s good for us,” he said. “When I was in my twenties and Dryer was touring, I was sleeping on a dirty floor and thinking: oh man, I’m in Michigan, playing a rock show. I made it! But now, I’m still being creative and I’m sleeping in my own bed at night. That to me is making it.”

“Bright Moon, Bright Sun” is available on a variety of digital streaming sites, and the band has plans to release the tracks on a vinyl format in the future. For more information, visit: https://dryerrockmusic.com/

Published in News
Friday, 21 October 2016 10:17

New SPAC President Presents Future Vision

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Elizabeth Sobol leaned against a marble column outside the Hall of Springs. She glanced up at the architecture - detailed more than three-quarters of a century ago by Russian iron-workers, Italian plasterers and Austrian stone cutters - and searched for the words to best express the thoughts inside her head.

“It’s only been a month since my husband and I moved from Miami Beach to Saratoga. And it’s only been eight days since I walked into my office, but the overwhelming sense of magic, the cultural vibrancy I first felt in the city has only deepened,” said the newly minted president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. “I want to make sure more people experience the epiphany that I’ve had coming here.”

Moments later, the self-described “newcomer with fresh eyes” was formally introduced by SPAC Board chairman Ron Riggi to about two dozen board members and department heads gathered inside the hall’s Gold Room for their annual fall meeting. Sobol told them that she didn’t foresee radical changes taking place in the near future, but wanted to enhance what already exists by both deepening SPAC’s roots in the local community and extending the venue’s presence and visibility beyond the borders of the Capital Region.

“I feel fortunate coming in at this auspicious moment,” Sobol said in succeeding Marcia White, who earlier this year announced she would be retiring after 11 years at SPAC. “It has been a privilege to begin my new role at SPAC fresh off the heels of the 50th anniversary celebration.”

“2016 was very successful with the 50th anniversary and some beautiful weather,” treasurer Tony Ianniello added. No less than 35 special events were staged in conjunction with the venue’s golden anniversary, and audience attendance during the classical season of performances increased 3.4 percent, compared to the previous year. SPAC received more than $5.22 million in capital campaign gifts in honor of the anniversary. The funds will be used to support programming, capital improvements, and SPAC’s endowment fund, according to the organization. “Now we want to dig down and drill deep on how we can improve the numbers – raise more money and decrease expenses,” Ianniello said.

The Board announced membership rates in 2017 will remain at 2016 levels, and next year’s classical season ticket pricing will include a $30 amphitheater ticket, a $10 reduction in select seating from previous seasons. “As we move into the future, we hope to engage new and younger audiences in order to fulfill our mission of sharing world-class performances with the Capital Region community,” Sobol said.

Published in News
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