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New Proposal Responds to Neighborhood Density Concerns
SARATOGA SPRINGS – “We’re in the people pleasing business.”
So stated Attorney Michael J. Toohey, representing Bonacio Construction, in announcing a second proposal to develop the Moore Hall property, at the Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Monday, December 14.
The dramatic announcement came as a pleasant surprise to most, if not all, of those in attendance. Residents of the surrounding neighborhood had organized intense opposition to the first proposal – which would have converted the existing building to 53 micro-apartments. The applicants requested that the first proposal be tabled and requested to present the detailed aspects of the new proposal at a January 2016 ZBA meeting.
Principal and Vice President C. Michael Ingersoll of the LA Group, was forthcoming, however, with the broad details of the second proposal, which he and President/Owner Sonny Bonacio of Bonacio Construction said was directly responsive to the nearby neighborhood resident’s concerns, which included density, parking and safety.
A major change in the second proposal is to demolish, rather than convert Moore Hall – a decaying former dormitory that was part of the old Skidmore College campus. A previous variance in 2006 had allowed up to 18 residential units on the parcel. Bonacio noted that this number would not work because of the current market forces. If it were to stay at 18, that would necessitate building units that sold for over $900,000. Those units are averaging 1,947 days on the market, and Bonacio said that if 18 more were built, the inventory of housing at that level would take about 12.9 years to be sold.
Instead, the second proposal detailed construction of 28 units, which would enable the sale price to be just under $700,000 ($699,418), which Bonacio said would make it more attractive and easier to sell to potential buyers. This increased number of units would still require a variance, although not as large as the first proposal’s request to increase it to 53.
The first proposal had requested a second variance on parking, from 1.5 spaces per unit to 1. Under the new proposal, 52 parking places, the bulk of which are anticipated to be underground, will be provided. Since that will provide 1.8 spaces per unit, a second variance will not need to be requested.
The applicants noted that their new proposal was similar in many ways, in terms of visual components such as setbacks for instance, to a plan that had received approval in 2008. At Monday’s meeting, they presented preliminary drawings that showed a comparison of their new proposed development to the one from 2008.
A new application will be filed, and detailed plans need to be developed. The project will still have to go through a site plan review and receive approval from the Design Review Commission. However, it was obvious from comments, from both ZBA members and members of the public who spoke, that this latest proposal was extremely more palatable. Many thanked the applicants for their work in coming forward with something that it was hoped would be acceptable to everyone. “This is just what the neighborhood wanted,” one said. Another wondered if it was appropriate to sing “Kumbaya.”
So, residents came to Monday’s meeting prepared for more conflict, and came away with at least the beginning of a happy ending to the saga of the Pink Palace. Call it an early holiday gift, with an O. Henry surprise thrown in for good measure.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Moore to come.
In other words, the fate of Moore Hall, AKA the Pink Palace, remains uncertain following a flurry of developments in the past week.
An item on the agenda for the City of Saratoga Springs’ Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last Monday, December 7th, was adjourned to next Monday, the 14th. It is possible that the ZBA will vote on applicant Bonacio Construction’s request for variances at that time.
The parcel at 28 Union Avenue has been the subject of intense scrutiny and concern by residents in the neighborhood, as well as members of the Saratoga Springs City Council. The Council held a special off-site meeting on Saturday morning, December 5, to do a walking tour of the site, and to hear concerned citizens’ opinions. This took place in the meeting room at Empire State College, which is adjacent to the parcel.
The applicant’s request for variance has two main components. The first was to allow conversion of the existing building to a 53-unit apartment building. The building had previously been granted a zoning variance from its original use – a dormitory on the old Skidmore College campus and zoned educational – and allowed conversion to up to 18 residential units, in 2006. The second request was seeking relief from the parking space requirement of 1.5 to 1 parking space per unit as required in the UR-4 (Urban Residential – 4) District.
At Saturday’s well-attended meeting, City Attorney Tony Izzo made it clear at the beginning of the meeting that the Council could not overrule a land-use board’s decisions once that board was properly created – the only remedies available would be to disband that board, or litigate against it, which are both unlikely possibilities. Nonetheless, the Council came to hear the residents’ opinions, and hear them they certainly did.
Those who spoke expressed a wide variety of concerns should the new variances be granted. Over 450 citizens had signed a petition against granting further variances, and speakers at the meeting expressed unease about subjects involving parking, traffic, pedestrian safety and the impact on nearby schools in the neighborhood, as well as other concerns. The general mood of the group in attendance was best summarized by neighborhood resident John Kaufmann, who said the proposed development was “…too large a project for too small an area.”
At this point, Moore Hall sits deteriorating, occupying a prime parcel and visible from the city grandest boulevard. Perhaps one of the very few things that all parties can agree on is that the Pink Palace’s current state is undesirable. What it transforms to in the future, however, still remains in question.
In other words, stay tuned. For there is still Moore to come.