SARATOGA SPRINGS – What once was an eyesore and is currently a vacant lot will soon boast a grass landscape with elderberry and perennials, a pair of picnic tables, Black Cherry and Japanese Dogwood, if Jason Letts gets his way.
The owner of the .31-acre site that stands opposite the Saratoga Springs Public Library has submitted to the city Planning Board a proposal for a pocket park on Putnam Street.
“We want to make it a place people can go to and have lunch or hangout, where they can walk straight out of the library and have a place to read,” Letts said.
The location had sited a commercial use concrete block building on-site the past several years. It was eventually revealed to be contaminated from its earlier use as a dry cleaning facility, as well as sustaining oil contamination from an offsite source. That contamination determined the existing structure could not be salvaged for re-use and the building ultimately demolished.
The land has been a focus for a variety of suggested uses, dating back several years. Proposals have ranged from a six-level robotic parking garage and banquet facility with 189 vehicle spaces and street-level retail in 2004, to a performance venue with a food service component in 2013. In late 2018, plans were on the table for the development of a six-story, 40-unit condominium complex called “Five-Three” – named for its location at 53 Putnam St. - to feature one-bedroom and two-bedroom units at a price range of $400,00 to $800,000, and a rooftop green space with a lounge area for residents. That mixed-use building proposal carried a price tag of approximately $30 million.
Currently, the 13,500 square foot site depicts a fenced-in lot marred by post-demolition sand and gravel. Ultimately, Letts says, he realized any large-scale development would require a long-term project, and decided a better current use for the lands would be something the entire community could use.
“We got into this – ‘we’ being my sons and my family – to find a way to make this site useable as soon as possible. The idea of having to wait however-many-years to finally get a building, and to have it just sit there wasn’t appealing to us,” Letts says. “Right now, we’re looking to get the site into a useable position, something that looks nice. An aesthetic transformation.”
The proposed pocket park - titled the Rory & Blake Park – is named after Letts’ sons. “Although it is an expense, this is an opportunity to get more involved in the community where we live. And especially because we use the library so much, we decided we had to do something about it - so we hope this is something everybody will be able to enjoy.”
Letts said there are partnerships being formed with local places like Caffe Lena in the hope of staging organized activities in the park. A general timeline points to implementation by late summer.
“It’s been a long road with the DEC clean-up, which will be taking place this year,” Letts said.
The lot is currently regulated by DEC as a Brownfield Site. A Brownfield site is a property where a contaminant is present at levels exceeding the soil cleanup objectives, or other health-based or environmental standards. The goal of the Brownfield Cleanup Program is to encourage private-sector cleanups of brownfields and to promote their redevelopment.
The location may in the future site a housing or mixed-use complex, but that prospect appears to be several years away.
“Getting the resources together for a building (in the future) is going to take some time and will be long-term. We’re not so sure it will be condos - in fact that’s probably the least possible thing at this point given things like the market. But, whether it will be straightforward apartments, or some sort of affordable housing - that’s more what we’re looking at for that space,” Letts said. “That’ll be some time away. We just didn’t want to have it sit as it is.”