Letter to the Editor:
The concept of Saratoga Springs as a city in the country was embedded in the creation of a conservation district. In contrast to our bustling downtown, this area was meant to have a bucolic rural character allowing only light residential and agriculture related development. The key to this district was not only its sparse density but just as importantly, its low intensity activity.
As the city has grown there have been constant attempts over the years to propose development that would alter this area. The most recent manifestation of this controversy appeared in the stalemate of the city’s last Comprehensive Plan Committee which was unable to agree upon a final document. Two visions collided. One faction believed that a large golf resort in the greenbelt would bring economic benefits to the city and dismissed concern about its impact on the pastoral character of the conservation district. The other group viewed the proposal for a very large, commercial resort development as a fundamental danger to the district that would potentially destroy the very qualities that attracted people to our community. The latter faction won the Comp Plan battle but now Saratoga National Golf Course is back pushing the City Council to vote to grant them the ability to expand into a full fledged resort.
When SNGC applied for permission to build their course back in 1998, they made a number of commitments to the city that were codified in their original Special Use Permit. They agreed to build two nature trails available to the public on their land. Emphasizing at the time their proposal’s minimal impact on the conservation district, they agreed to limit themselves to only three large functions a year. Large was defined as exceeding their regular parking capacity which was two hundred parking spaces.
SNGC has failed to abide by either of these commitments. As to the nature trails, most of the supposed “West Trail” follows the entrance road along the fairways. There is literally no path and are no signs to reassure you that you are on the trail. You are at risk of being hit by a wayward golf ball. The only two places where you actually leave the course have no signs identifying the way. The only signs that do exist are on the little bit of land that is not on the golf course and these are hidden from both the golfers and the people trying to find the trail. The cynicism exhibited by SNGC in this is stunning. No fair minded person would ever call this a nature trail.
As to their promise of keeping to three large events a year, just a cursory review of their website came up with three events during the last week that exceeded their normal parking. They sold out both weekend nights of their “Special Travers Party” in a tent that holds “200+.” This does not count their restaurant that seats another 250 which we can presume on Travers weekend was full.
If you go to their website you can clearly see that they have the capacity to accommodate many hundreds of people and see how aggressive their marketing is. They are not just a golf course.
According to their own literature, with their proposed expansion they expect to increase their guests from 190,000 (a lot of people already) to 300,000 a year. People who live on Lake Lonely already complain about their regular fireworks events and their outdoor music. They also advertize helicopter rides.
The point of our Conservation District is to have an area outside the core of the city that has low intensity use meant to protect the country part of our city in the country. It was with this in mind that SNGC was supposed to limit its special events and create nature trails in return for being granted permission to build their original facility. Given their poor history of keeping their commitments to keep their development in tune with the Conservation District’s goal, imagine what will happen if members of the City Council allow them to become a resort.
- John Kaufmann, Saratoga Springs