Seeking to Develop High Rock Parcel
SARATOGA SPRINGS – At a special Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 10, the only agenda item was presentations by the two groups seeking to develop the last large parcel in Downtown Saratoga Springs. The 2.6-acre site bordered by Lake, High Rock and Maple Avenues adjacent to High Rock Park has been the subject of intense interest, and the meeting was moved upstairs from the Council room to the larger Music Hall.
Community Builders/Paramount Realty and a team led by Hyman Hemispheric, LLC delivered presentations. Both proposed development scenarios involved mixed use: Combining parking with residential and commercial applications and both noted that they were attempting to respond to the needs of the community which they indicated had desired more than just a parking garage in this location, while attempting to respond to the need for more parking for the Saratoga Springs City Center, as well as being sensitive to the impact on the adjacent Mouzon House Restaurant. They did differ on several key points as to how best to accomplish these varied goals.
Community / Paramount presented first and detailed a $77 million mixed-use plan called High Rock Village that had 607 parking places (259 earmarked for the City Center, 30 for City Hall use, 140 for the development’s residents and 178 for the public) and presented a financial scenario that assumed the first hour of parking would be free, $1.50/hr. thereafter; and 166 mixed housing units: 64 senior, 42 “workforce housing” for young professionals and families, 36 condominiums and 24 market rate apartments. The plan anticipated about 50,000 square feet of retail space. The plan had several design features detailed including a pedestrian promenade running North/South and a possible water feature, perhaps including a ‘living wall’ fed by the water along the High Rock Park side of the development. Overall, their financial plan anticipated 50 percent of all revenue from the development going to the City, with about $2 million in annual tax revenue.
Hyman Hemispheric presented their team, which included Sequence Development, Phinney Design, Consigli Construction and JCJ Architecture. They noted that the team had worked together before and involved a local presence (e.g.: Phinney and Consigli). Their plan involved an outright purchase of the land for $2.6 million and would have 656 parking spaces, of which 350 would be reserved for the needs of the new development; 106,000 square feet of housing – a mix of market and workforce; 65,000 sq. ft. of office space in a four-level structure and retail. Mike Phinney noted that much of the actual design of the development would best be reserved until a charette (a meeting in which all stakeholders in a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions) was conducted among concerned interest groups (such as the Downtown Business Association) and the public. Phinney indicated that the best projects are those placed before the land use boards with the public already supportive of the design detail.
However, their presentation did have some important broad design elements, such as setting aside 35,400 sq. ft. for open space, ‘green notes’ such as pocket parks and other pedestrian oriented features, including a park space facing the Mouzon House. The presenters stressed the primacy on an east-west flow of people, from the development to Downtown and the City Center, as well as retail across High Rock Avenue. The philosophy of the development was to use retail and housing to minimize the “garage presence”, concealing the parking portion to the greatest extent possible.
While generally appreciative of the two presenting teams’ efforts, some of the Council’s comments following the two presentations indicated that they had concerns that the two proposals did not adequately address the amount of parking space needs for the City Center, and did not provide for direct connectivity to the City Center from the parking area. Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan expressed concern with the overall magnitude of the two projects for the area available, and called for a comprehensive traffic study involving traffic flow, congestion and parking requirements in the immediate and surrounding areas. Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen raised the point that part of the parcel might best be reserved for a City Hall annex to alleviate overcrowding and satisfy the need for a mandated second courtroom in the city.