Friday, 04 January 2019 14:54

Deciding the City’s Future: Land Use Boards – what they do and how you can play a role

Deciding the City’s Future: Land Use Boards – what they do and how you can play a role Photo by SuperSource Media.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – There are three Land Use boards in the city, its members comprised of local citizens, who are privy to and make recommendations regarding the architectural changes, designs and developments in Saratoga Springs.  As 2019 gets underway, city Mayor Meg Kelly is looking to appoint new members throughout the year to each of the three boards.

 “The Land Use boards are established by volunteer citizens - who are on each of the three boards. Their job is to review applications before them and make the best, most comprehensive decisions that progresses all the ideas the City Council has already adopted,” explains Saratoga Springs City Administrator Bradley Birge, who specifically advises the Design Review Commission. The DRC, Planning Board, and Zoning Board of Appeals make up the three boards.  

“So, how do we develop as a city? Large-scale that’s done through the Comprehensive Plan. You’ve got the larger objectives of wanting to encourage growth downtown, and we want to protect the natural resources in the outer areas. Applications come before the board for a project and they go through one, two, or sometimes all three of these Land Use boards,” Birge explains. “The Comprehensive Plan provides the policy goals, the objectives. The Zoning ordinance is the law that implements and causes the Comprehensive Plan goals to occur.”    

Planning BoardMeets 1st & 3rd Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. The Saratoga Springs Planning Board is a 7-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to 7-year staggered terms. The City Council gives the Planning Board the following independent authorities to review development activities within city boundaries: Floodplain Variances, Site Plan Review, Soil Erosion and Sediment Control, Special Use Permits, Subdivision Review.

Kate Maynard, Saratoga Springs Principal Planner, advises the Planning Board: “Typically, the Planning Board will see almost any application of any development that is proposed. As a citizen it really gives you a central spot and view into what’s coming in as a proposed development in the community. It’s very diverse, and very busy in terms of volume with applications coming through. Private, residential, managing things such as Open Space conservation… You have goals such as how the lots are laid out, and a really important thing is the context: how it ties into the community as a whole. So, the Planning Board is very comprehensive in terms of what it looks at.  

“We’re seeing a lot of proposals for mixed-use, or commercial applications or concentrated residential. We’ve seen a lot of growth in our transect districts – areas the city has slated for special development, really where new neighborhoods are being formed. An example of that would be Weibel Avenue, another is Excelsior Avenue.”

Design Review Commission - Meets 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month at 7 p.m. The Saratoga Springs Design Review Commission is a 7-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to 5-year staggered terms. The City Council gives the Design Review Commission the following independent authorities to review development activities within city boundaries: Historic Review, Architectural Review. In general, their role pertains to building exterior.

Bradley Birge: “Good board members need to be analytical. They need to understand it’s not their personal preferences of whether they like or dislike a particular project or builder. They need to look and say: how does this application meet the zoning law. It’s the City Council who pass the zoning laws. It’s the zoning laws that indicate how you develop within the city of Saratoga Springs. They need to understand they’re not there on behalf of themselves. They’re there on behalf of the community and to ensure council-approved laws are followed. All board members get training. Our job is to get new members up to speed.”   

Zoning Board of Appeals – Meets 2nd and 4th Monday of every month at 7 p.m. The Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is a quasi-judicial 7-member citizen board appointed by the Mayor to 7-year staggered terms. State regulations require communities to have a Zoning Board of Appeals to review the following types of requests for waivers from any of the regulations in the zoning ordinance: Use Variances, Area Variances, Interpretations.

Susan Barden, Saratoga Springs Senior Planner, advises the ZBA: “We do have several attorneys on the board, or those who have been educated in law. That’s beneficial. It might be helpful to have some technical expertise: landscape engineers, architects. I think it’s helpful to understand how to read plans. Again, we do educate the board and have training opportunities, but that’s helpful knowledge.” 

In general, the boards also provide advisory services, or referrals for advisory opinions to the City Council as well as other boards, agencies and departments in the city. Experience-wise, a diverse representation of the city is key, Maynard says.

“In general, what we really stress is representation of the community - whether it’s age, whether it’s what part of the city you reside in, whether it’s expertise you may have regarding your personal background or skills.  So, generally speaking having that diversity and ensuring the representation of the community is one thing that’s very important. “

Residents interested in applying for either of the three city Land Use Boards may do so via an application forms posted on the city’s website. Go to, and see section: Applications for Boards and Commissions.

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