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SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, April 19, Ted Mallin, AIA, a Principal at Envision Architects, made a presentation about five options for making space in City Hall to accommodate a second courtroom, which has been mandated by the state. 

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When the call came in from Saratoga TODAY reporter Arthur Gonick last Thursday, I was at a dinner in Troy with other regional Mayors accepting an award on behalf of Saratoga Springs as one of the 22 cities across the nation who ended veterans' homelessness by the end of 2015.  After the dinner, I listened to the message and was stunned to hear that a "story" that I was the subject of was going to run in the paper the following day and they had gone to press without even giving me a chance for a comment, response or clarification of the facts. In my dozen years of public service, I've never not had a chance to respond to an article relating to me or, at the very least, asked for a comment prior to publication. 

Published in News
Thursday, 14 April 2016 12:54

Recusal Or Refusal?

Mayor/Hospital Communication Submitted to Board of Ethics

Introduction: This is a story about transparency in government, overlaid on a timeline. 

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SARATOGA SPRINGS –It will remain until the next Saratoga Springs City Council meeting (on April 5) for a scheduled vote (after a second public hearing) on the Saratoga City Center’s proposed lease of the High Rock parcel. The Council at its Tuesday, March 15 meeting did take action on a matter that recognized, regardless of what gets developed at High Rock - inevitably an invitation will be extended to have more cars on the city’s streets. Therefore, any action that the Council takes to preserve and increase Saratoga Springs’ standing as a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly town is worthy of note. 

 

Through a series of motions and capital budget amendments, the Council funded a project that, when built out, will provide a pedestrian/bicycle trail for about five miles along the northern side of Geyser Road. The trail is forecast to be about eight feet wide from Spa State Park west to Cady Hill Road, and then widening to 10 feet to the Town of Milton. A total of $96,790 was dedicated to the project. It will entail new engineering and will impact 12 property owners, with about $50,000 of these funds pledged for right-of-way acquisition for the trail and buffer along Geyser Road. 

 

While the primary beneficiary of this is the Geyser Road neighborhood, where access has been historically limited to motor vehicles and some bus service, this is a significant event for all city residents. When completed, this will provide another key link in the overall plan to have the city completely connected via a series of pedestrian and bicycle accessible trails, along the greenbelt and through the downtown core.

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Attorney Matt Jones offered up an interesting gambit, speaking on behalf of Saratoga Hospital, during a public hearing about amending the new comprehensive plan’s designation of a parcel, upon which the Hospital wished to expand, back to the 2001 zoning as residential. Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Commissioner of Accounts John Franck have recused themselves from all discussions and votes on this matter. With Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathieson’s stated opposition, it had appeared to make any plan approval impossible (three votes are required to pass any Council measure according to the City’s charter).  

 

Jones stated that the Hospital’s application will be kept open, and advocated that a mechanism be developed, similar to Courts of Appeals, in which replacements are appointed for those who recuse themselves due to conflicts – in effect, giving all applicants an opportunity to obtain a three-vote majority from a full five-person “council”. 

 

It remains to be seen if this idea develops any traction, as it would involve at least some City Charter amendments. Yet, what appeared to be dead issue is anything but that, at least for now. 

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Finally, a shout-out to city resident Bonnie Sellers, who always provides some pithy perspectives during public comment time. Bonnie contributed the idea of the day when she suggested the City look into developing a night court as an alternative to building an annex, potentially on the valuable High Rock parcel. Commissioner Mathiesen said it was an excellent idea and the City was already looking into it, and though there may be some (unidentified) logistics difficulties, it was certainly worth pursuing.

 

Published in News
Thursday, 04 February 2016 11:46

Saratoga Springs’ Solar: Towards a Brighter Future

Committee Report Details Roadmap for City to Become Solar Leader

 

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Solar power is becoming more viable each day, and a Solar Committee, formed last summer by Saratoga Springs Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, delivered a comprehensive report to the Saratoga Springs City Council at their Tuesday, February 2 meeting. The report surveyed the “state of the local solar landscape” and made several recommendations how the City can take action itself and encourage others to increase its usage.

 

Solar Committee Chairperson Larry Toole delivered a summary of the report, which began by examining current local solar situations from environmental, technological and financial perspectives – all trending towards increased favorability for solar power. As a result, the report cited research that “more solar {was} installed in one week during 2015 than was installed in all of 2006.” This is due to a variety of factors including improved efficiencies in solar panels and equipment, leading to the lowered cost of generating solar power, which Toole noted had dropped significantly: from $12/watt in 1998 to around $4.50/watt in 2013. 

 

The report also discussed various solar implementation models, from individual residence/businesses, community solar parks (where the solar array or panels are shared by a group of people, such as the inhabitants of a community or an apartment building, much the same way community gardens work), and larger “Utility Scale” installations, such as the city’s proposed Weibel Avenue Solar Park, which, when built out, could have the potential to generate 40-50 percent of city building energy needs. Commissioner Madigan has forecasted that the groundbreaking on this will occur this year. The report also listed opportunities for financial assistance from Federal and State sources to encourage solar installations.

 

The Solar Committee made seven action recommendations to the City Council to help encourage, emphasize and incentivize continued and increased utilization of solar in all areas of Saratoga Springs’ economy:

 

1- Replace the current Solar Access Ordinance 6.4.8 with the New York State Unified Solar Permit or a variation. By standardizing the process, the goal would be to encourage easier and a greater number of solar permit applications. 

2- Ensure that consideration for solar will be pervasive across all of the City’s decision making bodies, including City Council, and its Land Use Boards.

3- Encourage the City to offer “incentives” (monetary or otherwise) to encourage the inclusion of solar and other clean energy options within proposed development projects. Such incentives could be above and beyond what is available at the state and federal level.

4- The City should participate in the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program (an elective program administered by the State’s Energy Improvement Corporation. This provides financing for eligible clean energy projects) for energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades to buildings.

5- Encourage builders to include a solar component within all new development proposals. Such encouragement should be included at all process gateways to ensure that at least adequate consideration be given to solar and/or other renewable energy or energy efficiency options.

6- Pursue community solar as an alternative option, especially when the installation of solar directly on a consumer’s property creates a negative impact for adjacent properties or to the community as a whole.

7. The City should adopt policies and promote actions that recognize and are sensitive to balancing the growth of solar with competing interests within the community (such as historic preservation or the environment). For example, under most circumstances it is self-defeating to advance solar installations by removal of the tree canopy.

 

The complete committee report is on the city website. Visit www.saratoga-springs.org. A copy is also in the City Clerk’s office at City Hall.

 

Published in News
Thursday, 12 November 2015 11:27

Council, Public Hear RFP Responder’s Presentations

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. 

 

 

Video of the presentations, Council and public comments can be reviewed on the city website: www.saratoga-springs.org. The next step in the process will have questions from the Council, High Rock Advisory Committee and the public standardized and forwarded to the two applicants for further response. Should you wish to submit a question, email it to Deputy Mayor Joseph Ogden at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in News
Thursday, 22 October 2015 10:38

City Council Approves PBA Contract

SARATOGA SPRINGS – At the Saratoga Springs City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 20, the council unanimously approved a 5-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association (PBA). The contract is for 5 years, retroactive to 2013. 

 

The PBA agreement calls for an 11.5 percent pay increase over the 5-year term: a 3 percent increase for 2013 (effective mid-year); 2.5 percent for 2014; and 2 percent for each of the years 2015-17. The PBA contract will save about $92,000 by the elimination of one (the most expensive) health insurance option, and save about $25,000 by increasing the annual individual contribution level from $1,000 to $1,500. 

 

Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan stated that she had prepared for a contract settlement by setting up reserve accounts that would cover the required retroactive pay, and that the necessary adjustments for the coming year’s budget (estimated at $490-580,000) would be able to be made without impacting the stable tax rate she had proposed in the 2016 Comprehensive Budget message on October 6. There might be some impact on some expense lines as a result, though Madigan regarded these as minimal. 

 

Mayor Joanne Yepsen noted that this was the fifth of seven open contracts that had been settled since she took office. Currently, the fire chiefs’ and firefighters’ contracts remain to be settled. 

 

In other Council News:

 

  • Mayor Yepsen appointed Tamara Tepper and re-appointed Andrew Jarosh to the Community Development Citizen Advisory Committee.
  • A 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration Event was approved. It will be at the Saratoga Springs City Center on Saturday, November 21.
  • Appointments by each Council member to a High Rock parking lot technical review committee were requested by Wednesday, October 21 - with a goal to have each respondent to the RFP appear before the Council on November 9-10.
  • A second public hearing on the 2016 Budget was set for Monday, November 2 at 6:50 p.m. before the next City Council meeting. This public hearing will remain open until a budget is passed. 
  • Commissioner Madigan delivered a third-quarter financial report. Details are on the city’s website: saratoga-springs.org 
  • Commissioner of Public Safety Chris Mathiesen reported that an RFP went out for firms to examine and make recommendations to improve pedestrian safety at city intersections. Responses are due by November 12. 
Published in News
Friday, 25 September 2015 11:44

Dear Editor: No to Saratoga National Expansion

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

Published in News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, joined by Commissioner of Public Safety Christian Mathiesen, Commissioner of Finance Michele Madigan, and several community members on the steps of City Hall Tuesday June 2, expressed concern regarding the appointment of the Saratoga County Mental Health Director Michael Prezioso, Ph.D. 

The concern centered on a New York State Office of Mental Health January 28, 2008 finding of sexual harassment by Prezioso to a member of his staff from early 2006 to late spring of 2007 while they were both employed at the Capital District Psychiatric Center in Albany.  Additional concerns about current working conditions at the Saratoga County Mental Health facility located at 135 South Broadway in Saratoga Springs under the new director have been brought to the City’s attention by county staff and concerned citizens.

“We hope that the County will take the appropriate steps necessary to ensure the protection of our citizens and that all charges are properly addressed to ensure top notch and reputable community service to all,” said Yepsen. “Sexual harassment is never okay. This should have been disclosed.”

Mathiesen agreed. “I have three daughters, four sisters, and staff who should be able to work every day and not be harassed,” he said. “Mental health needs are not being met, and the last I looked, this facility is in our city and serves our city residents. All I’m saying is there should be a thorough investigation.”

Madigan said, “Dr. Prezioso has denied allegations of prior misconduct; however, serious concerns have been raised about the work environment at the Saratoga County Mental Health Center since his appointment. Doctors and clinicians have resigned, claiming that the facility is falling apart and that they find working with Prezioso untenable and toxic. There are suggestions that more resignations with follow.” 

Prezioso referred requests for comment to Saratoga County Administrator Spencer P. Hellwig, who said in a prepared statement, “For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director.  Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated… Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.” 

Here is Hellwig's full statement: 

There has been an ongoing undercurrent of opinions being voiced by members of the public who appear to be taking a position based on limited information about what is being done or not being done to manage personnel activities and the delivery of services in the Saratoga County Mental Health Department. 

For the record, the County Director of Personnel has personally met with every staff member who has asked or expressed an interest in speaking with her to voice their concerns with the new Mental Health Director.  Each employee was provided with a detailed explanation of the process for initiating and following through with a claim where they believe their rights have been violated.   Many employees complained that the facility needs to be provided with more psychiatrists.  Grievances were filed by employees to the CSEA union in regards to the County actions to stop flexible time and the amount of payment associated with on-call pay.  These issues have been settled by the CSEA and the County.

The demand for Psychiatrists is likely to grow and is a problem State wide, as fewer medical school graduates opt for careers in Psychiatry and many currently practicing are at or near retirement age. The American Psychiatric Association has concluded that the demand for psychiatrist is strong and the need for more psychiatrists will continue to grow.   

The Saratoga County Department of Mental Health actively collaborates with Saratoga Hospital's office of Human Resources to recruit Psychiatrists for the County Mental Health Center. Center Psychiatrists are Hospital employees, deployed per the County's contract with the Hospital. Candidates have recently toured the Mental Health Center as part of the recruitment process and others are scheduled.  The Hospital is working cooperatively with the County and collectively we are in the process of placing Psychiatrists. 

In addition, Saratoga County is working actively to establish a Nurse Practitioner-Psychiatry position at the Mental Health Center. Nurse Practitioners may diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, prescribe medication as indicated, and engage in triage and crisis intervention services. The addition of a Nurse Practitioner is specifically designed to enhance access to services.

We have seen random letters being written by individuals outside the department and are aware that Dr. Prezioso’s enforcement of departmental policies has irked some tenured staff members, but County Directors do not adopt County policies or approve the collective bargaining agreements that they are expected to follow and enforce. 

The County has and will continue to work with administration and the employees to resolve any personnel issues that are enforceable, but we cannot and will not be a part to any course of action that violates any employee rights to operate in a fashion that serves the interests of the mental health clients or the general public at large. 

Relative to the hiring of Dr. Prezioso the Personnel Department supported his appointment after multiple interviews and a background check was performed which included verification of his licenses, education and prior employment.

Published in News
Friday, 22 May 2015 16:53

City Council Adopts Busker Rules

SARATOGA SPRINGS – The Saratoga Springs City Council, which met May 19, passed a new city ordinance effective immediately that requires street performers to stay within ten feet of the curb, among other changes including noise limits and performance times. Critics cited existing ordinances as sufficient, and after weeks of discussion, the “busker rules” ordinance passed Tuesday with fewer changes than originally proposed.    

Police Chief Gregory Veitch was invited to present at the meeting to address concerns raised in the community and at previous meetings regarding minor violations such as loitering and open containers. Veitch assured those present that the department will not be making mass arrests, and clarified that such violations must be seen by an officer in order for an officer to make an arrest. If witnessed by a civilian, that person must go to the station and file a form. He spoke about striking a balance between Constitutional freedoms and violations, saying officers will certainly uphold the new ordinance but cannot be carrying a measuring tape. He encouraged continued communication between all parties as a positive course of action. 

Other City Council business highlights for the evening included the appointment of Jim Gold to the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, and the retirement of Chief Water Treatment Operator Tom Kirkpatrick was announced. Greg Johnson will be promoted from within the department to replace Kirkpatrick. 

Mayor Joanne Yepsen also provided an update on the centennial celebration and the City’s recognition as a Walk Friendly Community. Commissioner Michele Madigan led the finance discussions, which included the NYS Tax Freeze Credit Program, which potentially allows for homeowners to be eligible for a property tax rebate, and the City’s Government Efficiency Plan.

The Saratoga Springs Housing Authority Five-Year Plan was discussed, and the Council approved the Housing Authority Salary. The City Council also voted to refer the Zoning Text Amendment to Include Golf-Clubhouse Definition to the Planning Board for an advisory opinion, which is nonbinding. 

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Blotter

  • Todd A. Axton, 61, of Ballston, was sentenced to 8 months incarceration in the Saratoga County Correctional Facility, after pleading to aggravated criminal contempt, a felony, charged October 2022.  Lewis Labshere, 34, of Schenectady, was sentenced to 1-1/2 to 3 years incarceration in a state correctional facility after pleading to criminal contempt in the first-degree, charged February 2024 in Galway.  Jay A, Sherman, 35, of South Glens Falls, was sentenced to time served and 5 years of probation, after pleading to felony DWI, charged August 2023 in Moreau.  Hasan A. Stubbs, 26, of Ballston Spa, pleaded to grand larceny in…

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