hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial October 2015



In Saratoga, developers who just won’t quit


Back in April, our cover story reported on the controversy surrounding Saratoga National Golf Club’s proposal to build a “world-class destination resort” on its property near the eastern edge of Saratoga Springs.

The $30 million plan would have expanded the golf course into a year-round operation complete with a five-star, 100-room hotel, 96 condominiums, a health-and-fitness spa and a golf training center.

It’s hardly the worst idea for a rural property near Exit 14 of the Northway. But as proponents of the project knew from the beginning, a development of that magnitude isn’t allowed under development restrictions the city adopted for its outer “greenbelt” district nearly 15 years ago.
In the minds of many Saratogians, the city’s rural outer district is key element in its quality of life, its sense of being a “city in the country.” And the limits the city put in place in its outer district have helped to steer new development into its urban core over the past decade and a half, making its downtown the envy of smaller cities across the Northeast.

In other words, the development rules the city set up under its 2001 comprehensive plan are a great success story – and not something to be tampered with lightly.

The golf course’s allies first proposed a workaround in which the city would amend its comprehensive plan to allow for “planned unit developments” in the greenbelt area. When that idea failed after several attempts, they proposed changing the rules to create a “resort overlay” zone that would allow Saratoga National’s plan to go forward.

But open-space advocates and others spoke out loudly against the resort-overlay concept, saying it would set a precedent that could lead to a series of other hotels springing up in the city’s outer district. By mid-April, the City Council voted unanimously to scrap the idea.

By August, the resort’s developers were back with a new idea, one that would involve changing the city’s zoning laws without tampering with he comprehensive plan. The City Council is now considering this idea, but a decision isn’t expected until after next month’s elections.
Meanwhile, as our cover story this month details, Saratoga National’s lawyer is among the major contributors to Saratoga PAC, a new political action committee that’s raising tens of thousands of dollars in an attempt to sway the outcome of the Nov. 3 election, in which four of the five seats on the City Council are up for grabs. The office of mayor, which controls appointments to the city’s planning and zoning boards, is among those at stake.

As of late September, Saratoga PAC hadn’t revealed how it would spend its cash or which candidates it would support. But a quick review of its donors and members and their public comments makes the group’s stance on development clear enough: It wants more city officials who’ll let developers have their way without making a lot of demands – and without being too fussy about what the end results will be.

That’s been the Saratoga County standard for decades, and the results are on display right up the road in Wilton, where a sprawling maze of big-box stores and huge parking lots spreads out in several directions from Northway Exit 15.

On Nov. 3, let’s hope the voters of Saratoga Springs have the good sense not to go back to that standard.



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