Thursday, December 02, 2004

Update from City in the Country Land Protection Committee

Update from City in the Country Land Protection Committee

Thank you again for all your e-mails to the Council. Please consider turning your email into a letter to the editor. You can email them directly to the Saratogian at
You may also want to check out a new online newspaper.

Upcoming meetings:

December 8th - Planning Board. Agenda # 3 - Anderson project is back on the planning board's agenda. Check your email before you go to this meeting. If we hear it is pulled in time to email you we will.

December 8th - Planning Board. Agenda # 5 - Kuchesky Subdivision. This is the issue of whether the Kuchesky property on Gilbert Road should be subdivided into 4 - 1 acre lots and the remaining 74+ acres sold to the City for 1 million dollars.

December 8th - Planning Board Agenda #13 Advisory opinion to the City Council on whether  all 124 acres east of the Northway and including the Anderson property should go back to RR-1.

December 9th: Public Hearing - Kuchesky subdivision and whether the City should purchase this land for 1 million dollars. Currently the City is stating they are purchasing this property just for open space. If in the future they want to use it for Recreation they are going to have to go through a new process. Up until last month the City has said it was for recreation. The question is should the City decide what the property is going to be used for before they spend 1 million dollars?  If developed there could be approximately 16 houses.  This is your chance to speak out for or against this proposal.

While all these meetings are important there will be a public hearing before the City Council on rezoning the 124 acres back to RR-1 as recommended in the Comprehensive Plan and as the City Council had done in May 2003. Hopefully this meeting will be in January 2005 and will be the most important meeting to go to. 


As many of you know on Wednesday, November 17, 2004, two important meetings took place affecting both the future of the "City in the Country" and the Anderson Project.

For a more detailed recount, this is what happened:

1. AT THE CITY COUNCIL: Commissioner Matt McCabe, for the third time, brought a motion to send the entire 124 acres near Gilbert Road, Lake Avenue and the Northway to the Planning Board for an advisory opinion on returning this property to the RR-1 designation as called for in the City's Comprehensive Plan. This time the City Council voted unanimously. The city council voted unanimously in favor of Commissioner McCabe's motion. While this is a very positive development it should be viewed with considerable caution. The Council, only the day before, sent the issue down to the county planning board asking for an advisory opinion on rezoning all the land in that area except the 44 acres the Anderson proposed project would sit on. As a result, there are now two outstanding zoning options, 1- to return the entire area to RR-1 as recommended in the Comprehensive Plan, which Commissioner McCabe proposes, or 2- to carve out the Anderson's 44 acres to allow their development to move forward which Mayor Lenz and Commissioner Towne had originally proposed.

This odd behavior should be considered in the context of what has happened during the last few months. If you will recall, Commissioner Matt McCabe had tried on two previous City Council meetings, to take this same action and was unable to get a second to his motion. More recently, with the exception of Commissioner McCabe, the council tried to placate the public by beginning the process of rezoning all the land RR-1, except the Anderson project's 44 acres which would be allowed to remain HIGH DENSITY/OFFICE PARK. At the Tuesday night meeting, Commissioner Towne successfully prevented Commissioner McCabe from sending all 124 acres to a public hearing by using a procedural maneuver to block him which is why Commissioner McCabe's motion was delayed to Wednesday night's special council meeting.

The fact that the council has now reversed itself again by sending the project to the Planning Board for the full RR-1, knowing that the Planning Board will tell them to make good on the comprehensive plan is a testament to the pressure that all the emails and calls made by people has had on the council. As politicians they are sensing that coming out the wrong way on this issue could cost them their seats in the next election.

This does not mean however that they will not be looking for a way to help the Andersons while avoiding responsibility. The Andersons have made it very clear that they intend to sue the city if necessary and there is the risk that the council or the planning board might either inadvertently or intentionally provide an opportunity.

2. AT THE PLANNING BOARD: Mike Ingersoll of the L.A. Group made a presentation to the city planning board on the same evening. At the end of the presentation, planning board member, Nancy Ohlin indicated that there was no point in going forward that evening to discuss the proposal for several reasons, one of which was that the planning board was going to request that the city council provide them with an independent attorney to assist them since the Anderson's have indicated their intent to sue the City if they do not get what they want, and the fact that they have already sued the City before. The attorney for the Andersons requested that the planning board not table their project but that they entertain a full discussion that night and allow the project's review process to go forward. He noted that the current zoning allowed for their development and implied that it would be improper to delay them.

Both Bob Bristol, who is the Planning Board Chairman, and Nancy Ohlin noted the central question. The City must either implement the RR-1 zoning as called for by the comprehensive plan or it must change the comprehensive plan to allow for the zoning that would allow for the Anderson project.

The planning board unanimously voted to table the application and to request that the city provide them with an attorney.

It was apparent from comments made by the Andersons and the Workforce Housing Taskforce, that they will attempt to attack the entire Comprehensive Plan on the basis it does not allow for affordable housing. This is not true, it actually gives incentives for affordable housing and in the "housing" section of the plan, 11 of 13 points talk about encouraging affordable housing.

Regardless of the facts, developers have been suing municipalities on the basis of a legal claim called "exclusionary zoning policies". Real exclusionary zoning practices attempt to block affordable housing which in effect excluded minority people from access to housing. Our Comprehensive Plan does no such thing, however it will not stop the argument from being made.

One unpleasant scenario would be that Mayor Lenz might put together a committee to amend the comprehensive plan under the guise of addressing the exclusionary housing question. This was clearly what Work Force Housing people would like to see happen. Unlike Saratoga Springs, the areas that have been subject to such exclusionary law suits have been in communities in which there was virtually no affordable housing such as some of the exclusive, upscale townships in the suburbs west of Boston. Still, it would not require a suit for Mayor Lenz to establish a committee to revise the city's comprehensive plan using the exclusionary housing issue as the pretext.

The bottom line is that the efforts by many people to protect the "City in the Country" are having a real effect. While the fight is far from over it is apparent that our patience, determination, and measured behavior is slowly making a difference.

Thank you and please keep up the good fight.

City in the Country Land Protection Committee