Blogs > Saratogian Newsroom

The Saratogian Newsroom blog, complete with thoughts and commentary from our newsroom staff and regular posts on happenings around town.

Wednesday, March 26

Rip Van Dam gets site plan approval for expansion, construction expected this summer

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> After a lengthy debate over environmental impacts Wednesday night, the Planning Board approved the site plan for a six-story, 176-room hotel addition to the Rip Van Dam on Broadway, paving the way for the historic building to return to its original purpose.

The addition will tower over the current more than 160 -year-old building, constructed in the city’s Victorian heyday amid some of the largest hotels in the world.

The design of the addition is modeled to compliment the Rip Van Dam’s history while still raising a new, modern hotel 70 feet over Broadway, topped with a glass-walled, 200-seat capacity banquet hall.

The addition will rise behind the Rip Van Dam, built to fill the rear parking lot from the neighboring Adelphi Hotel out to Washington Street, where the valet entrance will be located.

A shot of their rendering, which I particularly love for the old cars and men with fedoras everywhere.

A coordinated streetscape in a “historical Victorian motif” with sitting areas and landscaping and heated sidewalks will stretch along Broadway from the corner of Washington to the far side of the Adelphi, developer Bruce Levinsky said.

The project has been before the Planning Board for more than a year and was plagued by city concerns over traffic and parking.

“We’ve been here quite a few times. We came to you with a project we thought was very, very good,” said the applicant’s attorney, Matthew Chauvin. After “working with the city in a collaborative effort, this has become a better project.”

At the opening of the meeting, City Planner Kate Maynard outlined 17 conditions the applicants agreed to in order to mitigate concerns over traffic, parking and other issues.

Chauvin said that list had a price tag of about $300,000. By the end of the meeting, the applicant had agreed to one more item.

The biggest addition to the project , not included in that cost, was a five-level parking garage that will reach 70 feet at its peak and have 341 spaces.

The garage will be accessed primarily by valets from the hotel that has no on-site parking.

It was required as one of the conditions of planning board approval for the hotel’s site plan.

Planning Board members had initially criticized the developers, who had proposed the project without a definite solution to parking.

Parking is not required for development on Broadway, but it remained a concern throughout the process.
“It’s a tough project. It’s all valet, which is a first,” said Planning Board Chair Mark Torpey.

The garage’s special use permit was approved in a separate vote Wednesday night, but the site plan was put off until the Design Review Commission could review changes to the proposed height of the structure.

Traffic was the biggest roadblock to the project, though.

The corner of Washington Street and Broadway is widely considered troublesome and with an exclusively valet-served property, the amount of traffic generated was concerning to Planning Board members.  

Traffic engineers were hired by both the developer and independently by the city, paid for by the developer. The two separate studies both concluded the project would have a small to moderate impact on the corner, but the Planning Board remained concerned and divided up to a vote on its environmental impact, which includes traffic.

“As I’ve said all along, I think this is a great project on the wrong site,” said Clifford Van Wagner, who chaired the planning board for the majority of the meetings the project was considered in.

He and Board Member Dan Gaba both voted their belief that the project could have a negative impact on traffic.

Van Wagner was the sole dissenting vote on the hotel’s site plan.

Levinsky said construction will begin in the summer and will last between 15 and 16 months.

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Ellsworth Square gets Planning Board approval

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> A mixed-use development proposed in the footprint of the former Ellsworth Ice Cream factory on Division Street was approved by the Planning Board Wednesday night.

The project, known as Ellsworth Square, has been working through the city’s Planning Board for more than a year and seeks to transform the now empty site of the former factory into a solid block of townhouses, houses, apartments and commercial space that will occupy the entire block between Division and Cherry streets and Walworth Street and Marvin Alley.

“We knew you would eventually get tired of seeing us,” Peter Belmonte, one of the local developers on the project, laughed after the project was approved.

He is working on another local developer, Steve Ethier, on the mixed-use development, their first collaboration.

“We bought it out of foreclosure. Instead of bidding against each other we decided to join up,” Ethier said.

The Planning Board worked through particular details of the project with the two Wednesday before approving the site plan and subdivision of site.

The plan is comprised of 24 townhouses, four single-family homes, 20 apartments and 4,000 square feet of commercial space.

Plans call for a three-story building at the corner of Division and Walworth streets with commercial space on the ground floor and apartments on the upper two. Next to that building will be a two-story apartment building on the corner of Cherry and Walworth streets.

 “We want low-impact, low-density, low turnover establishments,” Ethier said, agreeing to restrictions to keep out restaurants, barber shops and other uses.

A private, internal street will provide access to the townhouses’ attached two-car garages.

Ethier said they hope to move forward with construction in the fall. Belmonte said, depending on market conditions, the build out should take about 18 months.

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Scrapping the residential scrap yard

Mayor Joanne Yepsen unveiled her plans to swap land with Spa City Recycling last night at her first Town Hall Meeting, which she plans to hold all over the city throughout the year.

Because the meeting was on Oak Street, much of the meeting was devoted to proposed zoning changes in the area surrounding the Beekman Street Arts District. 

Many were still confused by the changes and what is going on with them.  Linked are articles explaining both of those things, but in short, the changes would expand commercial opportunities in the Beekman Street Arts District and the surrounding neighborhoods. 

They were shot down by the Planning Board last week, but organizers say they are revising them to make another go of it. 

As for the land-swap (in the same article as the last link), Yepsen wants to trade city-owned land outside the city's core for the roughly quarter acre of land occupied by Spa City Recycling on South Franklin, an idea that drew accolades from the Oak Street crowd at last night's meeting. 

Here's a shot (via of the current block as it exists with Spa City Recycling.

Here is a plan (via Phinney Design) of what they are hoping it will look something like. 

It will eliminate all of the odd pavement surrounding the scrap yard, and obviously the Recycling Center itself. 

Yepsen and the owner of the property have yet to officially talk turkey. I called Spa City Recycling today and asked for someone who could speak to me about the deal. The man who answered told me he didn't want to talk yet, because he hadn't spoken to the mayor. He said I should call back in a week or two. 

The plan above actually involves four property owners in addition to the scrap yard owner, since Cobb Alley is not anywhere near that wide. I'm not sure whether these plans, generated by engineers tied to the effort to expand the Beekman Arts District, actually represent the city's official plan, but they were being distributed at the Town Hall Meeting last night. 

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Thursday, March 20

Bill Owens' big surprise

When Bill Owens announced he was not going to run for reelection for the 21st Congressional District, he didn't consult anyone about it in the party.

"Just my family," he said Wednesday on a stop in Saratoga Springs.

Saratoga County Democratic Chairman Todd Kerner said he and the other chairs in the district he has spoken to found out the day that Owens announced his retirement from Congress publicly.

"I think there is was a great deal of disappointment that it was so last minute," Kerner said. "Normally an incumbent will be respectful of the process and the party that supported them and will give (the party) more time."

Kerner said he believes they found an "exceptional candidate" in a short time with documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf, though he thinks Woolf was "behind the 8-ball" in terms of building a campaign machine for his run.

There was a perception in the campaign (perhaps helped by some prodding by the other side) that Woolf got off to a slow start. But then he wasn't endorsed until February 12 — four weeks after Owens announced he wouldn't seek reelection.

"I think by November everyone will know about him and will be impressed," Kerner said.

In terms of Woolf being a political unknown Owens said "That's what they said about me 4-1/2 years ago. I think there is another pleasant surprise (in Woolf)."

As I put in a previous post, the demographics of the district are somewhat lopsided in favor of the conservative candidates, though Kerner said he doesn't believe that is as significant in the 21st District as it is elsewhere.

"I think the voters in the 21st are unique. They are very independent. They don't look at the labels, they look at the person," he said.

Still, it certainly seemed to make a difference before Owens took office. 

Owens said it is too early to decide whether he will make any endorsements for the race.

"There are a lot of people in it," Owens said, and debates in possible three of the parties — Republicans, Democrats and Green Party. "We'll have to see how it shakes out."

"I hope we have some good debate," he said. Owens said he hopes whoever wins the district pays attention to the electorate as a whole, not just their side of the aisle.

"The person needs to be willing to vote with the other side on some things," he said. "I talked about being a moderate and I think my voting record reflects that is what I was."

As for his life after Congress, Owens said he doesn't know what is in store yet.

"I have not reached a conclusion about what I want to do and what I'm going to be wanted to do," he said with a laugh.

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Wednesday, March 19

In the year 2000...

(I hope everyone read that headline in the voice of LaBamba from the Conan O'Brien skits)

We've been cleaning out the cabinets here at The Saratogian, and in addition to finding an impressive number of ceramic sculptures and photos of people with impressive haircuts (mostly the late 80s early 90s) we came upon a 1979 column by then-Mayor Raymond Watkin looking ahead 21 years to the year 2000.

Now, looking back 14 years to the same marker, we can see the things he was concerned about then are the same concerns talked about today. (Impressive, most impressive).

He talks about the need to avoid development of "sameness" in the city. "A city needs something to set it apart," he wrote, saying that the city needed to embrace its historic architecture while moving forward.

Watkin also warns against over-development and a lack of adherence to planning and zoning considerations, though his focus at times is on keeping different land uses separate and today all the rage is mixed-use (though not industry and residential, as he alludes to).

Watkin touted the need to maintain the pedestrian-friendly downtown that the city enjoys today and keeps building on.

"By the year 2000, the pedestrian, or consumer, will be able to shop in the central business district with all of the ease and pleasing atmosphere that is prevalent in the new shopping malls today," he wrote, which is certainly true at this point, if not today since this brutal winter still isn't over. (Why didn't you warn us Ray-stradamus?)

He also mentions "THE PARADOX of the automobile" which has "been both a blessing and a curse to Saratoga Springs."

It certainly has. It wasn't 3-1/2 years ago — still 11 years past the year Watkin was forecasting — that the city announced plans to build a parking garage (then called a "parking deck") to ameliorate that vehicular dilemma.

"For far too long — decades, in fact — the issue of downtown parking has gone unresolved," Mayor Scott Johnson said in the City Center in August 2011. "Well, today I am proud to announce a project that will directly solve, in large part, the parking shortage in the center of our vibrant downtown."

Of course, this year two other parking garages are in the works. Both for specific purposes, but both to address necessary increases in parking for their respective projects. 

So it would seem Watkin's predictions were more sage for longer than Johnson's, but then neither have a crystal ball. 

Watkin had some interesting ideas on the paradox — "it is anticipated that new modes of transportation, that work in conjunction with the automobile, will be developed by the year 2000" — and here his prognostications take a turn for the "huh?"
"For example, large easily accessible parking lots might be established along the Northway for outside visitors. A shuttle bus would continually transport theses people to a network of... (wait for it)... 'People Transporters.' This network would run within and between the central business district, the race tracks, the recreation parks and the industrial parks. For city residents, lots and garages would be located just outside of the core area with a direct connection to the transport system, so that by the year 2000, visitors and residents will be able to shop, conduct business, dine, visit the race tracks and catch a Performing Arts Center show — whenever they wish — without using their cars." 
Well, MOST of the piece still rings true today and I would give him high marks for the issues he identified 35 years ago. I probably would have said we would have flying cars by 2000.

Probably by 2035, though.....

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Saturday, March 15

The unsurprising breakdown of North Country voter enrollment and Where's the Woolf?

I've been looking a lot at the history of the 21st Congressional District and its unusual status as a battleground district.

Seems that may have been a short-lived status for the district, based on enrollment data and the particulars of previous elections.

I produced some graphs, one of which will appear in the article about the district's evolution and this one, which wasn't too remarkable so we left it out.


It shows the numbers of voters enlisted in each party as of November every year since 1995 (as far back as the state Board of Election's website kept it for).

The bars fluctuate but the percentage of each party's share of the total enrolled electorate really don't. Dems stay at around 29 percent and the Republicans went down from 44 percent to 42 percent over that period. 

Green party is on the graph, if you couldn't see it. 

On the fundraising side of the race, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says Aaron Woolf is among their "Emerging Races" in their Red-to-Blue Program, designed to raise money nationally for congressional races in tough districts for them. 

As it says of the Red-to-Blue candidates: "These candidates have earned a spot on Red to Blue by surpassing aggressive fundraising, organization and infrastructure goals."

On the website, the DCCC allows you to contribute to Red-to-Blue races at the click of a button and split it among its 16 Red-to-Blue candidates or contribute to just one of them.

It also gives you the same option for 11 out of 12 of its "Emerging Races" candidates. 

The one left out? Aaron Woolf. 

Perhaps an oversight?

I've got an e-mail out to the DCCC to ask about it. I attached the screen shot. I'll update if/when I hear back. 


Well I hear it was just a technical glitch and should get cleared up... but as of Tuesday evening it's still cutting him out of the contribution page. 

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As if there were any doubt...

James A. Murphy III was expected to be the endorsed Republican candidate since he announced his run for County Court Judge on Valentines Day.

Today the Saratoga County GOP Committee made it official, unanimously voting to support him.

Saratoga County District Attorney Jim Murphy received the unanimous endorsement of the Saratoga County Republican County Committee this morning to be the candidate for Saratoga County Court Judge on the Republican line on the ballot this November.  After having appeared before most of the 19 towns and 2 city committees in the county,  the full committee vote was the last step in securing the Republican line for the election this fall. 

Saratoga County Republican Chair John Herrick will be issuing a release later today,  and took the vote just before noon.  The nomination was made by attorney Diane Freestone who recognized Murphy for his integrity, honesty and hard work and seconded by his wife Laurie, a long time committee member.  The Committee congratulated Murphy on his 27 years of service in the DA's Office citing to a number of high profile cases which he has prosecuted.  He has appeared on NBC’s most highly rated morning program, The Today Show for the prosecution of a controversial and complicated manslaughter case and on Dateline NBC in a two hour Dateline Special entitled “The Man Behind the Mask” for his prosecution of a notorious kidnapper who attempted to abduct a high school track star.  Recently he successfully convicted Dennis Drue who killed two Shenendehowah students and injured two others in an DWI and drugged driving crash of 48 felonies resulting in a lengthy prison sentence. 

In accepting the nomination DA Murphy said "I am honored and humbled to have received the endorsement of the Saratoga County Republican Party to be their candidate for Saratoga County Court Judge.  I will work hard to earn the votes of all the county residents. If I'm fortunate enough to be elected, I will work hard everyday, as a dedicated public servant, to make sure that justice is served for all parties who come before me. A person's individual liberty is a basic constitutional right and one that I will safeguard with care and vigor."

Judge Jerry Scarano turns 70 this year and his term ends, so an election is scheduled for this November after 20 years of his presiding on the bench. 


The question still remains as to who will take Murphy's spot, but several people have confirmed their intentions to pursue the DA's office this year. 

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Wednesday, March 5

Everyone agrees on the vote, but not its meaning

Tuesday's vote on casinos in Saratoga Springs was unanimous, but its impact certainly isn't. Both sides have issued statements supporting the vote and claiming it means different things. 

Statement from Destination Saratoga Co-Chair Dan Hogan

“Destination Saratoga applauds Mayor Joanne Yepsen and the City Commissioners for passing a resolution that is exactly what we've been calling for throughout this debate: reserving judgment on expanded gaming at Saratoga Casino and Raceway until the state's request for applications is released and the details of the casino's bid are finalized. Any action before that time would be based on speculation and conjecture, and would be contrary to the best interests of Saratogians.

“We wholeheartedly agree with the City Council that Saratoga is a special place and that a Las Vegas style casino has no place in our city. We also know that Saratoga has successfully hosted a casino for the last ten years, and the benefits of that relationship are evident on Broadway and beyond. We are confident that once the facts are available, the city council and the public alike will see the benefits of an enhanced Saratoga Casino and Raceway and also recognize the negative consequences of sending those benefits to another nearby community, and the choice will be clear. We applaud our elected officials for standing up to baseless fear mongering and waiting until all facts are available to make this critical decision on behalf of their constituents.”

                                                 Saratogians Against Vegas-style Expansion


Saratoga Springs, NY - The Saratoga Springs City Council voted unanimously in favor of a resolution opposing casino gambling expansion in the city at a packed City Council meeting on Tuesday night. Over 300 people attended the meeting, which was moved to the City’s Music Hall to accommodate the huge crowd. This resolution negates one that was passed by the City Council in December 2012 that favored a casino.

Calling the divisive debate over gambling expansion “the issue of the decade,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen, introduced her resolution saying,” After months of due diligence it is time to act.”

“The full support of the City Council rejecting a casino shows clear vision for the future of Saratoga Springs and it recognizes the fact that continuing our economic successes, preserving our quality of life and moving forward in a positive way that focuses on maintaining a strong downtown, protecting the horse industry, guarding the event spaces and maintaining control of our own economic future does not align with the goals of a casino,” said Colin Klepetar, co-founder of SAVE Saratoga. “We are pleased to see that the Council did not decide to wait for the RFA. It shows they understand the RFA will hold no surprises and they have presented a united front against the Casino. We hope that the Gaming Commission, the siting board and the Governor have finally realized that our community does not support siting a casino here and we hope that they will respect our collective voice.”

We are grateful for the fact that Commissioner Scirocco brought a resolution to the table, Mayor Yepsen for building a consensus on this historic issue with her resolution, and the rest of the Commissioners for supporting the community,” said Klepetar.

In their comments before the vote, the commissioners acknowledged that the vast majority of their constituents were against casino expansion. Commisioner Scirocco held up a stack of emails saying, “it’s clear to me that the citizens of Saratoga are against it.” 

SAVE spokesperson Sara Boivin commended the commissioners for representing the 58% of voters who opposed gambling expansion in the November election. She said, “The city council gave its citizens a voice where we had none.”  As for Albany, Boivin noted,  “The Council has sent a clear message to the Siting Board in Albany, that a casino has no place in Saratoga Springs.”



Saratoga Springs, NY – In advance of SAVE Saratoga’s March 6th fundraiser at Putnam Den, local artists have stepped forward to add their voice and talent to the movement. 

“Local artists have been a part of SAVE Saratoga from its inception,” said Colin Klepetar of SAVE Saratoga, “from the design of our logo, to the set up and execution of Thursday night’s fundraiser at Putnam Den, to our continuing efforts to in Albany.”  The SAVE fundraiser, ‘Casino Blues Bash’, will feature artists MaryLeigh Roohan, Freewater, The Dirty Harri Band and Bo Peep and The Funk Sheep.  All local performers donating their time and talent because they believe they have a stake in whether a casino license is granted here in Saratoga Springs.  “For me, quality of life doesn’t mean more gambling culture in Toga,” said Jonathon Newell, leader of The Dirty Harri Band.  “Who is casino expansion good for?  Statistics clearly show the ‘house’ wins.  The community loses.  And we all, 58.2%, already said we don’t need it, our Mayor and City Council have unanimously rejected it – it should be crystal clear to the Siting Board in Albany – we don’t want it.  They still gonna try and get it over on us?  No way!” said Rob Wright of Freewater. 

Also, performing his original song on Thursday night, “The Casino Blues,” Clem Marino adds his voice and song dedicated to the movement.  “I was moved by the recent events of Proposition 1 and how it may affect local host communities, specifically my hometown of Saratoga Springs. I wrote ‘Casino Blues’ to honor Pete Seeger who set the standard for musicians and artists using their talents to further a worthy cause.”  Marino recorded his song at a local studio, JBrown Noise, owned by Jason Brown who recorded free of charge. 

From recording artists, to graphic artists, to cartoonists, SAVE Saratoga has been buoyed by the visual and vocal representation of the citizen’s struggle against a state imposed casino.  Russ Pettinger, a local landscape architect, took his frustration and turned it into a cartoon series that has been seen across social media.  “I've created over 30 cartoons discussing salient topics regarding a casino coming to town.  The very idea of bringing a casino to Saratoga Springs was so appalling to me that I tried to create a metaphor to fully describe my feelings of helpless indignation and outrage.  My goal is to encourage the undecided to learn more about the subject, to entertain those who oppose full gaming and to irritate those who would risk our city in favor of personal short-term profits.  If I can provide information and promote discussion in a thought-provoking way, I've done my job.”

More local artists join the movement each day seeking opportunity to plug themselves in in the most supportive and impactful way.  Benj Gleeksman, SAVE logo designer, has volunteered his talent more than once saying, “my family and I have strong feelings against bringing a new casino into Saratoga, so I'm always more than happy to help SAVE with their design needs.”

Amejo Amyot, Ph.D., founder, Arts district on Beekman describes her motivation for organizing around this issue,  “We must not compromise our morals and ethics for financial gain nor do anything that endangers our well being for financial security.  When we sell ourselves, we lose all connection to our creative, imaginative selves.”

Local Saratoga Artists who have contributed to the SAVE Saratoga effort to date:
Clem Marino
Jason Brown
Hudson photo
Megan Mumford
Charlie Samuels
Rob Wright and Freewater
The Dirty Harri Band
Annie and the Hedonists
Russ Pettinger
Benj Gleeksman
Bo Peep and the Funk Sheep
Amejo Amyot, Ph.D.
MaryLeigh Roohan

SAVE Saratoga Casino Blues Bash Fundraiser
Thursday, March 6th 7pm at Putnam Den

Celebrate our community stand against casino expansion!
Come out in your red to show your support, donate your cash and party with some of the best bands in town!
MaryLeigh Roohan Clem Marino sings the Casino Blues Freewater Bo Peep and the Funk Sheep
$10 cover ($5 with student ID)
SAVE tshirts, signs and concert posters for sale! All proceeds benefit SAVE's efforts to STOP THE CASINO.


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Saturday, March 1

Playing it close to the vest

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Dueling resolutions opposing expanded casino gambling are expected to be merged by Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
City officials also confirmed that they had received plans for the proposed expansion at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, but would not make them available for public viewing.
Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco said Friday he was sponsoring a resolution drafted by Saratogians Against Casino-style Expansion opposing locating a full-scale gaming facility in the Spa City.
“I want a strong resolution that says ‘no’ to any expansion over there,” Scirocco said Friday. He is not interested in waiting until the state issues its Request for Applications that will outline exactly what a full-scale casino would entail. “If we want to have any impact we need to move now.”
He was making some changes to the drafted SAVE resolution, but said it largely coincided with his views on the subject.
At the same time, Mayor Joanne Yepsen also sponsored a resolution, but wouldn’t specify Friday exactly what it said and it was not released as part of the preliminary City Council agenda. Friday afternoon at about 3:30, the resolution was still being circulated in City Hall looking for edits, additions and comments from the City Council.
Yepsen said Friday that she expected the two resolutions to be merged. When asked if they were mutually exclusive, she said “Oh gosh no, they’re very similar.”
Scirocco said he would be willing to merge the two resolutions, provided it took a strong stance against expansion.
City Council members Michele Madigan and John Franck said Thursday they would prefer to wait for the RFAs to be released from the state, and Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said that while he was personally opposed to casino gambling in the state, he would accept a modest expansion at the casino provided it came with city oversight and provisions to protect city interests.
Still, he said he supported bringing the SAVE resolution to the table, though “I don’t agree with all of their concerns.”
Friday, city officials also confirmed they had received plans from the Saratoga Casino and Raceway showing the expansion they have planned, but they did not make the plans available for public review.
City Attorney Sarah Burger said the city only had one copy of the plans and “we are looking at it.”
When pressed to allow the documents to be reviewed, she said “would you like to go into my office and take the documents off of my desk to look at? Or any of these other desks for that matter?”
Shortly thereafter, Yepsen said “we’re not trying to not be transparent” but they could not let the plans leave City Hall. She then said they could be reviewed, but City Planner Kate Maynard was not available and Yepsen did not know where the plans were.
Saratoga Casino and Raceway is not required to get approvals from the Planning Board or city in order to move forward with its expansion. 

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