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Saratoga National Presents Expansion Plans

Lucas Willard

At the Gideon Putnam resort Monday, Saratoga National Golf Club presented its plans for an expansion that would include a 100-room hotel, a spa, residential units, trails, an indoor practice facility, and other amenities.

The four-phase project is currently not allowed under zoning laws and sits at the heart of the debate over how the city will protect green space as it updates its Comprehensive Plan.

Last fall, the city’s Comprehensive Plan Committee sent draft language to the city council that allows for Planned Unit Developments, or PUDs, in the so-called “greenbelt,” which includes the more than 500-acres owned by Saratoga National.

In December, after public worry that PUDs would open the door to unchecked development, the city council passed a measure rejecting them in the greenbelt.

Now, Saratoga National, along with the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, and others, is advocating for a “Resort Overlay District” that would require at least 80 percent of the available green space be preserved.

Michael Toohey, an attorney for Saratoga National, commented on the long history of debate over the greenbelt in the Spa City.

“It is like a recurrent toothache. It keeps coming back because the two sides do not want to recognize that their goals do not have to be mutually exclusive,” said Toohey.

Saratoga National controls 405 acres directly, plus 150 leased to the writers’ colony Yaddo. Toohey said the current expansion plans would place a conservation easement on 93 percent of the available lands, and that the expansion would occupy an additional 15 acres.

Toohey said under current zoning law, Saratoga National could allow private homes on the site.

“As you drive down Union Avenue and you look to the south you see in the distance the Clubhouse. There’s the pond right there and one of the golf holes. What you will see is a house on the golf hole. And as your viewshed expands and looks left and right, you will see homes to your left and your right.”

The Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau supports the existing Comprehensive Plan language to allow limited PUDs in the greenbelt.

Tourism Bureau President Todd Garafano said that Saratoga Springs lost out on several opportunities last year and argued it must remain competitive as a resort community.

“So these 20 or so groups represented about 13,000 room nights and about $7 million in economic impact. This is business that we lost to our neighboring resort communities.”

Todd Shimkus, President and CEO of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, said improving golf and resort facilities is key in the long-term, as is expanding the city’s trail system, something that would be able to move forward in the Resort Overlay District.

“We are developing with the private and public sector, the city’s help, the county’s help, an amazing trail system here in Saratoga Springs and in Saratoga County that could help us.”

Shimkus said cyclists fit the Chamber’s primary and secondary market.

Last May Saratoga Springs formally adopted the Saratoga Greenbelt Trail plan.

Jeff Olson, of Alta Planning + Design, the company that created the Greenbelt Trail action plan, said the community should no longer delay the expansion of the trail system.

“If we’re not able to have public, private, and non-profit work together, then we can’t create these must-build and must-have projects for our community.”

Group Sustainable Saratoga rejected an invitation to participate in the discussion. In a statement, Chair Harry Moran likened the forum to “a marketing event to launch a specific development project which is exactly the opposite of the comprehensive perspective we find appropriate for this level of planning.”

Moran said the Chamber and Convention and Tourism Bureau hosting the forum “is a bit like the fox guarding the henhouse.”

The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions. City resident Pat Izzo said she was concerned about traffic.

“Gilbert Road is a nightmare, and I can tell you from being there since 1980, it is such heavy traffic. It’s going to get worse.”

Downtown business owner Harvey Fox said he liked the plan but commented on the importance of bringing all the necessary parties together.

“As the details continue to developed and be massaged, I am hopeful the city, the applicants, the city council, and the concerned citizens can work together to support the completion of this endeavor.”

Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said while there are many ways of “cashing in” on the greenbelt, the city must be cautious in its approach.

“We have to be very careful in how we do this, and you have to be very careful in terms of considering what you’re giving up, and the concepts that you’re giving up if you take this step.”

The city council will ultimately decide the direction of the Comprehensive Plan and the greenbelt.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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