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Saratoga National Expansion Removed From Comprehensive Plan

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As Saratoga Springs continues the process of revising its planning document, a major construction project that has been at the forefront of community conversation in recent weeks has been placed on the backburner.

On Tuesday the city council removed a proposed resort overlay district from Saratoga National Golf Club from the conversation as the city updates its Comprehensive Plan.

The item had been central to the debate over the future of the city’s so-called greenbelt.

In early March, Saratoga National outlined its expansion plans to be included in the resort overlay district. The organization owns more than 500 acres, including the lands it leases to the Yaddo artists retreat.

Plans included a hotel, 100 condominium units, a spa, and other amenities. The condos were dropped earlier this month.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen said the plan was scuttled at the request of the golf club.

“The resort overlay was the proposal originally, but twice now in writing we have received a request from Saratoga National Golf Course to remove this as one of the 53 considerations, and that’s all we did. We voted to remove it so we were down then to 52 considerations.”

Moving forward, the proposed expansion would require approval by the city council.

With the item off the table for now, Harry Moran, Chair of Sustainable Saratoga, said he was pleased work on the Comprehensive Plan can now continue.

“The Comprehensive Plan is supposed to be about laying out a broad vision of how the community sees development and sees this city looking in the future. It’s really not supposed to be focused so heavily on a couple of projects.”

Sustainable Saratoga had been opposed to the item, even refusing an invitation to the public forum organized by the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce and Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau where Saratoga National introduced its plans.

At a packed meeting in early December the city council voted to ban Planned Unit Developments, or PUDs, in the greenbelt.

At a March 27th city council meeting, Saratoga National CEO Tom Newkirk warned that the golf course and Saratoga Springs face increased competition from nearby resort destinations, including the planned Rivers Resort and Casino only 25 miles away.

“The City of Schenectady grants the Galesi Group $9 million in tax abatement to build their casino. That’s what we’re up against. You’ve got city governments providing economic support for our competition.”

Newkirk argued that with Saratoga National’s plans to protect 378 acres of its own land from development, the group was “creating” the greenbelt. He also brought to the city council letters of support for the project, including from the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, whose leadership met in Saratoga last month.

Michael Toohey, an attorney representing Saratoga National, did not respond to a request for comment after the latest vote, but had argued consistently for the economic benefits of having a year-round resort. He addressed the council on a handful of occasions.

“If we are not given the opportunity to get into the resort overlay district then this stops forever. That land stays the way it is, people don’t get to use the land, the economic benefits do not flow to the community. You can go out there and play golf and that’s a lovely thing. But the downside, I don’t believe, is substantial to the city.” 

Several downtown business owners have expressed supported for the expansion, saying it could bring extra business.

Moran said Sustainable Saratoga is not against development in the city.

“One of the things that we like to say is our downtown is our resort destination, so we don’t need to build additional resort destinations in the periphery of the city.”

The city council is due to vote on a final Comprehensive Plan in June.

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