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Committee Says Plans Do Not Meet Need For Saratoga Springs City Center

A parking sign
Lucas Willard

At a special city council meeting Thursday evening, the city’s appointed Technical Review Committee released its report on dueling designs for a multi-use parking garage.

Last September, two parties submitted plans that would include retail and residential space and provide parking for the publicly-owned Saratoga Springs City Center. The City Center authority is pursuing its own standalone parking structure through a separate process.

Technical Review Committee member Larry Novick said after reviewing the proposals, he believes neither concept would meet the parking needs of the City Center and housing and businesses.

“Our committee is unanimously concerned that both of these proposals, which are roughly 600-650 spots proposed, are significantly under-parked when all of the parking needs of this situation are taken into account,” said Novick.

The committee also found several other challenges. While an engineering study was not conducted as part of the technical review, the committee said any plans to dig into the surrounding bedrock could be pricey, though not unmanageable. The area in question sits along a fault and is known for its nearby springs in High Rock Park.

The committee said it would also recommend a traffic study for both proposals for the project in the heart of the city’s downtown.

When asked by the city council, both developers said that adding more spaces might be possible.

The committee also hoped to see more communication between the stakeholders.

“The hope of the RFP as we understood is that the respondents would open a real dialogue between the city and the City Center, and in doing so that they would gain a very strong working understanding of all of the competing parking needs and how they interrelate and how they might be shared. From what we could tell, this did not appear to really occur,” said Novick.

The developers also got the chance to approach the microphone.

Jeffery Hyman, of Hyman Hemispheric, the firm partnering with Sequence Development on one proposal, said he reached out to the City Center but did not receive a response. Hyman then sent a Freedom of Information Law request for more information. Hyman was questioned by Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan.

“After numerous attempts, I didn’t get any response. I did submit a FOIL request, not as an act of hostility,” said Hyman.

“That just is surprising to me,” said Madigan. “I would find that surprising that the City Center did not respond to your phone calls or emails at all.”

Madigan then asked if Hyman was stating for the record that the City Center did respond to any emails or calls.

Hyman answered, “Correct.”

Rich deVito, of Paramount Realty Group, who is also seeking to build a mixed-use facility, complained of a lack of information shared by Saratoga Springs City Center president Mark Baker.

“And I said, how did you come up with the spaces that you articulated in your program? And he said ‘Well, that’s what we think we need between the public parking that’s necessary and our private needs.’ I said ‘OK. But that was pretty much the end of the discussion between us.”

Baker was called up by the city council to address the comments by the developers. Baker said he was contacted by Hyman Hemispheric, architect Michael Phinney and Sequence Development CEO Jeff Buell.

“One of the organizations, Hyman Hemispheric, did contact me. I spoke with directly with Mike Phinney the night of their presentation. He asked if he could speak, I said yes. Mr. Buell contacted me. We had planned to meet and before that could happen, the other partner, Mr. Hyman, did FOIL the City Center. We responded appropriately. I did meet with the Paramount Group. It was not quite reflected in the accuracy of this evening. It was a conversation, they basically said ‘We don’t like what you’re doing. Why don’t you develop the lot on North Maple?’”

While the debate continues, a separate organization called Citizens for High Rock will hold its own community discussion on the proposals this Saturday.   The group plans to give a critical comparison of the two mixed-use proposals against the City Center’s own design.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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