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Builders And Bankers Seek Improvements To Saratoga Springs Affordable Housing Proposal

For Sale sign
Lyn Lomasi
Wikimedia Commons

The Saratoga Springs city council has decided to take more time to consider a proposal to that would allow for more affordable housing to be built within the city. WAMC’s Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief Lucas Willard reports bankers and builders are taking issue with the plan.

Over the past several months, the Saratoga Springs city council has been discussing a plan called “inclusionary zoning.”

The idea is to create more affordable housing in a booming city by requiring a portion of new housing developments to have units set aside for low- to moderate-income households.

Real estate prices are soaring in the Spa City, with the average single family home price listing over a half-million dollars.

During a special workshop on the proposal Tuesday, called by Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen, the plan was met with skepticism by bankers and builders.

Mark Hogan, vice president at Saratoga National Bank & Trust Comapny, gave one example where he believed it would be difficult for seekers of an affordable unit to finance new construction.

“Most financing that I do, probably 80 percent of the new construction financing that I do, is construction loans. Most of the builders that are working here in town are not financing their own properties; they’re all being done by the individual,” said Hogan.

The bankers raised concern about several pieces of language in the bill.

Developers echoed the bankers. Developer Sonny Bonacio claimed the devil is in the details. He argued with Commissioner Mathiesen and insisted that the bill include more specific language regarding zoning.

“I appreciate you listening to all my concerns, Chris, I really do, thank you,” said Bonacio.

Mathiesen answered,” Zone by zone. Don’t get angry with me, I’m saying zone by…”

“…I’m just saying that from day one I’ve been saying, really the city needs to be bold and say ‘We’re going to 70 from 84, we’re going to one acre to three quarters of an acre’ and then put those in all the zones,” said Bonacio. “It’s literally a lot easier than we’re making the argument to be. Then we can go in and say ‘At least we have a right for that.’”

Developer John Witt also wanted more specific language.

“There’s things in the ordinance, the mays, the shalls, the grant relief…it’s wishy washy and I don’t trust it,” said Witt.

Witt also said that building a new single family home in Saratoga Springs for a low-to-moderate income family would be difficult, claiming margins for builders are already small.

The discussion stretched on for well over an hour. All councilors expressed concerns.

Here’s Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco speaking to Mathiesen.

“I commend you for bringing this forward, but I think it needs a lot of work…” said Scirocco.

“And so we need to as soon as possible hear from everybody,” Mathiesen responded.

At the end of the discussion, councilors agreed to revisit the issue in two weeks.

Mayor Joanne Yepsen spoke to WAMC afterward, saying she still believed an inclusionary zoning policy could be approved.

“So I do feel very positive about it. I know that the need and demand are high and I do hope the council has the political will to further this proposal and pass something in the near future,” said Yepsen.

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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