A view down Cedar Bluff Road in Saratoga; and the Saratoga Planning Board after its Nov. 13, 2017 workshop. Photos by Larry Goodwin.
SCHUYLERVILLE – Saratoga town officials and a large group of area homeowners are focusing intently on a proposed 100-acre housing subdivision that would offer premium views of Saratoga Lake.
For two years, the proposal to build 32 homes on either side of Cedar Bluff Road has been promoted by the Saratoga Springs developer Witt Construction.
The plan involves three separate parcels of land not far from the lake, according to Libby Coreno, an attorney from the Saratoga Springs firm Carter, Conboy, Case, Blackmore, Maloney and Laird. Coreno represents Witt Construction in the town’s review process.
Cedar Bluff Road connects to Route 9P on the northeastern part of Saratoga Lake. The first mile of the roadway—where Witt Construction would build the homes—is notable for a steep incline, sharp turns and the surrounding dense forest.
On Oct. 25, Coreno arranged a detailed presentation of the project for Town of Saratoga Planning Board members and answered numerous questions. Minutes of that meeting indicate that Witt Construction would adhere to a “no build” line on the western edge of the site, avoiding terrain that slopes down toward Saratoga Lake.
Coreno said the developer is also planning to preserve two large wooded areas as open space, totaling more than 50 acres.
On Monday night, the planning board invited Coreno and her associate to a formal workshop regarding the Witt Construction proposal. In attendance were about 20 town residents, who were allowed to be present at the workshop but not to speak.
The planning board members are adhering to requirements set forth in the state Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) as they prepare to vote on the proposal.
A negative SEQRA determination by the planning board would indicate that environmental impacts from the project do not warrant further study. A positive determination would impose substantial costs on Witt Construction for several months of additional study.
“Those of us who have been closely following this subdivision strongly believe that a positive declaration is required,” wrote Saratoga resident John Cashin, in a Nov. 9 email sent to a long list of other recipients. “The proposed development has so many insufficiently mitigated impacts that a negative declaration would not be in the long-term best interests of the community.”
Among other issues, according to Cashin, the project’s potential impact on Route 9P traffic, storm-water runoff, groundwater and tree removal have not been thoroughly studied.
“Despite all of these open items, the Planning Board is taking this development to a premature SEQR determination stage and may make a decision based on merely oral, unbinding commitments of the developer,” Cashin concluded. “Such a determination places our community at undue risk and should be vigorously opposed.”
At the Nov. 13 workshop, Saratoga Planning Board Chairman Ian Murray guided the other board members in reading through a detailed list of SEQRA questions.
At least two issues that Cashin mentioned in his email (storm runoff and digging wells for water to supply the new homes) were repeatedly discussed by the board, and acknowledged as sticking points.
“We’re taking a hard look at it,” Murray said. He added that the “clock will start” when the planning board votes on either a negative or positive SEQRA determination.
A formal public hearing would be scheduled within 60 days of that vote.
The board did not plan to vote on the Cedar Bluff Road project at its regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 15, according to Town Clerk Linda McCabe.
Tom Yannios, a homeowner who attended the Monday night meeting, said afterward that his big concerns are the tree removal and the potential for adverse impacts on the water quality of Saratoga Lake.
He explained that Saratoga town code prohibits large-scale tree cutting on hilly terrain. “The elephant in the room here wasn’t even addressed,” Yannios said.
Coreno responded that her client is well aware of that town code.
“We have to be in conformance,” she said.
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SARATOGA SPRINGS – Sidney Martin says he is ready for a new phase of the floral arrangement journey that he started years ago in Los Angeles.
“I’m just really looking forward to bringing my talent to Saratoga,” Martin confessed this week, during a tour of his Park Place shop. It is located below ground level at 268 Broadway, one door to the right of Complexions Spa for Beauty and Wellness.
Martin said he wants to bring “the beauty of what I do on a daily basis to individuals who think that flowers are just flowers. They’re so much more than that.”
A ribbon-cutting event was scheduled on Friday, Nov. 17 to mark the grand opening of Martin’s Simply Sidney Floral Design and Home Accents. From 5 to 9 p.m., members of the public are invited to formally celebrate Martin’s arrival as a city business owner.
At the outset, Martin says he already has made arrangements to employ four or five people on a part-time basis and that he may need “a few more hands” when the bridal season arrives next spring.
Multiple types of decorative home furnishing items will be available for retail purchase in his shop. Martin said he would offer “a mix of new and inventive” products that will “constantly be refreshed.” He was excited to show bars of soap that “look like gems” made by a company in Oneonta.
Whenever possible, Martin added, he will aim to support local producers. “We’ve all got to support each other or else it’s just not worth it,” he said.
Clearly, though, floral arrangements will be Martin’s bread and butter. The back half of his shop is walled off as a space for the large metal tables and a flower cooler that define his main production area.
Saratoga Springs is “definitely a prime market for florists,” offered Rich Coogan, a sales representative and cut-flower buyer for the wholesale Bill Doran Company in Albany. Martin gets most of his flowers from the Bill Doran Co.
Coogan called Martin “an extraordinary designer,” adding that the wholesaler plans to help him be “as successful as he can be.”
Originally from a small town in northeast Georgia, Martin explained that his passion for flowers was related to the fact that his grandmother and mother are “huge gardeners.”
In his youth, Martin was fond of producing artistic sketches and paintings of flowers. Then, as he pursued various different work opportunities, Martin eventually met a man who revealed to him “the meat and potatoes” of the floral arrangement industry.
In 2000, Martin relocated to California and “really started coming into my own,” staying there for 11 years. Every new opportunity elevated his experience, he said, and the “creativity” of the numerous designers he worked for further bolstered his interest in the wider floral industry.
The highlights of his time in California include producing floral displays for popular films and television series, such as “Princess Diaries,” “Legally Blonde 2,” “Spider Man 2,” “The West Wing,” “Desperate Housewives” and “The Office.”
For three years, Martin also prepared displays for the Golden Globes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Hollywood Film Festival.
Yet Los Angeles “gets really heavy,” Martin said. “After 11 years of being there I was just burned out.”
Martin explained that his husband, public relations specialist Tas Steiner, hails from Loudonville, which brought the couple to the Capital Region for family visits or recreational excursions to lakes and the Saratoga Race Course.
“There was something about Saratoga that I just loved,” Martin said. The couple eventually agreed to rent property on Railroad Place in Saratoga Springs.
Steiner worked closely with Tracy Strann, the former chief marketing officer for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, who started her own public relations firm this year.
Strann conducts media outreach for Simply Sidney Floral Design and other popular city businesses, including the newly renovated Adelphi Hotel.
Martin, though busily making his final arrangements for the Nov. 17 ribbon cutting, was eager to open his new Broadway shop.
“Yeah,” he said, “it just seems like this is the perfect little spot for my first foray into the business world.”
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Max Oswald in his Saratoga Brewing tap room. Photo by Larry Goodwin.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Max Oswald said this week that his dedication to producing quality beer is matched by his penchant for giving back to the community. The holidays provide ample opportunity for him to make the best of both worlds through a program called “Toys for Toga.”
Either cash or new, unwrapped toys can be donated at participating businesses for the annual charity drive. It brought in 3,000 toys and $10,000 last year, according to Oswald, the owner of Saratoga Brewing Company on Excelsior Avenue.
“That, to me, shows the depth of support in town,” he said. “That’s always been our thing.” The proceeds directly support programs at the Franklin Community Center, CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services and the Mechanicville Area Community Center.
Local bars and restaurants display a cardboard box with the Toys for Toga logo, and for every donation they place small cards that say “helping kids in our community.” Those who wish to donate also can purchase Toys for Toga mugs from Saratoga Brewing.
On Tuesday, Oswald was joined in his on-site tap room by a lively group of people including Talia Cass of the city’s Convention and Tourism Bureau, as well as MacKenzie Zarzycki and other staff members of DeCrescente Distributing in Mechanicville.
They had gathered to announce an early start of the Toys for Toga drive as a means to finalize the process before Christmas. There were two other “surprises,” Oswald said.
He hopes a “Warehouse Roller Disco” event that is being organized from 2 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2 will boost contributions to the Toys for Toga drive this year (see flyer in photo gallery). It will include live music by the North and South Dakotas and roller skating in the Saratoga Brewing warehouse. He said Tap Room Manager Meg Thompson devised the idea after finding a company that rents skates.
Oswald also reached an agreement with a city candy shop to produce a new beer called Peppermint Pig Stout, whose sales in local establishments would further direct attention to the Toys for Toga charity. The flavor will be available from Friday, Dec. 1 until supplies last, according to Oswald.
For more information, visit the website https://www.oldesaratogabrew.com/.
WILTON – Councilman Steve Streicher closed the town board’s November meeting by voicing his concerns about speedy drivers in Wilton’s residential areas.
“It happens all the time. I’m just worried that someone’s going to get hit by a car,” the father of two said. Streicher added that he is often disturbed enough by aggressive drivers to “chase them down,” even though he refrains from actually doing so.
The Wilton Town Board proceeded to briefly discuss lowering speed limits on town roads, much like officials in Malta are planning to do at present.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed a state law enabling Malta to lower speed limits, but the process still requires complicated traffic studies at the town level.
Bryan Viggiani, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said Wilton officials could lower speed limits on town roads only if they find “a legislative sponsor” in the same manner as Malta officials and secure passage of a separate state law.
The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office handles traffic law enforcement in Wilton, which does not have its own police force. A request for comment specific to the town was not returned by the sheriff’s office.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, Wilton Highway Superintendent Kirklin Woodcock expressed his concern to the town board that there are “entrapment” issues related to reducing speed limits in residential areas.
“A lot of these residents get misconceptions with what the town of Malta is doing,” Woodcock said, when contacted for comment this week. He argued that reducing a speed limit from 45 to 30 m.p.h. can be “confusing to the motorist.”
Woodcock said he has observed many speeders, in particular, on Waller and Worth Roads. But not “every road in the town” is affected by serious problems, he added.
“My work crews are exposed every day, and it’s getting worse, not better,” Woodcock said. “They’ll blow your pants-leg right off.”
If even one “flagman” gets injured or killed by the actions of speeders, according to Woodcock, that is one too many.
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Saratoga Springs Supervisor-elect Tara Gaston. Photo provided.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – As Democrats crowded around a projection screen inside The Inn at Saratoga Tuesday night, there were occasional cheers among the supporters of city attorney Tara Gaston. Eventually, they gave way to tight hugs and shouts of joy.
In recent months, Gaston had enlisted the help of her husband, Shafer, a U.S. Navy veteran, to run a campaign for one of two seats representing the city on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors. It was the couple’s first attempt to enter a political race.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday, it was clear that Gaston had earned the support of more than 3,800 voters, second only to Supervisor Matthew Veitch’s 4,524 votes. She expressed confidence that result would withstand the tally of more than 700 absentee ballots in the city.
“I’m looking forward to bringing in some new blood and some new ideas” and “moving the board forward,” Gaston said, as the Democrats inside The Inn’s banquet room celebrated her own and multiple other electoral victories.
Gaston and Patricia Friesen were among a slate of 12 women candidates—in races from Milton to Wilton—whose campaigns were highlighted by the recently formed group Saratoga Unites. Three of those candidates achieved electoral success, including Gaston, Mayor-elect Meg Kelly and City Court Judge-elect Francine Vero.
Friesen finished a close third in the city supervisor contest, behind Veitch and Gaston, by earning more than 3,600 votes.
On Oct. 24, during a Saratoga Unites “March to the Polls” forum held in the H. Dutcher Community Room at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, Gaston said her main goal is “putting sunlight on the board of supervisors.”
Gaston told the audience of about 50 people that she supports conducting a thorough review of the $320 million county budget to find out “where to save money.”
Lois Shapiro-Canter, a Saratoga Springs attorney, moderated the Oct. 24 forum. She said the members of Saratoga Unites would aim to endorse “progressive-minded women who want to preserve the rights that have been secured.”
In an email that detailed how many women occupy local offices at present, Shafer Gaston reported that there is only one woman among 23 Saratoga County supervisors.
“Women are tired of always being put in the back seat,” Shapiro-Canter said. “We have a whole new generation of women who are used to the rights they have.”
WILTON – Though he faced an electoral challenge on Tuesday from a real-estate specialist and former teacher, longtime Wilton Supervisor Arthur Johnson managed to capture more than 56 percent of the votes cast in the town race.
“It sends the message that people are happy with what we’re doing,” Johnson said, when reached for comment about his victory over challenger Nancy Dwyer.
Dwyer, who ran on her own Public Servants line and was also endorsed by local Democrats, received nearly 1,800 votes compared to more than 2,300 earned by Republican Johnson, according to records provided by the Saratoga County Board of Elections.
“It is a victory in many, many, many ways,” Dwyer said afterward. “There’s no loss here whatsoever,” she added, noting how the 43 percent of votes she received surpasses by a substantial margin the percentage of registered Democrats in Wilton.
Dwyer was among a group of 12 women running for local offices who were in league with the recently formed group Saratoga Unites, which aims to diversify all levels of government by supporting “progressive” women candidates.
Dwyer pointed to several election victories for that group of women, saying, “this whole area has been quite activated.”
Johnson indicated that he is aware of such efforts, yet still maintains his focus on the residents of Wilton. “We put the residents first…and put politics aside,” he said.
He did note how the majority of voters chose all of the Republican candidates in Wilton. But he downplayed the significance of that reality.
“When somebody calls me about an issue, I don’t ask what their party is,” the supervisor said. “I try to solve their problem.”
MALTA – Republican Supervisor Vincent DeLucia scored a decisive victory Tuesday over insurgent Democrat Bill Breheny, earning 62 percent of the votes cast.
“I will do my very best to fulfill the promises that we made,” DeLucia said, pointing to the cooperative efforts of the four other Malta Town Board members since his first election in late 2015.
DeLucia said he was “honored” and “appreciated that the community recognized the accomplishments” made in the last two years.
On Wednesday, Breheny said he wanted to “work together” with DeLucia because the two men share many “principles.”
Breheny and Cynthia Young were among four Democrats running as a slate. The candidates, in concert with town Democratic Committee member Tom Williams, issued a number of press releases in recent months after knocking on the doors of many Malta residents.
According to records provided by the Saratoga County Board of Elections, Young was the only candidate among the four Democrats to win, garnering almost 27 percent of the votes—or 1,996—for two open seats on the town board.
“It was a good, clean campaign,” Young said. She added that the political process works best when “different voices” are heard on the town board.
Fellow Democrat Tracy O’Rourke trailed as one of four town board contenders with 1,692 votes, or nearly 23 percent.
Councilman John Hartzell earned only 45 more votes (1,889) than Sharon Farley Schiera (1,844). They are both Republicans, who must now await the results of counting 150 absentee ballots to determine a winner.
Democrat Michelle Storm posed a strong challenge to Town Justice Steven Gottmann, earning 1,783 votes to Gottmann’s 2,009, the Board of Elections records show.
MILTON – On Tuesday, Milton Councilman Scott Ostrander won his bid for town supervisor by earning 1,100 more votes than his opponent, Councilwoman Barbara Kerr.
According to the Saratoga County Board of Elections, Kerr received slightly more than 1,300 votes to Ostrander’s 2,427.
“I just want to say that we assembled such a great Republican team. We worked hard right out of the gate and went door-to-door for months,” Ostrander offered in a Nov. 8 email statement.
Ostrander, a retired Ballston Spa police officer, said there are “a lot of good employees within our town,” adding, “I will utilize them to the best of my ability and I will give the residents of Milton my best two years moving forward.”
Kerr said she was impressed by the “respectable” voter turnout for her relatively “unknown” candidacy. After losing a Republican primary to Ostrander in September, Kerr ran on the Reform Party line.
The town supervisor’s term is two years, while each Milton Town Board member serves for four years. Kerr’s term expires in 2019.
She pledged to work closely with Ostrander in the months ahead “to move the town forward,” most likely by focusing on the town’s pending purchase of the former Boy Scouts property on Route 29; and by updating the town employee manual.
“I’d like to see everybody working together…as one unit,” Kerr said.
The Holiday Inn's exterior from Broadway and hotel General Manager Cynthia Hollowood. Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In the course of nearly 40 years, Cynthia Hollowood has enjoyed a front-row seat to many changes in the city—from inside one of its anchor businesses.
Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn at 232 Broadway, started working for the company in 1981, even before the City Center was built farther down Broadway.
“Local businesses are the bread and butter here,” she said, during an interview this week to discuss the Holiday Inn’s recent $4 million renovation.
She called the Holiday Inn, which celebrated its 50-year anniversary in 2015, “the catalyst for all downtown development.”
“We are proud to have been at the forefront of Saratoga Springs’ revival over 53 years ago, and to remain so today as the city has blossomed to a year-round destination,” Hollowood said in a Nov. 1 statement.
The hospitality market of Saratoga Springs has seen an increase of more than 500 rooms in the last three years, according to Hollowood, which poses challenges in terms of keeping the Holiday Inn’s 168 rooms occupied.
“That’s why we have this brand new look, to stay competitive,” she said. “The market is ever-changing.”
On Election Day, while the popular restaurant and bar Bookmakers went dark on an otherwise quiet Tuesday night, Saratoga County’s Republicans utilized the hotel’s 8,500 square feet of convention space as a gathering spot to await official election results.
Bill Teator, a principal of G-Force Consulting, said a number of factors ensure the long-term success of Broadway’s “community legacy,” including its dedicated employees.
Hollowood reported that four of the Holiday Inn’s 110 employees have served longer than her, while another 20 people have worked there for nearly 20 years.
Teator offered special praise for the Holiday Inn’s designation as one of the first successful businesses to start as a result of “crowd-funding,” long before that was made popular through modern websites such as GoFundMe.
In the late 1950s, a group of investors devised a plan to issue bonds for construction of a hotel and convention center, both of which Saratoga Springs had lacked at the time.
Hollowood confirmed that, in the early 1960s, $700,500 of “seed money” was raised through that initial bond purchase by the city’s working-class residents; an amount equal to $6.8 million today. Local banks provided additional loans for the hotel’s actual construction, she said.
The recent Holiday Inn renovation was completed by local contractors and funded entirely from the local franchise’s accounts, Hollowood said.
The Saratoga Springs hotel is affiliated with InterContinental Hotels Group PLC in Atlanta, Georgia “to uphold the Holiday Inn standards,” she added.
The draperies and carpets are replaced every four years. The hotel is also currently spending about $500,000 to replace televisions and other guest-room amenities, Hollowood said. Rooms at the Holiday Inn range in price from $130 to $400 per night, depending on the time of year.
Hollowood said many loyal fans of the Saratoga Race Course contribute to a “repeat factor” each summer, which bolsters the hotel’s overall occupancy rates.
The Holiday Inn’s “year-round average rate,” Hollowood explained, is envied by other companies in the upstate New York market, largely because of efforts by staff at the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Tourism Bureau to promote city events through the winter months.
“Our substantial reinvestment shows we are committed to remaining a leading destination in Saratoga Springs well into the 21st century,” Hollowood said. “Beginning with our founding when area residents invested $100 per share to bring the first modern-era flag hotel and convention center to Saratoga Springs, through today, we are proud of our legacy of community leadership.
“You could say the Holiday Inn Saratoga Springs was all about crowd funding before crowd-sourcing for startup businesses became cool,” she added. “We can’t wait for our many returning and new guests to experience our brand new look along with our renowned personal service.”
WILTON – With the Nov. 7 elections behind them, members of the Wilton Town Board voted this week to approve an $8.2 million budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
The three largest expenditures in Wilton are $1.7 million for government support; $1.3 million for employee benefits, and $1.2 million for culture and recreation. The spending plan also includes $900,000 for road improvements in Wilton, and additional funds for a town salary increase of $2,800 plus bathroom upgrades at the popular Gavin Park.
Supervisor Arthur Johnson praised town board members and Comptroller Jeffrey Reale for ensuring that Wilton does not impose a general town tax, which has been the case for 36 years. The town derives 75 percent of its revenue from retail sales taxes.
During a budget workshop on Oct. 18, Councilwoman Joanne Klepetar had discussed reinstating the funds for a town planner position in Wilton.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, Klepetar made a motion to amend the town budget to allocate those funds, following several minutes of related comments made by Nancy Dwyer, who earlier in the week had lost in her campaign to unseat Johnson as supervisor.
Councilman John McEachron voiced his concern about Wilton's low "growth rate," which he said does not currently justify spending money on a town planner.
"If the need arises, I'd absolutely be for it," McEachron added.
Klepetar's motion did not receive a required second, which negated her budget amendment proposal.
The town board then approved next year's $8.2 million spending plan, with only Klepetar opposed.