Plans for the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority’s 500-space parking deck hit a snag over an enclosed pedestrian walkway proposed to extend over the width of Maple Avenue.
City planners continued the state Environmental Quality Review process late Wednesday evening before questions were raised about the walkway, which will connect the five-story deck to the City Center’s second floor. The walkway would be the only one of its kind crossing a city thoroughfare, prompting members of the Planning Board to question whether it will introduce a “visual element” out of character with the site.
The issue was raised in part due to a letter sent to the board by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, questioning the walkway’s impact on views along Maple Avenue, its potential to aesthetically alter a historic corridor through the city and the precedence it could set for future development. The foundation also indicated the walkway would be the first of its kind in the city, aside from one that linked the Congress Hotel to its ballroom across Spring Street more than a century ago.
“The foundation requests that architectural design modifications be made to eliminate the large component of the parking structure located directly above Maple Avenue to maintain continuity of the historic street character,” states a letter signed by foundation President Jere Tatich and Executive Director Samantha Bosshart. “The foundation is not opposed to a transparent, small-scale pedestrian walkway to link the parking structure with the City Center.”
Discussion and public comment over the deck ran until shortly before midnight. At one point, Chairman Mark Torpey suggested the impact of the walkway might be enough for planners to issue a positive declaration during the review — a move that would require the authority to conduct a lengthy and timely study on how to mitigate environmental impacts.
The discussion, however, was adjourned until the board’s next meeting, either later this month or early next month. The board asked the authority to remedy the issue by then.
Authority President Mark Baker said the walkway is an important piece of the design of a project that is getting an unfair label from critics. He said the structure and its walkway won’t have nearly the negative impact some opponents suggest.
“People are starting to throw tags onto this — that it’s going to be dark and uninviting,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case.”
If the board forwards a negative declaration, the authority would then be able to move forward with an application to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. That application is necessary because the project will likely have an impact on solar panels installed on the nearby Mouzon House restaurant last summer. Though Baker insists the structure’s shadow would have a “negligible” impact on the array, the authority will still need a waiver.
The authority also needs to complete a subdivision application that will split the 1.62-acre, city-owned parcel into two. The split, creating one lot for the deck and another to remain surface parking, was necessary because the project wouldn’t have otherwise met certain setback and lot-size regulations.
Ultimately, the project will need site plan review from the board, as well as approval from the City Council, which must accept a 20-year lease agreement for the land. The authority has already invested more than $250,000 into the approval process, Baker said. Its board has approved up to $500,000 for the planning process, which he offered as evidence of its high level of commitment to the project.
“We don’t see any of these issues rising to the level [of a positive declaration],” Baker said. “So much of the public reaction is from a small, but vocal, select group dealing with subjective issues that are not environmentally focused.”
Perhaps the project’s primary critic is the Pedinotti family, which owns the historic Mouzon House, located about 75 feet from the edge of the proposed deck. Dianne Pedinotti remains optimistic the opposition she and others have expressed over the deck will resonate with planners and push the authority back to the drawing table to explore better options to solve their parking woes.
“I want to believe people are going to do the right thing,” she said.
Pedinotti’s son, Aaron, is taking his criticism online. The graduate student in media studies at New York University pledged this week to launch a three-phase project to raise awareness over what he contends are critical errors in urban planning that would be created by the proposed parking deck.
On Thursday, he interviewed local author and urban planning critic James Howard Kunstler on the negative impact he foresees the deck having on the city. He plans to post the video on YouTube later this week, along with other interviews conducted with urban planning specialists.
Pedinotti also intends to regularly chronicle the evolution of the parking deck and its impacts on his family restaurant, provided it’s approved. The footage could also land in a documentary he’s planning on the subject.
“I want to write this into history,” he said. “I want to make this a long-term political legacy of everyone who made it happen and everyone who let it happen.”
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