SARATOGA SPRINGS — Sustainable Saratoga and Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation hosted a forum Tuesday for the community to discuss how taller buildings could impact the city’s character.
The event took place at Empire State College and drew a standing room-only crowd.
Panelist Sonny Bonacio, of Bonacio Construction, whose mixed-use developments include the Washington on Broadway, Market Center on Railroad Place and the Lofts on Division Street, said the city used to look much different. He cited the historic former Grand Union Hotel as an example of the city’s past appearance.
“Based on an aerial survey of Saratoga Springs in 1888, the city is currently at 60 percent of the density versus that era,” he said. “The volume and height of the buildings were much larger.
“We all want to be the city in the country, and we want to control our tax base. We have to do it to an extent that we’re all comfortable,” he said.
Upcoming developments in the city include:
- A six-story hotel at 7 Washington St., behind the Rip Van Dam, with more than 150 rooms and a parking garage with more than 300 parking spaces on Hamilton Street.
- A six-story, 50-suite hotel and spa in the area of 19-23 Washington St. that would include nearly 60,000-square-feet of commercial/living space.
George Jacquemart, principal at BFJ Planning, presented findings from a 2006 study of city streets, which revealed that buildings on Broadway range from 40 to 50 feet tall and are an average of 120 feet wide.
The city’s narrowest street, Caroline, is 38 feet wide.
Jacquemart said the ideal height-to-width ratio is 1.1 for buildings along city streets.
“There are a tremendous amount of widths [on Broadway], making it challenging to adopt a rule of height versus width,” he said. “Building height on Broadway could be increased to 94 feet to still meet the ratio.”
A portion of the forum focused on the reality that traffic issues are part of development.
Jacquemart said that, while traffic impact studies are performed when new developments are proposed, having more businesses contribute to the city’s tax base would provide more funds to add alternative transportation options.
“Traffic will always be difficult, but you need to develop more options and make it easier to use other options, such as bicycles,” he said. “It’s always a tension and will always be.”
When asked by an audience member whether closing Broadway would help ease traffic, Jacquemart said that isn’t necessarily the solution.
“I don’t see us closing Broadway to traffic or trucks, because deliveries need to be done on Broadway, but perhaps having a median with protected left-turn lanes could make it safer,” he said. “Other than that, I’m not optimistic that it could go further than that.”
Kate Maynard, a principal planner for the city, said alternative forms of transportation in the city include the Saratoga Springs Summer Trolley.
“Thousands of people have ridden it, and it’s an easy way to get around,” she said.
Maynard added that the city needs to keep transportation trends in mind as it moves forward.
“With Uber coming online recently and talk of cars that drive themselves, we need to keep planning for the future and how they can have an impact on the space,” she said. “It’s important to stay on top of what’s happening, and what’s important to us as a community is key in the conversation.”
Saratoga Springs resident Ellen Downing said she was opposed to tall buildings before the forum.
“I’m getting some rationalization now that perhaps there’s a reason for it and it’s not all bad,” she said of tall buildings. “If it makes us capable of building affordable housing, maybe it’s a necessity, and perhaps keeping the density in one place is one positive option.
“I might consent to taller buildings to keep the core where it needs to be.”
Downing added that she’s concerned about the traffic and parking problems new developments bring.
“The object should be to keep the cars out of downtown,” she said. “If they can’t get to the parking garage, what good is the solution?”
Creating transportation that brings people into the city so they don’t need to park, is a solution, Downing said.
“Make it the responsibility of the business that’s profiting from the people coming here,” she said. “The hotels should provide shuttles to the people staying here instead of building a parking garage.
“Let them do it.”