SARATOGA SPRINGS — The latest proposal for a parking garage between High Rock and Maple Avenue incorporates green space, a small park and room for potential commercial development.
The Flat Rock proposal — an alternative intended to address the criticisms raised when a massive five-story parking garage was proposed on the site in 2015 — was unveiled at a public presentation Tuesday night at the City Center, but is similar to the concept proposed in July.
Speaking before about 70 residents, Mayor Meg Kelly said the plan is meant to be something that could be changed in response to input.
“The concept plan is simple and meant to begin a discussion about a significant parcel in the city,” Kelly said. “It is a concept plan only.”
The plan’s centerpiece is a parking structure for up to 754 vehicles, which could address what most visitors and residents agree is a parking shortage in downtown Saratoga Springs, especially during the summer tourism season. The land is now occupied by a large 277-space surface parking lot built into the High Rock hillside, but a garage would allow the property to store nearly 500 more vehicles.
The plans were developed by a working group of residents, business interests and advocacy groups appointed by Kelly in July, and designed by The LA Group, a Saratoga Springs landscape architectural firm.
“Hopefully you’ll bear with us and realize we are doing our job to strike a balance,” said C. Michael Ingersoll, a principal in The LA Group. “It’s not meant to be built in the form we have conceptualized.”
More than a dozen people spoke after the presentation, with several saying it is an improvement over previous plans, but others said the they don’t think the city needs more parking, and reliance on single-family cars will decrease in coming decades. Some also said that the city doesn’t effectively manage its existing parking lots and garages.
“Cities around the country are turning their parking lots back into green space., said resident Riana Sellars. “It’s not a parking space issue, it’s a parking management issue.
Representatives of the City Center, however, said the venue, which hosts conventions and meetings year-round, needs additional parking. Under the proposal, an overhead pedestrian bridge across Maple Avenue would link the garage to the City Center.
“If they can’t park, they might not return, so I’d like to thank the city for continuing this project,” said City Center board member Steve Sullivan.
Kelly said the public comments will be given consideration as the city continues planning. How quickly the city will move is unclear; Accounts Commissioner John Franck suggested holding more workshops on the plan.
Public Safety Commissioner Peter Martin said he agrees that the need for parking may decline in future decades, but said there are current needs for parking. “One of the things I heard is that maybe there should be fewer spaces, and I don’t know if 750 spots is the right number,” he said.
“I think there’s a happy medium there somewhere,” said Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan, who was part of the working group and pushed for inclusion of a “maker’s space” or other amenities in the project. “It is really parking for the City Center, not for the downtown.”
Development of the plan has ended a legal battle between the city, the Saratoga Springs City Center and owners of the Mouzon House restaurant, which is on High Rock Avenue just north of the site. Two lawsuits brought by the owners to block the massive parking structure proposal were settled this summer in return for the city developing the plan, which the owners believe will address their concerns about the restaurant being cut off from downtown.