Saratoga Springs

Saratoga council to hear apartments pitch

192 apartments proposed near casino/harness track
Saratoga Casino Hotel is shown in January 2018.
Saratoga Casino Hotel is shown in January 2018.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A developer of workforce housing wants to build a 192-unit complex on land near the Saratoga Casino Hotel, where hundreds of people hold jobs.

The fate of the project, however, is up to the City Council, which will host a public hearing on the plan at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Liberty Affordable Housing of Rome, a non-profit developer of affordable and workforce housing, is asking for a change in the city’s comprehensive plan to allow the project on a wooded 30-acre site at the corner of Jefferson Street and Crescent Avenue. The land adjoins the casino hotel property, and a hotel-affiliated company is co-owner of the parcel. But, legally, the developer would not be able to offer preference to the racino’s employees over others if the complex is built.

If you go

WHAT: Public hearing on comprehensive plan and zoning changes for Liberty Affordable Housing
WHERE: Saratoga Springs Recreation Center, 15 Vanderbilt Ave.
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday

The land is zoned for rural-residential development, so a change in zoning would be needed to allow large apartment buildings.

The city Planning Board unanimously gave the project an unfavorable recommendation in September, but the developer is proceeding anyway.

The Planning Board, whose recommendation is not binding on the City Council, said changing the property’s zoning would be a permanent change, even if the Liberty Affordable Housing project doesn’t go forward, and nothing would prevent the zoning change from being used to put market-rate apartments there.

Matthew Jones of Saratoga Springs, the developer’s land-use attorney, said the proposed zoning change was drafted to restrict tenants of the new complex to people with workforce incomes — a concession designed to appeal to City Council.

“For just about the entire 40 years I’ve been practicing land-use law in the city, it’s come up in every discussion: How can we make housing available to the people who work here?” Jones said. “If we’re able to match up the need with a project, the city is more keenly interested than I’ve ever seen it in the past.”

While there have long been concerns about the lack of affordable housing in Saratoga Springs, the Planning Board, in its recommendation to the City Council, noted that projects recently approved or under consideration elsewhere in the city would, if built, add 550 affordable housing units, “integrated within the fabric of the city.” The proposed Liberty Housing project would be more isolated from the surrounding area, the board’s letter to the council said.

The proposal calls for two four-story buildings, with 96 units in each. The target tenants would be employees of the Saratoga Casino Hotel or harness track. According to casino hotel officials, only 15 percent of that facility’s workforce lives in the city, in part because of housing costs. The apartment complex’s management could not legally exclude non-casino hotel employees, however.

The developers acknowledge there are wetlands on the site, but they said they have designed their project around them.

The hearing will be in the city’s Recreation Center on Vanderbilt Avenue, where the city has been conducting the majority of its business since a fire closed City Hall for repairs in August. City Council meetings were held until December at the Saratoga Springs City Center, but they were moved to the Recreation Center late last year after a meeting room there was improved to allow for council meetings.

Though City Council has a regularly scheduled meeting after the public hearing at 7 p.m., no council action is expected on the Liberty proposal. It is likely the next step would be a deeper environmental review, Jones said.

Liberty says it has developed nearly 2,800 units of affordable housing in the Northeast, including projects in Amsterdam, Gloversville, Latham and Albany. The company has not said how much it would invest in the Saratoga Springs project, but Jones said the company is “very comfortable” it could finance the project if the zoning changes were approved.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News

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