Property-rights advocates lashed back Thursday against suggested changes to the city’s comprehensive plan, expressing concern that new rules would cost more money and infringe on their freedoms.
About 50 people attended the new Comprehensive Plan Committee’s third public session, held at the Universal Preservation Hall. Many expressed concern that changes to the 2001 comprehensive plan, which serves as a mission statement for the city and provides guidelines for city zoning laws, would violate private property rights if it results in legislation about things like energy conservation, affordable housing and environmental sustainability.
The meeting was contentious at times, as several members of the audience implied the committee was pushing certain changes, to which consultant Jaclyn Hakes responded that the suggestions came from residents at previous public meetings in May and June.
Ben Potiker suggested the environmental group Sustainable Saratoga was driving the committee, noting four of the committee’s 15 members are also in that volunteer group.
But the committee, appointed this spring by the City Council, is tasked with getting public input to draft the proposed comprehensive plan changes, a process that will take until the end of the year and involve several public meetings, Chairman Clifford Van Wagner said.
“This is not a recommendation that’s going to come from 15 committee members. We are listening to public input, that’s what this is about,” he said. “This board has no official capacity other than [making] an advisory opinion” to the City Council, which will vote on the plan.
But one city resident said he believed the committee’s opinions may sway the council more than the public’s.
“By you giving information to our local politicians is how they are going to come to their decision about what they are going to do,” said Michael Baron.
After getting public input, the committee will draft an action plan of recommended changes that could cover issues like traffic, historic preservation, the environment and parks.
Besides asking that the committee consider property rights, people on Thursday raised a variety of issues about their vision for the city in the future, from making it friendlier to senior citizens to promoting business growth to lowering taxes.
One woman pointed out walk signals at some of the city’s traffic lights don’t allow enough time for people who have difficulty walking to cross. Another said there needs to be more public transportation to take seniors to medical facilities.
A businessman said attracting and keeping young professionals requires better jobs. A self-described young professional noted making housing more affordable is simpler than providing new homeowner incentives or getting a developer to build workforce housing.
Lowering property taxes would allow young people starting out in their careers to live in the city, said Rob Arrigo of Saratoga Springs.
“One of the things about affordable housing is we can afford the houses; we can’t afford the taxes,” he said.
He suggested providing flexibility with education and more independent and alternative schools could lower school taxes and ease the burden on homeowners.
The committee’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday at the city’s Recreation Center, 15 Vanderbilt Ave.
The city currently uses a comprehensive plan adopted in 2001; in 2007 a committee drafted a new one, but the City Council didn’t approve it. The City Charter requires the city to review its plan every five years, Van Wagner said.