Opponents of the massive proposed expansion of the Saratoga Casino and Raceway are questioning why the city’s land-use board doesn’t have purview over the project since it doesn’t involve adding any video lottery terminals to the facility.
Members of Saratogians Against Vegas Style Expansion will ask the city’s Planning Board today to seek oversight in the plan to add a hotel and convention center to the racino since the project doesn’t involve expanding the gaming floor. Colin Klepetar, co-chairman of SAVE Saratoga, said the state Gaming Commission shouldn’t have authority over the project since the racino isn’t adding any VLTs in the two-phase project.
He said the group is not asking the city to dispute the Gaming Commission’s lead agency status during the State Environmental Quality Review process. Rather, they’re asking the city to assert its control over local land-use issues that don’t involve expanding the VLT operation, so that a precedent isn’t set for future development on the 161-acre property near the historic Saratoga Race Course.
“[The racino] said this is non-gaming-related,” Klepetar explained. “Then it should go through local planning and zoning.”
The racino’s proposal includes adding a total of 134,000 square feet of space off an area northwest of the Vapor Night Club now occupied by a practice track. The first phase includes a 108-room hotel, a 137-seat steakhouse, a 28-seat coffee shop, a pool, a spa and a fitness center, while a second phase would construct the more controversial part of the project: A 2,000-seat event center and a 180-seat meeting room.
For the operators of the racino, the expansion represents a way to draw more business to the video lottery terminal facility after a casino with live table games opens elsewhere in the Capital Region — likely within an hour’s drive from the racino. But opponents see the expansion flouting the city’s comprehensive plan and developing in a manner that could negatively impact the bustling Broadway corridor downtown, including the City Center.
City officials have all but dismissed calls for them to challenge the state’s role overseeing approval process, stating that a similar effort to assert local oversight failed during the racino’s expansion in 2006. Mayor Joanne Yepsen said the racino has since shown a lot more willingness to seek input from the city than it did during its last large project.
“We are pleased that they are working closely with us — coming before the City Council and Planning Board and agreeing to additional studies,” she said Tuesday, “none of which occurred in 2006.”
The Gaming Commission also seems unwilling to consider SAVE Saratoga’s call for a greater degree of local authority. Spokesman Lee Park said the issues raised by the opponents were answered by a 2006 decision by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which ruled the Division of Lottery — an agency since wrapped into the Gaming Commission — had ultimate oversight of the expansion because it deals with the “plan of operation” for the facility.
“This has already been asked and answered,” he said.
Klepetar cites a recent Gaming Commission response to prospective casino operators last month as additional evidence the city should have jurisdiction over the racino’s expansion. In specific, the commission indicated the state’s Racing Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law does not pre-empt local zoning and land use regulation with regards to nongaming activities in a proposed facility.
“The language in the VLT law and the casino law are the same,” he said. “How can they interpret the same language in different ways? They either misspoke when they responded to those questions or they’re using two different standards.”