Saratoga Restaurant Owners Take Issue With Proposed Zoning Change

May 1, 2015

Credit Lucas Willard / WAMC

The conflict over a proposed parking structure for the Saratoga Springs City Center continues. The owners of a neighboring restaurant are speaking out against a proposed zoning amendment that they feel would allow the project to block their existing solar panels.

Over the past several months, the public has turned out in large numbers at City Hall to speak out on the City Center’s planned parking structure, which according to a previous design would accommodate more than 500 vehicles and stand 83 feet tall.

In late March, the zoning board denied a variance for the project, and it was back to the drawing board for the City Center.

In early April, Finance Commissioner Michelle Madigan sent a letter asking the city planning board to give an advisory opinion on a zoning amendment related to the issue of downtown structures blocking existing solar panels.

“We have discovered that our zoning ordinance for solar panels is in conflict with our comprehensive plan and what we expect for development in our T-6 downtown business district,” said Madigan.

Madigan said the planning board essentially agreed that the solar issue needed to be updated.

The Commissioner said she has not received an official response from the planning board, but once she does, it will be up to the city council to discuss and vote to send the measure to the county planning board. It will then come back to the city council for a public hearing.

The owners of the Mouzon House restaurant are claiming that the proposed change would allow the City Center parking project to block their existing solar panels. Restaurant owner Dianne Pedinotti….

“What they’re saying is we’ve rendered, because we’ve put solar panels on our roof, we’ve rendered that parking lot valueless. And the real truth is something can be built there that houses parking, as well as housing, stores, and so forth, without casting a shadow on the Mouzon House.”

City Center president Mark Baker said the organization will continue to pursue the parking project.

“We still have to maintain the basic premise that we need the parking – which has been agreed to by everybody,  that it does need to connect to the City Center, which is an important component  for us – and again, we continue to have a dialogue with all the variables and all the organizations that have registered and their concern and their support of this project.”

Baker said there is a lot to be considered carefully, including weighing property rights versus solar rights.

Madigan said the City Center issue was the impetus for the amendment, but a solution must be found to protect existing solar panels while also allowing new development.

“Mitigation would be part of this. I would see and expect that the City Center and the Mouzon House should be talking to each other. Why can’t the City Center put solar panels on their parking garage that might work for the Mouzon House? Or perhaps the Mouzon House moves their solar panels to another part of their property. That’s up to the City Center and the Mouzon House to arrange, and from what I understand, there have been ongoing discussions along these lines.”

Pedinotti says the proposed amendment stands in contrast to a $200,000 NYSERDA grant awarded to Saratoga to fund the City’s Unified Development Ordinance Project to encourage solar development.

“It’s really unfortunate that Saratoga just got funding to be a solar city and they want to support solar energy, but they actually are just saying, ‘OK, well, we didn’t get our way here, so we’re just going to remove this code in this area.’”

Madigan said the item will not be on the agenda for Tuesday's city council meeting.