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Thu June 5, 2014
Saratoga Springs City Council Debating City's Future Involvement In Racino Expansion
Although a full Vegas-style casino expansion is now off the table there, Some Saratoga Springs residents are pushing the city council to seek more involvement in a proposed expansion at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, but as a deadline approaches, many questions remain unanswered.
On May 14, the New York State Gaming Commission sent a letter to all “interested and involved” parties requesting each agency detail their “potential jurisdiction” and include any issues that should be considered in the state’s environmental quality review act process, or SEQRA, of the proposed expansion at Saratoga Casino and Raceway.
The expansion, which includes a 108-room hotel and 2,000 seat event space, remains controversial. The Raceway earlier listed Saratoga Springs as an “interested” agency, a classification that has limited input compared with “involved” status. The Gaming Commission has announced that it would pursue “lead” agency.
At a city council meeting Wednesday, city residents were invited to bring their concerns forward.
Russ Pettinger urged the city to seek more involvement at the risk of losing local control.
“The Gaming Commission is going to be lead agency; their middle name is ‘gaming.’ They are not going to be looking at this project with the eye that the local people are going to be looking at it.”
With a June 13th deadline quickly approaching, resident Ethan Lerman scolded the council for not taking action sooner.
“On May 15th I think the city was negligent in not asking to be an involved agency. There’s no harm in asking to be an involved agency, and there’s nothing to lose by asking that,” said Lerman.
The focus on the Raceway’s expansion that has dominated Spa City politics for several months was wearing on resident Sam Brewer.
“It seems to me that you have a lot of other things that you’d like to get done during your short two-year term here as the Saratoga Springs city council, and I would encourage you to move forward, and put this issue to bed and approve it, and then move on to the things you need to get done for the city.”
But after public comments, the debate occurred entirely among city officials. Commissioner “Skip” Scirocco argued that under EPA regulations, the city is an “involved” agency and proposed a resolution to request lead agency status.
“We need to act, I understand there’s probably some questions. I say get the form in the mail. Get it in the mail. And then, push comes to shove, we decide we don’t want to do this, we say, ‘Listen, we don’t want to do it.’ That’s the end of it,” said Scirocco.
Commissioner Chris Mathiesen said he believes the expansion at the Raceway is not consistent with the city’s vision, and suggested the request for lead agency could buy time for the operators to alter their development plans.
“Worse comes to worst, the only adverse consequence that I could say is that the project would be delayed, and I don’t see that as a bad thing because it may give everyone more opportunity to evaluate this and possibly the applicant to reevelatate their plans to maybe come up with something that’s a little more consistent.”
Mathiesen suggested a sports venue would complement Saratoga Springs.
Commissioner Michele Madigan expressed some concern with Scirocco’s push for lead agency, saying it would harm the working relationship between the Raceway, which has operated for more than a decade, and the city.
“I can tell you right now if we try assert lead agency I personally believe Saratoga Casino and Raceway may no longer work with us in good faith,” said Madigan.
After more discussion, and with many questions remaining unanswered on how to proceed, the council agreed to seek more advice from the city’s legal team. Scirocco withdrew his measure, but reserves the right to reintroduce it. Another meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday.
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