Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Riggi controversy, pro and con.


Reader's view: A building falls, and civility with it
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I write this letter both as the attorney for Ron and Michele Riggi and as a lifelong resident of Saratoga Springs. Now that 23 Greenfield Ave. has been demolished, there are some things that need to be said.

First of all, it should be emphasized that when 23 Greenfield Ave. was purchased, its demolition was perfectly legal. My clients applied for a demolition permit in May of 2009, and while the application was pending, the city issued an “administrative hold” followed by a moratorium. The moratorium was issued at the request and urging of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation as well as certain other citizens of the community.

The purpose of the moratorium was to prevent the demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave. and any other similarly situated buildings pending an update of the city’s historic zoning ordinance. In the intervening year, two important matters occurred: my clients commenced a lawsuit against the city to declare the moratorium unconstitutional and illegal, and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation petitioned the City Council to enlarge the city’s historic district by adding 48 parcels of land, including 23 Greenfield Ave., located in the northwest portion of the city.

It soon became clear that there was a classic dispute over the rights of the individual property owner versus the rights of the municipality. The two hearings conducted by the Planning Board as a part of the advisory opinion process were particularly instructive.

The written comments and the oral presentations made by people both inside and outside the proposed expanded district showed that a significant majority were opposed to any further expansion of our local historic district primarily for the reason that they rejected the idea of additional control by the city over improvements to their properties. When the Planning Board failed to issue a positive advisory opinion, the Preservation Foundation chose not to pursue an extension of the moratorium. It should be noted that a similar effort to expand the historic district was made in 1993 and it similarly failed for lack of public support.

Historic preservation has played an important part in the rebirth of the city starting in the 1960s. It’s my observation that historic zoning works best in the business districts and more densely populated parts of town, where the buildings are viewed as more “public” than in a single family zone. As the owner of a building on Broadway, I am pleased that it is within the historic district.

Most owners of single-family homes, however, feel somewhat differently about ceding some of their property rights to the government. Despite the good intentions of many of the people who have populated our land use boards over the years since we adopted a historic zoning ordinance, many people feel that they have been subjected to unnecessary expense and bureaucratic delays.

The most important lesson which should be gleaned from the experience of 23 Greenfield Ave. is that, above all, we have an obligation to treat our fellow citizens with respect. During the controversy about the demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave., I was saddened to hear and read gratuitously nasty comments about Mr. and Mrs. Riggi which served no useful purpose other than to unnecessarily enflame the situation. The postings on the blogs were particularly outrageous, not only because of their content but because they were written anonymously by people who were apparently reluctant to attach their names to their venomous comments.

Although there were many people who disagreed with Mr. and Mrs. Riggi in a respectful fashion, their voices were muted by the obnoxious remarks. Even the posting of signs represented bad behavior. How many of us would like to leave our homes in the morning to be confronted by the signs of some of our neighbors who happen to disagree with our position? Mr. and Mrs. Riggi fought for the preservation of their rights and, by extension, the rights of the other citizens of Saratoga Springs. They are not entitled to any special consideration because of their station in life or because they have been extraordinarily generous to so many organizations in our community; however, they don’t deserve to be scorned because some disagree with their position.

Far worse than the destruction of a building is the destruction of civility, which I witnessed during this process.

John J. Carusone Jr. is an attorney with Carusone & Carusone in Saratoga Springs.


© 2010, a Journal Register Property

Reader's View: So much wrong with demolition of 23 Greenfield Ave.
Sunday, June 13, 2010

Truth be told, Mr. Carusone, the Riggis’ story is not what you tell. First of all, the Riggis did not have a demolition permit when they started demolition, nor had they applied for one. The Saratogian also made that error. They may have applied for a demolition permit in May 2009, but it was after the fact.

This is what happened:

I heard about the demolition going on, walked down and spoke to the contractor. He said they were removing asbestos. As a neighbor, I knew in fact that asbestos had been removed several years earlier. The contractor was actually in the act of demolishing historic window sills and throwing them in a dumpster.

I sensed something fishy going on and called code enforcement in the Public Safety department. A code enforcing officer came, found no demolition permit had been applied for, stopped the demolition and boarded up the house. The Riggis tried to pull a fast one, also broke the law, and yet have not been fined?

As a member of Sustainable Saratoga, I have another issue with them. They did not salvage one piece of this historic building. Cabinets, fixtures, toilets and all the rest of the elegant furnishings of the house could have gone to Habitat for Humanity. The historic architectural details could have been saved and reused in restoring another building. This waste sets a bad example for the whole community as we are becoming more conscious of recycling and reusing.

As a neighbor, I have plenty of reasons to dislike what the Riggis did. I came to Saratoga in the early 1970s, attracted to a city that valued its historic heritage and architecture. My husband and I moved to the historic North Broadway neighborhood and restored a dilapidated old Italianate Victorian. The Riggis demolished an important part of my neighborhood and part of the history I value. They took something away from me and diminished our neighborhood.

I assume the Riggis moved to North Broadway because they loved the neighborhood and the community, but they have not been good neighbors. Their sense of individual rights far outweighs their social responsibilities. Their dogs yapping intrudes on the rights of the adjoining neighbors to peace and quiet. Their replacing a beautiful building with a dog kennel infringes on the property values of the whole neighborhood. Would you move next door to a place with 27 dogs?

Saratoga Springs is the historic city it is because people before us had a vision, a sense of social responsibility, and a value of something for the greater common good. Thinking only of ourselves and our individual rights disconnects us from our neighbors and diminishes our sense of community. When you live in a city, you are not an island.

Our city needs a thriving community of people inspired by, evolving and learning from others and from the beauty and history of what surrounds us.

Amejo Amyot is a resident of Saratoga Springs, a member of Sustainable Saratoga and founder of the Beekman Street Arts District.


© 2010, a Journal Register Property

Friday, June 11, 2010

What's wrong with Spa Parks famous "spouting geyser"? It's been dead as a doornail for weeks.

Private help for popular area in Spa park
Campaign aims to raise money for upgrades to popular area in Spa park

By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
Click byline for more stories by writer.

First published: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Saratoga Spa State Park is raising private donations to restore the public facility's most historic attraction.
With many state parks unable to open due to lack of state money, the Saratoga Capital District Park Commission Monday broke ground on a $250,000 private project to preserve a viewing and resting area near Saratoga Performing Arts Center that features the only spouting springs east of the Rocky Mountains.

Community leaders have already raised half the cost to revitalize Geyser Park, which features a bluestone patio, slate steps and railings along Geyser Creek. The plan also calls for building pavilions at the Orenda and Island Spouter natural springs.

Officials want to repair the area, which they say is crumbling and unsafe, to recognize the park's 100th birthday and the adoption of its first master plan. Raising private dollars for a public entity can be daunting because many believe the operations should be sustained by the state, said Heather Mabee, commission chairwoman.

"But these are difficult times, and, as we all know, the public dollars aren't there," Mabee told about 30 people at the springs. Raising another $125,000 would allow the project to be completed by October, she said.

A fault line that runs from Whitehall to Albany helped create the area's carbonated springs, which are rich in minerals and salt. The water sources drew American Indians to the area hundreds of years ago, and they continue to be sought after for their healthful qualities. State leaders saved the spouts from commercial depletion about a century ago, and their popularity turned them into a symbol of the city.

The area now is near a parking lot and scenic trail often used to get to Saratoga Performing Arts Center. From a path that leads to SPAC, pedestrians can view the Island spouter, which normally spews a narrow plume of spring water about 10 to 15 feet in the air. The spring was not working Monday.

The restoration project includes installing a new bluestone patio area and sidewalks, repairing staircases and railings, building two pavilions, handicapped parking and more, facility manager Kurt Kress said. The area in the 2,200-acre park will be roped off.

Carol Ash, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, attended Monday's announcement.

Many other improvements in the park's master plan will have to wait until the economy improves, she said. Ash had asked commission leaders to seek private support for the project in light of the state's budget problems, park commission member Thomas Maggs said.

"This is where people can come to escape the lunacy of life," Maggs said. "Yes, we're going through tough times, but we've gone through tough times before."

To make a donation, go to the Saratoga park page at

The Vale of Springs, near the Geyser Park Picnic Area at Saratoga Spa State Park, marks the site marked for an upgrade.

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NYS Parks could close if govenment shuts down on Monday.

Parties Clash as Albany Edges Closer to Shutdown
Published: June 9, 2010
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CloseLinkedinDiggMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkALBANY — State officials began preparing on Wednesday for what they said would be the first government shutdown in New York history as prospects for the passage of another emergency budget bill grew cloudy.

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Democratic and Republican legislative leaders engaged in an acrimonious public meeting in the Capitol with Gov. David A. Paterson. Republicans charged that they had been shut out of negotiations, and Democrats insisted that the Republicans shoulder some responsibility for averting a shutdown.

With no agreement yet reached on a budget for the fiscal year that began April 1, the state has been relying on a series of emergency bills to stay in operation. But Republicans have voted uniformly against the last three bills. After the last vote, two Democratic senators said they would oppose the next emergency bill, suggesting that Senate leaders might not be able to muster enough votes to pass it.

As a result, administration officials have started huddling with their counterparts at the state comptroller’s office to work through the consequences of a shutdown, warning that if the Legislature fails to approve the next emergency budget bill, due on Monday, the state would face unprecedented chaos.

“We don’t have an answer to many of these questions because we’ve never shut down the government before,” said Robert L. Megna, the state budget director.

Without the ability to pay workers or even guarantee their salaries in the future, officials said, they could be forced to close down state agencies immediately after the last emergency bill expires on Monday. Administration officials said they were still searching for a legal mechanism to continue financing essential public safety services, like prisons and the State Police.

But courtrooms, parks, highway rest stops and even the state terrorism hot line could all close. A shutdown could also affect some county and local workers, like those who administer Medicaid benefits. Though such workers are employed by the counties, they must gain access to state computer systems to process claims.

Since the last budget expired on March 31, the State Senate and the Assembly, both controlled by Democrats, have not come close to reaching a budget deal with Mr. Paterson.

On Monday, with negotiations seemingly at an impasse, Mr. Paterson inserted sweeping cuts to health care spending in the latest emergency bill, essentially forcing lawmakers to accept a portion of his budget proposal.

Republicans in the Senate voted uniformly against the bill, even though they had publicly favored Medicaid cuts, saying that Mr. Paterson’s cuts did not go far enough. On the other side of the aisle, two Democratic state senators — Rubén Díaz Sr. and Pedro Espada Jr., both of the Bronx — said they would not vote for any more emergency bills that included major budget cuts.

That move raised the prospect of a shutdown, since without Republican votes, Senate Democrats, who have a 32-to-30 majority in the chamber, must act unanimously to pass legislation.

At the leaders’ meeting, Mr. Paterson said he would not give in to “thug activity,” which some took as a reference to the two Democratic senators. After the meeting, the governor criticized Dean G. Skelos, the Senate Republican leader, and blamed him for forcing the state to the brink of catastrophe.

“I’m shocked, and I’m appalled,” Mr. Paterson said. “Senator Skelos has told us that he and the Republican senators are going to shut down the government, and they would shut down the government over something about meetings they haven’t been invited to and process issues.”

Pressed on whether his conference would provide any votes to pass the emergency bill, Mr. Skelos insisted that Democratic lawmakers who control both chambers would be to blame for any shutdown. “This is a failure of Democrat leadership in the state,” Mr. Skelos said. Regarding a shutdown, he said: “It’s an unfortunate way to go, but we are not going to just automatically vote for something because they have failed, as leaders, to put something together.”

Mr. Skelos softened his tone later in the day after a private meeting with Mr. Paterson, suggesting that some Republicans might vote for the next emergency bill if the governor included some of the Republicans’ proposals to further cut Medicaid and other spending.

But Mr. Díaz did not appear inclined to relent.

“The governor called me a thug,” he said. “When I pick a fight, I don’t go back. Let’s see what a thug can do.”

A version of this article appeared in print on June 10, 2010, on page A25 of the New York edition.