Racino role lost, but Saratoga mayor says city to have say
SARATOGA SPRINGS Saratoga Springs is no longer listed as an agency that has legal jurisdiction over the Saratoga Casino and Raceway’s proposed $30 million expansion, but city officials are satisfied the public will still get a chance to comment on the project.
Operators of the racino now list the city as an interested agency in a revised document submitted in early April as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act process. The change from an earlier submission to the state Office of General Services in late February suggests the city no longer has jurisdiction over the project, but wants to participate because of its expertise or a specific concern.
Despite the change, Mayor Joanne Yepsen remains confident the racino operators will present their plans to the city’s Planning Board for an opinion and that the public will still get a chance to weigh in on the project. She said the operators may present the expansion plans at the City Council’s meeting next week.
“Our main concern right now is that we have an opportunity to express our suggestions and recommendations for that project as a city,” she said Thursday.
Saratoga County — also originally listed as an involved agency — is also now considered an interested agency. Yepsen said the switch in designation resulted from the racino operators determining they didn’t need the level of water and sewer service they initially forecasted in their February submission to the state.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is the only entity now listed as an involved agency, according to the latest submission by the racino.
The project proposes adding a total of 134,000 square feet of space off an area northwest of the Vapor Night Club that now is 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.
Some are concerned the racino’s expansion will keep its business increasingly self-contained at the sprawling facility off Jefferson Street. Others fear the large event center will draw business away from the Saratoga Springs City Center, which brings large conventions to the downtown area year-round.
Rita Cox, a spokeswoman for the racino, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
The racino’s initial construction and expansion project in 2007 were not subject to approval by local land use boards — instead, they approved by the state because the activities there would be regulated by the state. Similarly, this latest expansion proposal will be reviewed not by the city but by the state Gaming Commission, which is considered lead agency in the SEQR process.
Yepsen said the change came as a surprise until when city officials met with a contingent from the racino last week. She said it assured her the switch in status won’t change the city’s involvement in the project. “We’re putting faith in our good relations with the racino folks,” she said.