Last weekend, we went with friends from out-of-state to the Mouzon House on High Rock Avenue for dinner. They are frequent visitors to Saratoga, and as we walked across the adjacent parking lot, I said there are plans to build a five-story garage on the site. They were incredulous. We all should be.
The City Center wants to build the garage on the site to add about another 300 parking spaces to the existing lots. They also wish to have a walkway over Maple Avenue so City Center visitors can go directly to their vehicles without stepping outside. Not to put too fine a point on it, but their plan would plop a monstrosity down on a valuable piece of city-owned land only three blocks from the center of the city.
The structure would also tower over the Mouzon House, and block sunlight from ever reaching its outdoor dining spaces and bar. In the interests of full disclosure, I think the Mouzon House has some of the best food in Saratoga, and an atmosphere that is second-to-none. It is the go-to place for my wife and me on special occasions.
It is also an historic structure. The Pedinottis who own the building and the restaurant purchased it about 10 years ago, and are only the third owners since its construction in 1883. Their remodeling of the building has resulted in one of the most interesting interior in the Spa. From 1919 until its purchase by the Pedinottis, it had been the home of the family that gave the restaurant its name. The original owners were a husband and wife, one of whom was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian and the other an African-American. One can only imagine what it must have been like for them in the Saratoga of almost a century ago.
According to Saturday’s Saratogian, Monday’s meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals (7:00 p.m.) will consider a request for a variance sought by the City Center that would allow it to build a structure that not only exceeds maximum height restrictions, but would impede the use of solar panels on the roof of the Mouzon House.
It is somewhat ironic that Mark Baker, President of the City Center, was a leading opponent of the attempt by Saratoga Harness to add a casino to its property. He was, of course, interested in preventing competition with his convention center. One of the more persuasive arguments against the casino was that it would alter the character of Saratoga, and detract from the locals business, including restaurants, that now flourish in downtown.
Sustainable Saratoga, a non-profit organization that promotes “smart land use and efficient urban planning” as part of its mission, has sent a thoughtful and detailed letter advocating a more thoughtful and inclusive process. It does not necessarily oppose a parking garage on the site, but has suggested alternatives that would not only prevent the construction of an eyesore, but could also result in the development of additional local businesses. Nor do the Pedinottis oppose any parking garage on the land. They point to alternatives that would be conducive to the environment, as well as bringing additional business to the area.
If the facility proposed by the City Center is built, it will have a lasting impact that will add nothing to Saratoga’s charm and beauty and, indeed, detract from it. By my count, there are already three parking garages and two parking lots – each of which is free – within three blocks of the corner of Broadway and Lake. While adding this new structure may benefit the insiders who control the business community in Saratoga, it does little for the rest of us who just live here. And all this, for an additional 300 parking spots.
Saratoga Springs is often referred to as the home of “history, health and horses.” Do we need to add “parking” to that triumvirate?