Wednesday, January 24, 2007

If it's brown, flush it down

When there's a good deal of pocket cash on the line, slick real estate agents will do just about anything to nail down the sale. They're sort of like used car salesmen, only on a much larger scale; bend the truth, fabricate or just flat-out lie to get a signature on the dotted line.

As the saying goes, the right house it the one that's for sale; the right person is anyone. And in the case of the real estate hall-of-famers Geraldine and Larry Abrams, the right house is a $85 million upscale hotel development on Saratoga Lake's sole remaining public beach. The right person is the hundreds of residents living around the lake, which would be inalterably changed with such a development.

The nearly two-decade long saga of Brown's Beach continued last week, as an attorney representing the Abrams and their investors pitched the latest development plan for the 7.3 acre parcel on Stillwater's shoreline. This most recent delusion of grandeur includes an 188-room resort with 400-seat banquet hall, three restaurants, a 15,000-square-foot day spa and dock space for up to 200 boats.

The development will be "green" and environment friendly, the developers told the Daily Gazette Tuesday. Just think about the roof-top water filtration system --otherwise know as grass --that will actually clean the lake, they claim. Buy this bridge, it only costs a dollar.

Dubbed Saratoga Lake Resort Hotel and Marina by the dynamic duo, the project bears remarkable similarity to one pitched about two years ago, when they proposed to build up to 250 rooms, a 500-seat conference center, three restaurants and a 165 boat slips. The jaw-dropping plan left many area residents scratching their heads and wondering how the Abrams' planned to force such a monstrosity down the throats of the town's elected and appointed officials. At the time, the town board believed they'd have a bit of oversight in at least deciding whether or not to rezone the Abrams' land to allow the resort.

"Members of the town board believe this project has merit, but there are a number of concerns," town Supervisor J. Gregory Connors explained to the Daily Gazette in 2005.

Faced with this modest resistance, the Abrams scaled back their plans and pitched a more modest development ten months later. The new plan called for a more upscale development with less rooms, less buildings and most importantly, less vertical height.

But that didn't last long. Over the summer, the Abrams' lawyer dropped a bombshell on the town board, stating in essence, the real estate agents could build whatever that want on the property, without an ounce of approval from the town's elected officials. The attorney cited a 1988 document that approved a zoning change on the land paving the way for a condominium development.

Now for a short history lesson on Brown's Beach. Robert Morris decided to put it up for sale during the late 80s after owning the property --then a 13-acre parcel used as an amusement park --for nearly a half-century. Developers came in and pitched a 34-unit condo complex, but couldn't get a shovel in the ground before the housing market crashed in the early 90s.

Morris plucked the property at tax auction for a cool $253,000 in 1993. Less than a year later, he subdivided the land and sold the lion's share to James Charles Agius and Susan Clare Bernhardt, who cleaned up and enlarged the beach. They ran a marina and bed and breakfast on the property until contacting Geraldine in 2003 to sell the land for them. Rather than list the property at the $1.96 million asking price, Abrams scrapped together $1.57 million and bought it herself. Yes, being in real estate has its privileges.

At the time, the Abrams gushed over the deal --as well they should --and flooded the press with all sorts of preservationist ideas for the land.

"We're just going to go and enjoy it,'" a badly salivating Geraldine Abrams told the Times Union after closing the deal. "It's our baby.''

Larry Abrams claimed the couple had no intentions of leveling the property to build condominiums. Instead, he spoke of building "villas'' on the beach and maintaining the historic nature of' the property.

Pan to the present. Of the 188 rooms in the Ritz Abrams, only 14 will be rented to the general public. The two tallest buildings on the beach will span 85 vertical feet, which might sound like a villa in mid-town Manhattan, but among the two- and three- story homes around the lake, well that's what we laymen call a high rise.

True, they're going to multiply the beach size to more than seven times its present length. But can anyone actually believe the 174 "owners" of the hotel rooms will want to rub elbows with John Q. Public and his gaggle of snot-nosed children. The caveat is that Stillwater will get a $1.25 million park from the Abrams built more than a mile away from the lake, where Junior Public can go frolic around in the grass.

So like it or not, the once-blue collar lake will soon be solely private and yet another breeding ground for the rich to soar their wealthy oats during the summertime. And the lake folk who blew a gasket when the city decided to tap the lake for drinking water; the lake stewards? Not a peep. But hey, the developers are only going to pave over half the property and dump several tons of concrete into its wetlands. And those 40-plus boats coming to the lake each year probably won't make a difference either on the already over-crowded waterway.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally you're making sense (even though grass on a roof is better than concrete).

11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the background and history on this scam.

Funny, one used to be able to acquire this material from the daily newspaper.

Ah, the good ole' days of accurate and adequate information, decent financing, an interest in the community, and general competency.

Now, we get the relatives of pols and pundits and the blond babbling that is Kristi Gustafson.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Wow, thanks for the article. It's so refreshing to get the whole story. The sad thing is that this might actually happen and the people proposing it think it is actually a good thing. The empire has no clothes--again!

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

too bad you are not at all interested in the facts. this article is full of intentional mistrepresentations, starting with the purchase price; the real estate plus the business equaled 1.96million, and the land alone, 1.57million. the property was purchased for the exact price that the market analysis recommended; more than offered by another interested party. it never ever was public land. your story is bullshit.

6:29 PM  
Blogger Horatio Alger said...

My anonymous friend, all of these numbers were plucked from regional newspapers. So if there’s misinformation that’s been regurgitated at infinitum by these sources, then your beef is indeed with them. But for argument’s sake, let’s go to the video tape:

“Seller: James Charles Agius and Susan Clare Bernhardt Buyer: Brown's Beach Properties LLC 57 Old Schuylerville Road, Saratoga Springs 12866 Amount: $1,575,824 Property: 511 Route 9P, Saratoga Springs Recorded: Dec. 18. [2003]” –“For the Record,” Albany Times Union, January 18, 2004.

But why stop there. Let’s go a bit further:

“Tourists dream of going off to find their own stretch of beach someplace. Real estate agent Geraldine Abrams found her own here in the Capital Region for $1.57 million. Abrams and her husband, Larry, who have a RealtyUSA sales office in Saratoga Springs, closed in December on the purchase of 7.5-acre Brown's Beach at 511 Route 9P on Saratoga Lake, according to the deed filed with the Saratoga County clerk's office. The Abramses are now the proud owners of the last beach with public access to the lake, as well as a marina and a bed and breakfast inn. In fact, it was Geraldine Abrams whom the former owners, James Charles Agius and Susan Clare Bernhardt, contacted to market the property. The site, which once sported an amusement park with a Ferris wheel and penny arcade, originally was listed at $1.96 million.” –Albany Times Union, January 18, 2004

“The couple and a third investor, Patricia Bruder of Saratoga Springs, formed Brown's Beach Properties LLC to buy the 7-acre property for $1.57 million in December 2003. The Route 9P location is now the site of the 4,000-square-foot, eight-room Saratoga Lake Inn and Bistro. The new resort, to be called Saratoga Lake Resort Hotel and Marina, would most likely be four stories high and contain banquet seating for 500 people, the Abramses said.” –Albany Times Union, January 8, 2005

Feel free to jog down to your local library to verify these sources. As you can see, there’s quite a published record of these prices and one that’s never been contested with the TU. This is not to say that you don’t have a compelling point and one that would demand correction both here and at the Times Union if you can verify your postulations as truth.

But even given your facts, it hardly changes the thrust or gist of the story, which is that a monolithic complex on Saratoga Lake’s last public beach isn’t what the area needs. If you have other contentions with the piece, as you likely do, feel free to raise them. But your initial concerns are cursory at best and should probably be brought up the news agency and reporter (Leigh Hornbeck) that put these figures out there in the first place.

Keep reading, keep commenting. Intelligent dialogue is the voice of a vibrant democracy.

6:51 AM  

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