Mouzon House Sues Saratoga Springs Over City Center Actions

From The Gazette:

Restaurant sues Saratoga Springs over garage plans

Owners fear shadows cast on solar panels

By Stephen Williams October 14, 2015

PHOTOGRAPHER: PATRICK DODSON

The Mouzon House, with Saratoga Springs City Center seen in the background, is pictured on Oct. 1

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The owners of the Mouzon House restaurant on York Street have sued the city in an effort to block plans for the City Center parking garage proposed to go up next door to their business.

The lawsuit filed Friday in state Supreme Court in Ballston Spa seeks to annul a law passed by the City Council in July that would allow the proposed 500-parking-space garage to cast a shadow on the solar panels the Mouzon House has on its roof. It also seeks to annul a subdivision of the parking garage site approved last month by the city Planning Board.

Mouzon House owners David and Diane Pedinotti have been outspoken opponents of the City Center’s proposed five-story garage, which would dwarf their fine-dining establishment. A number of other residents have also spoken out against the project, which City Center officials said is needed to meet the center’s and downtown’s parking needs.

“The Saratoga Springs City Center has pursued a project in contravention of the Zoning Ordinance,” the Pedinottis state in the lawsuit, which names the city, the City Council and Planning Board, and the Saratoga Springs City Center Authority.

According to court papers, the Mouzon House in 2011 approached city officials about installing solar panels on its roof. The panels were eventually installed in 2014 and generate electricity for the business.

The Zoning Board of Appeals in March ruled that under the city’s Solar Access Ordinance, the proposed garage couldn’t cast a shadow on those panels that would block access to the sun in the winter — in effect, blocking the controversial multi-story garage from being built.

But by a 3-2 vote in July, the City Council amended the Solar Access Law to exempt properties in the downtown area from the “shadow rule.” That is one of the actions the lawsuit seeks to overturn, with an argument that it was done solely to benefit the parking garage plan and without sufficient environmental review.

“The City Council did not identify the relevant areas of environmental concern, did not take a hard look at such areas of environmental concern, and did not make a reasoned elaboration for its conclusion that [Finance Commissioner Michele] Madigan’s proposed amendment … would not result in any potential environmental impacts,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also seeks a court ruling that the city violated the Freedom of Information Law by withholding some electronic correspondence between Madigan and the City Center after Mouzon House attorneys sought it through a FOIL request.

The lawsuit also contends that the subdivision approved last month by the city Planning Board is premature, given that the city on Sept. 29 received two private proposals to build mixed-use projects — residential, parking and commercial space — on the 2.62-acre lot, which is owned by the city. Those proposals are currently under review by the city.

City Attorney Vincent DeLeonardis did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

The city-owned lot now contains a surface parking lot.

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13 thoughts on “Mouzon House Sues Saratoga Springs Over City Center Actions”

  1. What fundraiser John Brown? She certainly did NOT go to their “Burger and a Beer” event at the Stadium. That is the only event I know of. Is John Brown affiliated with Ken Ivins? John Kaufman, please do NOT let these sorts of innuendo stand. It cheapens the quality of your blog. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. John Brown – perhaps it is Sarah Burger you are thinking about, as she attended the Saratoga PAC fundraiser. Michele Madigan did not to my knowledge (and I stood outside the front door watching to see who went in and out of there – and gave my ‘donation’ to the homeless couple who sat on the bench outside of the Stadium that day. I figured that they needed it a h*ll of a lot more than the Saratoga PAC did).

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  2. Well, first of all I think that panel on the Mouzon House is a thermal panel designed to heat water not generate electricity and it is not large enough to effectively heat water for restaurant capacity. It is my understanding that they maybe save $100 a year with that panel and while they might have approached city officials in 2011 I think they never got the required permits to install that panel. It will be interesting to see what comes out in court. It is unclear what the endgame is for the Pedinottis. They were told when they bought the property that there were plans to eventually put a parking garage for the City Center there. Do they prefer the monster developments the RFP has brought in? The City Center needs parking to remain competitive and continue to bring the convention goers to town that keep downtown vital. Downtown businesses need parking. I constantly encounter friends who don’t want to eat at downtown restaurants because they are so annoyed trying to find a place to park. Let the City Center go ahead with its plans. There is plenty of space left on that lot for future development if and when the city actually needs more retail/condo/office space or maybe that space would be better used to give needed additional space to city hall. Given the empty spaces in the mixed use buildings that have already gone up in town it doesn’t seem there is a shortage of any of that but there is a parking shortage that desperately needs to be addressed.

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    1. You are correct that the solar panels are thermal collectors and not PV, the article should really be revised, however this shouldn’t make a difference. Their savings is more like $500+ a year, which is still significant. The system received funding from the state, and I don’t imagine NYSERDA would be happy to have a state funded project shaded either. As for the permitting question, Saratoga Springs changed their policy from not requiring permits for thermal in 2011 to requiring them. After the new policy was learned, the project was indeed officially permitted from Town Hall and approved by the DRC despite the City Center sending a lawyer to attempt to blockade it.

      Lastly, the Pedinotti’s have stated many times they understand the need for parking and are not directly against parking being placed there. They are against the city center pushing through the current layout with the structure on a east/west axis blocking their business from view and shading the solar panels. There’s more than enough property to change the building layout to be on a more north/south axis, providing the parking, while not obscuring the business behind a 4 story wall of cement.

      The real issue here is that Mark Baker has invested so much money and time into the one current design proposal, that to change it based on Pedinotti’s concerns would be a major loss, so its easier to just push it through.

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      1. The fact remains that when the Mouzon House put up their thermal panels a building permit and DRC approval were required which they did not get. In an interesting and unusual move DRC apparently granted them approval retroactively. (Keep this in mind, dear reader, should you be in similar circumstances before this Board.)The City Center did understandably argue against this move given the impact this installation by the Mouzon House would have on the City Center project which was already working its way through land use board reviews prior to the panel installation. For me the timing of the installation of the Mouzon House panels seem a bit suspicious to say the least.
        To your point of positioning the structure on a more north/south axis this was considered but would have taken up more land and been situated closer to the Mouzon House than the 75’ distance the current design calls for.
        I am also puzzled by your statement that the Mouzon House would be “………obscur[ed] behind a 4 story wall of cement.” Please see this blog’s posting on July 20 “The City Center’s Proposed Structure: Less Hysteria and More Thought” for a rendering of the City Center’s proposal. Your description doesn’t fit with the design which you may want to review.

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      2. The solar was sold prior to the Pedinotti’s being fully aware of the parking garage, at a time when they definitely didn’t even know of the existence of the solar ordnance, and could not be installed until the new roof was installed first.
        I noticed you addressed every one of my points except the final and most important one concerning Baker overly investing in the current and only design plan and hence the unwillingness to change gears.

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  3. A letter by Amy DeLuca in today’s (Nov. 4th’s) Saratogian proposed moving the Mouzon House up the block toward the corner of Lake Ave. as part of a larger gateway project. It would not be cheap, but is entirely practical and a better use of funds that would otherwise go to the lawyers on all sides.

    It would get the restaurant out of the shadows of the proposed garage project and give it better visibility. That’s not to say that the garage shouldn’t be re-evaluated for mixed use, but it would help to end the squabbling over its location.

    Of course, one of the principal issues about its location has to do with the enclosed walkway, so that conventioneers can enter the City Center without going outside during the winter. If people were willing to get out and walk a block in the rain or snow, the exact siting could be more flexible.

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    1. Well, first there is the question as to why the Mouzon House should get to position itself on a prime piece of real estate owned by the city. I’m sure there are plenty of other businesses who would like a chance to position themselves there. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the owners of the Mouzon House knew a parking garage for the City Center was planned for that site when they bought the property. I suspect they have come to realize they will be no better off with the behemoth mixed use developments that have been proposed so now are flailing around for yet another strategy.
      I think it’s important, too, to understand how competitive the convention venue market is before making suggestions on what the City Center should or shouldn’t do with its plans. Convention venues are rated on a variety of amenities, parking convenience being a major one. With a new convention center gong up in nearby Albany it is important that our City Center remain competitive and continue to draw people to our downtown so that downtown businesses including the Mouzon House can continue to have customers year round. If you weren’t living in Saratoga before the City Center was built it might be hard to understand just how central it has been to the revitalization of our downtown.

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