In the December 20 edition of the Saratogian Joseph Phelan reported on the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting held the previous night. At that meeting the neighbors of a proposed Code Blue shelter and their attorney challenged the ZBA’s determination that the shelter fit into the existing zoning in their neighborhood because the proposed facility could be considered a “rooming house.” The facility would be an extension of Shelters of Saratoga at 14 Walworth Street and serve up to fifty homeless persons when the temperature dropped below freezing.
The ZBA had previously refused to hear the neighbors’ arguments stating that their appeal had not been filed soon enough. The neighbors won a court challenge to this determination, however, and the ZBA now had to address the neighbors’ arguments.
According to the Saratogian, the neighbors’ attorney, Claudia Braymer, argued that the proposed facility does not adhere to the definition of a rooming house:
“Braymer referenced the city’s code, which requires a neighborhood rooming house to be a single-family or a two-family residential structure owned or occupied or under the supervision of a resident manger under which one to four rooms are made available to lodgers for compensation for a rental period of no less than 28 consecutive days. A common kitchen facility may be available to lodgers but shall have no kitchen facilities in the guest rooms.”
“Braymer said that in essence there were three main requirements which the proposed shelter does not meet: it must be offered in a single-family or two-family residential structure, must be made available to lodgers for compensation and the rental period must be a minimum of 28-consecutive days.”
Attorney Libby Coreno, representing Shelters of Saratoga, argued that the proposed shelter met the requirements in the definition because it is a residential building, has two units, can be accessed through a hall and from outside, and has a kitchen available to the residents.
As regards the requirement that the residents provide compensation, she offered that Steve Shaw, the city building inspector, had found that the grants supporting the facility could be considered compensation.
Coreno argued that the facility would meet the minimum 28 day stay requirement because the facility was available on days where the temperature dropped below 32 degrees from the late fall through the winter. In addition she asserted that Shaw had determined “lodgers maintain their residency throughout based on the fact that they are allowed to keep personal items on site and may receive mail or other messages during the residency period.”
I sympathize with Shelters of Saratoga and had hoped they could build their shelter. I am not a lawyer and am only familiar with the arguments through the Saratogian story. Still, my experience with the ZBA has been that they are quite capable of stretching ordinances and facts in order to approve projects they like. The same is true for Mr. Shaw. I have seen them repeatedly approve variances that to myself and the neighbors affected appeared outrageous. They can do this kind of thing commonly because in most cases the affected neighbors lack the money required to take the ZBA to court. This time, the neighbors had the resources to challenge the ZBA.
It is anticipated that the ZBA will decide the issue at their January 8th meeting.