Suit By Neighbors Against Hospital Expansion Decision Requires City To Redo Their Environmental Impact Statement

On January 5, 2022, the Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial District convened to hear oral arguments in an appeal by the neighbors of Saratoga Hospital over the city’s zoning of the land for the hospital’s expansion.

Consistent with Mayor Kim’s running City Attorney debacle, no one appeared for the city to defend it in the lawsuit. Not to be represented in this court was highly unusual.

Mayor Kim, who is an attorney, had not bothered to meet with the two departing City Attorneys prior to his taking office to find out what outstanding legal actions were before the city.

Had he done so, the city could have hired counsel to represent it.

With City Attorney DeLeonardis leaving office on December 31, and the hearing scheduled for January 5, and no new City Attorney identified to take over, it became obvious that it was simply no longer practical for the city to be able to be represented by counsel. DeLeonardis then advised the court that no one would be available to represent the city and that the city would have to rely on their written arguments to the court.

It is impossible to know whether, if the city had been properly represented at the hearing, the outcome of the decision would have been different.

In any case, given Mayor Kim’s hostile attitude toward DeLeonardis and Mayor Meg Kelly, it is probably unlikely he would have seen that the city was represented or worse yet, would have represented the city himself. The Daily Gazette February 19, 2022 edition reported:

In a news statement Friday, Mayor Ron Kim targeted former Mayor Meg Kelly and former city attorney Vincent DeLeonardis for trying to “ram this rezoning through without taking a hard look at the environmental impacts.”

Kim, whose tenure started Jan. 1, went on to call it a “lack of transparency and stomach-churning duplicity of the former administration and city attorney.”

Daily Gazette February 19, 2022

I am not sure what Mayor Kim means that there was a lack of transparency. This project was the subject of many meetings of the Planning Board and the City Council during which there was much public participation.

People can disagree over the merits of the hospital expansion but I do not know what he is referring to when he accuses the council of “stomach-churning duplicity.”

Analysis Of Court Decision

This is a link to the court’s decision:

Foothills Business Daily (FBD) has a good story on the court decision that is worth reading in addition to the following:

The neighbors of Saratoga Hospital, represented by attorney Claudia Braymer, have won a partial victory in their lawsuit to block the hospital from building a medical office building adjacent to the hospital. 

The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department made the following rulings:

  1. The neighbors asserted that the decision by the city to rezone the hospital parcel was an instance of spot zoning.  The court rejected the claim.
  2. The neighbors asserted that the members of the council had received donations from people associated with the hospital and therefore there was a conflict of interest.  The court rejected the claim.
  3. The neighbors asserted that the designation of the parcel as OMB-2 (Medical Office Building) was inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.  The court rejected the claim.
  4. The neighbors asserted that the city’s response to State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was flawed.  The court agreed with the neighbors on this claim.

The city had argued that it was required to bring its zoning into compliance with the city’s comprehensive plan.  Which is what it did. This rezoning action was not a response from an application by the hospital.  As such, the city was not responding to any particular plan for what might be constructed there.  Without a plan, the city argued, any determinations of the impact would be hypothetical.  The city argued that when an actual site plan would be submitted to the city it would then be feasible and appropriate to do a further SEQRA review.

The court’s decision noted that as the hospital had submitted detailed plans back in 2015 in a failed application to the city for a Planned Unit Development (PUD), and as the hospital had sent a letter to the neighbors describing a medical building as their planned use for the parcel, there was enough information to undertake a full SEQRA review.

The court found that the failure to consider the impact of a medical building was an example of an unpermitted SEQRA “segmentation.”  Roughly, segmentation is where a developer seeks a review of only part of the full build out for his project.  As an example, a developer submits a plan for a mall that includes only one structure when they actually plan to build more structures on the site over time.

At this point the hospital has the option to ask the City Council to rezone its parcels to OMBD-2 in a process that would have the City Council (or the Planning Board) do the SEQRA review.  In this case, all of the plans and environmental impacts which were nearing completion in the pending site plan review by the Planning Board are known.  As such, the process would be considerably shorter than would otherwise be the case.

The hospital’s real problem is that the culture of the current Council is hostile to the hospital.  During their campaign, last fall, the slate of Democrats who have taken office sought support from the neighbors opposed to the hospital expansion.

If twenty percent of the owners of properties adjacent to the hospital sign a protest petition, it would require a supermajority of the council to approve the hospital’s expansion.  It is hard to imagine four of the current members of the Council supporting such a vote.

12 thoughts on “Suit By Neighbors Against Hospital Expansion Decision Requires City To Redo Their Environmental Impact Statement”

  1. Mr. Kim never ceases to amaze me with his lack of integrity, professionalism and leadership. To say such harsh words about a prior administration comes right out of a political play book. Lets see what he does with the new EMS station. To date no SEQRA has been done, will he require it in this case or no because his campaign promise was to get it done – although he did nothing to advance it when he was Public Safety Commissioner for four years. I hope the elected officials do what is right for the whole city, not a select group of people.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. John, in your analysis of the Appellate Court Decision, you are blaming the wrong people. Before Ron Kim even took office, Vince DiLeonardis sent a letter to the Appellate Court stating that the city would not present oral arguments on Jan 5th.
    The rezoning done in Dec 2019 was done based on the false argument that there was no proposal to build and that the city was not aware of any proposed project by the hospital. This way, they could avoid the SEQRA review on the project itself. It’s called SEGMENTATION and it’s against the law. Meg Kelly supported this farce and Vince DiLeonardis presented this argument in court. The neighbor’s attorney, Claudia Braymer, did an excellent job proving the corruption that took place.
    No one should expect Ron Kim, or any designated new City Attorney, to show up in court and defend the dishonest actions that were taken by the previous City Council.
    Our elected officials should act in the best interest of the community, and not for the benefit of big developers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alice-I guess it would be one thing had Ron Kim told the public he didn’t intend to defend the city against the lawsuit you were involved in. Then at least voters could take this into account when they decided if they wanted to vote for him for mayor. In fact this seems to just be another screw up with Ron having no idea what cases were pending and just not having anyone show up as has been happening with every other court case since Kim took office. At least Vince DeLeonardis had the professional integrity to see what was coming and notify the court so we didn’t look like complete dolts.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Straight Shooter: Ron Kim DID notify the court that the city would not present Oral Arguments. Vince’s letter had nothing to do with ‘professional integrity’. Vince participated in a total farce, along with Meg Kelly, and he knew Ron Kim would not support their argument in any court. Meg Kelly was working with the hospital and the developers, and now both she and Vince are happily employed at one of Bonaccio’s businesses. As they say “. . .you can fool some of the people. . .” -you know the rest.

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    1. Alice, It might be, at least somewhat transparent, if you would inform those reading these posts that you have a personal stake in this lawsuit. As I recall you have been involved in the hiring of the attorney to represent the neighbors as well as be exceptionally outspoken on the topic. It does beg to question your stake in this discussion and your ability to look at the topic with objectivity. It does cause one to question you objectivity in trashing Kelly (who I personally don’t like so that is not part of my questioning) and Vince DeLeonardis – who I worked with and find to be incredibly honest – perhaps too honest for those who don’t like his answers.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. For full transparency I will say that I have and still support the hospital and their need for an office building within easy access to the hospital. My opinions have been frequently shared here in prior posts and on my own facebook page. That said, I have no personal stake other than my belief that this would be absolutely best for the hospital and this city as a whole.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My dear Ms. Smith—I see we will have to agree to disagree on all this. I am, however, curious about your adamant statement that “Ron Kim DID notify the court that the city would not present Oral Arguments.” There are so many reasons why I’m having trouble taking your word for this. Since Kim had only been in office a few days and had not bothered to get briefed on what cases the city had pending, it’s interesting that he was apparently able to spring into action on this. Remember, this is a guy who is a lawyer and previous office holder but who didn’t even know how to lawfully take the Council into an executive session. In addition, I’m not sure why he would do this if it had already been done, but more importantly I’m curious about in what capacity he did this. If he did it while pretending to be the City Attorney, I doubt any action he might have taken would be valid.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Straight Shooter, the decision to present oral arguments is not up to the city attorney. Is is up to the ‘respondent’ (the City Council) to decide if it wants the City Attorney to present oral arguments. Likewise, it was up to the ‘petitioner’ (the neighbors) to decide if we wanted our attorney to present oral arguments. So, it does not matter if he did this in his capacity as Mayor or City Attorney. Ron Kim was qualified to make this decision. His other option would be to show up and support Vince’s argument that the city had “no knowledge of any proposed project” on this parcel. As for notifying the court, you can do your own research. Go to the website of the Appellate Court Division and find the notification. You might need a foil request.
    Apart from all that, I like your idea that we will have to agree to disagree.

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