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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.