Saratoga County

Petition may block Saratoga Hospital project

Neighbors opposed to plans for a Saratoga Hospital medical office building late Friday filed a petit
A rendering of the proposed Saratoga Hospital medical office building.
A rendering of the proposed Saratoga Hospital medical office building.

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Neighbors opposed to plans for a Saratoga Hospital medical office building late Friday filed a petition in Saratoga Springs City Hall they believe will block the project.

The group filed a zoning protest petition that would force the City Council to have a super-majority to make the necessary zoning change, if the petition is legally valid.

A super-majority would be four affirmative votes from the five-member council.

That kind of majority is impossible to achieve under the current circumstances, since Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Accounts Commissioner John Franck have recused themselves from voting on the hospital project. That has left only three council members available to vote.

The city zoning ordinance allows neighbors who own at least 20 percent of the land next to a proposed zoning change location to petition and force a super-majority before the change can be made.

“We have not only met the criteria in order to force a super-majority vote by the City Council, but we surpassed it,” said Andy Brick of Albany, the lawyer representing the residents.

Matthew Jones, the attorney representing the hospital, said he’ll be reviewing the petition closely.

“I will get a copy of it from the city and take a look and see if they have a legally sustainable protest petition,” Jones said late Friday.

The people living on Morgan, Myrtle, Seward and other streets just north of Saratoga Hospital have repeatedly spoken out against the project at recent public hearings, saying it would change the character of their neighborhood and decrease property values.

The hospital wants to build a 75,000-square-foot medical office building on vacant land at the corner of Morgan and Myrtle streets, about a block north of the hospital. Hospital officials said the building is needed so specialist doctors can be closer to the hospital. They now rent offices scattered around the city.

Hospital administrators have spoken in favor of the project, as have a number of the hospital’s doctors.

The project would require rezoning the land from being residential to being part of the Saratoga Hospital Planned Unit Development. The city Planning Board recommended approval, but only the City Council can take final action.

Normally, a zoning change only requires a simple three-vote majority, but the protest petition forces a fourth affirmative vote for the change to win approval.

At the Jan. 19 City Council meeting, just before the council’s fourth public hearing on the project, Yepsen declared she had a conflict of interest because her private fundraising firm is considering a contract with the Saratoga Hospital Foundation, the hospital’s fundraising arm.

Franck then recused himself, saying his accounting firm had prepared tax returns for the neighborhood associations opposing the hospital.

The recusal left Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan to run the council meeting, a situation she said was thrust on her on short notice.

Madigan closed the hearing after an hour, with most speakers being neighbors opposed to the plan. She said she anticipated discussion at the next council meeting, on Feb. 2.

However, an initial agenda for that meeting released by the city late Friday does not include any mention of the hospital project.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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