SARATOGA SPRINGS — Plans for a new Code Blue shelter are expected to be back on the agenda for the city planning Board’s April 19 meeting, after Thursday’s meeting resulted in no decision on the controversial project.
Shelters of Saratoga Executive Director Mike Finocchi said Thursday’s meeting, which continued until after 10 p.m., went as planned.
“It’s a step-by-step process,” he said. “Whenever a meeting is open for public comment, you hear from both supporters and the opposition.”
More than a dozen people shared their views about the proposed Code Blue shelter, which is slated to be built next to Shelters of Saratoga’s Walworth Street headquarters.
The non-profit organization is awaiting the planning board’s approval of a special use permit to move forward with construction.
For now, the Code Blue shelter at Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street serves as a walk-in, emergency homeless shelter when temperatures in the city fall below freezing, in accordance with state law.
The new, permanent shelter was originally expected to debut in December, but 22 neighbors surrounding the proposed site filed an Article 78 lawsuit in July to challenge the planning board’s previous approval of the project and the zoning board’s June dismissal of the neighbors’ appeal.
Joe Bonilla, managing partner at Albany-based Relentless Awareness public relations firm, is serving as the spokesman for the neighbors group.
On Thursday, he issued a prepared statement from the group that stated: “As we heard from several neighbors [on Thursday], and as reported, an alternative, shovel-ready Code Blue site in a mixed-use zoned location right here in the City of Saratoga Springs now exists and should be part of the conversation.
“Simply put, the Walworth Street location does not have the proper capacity to support this large, non-sober proposed shelter expansion adjacent to the existing Shelters of Saratoga facility.”
The alternative Bonilla is referring to is Bethesda Episcopal Church. On Monday, the church sent a press release stating it has asked Shelters of Saratoga, Saratoga County and the city to explore the possibility of using the Washington Street church’s proposed new parish house and community center as a permanent site for Code Blue.
Gordon Boyd, chairman of Bethesda Episcopal Church’s building committee, said the church has been looking to build a new parish house and community center for the past five years. He added that another round of capital fundraising is needed in order to break ground.
“Last year, when the litigation with the neighbors and the Shelters of Saratoga arose, we talked with [then Mayor Joanne Yepsen] about the fact that getting a permanent solution soon was in the community’s best interest,” he said. “We already have our building approved by the Planning Department, so we’re well ahead of where they are.”
Boyd added that the church’s location would suite the Code Blue shelter.
“We’re in a commercial zone, so I think we have the potential to be a more integrated operation at a location that wouldn’t impact a residential neighborhood,” he said.
According to Boyd, the church has met with Shelters of Saratoga on three occasions since November.
“The resolution at the last meeting in January was that they want to continue to pursue approval from the Planning Board,” he said. “We don’t want to compete with their proposal; we just want to be a plan B for them.
“Our doors remain open.”
Finocchi said he was instructed by his lawyer, Libby Coreno of Carter Conboy, not to comment about Bethesda Episcopal Church’s offer.
Coreno said that advice was given because the chruch’s offer is a private contract matter.
Finocchi said he hopes the Code Blue shelter is voted on at the April 19 Planning Board meeting.
“The first time around, they voted 7-0 in our favor, so we’re hoping for the same results,” he said. “I thought our lawyer presented a great case, and everything they’ve asked of us we’ve come back with.
The Planning Board meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 19 in City Hall, 474 Broadway in Saratoga Springs.
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