A group of city residents announced Tuesday they’re prepared to sue the mayor and the City Council if officials build an indoor recreation center at South Side Park.
But Mayor Scott Johnson said he believes the city is acting legally and has nothing to worry about.
The Friends of South Side Park have hired Joseph Berger of Berger, DuCharme, Harp & Clark, LLP to prepare litigation if city officials don’t change their minds about building an indoor recreation center on the park on Vanderbilt Avenue.
Ann Bullock, a member of the group, said a lawsuit could be filed “soon,” depending on when the City Council approves an environmental assessment. That assessment was on the agenda Tuesday but Johnson postponed a vote after several members of the public weighed in on it.
The $6.5 million center is proposed in a residential neighborhood near public housing. It would have basketball courts and meeting spaces as well as an indoor track for year-round use.
The Friends group contends the city can’t afford the proposed rec center and that the City Council is going through the process illegally, mostly because it switched to a different site in the middle of the planning process.
Johnson said the project’s environmental review was done by the city engineers, who have experience dealing with those issues. “I believe they’ve done the appropriate job.”
And the $6.5 million has already been borrowed, so city taxpayers are paying the principal and interest on it even though no structure has been built.
That’s why city officials, including Johnson, say they have focused on getting the rec center built next year.
The City Council chamber was packed with at least 75 people on Tuesday night, many interested in the fate of the recreation facility.
Some spoke in favor of it, including resident Rick Stone.
“I would love to have this facility in my backyard,” he said, adding he believes the opposition to the project comes mainly from people in the Five Points neighborhood.
Residents opposing the project say the site is inappropriate — in a park in the middle of a residential neighborhood that sees heavy traffic during racing season.
“We’re concerned about the loss of green space,” said Ann Bullock, a city resident who lives near the park.
Bullock said the city has not sought required site plan approval from the Planning Board.
But Johnson argued that the city is exempt from getting Planning Board approval for its own projects.
City resident Mark Lawton also wants to see a written approval from the Saratoga Springs City School District, which sold the city the land in 1978 with a deed restriction that the land always be used for recreation. Some residents believe the parking lot planned for the site could violate that restriction.
Johnson said it doesn’t, and noted he has spoken with district officials.
“They believe that our use is consistent with the deed restriction. But I think it’s really unfair and improper to draw the city school district into this debate.”