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Jury mulls whether Saratoga Springs housing denial was discriminatory

Jury mulls whether Saratoga Springs housing denial was discriminatory

A nine-day federal trial wound to a close Thursday and the jury began deliberating to determine whet

A nine-day federal trial wound to a close Thursday and the jury began deliberating to determine whether Saratoga Springs discriminated against blacks and families with children when it didn’t approve a housing development proposed more than five years ago.

“To get through the gates of Saratoga Springs, you have to be a certain class of person,” Reed Colfax, attorney for Gail Anderson and The Anderson Group of Albany, said in closing arguments.

The city’s attorney said the plaintiffs hadn’t proved their case.

“There’s no proof of any type of discrimination,” said attorney Gregg Johnson.

The jury deliberated for three hours in the Fair Housing Act case the Andersons brought against the city in 2005 for a proposed development on 123 acres off Exit 14.

Jurors went home a little after 5 p.m. without requesting any readings of the transcript or clarifications. They are to resume deliberations today before Judge Gary L. Sharpe in U.S. District Court.

The Andersons have asked for damages to cover the estimated $3.1 million in lost property value, $900,000 developer fee and $76,000 paid to a consultant, as well as emotional distress.

The case focused on 60 affordable housing units planned for the 300-home Spring Run Village between routes 29 and 9P near Gilbert Road.

The Andersons, through the Washington law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax, said the city’s codes are orchestrated to keep out low-income working families and minorities.

The city contended that officials never talked about race or the type of people who would move in but were concerned about lost green space and whether the developer would follow through and build the affordable homes.

Plaintiffs called 17 witnesses and the defendants 11, including three experts on demographics and economics and several former and current city officials as well as members of the Anderson family.

Mayor Scott Johnson and city risk and safety manager Marilyn Rivers have been there for much of the trial, as has City Attorney Joseph Scala.

In 2004 and 2005, the Andersons had plans for Spring Run Village before the city Planning Board, but in the midst of deliberations, the City Council rezoned the 123-acre property to rural residential-1, the most restrictive zone, which allows only one residential unit for every two acres.

The Andersons said the city made that move to keep blacks and families with children out of that area of the city.

The city made a trade-off, favoring open space over affordable housing, Colfax argued Thursday, adding that the city could have both with some creativity.

Because of the strict rules, only 19 affordable housing units have been built in the past 25 years, despite a study in 2000 that determined that the city would need 2,200 more affordable housing units for workers.

“This was all just talk,” Colfax said.

Gregg Johnson, of the Malta firm Lemire Johnson, noted that no victims other than the Andersons testified — no residents who felt segregated by the lack of housing in that area.

He argued that white people would have made up most of Spring Run Village’s inhabitants anyway, since they are more numerous in the city and the area work force than minorities.

He said the Andersons believed incorrectly that city officials assumed “affordable” meant “minority.”

But Colfax said it wasn’t an assumption: “City officials knew exactly what the effect was going to be.”

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