City officials informally decided against challenging the state Gaming Commission’s status as lead agency during the environmental review of the proposed Saratoga Casino and Raceway expansion.
After two special meetings in three days and hours of sometimes heated debate — including more than an hour of discussion on Friday morning — members of the City Council found themselves exactly where they started on the issue. The two-phase expansion would add 134,000 square feet of space to the existing facility off Jefferson Street.
Their decision came without a resolution and only after Public Works Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco conceded the city likely wouldn’t have much success in asserting lead agency status.
Earlier this week, Scirocco seemed intent on swaying the council’s opinion, stating “the city should clearly be lead agency” during the regular business meeting Tuesday. But after contracted land-use attorney Mark Schauchner explained the dismal chances of the city prevailing in such a challenge, the public works commissioner adjusted his stance.
“If we vie for the lead agency status, I think we’re going to have a problem,” he conceded Friday.
City officials are still mulling whether they will attempt to assert themselves as an involved agency. The designation would bring them closer into the communication loop with the Gaming Commission, as opposed to their status now as an interested agency.
Being an involved agency, however, still wouldn’t give the city the oversight of the project some critics are demanding they seek. City officials also couldn’t say for certain whether they have a legal basis for asking to be an involved agency.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen has argued that the racino operators have been forthcoming with information on their project and appear willing to work with the city. The operators have pitched their plans to the City Council and twice to the city Planning Board, which is expected to hear from the racino again next week.
“We want as much control as the law will afford us without engaging in a lawsuit,” she said to a gathering of media outside City Hall following Friday’s meeting.
Yepsen said she intends to compile comments from residents until Friday, at which time she’ll submit a comprehensive package to the Gaming Commission outlining the city’s concerns. She also indicated she’ll work with the city’s four commissioners to draft a letter that may or may not ask for involved agency status.
“We’re going to continue down this same path we’ve followed,” she said. “We’re on a clear, open and transparent path now, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
What was clear from Friday’s meeting is that the political will to challenge for lead agency status has all but abated.