Amid a state probe into the city’s pending sale of the Collamer lot, a group of former commissioners is asking a state Supreme Court judge to forestall their civil action against the deal, pending the outcome of the attorney general’s investigation.
In a response to the city’s motion to dismiss the case, attorney Daniel Tuczinski noted the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit only recently issued a subpoena to a private appraiser who valued the 42-spot parking lot on Broadway at more than twice the accepted sale price offered by Algonquin Building owner Joel Aronson. And depending on what the apparently widening probe reveals, he believes the court action to thwart the sale could be rendered moot.
“In the alternative, should the attorney general’s investigation confirm public corruption and waste of taxpayer funds, it may be appropriate for [the former commissioners] to amend their pleadings to include new allegations,” he wrote in an affidavit.
Tuczinski also laid out his case for allowing the Article 78 proceeding filed by former commissioners Thomas McTygue, Remigia Foy and Raymond Watkin in December to move forward. In opposing the motion to dismiss, he said the transaction between the city, Aronson and a religious corporation he controls “smacks of public and not-for-profit corruption and illegal conduct.”
“The facts, as alleged, could support a finding that the city respondents minimally lined the pocket of a not-for-profit officer with a valuable developable parcel of real property located in the heart of downtown Saratoga for less than what the property was worth, in exchange for a reduced price on the not-for profit’s Union Avenue parcel, all at the expense of the city’s taxpayers,” he wrote in the 25-page response filed March 6.
But Daniel Hurteau, an attorney with the Albany law firm of Nixon-Peabody, representing the city, claims the response by the former commissioners is laden with extraneous details that don’t pertain to the legal justification he made in calling for the case to be dismissed. For instance, he said existence of the attorney general’s investigation shouldn’t give strength to a civil action that borders on frivolous.
“The fact that the attorney general is investigating has really nothing to do with their case,” he said. “They’re making a lot of noise, but none of it impacts the merits of our arguments in our motion to dismiss.”
At issue are two deals: the city’s sale of the 0.4-acre Collamer lot to Aronson for $775,000 and an agreement with Congregation & Yeshiva Pardes Yosef D’ Chasidei to sell 14 acres on Union Avenue to the city for $200,000. Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen is advocating for the city to build a new fire station on the Union Avenue parcel to serve the eastern edges of the city beyond Northway Exit 14.
But an 11th hour offer by attorney Joseph Zappone to purchase the Collamer lot for $1.1 million in August prompted some to suggest the city seek a new appraisal of the property. Scott Bellcourt, a private appraiser hired by Zappone, valued the lot at $1.6 million — $825,000 more than the offer from Aronson and $325,000 more than Zappone’s offer.