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What you need to know for 10/23/2017

Saratoga Zoning Board upholds allowing Code Blue shelter

Saratoga Zoning Board upholds allowing Code Blue shelter

Neighbors oppose locating facility for homeless there
Saratoga Zoning Board upholds allowing Code Blue shelter
Shelters of Saratoga on Walworth Street is pictured Monday.
Photographer: ERICA MILLER

Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:50 p.m. Thursday to correct the title for Robert Pringle. He is the chief medical officer at Glens Falls Hospital.

Robert Pringle says he has no problem with the people who go to Shelters of Saratoga on Waldorf Street for its social services, but he takes issue with the nonprofit’s plan to add a Code Blue homeless shelter there. The Code Blue shelter, now housed at a local church, opens in very cold weather during the winter.

“They’re going to compress the Shelters of Saratoga people with the negative influences of the fiercely independent folks,” said Pringle, who lives on Franklin Street in the neighborhood, but also owns rental property on Marvin Alley — a stone’s throw away from SOS. “It will be toxic. They will negatively affect the area. They will linger and loiter. And there will be — there’s already increased crime documented with this group.” 

Pringle, who is the chief medical officer of Glens Falls Hospital, said he wasn’t surprised by the Zoning Board’s decision Monday not to hear his and his neighbors’ appeal of Building Inspector Steve Shaw’s determination that the proposed Code Blue shelter was a neighborhood rooming house, an allowed use in the area’s urban/residential zoning. The board ruled that the appeal wasn’t timely because it wasn’t filed within 60 days, as required by law, of Shaw’s determination on March 13. 

“It seems like the top city official’s agenda,” said Pringle, who felt the burden of taking care of the area’s homeless should fall on the county. “It shouldn’t be Saratoga city’s responsibility to take care of all these folks.”

Claudia Braymer, an attorney representing 22 neighbors who oppose the shelter, argued that the 60 days started on May 25, the date Shaw wrote her a letter explaining the determination upon her request. 

She said many of the neighbors were not made aware of the project in advance of an April 10 meeting, when the board approved an area variance, because only those within a 100-foot radius were notified.

“Shelters of Saratoga — they let us down by not really going out and letting us know,” Pringle said.

Mark Baker, a Republican who is running for mayor, released a prepared statement ahead of the meeting asking the board to be “realistic and objective” before allowing the 61-bed facility to be built “in the heart of one of Saratoga Springs’ historic and most densely populated residential areas”

“The current proposal before the Zoning Board is not sufficient in how it will serve the homeless and it does not adequately respect our neighborhoods and current residents,” said Baker, who retired last year as the City Center’s founding director. “A better solution needs to be investigated.

Baker went on to say that past approaches to the city’s homelessness problem and “lack of public input and thoughtfulness” from the mayor’s office has led to “real community problems of vagrancy, aggressive panhandling and encouraging the presence of homeless individuals downtown.”

Mayor Joanne Yepsen, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, defended the shelter, which would be built with the help of a donation by Ed and Lisa Mitzen.

Saratoga Springs Democrats endorsed Meg Kelly, Yepsen’s deputy and pick to run for mayor in her place, to run against Baker earlier this month. 

Bonacio Construction has committed to building the facility with assistance from the LA Group, and both Saratoga Springs companies have agreed to forego any profits. 

In announcing the plan in February, Yepsen and Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, hailed the project as the solution to years of seeking a permanent location for Code Blue.

“Mr. Baker's accusation that the mayor's office, along with the many volunteers who have helped and donated to Code Blue since I have taken office, have somehow contributed to the homeless problem is misinformed, uncompassionate, and just plain mean-spirited,” Yepsen said in a prepared statement. “He really ought to be ashamed of himself.  I understand he is operating in campaign mode — we are trying to save lives here."

For the past few years, the shelter has had temporary residence at St. Peter’s Parish Center, the Salvation Army building and, most recently, the Soul Saving Station Church in downtown Saratoga Springs. Code Blue is a walk-in, emergency homeless shelter that offers a hot meal and a safe place to sleep when temperatures in the city fall below 32 degrees.

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