SARATOGA SPRINGS — Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals heard from attorneys representing the Shelters of Saratoga and the 22 neighbors who oppose the proposed Code Blue shelter on Monday night.
Shelters of Saratoga's Code Blue shelter was supposed to open last month next to its Walworth Street headquarters, but legal action by neighbors has stalled the project.
Code Blue Shelter serves as a walk-in, emergency homeless shelter that provides a hot meal and a safe place to sleep when temperatures in the city dip below 32 degrees, in accordance with state law.
In July, the neighbors, who are being represented by Glens Falls attorney Claudia Braymer, filed a lawsuit to challenge the Planning Board's approval of the project and the Zoning Board's June dismissal of the group's appeal.
They also take issue with the city's definition of the project as a neighborhood rooming house, which Braymer has said is "supposed to be a single-family home that you rent out on a room-by-room basis.”
The group's appeal argues that "Code Blue is not entitled to a relaxed standard under the zoning code. Allowing this use would be a substantial change to the zoning code and set the precedent for future proposed uses."
Braymer and Albany-based attorney Libby Coreno pressed their case in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
“The issue is this is a residential neighborhood that is adding 50 people to it,” Braymer said of the proposed Code Blue shelter. “We could be serving the homeless anywhere in Saratoga.
“Where’s the Department of Social Services in this? There’s compromise to be had.”
Last year, Code Blue housed a total of 83 individuals over the course of the winter, and the shelter was open 148 nights and 28 days.
The Code Blue shelter was formerly housed at St. Peter’s Parish Center and the Salvation Army building before relocating to the Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street in downtown Saratoga Springs. The shelter serves residents of Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties.
The shelter opened for the first time this season on Nov. 7 when temperatures dipped into the low 30s.
Beth Dellarocco, a resident of Beekman Street, said the proposed Code Blue shelter site fronts her backyard.
“This is our neighborhood and I’m concerned about not having any case studies done on the magnitude of this project,” she said to the board. “It’s 50 people, many of whom are mentally unstable and use drugs and alcohol on a regular basis.
“Dropping this in our neighborhood; I’m asking for some protection for us and our families.”
Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, said 37 people who took advantage of the Code Blue shelter last year transitioned into a permanent housing facility.
“We urge people to volunteer to get to know these people and their backgrounds, so they can see what caused their homelessness,” he said, adding that domestic violence is often a cause. “We have a ton of success stories.”
Saratoga Springs resident Kelvin Davis said he is one of those success stories.
Davis spoke before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday and said he formerly took advantage of the services the Shelters of Saratoga offers.
“I came home from doing 24 years in prison and I didn’t want to go to the Shelters of Saratoga but they sent me there,” he said to the board. “They changed my life.
“I have three jobs, a home, two cars, two bank accounts, and I became a supervisor at Code Blue. This is what can happen people when you reach out to somebody.”
Joe Bonilla, managing partner at the public relations firm Relentless Awareness, which represents the 22 neighbors, issued a statement on their behalf:
"We remain steadfast in our position that the proposed Code Blue structure is using an erroneous interpretation as a Neighborhood Rooming House that is not compliant in the city's zoning ordinance.
"As we have said before and will say again, homelessness in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County must be addressed with care and common sense. This proposed institutional facility does not take into account either the proper care or common sense measures needed to provide the right solution for homelessness in the community."
Ed and Lisa Mitzen, who own Fingerpaint Marketing on Broadway, have agreed to fund the new shelter, and Sonny Bonacio, of Bonacio Construction Inc., has promised to build it while forgoing any profits.
The Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled to vote on the city's definition of the project as a neighborhood rooming house at their next meeting on Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.