Michael Finocchi, executive director of Shelters of Saratoga, walked out of Monday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting with a smile on his face.
On Monday, the ZBA unanimously voted in front of a standing-room-only crowd that the organization's proposed Blue Code shelter would qualify as a neighborhood rooming house, meaning the shelter can be built on Walworth Street.
Last month, the seven-member board heard from attorneys representing the Shelters of Saratoga and the 22 neighbors who oppose the proposed shelter.
The walk-in, emergency homeless shelter opens when temperatures dip below 32 degrees in the city, in accordance with state law.
It serves Saratoga, Washington and Warren counties and currently operates at Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street, a temporary location.
A permanent Code Blue shelter was supposed to open last month next to the Shelters of Saratoga's Walworth Street headquarters, but legal action by the 22 neighbors stalled the project.
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 took issue with the city's definition of the project as a neighborhood rooming house.
On Monday, the board unanimously voted in front of a standing-room-only crowd that the Shelters of Saratoga’s Code Blue shelter is considered a neighborhood rooming house.
Finocchi said the current Code Blue shelter, which has 41 beds, has been at capacity since the middle of November.
“It’s been a long process and we appreciate the time and effort the Zoning Board has put into this,” he said.
Finocchi added that he would be sitting down with the Shelters of Saratoga’s executive committee, donors and lawyer next week to determine the next steps.
“We’re happy with the outcome and we have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
Claudia Braymer, the Glens Falls attorney who represents the 22 neighbors who filed the lawsuit, said, “We’ll take a look at challenging this decision in court, but we need to make a decision in 30 days.”
Robert Pringle, one of the neighbors who filed the lawsuit, said the Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision was expected.
“It’s unfortunate, because these things don’t belong in residential areas,” he said. “If the city decides to have a permanent shelter, it should be supported in a non-residential area like in Albany and Glens Falls. That’s where they belong.”
Saratoga County Supervisor Tara Gaston said she was pleased with the decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“One of my goals has been to try and get the county to be more involved in helping the homeless population in Saratoga Springs and Saratoga County and I think a permanent shelter is essential,” she said. “It allows for more efficiency by not having to plan for a new location every year.
“Instead, we can plan for programming, and bringing in public health and mental health services at a permanent site. I’m glad to see that it’ll continue to move forward.”