Opponents Try To Halt Saratoga Springs Trail In Court

Oct 13, 2017

A proposed bike trail in Saratoga Springs has hit a legal hurdle as the city intends to use eminent domain to seize property along the route before construction starts.

The proposed bike path along Geyser Road in Saratoga Springs has been in the works for years. If completed, it will be part of a planned 23-mile trail network throughout the city.

Recently, the city announced that it had the plan and funding in place to complete the project. While a few landowners along the route have either donated or sold land to the city to make the project a reality, others are still resisting.

The city is intent on using eminent domain to seize the property, which totals about a half-acre, for the trail.

The Village of Ballston Spa, which owns land within the city along the route for its water supply, the Pompey family, and the Saratoga Spring Water Company have banded together against to the plan. 

Attorney Karl Sleight represents the group, which filed a petition in state court earlier this week.

Sleight said the city failed to take appropriate steps in the environmental review process.

“Generally speaking, when you have a project of this scope, and it’s known as a Type 1 action, there’s a presumption that the city needs to use a process whereby an environmental impact statement is generated, where there is a hard look at all of the environmental issues that may transpire or may be affected,” said Sleight. “The city did not do that. They declared it a negative declaration, suggesting there are no environmental impacts. And we think that’s clearly incorrect.”

The opponents take issue with the use of eminent domain.

“The eminent domain law requires certain notice provisions and publishing requirements. And also the land in question is, for the Village of Ballston Spa, is the water supply for the village, which is going to be directly affected. And it has an existing public purpose. And so you have this odd situation where the city is trying to use its eminent domain powers to take property from the village and those create a lot of inconsistencies and probably illegal actions by the city on those fronts.”

Sleight says his clients hope the city will consider an alternate route proposed by two nearby businesses that would bring the trail off Geyser Road.

Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen has previously said the proposed route could be considered in the future as a complement to the planned trail. The Geyser Road trail is being supported by millions in state funding, which Yepsen has argued will expire if not used as intended.

The city had hoped to begin construction this year.

Mark Schachner is an attorney retained by the city.

“There are two state laws involved in this challenge: the Eminent Domain Procedure Law and the Environmental Quality Review Act. We believe the city has fully complied with both. We believe that the city studied reasonable alternatives and selected the one that provides the best means of safe access for non-motorized traffic along Geyser Road, while minimizing environmental impacts.”

Yepsen said in a statement, “The 2-mile path project which has been approved unanimously multiple times by the Saratoga Springs city council will bring tremendous health, safety and economic benefits to our community. We are thrilled to have the support from so many partners including State parks and the South West Neighborhood Association.”