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Interpretation Of Code Blue Shelter Debated In Saratoga Springs

Lucas Willard

The push continues for a permanent emergency homeless shelter in Saratoga Springs. One plan to build a shelter in a residential zone is being met with pushback from neighbors.

The organization Shelters of Saratoga is seeking to build a permanent home for its Code Blue program on its property on Walworth Street on the city’s west side. Several neighbors are not happy with the proposal.

But Saratoga Springs Zoning Board of Appeals chair Bill Moore explained that Monday night’s hearing was not over whether the shelter should be built.

“It’s not a consideration of the variances. This is not a consideration whether it should be built or not built. It’s strictly about the interpretation of whether it’s classified correctly as a rooming house,” said Moore.

Here’s a timeline of what led up to the meeting.

The Code Blue program was established after the freezing death of a homeless city woman in 2013.

Shelters, a case-managed facility, has been running Code Blue since 2015 in a variety of temporary locations. In January 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order directing emergency shelters to open their doors on nights at or below 32 degrees.

The project to build the permanent Code Blue Shelter began in February 2017, when it was announced that a donation from the Mitzen family would support such a center. In April, the city Zoning Board of Appeals granted area variance relief for the two-story project.

In June, neighbors opposed to the project filed an appeal of interpretation. About three weeks later, the ZBA dismissed the appeal as untimely.

In July, the city’s planning board gave approval to the project. And in October, the New York State Supreme Court said the appeal from June was timely.

That brings us to Monday night.

Attorney Claudia Braymer, representing the appellants, argued that the planned Code Blue center should be classified as an institution, and therefore should not be permitted at its planned location under the city’s zoning laws.

“The facility is not built for and not intended to be used for anything other than overnight stays as needed when the weather is cold. As such, the large institutional rooms designed to house several dozen people can hardly be classified as a neighborhood rooming house,” said Braymer.

Arguments were posed about the length of stay, compensation, and hours of operation.

Attorney Libby Coreno, representing Shelters of Saratoga, said the city building inspector, Steven Shaw, was correct when he determined the facility to be a neighborhood rooming house.

“We’re asking the board to take a look at what Mr. Shaw knew when he made the interpretation and was it reasonable? Not whether it was strict. Because that’s not the standard,” said Coreno.

After the attorneys presented their arguments, several Saratogians made their points to the Zoning Board.

Though speakers were instructed to comment specifically on the interpretation of the Code Blue shelter, that didn’t stop residents from making personal appeals.

Neighbor David Railsback said calling the planned building a neighborhood rooming house “a stretch.”

“I’m trying to raise a family in the neighborhood. This I think is going to make it challenging,” said Railsback.

Beth Dellarocco questioned why the city would be “dropping another” shelter in the neighborhood.

“We’re talking about mentally unstable people. We’re talking about drug-addicted people. We’re talking about people who are using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. This is not vacationers transient. This is a whole different kind of transient,” said Dellarocco.

But supporter Kelvin Davis briefly told a part of his life story, explaining how Shelters of Saratoga changed him. 

“I came home from doing 24 years in prison and I didn’t want to go to the Shelters of Saratoga. And they sent me there. And um…it changed my life,” said Davis. “I have three jobs. I have a home, two cars, two bank accounts. And I became a monitor working there. And I became a supervisor of Code Blue. This is what can happen, people, when you reach out to somebody. I’m a living testimony. Thank you.”

The Zoning Board of Appeals did not vote on the interpretation Monday. The next regularly scheduled meeting is January 8th.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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