Judge Revokes City Approvals Of Saratoga Springs Homeless Facility

Sep 26, 2018

In the latest development in a long-running dispute, a judge has halted a proposal to construct an emergency homeless shelter in Saratoga Springs after objections from neighbors.

Non-profit organization Shelters of Saratoga has been seeking to build a permanent structure for its Code Blue program. For the last few years, Code Blue Saratoga has opened its doors no-questions-asked on freezing nights under a state order.

The City of Saratoga Springs’ Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board gave approval to the project last year, despite opposition from several neighbors of the planned facility on Walworth Street.

Among other criteria, the neighbors argued the Code Blue shelter did not meet the definition of a “neighborhood rooming house.”

Following a lawsuit, a Saratoga County Supreme Court order dated September 17th vacated and nullified all city approvals.

Shelters of Saratoga Director of Development and Marketing Rosemary Reidhammer says the organization is assessing next steps.

“We are not ruling out the possibility of appealing the decision, which would send the case to the State Appellate Court level,” says Reidhammer.

SOS operates a case-managed shelter and an adult drop-in center on Walworth Street.

Opponents of the planned Code Blue shelter cited a number of reasons.

Robert Pringle, one of the neighbors who filed the suit, told WAMC in January he believed the project didn’t belong in a residential area. He complained of individuals from Shelters of Saratoga defecating in an alley separating his Franklin Street property from the organization’s existing buildings and also said a tenant was harassed. 

“Homelessness is a real thing and I think there’s a lot of compassion about homelessness, but the folks that are involved in the Code Blue are a different group,” said Pringle.

Neighbor Steve Romero told the city Planning Board in April he was supportive of Shelters of Saratoga’s existing facility, but stood against the permanent structure.

“This is the way slums are established. And then you have all the other requisite problems that come with a slum. If you start by putting all of a certain type of people in a particular area of town, you’re going to concentrate all of the problems in that area, and it’s going to cause problems with things like neighborhood growth,” said Romero.

Others gave stories of their own experiences with homelessness. At the same meeting, Don Petersimes addressed the Planning Board.

“I actually use to live where Nancy Pitts…I used to sleep in the same place where she…they had to scrape her up off the sidewalk. And there’s a lot of people that I have seen in that time die,” said Petersimes.

Pitts’ freezing death in December 2013 sparked action in the city to establish Code Blue Saratoga.

The last two seasons, Code Blue Saratoga, sponsored by Shelters of Saratoga, operated out of the Soul Saving Station Church on Henry Street. The organization plans to utilize the same property this winter.

The construction of a permanent Code Blue shelter is being supported by a $1 million donation by the Mitzen family. In a statement following the judge’s decision, Ed Mitzen called a building on Walworth Street “a smart and effective solution to providing the care and comprehensive case management people need.”

Reidhammer says the Mitzens’ donation would be applied toward construction. Because the organization already owns the property on Walworth Street, it would not need to purchase a new parcel.

“The funds that they donated were strictly to be used for building purposes so that we could maximize that generous donation. If indeed we have to move to another location, we may be faced with land-costs and additional fundraising for this project,” said Reidhammer.

Last spring, the Bethesda Episcopal Church on Washington Street suggested the use of a planned parish house and community center  for Code Blue, a proposal supported by some neighbors of the Walworth Street site.