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Friday, 27 June 2014 16:56

Showdown At Siro’s: A One-Way Street To Court?

By | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Saratoga TODAY Newspaper has learned that there is potential pending litigation against the City of Saratoga Springs’ Department of Public Safety, seeking relief and potential damages against the pending imposition of a one-way street plan in a neighborhood that borders Saratoga Race Course, during the six weeks the Race Course is in operation. 

 

The affected area will involve Wright Street, Frank Sullivan Place and a portion of Lincoln Avenue between the Race Course and Nelson Avenue. The portion on Lincoln Avenue fronts Siro’s Restaurant and a handful of private residences. Some of these residences have provided parking on their lawns/driveways to race goers for decades.

 

The information was derived from on-the-record conversations with Mr. Keith Kantrowitz, owner of Siro’s; Mr. Kantrowitz’s attorney, Bob Sweeney a partner in the Albany law firm Whiteman, Osterman and Hanna; and Ms. Rose Tait, a resident of Lincoln Avenue for decades.

 

Mr. Sweeney would only confirm that “my client has retained me to explore all legal options” at press time. 

 

But there is no doubt that Mr. Kantrowitz is drawing a line in the sand. “They (the city) are playing with the wrong guy.” He said. “This is another example of a vicious and malicious attempt by government to interfere with private enterprise. I’m more than ready to push back this time.”  

 

The “this time” Kantrowitz refers to concerns an earlier battle with the city over noise levels for live music. Mr. Sweeney confirmed that his client agreed to install a sound barrier to mitigate the noise, at a cost of about $500,000. The barrier has to be put up and removed each season as well. 

 

At that time “I enlisted the aid of the downtown business community and others.” Kantrowitz said. “I told them: Siro’s fight today is yours tomorrow. Now look what the city is doing with live music noise ordinances. I even agreed to a lower level than they did.” (Downtown music venues are supposed to adhere to a 90-decibel limit.)

 

In the current case, Kantrowitz takes issue on two broad-levels: The one-way streets plan itself; and the way it passed through the city council.

 

The one-way street plan, in short, would have traffic routed from Nelson along Wright Street (which is the site of the Trackside Grill and other vendors in addition to pedestrians and vehicles). Traffic would then turn left in front of the drop-off point at the Racecourse’s clubhouse entrance onto Frank Sullivan Place, and then left again onto Lincoln and out of the neighborhood.  

 

The stated goal is to make things safer for all, yet Kantrowitz believes it may have the opposite impact.

 

“Look, first of all, there have been no accidents here for five years. It’s not like people are speeding around the corners.” He said. “But now, cars are going to have to go through this storm of traffic, with pinch points and backups as the clubhouse cars attempt to merge, people walking from the gates, and what used to be a smooth easy ride along Lincoln to get to our entrance is now a nightmare!”

 

He continued. “I’m putting the city on notice. They will be responsible for all that happens going forward. And I’m warning all visitors, pedestrians particularly: Be careful!” 

 

“This has worked just fine since the 40s. Why are they messing with this now?” Kantrowitz concludes.

 

The second issue involves the timing of the plan’s adoption and the way it was done. Back on February 18, an item on the city council’s official agenda appeared for a public hearing to “Amend Chapter 225-72 Schedule VII -One Way Streets.” There was nothing specific to one area or another. As it turns out, the area was revealed to be the area around Siro’s. No one from the public spoke at that hearing. 

 

The city is required to do certain things to notify the public of these hearings; putting legal notices in the daily press for instance, and there is no allegation that they did anything less than they are legally required to do. 

 

Yet, in the modern online era, is this sufficient. Note well that these notices are not carried onto most newspaper websites. In any event, Kantrowitz, who has his business headquarters downstate, said he did not know this was on the agenda. 

 

“Of course I would have come up had I known.” He said. “Why wouldn’t I? This is going to have a big impact on my business. But I ask you, why does something like this have to be decided in February? It wasn’t just me who wasn’t here at that time.”

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“I came back from my winter home in South Carolina in April, and the first thing my friend said to me is: ‘Rose, they sure screwed you!’” Rose Tait said.

 

Yes, if you are having trouble mustering up sympathy for the rich, flamboyant owner of Siro’s, consider the plight of his neighbor (and friend) Rose, who has the property two doors down beyond Siro’s, closer to Nelson Avenue. 

 

On that property, she parks cars, as it has been done since the 1930s. It’s a pretty good-sized lot, I would estimate you could get about 40 cars in it, and while she didn’t want to reveal how much money she makes from parking cars, she did indicate that “it pays my city taxes” most years, although in recent years it would be a rare day that it would be filled to capacity. By the way, the house on the property is paid for – she’s not in danger of losing it.

 

Rose added this perspective to the mix:

 

On the notice: “I think they should have come and met with us.” She said. “Wasn’t there was some precedent set for this?”   

 

“Back when Ron Kim was commissioner, they were looking to do something similar,” she explained. “A whole contingent met with us at Siro’s, including Kim, Deputy Mayor Shauna Sutton, City Attorney Tony Izzo, representatives from police and code enforcement.” 

 

“Even Eileen Finneran was there. She was Kim’s deputy then.” Ms. Finneran is also the current deputy of public safety under Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “So I would think something similar is in order.” 

 

The economic impact: “It’s going to hurt, no doubt. It used to be an easy way for people to get a convenient space near the track. Now it’s going to be like navigating through a sea of cars and people.” 

 

“But more to the point, I have tenants on my property that I’m worried about. They are going to have to drive down some dimly lit streets after dark to get home. What people do not realize is that this isn’t just going to be during track hours. It’s for the whole six weeks.”

 

Rose and other affected neighbors have spoken out at recent council meetings asking that the whole idea be revisited. Commissioner Chris Mathiesen had indicated that he was willing to meet and discuss this, but Rose is skeptical. “Sure, he’ll meet. But only to give his side of things. He’s not going to change his plan unless he is forced to.”

 

With the Race Course meet just two weeks away, the only recourse the neighborhood may have is injunctive relief. Certainly Keith Kantrowitz is ready to do battle: 

 

“If this kind of thing happened in Russia, we’d be sending over troops and demanding democracy.” He said. “How about democracy beginning at home?”

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