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Lawsuit filed over homeless housing project

Seen here is a rendering of a proposed 28-unit apartment complex on Cooper Street, Glens Falls, which would be targeted for mentally ill and homeless people. Businesswoman Elizabeth Miller has filed a lawsuit challenging the Glens Falls Planning Board's approval of the project last month on the grounds it was contrary to the intent of the city zoning ordinance. 

GLENS FALLS — The opponent of the proposed 29-unit Cooper Street Apartments for people who are homeless and living with mental illness is claiming that news that Glens Falls Hospital will close its outpatient mental health services would adversely affect the residential project and therefore, its Planning Board approval should be overturned.

Elizabeth Miller, of Miller Mechanical Services located on Cooper Street, has filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court of Warren County seeking to stop the Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health’s project, which was approved by the Glens Falls Planning Board in September. A copy of the document was provided to The Post-Star by her attorney, Nathan Hall, on Tuesday evening.

Hall brings brought up issues regarding the zoning of the property at 47-50 Cooper St. and the impact on drainage, but also raises a new one regarding the hospital.

In August, the hospital announced that it was going to cease the hospital’s mental health outpatient program, which serves about 1,200 adult patients and 500 children, as soon as alternate providers could be found.

Hall said in the lawsuit that this is a material change to the application because officials from the WWAMH said the Cooper Street Apartments was not an institutional facility. Residents would obtain services from outside in the community and not generally on site.

Hall said the Planning Board failed to take into account “the impact this project would have on the city’s overburdened health care industry, as well as the announced change in circumstances regarding Glens Falls Hospital’s withdrawal from the community’ behavioral/substance abuse services industry.”

The other two issues mentioned in the lawsuit were brought up previously before the Planning Board. Hall claims that the project should not be allowed in a light industrial zone, although it is a permitted use.

GLENS FALLS — A project to build a 29-unit apartment complex for the homeless and mentally ill got a step closer on May 21 with the Zoning Boa…

He said that the city’s Zoning Code states that further expansion of new residential structures in this zone should be discouraged to provide space for commercial/industrial uses and to avoid conflicts in land uses.

The third point of contention is the site plan calls for the establishment of rain gardens to improve drainage on the property. Rain gardens are not permitted in fill sites, which Hall is alleging the Cooper Street property is.

The location was formerly home to Mullen Iron Works. An environmental assessment found that the site poses no health risk to the public. The site has limited semi-volatile organic compounds and metals. However, it would be covered with the building and blacktop once the project is completed. New soil will be brought in for a landscaped berm.

The WWAMH plans to cover the undeveloped areas with a layer of imported clean soil.

Hall is seeking to block any development on site until this case is decided. He has requested a hearing in state Supreme Court of Warren County for Nov. 25 at 9:30 a.m.

Hall said Tuesday that he did not have any comment beyond what was in the documents.

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Agency, city responds

John Farrell, director of facilities for the WWAMH, said he did not see a lot of new information in this lawsuit.

“While it’s Ms. Miller’s right to file an Article 78, it does not make her right,” he said.

Farrell said he did not understand the argument regarding the loss of Glens Falls Hospital services.

“There are other agencies that are interested in stepping in and that’s good for us,” he said.

“If push comes to shove, we have our own clinical services,” Farrell added.

Farrell said he considers the zoning issue settled after the Zoning Board of Appeals ruled in July that light industrial was a permitted use in the zone.

“I don’t know how many times you have to review it,” he said.

Farrell said that the agency had its engineers review the environmental report prepared by engineers hired by Miller and the information was presented to the Planning Board.

Farrell said this project went through a lengthy review process.

“To suggest the Planning Board was anything but thorough seems hollow given the time and care they put into the review,” he said in an email. “I believe one member commented, something to the effect of, he didn’t recall another review that was so comprehensive.”

Planning Board Chairman Dan Bruno shared a similar sentiment.

“I think the planning board did a good job, went by the book as they say. We’ll see what happens with the lawsuit,” he said.

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Michael Goot covers politics, business, Glens Falls and Lake George. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog at http://poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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