Thursday, 28 September 2017 18:33

‘Trail to Nowhere’ Heads to Court

In photos: The popular Avenue of the Pines recreational trail; and Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano (standing, at left) addressing the Sept. 25, 2017 meeting. Photos by Larry Goodwin.  

BALLSTON SPA – Ballston Spa officials voted this week to hire the Saratoga Springs law firm Harris Beach, formally initiating a legal case against city leaders to challenge their eminent domain proceedings over the proposed recreational trail on Geyser Road.

“I refer to it as the trail to nowhere,” Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano said before the 4-1 vote was taken. “And for the record, I enthusiastically vote yes.”

The recreational trail, which would be built on the north side of Geyser Road between Route 50 and the Milton town line, was first proposed by city officials more than 10 years ago. But Romano claimed he was rarely consulted through much of that time.

“The high-and-mighty attitude of the city speaks volumes about the city’s—what I call—arrogance in dealing with the village,” the mayor said.

The Southwest Neighborhood Association (SWNA), the largest group of trail supporters, deferred to the city for comment. 

The office of Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen, another enthusiastic promoter of the trail, did not return a request for comment.

“No one is ‘against’ a bike trail,” offered Geyser Road resident David Morris, in a previous email. “They are against the safety, cost, environmental and land-grab issues with it, and how it was all handled by the SWNA and the city.”

The village-owned land in dispute is part of Ballston Spa’s watershed, but it falls within the outer district of Saratoga Springs. Romano explained that the village pays the city a total of about $28,000 in property and school taxes annually at present.  

According to Romano, Saratoga Springs officials contacted the village earlier this month to communicate an appraised value of $1,800 for the narrow strip of land that would be affected by the Geyser Road trail project. The village maintains 12-inch water lines there that run from Baker Road to Rowland Street, he explained.

The village has until Oct. 12 to take legal action against the city's effort to seize Ballston Spa’s land and numerous other Geyser Road parcels, as a means to start construction of the trail.

Karl Sleight, the Harris Beach attorney representing Ballston Spa, said multiple separate legal challenges to the city’s eminent domain proceedings are now pending in the state Appellate Division in Albany and Saratoga Supreme Court.

“This will take quite a period of time,” Sleight said this week.  

In late March, the two neighboring municipalities attempted to resolve their differences at a meeting in Ballston Spa, which was attended by Yepsen, Romano and other officials.

But the village board’s action on Sept. 25 effectively ends all such amicable efforts. Romano said he anticipates legal fees of $15,000 in the case.  

Village Trustee Shawn Raymond, a state Department of Transportation employee, cast the only vote in opposition to hiring Harris Beach.

“I’m just looking at the numbers,” Raymond told his fellow board members. “We’ve got a small piece of property that really can’t be developed for anything else, but perhaps a bike trail.”  

“Initially, we’re going to spend—just to file the petition—three times the amount of that value,” he said of the $1,800 appraisal.

“I’m trying to take emotions out of the equation and just look at this as numbers and sense,” Raymond continued, noting how $15,000 could easily be spent to improve sidewalks and other infrastructure in Ballston Spa.

Raymond also faulted the mayor for basing his concerns largely on events that may or may not occur in the future. “I can’t spend, in good conscience, constituents’ money on pure conjecture,” he said.  

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