WATERTOWN — An attorney representing Ives Hill Country Club owner P.J. Simao has raised questions about whether the posting of “public parking” signs at a city-owned lot adjacent to Watertown Golf Club property resolves all issues regarding use of the lot.
The city and Mr. Simao have been at odds over the Thompson Park lot’s use since Mr. Simao learned that the lot, most frequently used by patrons of the golf club, is on city property. It is has also been determined that the club’s septic system, golf cart storage area and some its tee boxes encroach on city property.
The golf club owns a paved parking area immediately adjacent to its clubhouse and has used the city-owned gravel lot for overflow parking for decades. Mr. Simao has contended that the club’s use of the lot is part of a pattern of favoritism shown the club by the city which, coupled with other actions taken by the city, provides a taxpayer subsidy to the club to the detriment of Ives Hill Country Club.
The City Council held a special meeting June 11 to try to resolve the parking issue. On the advice of City Attorney Robert J. Slye, the council voted 4-1 to erect public parking signs, thus giving club members as well as the general public the right to park there. Councilman Cody J. Horbacz, who is running for mayor, cast the only “no” vote. He claimed that club members continued “to trespass on city-owned land.”
The city has reached an agreement with the club’s majority shareholder, Watertown developer Michael E. Lundy, to rectify all of the encroachment issues. Terms of the agreement call for Mr. Lundy to build, at the club’s expense, a city-owned parking area within Thompson Park, although the location and other specifications of the lot have not been finalized.
In response to the council action, Mr. Simao asked his long-time counsel, Jan S. Kublick, Syracuse, to provide an analysis of the move relative to the parking issue. The analysis, which has been forwarded to council members and some city staff, raises questions from Mr. Kublick over whether the posting of signage settles the matter.
Mr. Kublick contends that because “the identification of a public parking area in the historic Thompson Park is a direct action by the city,” it is subject to environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Without knowing the dimensions or location of the proposed lot, Mr. Kublick wrote that he could not determine the extent of the review needed, but maintains that it would “require a hard look and a reasoned elaboration of whether there may be a significant adverse environmental impact.”
Again, without knowing what the lot will entail, Mr. Kublick offers a list of issues that a municipality would be expected to address when constructing a public parking lot. Among these are pedestrian and traffic safety, drainage, pavement, striping and lighting. He further contends that the lot would be expected to be compliant with the American With Disabilities Act, and that issues regarding maintenance, repairs, hours and months of proposed use must be addressed. State building code requires that parking lots provide accessibility for the disabled, but it is unclear if the lot must be paved.
He also states that bid documents must be prepared and solicited for the project and must comply with state Labor Law and General Municipal Law, including bids by Watertown Golf Club, although it would have to be determined if any other developer would be willing to build a city-owned lot at the developer’s expense.
Mr. Kublick further contends that the city is now legally liable for the parking lot, as it would be for other city lots, but that if the city “ignored or bypassed the normal significant location design, engineering, installation and maintenance reviews, the City’s potential liability is increased.” He said responsibility for public safety and any injuries that may occur there lies with the city, even if it is a golfer or club guest is injured.
“The City, by designating this as public parking, has assumed total liability for the health and safety of the public using it,” Mr. Kublick wrote.
Mr. Simao filed state Supreme Court action over the club’s lease with the city, which includes property removed from the parking lot, but that action was dismissed in March. Mr. Simao filed a motion to renew the case based on his learning of the encroachments, claiming if this information had been known the outcome of the case would have been different. That motion was denied and the earlier dismissal is being appealed.