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January 14, 2014

Judge rules in favor of village in parking lawsuit

By Greg Klein
Cooperstown Crier

---- — A state Supreme Court judge has ruled in favor of the village of Cooperstown in the paid parking lawsuit. 

Kevin Dowd, the presiding justice for the Sixth Judicial District, issued his decision in the Savor Gracie Inc. (Savor New York), Brenda Berstler vs. the Village of Cooperstown Board of Trustees and Mayor of the Village of Cooperstown on Dec. 12, 2013 and released it late Monday.

The two page decision found four of five contentions by the petitioner to be “without merit” and dismissed the final complaint as a political issue rather than a legal one.

Berstler, who owned the Savor New York store, brought the lawsuit in July after becoming a vocal critic of the 2013 paid parking law. Berstler closed her Main Street store later that summer and re-branded her business as Savor USA, focusing on online sales and a presence in retail spaces in Herkimer, Albany and other tourist locations.

As of press time, Berstler has not responded to a phone message asking for her comment on the judge’s decision.

Cooperstown Mayor Jeff Katz said that he was pleased with the verdict.

“I am certainly happy that the village prevailed in every way,” he said. “It is not something I want to gloat about. I am happy it is over. I am happy it is resolved in our favor.”

Katz said that the decision was consistent with the assessment of the case given to the village by its attorney, Martin Tillapaugh.

“We had been talking about it sometimes publicly when Martin would give us his analysis of the process, and it kind of played out exactly the way he said it would,” Katz said.

The lawsuit made five contentions: Local Law # 3 of 2013 should be null and void because the public notice was inadequate and referenced only a part of the village, on Pioneer Street, where the regulations would be in effect; the use of the terms “may establish” and “will be” in the law were vague terms rather than formal declarations; the board did not set fees in the law, but left the cost of paid parking undetermined; in terms of mailing parking permits, the law is discriminatory and therefore invalid based on the 2000 case NYS Public Employees Federations, et. all vs. City of Albany; finally, that the parking law has caused a “dire” economic impact on local businesses.

As to the first contention, Dowd ruled that the local law was an amendment to existing laws and therefore valid. He ruled that the terms “may establish” and “will be” were used properly. He ruled against the third contention without further comment, only calling it “without merit.”

Dowd dismissed the fourth claim by saying that the Albany decision was not applicable to this case. “Unlike the Albany case, the Cooperstown local law does not discriminate in favor of local residents or against visitors. Anyone can park ala carte or obtain a permit.”

As for the fifth contention, Dowd did not rule on whether the law has caused dire economic impact, but said it was not an issue for the court. “This, if it even does exist, is not a legal issue, but a political one whereby if you do not like the law you can organize and elect people who agree with you,” he wrote. “There is simply no legal basis for this or any other court to concern itself with possible economic effects of laws.”

Dowd’s decision comes weeks before the trustees will make small changes to the parking law. A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. at the board’s Jan. 27 meeting. 

On Dec. 19, the trustees voted unanimously to hold the hearing on their plans to increase the price of all-day parking at Doubleday Field from $10 to $14, extend the paid parking in that lot through Columbus Day, and lower the parking permit fees to $15 from $25 for additional permits to a single household. In addition, they will sell the parking permits on a same-day basis rather than mailing them.

The decision also comes weeks before the village’s election season begins, adding emphasis to Dowd’s opinion that the paid parking law and its economic impact are political rather than legal issues.

Katz, Deputy Mayor Ellen Tillapaugh and Trustee Lou Allstadt are running for re-election. Katz and Tillapaugh are Democrats. 

Allstadt is an independent. In 2013, when he ran to fill an unexpired term left vacant by Frank Capozza, he was endorsed by the Democrats and sought a cross-endorsement by the Republicans. While several members of the GOP caucus said they were open to endorsing Allstadt, he arrived after the caucus had closed and was not formally endorsed.

The GOP caucus is set for 7 p.m. on Jan 23 at the village meeting room at 22 Main St. 

The Democratic nominating caucus is set for Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Cooperstown Fire Department.

The village election will be held on March 18.