Thoroughbred Season Starts With a Lawsuit

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (CN) – A restaurant popular with the rich and famous during horse-racing season in Saratoga Springs wants a judge to scratch a new city traffic pattern.
     Siro’s Restaurant, near the clubhouse gate at historic Saratoga Race Course, claims it will lose customers because neighborhood streets that have been two-way for decades will be converted to one-way during the six-week thoroughbred meet.
     The change will cause customers to become “disoriented,” owner Racing Restaurants of America Corp. claims in Saratoga County Supreme Court, and will bring “irreparable damage and harm” to the fine-dining restaurant founded in 1936.
     The Saratoga Springs City Council, which is named as a defendant along with the city of Saratoga Springs, created a new one-way counterclockwise loop on three streets next to the racetrack. The amendment to the city traffic code, passed in February, became effective on Friday, July 18, when Saratoga Race Course opened for its 146th season.
     Siro’s sits near the end of the new loop, on Lincoln Avenue. Customers who formerly drove east on Lincoln to Siro’s front door can no longer do so because that section of the street is now one-way westbound. To get to the restaurant, customers must travel new one-way sections of Wright Street and Frank Sullivan Place before reaching Lincoln.
     “This will create confusion and safety problems where there have not been any such problems over the past 70 years of operation and negatively impact Siro’s customers and patrons who have come to expect superior services over many years,” Keith Kantrowitz, president of Long Island-based Racing Restaurants, says in an affidavit filed with the complaint.
     “The inability of Siro’s customers to reach their destination in a timely manner will have serious negative repercussions on Siro’s business, most significantly its reputation in the racing community,” Kantrowitz adds.
     He says “(i)t is not possible” to quantify the monetary damage to the restaurant’s reputation.
     Kantrowitz led a group of investors that paid $1 million for Siro’s in 2010, according to New York media reports. The group included former New York Post publisher Paul Carlucci, Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and actors Kevin Connolly and Kevin Dillon, of the HBO series “Entourage.”
     Each year the restaurant hosts a fundraiser on the eve of the thoroughbred meet, called Siro’s Cup, that ushers in the racing season and the summer gala calendar in Saratoga Springs. Siro’s Cup routinely raises $200,000 for the Center for Disability Services in Albany.
     Kantrowitz noted in his affidavit that Siro’s already is limited by the city zoning code to operating just 90 days a year – including at least 30 days of the thoroughbred meet. And because its neighborhood is primarily residential, Siro’s needs a special-use permit that restricts hours for its outdoor patio.
     “As a result of these stringent restrictions on Siro’s operations, it is imperative that convenient access to its location be provided to allow its patrons and customers ready, convenient access to the business and ensure a superior dining and racing experience as it has for over 70 years without incident,” Kantrowitz says.
     The lawsuit, brought by Racing Restaurants dba Siro’s and 168 Lincoln LLC, the owner of the property, says the city “failed to have a rational basis” for changing the streets to one-way. No environmental review was done and no traffic study was undertaken, it contends.
     The complaint also says insufficient public notice was given about the city’s plans to amend the traffic code.
     Licensed professional engineer Lawrence Levine, whose resume shows many years spent in traffic accident investigation and reconstruction, says the city should have conducted a traffic count during racing season before making the streets one-way.
     In an affidavit filed with the complaint, Levine expressed concern that the new traffic pattern would direct cars toward track gates with high pedestrian use.
     “If the purpose of the ordinance is to separate pedestrian traffic from vehicular traffic, the current plan does just the opposite,” Levine says in the affidavit. “It forces all the vehicular traffic to enter the same location and at the same time as the pedestrians are entering and leaving the track.
     “This mingling is likely to create a situation similar to the running of the bulls in Spain,” he adds.
     Levine said a better alternative would have been to leave the two-way pattern alone until a “thorough analysis” of traffic was done.
     The city Police Department requested the one-way streets, according to a January memo from the Department of Public Safety that recommended amending the traffic code.
     The crush of pedestrians at the end of a day of racing makes it difficult to separate foot and vehicular traffic when Lincoln, Wright and Frank Sullivan Place are two-way streets, according to the memo.
     The memo was included in documents the city released to Racing Restaurants under a state Freedom of Information Law request.
     Siro’s sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to keep the two-way pattern intact during the pendency of its complaint, but that was denied Friday after a brief hearing, The Daily Gazette in Schenectady reported.
     Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen told the newspaper he believed safety concerns outweighed the inconvenience of the one-way streets.
     Earlier this month, in a piece published in the weekly newspaper Saratoga Today, Mathiesen said the New York Racing Association, which owns the racetrack, also supported the change in the interest of public safety and security.
     More than 800,000 people visit the track during racing season, he wrote.
     In the complaint, Racing Restaurants asks that the new traffic code be declared illegal and invalid, and that a permanent injunction be granted to block enforcement.
     The plaintiffs, who also ask for costs and fees, are represented by Jeffery Jamison of Albany.

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