July 25, 2012
Landlord wins FOIL suit against city
John DelVecchio sued the city over release of documents on his W. Court St. property
Landlord John DelVecchio won another lawsuit against the city Tuesday, this one giving him the right to view all public documents related to his controversial student apartment building on West Court Street and almost $12,000 in attorney’s fees.
In January, DelVecchio sued the city in Chenango County Court to give him all the records relating to his 19 W. Court St. property.
The city denied his Freedom of Information Law request and his appeal for the documents in January, citing a section of FOIL that exempts releasing documents that interfere with law enforcement investigations or judicial proceedings.
Scott Chatfield, one of the landlord’s attorneys, said he hopes the decision will mean the city will be more transparent when it comes to FOIL requests.
“The (FOIL) process is set up to ensure that business of government will be transparent to the people,” Chatfield said. “What happened here is exactly what is not supposed to happen.”
The developer has sued the city four times over the property, located at the former George Brockway house. He is still suing the city about its decision to reject his application for two basement apartments in the 3,000-square-foot, two-story student housing building he completed in September 2010. There are four apartments on the upper two floors.
Mayor Brian Tobin said the city was willing to give DelVecchio some of the documents in January, but hesitated about giving more because the case over the basement apartments is still pending.
The city offered to allow him to review some of the documents, but the landlord elected to file another lawsuit instead.
“At the end of the day, it was a disagreement and the judge agreed with them,” Tobin said. “The FOIL law is important and I can understand why the judge would make the decision.”
DelVecchio actually received the documents from the city a few months ago but the court ruled the city owed DelVecchio attorney’s fees for his lawsuit.
Chatfield said that is between $12,000 and $15,000.
“A government arbitrarily and for its own reasons ignored an obligation because it didn’t want to be transparent,” Chatfield said. “Basically, the court punished the city by awarding the attorney’s fees based on this blatant disregard under the law.”
DelVecchio and Chatfield are still awaiting a court’s decision about the 19 W. Court St. building. The city Planning Commission denied DelVecchio’s application to add two apartments to the rear building without giving a reason during its September meeting.
DelVecchio says he cannot get a fair hearing with the city’s Planning Commission.
Chatfield, said the commission has a “substantial bias against the petitioner” and that further attempts to get approval for the site plan would be an “exercise in futility,” according to his complaint against the city.
The two sides were close to a settlement allowing the Oneonta Planning Commission to handle DelVecchio’s application but that deal fell through after the Oneonta board was reluctant to take the case.
Tobin said the city would not look to settle the lawsuit “just to settle it.”
“We have to do the right things for the right reasons,” Tobin said. “Settling has to be in the best of interest of the public, not just because it is the easiest.”
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