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Pittsford village faces budget-busting legal fees over Westport Crossing

16 hours ago

The village of Pittsford could have to pay $351,000 in legal fees -- about 24 percent of its annual operating budget -- related to protracted litigation over a proposed housing and restaurant development on the Erie Canal.

A state justice this month granted a request by the plaintiff in the case, a civic organization called the Friends of Pittsford Village, for “reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The organization’s lawyer, Alan Knauf, on Friday filed paperwork with the court detailing $350,831 in costs dating to 2012, when the Friends of Pittsford Village first sued the village.

The organization claimed trustees violated the state’s Open Meetings Law in negotiating the size of the development, Westport Crossing, behind closed doors. The court found in favor of the organization in December.

“It’s been a lot and, frankly, we haven’t been paid a lot because no one knew it would be this mammoth undertaking,” Knauf says.

His request requires court approval, and the village plans to appeal the order granting legal fees. Mayor Robert Corby expressed some doubt about the amount sought.

“To me, that seems like a pretty high number for the amount of time Knauf has spent on that issue,” Corby says.

Westport Crossing litigation has consumed a considerable portion of the village’s budget in recent years.

This fiscal year, the village allocated $125,000 for litigation, or roughly 8 percent, of its $1.49 million budget. Should the village be ordered to pay the amount Knauf is seeking, it wouldn’t be the first time it busted that line.

A state audit in 2017 found the village exceeded its cumulative budget of $565,000 for legal expenditures between 2014 and 2016 by 65 percent -- or roughly $368,000.

The village has invested more than $1 million in defending lawsuits related to its handling of Westport Crossing, whose developer Mark IV Enterprises, proposes to build 167 apartment units and a 125-seat restaurant at 75 Monroe Ave.

A budget presentation to trustees last year indicated most of the $1.5 million that the village had spent on lawyers between 2013 and part of 2018 was related to the project.

David Andreatta is CITY Newspaper's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com