Ventura brothers have battled town for six years
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Thirty-six years after August Ventura launched a “contractor’s yard” on a former farm near the intersection of Route 9 and Lane Gate Road; and five years after his sons, Ricky and Mark Ventura, first lost in court when Philipstown said their rock crushing there violated zoning law; and six months after state appellate judges again ruled against them, capping a series of courtroom defeats — the brothers appear to believe they can begin anew at Town Hall.
They want the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals to override a stop-work order issued by the town code enforcement officer in April and to declare that their business of rock-crushing, demolition and construction-debris processing, and treatment of vegetative material, soil, dirt, and gravel, was allowed under the zoning law in 1983 and is therefore “grandfathered” in and OK despite being prohibited by current zoning law.
The brothers argue, as they have in the past without success, that their activities were allowed in 1983 when the site plan for the contractor’s yard was approved by the town and should be acceptable now.
Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions on Monday, Sept. 9, when the ZBA holds a public hearing on the Ventura request that their property be granted “pre-existing, legally non-conforming” zoning status.
At a meeting with the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 5, Robert Dee, its chair, questioned the appropriateness of the ZBA getting involved, given the legal ruling. “You’re not asking us to overturn the state court?” Dee asked.
“Not at all,” replied the Venturas’ lawyer, Michael Sirignano. He argued the ZBA should focus on the brothers’ request to remove the stop-work order, which the Venturas “have the absolute right” to see lifted. In a memo, Sirignano said rock-crushing only occurs three or four times a year and that legal precedent held “that zoning ordinances must be strictly construed in favor of property owners and against municipalities.”
So far, no one in authority has agreed. On March 21, a three-judge state appellate panel ruled that the Venturas had failed to prove that the site plan or zoning law in 1983 permitted rock-crushing and related operations on their property. By contrast, it said, Philipstown had “established beyond a reasonable doubt” that the operations were illegal then and now.
In late April, Philipstown issued a new stop-work order and, on May 2, the Town Board voted 5-0 to seek an injunction to shut down the business.
Supervisor Richard Shea said at the time that the Venturas had “completely ignored” an earlier stop-work order and nearly six years of town warnings and judicial decisions after they were ordered to cease operations in July 2013.
On May 14, the Venturas filed their application for ZBA intervention.
During a Town Board meeting on Sept. 5, Shea again expressed town officials’ frustration. The case “just keeps coming back,” he said. “Something has to be done, because a municipality and neighbors can’t suffer like this, needlessly. They [the Venturas] are obviously in violation of the zoning. I can’t fathom what has happened over these five years. We win in court; we win in court; we win in court. And then we’re right back where we started. They come back and put in another application in, to the Zoning Board, which they have a right to do.”
Meanwhile, the facility continues to operate, Councilor John Van Tassel added.
“And pile up” materials, Shea continued. He wondered “why Central Hudson isn’t concerned that you can walk up and touch the power lines” under mounds of debris or rocks. “People keep looking at us, like: ‘Why aren’t you doing something?’ ” Shea noted. “Well, we’re doing everything within our power.”
In May, before the Venturas began ZBA proceedings, Shea had also threatened to get a court injunction and send in law enforcement to prevent any further activity. In response, Ricky Ventura told The Current that Shea has a “vendetta” against him and that the town is trying to put the firm out of business, which “isn’t fair.”
The Venturas more recently resolved another, separate problem: They had not paid town, county or school taxes on the 9.6-acre parcel since 2015. According to the Putnam County Finance Department, on Aug. 26 they paid the bill — $240,390 — in full. The property is valued on the rolls at $1.4 million.