Philipstown ZBA extends hearing on Route 9 firm into October
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
With 244 pages of documentation and the direct, methodical manner of a courtroom veteran, on Monday an attorney contended that a rock-crushing and debris-processing business — long opposed by Philipstown officials — should be exempt from laws that ban such operations.
In response to the presentation by the attorney for RNV Green Processing and Supply Corp., two neighbors at the Sept. 9 public hearing before the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) criticized what they described as ongoing noise and disruption from the enterprise, located at the intersection with Lane Gate Road.
In the end, the board decided to continue the discussion at its October meeting.
RNV’s executive, Ricky Nelson Ventura, and his brother Mark have asked the ZBA to override a stop-work order issued by Philipstown in April, after they lost a state appellate court decision capping years of litigation brought by the town. They want the board to rule that their operation was allowed under zoning laws in place four decades ago and is thus a “grandfathered-in” or “legal, pre-existing, non-conforming use.”
Adopted in 2011, the present law prohibits “processing of soil, dirt, gravel and rock, including rock crushing” below the intersection of Route 9 and East Mountain Road South, which is about 2 miles north of the Ventura property. But it also stipulates that “any use which existed lawfully” under earlier zoning “may be continued, subject to the provisions and limitations” elsewhere under law.
“We need and are entitled to the benefit” of that 2011 provision, said Michael Sirignano, the brothers’ lawyer. To bolster their case, he submitted a stack of documents, including:
- Approved applications for the Ventura business from 1979 to 1987, although they refer to the business only as a construction yard and garage, and one mentioned plans for a delicatessen.
- A violation notice issued by Philipstown in 2007 accusing the Venturas of “non-compliance with the approved site plan.”
- A 2009 memo from Philipstown asking the town court “to remove Ricky Ventura” from the docket, because “all violations on file have been removed and the Building Department is satisfied with this property.”
- A 2009 invoice and check from Philipstown for $360, indicating the Highway Department used the site to dispose of 12 loads of “tipping” material.
- A transcript of comments by Supervisor Richard Shea in 2011 in which he said that, under pending changes to the zoning law (adopted three months later), “on Route 9, if you own a business currently, you can continue” and that the zoning update included provisions, “more generous than” those they replaced, “for expanding a pre-existing, non-conforming use.”
An affidavit from William Villetto, who wrote that he bought a house on Lane Gate in 1979 when the Ventura brothers’ father, August Ventura, was crushing rocks and using construction machinery “regularly and continuously.” Six contractors or truckers provided similar written testimony.
Sirignano told the ZBA that the courts in the Ventura case lacked adequate background and that he was now presenting the full record. He also stated that because action shifted to the courtroom early in the dispute, the ZBA never heard the Venturas’ arguments.
“Ricky Ventura’s livelihood and property rights are at stake,” he said. “You have great power to correct what we feel is an unjust stop-work order.”
The brothers took over the firm after their father died in 2002. Robert Dee, who chairs the ZBA, observed that the filings from 1979 to 1987 did not mention rock crushing.
The previous zoning code did not define “contractor’s yard” or what it meant to process and manufacture goods, Sirignano said, and “when there’s any ambiguity in a zoning code, it’s got to be resolved in favor of the property owner, not the government, because the government is the one trying to take away our property rights.”
He conceded that more rock crushing and processing of other materials may be taking place than once occurred. But he maintained that old zoning protection for producing “goods” further covered RNV because “crushed rock is a good.”
Although the operation is legitimate, he argued, “it seems every few years, somebody pushes the code enforcement officer, who goes out and gives Ricky a hard time.”
He portrayed the operation as a recycling business and pointed out that RNV Green is registered as a construction-and-demolition debris processor with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. A 2011 DEC registration letter, however, cautioned RNV Green that it must follow local laws.
Wayne Stephens, a Ventura neighbor, told the ZBA that deliveries begin at 5:45 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m. He said the constant activity disturbs the neighborhood and the maneuvering by trucks that pull in and out and sometimes lose items from their loads creates road hazards.
When he moved to Lane Gate 17 years ago, he said, he knew the Venturas were processing materials, but “it was never to the extent it is now. I understand that Mr. Ventura needs to make money and do his work, but this is a quality of life issue for neighbors.”
Another neighbor, Denise Grillo, said that 15 years ago, when she arrived, “it wasn’t as noisy as it is now.”
Sirignano suggested that the Venturas might improve conditions and said that the DEC has ordered debris processors, within about 18 months, to begin moving their operations indoors. He said the Venturas intend to construct a “state-of-the-art facility, completely enclosed.”
In the meantime, he acknowledged, “I wouldn’t want to live next door to this place” either.