Also opens hearing on disputed home conversion
The Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday (Jan. 13) rejected a plea to revoke a stop-work order imposed on a rock-crushing enterprise that the town says has consistently violated local laws.
The ZBA also denied a request to declare rock-crushing and debris-processing a legitimate pursuit that merely fails to conform to more recent zoning laws.
Supervisor Richard Shea praised the decisions and said Wednesday that the town would enforce a temporary restraining order, if necessary, to prevent further crushing and processing as the property transitions to other activities.
The latest round in the lengthy dispute began in March, with a state appellate court ruling that Ricky and Mark Ventura had not demonstrated that their site plan, approved in 1983, or the zoning law in effect at the time, permitted their rock-crushing and debris-processing. Moreover, the court found that Philipstown had “established beyond a reasonable doubt” that the activity was illegal.
In April, the town code enforcement officer and building inspector, Greg Wunner, issued a stop-work order on the business, RNV Green Processing and Supply Corp., at the corner of Lane Gate Road and Route 9. The Ventura business is in a highway-commercial district, although Lane Gate Road contains historic estates and residences.
After their setback at the appellate court, which followed a series of lower-court defeats, and after receiving the stop-work order, the Venturas asked the ZBA to intervene. At a public hearing in September, neighbors objected to the Venturas’ operations. But the Venturas’ lawyer described their work on the site as both decades-old and legitimate.
When the ZBA considered the matter again on Monday during its meeting at the Philipstown Recreation Center, neither the Venturas nor their lawyer were present. The board voted unanimously that the rock-crushing and debris-processing operation was illegal.
“This has been a long and complicated case and the Venturas have been afforded every opportunity that the law allows,” Shea said on Wednesday. RNV now must begin remediation of the site, which will probably involve the state Department of Environmental Conservation and an engineering plan detailing the amount of material to be removed and the process for doing so, Shea said.
“During this time they will be shut down,” Shea said. “We do have a temporary restraining order and will be enforcing it.”
The Venturas’ lawyer did not respond to a request for comment and Ricky Ventura, RNV’s executive, could not be reached.
Route 9D house
During its Jan. 13 meeting, the board also opened a public hearing on a contested house transformation on Route 9D in Garrison. The issue attracted a large audience and the ZBA extended the hearing into February.
The ZBA heard opposing views of the transformation by architect Timothy Rasic and his family of a small, circa-1960 ranch-style home at 529 Route 9D into a taller — or, critics contend, inappropriately larger — structure.
Sidney Babcock and Jose Romeu, who live next to the property, claimed that the demolition of the original house required not only the permit that the building inspector provided but a special-use permit from the ZBA because, according to Babcock, the planned house far exceeds the size allowed by the town code in such conversions.
The pending Rasic house “is three stories of living space,” plus a lower-level porch, Romeu said. He and Babcock said attempts to talk to the building inspector were rebuffed so they hired a lawyer, Luke Hilpert, who filed a lawsuit.
ZBA Chairperson Robert Dee said that when he learned of the quarrel, he advised Babcock and Romeu of the process involved in challenging building-permit decisions. Once the ZBA got involved, Hilpert withdrew the court case.
At the meeting, Wunner stated that “there’s no increase in floor area” in the Rasic house compared to its predecessor.
Frank Smith III, the Rasic family’s lawyer, agreed. “The footprint is exactly the same,” he said. “We do go up” in height, “but we do not go closer to the property line.” In essence, Smith said, the new house takes space from the previous home’s basement and adds it to the upper floor.
Further, the lower level of the pending Rasic home is not a finished basement, added Tom Ptacek, the contractor, but a “multi-purpose” space for the boiler and yard tools usually stored in a garage (which the Rasic property lacks). Likewise, he said, in the upper part of the house the ceiling height varies and the part that’s more than 7 feet is less than the minimum necessary for a room.
Smith, the Rasic lawyer, also argued that the neighbors did not formally challenge the project within 60 days, as the law demands, and so their appeal to the ZBA “should be summarily dismissed because of timeliness.”
Few audience members commented. One who did, Rachel Evans, of 522 Route 9D, termed the Rasic project “a beautiful home.”
Another attendee, Stephen Wallis, of Philipsebrook Road, said images of the old house and the Rasic design show “a one-story, average shack or cabin” compared to “a really nice house.” The Rasics “have the right to build this and are making the community better for what is going to be built,” he said.
In regard to the “rock crushing” on Route 9, if you go back and listen to the attorney for RNV, you’ll hear him try to establish that construction debris were also part of their plea. Now, they will try to build their “state-of-the-art” processing facility of 30,000 square feet. But understand, this is probably nothing more than a transfer station for refuse.
Do we need this in Philipstown? Why do we need refuse from Westchester or elsewhere here? The congestion on Route 9 will probably be horrible, not to mention the quality of life for the area, including noise, air and, more than likely, groundwater pollution (bordering wetlands and already encroaching upon).
Bringing the property back to its original state would mean the removal of more than 100,000 yards of fill or much more, most of which came from Westchester and we do not know what it is or what it contains. This not the only property which has done this, but it’s the biggest offender.
As Garrison residents for 39 years, we felt it our duty to alert our neighbors to the flouting of clear zoning regulations relating to a home on Route 9D.
The code states that with the expansion of a previous non-conforming structure, a special permit must be granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals. It also states that the expansion cannot exceed the previous footprint by more than 25 percent. In this case, the expansion would triple the footprint living area.
We performed due diligence last summer: four visits to the building department, five emails to the building inspector, numerous requests for access to the plans and multiple requests for the paperwork to file a petition for review by the Zoning Board of Appeals. All these efforts were thwarted and denied. The ZBA was not given the current plans for their evaluation. In addition, we were also denied a viewing of the original certificate of occupancy for the 1963 cottage, which finally surfaced after the ZBA meeting and clearly shows the cottage had only an unfinished basement.
We were left with no recourse other than to appeal to the court. We have paused that appeal pending resolution at a lower level.
We must not allow our community to be hemmed in by developments that do not follow the code and by the lack of enforcement by the building department. This type of violation would establish an undesirable precedent.
This is not personal. This is not about aesthetics. It is about zoning regulations. Good zoning regulations make good neighbors.
As they say, “change is the only constant.” Route 9D in Garrison is a great place to watch change and expansion daily as, one-by-one, small homes are sold, updated and enlarged.
Because I live across the street from 529 Route 9D, where the Rasic family hopes to build a home that is under review by the Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals, I have given this matter a lot of thought.
Tim Rasic has proven himself in Philipstown to be an outstanding architect with an impeccable record. The Rasics have a dream that is in the midst of being fulfilled but for a neighbor’s preference that (to listen to the testimony at a January hearing) would keep things pretty much the same.
The Rasics, like everyone else, submitted their plans. The plans were approved and the 60-day window for objections elapsed. In a situation such as this, when a neighbor’s claims of wrongdoing are shown to be without merit, the ZBA has a duty to follow precedent and honor agreements that are in line with the building code.
Instead, it has allowed an ongoing smear of the building inspector and the Rasics, and seems to be seriously considering the complainants’ assertion that the inspector tried to impede their ability to appeal within the required 60-day window.
That argument seems disingenuous; their lawyer never stated that his ability to appeal was impeded. On the contrary, he said that when he told the building inspector on Aug. 12 that his clients would appeal, the inspector’s reply was, essentially: “You have to do what you’re going to do.”
The Rasics have been subjected to months of complaints and legal fees defending themselves. They complied with the zoning ordinances and procedure. The ZBA has the responsibility to provide good governance and support the laws of the town, which apply to established residents and newcomers equally.