Rules that challengers missed appeal deadline
The Philipstown Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday (May 11) dismissed a complaint brought by Garrison residents against their neighbors’ house transformation, ruling 4-0 that the appeal was filed too late.
The dispute stemmed from architect Timothy Rasic’s efforts to convert a small, circa-1960 ranch-style home at 529 Route 9D into a taller — and, critics contended, inappropriately larger — structure.
On Oct. 10, the Rasics’ neighbors, José Roméu and Sidney Babcock, filed a complaint over the decision by building inspector Greg Wunner to grant a permit for the project. They claimed that the demolition of the structure required not only the building permit but a special-use permit from the ZBA because the house far exceeded the size allowed by the town code.
The Rasics, through their lawyer, Frank Smith III, maintained that the neighbors waited too long to object.
After a discussion in November, the ZBA opened a public hearing in January. During the review, Roméu said that on July 12 he saw construction underway on the property, and he and Babcock became alarmed. He said they they were rebuffed during repeated attempts to see the plans and to obtain information about bringing a complaint. They hired an attorney, Luke Hilpert, and said they saw the plans and received a complaint form on Aug. 12.
Xavier Roméu, another attorney who represents the pair, told the ZBA on Monday that the men had not been given the documents they needed to challenge the permit. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for residents to be actively denied access,” he said.
By law, a complaint about the issuance of a building permit must be filed within 60 days of when a concerned individual notices construction underway. That would mean the complaint had to be filed by Sept. 10.
“Sixty days — that’s it,” said Smith, the Rasic’s attorney, on Monday.
Hilpert said that because of a mix-up at his law office, the complaint did not arrive at the Building Department office until Oct. 10, when he delivered it after discovering the delay. “It was supposed to have been mailed out,” Hilpert said. “I don’t have an explanation.”
Nonetheless, both Hilpert and Xavier Roméu said because their clients could not get details about the project until Aug. 12 — or 59 days before Oct. 10 — the complaint should be considered timely.
The ZBA disagreed.
Robert Dee, who chairs the ZBA, said he based his vote “on facts. This appeal was untimely” and therefore a non-starter, and “we can’t hear” any further arguments on it. “It’s not within our jurisdiction,” he said.
While the ZBA found fault in the filing delay, some members also expressed misgivings about the project and the Building Department’s approach.
ZBA Member Vincent Cestone termed the house plans “deficient” and described some aspects of the project as questionable. In addition, “what I heard” about the Building Department’s alleged interactions with Roméu and Babcock “was very upsetting,” he said. “I was shocked. We are there to serve the people of Philipstown, and I believe they deserve respect.”
Member Paula Clair said the project involves adding a second floor, representing a 100 percent increase in space, to a house that existed before the zoning law and thus did not comply with its regulations.
Consequently, she told the Rasics, “the information you got regarding the permit was fallacious” because “the procedure is to ask for a special-use permit” in such cases. “We don’t — I don’t feel, anyway — that the permit was issued correctly.”