Design of the proposed Woodstock Commons housing project. Image from the RUPCO website.
A lawsuit against the Town of Woodstock and its planning board over plans to build an affordable housing project has been dismissed on a technicality.
The case, filed by Robin Segal, a vocal opponent of the Woodstock Commons project, had challenged the validity of the town's environmental review of the proposed development.
In a decision released on April 1, Ulster County Supreme Court Judge Christopher Cahill dismissed the case because Segal did not name the project's leaders, the Rural Ulster Preservation Company and EVK Realty, as the defendants in the case before a 30-day time limit ran out.
In an article published last September, the Woodstock Times explained the nit-picky nature of the rules that foiled Segal. It also explained Segal's suspicion that Woodstock's town attorney, Drayton Grant, wielded those rules unfairly:
Grant’s motion cites a technical flaw in the petition as grounds for dismissal. Meanwhile, Segal’s ability to correct the flaw by amending her petition may be impaired if, as Grant’s motion claims, a 30-day statute of limitations for such an action expired on September 10 ... Segal, an expert in energy policy but not a lawyer, is representing herself in the current proceeding. In Segal’s version of events, Grant conceived and enacted a plan to defeat the lawsuit by requesting, and receiving, Segal’s consent to delay the proceedings while, unbeknownst to Segal, the clock had begun to tick on the statute of limitations. Grant was asked in a September 21 interview if she had indeed engaged in such a ploy. “I have never seen somebody not take advantage of a condition in the law that lets a case be ended, which otherwise would go against them,” she said.
Judge Cahill agreed with the town attorney. In his decision, he wrote:
[Segal's] unsworn claim that the attorney for the Woodstock Respondents acted dishonestly ... is insufficiently interposed and the Court will not consider it ... [Segal's] ignorance of the law does not relieve her of the burden to present legally competent evidence.
RUPCO celebrated the ruling with a press release, issued this morning, that quotes its executive director Kevin O'Connor:
The judge’s decision speaks for itself,” said O’Connor, “and while we are pleased with the result, we are not surprised. It was exactly what we expected.” “This project has been underway for eight years now and in formal review for more than five,” O’Connor continued. “In that time, no new affordable housing has been constructed and the need has continued to grow.”
But Woodstock Commons isn't free of Segal just yet. Segal filed another lawsuit against the project -- this time correctly naming RUPCO and EVK Realty as defendants -- in March. According to another Woodstock Times article, the second lawsuit argues that the Woodstock water system may not be able to handle the increased demand once the project is built.
Although Segal's second lawsuit is still pending, it has no direct bearing on whether the Woodstock Commons project gets built, according to Guy Kempe, RUPCO's Community Development Director.
"No lawsuit by itself precludes us from breaking ground," Kempe said in an interview today. He added that there although there are still several subordinate permits to receive, including one from the Woodstock Planning Board at its meeting tomorrow night, he expects that RUPCO will start construction this spring.
The full press release from RUPCO is below. At the bottom, you can read the full text of Judge Cahill's decision to dismiss.
Woodstock Lawsuit Dismissed
Spring/Summer groundbreaking expected on affordable housing construction
Kingston, NY -- April 6, 2011 -- An Article 78 lawsuit brought to stop construction of affordable housing in Woodstock was dismissed last week by New York State Supreme Court Judge Christopher Cahill. In a six page decision handed down April 1, Cahill rejected claims made by Robin Segal against the Woodstock Town Board and Planning Board and their respective leaders, Jeff Moran and Paul Shultis, Jr. The action removes another hurdle to groundbreaking on 53 new apartments scheduled for later this spring, saying in part, that the “Petitioner’s pro se status and ignorance of the law does not relieve her of the burden to present legally competent evidence.”
Kevin O’Connor, Executive Director of Rural Ulster Preservation Company who had labeled the lawsuit frivolous, lauded the decision and reiterated the need to get moving on construction of affordable housing in Woodstock. “The judge’s decision speaks for itself,” said O’Connor, “and while we are pleased with the result, we are not surprised. It was exactly what we expected.”
“This project has been underway for eight years now and in formal review for more than five,” O’Connor continued. “In that time, no new affordable housing has been constructed and the need has continued to grow.” O’Connor pointed out the Tri-County Housing Study from 2006 – 2020, in which researchers identified a Renter Affordability Gap in Woodstock of 215 units and set a goal of building 96 new rental units by then. “The 53 units proposed by RUPCO will only meet one quarter of the current demand,” said O’Connor. “But it’s more than half of the building target identified in the study and we think that’s a very good start.”
RUPCO Community Development Director Guy Kempe noted that there are still a few final steps to be taken and one more legal action pending before the fully funded construction project gets underway. “We have designed and proposed a facility that will be beautiful, green, sustainable and in all ways ideal for this infill site in the community,” said Kempe. “After years of review, we are all really eager to move forward to ground-breaking. We celebrate our 30th anniversary of providing great housing and community development services in Ulster County and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.” For more information on Woodstock Commons and RUPCO, www.rupco.org.