Hanover Farms lawsuit a hot topic at Shandaken town meeting

Above: Jack Jordan listens as Vincent Bernstein reads a resolution to retain legal defense for the town against a lawsuit brought recently by Hanover Farms. Photo by Rusty Mae Moore.

Highlights from the Shandaken town board meeting on Monday, April 2: Town responds to Hanover Farms lawsuit, Bridge Street bridge to open by mid-summer, a donation from Timberlake Camp helps the Shandaken Ambulance Service buy a new vehicle, and a meeting on the Route 28 Scenic Byway proposal is scheduled.

Town responds to Hanover Farms lawsuit

Hanover Farms, a farmstand in a residentially-zoned area that has been operating in violation of Shandaken zoning law for almost a decade, was recently issued a stop-work order to halt repair work at the site by Shandaken zoning enforcement officer Ritchie Stokes.

The farmstand ignored the stop-work order, and on March 26, Hanover Farms filed a lawsuit against both the town of Shandaken and Stokes personally.

The farmstand's legal complaint (embedded below) charges that the stop-work order was vague and improperly carried out. Hanover Farms seeks to have the order declared void, and to receive legal fees and possibly other compensation from the town and from Stokes.

Stokes, who told the Woodstock Times last week that Hanover Farms was not the only local property whose owners had threatened him in one way or another, told the Watershed Post after the meeting that he was committed to enforcing town law.

“I will continue to do my job and clean up the town. I will help find assistance for those who are financially in hardship,” he said. “I will not be intimidated by those who tell me that their logging permit is a .30-30 Winchester or by those who tell me that they are going to sue me for my home where my children live. These tactics may have worked on past building and zoning officers. But they will not work on me.”

Hanover Farms contends that the building permit issued to it by the Town on March 9 allowed for concrete pad repairs and roof work, which was being carried out at the time the stop-work order was issued.

In their building permit application, which was approved by the town, Hanover Farms described the work to be done as:

remove and repair concrete from hurricane Irene, and repair roof and roof structure

A second part of the permit application listed the work to be done as

repair and replace concrete slabs, also replace tarps on the building

Supervisor Rob Stanley told the Watershed Post after Monday's meeting that the building permit “called for concrete and roof repairs, but the work actually done went beyond repairs.”

Stokes told Woodstock Times reporter Violet Snow last week that he had not wanted to approve the Hanover Farms building permit in the first place, but felt he had no choice:

Regarding the repairs, said Stokes, “I didn’t want to give the building permit to them in the first place, since they’re not in compliance. But the town attorney said if we didn’t give them the permit to repair the roof, and it fell down, we might be liable. So he’s put on a whole new roofing system, but the concrete slab he’s building is not covered by the permit.”

At Monday's meeting, the board passed a resolution to retain the law firm of Kellar, Kellar, and Jaiven of Kingston to file an answer to the lawsuit. Board member Alfie Higley, who runs Hanover Farms with his father Al Higley, recused himself from the vote.

Stanley still hopes the issue can be resolved out of court.

“Maybe it won’t even get to court,” he said. “The Town Board hopes it can resolve this civilly.”

Hanover Farms lawsuit against Town of Shandaken and Richard Stokes

Support for Hanover Farms

Several people attending the meeting spoke in support of the positive impact Hanover Farms has had on the community.

Allison O’Brien of Pine Hill, a volunteer with the Central Catskill Food Pantry, said that the stand was important to low-income residents.

“It is difficult to feed a family a healthy diet on a limited income,” she said. “Hanover Farms is the only place offering a wide variety of produce which accepts food stamps.”

She also said that the farmstand has made many generous donations to the Central Catskill Food Pantry.

“I understand that there is a zoning law,” she said. “What I can tell you is that I am not the only person in Shandaken who can tell you that Hanover Farms is essential to their survival.”

Glenn McGee of the Town of Olive said that she comes to Shandaken to shop at Hanover Farms.

“He's a tremendous attraction. So many people go to Al’s, and then buy other things in Phoenicia,” she said. “[You should] rethink this before a big legal juggernaut takes off.”

Mount Tremper resident He Who Stands Firm speaks in support of Hanover Farms

He Who Stands Firm, a resident of Mount Tremper, said that Hanover Farms was a tourist attraction for Shandaken.

“This is the last chance to save the crippled and aging economy here,” he said.

After the public comments, town board member Jack Jordan said that the town has tried to resolve the issue legally.

“The Town Board recognizes the value of farm stands, certainly the Higley Farm stand, but it is a legal issue,” he said. “The Town Board passed a law in favor of farm stands.”

Phoenicia bridge to be open by mid-July

Stanley reported that according to a spokesperson from the Ulster County Executives’s Office, repair work on Phoenicia’s Bridge Street Bridge will be done by Fourth of July weekend.

Free computer classes offered

Stanley announced that the Phoenicia Rotary and Phoenicia Elementary School are hosting free computer classes for adults every Wednesday from April 11 through June 13 at 5:30. Sign-up for the classes is through the Shandaken Town Clerk's office at 688-5004. The classes will teach computer use, Internet skills and email. No prior experience is required.

Shandaken Ambulance Service gets a new vehicle

The Timber Lake Foundation in Lexington has donated $12,500 to the Shandaken Ambulance Service to buy a new emergency response vehicle, called a “fly car.” The Shandaken Ambulance Service often responds to mutual aid calls from Lexington, and while Route 42 in Lexington was out of commission for months after the Irene floods, the Shandaken squad was the primary first responder for much of the town.

The town board authorized the purchase of the fly car at the meeting.

There were several other approvals of equipment purchases. A“skid steer loader” needed to expedite flood recovery work was authorized to go out for bid. A Hyundai excavator from the A. Montano Company of Saugerties was authorized for purchase for $99,839.

The Board also authorized an advertisement for an engineering consultant to assist the Highway Department with design work related to floor recovery repairs, with funds reimbursable from FEMA.

Volunteers needed for town parks

Sandy Stanley of the Department of Parks and Recreation told the board and meeting attendees that the department depends on volunteers to keep town parks cleaned up. Each park has its own committee of volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Department of Parks and Recreation. She also called for donations to help landscape the front of the Shandaken Town Hall building.

Update on Shandaken Town Museum

Councilman Jordan reported that repairs have been done at the Shandaken Town Museum in Pine Hill, and bids will be received for more work which will be covered in the budget. He said that a new Museum Director is still being sought.

Scenic Byway meeting to be held on April 19

Stanley announced that the public is invited to an informational meeting on the proposed Route 28 Scenic Byway, coordinated by the Catskill Collaborative Committee, at the Shandaken Town Hall at 11am on Thursday, April 19. All of the municipalities involved in the Byway will be in attendance.

Below: Resolutions passed at the meeting.

4 2 2012 Resolutions