Recently appointed Shandaken Zoning Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector Richard Stokes is battling with Hanover Farms proprietor Al Higley Sr., over repairs to Higley’s Mount Tremper farm stand, each threatening to take the other to court. Stokes has issued a stop work order on the repairs, claiming that they violate the scope of the building permit granted to Higley, who has continued to renovate because he says Stokes is wrong.
“He’s on a power trip,” stated Higley. “We’re suing the town and Richie Stokes for damages for trying to shut us down.”
The popular farm stand has been operating for nine years at the corner of Routes 28 and 212, gradually expanding in size well beyond the 100-square-foot limit imposed by town zoning codes. A regulation was recently approved by the town board to expand the size limit specified by the farm stand code, but Higley still has to apply for a special permit under the new law.
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.”
On March 27, Higley produced a copy of his building permit, which gives permission to “remove and repair concrete from Hurricane Irene, repair roof and roof structure.” He says damage resulting from the hurricane included deterioration of the concrete, mold proliferation, and a rodent infestation under the existing concrete slab.
“He had a concrete slab in back behind the fridge and coolers,” said town supervisor Rob Stanley. “Anyone in this town can tell you that the rest of the place had a gravel floor.” He said the recently built slab is new construction, which is not covered by the terms “repair and replace” in the permit.
Higley said that in the past, several sections of his floor had been covered with concrete, including the ground under the cash registers. “All the houses around here have lots of mold from the hurricane,” he pointed out. “We had a big mold problem, and we brought in a power washer and bleached and soaked everything. We’ve covered it up with concrete — we’re not taking chances of people tracking it into cars and houses. We’re just trying to make it safe.”
Stokes has been visiting the site daily to take photographs of the work that continues despite the stop work order nailed to one of the posts at the edge of the new slab. He plans to take Higley to court for violating the order and says town attorneys are still deliberating on how to proceed.
On March 21, the town board convened an emergency meeting to confer with a town attorney on the issue. As a result, Stanley said, “The town is going to let the building department pursue its option under the law. We are not going to seek further litigation at this time.” Higley’s son, Alfie, who helps run Hanover Farms and was elected to the town board last November, did not attend the meeting.
“Stokes is looking to put the 40 to 45 jobs affiliated with this farm stand out of business,” said Higley, citing his 16 employees and the various bakers and farmers who supply the stand, which is due to open for the season in the coming month. “In order to employ all these people, I must do volume. No one can outsell us — number one, because we don’t have much overhead.” Higley’s business and home are both located on his property.
Meanwhile, Stokes said he’s been threatened by Higley. “Al said he’s got a ruthless lawyer who’s going to go after me personally, go after me and my home,” said Stokes. “I will continue to do my job and clean up violations. I’m not going to be intimidated. I will follow the book.”
It’s not the first time Stokes has been threatened, he said. “I’m climbing mountains, chasing loggers. They think they’re above the law — one of them told me his permit was a .30-30 Winchester. He got fined $2000 for logging in the floodplain. He told us he was cleaning up debris, but another logger ratted him out. We counted over 100 trees that were cut and logged for sale.”
Stokes said a permit is required for small timber harvesting, even if the wood is for personal use.
Appointed soon after Hurricane Irene, Stokes has cleared up sites where collapsed buildings had languished for years and were further damaged by flooding, including locations at Fox Hollow and at Deer Lane.
He was part-owner of the Phoenicia Hotel, which burned down in 2008, and he currently owns an old hotel in Pine Hill that is under renovation.
Belleayre shifts to ORDA
In other town news, state legislation has shifted the operation of Belleayre Ski Center from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to the Olympics Regional Development Authority (ORDA), which runs the Gore and Whiteface ski areas in the Adirondacks.
“The legislation has all the things we have asked for,” said Stanley, “including protection for all employees currently at Belleayre.” It also gives the counties of Ulster and Delaware one representative each on the ORDA board, as well as two members each on the advisory council.
Stanley noted that, despite questions raised by residents, no local taxes will be applied to ORDA’s operation. “The town of North Elba contributes monies to ORDA, but that’s because they own some of the facilities that ORDA runs — it’s not a tax. We don’t own anything at Belleayre, and we won’t be paying.” ++