Judge Mary Work of the Ulster County Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Town of Shandaken in the lawsuit brought by Hanover Farms, the Mount Tremper farmstand, in March 2012. Alfred Higley, Sr., operator of Hanover Farms, had alleged that then Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Stokes improperly applied a stop work order against the farmstand’s building permit for ongoing repairs.
The judgment calls for Higley to fulfill the town’s demands, which include demolition of the new concrete slab, insulation, electric wiring, electric fixtures, and other improvements completed after the stop work order was issued. Higley is also prevented from doing business at the site until he obtains a new permit from the Shandaken Planning Board.
“The town is pleased we were found correct in our diligence in enforcing town laws and codes,” commented Shandaken Supervisor Rob Stanley. “We hope to find a good resolution from all parties involved, and we will work toward that outcome over the coming months.”
Higley, however, indicated that he would not seek to make a new application to the planning board, thus ending a conflict of almost a decade regarding the farmstand, which the town has alleged to be currently 26 times the size of the footprint permitted for a roadside stand in a residential zone under the town code. Several town administrations have grappled with the controversy, with many residents supporting the farmstand because of the convenient hours and location and the reasonable prices made possible by the low overhead of the business operated on land owned by a relative of Higley.
“I’ll survive,” stated Higley, “but the supervisor, the judge, and the attorneys for the town have blood on their hands. They have succeeded in putting 40 to 45 people out of work.” He acknowledged that these estimates include not only the farmstand employees but also local farmers, bakers, and other business owners who supply the stand with products. “The supervisor and the town have spent a tremendous amount of money trying to shut us down. I’m sick and tired of dealing with it, and now they’ve succeeded. Eighty to 85 percent of the town shops here. We get over 10,000 customers a week in the summer — and now it’s over. ”
The stop work orders were issued when Stokes observed new construction exceeding the provisions of Hanover Farms’ building permit, which specified repairs due to damage from Hurricane Irene. Higley’s lawyer argued that various technical irregularities in the presentation of three different orders — such as missing signatures, failure to identify the address, and other errors — invalidated the stop work orders. The judge dismissed these claims and observed that the town had the right to enforce not only the stop work order but also the zoning code violations that had been in place since Hanover Farms’ expansion in 2004.
The town is seeking fines in the amount of $200 per day since March 18, 2012, as well as reimbursement of legal costs. Stanley said the town spent approximately $50,000 on the case over the past two years. A hearing will be held on February 28, 2014 to determine the outcome of this request.
Higley’s son, Alfie Higley, Jr., is currently on the Shandaken town board, but Stanley said the result of the lawsuit will not affect his service, commenting, “Alfie was elected, and he will continue to do his duty.” However, Stanley said he was disappointed in the council member’s failure to announce until last fall that he was part owner of Hanover Farms. Higley, Jr., had therefore requested that an attorney other than the town’s lawyer be hired to represent the town, to avoid a conflict of interest. The step added substantially to the town’s legal fees, said Stanley.
The senior Higley, when asked whether he would reopen his business elsewhere, replied simply, “We have property.”