Jean Duffy and Hoppy Quick have known each other since both were going to grade school in Olive. Her yard’s filled with his handiwork; she’s spent the 31 years she’s lived next door to his mother on Samsonville Road looking at the older woman as a mother figure, and helping out when she could. But a neighbor-to-neighbor dispute between the two over home occupations and the side-effects of their artistic pursuits boiled over at an SRO Olive zoning board of appeals meeting on May 4, and is now threatening to end up in court as the ZBA faces its second Article 78 lawsuit in recent months.
Hoppy is a long-haired, heavily tattooed bear of a man known for his chainsaw sculptures, his carved spoons and walking sticks, and for his love of a deep-rooted family that started its local life in the valley under what is now the Ashokan Reservoir. Jean Duffy is a jewelry maker with extensive gardens and a well-maintained, compact home adapted from a 1940s cabin. Her family has been in town three generations, starting with a farm in West Shokan and a well-known local blacksmith; Jean grew up on the other side of town in Shokan.
The current problems started when Hoppy Quick moved back into his mother’s home from his own property in the Town of Rochester last year, then started doing his work. Which is loud. Duffy, who has suffered from chemical sensitivities for years, says she came down with a debilitating bout of allergic bronchitis last October that lasted through much of the winter. She sent a letter to Quick asking if he could move his chainsawing to another part of his mother’s property, or limit its hours. Eventually, she hired an attorney to look into the matter.
The town code enforcement officer, former planning board chair John Ingram, was asked to look into Duffy’s complaint about Quick’s chainsawing. He ruled that it was allowed as a home occupation, given that Hoppy’s art was his livelihood. It was further noted that the town has no noise violations.
Duffy’s attorney, Lanny Walter of Saugerties, looked over Olive zoning laws and found that home occupations had to take place indoors, in either a main abode or an accessory structure granted a special permit by the town planning board. He applied to the town ZBA for an appeal hearing on Ingram’s determination.
That’s when everything hit Olive chatter lines. Quick, whose sister is town clerk Dawn Giuditta and aunt is former town councilwoman Linda Burkhardt, called ZBA chairman Jim Mays and town supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle about the situation, asking what he could do to keep at his carving. Duffy brought in a private assessor who said her home was worth $30,000 less than it had been because of what he labeled “external obsolescence.” She started calling in support of her own.
On the morning of May 4, before the ZBA hearing that evening, Mays visited Quick and Duffy, telling the latter that the evening wouldn’t include any public comment. Duffy started calling her supporters, saying they wouldn’t need to come out. When Walter asked if he should still attend the meeting that evening, she said he should since she’d already paid for his services.
A DVD of the meeting shows a crowded room for the ZBA’s May session, its first of the year. Everyone was patient as Mays noted mistakes made in a decision regarding the Ashokan Dreams wedding venue case that’s been in the news of late, which the board lost. They cheered when another case got an okay. The Hoppy Quick/Jean Duffy appeal started with Mays passing around a note from the board’s attorney, after which he announced that the evening would have “nothing to do with whether you like chainsaw produced art or jewelry or anything else.” He mentioned how specific town zoning laws are about home occupations, noting that “an accessory use must be conducted inside a building…in the principal residence of the applicant or in an auxiliary building if special permission from the planning board is obtained.”
The next hour and a half went over these points, with much input from the public, Walter, and Quick and his family.
By the end, Mays and ZBA member Fred Perry asked questions about how long each person had lived in their homes, the fact that Hoppy’s father (who a letter from his mother Barbara referred to as “Big Hop”) had operated a sawmill on the property, and various distances from property lines at the Quick’s home.
It was noted that Hoppy Quick had told Jim Mays that he’d be willing to work under a carport that was attached on one side to a workshop where he was sleeping, with a second carport closed in as a dog kennel to the other side. They talked about how his sleeping in the workshop made it a primary residence.
Walter, Duffy’s attorney, suggested a compromise “test run” since Quick had a deadline on the weekend. He could chainsaw under the carport and everyone could see whether it worked out. Quick said he’d only chainsaw outside and do his carving in the woodshed, where he also was living. He added that he didn’t want to move from his mother’s property since the only reason he had moved there was to help her now that his father, Big Hop, had passed away.
Perry talked about how he wished neighbors could just work things out so the ZBA wouldn’t have to be put into the position of making decisions that had the potential for making them, all volunteers, into bad guys. Mays said he didn’t feel right making decisions regarding primary residences and home occupations. ZBA member Dino Giuliano recused himself from any part of the decision because, as he said, he knew both parties too well. His fellow members Sandy Friedel and Chet Scofield said nothing all meeting.
After it all ended, Ingram noted the following week that “I think we can work this out.” Mays said that “Yes, Mr. Quick was in violation and should cease and desist his chain saw carving business which is being done outdoors,” but in a final action letter on May 8 added that, “Mr. Quick agreed to move the business operation to another building on the property, and therefore be in compliance with the Zoning Code. Mr. Quick’s violation is an honest error and his willingness to correct this error negated the previous order. In addition, as Mr. Quick resides in one section of the building, his activities can be considered a ‘Class 1 home occupation.’”
Hoppy Quick talked about what went down, after getting May’s letter, in terms of a zoning code borrowed from New York City suburbs 42 years ago and not fit for Olive’s more rural, old-Catskills’ ways. He talked about country folk getting pushed too far by people moving up from the city and how “we used to be a small town where neighbors talked to neighbors. It makes me sad that I’m seeing the death of a small town in the Catskills. There’s too much anger between liberal people and Republican people.”
He added that he saw himself as a “nuisance bear.” He didn’t want to get darted and moved away from his home turf. He reiterated that the bigger problem was “a law that should be changed.”
Duffy talked about what day-long chainsawing next to the home you work in is like, and how she had felt patronized by town officials when she complained. She said she didn’t want to stop Hoppy’s art, just ensure that it didn’t harm her own art-making. “I really got thrown under the bus on this,” she noted. “This is about consciousness. It’s about awareness. If Olive had a noise ordinance I believe it would save the town money in legal fees, take some of the burden off the ZBA and help remind people to be considerate neighbors.”
Less than a week after everyone received Mays’ Final Action letter, Duffy added, Quick had started chainsawing in the dog kennel carport closest to her home, instead of the one she had thought everyone was discussing at the May 4 ZBA hearing. Her attorney, Lanny Walter, had sent a new letter asking the town to ask Hoppy Quick to cease and desist, noting reservations about the ZBA’s assumption that a carport was “inside,” and a woodshed with a bed a primary residence.
Rozzelle, the town supervisor, said she wanted to stay out of the situation.
Asked about possible zoning changes, including noise ordinances and home occupation wording revisions, Jim Mays pointed out how an attempt at formal revisions had collapsed several years earlier.
“Maybe we could do a line here or there,” he said.
Meanwhile, out County Route 3, otherwise known as the Samsonville Road where Quick and Duffy live and work next door to each other, new homes sprout in developments and many that have been there for years upgrade with new porches, driveways, and accessory buildings as the town, and deep Catskills, continue to change.