Olive emotions run high as planners approve Quick’s chainsaw application

Hoppy Quick carving in Kingston

Maybe it was the concept of community character that drew an SRO crowd of what appeared to be 200 people to the Olivebridge Firehouse for an Olive Planning Board public hearing Tuesday night, January 2, which ran simultaneously to the town’s reorganization meeting at the Olive meeting hall across the reservoir on Bostock Road. Perhaps it was an attempt to define what’s more of a nuisance to most local residents these days: the noise of a chainsaw or someone’s complaint that such a sound isn’t music to her ears, but a distraction from her own home-based work, her own private life in the woods.

The planning board was holding the hearing to consider a special use permit application, ultimately approved, from Barbara Quick on behalf of her son Hoppy’s cottage industry, chainsawing bears and other objects out of logs on her property. Mr. Quick’s application had been approved earlier this year, after such a move was formally suggested by the Olive zoning board of appeals last spring, but rescinded when it was found that the planning board had made a procedural error in their previous deliberations (They hadn’t held a required public hearing on the matter).

The original ZBA decision was made following an equally-crowded public hearing on May 4, held after the Quick’s longtime neighbor, jewelry artist Jean Duffy, questioned town code enforcement officer John Ingram’s decision to allow Hoppy Quick to move his chainsawing operations to his mother’s property without any public input. Ingram, a former Olive Planning Board chairman, said at the time that what Hoppy was doing was an allowed home occupation, simply moved across a town border from his former home in Rochester to his mother’s home.

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As with the previous spring hearing held by the Olive ZBA, the January 2 gathering’s crowd was drawn out largely by Mr. Quick, using Facebook.

“I am defending my art and the right to run a chainsaw in a town I love so much it blows my mind,” came his last email on New Year’s Day, accompanied by a Facebook events page that showed nearly 50 people attending and over 125 interested in doing so hours before the actual hearing. “Please people pass the word…it concerns all residents that run saws and have small businesses in Olive. Once a precedent is set we are all in trouble; this is not just an attack on me it’s an attack on this entire community and my mother who is fighting for the rights of future family members who may one day own her homestead. Let’s stand together tomorrow night against the squeaky wheel. Let the majority have a voice.”

Quick speaks first

The January 2 hearing started with a procedure-setting announcement: Hoppy would speak first, then a microphone would be passed around the room so everyone there on behalf of him could also talk.

A planning board member and Duffy’s attorney, David Griffiths, interrupted to note that he, the lawyer, also wanted to address the board. Furthermore, they added, not everyone speaking need be in favor of Mr. Quick or his chainsawing.

Quick started by speaking about how he had been trying to work within self-imposed limits to not prove a nuisance to Ms. Duffy, including certain hours and no long spates with the chainsaw. He said he couldn’t see himself living without a chainsaw in his hands, that it was part of him. He referenced how his late father, known as “Big Hop,” had run a sawmill on the property. He brought up ideas about the ways he, his large family, and those he knew in town lived, versus the ways newer residents saw the rural town. He assured everyone that he was doing all he could to do his art legally, but also profitably. He pointed out that according to the town zoning law, he could operate in an accessory building, and such accessory buildings need only have a roof and either four walls, or four poles holding that roof up.

Griffiths, before being cut off by the planning board (and the hollering of several comments by audience members), talked about the intent of home occupation laws as a means of limiting adverse effects on neighbors. He pointed out how the two classes in the category (Quick’s business being called “Class 2”) needed to show similarity. That was the spirit of a zoning law, he inferred; the key responsibility of a planning board was to ensure any special use permit did no greater harm, or increased a nuisance, if granted.

Ensuing public comments questioned the Olive zoning law’s “liberal” aspects, having been created in the 1970s, based on 1960s concepts. People talked much about property rights, about having the liberty to do whatever they want on their land. Many spoke about their own livelihoods, drawn from the land, from surrounding forests. They spoke about “old Olive” versus “second homers,” about keeping large families like the Quicks intact. A number of people from Sheldon Hill Forestry Products and other chainsaw or woodcraft-related businesses noted the dangers of setting precedent against their industries.

Several people spouted facts about chainsaws: their decibel levels, their emissions, and figures including one that purported an average 2.5 chainsaws per resident in the Town of Olive. A few people questioned the definition of “nuisance,” suggesting that those who complain about others may be the worst. One woman noted that to her, the sound of a chainsaw was “like music.”

On Duffy’s behalf

A handful of people spoke on behalf of Duffy’s right to not only complain about her neighbors, but live free of a neighbor’s noise, especially in the form of a permitted business. Duffy talked about her sensitivities, her wish to get along with the Quicks again. She’s known Hoppy since grade school; had been friends with her neighbor Barbara for decades. Both families claimed roots in Olive going back generations. Duffy read a letter she’d written to Hoppy asking for a means of compromise, so they could both do their work as they had for years, comfortably.

A trio of woman stood, at different times, to note that the hearing was not about liberties and rights, but two neighbors unable to reach a point of compromise. It was, in the end, about community. One of them asked for a show of hands of who, in the room, would support such a compromise, such a show of support for the ideal of community. Only a third of the room replied approvingly.

Some who spoke, on both sides of the chainsaw/community character discussion, had once spoken together on behalf of the ad hoc group Olive Matters back when the town was being faced with changing its years-old tax assessments, including that of the New York City Ashokan Reservoir. They’d stood before school boards, the county legislature, the state and city, and the boards of other towns.

(Photo by Paul Smart)

Planners deliberate

The final speaker Tuesday night, a new member of the Quick clan, stood and read a letter from Hoppy that replied to her letter, offering to limit his chainsawing work to eight hours a day.

After the hearing was closed, planners huddled and talked about ways they could approve Mr. Quick’s application. One member asked whether they shouldn’t take more time, given the fact that the board, and ZBA, have come under legal fire of late for faulty decisions, reversed by the court system. Others talked about how their actions were due diligence, how they couldn’t decide matters of health (such as Duffy’s complaints), and how it seemed proven by the hearing that chainsaws were a key part of Olive’s character.

They approved the special use permit for Barbara Quick to allow her son to operate his chainsaw art business out of her property’s three-walled carport unanimously.

Griffiths and Duffy noted that they’ll be considering whether to now sue.

There are 16 comments

  1. Penny Decker

    Wow, so sad that the Town would decide against the universal concept of peaceful habitation. Now the neighbor will have to move or live with ongoing, very loud, noise. What are zoning laws for? To make a peaceful and pleasurable life for all, not for individuals to ruin it, very selfishly, for others. There are other properties around for sale or lease, where Hoppy could easily conduct his business, even be more successful and hire employees. Also he could build a better shed, with noise reducing insulation and use electric chainsaws which are significantly quieter.
    Olive’s own Code provides for residential uses and even under the business section, it stipulates that excessive noise is not allowed. I imagine that Ms. Duffy will sue as the situation is not livable and she will be unable to sell her home. If I were a judge, I’d give her at least $200K plus damages – $500K settlement. Something all of Olive’s tax payers will have to deal with.

  2. Steven L Fornal

    This decision by the Olive Planning Board is outrageous. John Ingram, code enforcement officer of the town should know better since he’s the Administrative Official in charge of parsing the local zoning code. This statement, “Ingram, a former Olive Planning Board chairman, said at the time that what Hoppy was doing was an allowed home occupation, simply moved across a town border from his former home in Rochester to his mother’s home” is so wrong as to be unbelievable.

    First, the claim was made prior that “back in the day” the Quick property had been used as a sawmill. New York State law allows FIVE years for discontinued use to be reinstated. After that five years the use is no longer permitted.

    Second, that Mr. Quick was operating a similar business in an adjacent town has NOTHING to do with Olive Zoning Code requirements.

    Third, Olive Zoning Code for a Home Occupation requires a Special Use Permit; said SUP concept– SEE: Fifth point below –recognizes that while a use may be allowed, because it produces impacts, those impacts MUST BE mitigated. Allowing a chain saw to run eight hours a day isn’t mitigating the impact of noise (depending on how close the neighbor is this level of noise could cause irreparable harm to hearing which means the Planning Board with this decision has disallowed the neighbor the use of her property without being subjected to harmful impact); allowing it to operate in an open-sided building is NOT mitigating the impact of noise. At the very least it should have required a fully sided building to attenuate the noise and gas fumes associated with the use.

    Fourth, Home Occupation under Olive Zoning Code states: “D. Except for articles produced, repaired or restored on the premises, no stock in trade shall be displayed or sold on the premises.” [What about the logs storage? Are they to be contained within the “accessory building?”] “F. No mechanical or electrical equipment shall be employed other than machinery or equipment customarily found in the home or which may be associated with a hobby or avocation.” [Are we to actually believe the Planning Board considers chain saws to be “customarily found in the home?”] “G. No outdoor display of goods or outdoor storage of equipment or materials used in the home occupation shall be permitted.” [Are we to believe there will be no logs will be stored outside the “accessory building”? [As shown here, the Planning Board didn’t mitigate the impacts AT ALL and further defied their own zoning code in order to allow an impact laden use in a residential zone. Further, as per the Pace Law School Land Use Primer, “Zoning restrictions limiting the occupational use of homes recognize that residential districts must be protected from home occupations that are out of character with the neighborhood and are not uses that homeowners expect to be affected by when they purchase a home in a single-family area. One of the original purposes of zoning is to separate uses that are inconsistent with one another into distinct zoning districts.” [As to the “customary” reference, the Planning Board seems to have simply taken the word from some attendees re how many homes actively use chainsaws eight hours a day. That many– even most –home owners own a chainsaw doesn’t at all lead to their use being customary as per zoning law. The Planning Board in this instance definitely acted in a capricious manner as it didn’t do due diligence and find out exactly how many chainsaw operations are operating in town. NO WAY are the majority of homes in town engaged in regular chainsaw business activity yet the Planning Board simply decided to say they did.]

    Fifth, as per the Pace Law School’s Land Use Primer it state re Special Use Permits: “New York statutes define a special use permit as the ‘authorization of a particular land use which is permitted in a zoning ordinance or local law, subject to requirements imposed by such zoning ordinance or local law to assure that the proposed use is in harmony with such zoning ordinance or local law and will not adversely affect the neighborhood if such requirements are met.’ An example of a special use is a church in a single-family residential neighborhood. The legislature may conclude that the church should be permitted in a residential
    district, subject to conditions that ensure the size and layout as well as parking and lighting are carefully
    designed so that the neighborhood is not adversely affected.” [Does that sound at all like what happened here?]

    Sixth, as for the “accessory use” again from Pace Law School: ” In order to qualify as accessory, a use must also be incidental and subordinate to the principal use. To be incidental, an accessory use must be reasonably related to the principal use. For instance, a garage or recreational use are reasonably related to the principal residential use and thus, deemed incidental.” [Does this sound like it pertains to a chainsaw operation?]

    Unfortunately, as happens way too often here in Ulster County, the neighbor being put upon must take legal action rather than the Planning Board doing its job. But, I urge Jean Duffy to do what it takes to take this case to court. You’ll win. The Planning Board was absolutely negligent and acted in an arbitrary and capricious way. It seems the board was swayed by the crowd; another legal no-no.

    Ms. Duffy, this travesty should not be allowed to stand. If it is, go to the assessor and demand a reduction in assessed value as your house will become quite a bit less salable due to the noise next door. SUE for your legal rights or this type of thing will continue to happen again and again. Other people in town should rally to your support, helping to fund the lawsuit even, for if allowed to go on, someday their homes and/or properties will be likewise imperiled.

  3. Mike sullivan

    I. Personally went thru the same situation in Maine 20 years ago . The planning board allowed a zoning change to accommodate property developers. They changed proprties zoned ag resource to commercial against all residents in the area. My property situated in the middle with 7 acres of pie shapes was a sticky point for the developer. He could not get thru to our road without ownership. So along the neighboring road he dold off lots since that road but could not get phase 2 of the project going forward. Our rd included noise restriction buffer zones saving homeowners from restrictions by their comm neighbors. The point is the planning board did not regard our properties as that important when it came to tax base.

  4. RedbeardFarms

    F— all your damn “permits”!!! Just pure fascist thievery in my eyes. A TRULY FREE MAN should be able to build anything he wants on his land without a bunch of yuppie desk jockeys forcing him to get pay for permits, PERMITS ARE 100% bull— government theft to control the activities of honest American folk. You don’t like sound of chainsaws? Then put in ear plugs!

    1. George D.

      LOL! None of us is really free – we live along side others. We’re free to go about our business as long as it doesn’t create a nuisance. Why don’t you invite Hoppy to work at your place?

  5. Steven L Fornal

    RedbeardFarms…Thank you! You’ve given us a most exquisite example of the attitude that necessitates zoning code in the first place in order to protect the investments of its residents. Your rights end at the property line. You want to operate a chainsaw eight hours a day? YOU make sure all the impacts stay on YOUR property. How do you see your rights more important than all others?

    A town that has a poor zoning code or refuses to enforce a good code, breeds a de-evolution of residential use. Homes near such impact-laden businesses are sold and sold again as one after another buyer is conned into buying it; each sale for less money. The homes are then abandoned via renting out. The homes fall into disrepair. The tax base shrinks with no end of a downward trend in sight. No one comes to replace those that left. Your town shrivels. But, your chainsaw folk can operate all day long. ‘Course there’ll be no one there to buy any of what the chainsaw folk produce.

    What happened here is a travesty of all that zoning stands for and has been upheld in courts for over a century. A complete dereliction of duty.

  6. Sara Quick

    First of all there is NO noise ordinance in the town of Olive!! Hoppy could be cutting firewood for himself all the live long day and no one JEAN could complain because it is everyone’s right. This is not about 2 neighbors, this is about a town and their right to work with any equipment of their choice to make a living for their family. Also, you cannot single out one person in a town without taking away everyones rights. Jean Duffy buys firewood in OLIVE from a business and is attacking another business using the same tool. Doesn’t this seem a bit hypocritical Jean??? Perhaps you need to move to the top of a mountain where you have no neighbors, noise or any other “nuisance”….or maybe invest in a pair of earplugs….or best yet get over your fucking self and live your life and let other people live theirs and realize YOU are the nuisance!!

  7. Mac Heath

    You Yankees would be even unhappier in Texas. A landowner who has a homestead has the right to use her land without interference. And you complaining Yanks should be cheering your chainsaw artist. He is gainfully employed and isn’t selling dope. Get ear plugs!!

  8. Sal Paradise

    Sounds like the planning board caved in to bullying from a loud mouth obnoxious bad neighbor. There is nothing so precious as the defense of a person’s home and peace – and I hope Ms. Duffy takes this to court – she will win. The law is pretty clear. This is just another small town planning board caving to pressure and failing to do it’s job.

  9. Steven L Fornal

    Sara Quick’s rant is so self-serving that it speaks for itself. However, one wonders if Sara has ever considered how the golden rule would apply in this instance.

    You know, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?”

  10. JP

    Steven Fornal, you are one of those tree hugging liberal nuts who wants to take away every persons right to do what they wish on the land they pay taxes. I just saw your comments on the Weeks family in Saugerties, and if you have your way, you and others like you, will never allow small business to operate. Stop being a hater, troublemaker, and complainer. Get a life, or at least enjoy the one you have and stop making everyone around you miserable!

  11. Steven L Fornal

    JP, you obviously miss the point. You tell me to “stop making everyone around you miserable.” Yet, isn’t that what is happening here by Mr. Quick? It’s the bombardment of nuisance level noise that is making people miserable.

    I’ve actually been involved with allowing small businesses come into my town and flourish. But, with restrictions befitting the zone into which they want to operate and with impacts mitigated.

    And, also understand I think Hoppey Quick is a great guy and a wonderful artist. However, that doesn’t entitle him to destroy the residential quality of a neighborhood in order to pursue his art. Some time ago it was mentioned that there is a local sawmill with adjacent land up for sale that would make a great location for Mr. Quick to do his art there. It was suggested he start a crowdsourcing funding site in order to obtain some or all of the money required. Also, with interest rates so low, now would be a perfect time to take a loan out to invest in such a property.

    There are other options to taking the property rights of your neighbors to enjoy the quiet and peacefulness that defines such zoning use as residential.

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