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earlier this year, after such a move was formally suggested by the Olive zoning board of appeals last spring, but rescinded when it was found that the planning board had made a procedural error in their previous deliberations (They hadn’t held a required public hearing on the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.
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.
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.