A ruling by a state Supreme Court justice has halted the Town of Saugerties from enforcing stop-work orders issued by its building department to J. Karolys and Son, a local trucking and excavation company that’s now under scrutiny for disposal of construction debris on four properties in the town.
More than 200 concerned residents packed into a town Zoning Board of Appeals meeting at Frank Greco Senior Center on Monday, April 1 to complain about an onslaught of 18-wheelers and four ever-growing mounds of what they said consists of untested, discarded construction materials. ZBA members struggled at points to control the bristling, jeering crowd. Although the stop-work order has been issued for all four of Karolys’ properties, attempts to enforce them have been halted by an Order to Show Cause issued by state Supreme Court Judge Richard Mott, issued after Karolys filed an Article 78 lawsuit opposing the town’s decision. The show-cause order requires the ZBA to either lift the stop-work order or decide to maintain it before the court can decide whether to allow it.
The ZBA has 62 days to make its decision. Its next scheduled meeting is May 6, but it can call a special session earlier. The ZBA says it will need time to review all the evidence presented by Karolys’ attorney Melvin T. Higgins, town attorney John Greco and about 200 pages of transcribed accounts presented orally at the board’s April 1 meeting, as well as those sent in writing.
The four properties where material is being dumped are at 1446 Route 212; 90 Goat Hill Road; 33 Fel Qui Road and 43 Fel Qui Road, all in the town of Saugerties.
“We moved here because we love the area and … we live on this beautiful country road and now it’s turned into this horror — trucks going up and back, up and back all day long,” said Susan Greenstein of John Joy Road, off of which Fel Qui Road sits. “It’s so distressing. We’re frightened about the water, the dust, the horrible change to the quality of our life. It feels like a nightmare, or as someone else said, falling down the rabbit hole. I just kind of beg the zoning board to hear everyone that’s speaking today.”
Residents described “fleets of Mack trucks” and “tailgates banging at 11 at night.”
Karolys’ registration explicitly precludes him from operating outside the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Karolys could be seen chuckling, clad in dirt-covered work boots throughout the public comment period of the hearing during which almost 30 people spoke.
“The smirk on both of their faces [Joseph and his daughter] throughout the hearing I found to be abhorrent,” said Greco after the meeting. “People are pouring their hearts out with concerns about their property and the environment and their children and the water and they apparently thought that was funny. It’s quite unusual to be so smug about it and seemingly totally uncaring about what the community thinks and what the community’s concerns are. If they really wanted to allay the community’s fears … they would welcome us onto the property to take whatever tests we wanted to conduct.”
Greco was met with thunderous applause when he asked the room why clean fill would be hauled such a distance from its original site; Karolys has openly admitted that the broken-up concrete, asphalt and other building materials being brought to the sites comes from Long Island, the Bronx and Queens.
According to Greco, the case against Joseph Karolys is cut and dried. Article 1, Subsection 204.3 of town law expressly prohibits the dumping of construction and demolition waste that comes from outside of the Town of Saugerties or towns with which it shares municipal agreements. In addition, said Greco, there are no stormwater protection plans in place for any of the four Karolys properties in question. A town engineer who examined the mounds of fill on the Route 212 property estimated that, in total, about 41,000 tons of material had been accumulated; according to local residents, 25 to 30 trucks a day are hauling in more. The shipments have been coming in since 2016.
No warrant, says lawyer
Karolys attorney Higgins explained away his client’s reticence to allow the town to conduct tests on the fill, saying Karolys is concerned that a false positive could be picked up on the property from closed landfills nearby once used by the towns of Saugerties and Woodstock.
“Just exactly what is going on here? Under the guide of enforcing SWPP (Storm Water Prevention Plan), town officials have entered in and upon the lands of my client without any judicial process for the purpose of identifying a violation of a zoning ordinance,” said Higgins. “That violation is a misdemeanor — when you are investigating a crime, you need a search warrant. You never had one. It is not waste. It is not refuse material. It is clean fill as defined by the NYDEC.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has fined Karolys for “receiving unauthorized waste and excessive dumping of construction and demolition debris,” and the site, Greco said, lacks a required permit from the state Department of Transportation.
“The extent of the operation slowly increased over time,” said Greco after the meeting, “At first, it was pretty much under the radar and then some complaints started coming in and I think that the building inspector was initially under misapprehension in terms of where this fit in under the zoning law. Then, as the scale of the activities increased and the volume of the complaints increased, that caused a number of officials in the town to take a close look at this. I was asked to become involved in a meeting which I participated in and frankly it occurred to me that there had been a substantial change in use in terms of the activities on the property.”
The hinge of Karolys’ old argument stems from a letter written by building inspector Alvah L. Weeks to Selina A. Rothe, the widow of the previous owner of the 1446 Route 212 parcel who lived close to the Route 212 property.
“Upon review of town records, the parcel of property owned now by Mr. Karolys was granted ‘Pre-Existing Business Status’ on April 8, 1991 for the operation of a trucking and excavation to your now deceased husband Raymond V. Rothe. Therefore … the right of a pre-existing business to operate a trucking and excavation business was automatically transferred to the new owner Joseph E. Karolys,” wrote Weeks in 2016. “Mr. Karolys has also provided NYSDEC documentation regarding the construction debris processing material determined to be clean fill such as concrete block, brick, asphalt, etc., granting him the ability to utilize the material in his trucking and excavation operation which he has the right to conduct per Town Zoning as a pre-existing business.”
‘This is egregious’
Route 212 resident Michael Ferraro said he was employed by the previous owners of the site between the years of 1976 and 1996. He claimed that the site previously consisted of a sawmill, a snowmobile and motorcycle shop and a trucking and excavation business that dealt with “road waste and house sites [within] Saugerties.”
All operations on the site came to a halt in 1996, and the previous owner passed away in 2010. Karolys registered the site as with the state DEC as processing facility in 2016, 20 years later. Emily Svenson, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the environmental group Catskill Mountainkeeper, said that the period of time where the property wasn’t used invalidated the pre-existing business status. Provided were a slew of aerial photos of all four sites currently and before 2016; Svenson pointed out that in 2013, trees had begun to grow in on the Route 212 property, evidence of its disuse. Also present was County Legislator Kathy Nolan, who spoke on behalf of the Woodstock Land Conservancy.
“This must be done right away. The property owners can come back to the ZBA for a variance, but the stop work orders [must be affirmed],” urged Svenson. “This is egregious, it’s a clear case and it needs to be dealt with immediately.”
“I’ve been studying his pattern of operation, from when he started,” said Greg Cornell, who lives down the street from the main dumping site on Route 212. “The pattern goes like this: [he says to himself] ‘I’m going to ignore the laws in place including the zoning laws whether it be local or state and you just try to stop me.”
A stop-work order was issued on Dec. 19, forbidding trucks hauling debris to dump at 90 Goat Hill Road, because the amount exceeded an acre and violated a state permit; on Jan. 19, another order was filed to halt the debris processing site at the Route 212 site; on Feb. 1 an order was issued pertaining to 33 and 43 Fel Qui Road. Karolys claims that he is using this fill to raise the grade of the Fel Qui Road and Goat Hill properties before building homes on them.
Along with their fears for their drinking water and concerns about other forms of contamination, other topics that were brushed upon include the operation’s effect on the surrounding landscape, the nuisance caused by the constant passage of tractor trailers (particularly Goat Hill Road, which was described by resident Barbara Pokras as a “curvy, special, narrow road that deserves to be respected”) and the dust that is blown off the properties.
One resident, Shawn Shader, complained that refuse from the Goat Hill site had spilled onto his mother’s property, entirely overtaking a stone wall and extending 25 feet. Greco said this material could be tested as a last resort: “While our preference would be to go onto the site and take a sample near the middle of the pile, if that’s what we’re left with we’ll certainly explore testing the overflow.”