Residents want Shandaken to force property cleanups

Fay Storms

About 15 residents of Big Indian and Oliverea came to the July 1 Shandaken town board meeting to protest the town’s failure to clean up several properties in the hamlet of Big Indian, despite complaints at the June meeting about a junked car lot, a perpetual yard sale, and a stripped-down, unsecured store. The town board voted to schedule a public meeting on the topic with the entire board, zoning enforcement officer Howie McGowan, and John Michelotti of the Big Indian Beautification Committee, to be held immediately before next month’s town board meeting. 

Beautification Committee member Marti Gailes, who had presented the issues last month, provided an update. The number of derelict cars at the former service, she said, has gone down from 52 to 46. The store, a historic building that was once Morra’s Market and Aley’s before that, at the corner of Route 28 and Oliverea Road, has been boarded up in front, but the back is still wide open, inviting vandalism. The yard sale, which she understands to be “working its way through a code enforcement process,” continues to operate on weekends, without promised police intervention regarding illegal parking by customers on the shoulder of Route 28.

Gailes said that at the previous meeting, she’d been advised to take the issues to the planning and zoning boards. There was no zoning board meeting last month. “The planning board was baffled as to why I’d come to them. They do not supervise the code officer. He updates them. He states that only a judge can impose a fine.” According to the planning board, a letter to the offender customarily states that failure to comply beyond a specified date carries a fine of up to $1000 per day, but fines are imposed at the discretion of the town and may be waived if the owner makes a good faith promise to clean up. 


Regarding the car lot, Gailes agreed with other speakers that the owner, Chuck Perez, is well-regarded by neighbors as a generous and helpful member of the community. “It is not our goal to see fines imposed but to get the property cleaned up. I propose a committee be formed, to create a mutually agreed-on specific plan, with measurable goals with concrete deadlines, to decrease car counts by specific dates, and detail fines if not. Chuck said he’s doing his best, and it’s one day at a time. He’s had a hard spring. But that’s not a sufficient answer. Eighteen months ago, he promised to be cleaned up by Memorial Day.” Perez has been dealing with the illness of his father, who passed away last month.

A Church Road resident said when he takes the bus from New York City, the bus driver asks if it’s okay to drop him off “at the junkyard.” He expressed appreciation toward the owner, who has been a helpful neighbor but insisted he wants the cars cleared away and beer cans and glass cleaned up. Like others who spoke, he said he’d be willing to spend time helping with the clean-up, an offer Perez has turned down. 

Michelotti asked, “Does the town have regulations in place? Does the zoning officer enact those regulations? Does he have the support of his bosses? You can make it happen or ignore it. If it gets ignored, we’ll find people who won’t ignore it. Election Day is coming.”

Councilmember and deputy supervisor Fay Storms, who ran the meeting because supervisor Rob Stanley was on vacation, stated, “I believe the town board has been remiss, leaving it up to the supervisor, thinking he’s going to take care of it. I think the whole town board should meet with the Beautification Committee. We need to come together in a group and resolve this. Chuck is a great guy, but he’s having a problem he can’t deal with. We have to give tools to the zoning officer.” 

Peter DiSclafani made a motion, and Gael Alba seconded, that the town board meet with Michelotti and McGowan and find out the history of the zoning officer’s interactions with the various property owners as a first step to solving the problem. As a meeting of the entire board is required by law to be open to the public, the easiest way to schedule seemed to be to hold it just before the town board meeting on Monday, August 5. The vote in favor was unanimous.