The Town of Woodstock has emerged victorious in a land-use battle waged by a property owner over refusal to issue a certificate of occupancy after he clear-cut trees and constructed a highly reflective roof in violation of zoning regulations. Thomas Auringer filed an Article 78 lawsuit, arguing that building inspector and code enforcement officer Ellen Casciaro’s decision had been arbitrary and capricious. “The roof is fair game to the Planning Board,” Supervisor Bill McKenna said. While the Auringer’s type of renovation did not require site plan review, “once he cut the trees it was fair game,” McKenna said.
Auringer claimed the town’s actions denied him due process and the planning board overstepped its bounds. Further, he argued, he was never notified he was within the scenic overlay district where clear cutting is prohibited.
Auringer claimed Casciaro approved all renovation plans to his Tonshi Mountain home, including a zinc roof, but things went south in November 2017 when Casciaro issued an order to “stabilize the site, create an erosion plan, submit a plan to remediate site to the building department.”
State judge Christopher Cahill ruled the ZBA decision “had a rational and clear linkage to the petitioner’s illegal clear cutting in the scenic overlay district and the need for remediation of the glare from the petitioner’s metallic roof which was muted prior to the petitioner’s actions.”
Auringer claimed the town “improperly inserted the petitioner’s roof and exterior modifications as part of the remediation for clear cutting within the scenic overlay district,” an argument Cahill did not find persuasive.
“As the respondents state, the petitioner clear cut and ‘totally bulldozed’ every single tree within a distance of 200 feet which was an obvious violation of the prohibition against clear cutting in the scenic overlay district (Town Code, section 260-63) and which is a violation of Town Code section 260-36 which provides that ‘All development within the scenic overlay district shall confirm to the standard for the mitigation of visual impact enumerated in section 260-66 of this chapter,’” Cahill wrote in his opinion.
Further, the clear cutting happened after the renovation had begun, and Auringer admitted at a planning board meeting that it was a mistake, Cahill noted.
“The new stainless steel metal roof which had been placed on the home was now highly visible. The larger trees which had filtered and shielded the view of the roof were now gone,” former planning board chairman John LaValle said in a court affidavit.“During the public hearings many residents from throughout the town spoke about the visual impact of the roof.”
Cahill added Auringer never objected to Casciaro’s ruling before the lawsuit. He found there was a “rational basis for the challenged determinations” and “there is no foundation for petitioner’s request for declaratory relief based on alleged constitutional violations by the respondents.”
Auringer is also the principal of 850 Route 28 LLC, which is proposing a cement plant in the Bluestone Wild Forest near Onteora Lake.