Real Estate 20 Under 40

Bolton threatening fines, but castle owner defiant, still renting for weddings

2013-07-16T20:45:00Z Bolton threatening fines, but castle owner defiant, still renting for weddingsJON ALEXANDER - jalexander@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star

BOLTON -- The owner of a sprawling neo-Gothic castle overlooking Lake George will continue to allow renters to hold weddings at his home in the Highland Drive subdivision, even in the face of a state Supreme Court ruling saying he’s violating local zoning.

John Lavender has spent the last three years wrapped in a legal dispute with his neighbors and town officials. Bolton’s Zoning Board of Appeals last summer ruled Lavender was operating an illegal commercial venue at Highlands Castle in the residential neighborhood.

The castle has become a sought-after site for weddings and high-end birthday parties.

Lavender appealed the ZBA decision, but Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann late last month backed the board’s ban on weddings and other “events” at Highlands Castle.

But with taxes and legal fees owed, and previously signed rental agreements in hand, Lavender said Tuesday he has no choice but to continue renting his property.

“I’m just trying to rent my home so I can keep it,” he said.

Lavender said he will appeal Krogmann’s ruling later this week.

Bolton Town Board issued a cease and desist order earlier this month, notifying Lavender he faces up to $100,000 in fines and fees if he continues with his endeavor.

Local property owners in Bolton and throughout the area regularly rent their lakeside homes to tourists for short-term stays.

But the town contends that Lavender’s operation, which allows renters to throw catered parties with up to 60 people present, breaks with the common rental practice.

More than a dozen of Lavender’s neighbors have complained about outdoor music and caravans of catering vans winding up the narrow switchbacks toward Highlands Castle.

Several neighbors have video-recorded events since the Supreme Court’s decision and flagged Facebook posts from wedding planners, describing recent ceremonies at Highlands Castle.

Lavender admits renters have held weddings this summer on his property and he has no intention of canceling three other gatherings already planned for this year.

Those who object to the practice have pointed to Lavender’s website, which advertises Highlands Castle as a sublime spot for weddings and other gatherings, as evidence he goes above and beyond merely renting his property to families.

Lavender counters that just one renter signs the per-room $1,500-a-night agreement and the tenants are free to do whatever they want for the night, including having guests. He contends he has been singled out by town officials with a personal vendetta against him.

The definition of “events” is at the center of the zoning battle.

Lavender doesn’t supply any food or drinks and leaves the property when it’s in use, he said. His neighbors point out he markets the location for weddings, including to wedding planners. The Supreme Court decision noted Lavender’s targeted marketing effort when in June it upheld the zoning board’s ban.

Town officials deny their pursuit of the issue is personal.

Calls to Supervisor Ron Conover Tuesday weren’t returned.

But one former ZBA member, Kam Hoopes, said he was “disgusted” by the political pressure put on town zoning officials by elected officials opposed to Lavender’s use of his property.

“If the check clears, I have two rules: leave my home the way you found it and have a fantastic experience,” Lavender said.

Bolton Zoning Administrator Pam Kenyon initially backed Lavender’s use of his property last year, only to be overruled by the town’s elected officials, according to court documents.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(17) Comments

  1. Balcer
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    Balcer - August 15, 2013 8:55 am
    Um, what is the zoning in that locale? Residential? or Commercial? It's residential folks. Also, what kind of fire access does that place have? As I understand it, no trucks can even get at the place.

    Who wants to have an event at a place that has no rescue accessibility? I see it as the town protecting its own butt and the wallets of the taxpayer's if the unthinkable happens and the town gets sued for allowing this man to break the laws that were put in place for a reason.

  2. independentguy
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    independentguy - July 23, 2013 5:04 pm
    Mr Lavender, may i suggest you do some research on the legal work done by Judge Krogmann in the past. surely he has some questionable dealings as well. once you understand how politics rose him thru the ranks, then you will understand the reasoning of his ruling in this case. do you own homework. the post star would not let me mention such in this forum anyways. politics always influences a judges decision because he or she must depend on the party system to stay in office or be promoted. they do not want to upset those in power.
  3. Sceptical Mass
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    Sceptical Mass - July 20, 2013 11:39 pm
    Well, another myth shattered: it seems a man's home really ISN'T his castle after all.....even when it IS a castle.
  4. Highlands Lover
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    Highlands Lover - July 19, 2013 8:41 pm
    I am an owner in the Highlands development. No one, at any time, has EVER said John Lavender is not a decent person. We are not judging his character here. I am sure all my neighbors have a sad story to tell. Would you like to hear my story of injury, recovery and daily pain? Of course not-it has nothing to do with the issue at hand. It has not been easy for other residents to pay taxes, bills and whatever responsibilites they have. However, and I can speak only for myself, I would never force my neighbors to endure the problems that have arisen because of commercial activity in a low-density, private neighborhood. The road is the width of a driveway, which the owners have to maintain, and all the residents have wells and septic. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a neighborhood that can support commercial activity. It may be easy to sit in judgement because it is one person against the rest of the neighborhood, but what would you do if it was your home and your neighborhood?
  5. highland privileged person
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    highland privileged person - July 18, 2013 9:25 am
    Politico QB has FAILED to read the five rules for posting. I believe he has not met rules 1,2,3 & 5. Most residents of the Highlands are working people, not drunken drug abusing pill poppers as he infers. I take offense at his comments. I do not believe he has talked to anyone in our neighborhood other than one person involved in this problem. I own a business and I can assure you,QB, my life is anything but' dull,meaningless,privileged personal hell'. Anytime you,QB, would like to spend a day with me you are very welcome. My day usually lasts about ten hours and lately in 90 degree heat which i guess is better than 20 degrees in winter. I am responsible to about 50 men and their families to have work each and every day, I take this as a great responsibility and prilivage. I also take offense with your statement that I lack desirable human traits. You do not know me ,my neighbors, and my friends. Down to earth, genuine, nice people do not look down on others figuratively OR literally
  6. Bob1234
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    Bob1234 - July 18, 2013 8:53 am
    As an aside: My error in typing "precious" rather than "previous" in my previous comment.

    But no error in my use of "regular" or "routine." Regular scheduling of events is the objective of this commercial business. Five to six times a year for residential neighborhood weddings and other events is regular and routine to me, and is not 'rare'.
  7. Justice for All
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    Justice for All - July 17, 2013 10:40 pm
    Bob1234 You apparently must be clairvoyant, or think you are. Question: How many times will the Lavender's be renting their home out of 365 days this year? Please share whatever number you have along with your ability to somehow 'see' this number. This may also help us understand the difference between your definition of 'regular' compared to 'rare'. Renting a home 5-6 times a year out of 365 days a year seems very rare to me. One of us must be poor at math, a shallow thinker, or both?
  8. JAL
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    JAL - July 17, 2013 7:38 pm
    This is John Lavender and I will be the first to agree - I am not a king. I'm not a rich man, although blessed with riches $ can not buy. I'm an ordinary man who tends to keep to himself & family. I've spent 31-yrs (more than half my life) building a home to fulfill a promise to my son Jason when he was 3. My son is now 38 with a son & daughter of his own. Falling off our roof in 2008 shattered my ankle into 20 pieces. After 4-surgeries I began walking 8.5 months later. This was a difficult time & broke me open on many levels - emotionally, spiritually & financially. I needed to reinvent myself & figure out how to start over. I spoke with the Zoning Administrator about renting our home in 2010 (so I could keep it) and was told there were no restrictions (as long as I did not sell any goods/services). Elected officials have used intimidation, abuse of power, false documents & perjury in their attempts to prevent me from renting my home without any accountability. How is this possible?
  9. Bob1234
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    Bob1234 - July 17, 2013 6:03 pm
    "Lavender admits renters have held weddings this summer on his property and he has no intention of canceling three other gatherings already planned for this year."

    The point of Lavender's business operation is to regularly schedule commercial rentals for weddings and other 'events'. Lavender's statement above clearly shows that such rentals are not 'rare' as a precious commenter would have readers believe.

    Bravo to the town of Bolton for pursuing this matter and to the state Supreme Court for its ruling.
  10. LovingLG
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    LovingLG - July 17, 2013 5:24 pm
    CH/Justice for All - you are right no one should take control of another person's property but that is exactly what is being done by having dozens of vehicles utilize the privately owned roads. "No one is getting hurt here" - that is what the homeowners are trying to prevent. There have been close calls and it is just a matter of time before someone is physically hurt. Mr. Lavender has stated that he will only rent the property a total of 3 to 4 times a year. With the 3 he has planned for the future, that will make a total of 5 and it's only July. Plus your numbers on the previous rentals are incorrect.
  11. Justice for All
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    Justice for All - July 17, 2013 4:01 pm
    I know the facts, so I can defend any person who wants to rent their home in order to keep it and provide for their family. Someone mentioned the home is rented 'routinely' which is a false. It was rented twice in 2010, 4 times in 2011, and 3 times last year. 'Routinely' is regularly, more often than not, consistently. Many homes are rented 'routinely' in Lake George for many years now, so I would say this home has been rented 'rarely'. Homeowner's can rent their home as often as they want. A renter has the freedom to enjoy a home they have rented however they desire. I'm suspicious of any person who wants to take away somebody else's freedom while they retain the right to rent their home if they so choose. "Not in my back yard" comes to mind! No one is getting hurt here. No one should take control of another person's property in a free country. I would support a neighbor who finds it necessary to rent a home a few times a year. That would be the kind thing to do. .
  12. LovingLG
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    LovingLG - July 17, 2013 2:06 pm
    Just because he lives in a castle doesn't mean he is a king. These roads are all privately owned and maintained by the residents of the neighborhood, not the town. They are narrow, windy and have sharp turns, not designed to tolerate this type of traffic without being a safety concern. It is not a typical house rental when you rent it out for a few hours to a private corporation or group. Not only do you have to deal with trucks, vans, cars that are lost, but the noise ordinance is totally disregarded and although there is amplified music coming from the castle there has never been a permit issued. I can assure you anyone defending him here does not know the entire story.
  13. doug900
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    doug900 - July 17, 2013 1:31 pm
    I agree!! Also, I thing Krogman is getting a little too old for his robe, and should retire!
  14. Bob1234
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    Bob1234 - July 17, 2013 10:33 am
    "How in God's name can you sleep at night? I'm sure with liberal doses of top-shelf scotch and prescription sleep aids."

    With weddings and other 'events' happening routinely in the neighborhood, I would imagine that this is how Lavender's neighbors are sleeping. So much for the neighbors' right to peacefully enjoy their own homes in a residential, not commercial, neighborhood.
  15. sasquatch
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    sasquatch - July 17, 2013 9:04 am
    God Bless Lavender. Repeal the bed tax. The Bad Boys of Bolton can all open an adult t-shirt operation.
  16. ADK4LIFE
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    ADK4LIFE - July 17, 2013 7:04 am
    I commend you for standing up for yourself and not backing down to pressures from the community and zoning authority. You have a beautiful castle and renting for you should be no differnt than any other person who decides to rent their home. I have been following this story for some time now and I too feel that there is a jealousy issue from your neighbors and a personal vendetta against you from the authorities. Good luck to you, I hope you win. I would love for our daughter to get married there someday too!
  17. politicoQB
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    politicoQB - July 16, 2013 10:12 pm
    This little bit of news disgusts me. This man is one of the most down-to-earth, genuine, nicest guys you'll ever meet. He built that amazing place with his own sweat and tears. I can only imagine the folks who have a problem with what he does with his castle lack the above-mentioned desirable human traits, and have little else to do within their dull, meaningless privileged personal Hell than waste time money and soul pursuing this obscene vendetta. So, you're jealous that the man built a home more desirable than your own chintzy McMansion, and that he both literally and figuratively looks down on you, so you pick up phone and paper and pen, and try to shut down his tidy income as well as the happiness of new brides and grooms? How in God's name can you sleep at night? I'm sure with liberal doses of top-shelf scotch and prescription sleep aids.
    You go, John. We (the normal ones with kind hearts) are behind you!

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