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.