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In Bolton, they’re storming the castle over zoning

2012-06-05T11:30:00Z 2012-06-05T14:03:30Z In Bolton, they’re storming the castle over zoningJON ALEXANDER - jalexander@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star

BOLTON -- A spat among residents of a pricey local subdivision has put the town in a precarious legal situation, as one side is lobbing accusations of political collusion while the other tosses claims of governmental incompetence.

The spat in the Highland Drive subdivision has been building for nearly two years, since John Lavender, owner of Highlands Castle, began hosting weddings and other events on his property.

Lavender’s neighbors raised an uproar.

Town code allows homeowners to rent their properties, but Lavender’s neighbors believe hosting weddings and parties crosses the line into a business venture.

The state Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in March, tossing the town’s claim that Lavender ignored a cease and desist order issued by the Supervisor Ron Conover.

Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann ruled that the town can’t issue an order until local Zoning Enforcement Officer Pam Kenyon issued an official opinion on the matter.

Kenyon recently ruled in favor of Lavender’s practice following the court’s decision, further angering his 16 neighbors in the subdivision.

“We have no problem with him renting his home to families,” said Richard Waller, one of 16 other homeowners in the subdivision. “He’s advertising specifically for weddings. He’s obviously running a business.”

Lavender, who continues to advertise his property online, said he has been the subject of town-sanctioned harassment and bullying since the court’s decision.

Lavender said Monday that Supervisor Ron Conover is using his political muscle to orchestrate a Zoning Board ruling later this month, instigated by an appeal of Kenyon’s decision by his neighbors.

“They already knew what they were going to do; bring the neighbors in to appeal it,“ he said of Conover and Town Attorney Michael Muller. “They’ve loved keeping this under wraps.”

Kam Hoopes, who sat on the Zoning Board for 11 years, criticized Conover and Muller in November while testifying before the Supreme Court, for “circumventing the zoning officer” and independently ruling against Lavender.

Hoopes was subsequently replaced in December.

“I was disgusted,” Hoopes said of the politics involved in his removal from the Zoning Board. “It was really pathetic.”

But Waller, a real estate broker and one of 16 other property owners in the subdivision, said the issue has nothing to do with political favors. The problems are the volume of gala-going traffic on the winding private road and loud parties continuing well into the night, he said.

Waller and his neighbors want Kenyon’s interpretation of town code, and the definition of “commercial,” tossed by the Zoning Board. Kenyon’s opinion hinged on a ruling that Lavender isn’t selling any goods or services, according to the decision.

The town is appealing Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann’s decision.

Conover declined comment on the issue, calling the matter “a zoning issue.”

Kenyon also refused to comment.

Lavender has now filed a lawsuit against Conover and Muller, both personally and in their official capacities, alleging political malfeasance.

Both sides are preparing for further lawsuits, dependant on the outcome of a June 19 Zoning Board meeting, leaving the town in a potential no-win situation.

“I think if there was a different supervisor, this wouldn’t have happened,” Lavender said, adding that he believes Conover is protecting the interests of his political supporters in the subdivision, many of whom have stakes in local real estate and rental markets that could be affected by Lavender’s venture.

Lavender said Conover “muzzled” Kenyon, up until the Supreme Court ruling, and barred her from issuing her opinion in favor of his rental business.

It costs $3,000 per night to rent the castle’s two bedrooms overnight on a weekend, according to Lavender’s website.

The 16 neighbors have pictures of catering vans and other pre-event activities that, they argue, show Lavender is lying about the scale of the events on his property. They’ve repeatedly blasted Kenyon for ignoring Lavender’s operation for nearly two years.

Lavender admits to holding multiple functions, including a cocktail gathering for the State Bar Association last year, well after the town’s now void cease and desist order was issued, but before it was rendered void by the court.

“We didn’t call the police,” Waller said. “We probably should have.”

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(4) Comments

  1. oohboy
    Report Abuse
    oohboy - June 21, 2012 2:16 pm
    Being some what close to this on going saga .... the brunt of the burden really belongs on the zoning administer from the very get go she waffled and had trouble coming to any decision and that blame got pushed over to the Town board, and ultimately the supervisor and attorney... having attended meetings it was some what clear folks that owned property in Highland were frustrated that the zoning administer was doing nothing ,all their complaints and info about what was going on went on deaf ears???? WHY.... she can only answer that??? being interested, went to the zoning meeting...the presentation by the highland lawyer was spot on and this was having in the past viewed all Lavenders advertising this was clearly a for profit endeavor he is selling goods and services....the thing that surprised me the most was the chairman seemed to try and twist or turn this into something like if it doesn't really say you can't you must be able to... Mr.Saris and Mr.Ray didn't get it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  2. statesman
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    statesman - June 08, 2012 10:43 am
    Mr. Lavender is renting his home. It's been going on there since Fort William Henry was still smoldering. Show me a rental ad that did NOT bring out the best attributes of the property: water frontage or mountain views, near-ness to Village, quiet surroundings or babbling brooks. Just because this man's home has the attributes that might cause someone to want to be married there, why should he be penalized for that? And I don't think Mr. Lavender would have a problem renting it to someone who didn't want to have a wedding or party up there. I'd like to ask 5756917 that if Mr. Lavender is "violating the Town's zoning ordinance", what ordinance might that be? When I see someone siting law in general rather than specifically, I become highly suspicious. That's because the law must be specific. Statutes must be narrowly construed. The whole problem in Bolton as well as in a million other towns and villages is that the powers-that-be don't understand that!
  3. 5756917
    Report Abuse
    5756917 - June 06, 2012 9:54 am
    Renting a property for weddings and parties is clearly a commercial use no matter how it is advertised. Regardless of the "rich" neighbors, Mr. Lavender is violating the Town's zoning ordinance. The "goods" is the property, the castle, and the services if applicable, is the catering, unless Mr. Lavender is shrewd enough to require the ones throwing the party hire the caterers. The castle is clearly being used for commercial purposes. Renting rooms is clearly different than renting the entire castle for a wedding or large party. When you rent a room or even two rooms anywhere, it doesn't include being able to throw a party. The Town needs to classify this as a business use and require Mr. Lavender to apply for such. If the town's zoning officer can't truthfully do her jobs, she needs to be fired. This is clearly a business and needs to be treated as such by the town. The zoning board needs to look at her interpretation and make a ruling.
  4. freedom counts
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    freedom counts - June 06, 2012 8:03 am
    This drama unfolding in Bolton is a perfect example of why zoning is so preposterous. All any new board has to do is change the every changing rules or so called laws and the game changes either way. If the neighbors have a real issue, let them spend there money and take Mr. Lavender to court themselves. The problem with this is that they are now liable for counter suit. The substitution for the corporation call TOWN OF BOLTON in the suit, is a way to insulate the not truly aggrieved neighbors from counter suit. The neighbors can claim no damages it appears to me from the article to date based on Mr. Lavenders actions. The "law" is being used as a sword and not a shield by the neighbors who now strike out at Mr. Lavender. The town employees are certainly complacent at least and maybe liable. The future suit you write about will tell. It appears if the order to cease and desist is void, it was void from the beginning. NOBODY needs to obey a void order.

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