CATSKILL — Defense attorneys for the owners of Friar Tuck expect a decision will be made Thursday about the use of the property.
The town of Catskill filed a lawsuit against the new owners of the Friar Tuck Inn last week, alleging unpermitted construction and unauthorized paramilitary activity. The 200-acre property and vacant resort were purchased for $5.8 million in February 2020 by NY-32-Realty Group Inc., with Elena Fu named as the primary owner.
“It is our impression that the judge will issue his ruling at or shortly after the conference tomorrow,” said defense attorney Michael Brandi, of Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham, in Buffalo.
Brandi represents the owners of the property, as well as the company that was planning to film at the property later this week.
Thomas O’Rourke, of Cohorts Entertainment and MSATO, or Military Simulations and Tactical Operations, of Wallingford, Connecticut, said Friday he had permission to film at the property April 30 to May 2. O’Rourke is seeking more than $2 million in damages if the project is canceled, according to the lawsuit.
The film project was supported through crowd-funding, where participants paid up to $180 per person to support the film with a maximum of 500 participants, according to the lawsuit. In exchange for their support, they have the chance to participate as re-enactors, according to the lawsuit. A previous event was held March 13-14, which Town Supervisor Dale Finch and Town Assessor Christine Julig witnessed.
It is unclear if the filming activity will take place as scheduled, Brandi said.
“It depends on the language of the judge’s order,” he said. “We will be evaluating all of our options after have a chance to review the order.”
Town Code Enforcement Officer Elliot Fishman sent a cease-and-desist letter regarding the event on March 18. At a later site visit, Fishman discovered the property was being used as a motel.
Fishman previously issued an order to vacate the building in June 2020. In August, the state Department of Labor issued a stop-work order to halt renovations that were being made without asbestos abatement, according to the lawsuit. Some of the unauthorized construction included installation of a sauna, a hot tub, a tree house and a zip line.
No work has occurred at the site since the stop-work order, Brandi said in court documents.
The town has no certificates of occupancy or building permits on file for the property, which sat vacant for many years, and the state Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or SPDES, permit expired in 2011, according to the lawsuit.
A portable toilet is on-site and only an independent contractor hired by the owners and the filming company had permission access the property, Brandi said in court documents.
“Anyone else has been a trespasser,” Brandi said.
The owners installed cameras and hired a caretaker to address the trespassing and vandalism issues, Brandi said.
The reenactors will not be using any buildings or plumbing at the site and will remain 25 feet away from the buildings at all times, Brandi said. O’Rourke had ordered a dozen portable toilets and two washing stations on April 19 for the upcoming shoot.
In her account of the March event, Julig said there were men on the balconies of the building, shooting at other participants on the ground, with what she believed to be air rifles.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a response April 23 stating that as long as the wastewater system is not being used, the department will have no further involvement in the project. The state Department of Health also issued correspondence stating that the filming did not require any DOH approvals.
O’Rourke believes that the town is against the project because the owners are Chinese, he said in court documents.
“Mr. Finch told me, ‘we don’t have a problem with you, it’s them,’” O’Rourke said. “I interpreted this comment to be referring to the property owners and their principles who are Chinese citizens.”
O’Rourke recalled a similar sentiment expressed to him by Fishman.
“Mr. Fishman told me, to the best of my recollection, ‘they understand, don’ let them fool you’ and ‘we don’t want them to bring more of their people to the town,’” O’Rourke said. O’Rourke filled out an application with Film in Greene, a county resource for moviemakers looking to film in the area, on April 12. O’Rourke did not go through the department for the March event.
The working title for the film is listed as “Modern Combat Warriors/Tier One Championship” on the application. The film is described as a “video game comes to life action series.” No real firearms or weapons are used for the film, O’Rourke said in court papers.
The application lists a crew size of 30 to 50 people and 400 re-enactors.
Film in Greene does not issue permits, Greene County Tourism Director Heather Bagshaw said Tuesday.
“We function very differently than other film commission offices,” she said. “A lot of them get really involved in permitting and things like that. We do not have a permitting process. Our county does not require that.”
Bagshaw said she was not aware of any film permits issued at the town level.
The town’s request for a preliminary injunction should be denied because the town failed to identify any statute or rule that supports the request and because the action was not authorized by the town board, Brandi said.