Judge assails storage container deal

The house at 22 Liberty St. in the village of Catskill.

CATSKILL — The Village of Catskill entered into a stipulation agreement with a Liberty Street resident to allow him to keep storage containers on his property a week after Catskill Town Justice Richard Paolino ruled that the containers were on the property in violation of village law.

In Paolino’s courtroom Sept. 7, the justice ruled that in the case of the Village of Catskill v. Stanley Raven that the 22 Liberty St. resident had a shipping container larger than the village requirement of 144 square feet in the backyard of his property that was being used for the storage of tools.

Paolino further ruled that two tents in the yard were not of a temporary basis and were being used for storage. During the proceedings, Paolino determined that “there is a violation of the Zoning/Buildings Laws that exists on the listed property.”

Raven placed two covered tents and a storage container in his backyard in the summer of 2020 while he has been conducting renovations on his home. In November 2020 the village sent notice to Raven to remove the container and tents. After Raven failed to remove the items, the village brought the matter to Paolino’s courtroom in June.

In his ruling Sept. 7, Paolino stated that the case could either be sent to a bench trial, the defendant could immediately obtain site approval and permits for the storage units or the structures could be removed.

The village instead withdrew its prosecution of Raven and entered into a stipulation agreement that allows Raven to keep the shipping container and tents on his property while the home repairs are ongoing.

The case withdrawal from the village exasperated Paolino during the Sept. 13 court proceedings.

“You can’t change the law without proper procedures and, like I said, the village came to me to make a decision and I have,” he said in court. “So if you change anything, then you’re still in violation of the law and the village can file again.”

When Raven’s attorney, Dan Benoit, asked the judge if he had received the village’s proposed stipulation agreement, Paolino responded that his decision had pre-dated the agreement.

“I’m kind of like aggravated because the time wasted on this matter since June of this year and then all of a sudden now, because somebody doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, they’re going to change the law, but not really change the law, they’re just going to cover up the violations,” he said. “That doesn’t work in my court. So figure it out and come back to this court when it’s either figured out or for a bench trial or some kind of appeal notice to the county.”

Catskill village attorney Ted Hilscher responded that Raven owns a prominent building on Liberty Street and that Raven still had quite a bit of work to do on the property. In the terms of the village agreement with Raven, he must continue to make yearly progress on the exterior repairs and must provide the village with photographic evidence of the work.

At the time of the agreement on Sept. 14, Raven had six months to cover the shipping container with a pitched roof and to disguise the unit with false sides. The container must be removed as soon as the renovations are completed.

Paolino concluded the Sept. 13 hearing by telling the village to submit the stipulation agreement to him in writing.

“So I’m a little aggravated right now,” he told the village. “You wasted my time for the last four or five months.”

“So don’t come back to me with stuff like this ever again,” he said. “Seriously. It’s totally wrong, and again, I feel the village is circumventing the actual law on the books.”

Catskill Village Board of Trustees President Peter Grasse said the village had decided to enter into the agreement with Raven in part because that while under the current code the shipping container would have to be removed, Grasse said the container’s arrival predates the village’s present codes.

Grasse noted that the shipping container and tents could not be seen from the road driving or walking in front of the property on Liberty Street. Grasse said the case came down to a matter of interpretation.

“I didn’t want to believe that I would allow my code enforcement officer (Michael Ragaini) to be persuaded to interpret something to enforce new zoning on something that was there prior and doesn’t seem to be very clear,” he said.

Dawn and Paul Moyer, who reside two doors down from Raven’s property, said they can see the storage units from their home. Paul Moyer took issue with the village entering into the agreement with Raven after the judge had made his ruling.

“Our issue is not with whether or not there’s a roof on the shipping container, it’s how the village board went out entering into this stipulation agreement,” he said. “Any normal citizen would go to code enforcement and apply for a building permit.”

“What happens is you suppress the voices of Stan’s neighbors by circumventing the process of the planning board,” Dawn Moyer added. “The planning board issues special permits and issues notices and public hearings. So you kind of shut us up. That’s not really within the board’s power. The planning board should be making those decisions.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

(1) comment

jeffersonheights222

Good for Richie for sticking up for the people of Catskill. He's a native, this is his town, and he is following the law. Staying out of the politics and administering the laws of Catskill is what he's there for, and he is trying to do it. The town board needs to stay out of it.

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