Seeking variance, NW family sues town

Posted 12/23/20

Lifelong resident Thomas Palmer, who grew up in New Windsor’s Beaver Dam Lake neighborhood, is continually facing a number of challenges, alongside his wife Stephanie Lynn Palmer, in receiving …

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Seeking variance, NW family sues town


Lifelong resident Thomas Palmer, who grew up in New Windsor’s Beaver Dam Lake neighborhood, is continually facing a number of challenges, alongside his wife Stephanie Lynn Palmer, in receiving a variance to build their family home on a plot of land that was purchased in November of 2015.

The lot was purchased by Thomas with an intent to build his family home. It was the perfect location for them being six doors down from Thomas’ parents, as they wanted to be close by as they age and for when they have their first child in March of 2021. The property was originally created on “a subdivision plat filed in the Orange County Clerk’s office in 1931.” The property is located in the Suburban Residential Zoning District (R-4), where single-family is a permitted use. Though, the proposed lot and home did not comply with the local bulk zoning.

“The lot size was consistent with the neighborhood exactly,” said Thomas. “Despite its deficiencies in current zoning, the lot was equivalent to the neighborhood.”

Upon purchasing the property for $60,000, he felt there was a “good chance” that the variances would be approved and they could move forward to build a home. The couple didn’t go to New Windsor’s Zoning Board of Appeals until a couple of years later in 2018, where they proposed a 2,400-square-foot house, which was denied.

They applied for a total of six variances to allow for construction on the home, which were regarding minimum lot area and width and required yard space.

After that, they had to challenge the decision through an Article 78 proceeding, which asks the New York State Supreme Court to review a decision made by the local government. The judge agreed with the town, and the petition was dismissed.

Both the local and state decisions were made because they believed “the variances requested would create an undesirable change and be a substantial detriment to the nearby properties, the variances sought were substantial and unreasonable under the circumstances and the petitioner’s difficulty was self created.”

“There was very little discussion at those meetings as to the reasons,” said Thomas. “The Town of New Windsor issued a denial letter citing that there would be adverse effects to the neighborhood, whether it be a detriment to others or an environmental impact.”

Though there were public comments, where one person was in favor of the application and two others opposed. One opposed because they felt the size of the home was too big while the other opposed as being the next door neighbor since 2015 believed she was “contracting to purchase the lot.” The neighbor said that “the proposed dwelling would block her views of the lake, which would diminish her family’s enjoyment of their home, and the value of the home.”

However, the Palmers weren’t ready to give up this piece of property considering they felt that the decision was “suspect” being that they wanted to build a single-family home in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

The Palmers got an attorney who asked what they had to do to get the variances needed. They presented a reduced-size home at 1,650-square-feet.

“It was a significant reduction in terms of square footage and footprint,” said Thomas. “They [New Windor’s Zoning Board of Appeals] agreed to hear it as a new application.”

Two board members voted in favor while three voted against, meaning it was denied again. After that, they followed a second Article 78 proceeding, which the New York State Supreme Court sided with them on. However, the Town of New Windsor decided to continue to fight the requested variances and have been in the process of trying to appeal the supreme court’s decision by filing a notice of appeal to a higher division, the Appellate Division, in June of 2020, which they had six months to “perfect.”

The Palmers wrote a letter to the New Windsor Town Board and other key stakeholders including Senator James Skoufis and Assemblyman Colin Schmit following the news of the town’s appeal. Additionally, they spoke at a July Town Board meeting.

“In order to appeal the Supreme Court’s decision, it is our understanding that the taxpayers of New Windsor will have to foot the substantial legal fees in prosecuting an appeal,” the Palmer’s letter read. “This is on top of the tens of thousands of dollars already spent to date by The Town of New Windsor to defend this Article 78 Proceeding. Is this really how the Town of New Windsor chooses to spend precious taxpayer dollars? To fight the construction of a single family home in an already established neighborhood of single family homes- particularly in light of the impending COVID-19 budget shortfalls?”

“The Town Supervisor called me and told me that the town has litigation insurance to cover the costs, and that it would have no effect on the taxpayers and they would be proceeding with the appeal,” said Palmer.

In the letter, they also included the point that with a new home constructed, the Town of New Windsor would be collecting more tax revenue than from an empty parcel, which would lessen the burden of others in the town.

The six month period ended on December 12, however the Town of New Windsor’s attorney asked for an extension, which was granted. This means that their complete appeal won’t be finished until February 10, 2021. From there, it could be as long as 18 months until there is a decision from the Appellate Division.

“I have not seen where they have been so persistent in something like this in defending themselves,” said Thomas. “My wife and I are suspect as to why they are putting so much time and effort in defending this when it’s a single-family home on a single-family lot.”

He said the Town’s response would have been understandable if they were asking for variances for a development project or large real estate project.

“Other developers have gone to the board and there have been questionable approvals,” said Thomas.
The Palmer’s stated they have spent over $50,000 in legal fees to fight for the zoning variances.

The Town of New Windsor Supervisor George Meyers and the town’s attorney David Zagon declined to comment, citing pending litigation against the town.


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