GNH Lumber-Outdoor Living-JUNE 2024

Cascino has high hopes for what he calls a farm

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COPAKE—Is a marijuana dispensary and/or a pie-making operation in Salvatore Cascino’s future?

Could it be called, “Sal’s House of Pot and Pie?”

Mr. Cascino never seems to run out of ideas for building big things on his property, but to those passing by, it seems he may be running out space.

Mr. Cascino’s latest proposal is to build another large structure, 7,500 square feet, which he calls a farm market (yes, another one) just north of the existing farm market that was initially built without a permit and has remained closed for years.

The plan for the new building, which will contain four separate areas, is to rent out sections inside to other farmers/vendors to sell their products.

David Weiner, Mr. Cascino’s representative, told the Planning Board at its May 4 meeting, that he had been approached by someone wanting to open a dispensary and someone else wanting to make/sell pies there.

This new building is not part of Mr. Cascino’s Master Plan for a series of expansive structures related to agriculture, such as for the storage of hay, equipment and animals approved by the Copake Planning Board in November 2020. “It’s an add-on,” Copake Planning Board Chair Bob Haight told The Columbia Paper by phone this week.

Mr. Cascino, 83, owns a 300-acre property along the east side of Route 22 across from the southern entrance to the Copake hamlet. He is a convicted felon who has spent much time over the past 24 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at this place he calls Copake Valley Farm.

Mr. Cascino is currently in the midst of building a large half concrete block, half metal-frame structure just south of the farm stand on Route 22. According to Building Inspector Erin Reis, that unfinished 210’ by 60’ structure is a greenhouse.

Mr. Cascino first wanted to discuss with the Planning Board the new farm market (then referred to as a farm stand) back in January. But before that could happen, Mr. Cascino had to pay the Town of Copake a civil penalty of $10,000 for violating Copake Town Code by illegally renovating and converting a horse stall/tack room into a dwelling unit without permission. The penalty was part of a Stipulation of Settlement and Order executed by Judge Jonathan Nichols in March 2017 with regard to a lawsuit brought by the Town against Mr. Cascino for earlier violations. He paid the penalty in March and the Planning Board took up the matter of the new farm stand in April.

At that time, Mr. Weiner and Architect Ray Nelson presented plans for the 7,500 square foot farm stand. But according to Zoning Code, a farm stand is defined as a “temporary use of a structure including small buildings, carts, wagons or stands for the display and sale of farm products, and not more than 400 square feet in size.” So the characterization as a farm stand had to be changed to a farm market, which is defined as, “a location or structure where one or more farmers or vendors can sell agricultural produce to the public on a permanent basis, whether seasonal or year-round, or such a location or structure in which the area used for such activities exceeds 400 square feet, regardless of the duration or time period of such activities.”

At the May Planning Board meeting, questions were raised about why the new proposed structure needed four bathrooms and why reference was made on the plans for 20 employees. Mr. Weiner said the number of bathrooms allows for “the potential of subdividing the space in the future depending on the needs of the businesses in the building,” according to the May meeting minutes. Mr. Weiner said, “This allows for the potential use as a dispensary.”

Also, according to the minutes, Mr. Haight advised him that under New York State Law, cannabis cannot be grown and sold at the same location. Attorney Ken Dow clarified that the production, processing and sale of cannabis need to remain separate. Planning Board member Julie Cohen pointed out that a dispensary is not a farm market.

The board further discussed that the characterization of the new building as a farm market, makes it somewhat like a grocery store, according to Attorney Dow.

Mr. Haight said the building needs to be considered a commercial operation due to the size and the fact that the public will be going into the building. A farm market is viewed differently than a farm stand, according to New York Building Codes, and is open to full inspection, Mr. Haight said in the minutes.

After further discussion and consultation of the Zoning Code, it was discovered that a farm market is not permitted in the Rural (RU) Zone, where it is proposed. It must be in a Highway Business District. Also, a dispensary could not be situated in the new building because it must be in the Hamlet Business (HB), Highway Business (HWB) or Mixed Use (MU) zoning districts, but not in the RU district.

The new proposed building is also located within the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone, known as the SCOZ, and because it is 7,500 square feet in size will be subject to certain design guidelines.

In any case, the Planning Board concluded that if Mr. Cascino wants to move forward with his new farm market he will have to take the matter to the Zoning Board of Appeals and secure a Special Use Permit.

It could not be determined by press time if Mr. Cascino’s proposal will appear on this month’s ZBA agenda.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com

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