COPAKE—Salvatore Cascino claims to be a farmer, but his latest interactions with the town Planning Board have dealt with housing projects—one of them so major, it would leave little room for crops or animals.
Mr. Cascino, 82, 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 23 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at this place he calls Copake Valley Farm.
In November 2020 the Planning Board approved Mr. Cascino’s Master Plan for large structures to store hay and shelter animals. The approval was granted based on the ratio of land to animals. But now, Mr. Cascino is considering a major housing project, which would take up most of his 300 acres.
According to the minutes of the May Planning Board meeting, Elka Gotfryd, an urban planner, represented Mr. Cascino during a conference with the board about the possible pursuit by Mr. Cascino of a major subdivision. It would involve 30 to 35 lots on about 285 acres. A required 60% of the acreage would be set aside for a conservancy. Only a seven-acre parcel dedicated to some aspect of farming would be left on the property.
The minutes say, “Ms. Gotfryd went on to explain that at this point they are [considering] single and two-family owned houses versus condominiums that are owned and maintained by one entity. Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight believed condominiums would be viewed as a commercial venture.”
Since the board had approved a master site plan for the Cascino property about two years ago, and Mr. Cascino had been before the board several times and received permits to build enormous buildings all over his property, board member Marcia Becker questioned whether these buildings are included in his current plan. She told Ms. Gotfryd that the board needs to see a plan of the whole 300 acres of the farm.
Ms. Gotfryd, the urban planner, advised the board that she is not involved in the farm operation.
Mr. Haight said that both elements must enter into the discussion because the area being proposed for the major subdivision is the same area where the previously approved farm-operation buildings are located, according to the minutes.
Attorney Dow addressed the fact that Mr. Cascino received approvals that were based on farming the whole property and “if all this were disappearing it would be a major concern,” he noted in the minutes.
Ms. Gotfryd explained that the plan being presented at this time is only a conceptual plan, according to the minutes.
Mr. Haight told the urban planner that the buildings the board referred to were approved based on the size of the property and the amount of cattle Mr. Cascino was going to have and the amount of hay he was harvesting from the property. Mr. Haight said, “if the farm operation is downsized to only a seven-acre parcel it would break the agreement previously approved for the large barns.”
Attorney Dow noted that Mr. Cascino’s whole farm operation was based on the number of cattle he had and in doing a major subdivision this operation does not exist anymore.
Board member Chris Grant pointed out that Mr. Cascino requested approvals for farm-related structures on the basis of this being a 300-acre cattle farm.
Planning Board members also advised Ms. Gotfryd that in such a subdivision a portion of the land is set aside with the housing clustered in a separate area. Mr. Haight said that three-acre lots would probably not be approved as they are not considered clustered. Ms. Gotfryd said she was under the impression that the lots needed to be three acres. She was advised that this is not a requirement in a major/flexible lot subdivision and referred to Section 232-17 of the code.
At the end of the session, Ms. Gotfryd said everything discussed would be taken into consideration. The meeting minutes in their entirety may be found on the Town of Copake website at townofcopake.org
‘If the farm operation is downsized to only a seven-acre parcel it would break the agreement….’
Bob Haight, chairman
Copake Planning Board
(Source: May 2022 minutes)
Mr. Cascino has not yet made any formal major subdivision application to the Planning Board.
Also housing related, in a visit to the Planning Board September 1, Mr. Cascino’s representative David Weiner and his Attorney Michael Sussman came to discuss an apartment that Mr. Cascino illegally built in a barn identified as a stable on the property site plan.
Copake Building Inspector Erin Reis told The Columbia Paper by phone that earlier this year she was alerted to the existence of the apartment by the tenant who lived there.
Planning Board Chairman Haight said at the meeting that Mr. Cascino wanted to evict the tenant so he cut the electricity to the apartment, which during the time of the Covid-19 suspension on evictions would have been illegal, but the apartment was not legal to begin with.
Ms. Reis said she issued Mr. Cascino a Notice of Violation for the illegal apartment because it was not listed on the property site plan that the Planning Board had approved. The notice called for Mr. Cascino to remedy the violation by removing the apartment or bringing it up to code and taking the matter to the Planning Board for review.
Planning Board Attorney Dow noted that the apartment was constructed without a building permit and certain building codes must be followed.
Mr. Weiner said the apartment was for farm help, that it was located in two stall spaces, which were modified by Mr. Cascino to contain a bedroom, livingroom and kitchenette. He said a septic and a well were already there as part of the original plan.
If the structure was supposed to be a stable, Mr. Haight wondered why a septic was needed. He wanted to see the building plans which included the well and septic system.
Mr. Weiner said the septic was included because the stable contained a tack room with a bathroom. He said he did not have the building plans with him.
Attorney Sussman said he did not see anything in the zoning ordinance that would prohibit putting in an apartment for farm help. At the end of the day, he said, if the apartment had been part of the original plan there would not have been an issue. “It is a question of sequence,” said Mr. Sussman, noting that his “client believed he was not altering the structure,” but “he changed the use.”
Attorney Dow explained that if someone applies for a building permit they have to say how the structure will be used. When the use is changed the case has to come back to the Planning Board and the site plan modified.
Mr. Cascino must receive site plan approval before a building permit can be issued and the apartment can be occupied.
Though Mr. Haight said he would make a motion to approve the apartment on condition that a copy of the septic system plan was received, board member Chris Grant objected.
“I am baffled by this procedure, it is highly irregular, the building inspector has referred this to us for site plan review, we must do our due diligence,” said Mr. Grant.
Mr. Haight then agreed, “You can’t put the cart before the horse.”
The Cascino representatives were told to come back next month to the October 6 meeting and bring the plans showing the well and septic with them.
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