COPAKE—The major construction project Salvatore Cascino plans to build on his 300-acre property will disturb more than two acres of earth.
At the Planning Board’s October 1 meeting, some board members pointed out that because of the magnitude of the project, the law requires Mr. Cascino to come up with a plan to prevent stormwater pollution before he can be allowed to proceed. Mr. Cascino’s attorney, Michael Sussman argued that is not within the Planning Board’s purview to require such a plan.
Which entity is responsible for making sure that the plan is in place became one of several contentious issues at the meeting.
On and off since 2017, the Planning Board has been wrangling with two site plan reviews of Mr. Cascino’s plans to build multiple large new structures and get permits for those he already illegally built, as ordered by a court.
Mr. Cascino, 80, of Larchmont, Westchester County, is a convicted felon who has spent the past 22 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm, along the east side of Route 22.
Back in July, the board deemed Mr. Cascino’s applications complete and ordered them submitted to the Columbia County Planning Board for review. Because of the timing of the county board’s meeting in August, Copake Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight told his board to be ready to vote on the Cascino applications in September, but the September meeting did not take place due to lack of a quorum.
The vote was supposed to happen at the October meeting, but did not because at least three board members said still more information is necessary before a decision can be rendered.
Board member Marcia Becker said a public hearing had never been held on the Cascino applications and one should be set for next month. The board’s attorney, Ken Dow, said a public hearing must take place within 62 days of receipt of the application and that deadline has passed.
Mrs. Becker then turned to the matter of the proposed “master plan” building sizes, noting that two different lists of buildings and sizes had been submitted: the operating plan refers to 96,300 square feet and the site map refers to 103,053 square feet, each total represents more than two acres which will be occupied by buildings, she said.
No Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) has been completed for the project, Mrs. Becker said, pointing to the existence of the Noster Kill, a protected trout stream, which runs through the Cascino property and into the Roeliff Jansen Kill, a navigable waterway and major tributary to the Hudson River.
A SWPPP is a site-specific document that identifies all activities and conditions at a project site that could cause water pollution and details steps that will be taken to prevent the discharge of any pollution.
Mr. Cascino’s righthand man, David Weiner said, no SWPPP is required for an agricultural application and besides the Noster Kill is more than 500 feet away from the proposed buildings.
Deputy Planning Board Chairman Chris Grant, who chaired the Zoom meeting after Chairman Haight excused himself because he was not well, said it’s the amount of land that is being disturbed (more than one acre) that is the trigger, not how far away the stream is.
“Has a SWPPP been filed with the DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation]?” asked Mr. Grant.
When Mr. Weiner replied, “No,” both Mr. Grant and Mrs. Becker said in their view, “it should be.”
Mr. Weiner questioned, “why is this stuff being brought up at this stage?”
Mr. Sussman then launched into a recapitulation of prior events, stating, “We are going around in circles.” He said Mr. Haight had provided him with a list of things the Planning Board wanted and a SWPPP had never been mentioned. He said his client had “been promised a vote,” now, instead, new requirements are being brought up after 62 days.
The attorney wanted it made clear for the record that the new requirements being imposed were intended “to delay the project.” He also noted Mrs. Becker’s membership on the Town’s Conservation Advisory Committee, which has recommended the project be denied by the Planning Board.
Mr. Grant said that the applicant must conform with town and state law and later in the discussion noted that the Planning Board must be sure the DEC-issued State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit is in place. He said the board cannot approve the project without that required permit. He and Mrs. Becker reiterated that the Planning Board always requires a SWPPP for any development in which an acre or more will be disturbed.
Mr. Sussman questioned the Planning Board’s legal authority to call for his client to comply with a state and/or federal law and to say site plan approval cannot be granted without it. He said the board could make this a contingency.
Further arguments continued over the removal of topsoil on land that is supposed to be used for crops; driveway approvals from the Department of Transportation; parts of the Cascino property that are not agriculturally exempt and board member Julie Cohen’s question about how the application can be complete when changes are being made at the site weekly.
When the dust settled, Mr. Grant asked Mr. Dow to prepare a written legal opinion in time for the next meeting that answers the question of whether the SWPPP is required and if it is within the purview of the Planning Board to require the SWPPP as part of the Site Plan Review. Mrs. Becker and Ms. Cohen agreed with Mr. Grant. Board members Edward Sawchuk and Jon Urban were also present at the meeting.
Mrs. Becker said that under Town Code, the Planning Board has the right to ask for things that it thinks are needed to guarantee the protection of the welfare of the people of Copake.
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