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He wants a farm, or is it housing?

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By DIANE VALDEN

COPAKE—For years Sal Cascino has proclaimed he is a farmer.

He even convinced state Department of Agriculture and Markets officials that he is running an agricultural operation so he could receive an expedited site plan review by the Copake Planning Board.

But, now he wants to be a real estate developer, too. And he wants to do it all—farming and construct a major subdivision on the 320-acre property he calls Copake Valley Farm.

The property is bordered on the north and east by Weed Mine Road, on the west by State Route 22 and on the south by the Ancram town line. Lackawanna Road runs east to west through the property.

Mr. Cascino, 83, a convicted felon, has spent much time over the past 24 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating on his Copake property. (The lastest violation occurred last year when Mr. Cascino illegally built an apartment in a horse barn without permission.)

One of the primary problems with Mr. Cascino’s major subdivision plan is that back in November 2020 the Copake Planning Board approved his farm Master Plan for the construction of several large structures to store hay and shelter animals. The approval was granted based on the ratio of animals to land (used as pasture and to grow feed). But his new major housing project proposal would consume half the property and completely disregard the precise ratio that was the rationale for the prior building approvals given based on the operation being a cattle farm.

The Planning Board initially heard about Mr. Cascino’s idea for a major subdivision during a conference in May 2022. The conference was covered in a September 15, 2022 Columbia Paper story, “Now Cascino wants to raise houses, now cows.” At that time Elka Gotfryd, an urban planner, represented Mr. Cascino. The conceptual plan back then was for 30 to 35 houses on 3-acre lots covering about 285 acres. According to law, a required 60% of the acreage would be set aside in a conservancy, that left only a seven-acre parcel for farming. At that initial conference, Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight 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 was referred to Section 232-17 of the code,” the story said.

Yet, at the recent November 2 meeting of the Planning Board, David Wiener, Mr. Cascino’s representative, presented a proposal for about 40 houses on 3- to just-under 2-acre parcels occupying about 150 acres on both sides of Lackawanna Road, with frontage mostly on Weed Mine Road. The project was referred to as “Berkshire View Estates” on one of the application submissions.

Planning Board Chairman Haight told Mr. Wiener at the November meeting that he would not accept the application because it did not meet the code for a mandatory flexible-lot major subdivision. He again told Mr. Wiener that 60% of property must be conserved and the housing must be condensed or clustered in one area.

Mr. Wiener asked if there were requirements for central water and sewer systems based on the number of houses. Mr. Haight told him to check with the county health department.

Mr. Wiener had questions about whether steep-sloped land or wetlands could be in the conserved area? He wanted to know how much of the development could be affordable housing and what were the “tax breaks” associated with it.

Mr. Haight advised him “there are no tax breaks.” The bonus, he explained, was that 10% of the conserved land could be used.

Planning Board member Marcia Becker reminded Mr. Wiener that the board had previously granted approvals to Mr. Cascino based on the full-site being designated for agricultural use. “How do we amend this” in light of the new major subdivision? she asked.

“What’s happening to the farm?” wondered Mr. Haight.

“It will have to be scaled down,” said Mr. Wiener.

“This completely changes things,” said Ms. Becker.

Mr. Haight told Mr. Wiener to have his architect review the town code 232-17, and to come back when he has a plan that conforms with the law.

Mr. Cascino also has an application for a new farm stand currently under consideration by the Copake Zoning Board of Appeals.

The next Planning Board meeting is Thursday, December 7 at 6:30 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@columbiapaper.com.

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