Amenia’s decision to litigate with Kent Hollow Mine triggers petitions

WASSAIC — Those who live near the Kent Hollow Mine on South Amenia Road in Wassaic presumed that after the gravel mine applied to restart operations a number of years ago and were shot down by the town, the issue had been put to bed. However, resident Diane Zahler said while fiddling around on the internet around the end of March, she noticed the Town Board’s agenda for its March 16 meeting online.

“[It] included a discussion of the Kent Hollow mining project. I had thought that project had more or less disappeared; we hadn’t heard anything about it for at least two years,” said Zahler. “As our property directly adjoins Kent Hollow’s, we were alarmed by this, so I went to Town Hall to speak to Supervisor Victoria Perotti.”

Zahler said she asked Perotti what the board discussed at the March board meeting. Zahler said the town supervisor replied “that the town and Kent Hollow were working on a settlement.”

When Zahler asked what the settlement might include, Perotti said she couldn’t give any specific information, but she said that Kent Hollow ‘agreed’ to be put in the Soil Mining Overlay District, indicating that rather than just reopening under their grandfathered permit, they would be mining far more gravel far more frequently.

“Ms. Perotti assured me that the mining would not be a ‘24/7’ operation, and that the town would be able to control the days and hours on which mining took place,” said Zahler.

When asked on Friday, April 29, Perotti told this newspaper that “We’ve been in litigation for months,” though she couldn’t recall exactly when Kent Hollow filed its suit against the town. When asked if it was 2022, she said, “It seems like it’s been going on forever.”

When asked if it was 2021, Perotti said it was before that; when asked if it was 2020 she said she “really couldn’t recall the exact date,” but that the town is “standing by our ZBA and we’re in discussions, but nothing has been done, no settlement, no agreement, no nothing.”

The town supervisor said “the problem is they’re not grandfathered in and they’re not part of the Soil Mining Overlay we have as part of our zoning. Our ZBA ruled that they couldn’t do what they wanted to do, and then it started,” adding that “this is litigation, and it can’t be discussed, but the town did not decide to litigate; they’re the ones that filed the law suit.”

Perotti also stressed that “There’s no settlement — I don’t know where all this came from.”

But Zahler was taking no chances. After she spoke to Perotti, who she said told her that the town wanted to settle the matter rather than go through the time it would take to deal with a years’ long lawsuit, Zahler created two petitions.

“One [is] designed for Amenia/Wassaic residents simply to protest the reopening of the mine, the other a formal protest petition signed by property owners abutting or within 100 feet of the mine property to protest any rezoning that will take place as a result of the mine being placed in the Mining Overlay District,” she explained.

Her husband, Phil Sicker,  was able to get the signatures of nearly everyone whose property abuts the mine, said his wife, “all of whom were both shocked and angered by news of the upcoming settlement.”

Sicker said he was able to obtain 10 signatures on the one petition and then 27 signatures on the general petition in just more than a day.

“I don’t know of anybody who didn’t sign it other than one person who was sick,” he said. “People were unanimously appalled.”

Zahler submitted the two petitions to the deputy town clerk on Monday, April 18.

As the petition states, “The Zoning Board denied a change in zoning two years ago, making an increase in mining at the site illegal. However, Kent Hollow continued their efforts to expand the extent of their operations, and after months of deliberation, the Town Board has decided that negotiations are no longer in their economic interests. They agreed to a settlement.”

The petition went on to state that the result would lead to an “astronomical increase” in truck traffic, noise and air pollution and a sharp decrease in property values.

The document concludes that if the mine is successful in its litigation, it will prove that “businesses can buy out our town.”

The second, smaller petition of neighboring property owners of the mine located at 341 South Amenia Road, calls for the Town Board to invoke the “three-fourths rule.”

The rule “provides than any such amendment requires the approval of at least three-fourths of the members of a Town Board in the event that such amendment is the subject of a written protest, presented to the Town Board and signed by any one of the following three categories of local property owners: 1. the owners of 20% or more of the area of land included in such proposed change; 2. the owners of 20% or more of the area of land immediately adjacent to that land included in such proposed change, extending 100 feet therefrom; or 3. the owners of 20% or more of the area of land directly opposite thereto, extending 100 feet from the street frontage of such opposite land.”

Zahler said she and her husband are hoping residents will oppose the sudden reversal just to accommodate a wealthy and persistent business owner who isn’t even a town or state resident. Both she and Sicker said if the town changed the law for Kent Hollow it would set a dangerous precedent.

They also said the optics of dealing with the matters behind closed doors, with no discussion before the public, reflects poorly on the board.

“The back-and-forth with Kent Hollow has taken place in considerable secrecy, as far as I can tell,” said Zahler. This may be, in part, because several members of the board — Vicki Doyle, Leo Blackman, and Damian Gutierrez — are being sued by Kent Hollow, and Doyle and Blackman have been forced to recuse themselves. The remaining board members seem to be in favor of a settlement, one that will require a change in zoning that goes against the Amenia Master Plan. This settlement will reverse five years of resistance by the Town Board and the ZBA.

Perotti said that Gutierrez did not recuse himself, though, as he had no reason to.

Sicker agreed the reason the whole issue is so upsetting is because of the town’s lack of transparency.

“We’re asking that the Town Board continue with its defense of Amenia’s zoning restrictions as indications in the Master Plan that the previous town Supervisor Bill Flood articulated very clearly and the last four years up until now the Board and ZBA have ratified,” he said. “I think the word here is a betrayal. It’s a betrayal of the zoning restrictions map and the community who have elected these officials to enforce the law. The more you think of it, the more outrageous it becomes.”

Perotti defended her governing of the town, and said she has always been transparent.

“Whenever I have executive session I always say why, what it’s about, because that’s what you have to do in order to comply with the law,” she said.

She added the issue so far is not on the board’s agenda for its meeting on Thursday, May 5.

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