Amenia site approval lands
Planning Board in court

Amenia Town Hall

John Coston

Amenia site approval lands Planning Board in court

AMENIA — The Town of Amenia Planning Board’s decision to grant a waiver permitting construction of a house on a scenic ridgeline has landed in State Supreme Court in Dutchess County.

Petitions from a local farming family have been filed in the court seeking a judgment annulling the Planning Board’s actions through an Article 78 proceeding.

Article 78 lawsuits are used to challenge actions taken by state or local governments.

Barbara C. Meili, Joerg E. Meili and Arrowhead Hills Partners L.P. are members of a local farming family that have owned several properties contiguous to or near the ridgeline property for decades, according to court filings.

Cameron O. Smith and Liza Vann Smith own the ridgeline land on 27 acres at 108 Westerly Ridge Drive in Amenia. Court records state they purchased the land in 2005 for $850,000. It currently is listed for sale by Compass for $1,249,000.

The land is advertised as “perched at the very top of Westerly Ridge in Amenia, and surrounded by forever protected land under DLC conservation easement, lies the most exceptional building opportunity. There are panoramic 270-degree views, far and wide down the Oblong Valley to the south, across the Amenia hills to the west, and up into Sharon to the east, offering distant and varied views of the surrounding beauty.”

The ad mentions the parcel has “an approved building envelope,” an attribute made possible by the waiver issued by the Planning Board.

The petitioners cite town code that states that site plan approval must meet a standard that is 40 feet below the crestline of any ridge and doesn’t disturb “the continuity of the treeline when viewed from a publicly accessible place.” According to the code, chimneys, satellite dishes, antennas, or cupolas may project higher, but “shall not be higher than 30 feet below the crest line.”

The Smiths’ property is in a rural agricultural zone and in a Scenic Protection Overlay (SPO) District, which is why the waiver was required for building.

In 2019, the Planning Board granted the Smiths a waiver and site plan approval, but the waiver subsequently expired. In August 2023, the Planning Board reapproved the waiver, prompting the petitioners to file their suit in the Supreme Court claiming “substantive and procedural errors” on the board’s part.

Subsequent to the September filing in Supreme Court, the Planning Board, petitioners claim, reapproved the application at an Oct. 25 meeting in an attempt “to rectify its mistakes” and address concerns raised in the lawsuit. The petitioners also claim that the Oct. 25 meeting failed to include discussion of claims made in the original petition, or of letters received by the board objecting to approval and that petitioners were not allowed to speak at the meeting.

Filings by the Planning Board and the landowners argue that the reapproval was granted upon a full record, and that the Planning Board applied the correct standard for granting a waiver. The response also states that the Smiths’ application appropriately was identified as a “minor project” and as such the board was authorized to waive a public hearing.

The board also holds that the application didn’t require an environmental review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), which calls for local agencies to examine environmental impacts along with social and economic considerations. The board also states that its approval doesn’t conflict with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.

In a recent filing on Feb. 22, the Planning Board stated: “Petitioners’ opposition to the Project, as evidenced in their submission, is simply based on Petitioners’ mere disagreement with the rational conclusion reached by the Planning Board, and not based on any deficiencies in the Planning Board’s review process.”

Justice Thomas R. Davis has the case.

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