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RACOG ZBA upholds stop-work order against Lunco

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WEST CARTHAGE — The River Area Council of Governments Cooperative Zoning Board of Appeals rejected Michael E. Lundy’s appeal Wednesday night, ruling that his dumping solid fill on his Lunco Corp. property requires a permit and upholding the town of Champion’s stop-work order at the site.

The decision angered the developer, who told Champion councilmen that the town was going to pay.

“This was only the first step,” Mr. Lundy said, adding he would be talking with a lawyer about pursuing the matter.

Mr. Lundy went before the ZBA asking for an interpretation of the zoning law for the Lunco parcel at 35794 Route 126, where a stop-work order was issued Nov. 8 to cease the dumping of solid fill. Town Zoning Enforcement Officer Peter J. LaBarge issued the stop-work order after complaints from surrounding property owners.

“It is obvious the town’s zoning law is vague. We have been putting hard fill on the property for 28 years without issue,” Mr. Lundy said to the board. He asked the board to grant his appeal, to direct the town to clarify the law and to discipline the zoning officer, who he said acted in an “unprofessional and harassing manner.”

Mr. Lundy alleged at the March meeting that Mr. LaBarge had been rude to his secretary.

Attorney Jason Bailey of Sheats and Bailey, representing Lunco, alleged in a letter to the board that the property has been used as a hard fill site by the town of Champion and Jefferson County. Furthermore, he said, neither the state Department of Environmental Conservation nor Army Corps of Engineers has required a permit for the activity. He stated the stop-work order caused financial hardship for Lunco Corp. and Caskinette Lofink Motors, from where fill had been taken.

A brief from the town’s attorney, Mark G. Gebo of Hrabchak, Gebo & Langone, summarized by ZBA Chairwoman Tina Kight, stated the work on the property went beyond landscaping and violated the zoning law.

Bruce R. Ferguson, a town councilman, spoke as a citizen of the town.

“This is an interpretation of the law but for a $10 permit they could proceed with the operation,” Mr. Ferguson said. He said it would have been more prudent to get the permit than to have the corporation and the town hire lawyers.

“I urge the board to support the decision of the zoning officer,” he said.

Richard Thesier said the law should be clarified.

“I don’t have a problem if hard fill is transferred from one place to another. This is a little ridiculous to be here with two lawyers over $10,” Mr. Thesier said.

In reviewing the matter, Ms. Kight said photos provided indicated there was a change in the slope of the land and that the corporation had been altering the site for years.

Mr. Lundy contended he had been stopped before the land could be graded and that he was merely extending the lawn.

ZBA member Laban Haverstock said when the board reviews a case it tries to “determine the governing body’s original intent.” He said that in 1985 the corporation started constructing the office and storage barn and at that time obtained a permit to fill the existing lot.

“That was originally the purpose,” Mr. Haverstock said. He added the permit was only good for two years.

“It would have had to be renewed 12 times to still be valid, but that didn’t happen,” the board member said. “It’s not landscaping — I don’t see any way it could be — it if were landscaping, it won’t take 25 years to do it.”

Mr. Haverstock said the matter could have been handled better but the matter at hand was the insurance of the stop-work order.

“The town of Champion had a valid reason. It was an alteration of land,” Mr. Haverstock said. Fellow board members Debra Austin and Bette Shampine agreed. Board member Robert Blank did not attend the meeting.

By a roll call vote all four members agreed the current application was an alteration of land and not landscaping, and thus required a permit.

Following the meeting, Mr. Lundy contended there was a “lack of professionalism in how the matter was handled and unfair enforcement of the zoning laws.”

“There are many locations being filled without the required permits. The town has an overzealous zone enforcement officer in need of schooling on how to handle himself in a professional manner,” Mr. Lundy said.

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