NO WAY. UH UNH. F’RGETABOUDIT. In slightly more elegant legal language, that’s what a judge told Alan Wilzig about his hopes to pave and ride on the mile-long motorcycle track he’s built at his property in the Town of Taghkanic. The judge said Mr. Wilzig can’t use the track now or ever, and the town better not tell him he can.
Mr. Wilzig, who bought 240 acres near the Taconic State Parkway in 2005 and crowed online at the time about turning it into “Wilzig Racing Manor,” is a very wealthy man. He and his lawyer now say he plans to appeal the ruling by state Supreme Court Judge Patrick J. McGrath, even though Judge McGrath is the second state judge in the last three years to tell him in no uncertain terms that town law does not allow him to build and use a racetrack.
It’s tempting to ask what part of No he doesn’t understand. But everybody has the right to seek a new opinion from a higher court, and if Mr. Wilzig wants to spend his money in the hope that he can persuade judges somewhere that he’s got a legal leg to stand on, that’s his privilege in our free society.
But the town and its taxpayers don’t have pockets near as deep as Mr. Wilzig’s, and town officials ought to take a close look at what happened and where they go from here. The legal wrangling over Mr. Wilsig’s motorcycle hobby has already cost the town $32,000, and the price tag could go much higher if he makes good on his promise to appeal.
Mr. Wilzig says that when he bought his Taghkanic property his advisors told him he could put down as much pavement as he wanted. But Mr. Wilzig must not have bothered to ask whether the town had any restrictions on what he could pave. Instead, he went ahead and built his track and would have finished paving it if some of his neighbors hadn’t united to stop him in court.
Taghkanic is a rural town with very few residents, but it has a zoning law. The law lists the types of activities the people of the town could agree were appropriate, and the ordinance says that the activities or facilities not on the list are not permitted. Motorcycle tracks didn’t make the permitted list, so you can’t have one in Taghkanic.
Times have changed since the zoning law was drafted, and there are new technologies that the town could not have imagined when the law was adopted. But motorcycles were popular long before zoning saw the light of day in Taghkanic, and people who helped draft the ordinance confirm that the town didn’t want paved motorcycle tracks.
Initially Mr. Wilzig claimed that his track was simply a common accessory to the house he was building–Hey, every new home has one of these, right? The town Zoning Board of Appeals disagreed, and a state judge upheld that decision. At that point, Mr. Wilzig could have accepted his failure to plan ahead by acknowledging that his project is incompatible with the zoning law. But this is all about his desires, not about what’s good for the town.
So he said, in effect: Wait a minute, did I say it was a motorcycle track? No, no, no. It’s actually a “sporting course,” which is permitted under the zoning law. To reasonable observers this sounded like such a transparent dodge that no one would treat it seriously. But, sadly, town officials practically tripped over themselves in their haste to approve his ridiculous ruse.
Fortunately, Judge McGrath wasn’t bamboozled. Unlike the town ZBA, Planning Board and code enforcement officer, the judge saw through the ploy and slapped Mr. Wilzig and the town with a permanent injunction on the track and on any further effort by town officials to hand Mr. Wilzig some sort of fig leaf of legality.
The town officials who abandoned common sense and good judgment enabled Mr. Wilzig to indulge himself once again in this latest courtroom go-around on the track. That was a huge disservice to their fellow taxpayers. Their actions forced the town to squander money on defending a pretext that was absurd from the outset.
These appointees owe the town an apology for encouraging Mr. Wilzig in his fruitless attempt to contort the law. And as a practical matter they owe the public an explanation: Did they make such bad decisions because they got flawed legal advice on the “sporting course” proposal or because they received good advice and ignored it.