NEW LEBANON–At a special meeting July 26 the New Lebanon Town Board voted to file for “interested party” status in a lawsuit being brought by town residents and others against the neighboring Town of Stephentown. The lawsuit, according to Lew Oliver, the plaintiffs’ attorney, seeks to “annul” the approval of a use variance the Stephentown Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted to the Lebanon Valley Speedway July 1 to operate a motocross course.
Motocross is a motorcycle racing sport on a dirt track that includes hills, sharp turns and other obstacles.
The proposed course would be located on a 10-acre property in Stephentown adjacent to the Speedway, which is in New Lebanon. Entrance to the course is on Webster Hill Road, which is within New Lebanon.
The suit alleges several procedural irregularities in Stephentown ZBA’s review process, including failure to properly consider environmental, noise and traffic impact and crowd control, as well as failure to comply with the state’s Open Meeting Law. The suit, a so-called Article 78 action that challenges a government action but does not seek any sort of financial damages award, is being filed in Rensselaer County, Mr. Oliver said.
In their letter to the Town Board, read at the July 26 board meeting, Daniel and Clare Lynch urged the board “to join as a petitioner in the Article 78 lawsuit.” The letter pointed to the “change the character of this residential area” and the “increased traffic” on adjoining local roads and on US Route 20 as matters “that deserve the attention of the New Lebanon Town Board.”
The Lynches’ letter went on to note that it was incumbent on the Stephentown ZBA to review the “cumulative environmental impact” of the proposed motocross course in the context of the already existing speedway, drag strip and go-cart track. “Considering only a part or segment of an action is contrary to the intent of [the State Environmental Quality Review Act],” they wrote.
The Town Board stopped short of fulfilling the Lynches’ request. Minutes of the July 26 meeting indicate that council members were concerned about the “time limits of filing an Article 78” and the “unknown cost of joining the lawsuit as a petitioner.” But members said that the town should be kept informed about the details of “what is going on with the application” and that Stephentown ZBA’s process violated Stephentown’s own code as well as state law.
Being designated by the court as an “interested party” would enable New Lebanon officials to stay “updated” and to receive “all documents and filing of all judicial actions in the lawsuit,” according to the meeting minutes.
Reached after the meeting, Mr. Lynch said, “I’m pleased that the Town Board recognized the importance of this issue to the community by filing for interested party status.” According to Mr. Lynch, approximately 40 residents from the towns of New Lebanon, Stephentown and East Nassau, as well as the Town of East Nassau have joined the suit.
Although not a named as a party in the Stephentown suit, Lebanon Valley Speedway owner Howard Commander, is involved in separate litigation involving the Speedway. In April of this year he initiated a lawsuit against the Town of New Lebanon asking the court to rule whether what he calls “overnight parking,” which is commonplace at the Speedway, meets the legal definition of a “campground” and whether he is required to obtain a license to operate from the county and a special permit from the town.
New Lebanon ZBA Chairman John Dax said the town has responded that the court lacks jurisdiction in the matter, since Mr. Commander has not exhausted all of the administrative remedies available to him and that his question should first be brought to the ZBA. A hearing is scheduled for August 12.
Mr. Commander’s lawsuit was brought after a year-long confrontation with the ZBA. Claiming that he already had a campground permit from the county Health Department, Mr. Commander filed an application with the ZBA for a special permit in March 2009. In May of that year, citing Mr. Commander’s application as still incomplete, ZBA Chairman Dax wrote to the Town Board requesting that the Zoning Enforcement Officer enforce town regulations that prohibit camping at the Speedway. Mr. Commander subsequently withdrew his application and commenced his legal action. In April of this year, the uncertainty surrounding the campground issue caused a promoter who had planned to hold a multi-day music festival at the Speedway to find another venue for that event.
Also in April of this year, the ZBA granted conditional approval of Mr. Commander’s application to operate a go-cart track at the Speedway.