Laws come and go, but suits go on

CHATHAM–The village board passed Local Law #2 of 2012 at a special meeting on August 28. The new law rescinds Local Law #1, which the board adopted in July, changing the zoning permit rules in the commercial district along Route 66 at the south end of the village.

Local Law #1 required new construction projects to obtain a special use permit to build in that part of the village. But the Village Board members said at the time they passed the law that the proposed Price Chopper building currently under site plan review by the village Planning Board was exempt from the permit requirement.

The board also exempted the recently approved site plan for the expansion of the Chatham Plaza, which plans to double the size of the supermarket space in the strip mall.

But the exemption was challenged by Cheryl Roberts, special counsel to the village Planning Board. She advised the Planning Board that the special permit requirement would apply.

That led Price Chopper to ask a state court to decide the exemption issue. Peter Lynch, a lawyer for the company, said they got two conflicting signals from the Village Board and the Planning Board. “We sought a direction from the court to tell us what to do,” Mr. Lynch told the Village Board this week at the public hearing before the vote to rescind the law.

Price Chopper’s decision to go to court convinced the Village Board to rescind the original permit law.

Village Attorney Nelson R. Alford said at the special meeting on Tuesday that the Village Board will review the zoning laws and make changes in future that should accomplish the same purpose as Local Law #1.

Mr. Alford said that passing Local Law #2 would end the Price Chopper litigation against the village but the issue of whether Price Chopper can build a new supermarket on the boundary between Ghent and Chatham will remain in the courts. That’s because the Hampshire Company, which owns the Chatham Plaza, is “renewing” its suit that seeks to overturn the decision by the Ghent Planning Board to approve the new market.

Hampshire and the Village of Chatham filed suit against Ghent early this year to overturn the Ghent Planning Board’s ruling on the state environmental review of the project. The Ghent Planning Board ruled that the project would have no negative environmental impact on the Town of Ghent or the Village of Chatham.

State Supreme Court Judge Patrick McGrath dismissed that suit, but Dan Tuczinski, a lawyer for Hampshire, told the Village Board at this week’s meeting that Hampshire is renewing its suit due to what he said is new evidence and an affidavit from a storeowner in the plaza about a conversation he had with Ghent Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Walters about the project before it was approved.

“We kept digging,” said Mr. Tuczinski, after the original law suit was rejected. He said they have found that evidence that Chairman Walters and a lawyer representing Price Chopper, Mitchell Khosrova, are “close friends,” and that Chairman Walters called Keith Knudsen, the owner of Route 66 Spirits in the Plaza, to talk about the project in the spring of 2011 asking for support of the project. “I felt it was odd and inappropriate,” Mr. Tuczinski read from Mr. Knudsen’s affidavit.

The Hampshire suit renewed by Mr. Tuczinski has a return date of September 7, and Mr. Tuczinski urged the board not to change Local Law #1, saying, “If you do this, you take away your planning board’s ability to review this” project. But the board voted unanimously to pass Local Law #2.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Mr. Tuczinski said that Hampshire is looking into what it can do next now that Local Law #1 has been rescinded and the Price Chopper site plans will be reviewed by the village Planning Board.

In an email to the Columbia Paper after the new law suit was filed, Chairman Walters wrote, “That Mitchell [Khosrova] and I are friends is no secret at all, including to Dan Tuczinski… I’ve lived in Ghent for almost 20 years now. Friends routinely come before the planning board, either as applicants or representing applicants. They all get the same treatment. In fact, Price Chopper has been put through an extremely rigorous review process as the Ghent Planning Board send them back to the drawing board for extensive revisions both on the design of the building and the landscaping around it. In fact, I can’t think of an applicant that we’ve been tougher on in my 15-plus years as chairman.”

The village Planning Board will meet again Monday, September 17 at 7:30 p.m. in the Tracy Memorial and the Village Board will meet Thursday September 6, also at 7:30 p.m. in the Tracy.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

Comments are closed.