Court ruling clears way for Ginsberg’s

Judge Koweek dismisses suits, orders permit

HUDSON–Acting state Supreme Court Judge Richard Koweek has reportedly ordered the Ghent Planning Board to issue a permit for the construction of a 50-foot tall warehouse and garage on a 33-acre site along state Route 66 that straddles the line between the Towns of Claverack and Ghent.

The order stemmed from a decision in one of four related legal actions, three of which were filed by neighbors of the proposed structure seeking to block construction of the facility by Ginsberg’s, a regional wholesale food distributor with headquarters in Claverack. Those three suits were dismissed by Judge Koweek May 22.

The fourth suit was brought by Ginsberg’s, which challenged the decision the Ghent Planning Board to deny Ginsberg’s the permit it needed to begin construction. The lawyer for the Ginsberg’s said the judge called the denial by the Planning Board “arbitrary and capricious,” saying it was contradicted by facts developed by the Planning Board during its review of Ginsberg’s application for the permit.

Charles Malcomb of the Albany law firm Hodgson Russ LLP, who represented Ginsberg’s, called the judge’s ruling “very thorough.” He said he was not aware the company required any further permits before beginning construction on the project.

John Brusie, vice president of operations at Ginsberg’s said this week, “We’re very pleased with the decision and look forward to working with the towns to expand our business.”

Ken Dow, attorney for the neighbors, said late Tuesday that he had not had a chance to thoroughly read and assess the decisions. He said that one of the key decisions in the cases was that the judge had reversed the decision of the Ghent Planning Board, which denied the permit.

In the suits, called Article 78 petitions, that Mr. Dow filed for Thomas Runyon, Ronald Cardis, Richard Harrison, Cecile Harrison and others who own homes located close to the site, he argued that the Ghent Planning Board erred at the beginning of the review process, when the board determined that the project would have no significant environmental impact.

The neighbors also said that the Ghent Zoning Board of Appeals should not have given Ginsberg’s a variance that will allow the company to remove 50,000 cubic yards of soil from the section of the project located in Ghent, nor should it have permitted a structure 15 feet taller than the 35-foot limit contained in Ghent’s zoning code. In their third suit the neighbors argued that the Claverack Planning Board should not have granted Ginsberg’s a special use permit.

In his ruling, Judge Koweek dismissed all three of the neighbors’ suits and reversed the actions of the Ghent Planning Board.

The project has had strong support from the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), the nonprofit authority created by the county to foster and, in some cases, help fund, business development. But the Ginsberg case generated controversy not only because of the neighbors’ suits. The land for the project, which was owned by CEDC, was donated to Ginsberg’s $1, although it was appraised at $280,000. That led to questions about CEDC’s decision, though the deal has a provision requiring Ginsberg’s to pay for the land if it does not fulfill its promise to build, staff and operate the cold storage warehouse and other operations at the site.

The project came under additional scrutiny when the CEDC was recently investigated by the state Authorities Budget Office. That agency’s report said that the land transfer to Ginsberg’s complied with state law. But the investigation concluded that three prominent businessmen and a local lawyer who served on the CEDC board of directors had potential conflicts of interest because of their connection to the Ginsberg’s Foods deal. One of the four was David Ginsberg, an owner of Ginsberg’s. He was president of the board when the project was initiated, but the investigation found that he had not participated in discussions of the plan and resigned from the board.

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