COPAKE—No need to worry, Salvatore Cascino is no longer in the “recycling” business, his representative told the Copake Planning Board last week.
His message was that the board should not be suspicious or question whether the buildings Mr. Cascino has already illegally built on his 300-acre property and the new buildings he proposes to build there will be used for agricultural purposes—just as he says they will.
Mr. Cascino, 79, of Larchmont, Westchester County is a convicted felon who has spent the past 21 years amassing violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at a place he calls Copake Valley Farm, along the east side of Route 22.
Mr. Cascino’s right-hand man, David Wiener appeared before the Town Planning Board March 7, representing his boss in the matter of two site plan reviews. One review seeks site plan approval for existing buildings, some of which Mr. Cascino has already built without permission, and the second review seeks approval for three more new structures that will yield 64,200 square feet of enclosed or semi-enclosed space—all to be used in Mr. Cascino’s “farm operation known as Copake Valley Farm,” according to a proposed operating plan submitted by Mr. Wiener for the March meeting.
About 10 years ago, Mr. Cascino made application to the Copake Planning Board to build several massive structures including a 24,900 square-foot deep-bed composting pack barn, a grain dryer, two 70-foot-high grain silos and an 18,500 square-foot run-in shed. Back then, the board unanimously rejected the Cascino proposal citing a long list of reasons, such as Mr. Cascino’s history of misbehavior and his ongoing pattern of dumping construction and demolition debris under cover of an agricultural operation. The board also cited Mr. Cascino’s failure to provide information requested and, his ongoing legal entanglements with town, state and federal agencies. The board concluded that Mr. Cascino’s plan was not for farming.
Now, with the appearance of another similar Cascino master plan, Town Attorney Ken Dow told the board at the March meeting, “It’s more complicated than just looking at two maps.” It is the “burden of the applicant” to show there has been “a change in circumstances that could warrant reconsideration of the matter.”
During the 2008 site plan review, “there were a lot of credibility issues and the plans were not for a legitimate agricultural operation,” Mr. Dow noted. He has to “demonstrate a significant change, a change to the plans or the context.”
“How is the whole picture the same or different, that’s the first hurdle…If it was bad then, it is still bad,” the attorney said.
New construction proposed by Mr. Cascino includes the construction of a 24,900 square-foot barn for the care and management of cows and sheep and storage of feed and supplies; a 15,000 square-foot greenhouse for the year-round production of retail crops such as annual plants, herbs, small shrubs and possibly even hydroponic plants such as tomatoes to be sold through the farm store; and four overhangs which are 20- to 50-foot extensions off the top of existing exterior walls to provide moderate protection from the elements for feed and equipment.
Mr. Cascino proposes to sell greenhouse grown plants and vegetables, as well as beef and crops harvested from the field at the farm stand.
The operation plan says that “Up until now the farm has had to sell its beef and crops wholesale… The barn is essential because the farm has been limited to a herd of about 50 cattle without it. It is estimated that the herd can be expanded to 200 cattle with a barn in place.”
Planning Board member Marcia Becker, who was also on the board at the time of the 2008 application said, “the build-out of the site is pretty much the same with a different narrative.”
Mr. Dow said the bigger question is whether it is a bona fide farm that would allow Mr. Cascino to proceed under rules to protect farmers from restrictive local regulations.
Both Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight and Planning Board member Julie Cohen questioned the presence of the large composting grinder on the site. Mr. Haight asked if the grinder was going to be part of the new proposed operation. Mr. Wiener first said he wasn’t sure, then said “no” it’s not part of the operation plan. Ms. Cohen wanted to know if it would be removed from the site. Mr Wiener said he was not sure if Mr. Cascino would pay someone to remove it.
Given the years of illegal dumping that have taken place on the property, Ms. Cohen wondered aloud if the land was safe to grow crops or raise animals there.
The board discussed Mr. Cascino’s latest round of illegal dumping—9,650 cubic yards of pulverized solid waste. Mr. Cascino spent 572 days in the Columbia County Jail because he failed to comply with a judge’s order to remove it in connection with a contempt lawsuit brought by the Town of Copake. Mr. Cascino was finally released while a State Appellate Court decided his appeal. That court found that the judge’s order to remove the offending material was not precise enough about the location of the material that was to be removed. The court did not find that all the material had been removed.
When board members questioned Mr. Wiener about the specifics of the new proposed operation, such as traffic, space and run-off, Mr. Wiener countered that the plan is still in its conceptual stage, saying, “Let’s look at the whole picture.” He said the questions contradicted what the state Department of Agriculture and Markets calls for and are premature.
Mr. Wiener asked the board, “Where are we?” on the question of whether the board considered the application to be for a genuine agricultural application.
The board responded with more questions: Where are the animals? What crops will be grown? Is there enough acreage to support the proposed operation? What about the 100-year flood plain, the Noster Kill and the wetlands?
Because much of the matter relates to credibility, Mr. Dow told the board it had the authority to compel the attendance of witnesses and administer oaths for sworn testimony.
To quell speculation about Mr. Cascino’s further use of the property as a dumping ground, Mr. Wiener said that in 2012 Mr. Cascino “exited the recycling business” known as, Bronx County Recycling, 475 Exterior Street in the Bronx.
As part of a court settlement in a case involving the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Mr. Cascino pleaded guilty to one count of felony second degree offering a false instrument on behalf of his corporations as part of a plea deal in Albany County Supreme Court in June 2012. As part of that deal he was ordered to relinquish any permits for recycling operations that he had, which means he could no longer operate or be associated with the operation of his waste-hauling business, Bronx County Recycling at 475 Exterior Street in the Bronx.
Mr. Wiener said Mr. Cascino rented the facility to another party who continued in the recycling business. But now the property along with neighboring lots have been or will be leveled to make room for a complex of 2,000 apartments along the Harlem River.
In a February 12 story in The New York Post, Lois Weiss reported, “The giant Bronx site at 475 Exterior St., aka 60 E. 149th St., stretches for 725 feet along the river between the 145th Street Bridge and an upcoming city park. A 764,000-square-foot project can be developed there, and it is likely slated for hundreds of rental apartments and local retail. (Condominiums are not built on rented land.) The zoning also allows schools, offices and hotels…
“The site owner, River Edge Realty, an entity of Bronx County Recycling, bought it in 1992 for $6,400, and other city documents show it signed a 49-year lease with a 50-year extension in mid-January. The start date of the lease was not publicly recorded, and no one returned a message left at its Bronx offices.
“A person who answered the phone at the location, New York Recycling, said it has a 20-year lease and has no relation to the landowner.”
The site owner was identified as Salvatore Cascino in the story and his “thorny relationship” with Copake was referenced.
The Cascino applications will come up again at the next Planning Board meeting April 4, when Mr. Wiener has been asked to produce records of the sale of cattle and crops and the lease of land for farming that has been going on there for several years according to Mr. Wiener.
To contact Diane Valden email