What’s this ‘farmer’ really growing?

COPAKE—If at first you don’t succeed, stall, stall again.

That seems to be Salvatore Cascino’s strategy for dealing with the Copake Planning Board’s request for information members need to help them decide if Mr. Cascino is really the farmer he claims to be.

Mr. Cascino’s right-hand man, David Wiener, appeared for the second time in two months at the Planning Board’s most recent meeting, representing his boss on two site plan reviews. One review seeks site plan approval for existing buildings, which Mr. Cascino has already built on his 300-acre property, some 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 in March.

Mr. Cascino, 79, of Larchmont, Westchester County is a convicted felon who, over the past 21 years, has amassed violations of federal, state and town laws for illegal dumping, building and excavating at the place he calls Copake Valley Farm at 13 Lackawanna Road. The property extends along the east side of Route 22.

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 ignoring the law and his ongoing pattern of dumping construction and demolition debris under the guise 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 at that time that Mr. Cascino’s plan was not for farming. Mr. Cascino sued to overturn the ruling, but the Planning Board’s decision was upheld.

The new proposal 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 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 at the farm stand, as well as beef and crops harvested from the field.

Since Mr. Wiener told the board last month that Mr. Cascino has been strictly a farmer since 2003, raising and selling beef cattle and leasing the land to someone for crops, the Planning Board asked him to produce receipts or some documentation of the operation during that time period.

What Mr. Wiener did was show three receipts, which he then took back, and then discussed how “putting forth revenues and receipts” was “going into a gray area,” “setting a precedent,” and “getting into a lot of confidential information.”

Reading from his notes Mr. Wiener talked about whether business was good or bad since 2012 and mentioned some dollar amounts connected with leasing the land, selling cattle and buying sheep.

When asked for documentation in the form of bank statements, cattle sales, hay, feed or veterinary receipts, or lease agreements, Mr. Wiener said, “a lot got lost when I was in the hospital and Sal was in jail.”

You need to figure out some way to tell me this is a farm,” said Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight.

You say you have been farming there since 2003… and you bring me three receipts?” the chairman said.

Town Attorney Ken Dow reiterated that the board concluded 10 years ago that Mr. Cascino was not operating a farm because his information was not credible nor was it consistent with an agricultural operation. The attorney said the only way the board is going to reconsider the matter is if Mr. Cascino “can show circumstances have changed and that he has been doing agriculture.

If farming has been going on for years then you have to have evidence of accounts; you don’t throw that stuff away,” said the attorney, adding “if you are audited you have to have it.”

Mr. Wiener continued to hesitate, saying, “I don’t know if it is appropriate to release tax returns.”

Mr. Dow noted, “The board isn’t trying to get into business secrets.”

Mr. Haight said the “big grinder” that still sits adjacent to one of the buildings on the property should not be stored there. He said he would call for “a stipulation that it be removed.”

Mr. Wiener said the grinder had been purchased with the understanding that composting could be done on the farm, but now that “entire scenario has been abandoned.”

At the end of the half an hour back and forth, Mr. Haight asked Mr. Wiener to submit whatever proof he had for the board 10 days before the next meeting, May 2.

Also at its April 4 meeting, the Planning Board heard from a hydrologist/hydrogeologist that runoff from a proposed Craryville gas station could contaminate water for miles around. The presentation in connection with the GRJH, Inc. site plan will be covered in an upcoming issue of The Columbia Paper.

To contact Diane Valden email

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