COPAKE—Salvatore Cascino is at it again.
With the world focused on the coronavirus it was possible that no one would notice… but someone did.
Copake Councilman Stanley “Stosh” Gansowski, Mr. Cascino’s neighbor, announced at the Town Board’s April 14 meeting, convened via Zoom video conference, that the Town’s Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Lee Heim had issued Mr. Cascino a Stop Work Order April 10. Mr. Gansowski is the Town Board liaison to the building inspector/code enforcement officer.
Without the required building permit or a site plan review Mr. Cascino had a construction crew on his property erecting a new greenhouse.
Mr. Cascino, 80, of Larchmont, Westchester County is a convicted felon who has spent the past 22 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.
In a followup phone call last week, Mr. Gansowski said he saw the illegal building going on and alerted both Mr. Heim and Planning Board Chairman Bob Haight.
In an email exchange provided to The Columbia Paper, Mr. Heim questioned Mr. Cascino’s righthand man, David Weiner about what was being built at the property. Mr. Weiner responded that it was a greenhouse and emailed Mr. Heim a copy of the building plans.
The plans say the structure is a 35-foot-wide series 2000 Greenhouse developed by ClearSpan in Dyersville, Iowa. The structure is almost 19 feet high at its peak. The plans do not indicate the length of the structure, but in Mr. Weiner’s recent dealings with the Planning Board on Mr. Cascino’s behalf, he provided a “master plan” for full site development, which included mention of a 15,000-square-foot greenhouse. If this current illegal structure is that same greenhouse, then the length would have to be about 428 feet.
Mr. Weiner told the building inspector in an April 2 email exchange that “Our understanding from the Ag Department is that a farm does not need a permit to build a greenhouse.”
On April 10, Mr. Heim issued a Notice of Violation to Mr. Cascino, telling him that the greenhouse is being built without a Town Building Permit and without the necessary Town Planning Board approval. The notice directs Mr. Cascino to “stop work immediately and correct all violations within 30 days of receipt of this notice. Failure to comply with Town Law can result in a fine of $250/day and imprisonment.”
Planning Board Chairman Haight, a contractor by trade, noted in the email provided, that the Governor had closed down all non-essential construction sites and violators could face fines up to $10,000.
Since March 2019, the Planning Board has been reviewing a site plan connected with the Cascino property. The review involves the “master plan” for the property and seeks site plan approval for existing buildings that Mr. Cascino built and/or expanded in 2013 without permission. Mr. Cascino was ordered by a court to get building permits (certificates of occupancy) after-the-fact when the town entered into a settlement agreement with Mr. Cascino in March 2017. Under the agreement, Mr. Cascino was to pay the town a $25,000 civil penalty, then, within 60 days, was to comply with the town building code and go through the processes required to apply for and secure building permits for the structures, which may involve appearances before the Town Planning Board and/or the Zoning Board of Appeals, with no guarantee that the permits would be issued. If he did not do that, then he would have to pay a $10,000 civil penalty for each violation, according to the agreement.
The buildings included two large, windowless, square, flat-roofed, concrete-block buildings sided with red wooden boards and one concrete-block garage near the house.
Mr. Cascino’s current “master plan” for the property involves the construction of three new structures yielding 64,200 square feet of enclosed or semi-enclosed space to be used in Mr. Cascino’s “farm operation known as Copake Valley Farm,” according to an operating plan submitted to the board by Mr. Weiner.
In addition to the 15,000 square-foot greenhouse for the year-round production of retail crops such as annual plants, herbs, small shrubs and possibly hydroponic plants to be sold through the farm store, Mr. Cascino wants to build a 24,900-square-foot barn for the care and management of cows and sheep and storage of feed and supplies 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.
About 10 years ago, Mr. Cascino made application to the 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 on appeal.
Given Mr. Cascino’s prior history dating back more than two decades of illegal deeds, criminal contempt, incarceration, litigation and appeals involving town, state and federal agencies, the Planning Board was skeptical about his true intentions with regard to this latest proposal and sought proof that his farming operation existed. The board asked for financial records, purchase and sales receipts and lease agreements. For many months Mr. Cascino failed to provide the Planning Board with the information needed to reach a determination about whether his farm was real.
‘We have codes.’
Bob Haight, chairman
Copake Planning Board
When the Planning Board told Mr. Cascino his time to produce evidence was running out, Mr. Cascino decided to bypass the Planning Board and instead enlisted the aid of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag and Markets) in June 2019 to decide the matter. In September 2019, Department of Ag and Markets Director Michael Latham sent the town a letter, in which he wrote, “Based upon our site visit and from information provided by CVF [Copake Valley Farm], the department has concluded that the agricultural activities and structures observed by department staff were in an amount and scope consistent with a crop and livestock operation of this size; are part of a farm operation, and the activity is protected under AML [Ag and Markets Law]… The department is issuing this letter in an attempt to assist CVF and the Town in the review of CVF’s site plan application.”
At the Planning Board’s January 2 meeting, board members acknowledged the Ag and Markets determination that the Cascino property is a farm, but still noted their obligation under the law to see that all town codes relating to agricultural operations are complied with.
Mr. Weiner appeared at the January meeting with Mr. Cascino’s latest attorney, Michael H. Sussman of Goshen, Orange County.
At that meeting Planning Board Chairman Haight raised questions about:
• Whether the size of Mr. Cascino’s proposed barn was appropriate for the number of livestock he has and
• Why Mr. Cascino has heavy equipment on the property, such as an asphalt roller, large grinding apparatus, excavators and a jackhammer, none of which are associated with a typical farm operation.
Mr. Sussman asked the board about whether it is part of the review process “to tell an individual what they can and can’t have?”
“We have codes,” said Mr. Haight, adding that if the place is a farm then the barns and equipment must be used for farming, otherwise it’s a change of use and if he’s storing other things—that does change it.
Planning Board Attorney Ken Dow pointed out that if Mr. Cascino’s buildings store construction equipment, then he is not entitled to the benefits afforded agricultural operations.
Other ongoing violations on the property were discussed, such as continuing work on the farm stand without a permit, including the installation of ramps, railings and a whole new septic system completed without inspection or permits from the County Health Department.
The board also made reference to a section of the Town Code that says that if violations exist on a property, the board cannot consider and the building inspector cannot issue permits for any additional work on that property.
At the board’s March 5 meeting, discussion continued about Mr. Cascino’s failure to secure a building permit for additional work he did on the farm stand, as well as his failure to apply for proper permits from the Columbia County Department of Health or submit plans for the farm stand septic system he installed; and his illegal installation of “big pole lights” in the Scenic Corridor Overlay Zone for which another earlier stop-work order was issued.
An April 22 email from The Columbia Paper to Mr. Sussman asking for comment about his client’s move to go ahead with building a greenhouse without a building permit or completion of the site plan review, did not receive a response.
The Planning Board did not meet in April due to the coronavirus, but does plan to meet via Zoom video conference sometime in May.
To contact Diane Valden email