Phoenicia Library and town officials blast neighbor's lawsuit

By Jay Braman Jr.
The attorneys representing the Town of Shandaken against a lawsuit filed over the expansion of the Phoenicia Library have fired back a scathing response to the allegations made by the neighbors of the property who want to stop the project.

At the same time, library officials have launched a pubic relations campaign designed to drum up support at a hearing this month for plans to expand the library building.

Prepared by the law firm of Jacobowitz and Gubits, LLP of Walden, and made public on February 25, the response is to a lawsuit filed by the neighbors of the library, located on Main Street in the business district of Phoenicia.

That lawsuit, filed in January by Marietta Hofmeister, owner of Morne Imports and Wilfred Nolte, owner of the Phoenicia Delicatessen, complains that the Shandaken Zoning Board of Appeals gave the library several variances without good reason.

“The desire to increase the size and extend the structure to further encroach into restrictive setback limitations…..is a difficulty self-created by the applicant (library) and vitiates its application,” the lawsuit states.

It also claims the zoning board wrongfully overrode a recommendation from the Ulster County Planning Board to get more information about the project before making a decision.
But the town’s lawyers dismiss all of claims made by Hofmeister and Nolte, calling them “hysterical allegations,” “mean spirited,” and “shrill hyperbole.”

The hardship, the lawyers say, was created when the building was gutted by fire two years ago.
“Contrary to petitioners hysterical allegations and based on substantial evidence in the record, that was not refuted by competent evidence from petitioners, the ZBA properly found that the March 19, 2011 fire created the hardship and that the expansion of the library was required in order to comply with the Americans with Disability Act,” the town’s document states.

Also, according to the same document, the zoning board’s vote on the variances was solid.
“Contrary to petitioners claim, a super majority vote is not required to override a county planning board’s advisory comments or recommendations,” it states. “…an extraordinary vote…is only required where a county planning board recommends modifications to the plan or recommends disapproval of the plan.”

In general, the town’s lawyers believe that Hofmeister and Nolte do not have anything to backup their claims, saying, “Petitioners offer absolutely no evidence, expert or otherwise, that their concerns are other than generalized community complaints.”

The zoning board gave the library five variances in December. One is for the lack of parking facilities, another for building more total square footage than is allowed, a third for building too close to the front set back and two more for building too close to the side setbacks.
The latter variances would allow the library to build within only a couple feet of the delicatessen, and right on the property line of Morne Imports.

The Phoenicia Library Association has circulated a position statement called, “Why is the Library Being Sued?” that offers an explanation for why they need to expand.
That information can be viewed on the libraries website, www.phoenicialibrary.org.