STONY POINT – A minor zoning dispute has blown up into a drama between Stony Point Town Engineer Kevin Maher, Chief Building & Zoning Inspector William Sheehan, and the Town’s Zoning Board, with Maher claiming the Zoning Board is ignoring a safety hazard in the town.
In an Article 78 filing submitted to the NY Supreme Court recently, Maher sought to block a decision made by the members of the Town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Maher alleged the Zoning Board improperly decided a stand of trees at 133 Central Highway did not pose a significant risk to drivers.
According to Maher’s complaint, the Zoning Board not only ignored evidence of the alleged danger, but also his own position as town engineer when they denied his appeal. “It is the petitioner’s contention that the resolution of the ZBA is arbitrary, capricious, in error of law and unsupported by substantial evidence to the contrary,” The brief stated.
The conflict began in August, when property owners Erich and Kimberly Von Hein applied for a variance to leave the trees in their front yard. Kimberly Von Hein told the Rockland County Times that the trees had been there the entire 19 years her family has owned the property and for years before, so they reasoned they might be grandfathered in. However, Sheehan ruled that so long as the trees remain trimmed and pruned properly they did not violate any zoning codes, and the variance was withdrawn.
Maher, who lives across the street from the Central Highway property, replied by photographing the area and submitting it to the Zoning Board in an appeal to Sheehan’s ruling, but the Zoning Board rejected his position. Later, in December, Maher submitted an application of standing to appeal the Board’s decision on the trees, but failed when they unanimously voted in February to deny his appeal.
Ruffling some feathers in Town Hall, Maher intends to challenge the Zoning Board’s decision in his supposed capacity as a town official. The suit alleges that when he attempted to appeal the Board’s decision, he was hindered by their conclusion he had no standing to appeal given he rented his residence in Stony Point and was not a property owner and their opinion that town engineer is not legally considered a “town official.”
The Town Board has backed Sheehan and the Zoning Board on the matter. Commenting to the Rockland County Times, Town Supervisor Geoffrey Finn stated the town had faith in the decision-making process of the board and considered the suit a “waste of taxpayer money.” The town has moved to have the case dismissed.
Finn briefly addressed the matter at a recent town board meeting, stating that he was aware a report would be coming out in the Rockland County Times and expressing dismay that a town employee would sue the town’s Zoning Board in Supreme Court over a “neighborly dispute.” At the same meeting, Democrat Finn and the Republican-majority board voted against Maher’s request that the town hire an assistant for his office.
Maher has taken some heat on social message boards and in the political community for pursuing the case, which will cost the town an unknown amount to handle.
Von Hein believes Maher is not worried about safety, so much as antagonizing her family. She claims, “This is a personal attack — if you pulled up our minutes from the Zoning Board hearing, you would see we spent a lot of time explaining why we even were called in for the hearing.”
Kimberly Von Hein said Maher moved in to his home in January 2009 and started complaining about various things on her property July 2009, following an argument over a party at her house.
For example, in the summer of 2013, Von Hein said Maher filed a complaint about her family’s portable “blow-up” pool and she was forced to buy a pool permit. Her husband had received several citations for parking his commercial pick-up in their private driveway thanks to complaints from Maher’s address, she said.
Maher has compiled voluminous files in his complaints against the Von Heins. His Article 78 for the tree line dispute alone is 303 pages long. When he was upset over the Von Hein’s pickup truck, he took over 100 pictures and submitted them to the town, Kimberly Von Hein said.
Von Hein also said Maher clipped one of her trees and sent a sample to Cornell Cooperative Extension to confirm what breed it was.
“I can’t even look across the street at their house,” Von Hein said. “[In 19 years] never, never, never have we had this much drama on our property against us.”
Maher said he cannot comment on the Article 78 or his disagreements with the Von Heins while the case is still in court. Some have defended Maher on the Rockland County Times message board, claiming the Von Heins have been equal partners in the neighborly grudge match.
In the Article 78, Maher contends the trees are a sight line obstruction on a road where drivers frequently speed. Answering denials that the area ever had seen an accident relatable to the trees, Maher stated three prior accidents were relevant.
In its rejection of Maher’s appeal, the Zoning Board contended the accidents described are either unconnected to the trees or hearsay. According to the claims in their decision, one was unrecorded by police, another had nothing to do with the sight line and the last took place at a completely different intersection.
However, Maher countered in his filing that two eyewitnesses and an additional witness corroborate his claims. Maher also included correspondences from the Rockland County Highway Department that he said support his conclusion the intersection is unsafe.
“With two different letters, the Rockland County Highway Department expressed their concern about the conditions at the intersection of Central Highway and Sullivan Drive caused by the excessive vegetation in the front yard of the cited property (#133 Central Highway) and their reluctance to support any variance from the Town’s Zoning Code in regard to the treatment of the vegetation,” The brief alleges.
Von Hein told the Rockland County Times, “The record should be straight that no accident has happened on this corner.”