LAKE PLACID - The town of North Elba believes its land-use code applies to boathouses on Lake Placid lake. The Grimditch family disagrees and has proceeded with building one of its two disputed boathouses without getting a permit.
The town has already issued two criminal summonses to the contractor and carpenters, and intends to continue to do so every day construction continues.
Acting state Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer rescinded an injunction blocking construction at the end of last year. The town plans to ask Meyer to reconsider, and town officials are not happy with the family's decision to keep building.
Construction workers build the smaller of the Grimditch family’s two boathouses on the east shore of Lake Placid Tuesday.
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Shore Owners Association)
"I'm very concerned that we could wind up in a situation where we have a set of rules for the common people in town and a special set of rules, or maybe no rules at all, for the rich and powerful," town Councilman Bob Miller said Wednesday. "I think that's why we're fighting this battle. It's not a tolerable situation."
Miller said the town would "fight this tooth and nail, and in the end, we'll have them tear that boathouse down."
"It's unimaginable that in 2011, that someone would attempt to build a boathouse, a very expensive boathouse, without getting a building permit and just flaunt the clear mandates of the state building code," said town Attorney Ron Briggs.
As well as handling the civil case for the town, the Essex County district attorney's office has authorized Briggs to prosecute the contractor, Dan Nardiello of Red Wing Construction, and his two carpenters, Mike Carpenter and Tom Senters, in town court.
The Grimditches' attorney, James Brooks of Lake Placid, is arguing that Lake Placid, as a navigable body of water, falls under state jurisdiction and not the town's. Brooks cites a 2003 case, Higgins v. Douglas, in which the appellate division of the state Supreme Court ruled that North Elba didn't have jurisdiction over the construction of a dock on the lake.
Citing state navigation law, the court ruled in 2003 that the dock's installation was legal even though it was done without a permit and violated the code's setback provisions. Four years later, however, in Beneke v. the Town of Santa Clara, the same third department of the court ruled that Santa Clara did have jurisdiction over a boathouse on Upper Saranac Lake.
The smaller of the two boathouses is on a 50-foot-wide lot owned by William Grimditch's children, Wayne Grimditch and Carol Grimditch-Roda. Materials were delivered there on Jan. 19, according to Code Enforcement Officer Jim Morganson. Morganson said he issued a stop-work order the next day, and he and Briggs sent out letters saying construction, even though the injunction had been lifted, would still be a violation of state building codes because there were no building permits.
"No one can complain they weren't aware they were in violation of the state code," Morganson said.
Morganson saw the construction was still ongoing on Jan. 21, at which point Briggs prepared a misdemeanor complaint and supporting deposition, and the town court issued criminal summonses against Nardiello, Carpenter and Senters. Carpenter and Senters could not be located, but Nardiello was, and pleaded not guilty in town court Monday night. Brooks appeared as Nardiello's attorney.
Construction continued, and second summonses were issued Tuesday. Morganson wasn't able to serve the summonses earlier Wednesday because he couldn't physically reach the men from the shoreline, but he said later that afternoon that he had been able to serve Nardiello. Briggs said he planned to file additional criminal charges later Wednesday.
"We will continue to do that every day they flaunt and arrogantly defy the law," Briggs said.
Each violation is considered a separate misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, a year in jail or both.
Brooks did not return a message by press time. Listed telephone numbers for Carpenter and Senters could not be found, and Nardiello referred comment to Brooks. Miller said he was "disappointed" with Nardiello, who a few years ago was president of the school board when Miller served on it.
"I really would've thought he would've cared more about this community than that," Miller said. "It's a very sorry situation."
The Grimditches have been building two boathouses on the eastern shore of Lake Placid. Morganson initially issued a stop-work order in September 2010. Meyer then issued an order barring any construction except for the caissons, support piers and decking.
Meyer also ordered Grimditch to apply for permits within 10 days, and he set a time frame for the Joint Review Board to review the project and determine whether a permit should be issued.
The town appealed this part of the order. Briggs said this part of the order was halted by the appeal, since the town and review board are government agencies and there is an automatic stay on an order's enforcement when the state or a government agency appeals, but that the ban on construction was not affected.
Brooks filed paperwork to have the injunction lifted at the end of December, which Meyer did. Briggs said Wednesday he believes the law is "crystal clear" and said he will file motions asking Meyer to reconsider.
"The effect of it seemed to give the Grimditches a green light, even though they still don't have a permit, and it's a crime to proceed with construction without a permit," Briggs said.
Mark Wilson, president of the Lake Placid Shore Owners Association, said he normally wouldn't comment on a case involving a member but that there could be "a real threat to the shoreline of the lake" in this case.
"As far as the shoreowners are concerned, we are strongly in favor of the town of North Elba pursuing this case to a point where it is determined the municipal land-use code has jurisdiction over shoreline building," Wilson said.
Wilson said he hopes a court will order the boathouses removed, and the Grimditches could then proceed "through proper channels" to get their boathouses permitted. Wilson said he also has concerns about the smaller boathouse itself, and doubted it would be allowed under town code.
"There's nothing else on that parcel," Wilson said. "The boathouse dimensions, as they are currently being built, far exceed the allowability of a boathouse. The setbacks have been breached on both sides."
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.