Residents voice concerns regarding Kent Hollow Mine settlement reports
AMENIA — Within the first half hour of the Thursday, May 19, meeting, the Amenia Town Board heard multiple comments from concerned citizens regarding its decision to negotiate a settlement with Kent Hollow Mine.
Given their South Amenia Road home is adjacent to the mine’s entrance, Phil Sicker told the board he and his wife, Diane Zahler, had the utmost concern after town Supervisor Victoria Perotti told Zahler last month it planned to settle with the mine.
According to Zahler, Perotti said “after denying for the past decade Kent Hollow’s persistent attempts to restart its gravel mining operations, the Town Board is now negotiating a settlement that would allow the company to resume and expand its soil and rock extraction.”
Sicker told the board such an agreement would reverse a decade of careful guardianship of the Webutuck Valley by the Town Board and Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and flagrantly violate the zoning restrictions stipulated in the town’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan (CP).
He added both boards have upheld the mining restrictions defined in the CP in the past four years. In response, Sicker said Kent Hollow has resorted to coercive methods, bringing a lawsuit against the town and suing four ZBA members and three Town Board members, adding two Town Board members (Vicki Doyle and Leo Blackman) have been forced to recuse themselves from voting on anything related to Kent Hollow for fear of being personally sued.
“In short, Kent Hollow is now using threats to force the board to submit to their relentless, money-driven ambitions,” Sicker said. “It is legally and morally incumbent on the three non-recused members of the board to resist this pressure by refusing to negotiate a settlement when the Connecticut-based company has demonstrated dishonesty, ruthlessness and contempt for the town’s regulations.”
As reported in this paper’s May 5 article on the Town Board’s apparent willingness to settle, which Perotti denied and called untrue, Zahler said Perotti told her the town had decided to negotiate with Kent Hollow “because we’re tired of it and they’re tired of it.”
The town supervisor responded in that article, “There’s no settlement — I don’t know where all this came from.”
Sicker said any kind of settlement would be a “betrayal” to adjoining property owners, the CP and the Amenia citizens who elected the Town Board to uphold the law.
Having attended many ZBA meetings when Kent Hollow’s application was being approved, South Amenia Road resident Laurence Levin said the ZBA’s lawyer at the time did extensive research, proving Kent Hollow was not abiding by the rules and could not prove its use was grandfathered in and therefore allowed by the town’s zoning.
“As Phil pointed out, it is absurd to be trying to settle with Kent Hollow who have just lie[d] over the years, who have brought a couple of suits against the town,” she said. “You settle with them and you don’t think there will be other suits against the Town Board… I can tell you there are other people in the community who are ready to defend their rights and the zoning rules that should be applied in this case. There is no settlement to be had in this case.”
Perotti read a statement about the two protest petitions submitted to the town against the Kent Hollow Mine application in April by Zahler. Acknowledging that the deputy town clerk had received them, Perotti said the board wants to be clear that the Town Clerk’s Office hasn’t received any zoning petitions from Kent Hollow.
“The town of Amenia is in litigation with that owner, so we can’t comment on that litigation other than to say that the state court has encouraged the parties to have settlement discussions,” she said. “Because we have protest petitions without a zoning petition, we’re going to refer the protest petitions to our attorneys and ask them to provide the Town Board with guidance on how to proceed.
Perotti added Amenia’s zoning code requires that a public hearing be held on any zoning petitions, though the town hasn’t received any zoning petitions yet.
A soon-to-be Amenia resident looking to close on a property she recently purchased on South Amenia Road said the reason she moved to Wassaic from Red Hook in northern Dutchess County was the area has a good vibe.
“I feel this is an opportunity with so many creative and wonderful and down-to-earth people to really meet the needs of the people in the community,” said the newcomer. “A lot of people are moving here because it’s a rural place. Kent Hollow has moved in and made it move to more of its industrial past. I don’t think it’s going to lead us on the trajectory that’s going to be best for all of us residents in this area.”
Resident Paul Winters raised the area’s long history of mines and how the gravel is used to build homes and repair town roads.
Joe Brenner, a 30-year town resident, noted there are other sources of gravel and solving this issue isn’t just “a compromised solution to a problem.”
It goes beyond just a single mine and a single neighborhood, he said.
“I think we really have to look at this and say, ‘What impact is this going to have?’” he asked. “This is not just a business decision — this is a communal decision.”