Silo Ridge residents re-file 42 lawsuits against Amenia
AMENIA — A minimum of 42 lawsuits have been re-filed against the town of Amenia by residents of the exclusive Silo Ridge Field Club, located off of Route 22 not far from the Wassaic Metro-North Train Station. The suits claim the homeowners have been unfairly assessed, costing them millions of dollars in property taxes.
According to town Supervisor Victoria Perotti, technically the 42 lawsuits are not new, but rather have merely been resubmitted following the town’s Grievance Day.
Grievance Day is held on the fourth Tuesday in May in the town of Amenia and allows property owners to voice complaints about their property assessments before the town’s appointed three-member Board of Assessment Review (BAR).
Perotti said the Silo Ridge homeowners “want to pay less taxes and have their assessments lowered. Apparently they don’t feel that fair market values and sales are a good indicator of what they should be paying in taxes.”
The roughly 42 lawsuits were all filed individually rather than as a class action, the majority by the same law firm, Herman Katz Cangemi Wilkes & Cly in Tarrytown and Melville.
“I have no idea why they’re not filing as a class action lawsuit,” said Perotti. “All I know is it’s costing the taxpayers a lot of money… the lawsuits are not settled and the attorneys’ fees are just going to be building. We already did a settlement once in 2019, and they’re still suing. I think it shows that they did not agree to the settlement in good faith, and they really don’t care about how it affects the local taxpayer because they want what they want.”
A bit of history
In fact, in 2019, Silo Ridge challenged the town’s community-wide reassessment, which included raising the luxury development’s assessment by $300 million. The Town Board later agreed to reduce that figure by $90 million, and yet the development returned with another plea for a lower value. It emailed Assessor Christopher Boryk on April 13, 2020 with the request, which he forwarded to the Town Board shortly afterward.
“Attached please find a proposal from Silo Ridge requesting major reductions in their assessments,” Boryk wrote. “As the letter from Discovery indicates they are struggling and may pull out of the project. The PDF presentation equates to roughly a 55% reduction in the single family lots. There are no sales to support this claim. I believe that the request for 55% reduction is excessive.”
According to Perotti, Boryk doesn’t think Silo Ridge or its residents have a leg to stand on.
“Actually, the assessor went through every property and did an evaluation of every property and we’re at 100% valuation, so every property has been looked at,” she said. “That’s exactly what we’re trying to do; that’s why this Town Board has dug in its heels and has been adamant about defending Amenia against the outrageous claims. In order to protect all the local residents, the Amenia Town Board declined to renegotiate a lower settlement.”
A statement from Silo Ridge
Juan Torres, a partner with Silo Ridge Ventures LLC and a principal for Stone Leaf Construction, the builder behind Silo, stressed the development itself is not suing the town. He made the following comment about the lawsuits that were recently re-filed by Silo residents.
“I have not filed any cases for Silo Ridge, although I am aware of many that have been filed by owners who believe they are over-assessed,” said Torres. “I do not know the status of those cases but assume they will work their way through the judicial process. While Silo Ridge as developer cannot comment on individual owners’ views about pending tax appeals, it is our understanding that, by law, the basis for local taxation is limited to the value of real estate alone…”
The tension of the June 22 Amenia Republican Primary and the birth of the new independent party that was formed for the 2021 election season, Amenia Strong, highlighted the assessment issue and an original set of lawsuits against the town. Amenia Strong was heavily backed by Silo Ridge and put forth candidates with deep Silo connections. Both the Silo Ridge Field Club and three individual residents (two of whom work for and with Silo, including Torres) have filed lawsuits against the town.
The first lawsuit that was filed was the matter of the Application of Silo Ridge Condominium I, Petitioner, against the Board of Assessors and/or the Assessor of the Town of Amenia and the Board of Assessment Review, Respondents, filed on June 7, 2020, Index Number 2020-51739. It was filed by the Silo Ridge development.
Torres said Silo wasn’t suing the town but rather filed a “legal challenge” against Amenia. Filing a legal challenge is typically the first step in filing a lawsuit.
The second lawsuit was the filed by Juan Torres, Julie Doran and her estranged husband, Peter Doran, for a Judgment Pursuant to Article 78 of the Civil Practice of Law and Rules against the Christopher Boryk, Assessor of the Town of Amenia, Town of Amenia Board of Assessment Review, Dawn Marie Klingner, Town Clerk/Records Access Officer, Town of Amenia and Town Board, Town of Amenia, Respondents. It was filed on Oct. 19, 2020; the Index Number for that case is 2020-53511.
Both Torres and Julie Doran, who also happens to be an Amenia Strong candidate for town supervisor (she lost the Republican primary to Perotti, 120 to 109, but as an independent candidate secured a spot on the November ballot), told this newspaper the suit was filed on behalf of all town residents to appeal what they believed was an unfair assessment process.
“Any system of assessment should ensure fairness,” said Torres. “I don’t believe what Amenia does is fair. On top of that, when I have asked Amenia for information through FOIL [Freedom of Information Law], the town largely ignored the requests. This shows a complete lack of transparency. Government should work for its citizens, not the other way around.”
Torres went on to state that “I filed a tax case for my personal home in Amenia, where I live. In addition, I and others filed a case challenging the entire system of assessment. I am convinced that the system is unlawful, because it picks ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ based on no system at all across the entire town. A court will decide if I am correct or incorrect. Filing such cases is the right of any property owner and, you will see if you look, I am not alone in thinking that our town officials have not addressed a serious problem.”
When asked for clarification on his statement, Torres, who lives on Route 22 and not inside the Silo Ridge development, expanded.
“Across the entire town, constituents are being over-assessed or under-assessed without rhyme or reason,” he said. “So some people are overpaying and others are underpaying.”
Currently the Article 78 lawsuit filed by the three co-litigants is in the Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Dutchess.
According to Warren J. Wheeler, executive director of the New York State Assessors Association in Liverpool, N.Y., the only way to challenge a grieved assessment is through the courts; only a judge can reverse a BAR’s decision.
Additionally, Wheeler said cases like the 42 lawsuits that have been re-filed by the Silo residents are often seen by the courts as “frivolous.” Many of those lawsuits are seeking their property values be reduced from the multi-millions of dollars down to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In one instance, a homeowner is suing the town for his home to be revalued from $3,050,000 to $305,000 and in another a pair of homeowners are suing for their house to be reappraised from $4,499,800 to $449,980. Those are just two among many very similar examples.
“Courts do not look lovingly upon litigants who profess that kind of damage,” said Wheeler. “When the BAR makes their decisions, in almost all instances they are upheld by courts. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to say they should have been 10% lower, but for something like this, it is looked upon as being frivolous.”
Dollars and cents
At last count, the two initial lawsuits had cost town taxpayers roughly $75,000 in legal fees, and that was only as of June. By mid-July, more attorneys fees had added up for the town, including another $30,560.35 worth.
Reporter Carol Kneeland contributed to this article.