Judge orders Johnstown review Jam permit
Hearing held on lawsuit to halt concert
JOHNSTOWN A judge is ordering the Northampton Town Board to meet before Wednesday afternoon and review an application for a music event the town is fighting to prevent.
The town filed a lawsuit April 30 asking for a court order to stop Deborah Bant from advertising and holding the Mama Strawberry Jam, scheduled to begin Thursday.
The town contends its new zoning enacted in 2012 prohibits events in residential zones, including the area where Bant’s Solid Rock Ranch horse rescue is located. She contends she’s been holding events there to raise money to care for rescued horses for a decade and she believes that continued use of her property is allowed, as it predates the zoning changes.
Following a hearing Monday, state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Sise said the Solid Rock Ranch will be afforded a trial in the event a permit isn’t issued.
Bant alleges the town targeted her ranch for rezoning in order to halt her annual music events on the roughly 60-acre property off Maple Grove Road northeast of the village of Northville.
During the hearing, Northampton’s attorney Leah Everhart said prior to the new zoning law, the ranch needed a special-use permit for the concerts, which it never acquired.
“That means it was not lawful,” she said.
In order for property use to be grandfathered — allowed to continue under new regulations that preclude it — Everhart said that use has to be legal, and the lack of a permit means it wasn’t.
Bant’s attorney Gerard V. Heckler called into question the town’s zoning changes and whether they could be considered “spot zoning” changes directed solely at Bant.
He said the rural, sparsely populated area hasn’t undergone any boom in housing that would justify changing it from “open use” to its new designation, “medium density residential.”
“It has not suddenly become residential over the last two years,” Heckler said.
He said the change to zoning affecting Bant’s property appears to serve no other purpose than to deprive an individual property owner of a “valued property right.”
Heckler cited prior minutes from Northampton Town Board meetings that he said show a motive to block Bant’s events.
He recounted the minutes of one meeting, in which a Town Board member discussing the zoning said, “I don’t mean it can stop us from trying to zone it out,” referring to Bant’s music events.
Heckler said Bant was never advised about the change in zoning and said she did research to learn more about it. He said she went to the town’s website and read that nonconforming uses taking place prior to zoning would be grandfathered.
“She breathed a sigh of relief,” Heckler said.
That was before town officials started sending letters saying the use wasn’t permitted and then filed a lawsuit after Bant continued to advertise the event on Facebook.
Heckler said there haven’t been any health or welfare issues affecting residents as a result of the longstanding music events.
Sise on Monday ruled Bant should be given a trial to probe the zoning law’s impact on the use of her property.
But before that, Sise said, the Town Board should meet and review an event application by 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, when the hearing will resume. He adjourned the matter until then.
Northampton Town Supervisor Linda Kemper did not return a call Monday seeking comment.