CAROGA - After nearly a decade of legal battles, acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Giardino Monday ordered Canada Lake property owner Joseph Herms to demolish his lakefront structure within eight months.
Herms also must pay the town a $50,000 civil penalty and reimburse its legal fees. Giardino issued his decision following a trial that concluded in April in state Supreme Court in Fulton County.
The town and Herms have battled since 1999 over Herms' structure on Canada Lake. Herms originally intended to build a camp on the lake, but repeatedly was denied permits by the town.
The Leader-Herald/Christopher Bechard
A judge has ordered Joseph Herms to tear down his boathouse, pictured above in October, on Canada Lake in the town of Caroga.
Herms then applied for permits to build a boathouse, which the town approved. After Herms built part of the structure, town officials ordered him to stop construction because, according to them, the structure did not fit the description of a boathouse and instead appeared to be a camp.
Adirondack Park Agency regulations state a boathouse cannot be greater than 1,250 square feet and must be limited to a single story. Herms' structure is more than 2,000 square feet and, according to the town, is two stories.
In 2006, Herms argued his structure complied with the regulations from 1999, when the permit was given, and was built according to the original blueprints.
"The requirements for 1999 were it can be as big as you wanted it to be," Herms told The Leader-Herald in April. "What [town attorney Sal Ferlazzo] is trying to tell the court is you have to apply a new law. What's interesting about that concept is if the court agrees, they have a ton of other boathouses in the Adirondacks that are greater than 1,250 square feet. Are they going to have all these boathouses torn down?"
Herms could not be reached for comment today.
The town had asked for a $104,000 civil penalty but is happy with Giardino's decision to order a $50,000 penalty, Ferlazzo said. Ferlazzo is of the Albany law firm Girvin & Ferlazzo.
"The payment is less important than the requirement [Herms] take [the structure] down," he said.
In his decision, Giardino said the town was partially at fault for drawing out the legal proceedings because it did not make certain documents readily available, which factored
into his decision not to award the full civil penalty.
Ferlazzo said he and the town are happy with Giardino's decision.
"This case demonstrates that simply by delaying a matter, a person cannot avoid the clear requirements of the law," he said. "The decision sends a strong message to Herms and anyone in this situation that the court won't tolerate misbehavior. It preserves the integrity of the zoning system."
Town Board member Ralph Palcovic said he also is pleased with the decision.
"It was a very long, drawn-out battle," he said. "The civil penalty could have been a lot more, but I'm satisfied with the judge's response."
Palcovic said the decision reinforces the town's authority in zoning and code matters.
"If we were not able to enforce the codes, it would be a free-for-all," he said. "We feel the laws we have are appropriate. As long as people comply, we [avoid situations like the trial with Herms]."
Ferlazzo said he expects Herms and his attorney, Sheila Galvin, will appeal the decision, but said he doubts they will be successful.
"Unless they get a judge to stop the clock, they are required to take it down like Giardino said," he said.
Galvin did not return calls seeking comment.
Kayleigh Karutis covers rural Fulton County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.