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Judge’s order has North Elba hoping for good outcome in Grimditch boathouse case

September 19, 2013

LAKE PLACID - North Elba town officials have high hopes that the Grimditch boathouse case is going to be settled soon in the town's favor.

The Grimditch family constructed a pair of boathouses without a permit more than two years ago, to get it done before new state Adirondack Park Agency regulations went into effect.

Town Attorney Ron Briggs told town board members Tuesday, Sept. 10 that Judge Thomas D. Buchanan, a Supreme Court justice in Schenectady County, entered an order the prior week that seemed to have him poised to issue a summary judgment in favor of the town.

Buchanan didn't quite do so yet, instead opening the case up to limited discovery for the Grimditches, which will give them time to file for paperwork and other evidence of one of their claims.

The judge is allowing them time to research the claim that the town selectively enforced its rules by allowing other projects to proceed without a building permit.

Briggs said in order to prove that, they would have to show that the town failed to pursue other owners who did the same thing and that the town was motivated by bad faith or malevolent intent.

"Neither of those exist in this case," Briggs said. "I have little doubt that that will go nowhere."

He said the Grimditches are the only ones to start or continue constructing a boathouse without a building permit in the time Jim Morganson has been code enforcement officer for the town, which is more than 20 years.

Briggs noted that the judge's tone in his written conclusion seems to favor the town's side. Buchanan wrote that some of the Grimditch's claims were "raising a considerable cloud of dust" and that the family was not successful earlier in trying to prove that state Navigation Law, which governs boats, should preclude the town's land-use code on boathouses.

"Even if the Land Use Code did not apply, this construction violated the State Building Code," Buchanan wrote. "Given the Third Department (court) decision holding that the Land Use Code applies to these boathouses, the construction violated both codes."

Buchanan noted that removing the boathouses is a drastic solution since the Grimditches paid $600,000 to erect them, but it's been established in previous case law and the Grimditches were previously warned that it may happen by Essex County Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer.

"In my view, we couldn't get a better decision from the court," Briggs told the board.

Earlier this year, the family offered to pay a $40,000 fine if it could keep the boathouses in place, but the town rejected the proposal.

Briggs said the town is now responding to the discovery demands and will have depositions of Morganson and another town official before Oct. 31. He said he expects the court will then be in position to tell the Grimditches to take the boathouses down.

Briggs said it's likely the Grimditches will appeal, but they'd have to get permission for a stay of execution from a judge in order to not dismantle the boathouses.

The Grimditches' lawyer, Robert Rosborough of Albany, could not immediately be reached for comment.



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