Neighbors balk at Phoenicia Library expansion

By Jay Braman Jr.
The Main Street property owners on either side of the Phoenicia Library, which was destroyed in a March 2011 fire, have filed a lawsuit against the Town of Shandaken over the recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision to grant the library a variance to rebuild on a larger scale.

Marietta Hofmeister, owner of Morne Imports and Wilfred Nolte, owner of the Phoenicia Delicatessen, have commenced the lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Ulster. The Town of Shandaken Town Board has retained the firm of Jacobowitz and Gubits, LLP of Walden to file an answer and to assert any affirmative defenses, and counterclaims, and to seek denial of any relief as may be appropriate, and to represent the Town of Shandaken in all legal proceedings associated with the actions of Hofmeister and Nolte.

The Hofmeister and Nolte lawsuit, filed last month, complains that the zoning board gave the library setback variances without good reason and should therefore be revoked.

‘Self-created’ issue
“The desire to increase the size and extend the structure to further encroach into restrictive setback limitations…..is a difficulty self-created by the applicant (Library) and vitiates its application,” the lawsuit states. “…Setback and lot coverage regulations established by the town zoning law would be meaningless if a property owner is permitted to breach them without good and legally justifiable cause shown, particularly in light of the detriment that will be caused to the neighboring properties.”

According to the lawsuit, the zoning board wrongfully overrode a recommendation from the Ulster County Planning Board to get more information about the project before making a decision.
The zoning board gave the library no fewer than five variances in December. One is for the library’s lack of parking facilities, another for building more total square footage than is allowed, a third for building too close to the front set back and two more for building too close to the side set backs.

Variance allowance
The latter variances would allow the library to build within only a couple feet of the delicatessen, and right on the property line of Morne Imports, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also says the neighbors would have had no problem with the library simply restoring the building back to the same size it was before the fire.

Meanwhile, the library continues to march forward with building plans, and is expected to be a subject of discussion and public hearing at the March 13 meeting of the town planning board.
The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the planning board from granting approval of the building plans.

Devastating blaze
On March 19, 2011 fire destroyed the interior and contents of the Phoenicia Library, rendering the Main Street building uninhabitable.

The more than a century-old structure, which was at one time the Breithaupt Funeral Parlor and before that Gauss’s Drug Store, was one the hamlet’s oldest gems. Renovated by the Phoenicia Library Association just four years ago, the building now sits boarded up due to what fire officials say was a non-suspicious blaze that resulted from faulty wiring.