Duchess Farms Equestrian Community, a 19-lot residential subdivision in High Falls owned by previous Marbletown supervisor Michael Warren, has filed a counterclaim for “tortious interference with the contract.” This follows a recent win by Warren in an Article 78 appeal in the Supreme Court of New York, Ulster County, against the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals decisions to issue violations against Duchess Farms on Oct. 21. The judgment annulled the ZBA’s violations against Duchess.
There are three different cases in play here. The original lawsuit is due to be heard in January 2023, wherein the town is suing Duchess over not complying with stormwater and road construction specifications in the approved site plans. The second case is a libel suit where former supervisor Warren is suing current town supervisor Rich Parete over statements that Parete made about the original case in the press when describing the town’s lawsuit. The most recent ruling is from an Article 78 process where Warren appealed the ZBA’s subdivision violations issued in February 2022.
On Dec. 1, Warren e-mailed a document from his attorney titled Mandatory Part 1 Settlement Conference Case Information and Status Sheet, where he says, “Duchess farm has a counterclaim for over 2.4 million … against the town.” The info sheet from the Duchess attorney states that they “have sustained $2,355,000 in damages resulting from the lost real estate sales directly caused by the Town’s actions … The town knew of the existence of these contracts.”
The counterclaim also referenced Warren’s libel suit against Parete, saying, “The purchasers for the Lots withdrew from the contracts because they were aware of the prior statements of Supervisor Parete alleging criminal activity. Warren claims the libel suit is settled but for an undisclosed sum.”
But Parete said in response on Dec. 1, “I am not aware that the libel suit is settled. My lawyer said Mike Warren’s attorney wanted to settle. I refused to sign any agreement and am prepared for trial. I’ve got no paperwork or information that it’s been resolved.” The Town is not paying for the lawsuit, according to Parete. “The libel lawsuit is being paid for by insurance” since he was acting in his capacity as town supervisor.
Parete said last spring, “the town pursued a lawsuit against Duchess Farms in support of the homeowners in the Duchess Farms subdivision. These Homeowners were unable to obtain permits and certificates of occupancy from the town due to claims by the town that site work in the subdivision was incomplete.”
Warren said on Dec. 1 in a statement about his $2.4 million counterclaim, “The town refused three settlements which they told the judge they had, but backed out.” Warren continued, “The town has said they will appeal the decision by Judge Mott dismissing all the violations. The taxpayers should be aware of the political vendetta by this supervisor using tax money. The countersuit of over 2 million will be paid by taxpayers and not insurance because town board started this.” Parete confirmed that “the town will be paying for the Duchess Farms lawsuit not insurance.”
Parete said, “I believe we’ve spent about $240,000 in three years for attorney and engineering fees … If Mike just built the plans the Planning Board approved, none of us would have spent any money. The town engineer and the engineer property owners hired both said the development’s stormwater and roads have not been built according to the plans approved by the Planning Board. They aren’t even close to being built correctly.” Parete said over the phone, “As supervisor, he (Warren) should have held himself to a higher standard.”
Parete continued in his response to the filing on 12/1, “The town's position is that the developer needs to build the roads and stormwater to the plans, to what the Planning Board approved, and Mike Warren signed off on. I am confident the law is on our side; a developer must build to the approved plans. New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued Mike Warren a cease and desist on any site disturbance 18 months ago because of multiple stormwater violations, and he never submitted a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Protection Plan (SWPPP) to the state. I believe the fine is $33,500 per day. I doubt anyone would purchase property with a cease and desist and be responsible to pay DEC fines once they took ownership of the property.”
This counterclaim is after Duchess Farms annulled the February 2022 violations issued by the Marbletown ZBA. Rich Parete has said that the town “board members spoke with our attorney on 11/15, and we agreed to appeal the judge's decision. We are confident the town will prevail as we work through the legal system.”
On Oct. 21, Justice Mott, Ulster County, annulled all but one of the eight violations. In the one violation not annulled, he decided “the record was insufficient to conduct a meaningful review.” Much of this case comes down to the lack of “clarity” given by the town throughout the process. Mott says, “the administrative authority must state the basis of its findings with sufficient clarity to permit such review.”