Slate Ridge lawyer says city and court have no jurisdiction over shooting ranges

Daniel Banyai talks to a group at Slate Ridge in Pawlet. Facebook photo

A lawyer representing the owner of Slate Ridge has asked the Vermont Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision to shut down the unauthorized West Pawlet paramilitary training center.

Cindy Hill, an attorney for Daniel Banyai based in Middlebury, filed the brief on Friday, seeking to overturn a Vermont Superior Court ruling rendered by Judge Thomas Durkin.

Durkin, along with the tribunal’s environmental division, had ruled that Banyai should cease all military-style training activities, demolish unauthorized structures on his property, and pay the city government more than $ 46,600 in fines.

Hill is asking the court to overturn that order, to declare valid a canceled 2018 permit for the Banyai school and to declare that Banyai’s activities at the shooting range – which have attracted national attention – “fall outside the scope of under the jurisdiction of the city or the Environment Division ”.

Durkin’s decision was largely based on a permit for a “school”, which he deemed invalid. Banyai began conducting firearms training on his property in 2017 and applied for the permit for a 500 square foot building in 2018. At first, he was refused because he was not allowed to 50 foot wide access required. manner.

Several months later, after the deadline for an appeal had expired, Banyai attempted to appeal, submitting a waiver request for his 30-foot-wide right-of-way. The city’s Development Review Board ruled the right-of-way was a pre-existing non-compliance, clearing it, but neighbors appealed the decision.

As the court dealt with the neighbors’ appeal, the city’s zoning administrator issued a new permit for Banyai on June 4, 2018, based on the Development Review Board‘s ruling that its hold had been cleared. Shortly after, the appeal judge ruled that the zoning administrator did not have the authority to issue the permit because the appeal was still being processed.

Because Banyai’s appeal was late, the tribunal said the Development Review Board must reconsider his waiver request as a separate and independent request. In the end, the council refused the waiver for the right-of-way. The board issued a notice of violation to Banyai in July 2019 and, according to Durkin’s ruling, this violation is still alive.

In his brief, Hill argued that the zoning administrator did, in fact, have the authority to approve the June 4 permit. A zoning administrator “is not precluded from acting when something is on appeal,” the brief said.

Hill argues that the city’s failure to act while the appeal was being processed in court overturns the 2019 notice of violation.

“Indeed, if a permit application arrives, the (zoning administrator) must follow up whether or not an appeal is pending,” she wrote.

Additionally, because the city had previously granted Banyai another permit on its residential structure with the given 30-foot right-of-way, it argues that it could not refuse the school.

Hill also argued that the 2019 notice of violation is invalid because it targets private and recreational use of the land, which she said “is not subject to municipal zoning, therefore on which neither the city nor the division of the environment have no competence in the matter “.

The Environment Division “erred and abused its discretion in rendering judgment against the landowner based on unduly admitted and inherently unreliable evidence,” she said in her fourth point and in the fifth, that the division “abused its discretion by imposing excessive penalties”.

Durkin’s inclusion of Banyai’s behavior – such as his remark that Banyai “mocked and berated city officials” – was irrelevant, she wrote.

Several protection orders have been issued against Banyai for threatening behavior, and his past actions have prompted neighbors to voice their fear and concern for their own safety.

“To demand now that Banyai demolish structures that the city previously allowed (see Argument I above) is unreasonable, vitriolic and would constitute a serious miscarriage of justice,” the brief read.

Earlier this year, Banyai applied for a permit for a building that looked like the original school he mentioned in his 2018 application, which neighbors appealed.

The Supreme Court will soon be holding a hearing, during which judges will hear arguments from Hill and Merrill Bent, counsel for the city government of Pawlet.

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