By PHIL NOBILE
Since complaints of health hazards and quality of life issues from a local quarry began in the late 1990s, neighbors of the business have seen it effectively shut down for the first time, leading to what they see as some reprieve and peace at last.
But now, the quarry’s owner wants to develop the property into a grocery store, bank and offices, and questions have been raised at that possibility, as well as why it took town officials more than a year to shut the business down indefinitely.
The Lake Street Quarry, located at 600 Lake St. in West Harrison, must face trial in September for 37 town code violations. The charges include lack of explicit permits for machine operation, delivery of fill, excess waste, illegal fencing and having offices on the premises.
Quarry president Lawrence Barrego has pled not guilty to all of the charges and, with a recently filed petition to the Town Clerk’s office, unveiled a new strategy: removing the quarry business altogether.
Quarry character changing
In a June 25 petition to Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont and the rest of the all-Republican Town Council, Barrego and his architect, Daniel Ciarcia, formally requested the town rezone the quarry from a R-1, or one-family residential to a NB, or neighborhood business zone.
A neighborhood business zone is intended to “provide for retail businesses and services serving local needs,” according to the town’s master plan.
Only one other area in Harrison has a neighborhood business designation, according to the master plan. Located in the heart of downtown Harrison, the only other neighborhood business zone begins at the corner of Harrison and Park avenues and extends to Soulard Street, encompassing Emilio Ristorante, Harrison Paint Supply Inc. and a Cablevision Optimum Store.
Barrego argues that alternate uses of his property are not viable with present zoning, and, in order to move his business and legal matters forward, a zoning change must be made in his property’s favor.
The petition to the town officials reads, “We believe a mutually beneficial arrangement can be agreed to, which will terminate the quarry operation and end the financial hardship the town’s actions have caused the Barrego family.”
Barrego’s proposal calls for more than 35,000 square feet of new businesses at his West Lake Street property. It will be divided between a 25,000-square-foot food store, 5,000-square-foot bank and approximately 5,000 square feet of offices.
A total of 181 parking spaces would be built to accommodate the project, along with improvements to sewer and storm water systems in the area.
In town court on July 10, Michael Sirignano, Barrego’s attorney, called the project a “global resolution” to the issues that have plagued town residents and officials for years.
“If a zoning change is granted and a site plan approved for a less intensive use, the quarry operations would cease,” Sirignano said. “It would be a resolution of the dispute over the legal status of the operations if we changed the use.”
According to the town’s master plan, adopted in December 2013, the quarry sits in the middle of a one-family residential zone with the West Harrison business district ending promptly at the Citgo on 143 Lake St. The quarry was operating under a nonconforming use for years until a 2011 Westchester County Supreme Court ruling changed that.
Sam Fanelli, the owner of the West Harrison Citgo station and neighbor of the quarry, argued businesses in West Harrison like his would be harmed as a result of new businesses, and, with a petition and multiple signatures of business owners in the area, the zoning change and project “will never happen.”
“It would hurt the business district here in town, and no one here in the West Harrison business district would be for it,” Fanelli said. “You’re not going to be able to put a commercial business district at the other end of town. I might as well apply for my property to get a change of use while we’re at it.”
Fanelli, who has fought tooth-and-nail for years against Barrego’s business, which operates in his backyard, said having a business operating daily would impact residents negatively.
“We’re not going to put up with deliveries of tractor trailers and being open seven days a week; we’re going to fight that to the end,” he said in reference to a possible grocery store at the quarry site.
The zoning change request is scheduled to appear before the Town Council at its July 17 meeting, after press time.
Belmont couldn’t comment on how the Town Council would respond to the request, saying only it could get referred to the planning or zoning boards, and that everyone has the opportunity to request a zoning change to their property in town.
History of issues
The history of legal wrangling and proper use dates back to half a decade ago, when the town made its first action against Barrego.
From the beginning, Barrego has argued his quarry falls under nonconforming use in the one-family zoning district where it resides and that his business predates Harrison town code, which was adopted in 1923.
According to Barrego, his grandfather started the business in 1922.
In 1988, Barrego successfully applied to change his quarry to a less-conforming use as a garden and landscaping center, because, he said, the quarry was “virtually exhausted” at the time. In his application to the zoning board that year, though, he stated the Lake Street Quarry was owned by the Barrego family since 1925, meaning it would have been subjected to village zoning after all, contradicting his claim it should be exempt from town zoning because it predates the code.
Despite the difference in dates, Barrego argued his business pre-dated the adoption of the town code. Harrison officials felt differently.
In October 2009, the Town of Harrison issued an initial stop work order against Barrego’s business, halting excavation and operation of heavy machinery on the premises, meaning quarry operations continued despite Barrego’s claims the quarry was exhausted in 1988. Although an appeal of the stop work order was voted down by the Town Council at the time, Barrego continued operations on his property in other capacities, such as landfill being transported to and from the site.
Barrego took the town’s decision to Westchester County Supreme Court in 2011, filing an Article 78, which, under New York State law, allows anyone to appeal a court decision by a local or state entity.
County Supreme Court Judge Albert Lorenzo upheld the decision by the Town Council, leading to yet another appeal by Barrego to the appellate division. The higher court said Judge Lorenzo used the wrong mechanism and process to render his decision and that his appeal should have been dismissed and given declaratory judgment. Essentially, the appellate court said instead of Lorenzo dismissing the lawsuit, he should have made a declaratory judgment on the issue to either Barrego or the Town of Harrison.
That April 2013 appellate court decision never appeared on Judge Lorenzo’s calendar again, which Harrison Town Attorney Frank Allegretti argued it was up to Barrego to do so with his attorney. Allegretti said it was obvious Barrego didn’t do so “because Lorenzo’s decision was pretty solid.”
Despite the lack of the initial stop work order going back to Lorenzo, Barrego continued to operate his business in a limited capacity for more than a year.
With the five-year anniversary of the first stop work order against the quarry approaching, why it took the town so long to issue the most recent stop work order and an additional 19 charges is a question that no town official can seem to answer.
Building Inspector Bob FitzSimmons, who issued the most recent stop work order on May 14, said it wasn’t until Harrison residents brought the April 2013 decision to his attention did he know of any progress in the appeals process.
“Clearly some of the elected officials and our attorneys knew about it,” FitzSimmons said. “I had been asking for the better part of a year what was going on in the case and kept getting told it was still in the courts. When it became known to me that we had won because it went back to Supreme Court for declaratory judgment, no one [in the town] acted on it.”
According to FitzSimmons, he was advised to not issue new violations by the law department until the matter was settled in court. This led to the building inspector only finding out about the case sitting idle for more than a year by town residents complaining at the Town Council meetings.
When asked why no progress was made from April 2013 until the new stop work order, Harrison Village Attorney Jonathan Kraut declined comment, saying only he disagreed that nothing was done and that “I have an active case and I can’t discuss my strategies.”
The public criticism from quarry neighbors since early March 2013 was the only way the matter was ever discussed publicly among town officials; progress on the issue came in May.
Vowing to “not go away,” residents like Fanelli and Glenn Daher showed up to each Town Council meeting for months to voice their concerns. Daher and others argued their quality of life had been constantly impeded over the years by the quarry and that extensive dust and debris from the quarry was causing potential health hazards.
Belmont became clearly agitated at the persistency of the residents, snapping back at a May 15 Town Council meeting with “I really don’t want to discuss the situation you want to discuss right now” and “it’s taking its due course” when pressed for answers and action by the neighbors.
When asked about the year time lapse without any progress, Belmont said he did not know why FitzSimmons was told the matter was still in the courts and couldn’t close the quarry for good, but added that “everyone” was frustrated with the situation.
Fanelli, who initially said quarry neighbors were “deceived and lied to” by town officials at an April Town Council meeting, said some satisfaction has been created with the latest round of summonses. He hopes the closed quarry can remain just that.
“Since we brought to the town board’s attention the decision, which was withheld from us, they seem to have taken steps in the right direction to remedy the problem,” Fanelli said.
The trial date for the quarry is set for Sept. 4.