Valley Cottage Case On West Hook Mountain Reaches Final Settlement In Court

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Homeowner Agrees To Have Soil Tested For Possible Contamination

By Tina Traster

A Valley Cottage resident who built an illegal addition and allegedly cut down a swath of trees on town land has agreed to retain an environmental consultant to test the fill used for landscaping his property on Old Stone Road.

The agreement to test the soil adds a condition to a civil compromise accepted today in Town Court between the Town of Clarkstown and the homeowner. Although a SWPPP (Stormwater Pollution Protection Plan) generally requires fill to be clean, the parties agreed on Tuesday to add a provision that requires testing and reporting the results to the town.

“My client wants to make sure the fill is clean,” said Donald Feerick, attorney for homeowner Edward Teitel. “He has hired an environmental company and will demand that everything is clean.”

Feerick said it behooves his client to get a clean of bill of health in case his client wants to refinance or sell his property on West Hook Mountain.

“We need to know the soil is clean,” said Feerick. “Anything else is a slander on the title.”

The attorney said Teitel has hired Karc Planning to test the soil.

Local activist Marvin Baum, who has led the effort to seek remediation for the downed trees on town-owned land and who started the Facebook Page “Save West Hook Mountain,” recently wrote to both the Town of Clarkstown and the Town Justice asking for the soil be tested.

Baum wrote that he received information saying “that land disturbance is actually a huge mound of fill up to 15 feet high…that contains contaminated waste from a regulated utility company.”

The potential for contamination was not raised in the open courtroom, though the attorneys and Town Justice Ugell went into chambers to discuss the soil and other amendments to the settlement prior to the acceptance of the civil settlement.

“We will wait for the lab to do its testing, but the defendant has his own interest to make sure the fill is not contaminated,” said Baum.

Clarkstown Town Justice Scott Ugell said he was satisfied with the global settlement, which includes a payment of $6877 to reimburse the town for the work attorneys, engineers, building inspectors, and others have spent on the case since Jan. 2021.

The global settlement, which goes beyond the issues under the court’s jurisdiction, includes the felling of more than 100 trees. Feerick previously told the court his client did not admit to any wrongdoing regarding the tree cutting but explained he was willing to replant felled trees because “he wants to return to his family life and to his solitude on his property.”

The agreement also stipulates that an estimated 125 tress that populate the boundary between the town and Teitel’s property will be replanted. The tree felling has been the source of contention between the homeowner and members of the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.

The settlement also includes a $25,000 letter of credit to be used if trees need to be replaced, as well as a payment of $3,910 for a survey to establish the homeowner’s property boundaries. The court agreed to allow for plantings to take place in the spring and fall. Feerick told the court the current planting season has passed. Ugell agreed to a deadline of Dec. 31 2022.

Baum and other members of the NY/NJ Trail Conference brought the illegal addition and tree removal to the town’s attention last year. They alleged more than 150 tress had been taken down on both the owner’s land as well as on abutting town-owned property purchased nearly 20 years ago through the town’s Open Space Fund. Funds from the town’s $22 million open space bond in 2003 were used to purchase the $1.7 million property. Clarkstown voters passed the referendum in November 2000 for the acquisition of open space. The West Hook Mountain property was cited as one of the driving forces behind the open space bond referendum.

Baum said he’d wished the town would have withheld settlement until the criminal investigation was completed.

The Clarkstown Police Department is undertaking a criminal investigation of the tree cutting but Town Attorney Leslie Kahn has previously told the court “The town has no evidence the defendant took town the trees.” A spokesman for the Clarkstown Police Department Norm Peters has said, “the investigation is ongoing.” He added that “there is no timetable on how long an investigation takes.”

Although Baum awaits an answer over the criminal charges, the activist said progress had been made. The homeowner agreed to remove a gate that was erected partially on town land. “Private property” signs on town-owned land have been removed.

But most importantly, Baum said, more people are hiking the trails on West Hook Mountain.

“Now people are watching,” said Baum. “People care.”