Supreme Court Hears Daniel Banyai’s Appeal | New
Lawyers for Daniel Banyai and the Town of Pawlet presented oral arguments to the Vermont Supreme Court on Wednesday in an appeal of an Environmental Court ruling against his unauthorized shooting range.
Each lawyer had 15 minutes to present their case, much of which was devoted to answering questions posed by the Supreme Court justices, who dotted the two lawyers with numerous questions.
The judges pushed and pushed the lawyers during the online hearing, about missing documents and questions about seemingly contradictory arguments, but did not point a hand to one side or the other.
After hearing both sides, the judges have concluded the hearing and will render their decision at some point in the future.
The call is the latest in a long battle between Banyai, the owner of the 30-acre Slate Ridge Gunnery Center at 541 Briar Hill Road, and the town of Pawlet, which has overflowed in a neighborhood dispute.
But Wednesday’s pleadings had nothing to do with neighborly issues and dealt strictly with Banyai’s issues with the city‘s zoning.
In March, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin ruled that Banyai should cease all filming, classes or other activities on his Slate Ridge property, remove any unauthorized improvements to the land, and pay a $ 46,600 fine.
Banyai appealed the ruling and hired Middlebury lawyer Cindy Ellen Hill to represent him. The Town of Pawlet is represented by Manchester lawyer Merrill Bent.
During Hill’s argument, she said Banyai got a permit only to have it canceled later and then refused when he tried to get it again.
Judge John Dooley asked Hill if the appeal would cover whether one of the many structures on the property was legal.
Hill said there was no evidence on file of structures present beyond those for which permits were sought.
“There is no evidence in this file of which structures were referenced, there was no evidence presented by the city that there were any structures beyond those considered in the permits,” Hill said. . “There is no evidence on file that there are any structures beyond that.”
Associate Justice Harold E. Eaton Jr. asked a question about the definition of “school” with respect to activities permitted under a zoning permit from the Town of Pawlet.
“Is this a school in general, is it a Department of Education approved school?” Eaton asked. Does that mean it’s in the permit?
Hill told the judges that Pawlet’s zoning allows outdoor recreation as a licensed activity and that non-commercial shooting ranges and clubs are considered outdoor recreational uses, requiring only a permit issued by the zoning administrator.
Hill did not ask if Banyai was running a commercial enterprise, despite publicity courses and training activities; he maintained that it was not a business.
Eaton asked Hill if the mere designation of the activity as “educational” qualifies it as a school.
“Does this mean that as long as there is an educational objective to what is going on in the field,… there is no need to obtain an additional permit? Eaton asked. “I don’t see anything in the regulations that define what a school is, and you only need to get a permit for authorized use. Doesn’t that mean that virtually anything, as long as there is an educational component, could be considered a school? “
Bent told judges that Banyai had every chance to follow the law and zoning ordinances to allow its development legally.
“The law of this state, and therefore the path followed by the proceedings in these different proceedings, gives Mr. Banyai every opportunity to present his case, to raise defenses and to show that his project complies with the zoning regulations of Pawlet and state law. “Bent said.
But Dooley stopped her and asked her if it wasn’t true that the city initially backed the permit and then reversed 180 degrees.
Bent said no, the city declared Banyai’s appeal of a permit denial in 2018 inappropriate.
But then the city responded to an environmental court ruling that ordered the city to consider it a waiver request, and the city then held a hearing on that request.
“So the city hasn’t changed its position, the city is just following the mandate of the environmental division,” Bent said.
Much of Bent’s testimony was intended to clarify the confusion that has reigned over the past two-plus years in the case.
Judge Eaton asked Bent what Banyai should do if a city official told him to take some action.
“The zoning administrator invites Mr. Banyai to submit an application for a zoning permit within the time period specified in the notice of violation, and Mr. Banyai has done so,” Eaton said. “And in response to that. He received a permit from the zoning administrator. What is Mr. Banyai supposed to do if following the zoning administrator’s instructions is insufficient? “
Bent said then zoning administrator Eric Mach was not authorized to issue the permit, and Banyai should have known.
“The zoning administrator at the time did not understand the process or that the pending appeal that was pending at the time deprived him of the jurisdiction to take this action,” Bent said. “Mr. Banyai knew that the DRB’s decision was overturned, and there were several cases in which the court informed Mr. Banyai that the zoning administrator was not competent, and the city issued a letter rescinding this. previous license.