Lawyers will face off in court next month over a landowner’s claim that officials rezoned her property in order to run her annual fundraiser out of town.
The town of Northampton brought Deborah Bant to court earlier this year and tried to cancel the “Mama Strawberry Jam” event she’d hosted at her Solid Rock Ranch horse rescue operation for a decade.
The music event, which draws hundreds to the town straddling the Great Sacandaga Lake, is the primary fundraiser for the ranch, which takes in horses that were otherwise bound for a glue factory.
But town officials last spring told Bant her event wouldn’t comply with a new zoning code and had to be canceled.
Bant won the first part of the case — Supreme Court Justice Joseph M. Sise allowed the event to go on.
But yet to be determined is whether Bant can prove not only that the event is grandfathered because it predates the new zoning code but that the town of Northampton was guilty of “spot zoning” in an attempt to target her. Bant claims the town targeted her 54-acre property when drafting its zoning code, and that’s illegal, said her attorney, Gerard Heckler.
Evidence the town took a specific interest in Bant’s event wasn’t too difficult to come by — Hecker will present minutes of the Town Board meeting that he says indicate Bant was clearly targeted.
Local governments are allowed to rezone an area as long as doing so has some legitimate purpose that has to do with the general development of the community, Heckler said.
A discussion recorded in the minutes of a December 2011 Town Board meeting includes one council member asking, “Is there any way to get that property out of that zone?”
The question is followed by a bold-faced headline before a vote titled: “Motion to Remove Solid Rock Ranch from Mixed Use.”
Five members of the Town Board then voted in the affirmative to “remove the Solid Rock Ranch property parcel from the Mixed Use that was created in that area in the proposed zoning.”
“When you think about it, in this country of ours, a country of freedom, that is not the way government should go about it,” Heckler said.
The town in court papers contends that its Zoning and Subdivision Law is valid and the new zoning, medium-density residential, allows for agricultural operations but not raising of livestock.
The town also has a Special Event Permitting Law targeting events with 300 or more people. It also specifically prohibits any such event from being held in a residential zone.
Efforts to reach the town’s attorney for comment were unsuccessful this week.
A non-jury trial is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13, in the Fulton County Courthouse.