In 2002, the first Catskill town meeting was held for the first time in many years in Palenville. The principal item on the agenda was “that bunch of weirdoes” that moved into Central House. The local slumlord (who shall remain nameless) had been trying to purchase Central House from the elderly man who owned it for years before we bought it. However, the old man continually refused because he loved the house very much and did not want to see it torn down or turned into slum housing. Once we bought it, the slumlord tried to drive us out of town by playing the bigotry card so that he could finally acquire the property. And please take note – virtually every genocide or organized campaign of hatred and murder against an unpopular minority from the witch-craze of medieval, reformation and colonial American periods to the lynching of black people in the south to the Holocaust and beyond had property theft as the underlying motive. It’s just simply good ol’ fashioned greed dressed up in racist/misogynist/homophobic clothing.
What happened was that he addressed the assembly trying to turn the townspeople against us by telling a bunch of lies: that we were supposedly Satanists, child molesters, criminals, etc. But the worst of it all was…….wait for it………we HARBOR KITTENS!!!!!!!!!!! Yes, he concluded his ominous rant with “…and they harbor kittens”, and that was it. By doing so, he shot himself in the foot and instantly went from being someone universally feared and respected in town to being the local laughingstock. At the level of the people, it was an utter disaster for the slumlord’s cause, and the townspeople all came up and introduced themselves. To make things even funnier, Cathy then went on to make several hundred buttons saying, “Welcome to Paganville” and “I harbor kittens”, and brought them to Earl, the then proprietor of the Green Cow to sell. He was sold out in a couple of days! Clearly, the good people of Palenville have much more intelligence, savvy, moral backbone, not to mention sense of humor than Mr. Slumlord ever gave them credit for.
However, at the level of town government, the bigot slumlord’s clarion call did appear to have been taken up. At the meeting, he called for the town to try and drive us out by bombarding us with fire safety and zoning inspections. Sure enough, over the years, they’ve been trying to get in for inspections. Every time, Cathy has always managed to respond by refusing them entrance, and throwing the law back at them to show that the section they were quoting was totally irrelevant to us and our situation. And now, I kid you not, the town Board of Assessment is citing this as the “real reason” we’ve been denied these past two years!
Yes, that’s right! Now they are basically admitting that yes, we are indeed a convent, but that we supposedly failed to complete the appropriate paperwork to change use and submit to an inspection, since it had operated commercially as an inn since the late 60’s. Now, the place is zoned Commercial (which is one of the reasons why we had purchased it), and this means that the Commercial designation is supposed to umbrella all other uses, which is why you always see “Zoned Commercial” on billboards offering land for sale. Supposedly, this designation means you can do just about anything with the land within reason, thus making it very attractive to potential buyers.
We just don’t buy it that we need to apply for a permit for change of use. This is for two reasons: first of all, our exemption was thrown out for 2007 and 2008 after being initially granted in 2006. They did this based on the opinion of the town attorney, who had been specifically requested to give it (the identity of this individual who made the initial request is one of the biggest mysteries in all of this). The opinions for both years were filled with distortions, deliberately fudged timelines plus lots and lots of transphobia, misogyny and religious bigotry directed at us – but that’s beside the point. I happen to work for a taxing agency myself, and I know for a fact that you DON’T pay good money to a lawyer for a legal opinion if the only issue is a simple failure to file for a permit! Nope, you get a legal opinion when you need clarification of some complex legal point or – as the antics of the prior President and his staff have shown us – if you are looking for legalistic justifications to do something that you know is illegal, immoral and just plain wrong. Second, as I have mentioned previously, we were initially granted our exemption in 2006 when we applied for it without a peep. We didn’t hear about the missing paperwork then and were only informed about it at the May 26th grievance hearing. If it was such an issue, wouldn’t it have held up our initial approval? And moreover, shouldn’t it be taken as a sign that the Change of Use permit was never required in the first place?
To be blunt, yes, we do ascribe sinister motives to this sudden change in plan. We see it as proof that the town Board’s true motivation here was indeed to abuse their authority to make us give up our property and drive us out of town just as Mr. Bigot Slumlord had wanted in the first place. Why? This year, I had located an advisory opinion from the New York State Office of Real Property Services that stated that convents ARE in the Mandatory Exempt class and why. All we needed to do was prove that we are indeed a convent, despite the fabrications of the Judge Bybee of Catskill. We did this, we had beaten them at their own game and rather than admit defeat and restore our exemption, they pulled this nonsense about how we never applied for a permit. Their motive with this move was clearly to pull a fast one on us. They were trying to trick us into filling out this useless piece of paper, but more importantly, they wanted us to give consent for them to enter the property for an inspection. All sounds easy and benign, right? WRONG! In a prior lifetime, Cathy had been a building inspector herself and knows all the tricks that localities pull. Even if the property was immaculate and flawless they would have found *something* that would have justified condemning the property and preventing us from using it while the case was tied up in court for years. Remember, we are dealing with people who have previously shown that they have no qualms about lying on the official record to get their way.
They can’t win. With this latest change in strategy, they have violated federal law. We can now sue them for actual monetary damages at this point above and beyond demanding that they refund the taxes with interest. We can even send the Justice Department after them. We were led to Central House by the Goddess to do Her work. Federal law recognizes and supports our fundamental right to do so, irregardless of what some greedy, small-minded local officials want.