LAKE PLACID - The Grimditch family has broken its long public silence over a legal case in which they have come close to breaking towns' power to regulate boathouses.
The case involves a pair of boathouses the family built on the shore of Lake Placid more than two years ago.
Wayne Grimditch, accompanied by Dennis Curtin of the Plattsburgh-based law firm Whiteman Osterman & Hanna, addressed the North Elba town board Tuesday night.
Wayne Grimditch, right, reads a statement prepared by his family to the North Elba town board on Tuesday night. The family’s new lawyer, Dennis Curtin, left, joined him at the meeting.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"Our hope in doing so is to bring insight to our thinking and perhaps offer common ground of understanding that may lead us to an equitable solution: equitable to you, the leadership and governance of this town, and equitable to us, longtime residents of good standing in this community," Wayne said, reading from a statement prepared by the family.
The case dates back to September 2010, when the town's code enforcement officer, Jim Morganson, issued a stop-work order after learning that the Grimditches had begun building the boathouses without approval from the Lake Placid-North Elba Joint Review Board. Essex County Supreme Court Judge Richard Meyer then issued a preliminary injunction that prohibited the family from building the structures, but did allow installation of foundations, a move that let the family avoid new state Adirondack Park Agency regulations.
The town went on to sue the family and seek to have the buildings torn down because they didn't meet the requirements of the land-use code. But in 2011, Meyer ruled that the town didn't have jurisdiction over the project because the boathouses were located in a navigable water body, which means the state has exclusive jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court Appellate Division's Third Department later disagreed with Meyer's ruling and overturned it last summer.
The family has since sought to bring the case to the New York State Court of Appeals, and settlement negotiations have been ongoing between the town and the Grimditches.
Wayne said the family was informed of the new APA boathouse regulations in the summer of 2010.
"We made a simple decision: to construct two boathouses before the new APA regulations became effective," he said. "In the past, we'd always gone through the town review process for property improvements, be it the Joint Review Board or some earlier version of this body. This time, we did not."
Wayne said the family was informed by its legal counsel that the land-use code didn't apply to structures like boathouses on Lake Placid. He said they were advised that a state appellate court had "specifically ruled that Lake Placid's joint use code did not apply.
"Thus I want to make it clear to the Joint Review Board and the town that counsel advised us we could build our boathouses prior to new APA guidelines going into effect."
Wayne said the Grimditch family decided to build the boathouses to enhance the value of their property and to fulfill estate planning objectives.
"We never imagined this construction path turning into a lengthy, circuitous legal quagmire," he said. "We never sought a legal contest. We never intended to defy the Joint Review Board, this village or this town. This was never our intention.
"Somewhere along the path to an equitable solution, it seems this matter took on a life of its own, and it's become unpleasant for all involved. And for that, we are sorry."
Wayne said the family's original lawyer, Jim Brooks of Lake Placid, tried to negotiate a solution to the dispute but couldn't find a resolution. So the family hired Curtin to bring in a fresh set of eyes and to see if the litigation could be resolved. Curtin said he's reviewed some of the case.
"I'm not going to give any opinions about it, but just to see if we can get this possibly resolved," he told the board. "It's been kind of extraordinary. ... It seems this might be a good time to step back and see where we are."
Wayne said the family understands that its actions have upset town officials.
"But please understand: We believe we did nothing illegal, and nothing with malice," he said. "We simply relied upon advice and recommendation of counsel and the law in effect at that time, which is now more than 30 months ago. Law permitted us to build our boathouses on Lake Placid. We are not bad people. We are your neighbors."
Wayne went on to highlight his family's long history in Lake Placid. His father came to the community in 1938 to pursue an amateur skating career with coach Gustav Lussi, Wayne said. The family purchased two tracts of lakefront property on Lake Placid and would later let the state acquire the first tract - about 144 acres - through eminent domain to be protected as "forever wild." He added that members of the family have attended local schools.
Wayne also stressed that his family has always hired local workers for construction projects on their property.
In closing, Wayne said he hopes the family's "good-faith intentions" will now be clear to town officials.
"We appreciate your thoughts and comments," town Supervisor Roby Politi said. "We'll take them under consideration."
After the meeting, board members remained tight-lipped about the family's statement. Politi declined to comment because the matter is still in litigation.
Ron Briggs, the town's attorney, said the case has been remanded for further proceedings in state Supreme Court.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.