Harpersfield Town Supervisor James Eisel said Thursday that the town board has authorized an appeal of a judge’s decision declaring that town officials violated the state Open Meeting Law on three occasions in connection with a controversial motorcycle track.
Acting Delaware County Supreme Court Judge Brian Burns last month prohibited the New York Safety Track from allowing racing at the former Mountain Top Airfield site, which is now a 2.2-mile oval track.
The judge also awarded attorney fees to the track neighbors who brought the suit against the town and the track, effectively punishing the town for the actions of town officials who allegedly kept the public in the dark about their discussions in secret meetings.
The lawyer for the neighbors, Douglas Zamelis of Springfield, has since sent the town an invoice documenting the 260 hours he spent on the lawsuit, and charging $275 an hour, for a total of $71,500.
Eisel told The Daily Star that paying a bill of that magnitude would be “a tremendous hit to our local taxpayers.”
In response, Zamelis said: “The actual amount of fees and costs ultimately awarded will be entirely up to the discretion of Judge Burns.”*
The appeal, first reported by the Watershed Post website, is being prepared by the town’s attorney, Kevin Young, and will be filed with the state appellate division, Eisel said. The appeal was authorized by a 4-0 vote of the town board. Board member Catherine Straus was absent.
Kitty Ballard of Davenport, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said she was disappointed that the Harpersfield town board has opted to prolong the legal battle.
“This was a foolish decision that is going to cost the town and us more money,” she said.
The attorney for the track, Aaron Dean, could not be reached for comment.
Burns’ ruling annulled the controversial agreement for operation that the town issued to the track. The agreement was the springboard for the track to actively promote its events and market admission tickets to the general public. The judge directed the track operators to submit a new site plan application to the town for the upcoming 2014 season “and beyond.”
Track representatives initially had assured the town that the facility was “not to be open to the public per se,” attendance would be kept to 25 people and the size of motorcycle engines would be limited to 250cc. Agents for the track later advised town officials that those restrictions were not binding, the judge pointed out.
“This court finds no legal support for that contention,” Burns said. “After considering the legal arguments presented by all parties, the court finds there is no uncertainty in the described use of the property.”
The facility opened for business in 2013.
*Editor's note: This story was edited at 10:45 a.m. Dec. 14 to correct a statement made by Zamelis.