FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
It's been a hard two years for Tai and Adele Aguirre, a young couple who met big-time obstacles when they started a small addition for a home office on their home in Carmel in Putnam County. The Aguirres had all local permits and met sanitary requirements. But, the City of New York, which faces stringent federal rules protecting the upstate watershed which is the City's lifeline, brought an enforcement action on the Aguirres. The couple faced a Catch-22. The City claimed that their septic field was too small but refused to allow them to enlarge it because of a small pond nearby which ultimately fed into waters used by the City.
The City's case against the Aguirres hinged on formal code requirements, measurable setbacks from waterways, lengths of leach fields that depended on the number of bedrooms in a home. Whatever their current purpose, more rooms meant more bedrooms when it came to measuring needs for septic disposal capacity.
While the Aguirres were facing the City all alone, with the prospect of severe fines and having to tear out the alteration to their home, the State Administration was leading the coalition of all the towns in the City's watershed in the Catskills and Putnam County through arduous negotiations designed to save the City billions of dollars necessary to build a new filtration plant for its upstate waters including waters ultimately draining from the place where the Aguirres residence lies. The watershed towns had sued the City, claiming that the City's proposed rules would impede the local economy. The lawsuit was on hold during negotiations. The City, however, had more negotiating power than all the towns in its watershed. While, the Aguirres fought their lonely battle, the towns agreed to all the City requested. In exchange for iron-clad land-use rules, and vastly enlarged City land-holdings, the towns received financial awards toward economic development and new sewage treatment facilities.
The Aguirres had never received any local support, moral or otherwise, from their local town and county, but in the past they at least had the knowledge that negotiators could be watching their case to consider it as an indicator of how the City would treat local landowners when it acquired even more power under new rules. Now the Aguirres were seemingly alone.
The Aguirres found allies. Helped by the growing property rights movement in New York State, they connected to a prominent legal group, Atlantic Legal Foundation in Manhattan, which adopted their case because of its importance to private property owners.
The Aguirres were able to dumbfound the City with a defense based on the real, rather than theoretical, impact of their home addition. The City's technicians could attribute to the Aguirre's house no measurable pollution whatever in the pond.
Tai Aguirre, a consummate salesman, also got his story out. Soon after a sympathetic portrayal of his plight on the Fox evening news, the City seemed to waver.
Negotiations between the two sides lost their one-sided, David and Goliath style, and ultimately became a real give and take.
In Mid-March the City DEP conceded its case to the Aguirres, dropped exorbitant fines and allowed them to continue living in their expanded home with minimal, workable requirements to upgrade their waste water system.
CONTACT: Carol W. LaGrasse
Property Rights Foundation of
Tai and Adele Aguirre