Daniel Banyai gestures during a previous tax hearing in Pawlet, August 2021.

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PAWLET — An Environmental Court judge has partially extended the first deadline facing Slate Ridge owner Daniel Banyai, but kept the rest of the conditions from his contempt of court ruling in place — namely, that Banyai must remove unpermitted structures from the former firearms training facility if he wants to stay out of jail.

In a ruling issued Thursday, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin said Banyai now has until May 25 to remove a schoolhouse from the 30-acre property at 451 Briar Hill Road.

But the remainder of the items to be removed by the deadline — shipping containers, and a series of stairs, ladders and platforms — are still expected to have been removed by March 25. A meeting at the property is scheduled for April 3, according to Merrill Bent, the town’s attorney.

Earlier deadlines set by the court — May 25 for berms in and around a pair of firing ranges, and June 23 for all other remaining non-compliant structures on the site — remain in place, the order said.

Banyai named the property Slate Ridge and, starting in 2017, used it for a weapons training facility. Neighbors raised concerns about gunfire at the site, and about threatening in-person and online interactions with Banyai. He asserted that he was being unfairly targeted by his neighbors.

But Banyai had not sought building permits for the training complex, and the town lodged a complaint against him for zoning violations.

Durkin ruled on March 5, 2021 that the buildings on Banyai’s property were built without obtaining necessary permits. Durkin ordered the facility closed and fined Banyai $46,600 for noncompliance. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the ruling on appeal in January 2022.

When the buildings had not been demolished and the fines had not been paid, Pawlet sought to have Banyai held in contempt of court, and moved to foreclose on the property. Banyai paid $52,965.35 in fines and interest in early April 2022 to avoid foreclosure. But he did not remove the buildings, and a later in-person inspection revealed that he had added a number of agricultural buildings to the site in the meantime.

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Durkin issued the contempt ruling in February, and set forth a schedule with deadlines by which unpermitted structures were to be demolished, and seven-day windows following those deadlines when inspections to verify the work were to take place.

Durkin also assessed a fine of $200 per day with the condition that the fines would be waived if the deadlines were met. If Banyai failed to complete the work, he would be jailed at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility while the town removed the structures at Banyai’s cost.

On March 3, Banyai’s attorney, Robert J. Kaplan of Burlington, sought to have the first deadline extended. He also moved to reconsider the order to remove a pair of berms, claiming they were not part of the town’s initial notice of violation. The Town of Pawlet, in a response filed March 17, opposed both of those proposals.

In his ruling, Durkin made a exception for the school building, left the rest of the deadlines intact, and deferred consideration of the argument over the berms.

“The Court’s first hope is that [Banyai] has already completed or made arrangements to deconstruct and/or remove the façade, shipping containers, and stair/ladder/platforms himself during this time, and only sought an extension for the removal of the larger building,” Durkin said in the ruling. He noted that Banyai had only asked for an extension on the school and clarified that everything else on the March 25 list is to be removed.

“The Court did not arbitrarily set these deadlines, but rather, applied considerable reasoning based on the evidence it had before it at the time of the show cause hearing,” Durkin said in the order, listing the scope of work, weather, conditions, labor availability and Banyai’s capabilities among those factors.

“We also concluded that the delay and timing of this labor is much by [Banyai’s] own doing. ... However, the Court finds that it is ultimately in the best interest of all parties involved for [Banyai] to do the work of bringing his property into compliance himself rather than requiring the Town to complete the compliance directives. If extending the deadline to May 25, 2023 … accomplishes that goal, then the Court finds that it would serve the interests of justice and finality best to extend the deadline.”


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