Resident complaints, concerns take up much of Woodbury meeting

Woodbury. Speakers discussed delayed responses, inaction, and overdevelopment fears, among other issues.

| 13 May 2024 | 11:59

Public comment occupied much of the May 9 Woodbury Village Board meeting, as residents shared various grievances regarding municipal inaction, the impact of development on the community, and the potential for corrupt individuals to undermine the work of the board.

Among the residents to speak was a gentleman who claimed that he sought assistance from the village regarding an area that was unsafe for handicapped individuals in September of last year and said the building inspector did not respond until January. He questioned why some actions are treated with more urgency than others.

The resident also commented on the misuse of dwellings in the area. When asked by the board if complaints were filed, the gentleman replied with concern that these claims would lead to his information being shared on social media and people coming after him.

Trustee Susan Fries-Ciriello emphasized that the board needs to know if an official complaint was filed so action could be taken. Village attorney Kelly Naughton also reminded the resident that complaints need to be put in writing, and while these complaints are subject to the Freedom of Information Law, any private information is redacted.

The resident engaged in a back and forth over such issues as garbage and zombie poles with Mayor Andrew Giacomazza, who claimed the resident was saying the same thing over and over and had brought these issues up at a recent meeting. He also echoed the board’s sentiment that if the resident has an issue, he needs to file a complaint.

Steven Gargano, a resident of Oakland Avenue in Central Valley, along with his wife Janelle, came before the board to bring their attention to what they claim was more than $500,000 worth of damage to their home after a “catastrophic rainstorm” in September.

Gargano claimed the flooding was due to construction on nearby developments and that this was causing muddy water run-off. Presenting photos to the board, Gargano said he was there to seek guidance from them and seeking cooperation from the village of Woodbury as well as the town of Woodbury.

“This damage happened to my house and is happening on town property, they need to mitigate it,” said Gargano.

Gargano shared that he put in a notice of claim and gave a deposition to the insurance company. He also said he reached out to the Woodbury town supervisor to set up a meeting and was later told that she was advised not to take the meeting due to ongoing litigation. Gargano said he was advised to speak with the village attorney. He claimed that there is no ongoing litigation, and he shouldn’t be prohibited from speaking with the town.

“Somebody from the village forbade the town from talking to me,” said Gargano.

Village attorney Naughton advised the board not to respond and explained that filing a notice of claim, as Gargano said he has done, is initiating litigation. She also suggested that the town of Woodbury had him reach out to her because they did not have legal counsel at that time. She also advised Gargano to speak with his own attorney and that procedures are put in place once a claim is filed.

Gargano said he was not looking to be litigious or seeking money and that he wanted to work with the village. He told the board there needs to be code enforcement and that the bigger issue of development needs to be addressed.

“Once you allow building, these build[ers] it seems they are accountable to nobody,” said Gargano.

Gargano also asked for more cooperation between residents and town/village engineers so that they can be aware of what is happening. He also said that his concerns are beyond him and are affecting everyone in the area.

Echoing Gargano’s concerns about the impact of construction, Jimmy Ng of Highland Mills asked the board to consider the bigger picture. He said developers need to be held accountable and that neighboring communities are already suffering from the impact of over development.

Ng pointed to South Blooming Grove’s need for water trucks and how he would not be paying for the village of Woodbury to truck in water. He urged the village to get a well online to catch up to where they were but alleged even that is not good enough to mitigate the impact of development.

Speaking on behalf of the board, Trustee Matthew Fabbro said that the village is not going to allow water trucks to come and that the moratorium on development will remain until the village has an adequate water supply.

Ng expressed his appreciation for the board and their integrity. “You make the tough decisions because it’s the right thing to do,” said Ng. He followed this with concern that the board could be taken over by “corrupt individuals” who don’t have the community’s interests in mind. He shared that he was worried that there might be a point where citizens can’t come up and speak.

“We have to be vigilante. We have to show up. We have to care,” said Ng.

While Ng was speaking, Trustee James Freiband walked out of the meeting. Freiband did not address this during the meeting, however, Mayor Giacomazza admonished him for leaving while a resident was speaking.

Giacomazza said that a former trustee wanted to stop people from speaking beyond the five-minute limit for comments. He noted that although this rule is on the books, he will not follow it.

“I believe if a resident comes here and wants to express themselves, whether I like it or not, it’s there right to do so as a tax payer,” said Giacomazza. “I’m not here to squash free speech.”