Tivoli officials and the owner of a sailing school are clashing over the use of a small dock located on village riverfront property just south of the railroad crossing.
The dock was constructed by Jerome Hollick, the founder of the Tivoli Sailing Company, who said he has been using the location to tie up boats since the year 2000. Originally, he used a modified portion of long-abandoned bulkheads for his business, he said, but in 2007 he enlisted the help of several community members to build the current structure.
The dock serves as the pickup point for the Sailing Company’s local passengers. According to Hollick, the location accounts for about half of the company’s total business, which focuses on sailing lessons and charters.
But Hollick also noted that the dock is available for public use and is intended to help all Tivoli residents access the waterfront while the village’s planned waterfront development project moves forward. It also provides a much-needed boost to other local business by drawing tourists into the village, he said.
Village officials, however, object to the unauthorized use of the land.
The dock “is on village property illegally,” Mayor Bryan Cranna said at the Sept. 15 Board of Trustees meeting.
The village is currently taking action by forwarding the issue to the zoning department and sending letters to various state agencies. Cranna also noted that, if needed, the village would remove the structure at Hollick’s expense.
Tivoli Village Trustee Joel Griffith said that the problem was largely a legal and technical one. “I think having a sailing school there is a fabulous idea,” he said. “However, you have to go about it the proper way.”
Businesses operating in Tivoli are subject to village regulations, including obtaining site plan approval from the Planning Board, to ensure the business is in compliance with village code. The dock has not gone through that process.
Griffith also said the village could face liability issues if it allowed the unauthorized use of a dock on village property to continue.
Conflicting interests over the dock is also cited as Cranna’s reason for removing Hollick from the Tivoli Riverfront Committee last year. In an Oct. 21, 2011, letter to Hollick, Cranna said, “Your membership to the Riverfront Committee is no longer appropriate and I have no choice but to remove you immediately from the Committee.”
For his part, Hollick has indicated that he will voluntarily discontinue use of the dock when the village is ready to begin construction on the village’s waterfront project, a plan to develop the land acquired from CSX Railroad in 2010 into a park along the Hudson River with access via a tunnel that is currently being studied.
In a June 2011 letter sent to the mayor and village trustees, Hollick said, “When actual construction begins, there will come a time when use of my dock would become impractical, and certainly at that point, I would have no objection to ceasing my use of the dock.”
Until then, he said, the village has no legal right to remove the dock and he would be willing to fight such action in court.
This is based on two arguments. First, he said, under the terms of the village’s purchase agreement, the village has to meet a number of conditions before construction can begin. These conditions include obtaining a minimum of $3.5 million in promised grant funding for the project’s completion. Hollick argues that demolition of the dock would be considered a phase of construction and, therefore, would be illegal before the village meets its obligations to the purchase agreement.
And second, Hollick claimed that his long use of the area may confer him with legal rights to continue use of it.
In his letter last year, he said, “My long usage of the docking area, including but not limited to construction of the present dock, and previous use of the same bulkhead … likely afford me a prescriptive easement to dock there.”
And he added, “My use was continuous, open and notorious and visible to both the public and CSX, the owner at the time, since I modified the bulkhead, later built a dock, and tied up my boats frequently, sometimes even storing a catamaran on the site.”
Griffith responds that the claim seems far-fetched. “He was basically a trespasser on the land ever since it belonged to CSX,” he said. “Just because you are managing to get away with it does not make it legal.”