PAWLET — Daniel Banyai has been ordered to pay fines of $46,603.03 to the town of Pawlet and hire a surveyor to complete a site plan of his Slate Ridge property and then deconstruct all buildings that were not authorized with a valid zoning permit.
The judgment order was issued for the property at 541 Briar Hill Road and handed down by Superior Court Judge Thomas Durkin. The order completes the Environmental Court action, which began in 2019.
Pawlet attorney Merrill Bent said the town will file the order as a lien on the property.
The judge also made an injunction preventing Banyai from using the property as a firearms training facility or shooting range permanent with the order.
The preliminary injunction says Banyai, “shall not conduct or permit to be conducted any school and/or firearms training activities on the Property situated at 541 Briar Hill Road, nor host any classes of any type on the property.”
The court ordered that “the Preliminary Injunction Order must be made permanent, given that Mr. Banyai has no legal authority to construct the buildings or conduct the uses that he had done on his property.”
The fines amount to $100 per day for the 466 days passed since Banyai was ordered to have cured his zoning violations from a Sept. 6, 2019 Notice of Violation, totaling $46,600.
The total also allows for court costs of $1,003.03 but credits him for the $400 fee he paid in connection with a 2018 permit which was also voided by the court.
Additionally, the judge ruled that the Town of Pawlet is not entitled to reimbursement of attorney’s fees.
“We decline to [award attorney’s fees] given that we have already taken into consideration the attorneys’ fees that the Town incurred in prosecuting Mr. Banyai’s zoning violations,” reads the court’s Decision on the Merits.
In addition to the fines and fees, the judgment order declares the June 4, 2018 zoning permit issued to him is void because it was issued “impermissibly” because the matter was tied up in the courts at the time. The order requires that Banyai enter into a contract with a Vermont-licensed surveyor or engineer and complete an accurate site plan of his Slate Ridge property detailing all improvements, dimensions and setbacks from boundary lines to give the town an understanding of improvements. Once the site plan is completed, the order requires that Banyai “immediately begin and complete the deconstruction and removal of all buildings on his property that have not [been] authorized by a valid zoning permit.”
Bent said Banyai is ordered to notify the Court when the deconstruction effort is 50 percent complete, and then when it is 100 percent complete.
Bent said there are fines if that work is not done.
“If Mr. Banyai fails to complete these steps, the Court will determine whether the Town will be authorized to deconstruct the improvements instead, and may then impose an ongoing fine of $200 per day,” Bent said.
The property in question, a 30-acre property in West Pawlet, was unimproved when Banyai purchased it in July 2013 for $59,000, according to Pawlet land records.
As of April 1, 2019, the town assessed the property $78,970, with $63,420 for the land and $15,550 for a building.
Sometime in 2017, Banyai began operating a firearms training facility on the property, calling it Slate Ridge.
In the following years, Banyai allegedly constructed several structures and used heavy equipment to create shooting range berms on the property, all without permits, according to the court.
Banyai told the Granville (NY) Sentinel he had invested more than $1.6 million into the property.
He also started hosting classes for a variety of firearms trainings. On Jan. 4, 2021, Banyai attempted to transfer the property to his son by way of a Vermont Quit Claim Deed. According to the court, the only permit Banyai obtained was for a garage with an apartment. The court considered Banyai’s “record of compliance,” in the order.
“Mr. Banyai’s record of compliance has been horrendous,” according to the Decision on the Merits. “He has resisted the Town officials’ efforts at attempting to have him comply with the applicable zoning Bylaws for years, beginning when [he] first began building on his property in 2017 and operating a firearms training facility. ... His non-compliance continued through the date of our trial. His years-long continuance non-compliance is further evidence warrants the imposition of a significant daily fine.”
The judge ordered that any party claiming an ownership interest from or through Mr. Banyai shall also be subject to the recorded [Notice of Violation] and Judgement Order.
It is unclear why, but the Slate Ridge page disappeared from Facebook sometime around Monday, but his other social media accounts are still available.