Vincent targeted again by highway super and building inspector

— Photo from Emily Vincent

The town of Berne wants resident Emily Vincent to replace this culvert.

BERNE — Berne farmer Emily Vincent is once again being eyed by the town’s building and highway departments, this time over a secondary driveway that’s been on the property since before Vincent bought it in 2013. 

The citation itself is not specific in defining the issue, but it says that Vincent must replace a nearby culvert within 30 days, as of Dec. 22. Vincent told The Enterprise this week that she believes the culvert should be the responsibility of the town, since it was installed by the town, runs underneath a town road, and appears to terminate away from her property. Also, water is still able to flow freely through the tunnel, as seen in videos sent to The Enterprise.

Although property citations are normally a prosaic issue, Vincent has in the past been harassed by the town’s code-enforcement officer, Chance Townsend, and the highway superintendent, Randy Bashwinger, both of whom share authority over the state of Vincent’s driveway. 

Vincent said that she has not been able to reach Townsend for more information, having gone to the building department on Dec. 27 and spoken with the secretary there, who said Townsend would call her. He has yet to do so as of Dec. 31, Vincent said. 

Neither Bashwinger nor Townsend returned Enterprise email or calls seeking comment. The Enterprise has reached out to the Cornell Local Roads program for insight, which did not immediately respond.

Vincent described the situation to The Enterprise as a “witch hunt,” explaining that she had recently attempted to obtain a building permit for a barn she wants to build, only to be told that Townsend had “too much on the docket.” Vincent said it was only after she called the town’s supervisor, Sean Lyons, that she was able to get the permit.

After the town’s sole building inspector resigned this year, the town hired three new ones to aid Townsend in his job, even though an outside labor consultant contracted by the then-Democratic majority on the board in 2018 said that the code-enforcement officer did not need any more hours than Townsend was working because Berne, which has a population under 3,000, is so small.

It was likely the work on this barn that led to the current citation. Vincent said that the contractor she hired recently poured additional shale over the driveway while he was there to excavate the plot where the barn will stand. The contractor did so because “he had extra,” Vincent said, and it would help larger vehicles and equipment use that driveway.  

However, it’s still unclear what, exactly, is wrong with the driveway and why she must replace the culvert. 

“It has been determined that the new driveway installed prior to permit, for your Agriculture Building does not meet Town Code,” the letter reads. “Please see Chapter 190, Zoning 190-17 General Revisions (B1) and (E1).”

The first item cited states, “Any proposed excavation adversely affecting natural drainage or structural safety of adjoining buildings or lands shall be prohibited. Excavation shall not create any noxious or injurious substance or condition or cause public hazard.”

The second states, “For reasons of traffic and pedestrian safety, as well as to provide for possible future road widening or other improvements, all new driveways entering onto any street shall comply with the requirements of this section and shall be subject to the approval of the Town Highway Superintendent. 

“Where such driveways enter onto a county or state road, they shall also be subject to Albany County Department of Public Works and New York State Department of Transportation approvals, respectively,” it goes on. “Where such driveways are part of a subdivision application or site plan approval, they shall also be subject to Planning Board approval.”

Both Townsend and Bashwinger have a history of attacking Vincent, who was formerly on the planning board.

In 2018, Vincent installed a temporary greenhouse without a permit, because a permit was not required for that structure. Townsend nevertheless argued that she did need a permit and owed the town money. 

That ordeal drew up conflict between the town’s Democratic and Republican officials. Republicans — Bashwinger, Lyons, and Deputy Supervisor Dennis Palow — wanted Vincent to resign from the planning board, and made false allegations and insinuations about her sexuality to further their cause. 

Democrats, who held a 3-to-2 majority on the board at the time, defended Vincent.

When Republicans took control of the board in 2020, they illegally fired Vincent from the planning to replace her with Thomas Spargo, a former State Supreme Court Justice who was disbarred after a bribery conviction, for which he served two years in jail. Vincent successfully sued the town and was reinstated to serve the rest of her term.

Vincent aside, Townsend has been the center of other controversies as well.

In 2020, The Enterprise learned that Townsend did not have the proper license required of code-enforcement officers. When Townsend was first appointed by the town in 2018, he was properly licensed. Townsend resigned, however, before his reappointment in 2020. In the meantime, his license expired and he did not do anything to re-obtain it. He has since acquired his license. 

Before that, Townsend was criticized for evicting the Buddhist tenants of Switzkill Farm in 2018, giving them only a few hours’ notice in the dead of winter because smoke detectors and a sprinkling system weren’t working properly. One tenant moved away permanently, while the other returned to Switzkill Farm, working as a caretaker before the town terminated his contract this year.

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