By Walter Dawkins
OLD TAPPAN — Neighbors involved in a pesticide complaint against a farm owned by a borough councilman have filed an ethics complaint against him with the state’s Local Finance Board.
The complaint, dated Feb. 1, alleges that Ronald Binaghi Jr. used his influence as a borough councilman to obtain approval to build a new 7,000-square-foot greenhouse despite using an outdated 18-year-old survey of the farm.
“The zoning-permit application clearly states that the applicant has to provide a recent survey of the property,” said Alan Ashkinaze, lawyer for the affected residents, James and Wilda Lagrosa. “Had this been any other resident of Old Tappan, that permit application would have likely been rejected as incomplete.”
“There was no favoritism accepting an old survey,” countered construction official Peter Abballe. “Under the Right to Farm Act, there are limitations regarding the size. But if [Binaghi] abides by zoning setbacks, which he does, he can put as many greenhouses as he wants.”
The Lagrosas have complained that greenhouse ventilating fans from Stokes Farm, owned by Binaghi, blow contaminants directly onto their property. Wilda Lagrosa has asthma and breathing problems.
While engaged in state mediation with the Lagrosas, Binaghi received a construction permit in December to build another greenhouse structure on the 17-acre site. In response, Ashkinaze filed another grievance with the Bergen County Agriculture Development Board in December.
The new ethics complaint also alleges that Binaghi submitted a building plan with ventilating fans despite promising no fans on the zoning permit application.
“That is a prototype plan and that greenhouse can be installed with or without fans,” Abballe responded. “Mr. Binaghi has no intentions of putting any fans in this greenhouse.”
But Ashkinaze doesn’t buy it.
“Clearly that model there is designed for four ventilating fans,” Ashkinaze said. “If it’s not an actual depiction of what he’s going to be building, why did the building inspector approve it?”
Binaghi said that he has followed all the borough’s regulations.
“The reason why the Right to Farm Law was created was for this exact reason — for frivolous nuisance complaints,” he said.