On March 10, 2021

Slate Ridge ordered to permanently close, pay $46,603 in fines to Pawlet

Daniel Banyai speaks to a group at Slate Ridge in Pawlet. Facebook photo

Staff report

An environmental court judge has ordered Slate Ridge, a firearms training facility in West Pawlet that has caused local strife and garnered national attention, to permanently close.

The court ruled Friday, March 5, that the facility’s owner, Daniel Banyai, must dismantle all of the buildings on his property that do not have a zoning permit. He owes fines totaling $46,603, which will go to the Town of Pawlet.

In a 22-page ruling, Judge Thomas Durkin outlines the multi-year conflict between Banyai and the town, which dates back to 2017, when Banyai first applied for a zoning permit so that he could operate a “school,” referring to Slate Ridge.

Pawlet has long argued that Banyai’s “school” and the buildings associated with it are an unpermitted use of residential land according to its bylaws, and the town first served him a notice of violation in August 2019.

In Durkin’s ruling, he states that the same notice of violation is still valid, and Banyai owes the town $100 for each of the 466 days since he was served. He must also hire a Vermont-licensed surveyor or engineer to complete a detailed site plan of his property, then dismantle the buildings there.

Banyai must inform the court and the town when the deconstruction is halfway done, then when it’s entirely complete.

Neighbors say constant, rapid gunfire has interrupted their lives, and their confrontations with Banyai have left them feeling fearful.

On a Facebook page, which has been inactive since the beginning of March, Banyai has advertised Slate Ridge as offering a range of military-style training, from introductory pistol shooting to vehicle assault classes. He has also posted photos and videos of his trainings, and of the large cache of firearms and ammunition that he claims to possess.

The court also continued the conditions of the preliminary injunction it issued in January, which states that 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 classes of any type on the property.”

Friday’s ruling noted that nothing from any of the submitted evidence caused the court to reconsider this decision.

“We therefore also conclude that the preliminary injunction order be made permanent, given that Mr. Banyai has no legal authority to construct the buildings or conduct the uses that he has done on his property,” the ruling stated.

Banyai has posted threats directed at neighbors, and was recently served a no-stalking order against one neighbor, Mandy Hulett. Banyai had posted a video of a vehicle assault class that showed the door of a car with “Hulett Trucking,” the name of her family’s business, written on it in marker. The car door was shot through.

He has also invasively researched many in the community, posting photos and information about neighbors, town officials, reporters and others with whom he disagrees.

Banyai has had ongoing run-ins with both Vermont and New York judges during legal proceedings, and the court noted his lack of willingness to cooperate.

“Mr. Banyai’s record of compliance has been horrendous,” the ruling stated, saying that he resisted efforts by town officials to comply with the bylaws in 2017, and “his non-compliance continued through the date of our trial.”

The judge said Banyai’s “years-long” non-compliance is further evidence that “the imposition of a significant daily fine” is warranted.

VTDigger contributed to this report.

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