Historic tavern owner sues town

Jan. 13—The Town of Cambria is facing a lawsuit in which its Zoning Board of Appeals is accused of illegally revoking three permits held by a historical tavern turned "living museum."

Tyler Booth bought the Forsyth-Warren Tavern at 5182 Ridge Road in 2017 with dreams of taking the building in which, "looters, vandals and squatters had long since ransacked" and turning it into an asset for the town's historic tourism industry.

Booth, as well as his mother, Lizabeth Booth, who died in December of 2021 from cancer, and his partner, John Newman, worked to bring into fruition a living museum, where people could literally step back in time and enter what was a pre-revolution tavern and gathering place from colonial times. Through their efforts, the site was also put on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2020.

"The plan was to restore the entire homestead to how it appeared circa 1808 and opening every aspect of this historic site to the public," Booth said. "That meant that the public could come to learn the skills necessary to take care of farm animals, to farm, to garden, to try heritage skills like pottery, canning, woodworking and crafting."

However, that dream came against heavy resistance in the town's government.

Despite misgivings and efforts to avoid such an eventuality, Booth ultimately said he had no choice but to sue the Town of Cambria to make what he and his family had tried so hard to create a reality.

A lawsuit for the revoking of three permits was filed by Tyler Booth's attorneys on Dec. 10, 2022. Judge Frank Sedita will be hearing the case on Feb. 22.

The center of the lawsuit revolves around Cambria Building Inspector Jim McCann, who told the ZBA that Booth had failed to submit plans regarding the change in uses for two buildings on the property, as read in the minutes of the Oct. 25, 2021 meeting. The board voted unanimously to revoke the three permits.

The permits in question are 1) the ability to hold private events on the property, granted in June of 2018, 2) use a barn on the property to house and sell antiques, also granted in June of 2018, and 3) to re-establish the site as a living museum, granted in May of 2019.

In the lawsuit, Booth's attorney, Charles Malcomb of Hodgson Russ LLP, said that, "without notice or opportunity to be heard, the Town of Cambria Zoning Board of Appeals revoked three special permits issued to (Booth)."

Malcomb also filed documents that he says show that McCann had received "an expert report demonstrating code compliance,"; "architectural blueprints from Long Associates Architects, fire protection shop drawings from ADT Security,"; blueprints containing the two buildings' exit signs, fire alarm and carbon monoxide detectors; and a floor plan, as well as sketches of the project. This was in direct contradiction of McCann's claim that he never received any documents from Booth.

The goal of the lawsuit is to have Booth's permits reissued, as well as grant compensations of over $500,000 to Booth.

However, this is not the first lawsuit that Booth has filed against Cambria over these issues.

Also in Sedita's court, Booth had filed an Article 78 against the town with a different attorney on Nov. 22, 2021, regarding the issue. The lawsuit was dismissed, Booth said, but Sedita stated it could be appealed.

According to Booth, the dismissal was hinged on whether the town's own accusations against himself were valid. Before the ZBA meeting in October, McCann brought forward charges on Sept. 1, 2021 saying that Booth had violated the terms of the special permits granted by the town.

According to Booth, the charges held the possibility of holding him for a year in jail, as well as hold any appeal of the Article 78 in limbo.

"If I was guilty, they'd have a reason to revoke my permits," Booth explained. "But if I was not guilty, then their actions were not justifiable and could be reversed."

The charges were dropped in May of 2022.

Now with the accusations behind him, Booth is optimistic that he will see justice from the town. He said he'd like to hold the town accountable for putting him through a years of jumping through hoops and for not training its boards to follow the law, as well as employing McCann.

"We went so above and beyond of what was required of us," Booth said. "It was 100% — they were trying to find a way for us not to open."

Supervisor Wright Ellis and Building Inspector Jim McCann each said that any question on the litigation should be referred to their attorney.

Rob Roberson, the attorney representing the Town of Cambria said he had no comment at this time.