Shooting range in West Pawlet: Perspective from the neighbors

Shooting range in West Pawlet: Perspective from the neighbors
Photo Courtesy of Jay Mullen. Daniel Banyai, owner and operator of Slate Ridge.

Second in a series…

Rich and Mandy Hulett were joined in their living room by Beth and Ray Duquette Sr., John and Val Davis and a woman who chose to remain anonymous but provided countless pieces of collected evidence and history regarding Daniel Banyai. Everyone agreed this was not an issue of the 2nd Amendment, but a “property issue.”

All of the mentioned individuals are Briar Hill Road residents who have been living there longer than Banyai has, and all are concerned and furious that the Pawlet Select Board has done nothing to intervene with Banyai. Vermont State Police Public Information Officer Adam Silverman could not be contacted by press time.

“The landowner (Banyai) does not have a permit for the current use, nor for some of the buildings/structures. The town (West Pawlet) issued a notice of violation and, when the use continued, brought the matter to court to enforce the zoning bylaws through an injunction. The Court granted the town’s Motion for Summary Judgment, confirming that the use is unpermitted,” the board’s legal counsel Merrill Bent said via email. “I anticipate that a final hearing to determine the remedy will be held within the next month or so.”

Banyai disputes this, presenting plaques of permits and licenses on his classroom wall authorized to him for operation of the facility and firearms training.

Duquette Sr., a beef farmer and West Pawlet resident for about 38 years said he has “begged” the chairman of the Select Board Michael Beecher and other board members at every monthly meeting for the last couple of years to enforce the town’s established bylaws.

“Any time there’s a change in usage of the land, you need an ACT 250 permit [authorized by the Department of Environmental Conservation],” said Duquette Sr.

Mandy Hulett spoke directly from the town’s verbiage in its bylaws.

“The bylaws say that the town tries to promote the health and safety and general welfare of all of the inhabitants, protect and conserve the property values, to conserve and encourage the value of community, to maintain the integrity of Pawlet,” Hulett said. “He [Banyai] goes against everything that those town bylaws say.”

“He will not bring economic growth or development, ever,” said Beth Duquette. “They [members of Slate Ridge] come up here, they shoot and then they go home.”

The Huletts have had issues with Banyai for the last six plus years.

Rich Hulett removed a security gate that has been argued and disputed by both Hulett and Banyai to be on each other’s part of the property. A 30-foot right-of-way off Switch Road is owned by Rich Hulett, which Banyai has access to drive through to get to the Slate Ridge gate.

Photo courtesy of Rich Hulett. Writing explaining the 30-foot right-of-way belongs to Rich Hulett, the grantor. Daniel Banyai, the grantee, is responsible for maintenance of and is allowed to travel back-and-forth on the right-of-way.

“Look up the definition of a bully and they’re a big bully until they get shoved back and all of a sudden they’re a victim, perfect example,” Rich Hulett said of Banyai. “He moved up here, bought that piece of property and has a right-of-way across one of our fields. We own the right-of-way, he has a right to drive across it, period . . . he can’t do anything but maintain it.”

“Instantly, he [Banyai] says, ‘This is my property, I can do whatever I want with it, and this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to put this gate here and you can’t tell me any different. My lawyer said I can do it. If you try and remove this gate, I’m going to sue you.’”

Hulett responded by giving Banyai three weeks to remove the gate, which he did not, and followed by removing the gate himself from Hulett’s property with a $60,000 payloader and moving it to the property line.

“If he came up here and was decent, and gonna be a good neighbor and wasn’t an [expletive], we probably would have dug the holes for him,” Hulett said. “We get along with all our adjoining landowners.”

Rich Hulett’s trucking business was targeted via a Slate Ridge Facebook post, with members shooting bullets at the driver side door of a car with “R. Hulett Trucking” written in black marker that penetrated through the driver side door and exited the passenger side door. Mandy Hulett feels this was directed toward her after an altercation with Banyai earlier that same day when she pulled off to the side of the road near Slate Ridge and a neighbor’s land so she could speak on the phone with her husband in a spotty cellular coverage zone.

Screenshot from Slate Ridge Facebook video that was reposted on Mandy Hulett’s Facebook page. The entry point of a full metal jacket bullet going through the driver side door of a car with Rich Hulett’s trucking business logo written in marker.

“He [Banyai] pops up over the hill and I can see him in my rear-view mirror, and I say to Rich, ‘Oh no, here comes the white clown car.’ So he came up over the hill and somebody was behind him in an older SUV and I’m talking through the car so I just kept talking to him [Rich], and he [Banyai] pulled up right next to me and stopped. He wanted so bad for me to look at him, and I would not look at him,” Mandy Hulett said.

“He sped off and his crony sped off and that was the weekend that they had the shooting at the vehicle. Did you hear him say on there, ‘You’re not safe sitting in a vehicle?’ Yeah, that’s cause I JUST saw him.”

When asked about this situation, Banyai replied that he wasn’t responsible for that.

“Here is what is most important and I’m going to tell you on the record, I don’t mind stirring the pot,” Banyai said. “I know what the laws are and maybe sometimes I know how to go around it, but the moral of the story is as long as it is not illegal, it can be done.”

Banyai continued to expand on his relationship with the Huletts in West Pawlet.

“Stirring the pot is keeping people on their toes, but I never stood a chance in this community from day one because of the Huletts, because they disseminated so much hate and so much fallacy about me that I didn’t stand a chance to pick up any momentum,” Banyai said.

“And they thought I wasn’t going to be successful, but I don’t need to be successful because I’m not in commerce, so if he [Rich Hulett] says to you, ‘Don’t go to Slate Ridge, it’s garbage, it’s a ripoff,’ you ain’t paying anything to come here! So how are you going to hurt me?”

“I don’t wanna sit up here on my porch every Saturday and Sunday listening to him up there shooting,” Rich Hulett said. “Again, if we built this place after he had that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because we wouldn’t be complaining about it, but we built all of our homes up here, bought all our homes up here before he came up here and started playing G.I. Joe in the woods.”

John Davis took a moment to express his frustration.

“What bothers me is, one of the things is, in the 44 years since we’ve been up here, I’ve probably gotten six building permits for different projects around . . . so I never drove a nail until I got my permit in hand. Here somebody blows into town and does whatever they want, and nobody holds them accountable. They won’t even go up there to see what he’s got. I want my building permit back from the damn town but there’s a fat chance of that happening,” Davis said. “That’s what annoys me, we all play by the rules here, we have a good neighborhood, we pay our taxes, none of us have ever been delinquent on taxes and we get crapped on.”

Davis and the Briar Hill Road neighbors are not fans of the hate speech and constant games they say to be played by Slate Ridge’s Facebook page and its followers.

“This guy plays social media like Billy Joel plays a piano,” John Davis said.

Many of the Briar Hill Road neighbors were sent threatening Christmas cards from members of Slate Ridge, which Banyai denies he had part in doing.

One Facebook user wrote a comment saying, “From a place you will not see will come a sound you will never hear.”

Look for Part 3: “Common ground, disagreements and resolution” in the next issue of the Granville Sentinel.