County official: Samanta Roy property is 'in compliance'

The Shawano Leader/October 13, 2004
By Tim Ryan

Despite rumors and speculation to the contrary, all of the construction activity that has taken place on Dr. R.C. Samanta Roy's Frailing Road property in the Town of Wescott has a legitimate explanation and the appropriate permits, according to Shawano County.

Not all officials are convinced of that, however, and a lack of on site inspections has fueled some of that skepticism.

"You drive by that area, it's so overgrown and all you see are glimpses through the brush," said Frank Buss, chairman of the county's Board of Adjustment. "It's hard to determine what's going on behind there."

Buss raised questions about some of the excavation and digging that has been seen. He added that some of the structures on the property are too far from the property line to see what's really going on.

"It creates that air of mystery and everyone wonders what's happening," he said.

Wescott Town Chairman Mike Schuler said the county should inspect the property to see that work being done there matches the permits that have been issued. He also said that some work has been done without a permit.

The questions about the property became such an issue that the county Planning and Zoning Development Department went through the trouble of creating a folder of all permits issued and matching them with aerial photos.

"Everything that's out there has a permit and is in compliance," said Planning Director Tim Reed.

The property has not been physically inspected by officials for two years but Reed said there is little the county can do about that.

"We don't have much authority to go on to the property," Reed said.

Permits in the Planning Department's file go back as far as 1978 when Samanta Roy applied for a land use permit to build a $150 barn. Permits were next granted for a 30x60-foot garage and a 12x24-foot chicken coop. There was another barn permit for the storage of machinery issued in 1979.

A permit for a pond was issued in April 1981, though the permit provides no details about its size or where it would be located. The permit for the garage was renewed in April 1981.

There is nothing unusual about any of the permits, except that some attention was already being paid to the number of people - ostensibly members of Samanta Roy's religious group - who were often congregating on the property. Comments added to the permit for the storage barn state: "Structure to be used for Agricultural purposes. Cannot be used for assemblage of people."

A permit was issued in 1981 for repairs to the basement and garage and the addition of an upper level tape room. In 1983, a permit was issued for the addition of a recording room and alterations to the basement. Samanta Roy had been recording a radio program in those days that aired in Shawano and other communities.

A storage building was added in 1983, and a carport in 1984, according to the permits on file with the county. The permit for the carport includes comments referring to a public hearing on a variance for the project but no documents from the hearing itself.

It was not until 1988, based on a review of the file, that any suspicions were aroused about work being done without a permit.

A Sept. 23, 1988 letter from the Shawano County Zoning Administration raised questions about digging and excavation, and the erection of "a dome-like structure" on the property. The letter requested that "activities cease until plans are presented and permits obtained."

Seven months then went by without any response or any action by Shawano County. Zoning Administrator Roger Mathison said the long gap in following up was probably due to the department's workload.

A second letter, dated April 24, 1989, reiterated the first letter and warned of legal action if there was no compliance by June 1.

A hand-written note states that Samanta Roy - or Rama Behera, as he was known then - called the county four days later, on April 28, and said the dome was "a project by his children," and that it would be removed in the fall. Notes from that phone call indicate Samanta Roy said he would send the county a letter stating that information but there was no copy of it in the county's file. The notes do not indicate that there was any mention of the digging or excavation.

In a recent interview with the Shawano Leader, Mathison recalled that there was a plastic dome structure that was eventually taken down. Mathison said he does not recall what the digging was about but that digging "is not a problem as long as they're not putting up any structures."

After the April 24, 1989 letter and subsequent phone call from Samanta Roy, there are no documents on file in the Shawano County Planning Department regarding the property for another 10 years.

Then, in 1999, a letter was sent to Samanta Roy from the Planning and Development Department questioning "a construction project in progress."

The July 20, 1999 letter informed Samanta Roy that a building permit and a land use permit were needed and that the private sewage system on the property may need to be evaluated. The letter also requested that a site plan be brought in.

Two weeks later, on Aug. 3, 1999, after-the-fact land use and building permits were issued. Though the permits do not specify what work was being done, Building Inspector Robert Jacobson told the Leader the permits were for a second floor addition to the property.

He added that no hearing or variance would have been necessary, as the addition was a permitted use. The only requirement was that the structure stay under the 35-foot maximum height.

The sewage system, however, remained unresolved and a day after the after-the-fact permits were issued, Aug. 4, 1999, Jacobson wrote a note summing up comments from County Sanitarian Rich Teetzen. He wrote that, according to Teetzen, the sewage system appeared to be "overloaded by large congregations of people and not in the true sense failing." Teetzen recommended the use of porta potties during heavy use periods.

Shortly after getting the after-fact-permit for a second floor, Samanta Roy approached the Town of Wescott seeking a variance for an additional one to three stories. The town's zoning committee denied the variance.

In November 1999, the County's Board of Adjustment, following the recommendation of the Town of Wescott, also denied the request.

"We decided there was room - if they wanted to expand - they could do it at ground level rather than go up three or four stories," Buss said.

The work was subsequently abandoned and the unfinished addition was "tarped off," Mathison said.

A day after the additional stories were denied, a permit application was submitted for a "penthouse" office structure to be added to the building. That application was never approved.

The last permit issued by the county was on March 11, 2003, which allowed for the construction of a second pond. The pond has since been completed.

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