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City to put 19 properties up for public auction

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The owners of Fort Drum Vehicle Storage intend to bid for a West Main Street warehouse at next month’s public auction after the city rejected their request to buy back the building they lost three months ago to unpaid taxes.

Instead, the Watertown City Council unanimously agreed Monday night to put the 26,281-square-foot warehouse at 753 Rear W. Main St. and 18 other properties up for public auction Oct. 10.

The city acquired the warehouse and other properties after their owners failed to pay back taxes by a June 25 deadline.

On Monday night, Watertown attorney Andrew N. Capone, who is representing the company, told council members that his clients would pay more than $17,000 in unpaid taxes and any other expenses that may have accrued since the city took over the property in late June.

Seven years ago, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage was formed to serve deploying soldiers in need of a safe place to store their vehicles. It had stored about 90 vehicles in the now vacant West Main Street building.

In a well-orchestrated lobbying effort, owner JoAnn Sanchez and other company officials tried to persuade the council to sell the building back to them. They contended that they employed 12 permanent employees and up to 35 temporary workers, and gave work to local auto repair shops, car stereo shops, car washes and other businesses.

“A vehicle is special to a soldier,” Ms. Sanchez said, stressing that it’s crucial for thousands of soldiers to know they have someplace safe to put their cars and trucks, especially now because they are going to be deployed over the next several months.

But only Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said she would be willing to sell the building back to them. The other council members said it would not be fair to other property owners who have lost their homes and businesses to the city for failing to pay their taxes on time.

Although he said he regretted the situation, Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. told the owners they had three years to pay their back taxes but did not do that, so the city was forced to follow the process.

“It’s a matter of principle and part of the process,” he said, “And it upholds standards we adhere to.”

After Monday’s vote, Mr. Capone said his clients have no recourse but to try to purchase the warehouse back when it goes up for auction.

“I don’t see their decision is in the best interest of the city,” he said, adding that the property adds to 116 other vacant buildings in Watertown.

Since the city took over the warehouse, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage has been forced to find sites throughout Northern New York to store “hundreds” vehicles for the military, company officials said. Mr. Capone said it now is using buildings in Oswego, Syracuse and other locations. That means the company now works with auto repair shops and other businesses in those communities, instead of Watertown, he said.

His clients, who own several properties and businesses in the area, got into financial trouble when they “just over-extended themselves” and experienced other problems, the attorney said.

Just two years ago, Fort Drum Vehicle Storage was doing such a brisk business that it was nominated by the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce for a Business of the Year award.

The public auction also will include a house at 259 Seymour St. involved in a dispute this summer between the city and a family who wanted to recover the furnishings inside after they had sat virtually untouched for 22 years.

Neighbors of Watertown Inc. had expressed interest in acquiring the house. After Albert V. Stress died of cancer at age 86 on March 11, 1990, his furnishings and other belongings remained inside the house for 22 years because of a disagreement between his two daughters.

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