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Massena trustees want timeline for repair of derelict structure

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MASSENA - Village trustees want to see more concrete plans from the owner of a derelict property at 68 Water St., showing that he will rehabilitate the structure in a timely manner.

James Venier, the owner of the abandoned apartment building, told village trustees this week he’s consulted with his professional engineer, Thomas A. H. Pahler of Norwood, who believes the structure can be renovated.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that it can be rehabbed,” Mr. Venier said. “We are going forward to address all the issues with that building, and we’ll come back to (the village board of trustees) with a timeline for completion.”

But village trustees said they want to see more proof in an effort to reduce the number of derelict structures in the village. They tabled Mr. Venier’s proposal to repair the structure until he could provide more evidence that he will have the repairs completed in a timely manner.

“I know of three capped basements right now, (the owners of which) had an intent to do something to rehabilitate those basements,” Mayor James F. Hidy said. “They’re covered with tarp or plywood, and I would not even consider stepping on one of those pieces of plywood, for fearing of (sinking) six feet, 12 feet (into the ground).”

“I’m sure their intents were good, I’m assuming, but now five years down the road they’ve done nothing,” Mr. Hidy added.

At the board’s last meeting a hearing was held on the proposed demolition of that structure. During that hearing, Mr. Venier convinced the board to give him the opportunity to propose a plan to repair the building’s numerous deficiencies in the village’s building code.

Mr. Venier believes the building can be repaired and said he hadn’t the time or funds to repair it previously.

“I think the building is salvageable, and I’m going to fix it,” Mr. Venier said previously. “Prior to this (time) I have not had the resources to address” the building’s code deficiencies.

The building was damaged in a 2008 fire and has not been repaired since. The building breaks five of 12 criteria in the Massena building code that outline when a structure may become dangerous or unsafe to the general public.

These include damage to 33 percent or more of its supporting foundation; fire damage severe enough to pose a threat to the safety, health and general welfare of the public; a failure to provide amenities essential to healthy human habitation; and having parts so detached from the structure they may fail and injure members of the public, village officials said.

“All the structural deficiencies could be resolved with current and proper repairs. However, without a firm time-table, investment and commitment from the owner, said structure will be condemned and demolished,” former Code Enforcement Officer Gregory Fregoe told the village board.

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld told Mr. Venier he would like to see a “deliverable” at the next meeting: a drawing, sketch or rough timeline for the project. He said there were words in Mr. Venier’s project proposal that were “vague.”

“I think you just got to draw a timeline, because without a timeline who knows what could happen (with the structure)?” Mr. Ahlfeld said to Mr. Venier. “It’s been going on so long, and we’ve kind of undertaken a goal to clean up our community.”

Mr. Ahlfeld said before he could vote on Mr. Venier’s proposal he would have to know when the code deficiencies would be corrected, and the state the building will be in at that point in time.

“I would like to know if it’ll be done by July 31 or Dec. 31, and if it’ll be capped or have shrink-wrap around it by July 31,” Mr. Ahlfeld said. “We don’t just want the bare minimum (of rehabilitation and) of having it still be an eyesore.”

Mr. Venier responded that he thought the building wouldn’t be an eyesore once the exterior issues were addressed and that he wouldn’t be able to provide a timeline for the rehabilitation at this time.

“I have to talk to (my architect), I can’t make his schedule,” Mr. Venier said. He also told the board he would check in with Mr. Hidy once he had a timeline in place.

Fire Department Foreman and career firefighter Ken McGowan brought to the attention of Mr. Venier and the board of trustees that Mr. Venier will have to receive a use variance from the village’s Zoning Board of Appeals before he can lease the structure to tenants. He said the building lies within the Central Business District, which only allows apartments above some kind of storefront or business. The structure no longer conforms to the code under a grandfather clause because it hasn’t been used for more than 12 months.

Mr. McGowan is one of six career firefighters trained in code enforcement, who took over Mr. Fregoe’s code enforcement duties last month.

Mr. Venier asked the board which he should do first: begin work or seek a use variance?

Trustee Patricia K. “Trish” Wilson responded that the first thing Mr. Venier has to do is convince the board of trustees the structure will be repaired in a timely manner. After the board’s approval, he should seek a use variance from the zoning board.

“You’re the biggest push at this point,” Ms. Wilson told Mr. Venier. “We’re looking for some kind of timeline and if you’re going to put in apartments, what’s that going to look like?”

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