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ZBA says no to more Liberty Avenue apartments

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MASSENA - The Massena Zoning Board of Appeals denied a use variance request for three apartments at 53 Liberty Ave.

The proposal was brought forward by Robin Wolpin, a landlord who purchased the building in the fall.

“In October I bought the building at the tax auction, and when I bought the building, it was my understanding that it was three units, (that) it was a three-unit apartment house. When we got in there after we purchased it, it did have three apartments in it,” Ms. Wolpin said. “Then when we went to get the work permit to do work, (code enforcement secretary Avis Hazelton) said that it was only actually for two; that it had reverted to residential zoning. ... She said that when it’s vacant for more than a year, it does go back to the residential zoning. So I’m not really sure whether it was legitimately housed with three.

“I thought there were three apartments in it. My intention was to keep three apartments in it. I didn’t think anything differently about it. I thought it was three all along until we got the work permit,” she stressed.

Ms. Wolpin said she felt that in order to get a reasonable return on the money she invested in the property, a use variance was her best option. “It’s going to require a lot of money to fix it up and in order to rent it I believe the best return I can get it is by renting three, two-bedroom units. It’s quite large. It’s 2,600 square feet and can easily accommodate three units as it did before. I don’t believe it will alter the character of the neighborhood at all,” she said. “Today I jotted down some close by properties. 60 Liberty, right across the street is a three family (house.) It’s zoned for three families right now. Right by the corner on Cedar Street is a three-family apartment. ... So I don’t think it’s going to change the character of that area.”

Ms. Hazelton noted that in the mid 2000s there had been a time when the building held three apartments. However, after a letter was received by DPW Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad, and an inspection was conducted, it was decided that the property should be limited to two units.

“I do know that over a year ago, it would have been over a year prior to the auction, we had gotten complaints from the (police department) that the building had not been secure. So in 2011, we had to send a letter and say, ‘Secure the doors, lock them, board up windows’ because it had been vacant then,” Ms. Hazelton said. “So somewhere in there, I don’t know when it had been changed from the apartment building to having it vacant.”

Thomas Spinner accompanied Ms. Wolpin to the meeting Tuesday and echoed the idea that the building was for three units. “It’s always been a three unit. ... Right now there’s only two entrances. The upstairs apartment is 960 square feet and the downstairs is identical, 960. There’s a rear (section) in the back and that’s 660 square feet,” Mr. Spinner said. “They are all two bedrooms. The downstairs, you’re talking about a 1,700 square foot apartment. I’d much rather have three units and two bedrooms.”

The property was purchased by Ms. Wolpin at the St. Lawrence County tax auction in October for $7,000.

Mr. Spinner said that the apartments, after the renovations and maintenance was completed, would be available for $650 rent.

Board member Barbara Morrow made a motion for Ms. Wolpin and Mr. Spinner to be granted the use variance, but it was not seconded.

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