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Massena Village Board gives owner chance to rehab derelict building

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MASSENA - The village Board of Trustees has decided to give the owner of a derelict property at 68 Water St. time to rehabilitate his building before voting on the possible demolition of the structure.

James Venier, the owner of the abandoned apartment building, told village trustees he plans to have the building completely refurbished for two apartments and ground-floor commercial space by the end of September or October. He plans to have the building’s code deficiencies fixed before that time.

“I’m going through the process here of trying to put (the building) back together. We plan to expand the project time-line to September, because we do have weather constraints for the next two months,” Mr. Venier said.

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld proposed a resolution requiring Mr. Venier to have the building in a habitable state by Oct. 31, 2013. If the board finds the building is still in disrepair at that time, they may then vote to have the structure demolished, an option the board considered earlier this year.

“I say we just drop it, have a handshake agreement with Mr. Venier and trust that he’s going to do (the rehabilitation work),” Mr. Ahlfeld said. “The guy’s been a good businessman here for a lot of years, and he said he’d come back to us with an engineer’s report and he came back with an engineer’s report. I’m ready to trust him.”

At the board’s Jan. 22 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 Patricia K. “Trish” Wilson was a little more hesitant than Mr. Ahlfeld to accept Mr. Venier’s promise to rehabilitate the building at face-value.

“Things look really good on paper, as they say. Is there anything the board can do to give us some kind of guarantee that we’ll see results?” Ms. Wilson said. “Because we’ll have more of these (derelict properties) to deal with down the line.”

Village officials have noted Mr. Venier isn’t the only person who owns a derelict property and made a promise to the village board to rehabilitate the structure.

“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.”

Ms. Wilson wants the board to address more of these derelict properties in the near future.

At the board’s last meeting, Fire Department Foreman Ken McGowan, a code enforcement officer, 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 to return it to its proper use as a four-apartment complex. 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.

In order to be in-line with the village’s zoning in that district, Mr. Venier changed his plans for the building, to construct two apartments on the second floor and use the first floor as commercial space.

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