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Pamelia zoning and code enforcement officer contends Longway orchestrated plan to replace him

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Pamelia zoning and code enforcement officer Walter H. VanTassel was surprised to hear at the town board meeting Monday that Supervisor Lawrence C. Longway is seeking to replace him in 2014 due to what Mr. VanTassel calls a “personal vendetta” over a housing project under construction on Route 37.

Mr. Longway is seeking to have Jefferson County Code Enforcement take over building inspections on Jan. 1 — a move that would eliminate the position Mr. VanTassel has held for 15 years. The county’s code enforcement office is required to conduct building inspections on behalf of municipalities free of expense. Municipalities can opt out of that agreement and provide services on their own, which Pamelia has done in the past. The code enforcement department receives funding from residential county taxes and now provides building inspections for 16 towns and 12 villages.

The town board in the past has reappointed Mr. VanTassel to serve one-year terms in January, when officers are elected. But Mr. VanTassel now said he believes board members have been turned against him by Mr. Longway and have no intention of reappointing him next year. Board members did not return calls Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment.

“I’m totally devastated about this whole deal and had not a clue whatsoever that it was coming down this way,” said Mr. VanTassel, who owns U Lock It Self Storage at 23315 Route 342. “This is going to be a devastating situation for people in the town who want to get permits. Now my position will be over for no other reason than a personal vendetta. You can’t hire anyone to start today that’s going to have the knowledge of someone who’s done this for 15 years.”

In effect, Mr. VanTassel said, Mr. Longway is seeking to replace him to prevent the construction of apartments at Emerald Acres subdivision on Route 37 planned by developers Guy H. Javarone and his son, Gaetano H. A history of bad blood exists between Mr. Longway — an independent housing developer — and the Javarones. They previously filed a lawsuit in 2011 accusing Mr. Longway of having a conflict of interest with the Emerald Acres project. Since that time, the supervisor has recused himself from communicating with the developers.

Mr. Longway said Thursday the move to have Jefferson County take over code enforcement was not made to replace Mr. VanTassel.

“All I’m trying to do is save the town a buck,” he said. “The only change that I foresee coming is the town is not budgeting for a building inspection officer.”

The rift between Mr. VanTassel and board members occurred after he recently approved certificates of occupancy for families to move into three apartments at Emerald Acres, where a total of 19 three-bedroom units are planned. But on Monday, board members told Mr. VanTassel that no more certificates may be issued at the site because of problems with its sewage pump; Mr. Longway declined to participate in the discussion.

But Mr. VanTassel, who personally inspected the sewer pump, said that the board members’ claims about problems are unmerited.

“The facts about this have been twisted around so bad,” he said. Mr. Longway “says the sewer system won’t work, but the pump company and generator company that supplies emergency power set it up, tested it, and supplied a letter that said it was running properly.”

Though the county may take over code enforcement for the town in 2014, Mr. VanTassel said, a part-time zoning officer still will have to be appointed by the board in January. That position is needed because the town is responsible for ensuring projects meet zoning requirements before the county conducts building inspections. The town’s preliminary budget includes $9,100 for that appointment.

Mr. Longway did not say whether Mr. VanTassel might be considered as a candidate by the board in January to serve as the zoning officer.

“Ninety-nine percent of the zoning in the town is done by the Planning Board, but we’ve still included money in the budget for a zoning officer,” he said.

But Highway Superintendent Dennis G. Hoistion, who attended Monday’s meeting, told a different story. He suggested Mr. Longway is dissatisfied with how Mr. VanTassel has issued certificates of occupancy for developers in the past. Board members alleged at the meeting, he said, that Mr. VanTassel has inappropriately issued certificates of occupancy for units at Deerfield subdivision and Emerald Acres sites on Route 37.

“I believe just one problem is never going to get someone fired — it’s got to be multiple things,” Mr. Hoistion said. “It wasn’t just over something he allegedly did. There were issues with the Deerfield project when the town board told Walt not to issue COs and he did.”

Bernier, Carr & Associates of Watertown was hired by the town in the spring to ensure the project meets requirements set by the town, Development Authority of the North Country, state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation. Kris D. Dimmick, vice president of operations, said the firm needs to gather more information from an engineer hired by the Javarones to complete a construction record needed for the project.

“Our role at this point is to make sure the water and sewer systems were constructed in general accordance with the approved plans by the town, DOH and DEC,” Mr. Dimmick said. “At this point, I have no reason to have a pessimistic outlook about the project.”

The elder Mr. Javarone said Wednesday that Mr. VanTassel made an honest assessment of sewer infrastructure at the site.

“I honestly believe it’s wrong for Mr. Longway to try in any way, shape or form to stop Mr. VanTassel from being the zoning and code enforcement officer,” Mr. Javarone said. “He’s worked too hard in that position for an extremely long time.”

Technically speaking, Pamelia was required to submit an application to Jefferson County Code Enforcement to take over services by June 30, said Michael E. Keefe, director of building code enforcement. But the department has been willing in the past to make exceptions to that rule by allowing municipalities to apply later. To do that, intermunicipal agreements must be approved by the Jefferson County Board of Legislators.

“We’ve done this before and don’t see that it’s a big problem for municipalities that want to do it,” he said.

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