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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, putting off a vote on whether to order it demolished.

James R. Venier, the owner of the vacant, fire-damaged apartment building, told village trustees he plans to refurbish it for two apartments and ground-floor commercial space by the end of September or October. He said he intends to correct code deficiencies before then.

“I’m going through the process here of trying to put it back together,” he said. “We plan to expand the project timeline to September, because we do have weather constraints for the next two months.”

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld proposed a resolution requiring Mr. Venier to have the building in a habitable state by Oct. 31. If the board finds the building is still in disrepair at that time, it 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 it,” 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.”

During a hearing Jan. 22 on proposed demolition, Mr. Venier persuaded the board to let him propose a plan to repair numerous building code deficiencies.

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

The building was damaged in a 2008 fire and has not been repaired. It meets five of 12 criteria in the Massena building code determining when a structure may be dangerous or unsafe to the general public.

These include damage to 33 percent or more of the supporting foundation; fire damage severe enough to pose a threat to the safety, health and general welfare of the public; 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 timetable, 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. Wilson was hesitant to accept Mr. Venier’s promise.

“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 to deal with down the line.”

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

“I know of three capped basements right now” whose owners “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.”

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

Ms. Wilson wants the board to address more derelict properties.

At the board’s last meeting, Fire Department Foreman Kenneth J. McGowan, a code enforcement officer, informed trustees and Mr. Venier that he would have to receive a use variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to return the building to its proper use as a four-apartment complex. He said the building lies within the Central Business District, which allows apartments only 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.

To conform with zoning, 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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