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Kearns seeks town of Massena’s help with permit problem

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MASSENA — On one hand, John Kearns has a valid building permit to construct a garage at 626 County Route 42.

On the other hand, he has a stop-work order that doesn’t allow him to do the construction.

Mr. Kearns also has been cited by the code enforcement officer for disobeying the stop-work order and had his first appearance on the violation last week in Massena Town Court. His case was adjourned until July 17 so he can return with his attorney.

The court document alleged Mr. Kearns continued to build a garage after being instructed to suspend all work and being given a building inspector’s stop-work order.

Mr. Kearns also made an appearance before the Massena Town Council last week to seek its assistance in allowing him to move forward with the project.

He said the situation dated to 2005 or 2006, when the building that was on the Dirk Steupert property was in need of repair. Mr. Kearns said he was trying to help out Mr. Steupert with the necessary repairs.

“He couldn’t fix it. This board was going to demolish” the structure, Mr. Kearns told the council.

Mr. Kearns eventually took over the property and removed the building with a restriction that any new structure on the property be built on the same footprint.

Mr. Kearns said he took the building down in April 2006 and had pictures of the work taken by former Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe.

“It was a small lot, a nonconforming lot, so I could build in the same footprint,” Mr. Kearns said.

During the excavation, however, Mr. Kearns said, workers discovered another foundation on the site. He said he asked Mr. Fregoe if he could build on that foundation and was told “as long as it’s within the footprint.”

Mr. Kearns said he finished building his house in January, but needed more time for the garage, so he asked Mr. Fregoe for an extension of his permit.

“He said no problem,” Mr. Kearns said.

However, Mr. Fregoe left the position Jan. 22 and Mr. Kearns said he has been battling with code enforcement officials since then. Code enforcement duties now are handled by career firefighters.

Mr. Kearns said he had dug the footers for the garage and, as the cement truck was driving down to the site, it was preceded by a code enforcement officer who said he couldn’t build there.

He said he and Avis M. Hazelton, code enforcement secretary, reviewed the minutes and other paperwork from meetings where Mr. Kearns had been authorized to move forward and could find nothing wrong, and he was issued a new building permit.

However, that was followed by another stop-work order, according to Mr. Kearns, who said he was told that the code enforcement officer didn’t believe the building was in the footprint.

Mr. Kearns said he told the code enforcement officer that the building had been taken down in 2006 and wondered, “How am I supposed to prove it to you?”

Without a building permit, he said, he went to see Ms. Hazelton again and paid for photographs that showed where the buildings had been before they were torn down.

“You can see the old foundation on the corner, sitting right there,” he said, noting that he saw a letter from a previous building inspector that gave approval to build a garage on that foundation.

Although he had a stop-work order, Mr. Kearns said, he found nothing in the code about building a retaining wall on the site. That project resulted in an appearance ticket for Massena Town Court.

“They had me arrested for building without a building permit. I’ve done what I was supposed to do. That’s why I’m frustrated.” Mr. Kearns said.

Councilman John F. Macaulay said he agreed with Mr. Kearns. “As of right now, I’m in favor of allowing John to continue because of what Greg Fregoe wrote,” Mr. Macaulay said.

The council agreed that it needs to talk with town attorney Eric J. Gustafson before making a decision.

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