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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Massena Zoning Board says no to trailer on Hammill Road

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MASSENA - The town zoning board voted 3-0 to reject a use variance application made by a widow hoping to move to Massena to be closer to her children.

Carol Lawrence of Burke applied to the board for a variance that would have allowed her to place a single-wide trailer on a plot at 913 Hammill Road owned by Richard LaChance.

“What is accepted? What is acceptable is a double-wide,” said Zoning Board Chairman Harry Cullen, who added that small double-wides can end up with similar square footage to a single-wide.

Mr. Cullen explained that in 2009 when the town updated its zoning law, it prohibited the placement of single-wide homes in places other than trailer parks.

Kelly McCarthy, who operates Riverview Homes in Ogdensburg, noted the mobile home Ms. Lawrence was attempting to buy had previously been located in Massena for 35 years. Mr. McCarthy also noted that the plot Ms. Lawrence was hoping to buy had previously housed a single-wide trailer.

“We’re just asking to replace the single-wide with another single-wide,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Mr. Cullen said while he understood that to be the case it didn’t matter because more than a year had passed since the previous home had been removed from the property.

“If it was moved and replaced in less than a year, it would have to be grandfathered,” he said. “Once you get past that year, it is not grandfathered.”

Mr. LaChance, who said he was unaware of the town’s ban on single-wide trailers, noted the 200 foot by 200 foot lot already has a slab and septic system. The one problem, the existing slab is for a single-wide.

“The only way the property would be any good to anyone would be to pour another slab and put in a double-wide,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy then asked the board if there were any other towns in the county with a similar ban, a question that they could not answer.

“There are some villages, but not towns,” he said. “It’s not fair to say to somebody who has a lot for a single-wide to not be able to replace that single-wide.”

Zoning board member Lynn Smith said he hopes Ms. Lawrence can find a double-wide home in her price range, noting that would resolve the issue.

“She could get a double-wide, but that would make it more expensive,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Not everybody can afford a Danko or Maginn home.”

Ms. Lawrence said right now she’s living off of $389 a month in Social Security.

“I need to be closer to my children,” she said. “My husband died last year.”

Since the changes to the code were adopted in 2009, Mr. Cullen said there have been two previous applicants seeking a similar variance and in each instance their applications were also denied, although one of the applicants did end up installing a double-wide on the property.

“I wish we could get a double-wide to follow this through, but I can’t support a single-wide with the code the way it is,” Mr. Smith said before making a motion to reject her application. The motion was seconded by board member Terry Mossow and also supported by Mr. Cullen.

“I guess there isn’t anything else to say,” Ms. Lawrence said.

“I’m sorry. I know this seems mean and rough,” Mr. Cullen said.

In order to get her variance approved, Mr. Cullen said she would have had to meet four criteria: that the property is incapable of earning a reasonable return on initial investment if used for any of the allowed uses in the district; that the property is being affected by unique, or at least highly uncommon circumstances; that the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood; and that the hardship is not self-created.

Given the four criteria, each of which must be met, Mr. Cullen said use variances are seldom granted.

“Use variances are very difficult to get,” he said.

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