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Owners of disputed Black River property explore further legal action

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BLACK RIVER — The owners of a disputed West Remington Street property are pursuing additional legal remedies against the village in an effort to have the parcel rezoned to let it be sold for commercial use.

IBC Sales Corp., Kansas City, Mo., has made an application to state Supreme Court to file a late notice of claim on the village that could lead to a federal lawsuit being filed, according to an affirmation filed with the court by Watertown attorney Stuart A. McCreary. A notice of claim is a necessary precursor to any lawsuit against a municipality.

IBC is joined in the action by United Realty & Development LLC, which wants to buy the property, and Florida Fine Cars & Trucks LLC, which intends to lease the property from United Realty.

IBC operated a Wonder Bread and Hostess distribution center at the 102 W. Remington St. building for decades, closing it in 2006. When the building was erected in the 1930s, there was no zoning in the village. In 1985, an ordinance was enacted putting the building in a Residential A zone, creating a nonconforming use for the commercial property. The company has tried unsuccessfully for several years to sell the building but has found no takers because it can no longer be used commercially.

The Zoning Board of Appeals has maintained that while the building’s nonconforming commercial use was “grandfathered” in when zoning regulations were adopted, IBC Sales lost that status when the building sat vacant or “abandoned” for more than a year. IBC Sales has countered that the building was never abandoned and its nonconforming use allowance never lapsed, alleging that the village’s Department of Public Works and Mayor Leland J. Carpenter used the building for storage, which IBC Sales contends was essentially what the company used it for until 2006.

In February, Judge Hugh A. Gilbert sided with the board, ruling that IBC Sales had abandoned the property and that the board properly denied variances that would have allowed the company to use the building for purposes that no longer conformed with village zoning law. IBC Sales has appealed that ruling to the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

But according to Mr. McCreary’s affirmation, IBC Sales and the two other companies intend to bring claims against the village that go beyond the zoning issue. The new claims include “tortious interference with prospective business advantage” and violation of Equal Protection Rights under the U.S. Constitution, which would be a federal claim heard in U.S. District Court, Syracuse. That claim would allege selective enforcement of the village’s zoning ordinance against the three plaintiffs.

According to the affirmation, IBC Sales lost the potential sale of its property for an unspecified amount, United Realty, which owns Git R’ Done automotive repair shop on Route 3 in the village, lost potential rental income of $192,000, and Florida Fine Trucks lost potential new business revenue through government contracts of more than $500,000. Stephen A. Gilbert, operations manager for Git R’ Done, previously said the company needs the former Hostess building to expand, citing work the company does for buses and other large equipment at Fort Drum under government contracts.

According to the affirmation, the three companies had until Feb. 27 to file a timely notice of claim against the village. Mr. McCreary contends that, although no notice of claim was filed, the village is aware of the claims’ nature owing to, among other items, the previous Supreme Court action.

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