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Massena board to consider building demolitions

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MASSENA - Village officials will soon consider demolition of two vacant structures, and a third could soon follow.

Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe will present two reports to the village board at its Tuesday meeting. One will recommend the demolition of former Homestead Dairy store building at 106 W. Hatfield St., while the other will urge removal of a building foundation at 43 Spruce St.

The owner of the Spruce Street parcel previously tore down a house there and had promised to rebuild a couple of years ago, but instead a foundation has remained there, Mr. Fregoe said.

“Why should the neighbors have to look at a blue tarp on top of this foundation? We gave this guy time,” Mr. Fregoe said.

The Homestead Dairy building’s front paneling and lettering is falling off, and the structure is deteriorating, Mr. Fregoe said.

“It’s in terrible shape,” he said.

Robert B. Squires, former president of Homestead Dairy, said he closed the West Hatfield Store in 2001 and briefly rented it out to another retailer in 2005. It has remained vacant since.

Homestead, which once operated several area stores and a Massena plant, is now in bankruptcy, he said.

“I assume the county is going to take it this fall,” Mr. Squires said of the building. “We couldn’t afford the taxes so we walked away from it.”

Mr. Fregoe said he may also at the request of Mayor James F. Hidy recommend demolition for 68 Water St., which was damaged in a 2008 fire. His recommendation begins a process which will determine whether the buildings will come down.

“My little part is to make the report and get it to the village board. I start the ball rolling,” Mr. Fregoe said. “We don’t live in Russia. We can’t just go in and tear something down. That’s people’s property. There’s a procedure, however, long it takes.”

After Mr. Fregoe submits his report, the board can then schedule a hearing, which the dilapidated building owner is invited to. The board can also retain an engineer to provide an expert opinion on whether a building is structurally sound.

After the hearing, the board can vote to require the owner to repair or demolish the structure. If the owner doesn’t do so within a certain period of time, then the village can act itself and bill the owner for the expenses.

Mr. Fregoe said the instances of demolition proceedings in Massena are likely to rise as the number of vacant and deteriorating properties escalates. There are now over 10 vacant homes in Massena as well as a handful of abandoned businesses, he said.

Mr. Hidy said the village will hopefully avoid a repeat of the Slavin’s demolition debacle of 2010. The village was unable to track down the owner of the crumbling former furniture and jewelry stores on Water Street and ultimately had to finance their demolition through a $320,000, multi-year bond.

“We can’t afford to do that, nor should we undertake something like that again,” Mr. Hidy said. “We have to address the issues while they’re in the hands of the property owners.”

The growing number of “quality of life” code violation tickets the village has recently issued are meant to deter blight problems while they are small. That way a building won’t deteriorate to the point where the village board has to order its demolition, Mr. Hidy said.

“We’re trying to bring the neighborhoods back into compliancy and back into some shape again,” he said. “The whole community has been decaying for awhile, and we’ve got to bring it back.”

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