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Frenchie’s Chevrolet granted one variance, second rejected

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MASSENA - Just when it appeared that both of the variances applied for by Real “Frenchie” Coupal would be rejected, his attorney, Daniel S. Pease, convinced the village’s planning board to at least vote on the proposals and it resulted in his client receiving an area variance.

Mr. Coupal was seeking two variances that would allow him to continue a building project that began at his East Orvis Street Chevrolet dealership after he was erroneously granted a building permit by Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe, who was present but did not speak at the meeting.

The first action, an area variance, would allow Mr. Coupal to continue and finish construction of an addition on the dealership. The variance was necessary because the building’s exterior wall is less than 30 feet from the neighboring property lines, which also happen to double as the boundary between the commercial and residential zones in that neighborhood.

A second variance, a use variance, would allow him to finish constructing a driveway that would run across the back of four residential lots that he owns. Mr. Coupal needed this variance in order to use the property currently zoned for residential use for commercial purposes.

“There is no allegations that Frenchie did anything wrong,” Mr. Pease said. In good faith, he stopped working when he was asked to.”

Terry Guay, who owns the home at 9 Burney Ave., the only bordering property not owned by Mr. Coupal, said he doesn’t think Mr. Coupals’s original permit was simply granted in error.

“I made several phone calls to his (Mr. Fregoe’s) office, and he told me all they had been read and all the plans had been approved,” he said. “I refuse to believe it was an honest mistake.

Mr. Pease explained that since Mr. Fregoe initially didn’t see anything wrong with the plans there was no need for them to ever come before the planning board.

“If it complies with the code, he accepts it and issues a permit,” he said. “If Greg told him five months ago that he needed a variance, we would have been here five months ago.”

Mr. Pease also noted that since Mr. Coupal was allowed to begin construction on the $1.4 million project, not granting the variances would be penalizing him even though he never did anything wrong.

Board Chair Noel VanDusen made a motion, seconded by Diana C. Dufresne, to grant the area variance. They both voted in favor of the variance, while Kevin Kerr and Timothy LePage voted no.

Prior to the vote, which needed three votes to pass, Frank Lallier, who serves as the general manager at Blevins Seaway Motors, a Chrysler dealership in Massena, declared his intention to abstain on both votes.

However, as the votes were cast, he did not formally declare his abstention.

Facing a 2-2 ties, Mr. VanDusen asked him to cast the deciding vote.

“Sometimes you have to bite the bullet,” Mr. VanDusen said prior to Mr. Lallier casting the third yes vote in favor of the area variance.

Realizing he would likely have to vote on the use variance as well, Mr. Lallier seconded the motion of Ms. Dufresne to approve the use variance. They both voted yes on this measure, while Mr. VanDusen, Mr. Kerr and Mr. LePage voted no on the use variance, essentially killing the driveway portion of the expansion - for now.

Mr. Pease said the driveway was slated to be used an exit from the garage that would be housed in the building’s expansion, something ordered by General Motors.

In trying to sell the proposal to the board, he noted the driveway would not be on property owned by anyone other than Mr. Coupal.

“We own all of these. We’re not going onto their property,” he said.

The fact the work was ordered by GM and not something Mr. Coupal was simply doing on his own resonated with Mr. Lallier.

“They are putting a lot of dealers out if they don’t conform with what the big factory says,” he said, referring to General Motor’s corporate offices.

“Does GM know they’re affecting communities?” Mr. Guay asked.

“GM doesn’t care,” Mr. Lallier responded.

Prior to the votes, Mr. Pease said a failure on the part of the board to grant the variances could mean the end of Frenchie’s Chevrolet in the village of Massena.

“They could be forced out of the village,” he said. “I don’t think the village wants to see you force a business out into the town.”

Larry Smith, who lives across from the dealership on East Orvis Street, said the dealership moving wouldn’t be the end of the world.

“If GM is making him do something, he can build somewhere else,” Mr. Smith said.

“Unfortunately you can’t always pick your neighbors. We don’t like the snakes on Marie Street either,” Mr. VanDusen said, referencing reports of several large snakes on the lose in his neighborhood.

“It’s your job to protect the neighborhoods,” Mary Moran, who has lived at 9 Burney St. for 20 years and serves as a caretaker for Mr. Guay’s mother, countered.

When asked during the meeting if there was any compromise they would be willing to accept, Mr. Guay said no.

“We don’t want the drive through,” he said. “We want those yards dug up and put back the way they were before.”

Despite an apparent compromise with one of the variances being granted, Mr. Guay said after the meeting he was pleased with outcome.

“We can’t stop the building, but at least we will still have neighborhood peace and tranquility,” he said. “We will avoid the extra noise and lights.”

Ms. Moran agreed, “Believe it or not, we won,” she said, “He can build the building, but he can’t use it.”

Following the meeting, Mr. Coupal declined to comment, deferring questions to his attorney.

“We need to reconsider our plan with regards to the exit on that side of the building and the driveway on the south side of the building,” Mr. Pease said. “The location of the driveway right now is the only way to accomplish the drive-through concept that Chevrolet wants in their design.”

As for what’s next, Mr. Pease said the village could end up involved, as one possibility is approaching them and asking the village board to move the boundaries of the commercial zone by 40 feet, enough to allow them to construct the driveway.

“It would put the driveway in a commercial zone and then we would no longer need a variance,” he said. “We haven’t had those discussions with the village yet.”

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