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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 C. “Frenchie” Coupal would be rejected, his attorney, Daniel S. Pease, persuaded the village Planning Board to vote on the proposals, and Mr. Coupal received half of what he wanted.

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

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

A second variance, a use variance, would allow him to finish constructing a driveway across the back of four residential lots that he owns. Mr. Coupal needed this variance to use the property 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.”

Mr. Pease said that because Mr. Fregoe initially didn’t see anything wrong with the plans, there was no need for them to come before the Planning Board.

He also said that, because 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 Chairman Noel J. VanDusen and member Diana C. Dufresne voted in favor of the area variance, while Kevin K. Kerr and Timothy P. LePage voted against it.

Before the vote, which needed three votes to pass, Frank Lallier, who is 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 tie, Mr. VanDusen asked him to cast the deciding vote.

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

Mr. Lallier and Ms. Dufresne both voted yes on the use variance measure, while Mr. VanDusen, Mr. Kerr and Mr. LePage voted against it, essentially killing the driveway portion of the expansion — for now.

Mr. Pease said the driveway was slated to be used as 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, Mr. Pease noted the driveway would not be on property owned by anyone other than Mr. Coupal.

The fact that the work was ordered by GM and not simply something Mr. Coupal was 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 Motors’s corporate offices.

“Does GM know they’re affecting communities?” asked Terry Guay, who owns the house at 9 Burney Ave., the only bordering property not owned by Mr. Coupal, and a project opponent.

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

Before 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 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’s moving wouldn’t be the end of the world.

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

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 asking the village board to move the boundaries of the commercial zone by 40 feet, enough to allow building the driveway.

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