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Massena grants Frenchie’s final expansion approval

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MASSENA - Frenchie’s Chevrolet can now finish its expansion of its East Orvis Street dealership and service center.

The village’s Board of Trustees voted 5-0 Tuesday night to approve a 32 1/2 foot re-zone of the back of four houses on Burney Avenue. Frenchie’s needed the re-zone in order to finish a driveway project along the rear of those properties.

The meeting room in town hall was packed and nearly standing room only for the re-zoning public hearing; the crowd overflowed into the hallway outside.

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld said his count indicated the room exceeded its capacity of 99 Tuesday night.

Officials issued a stop-work order in July on the East Orvis Street project because a portion of the $1.4 million expansion falls within 30 feet of neighboring homes on Burney Avenue.

Since then, Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe rescinded the original permit covering the entire project, which he said he issued in error, and broke the expansion into several different pieces. All of the pieces, except the construction of a driveway along the building’s west side, had since been approved by either the village’s planning board or the zoning board of appeals.

A new design will make Frenchie’s service area a drive-through facility. Customers will drive into the building and deliver their car to a technician. When the car is ready, the owner will exit the other side of the building on a driveway along the rear of properties on Burney Avenue, Frenchie’s attorney Daniel S. Pease previously said.

Mr. Coupal pursued a rezone for a portion of his four Burney Avenue rental properties in order to construct the driveway.

That driveway was the sticking point between Frenchie’s management, who say it’s necessary to make the expansion functional, and a handful of Burney Avenue neighbors who say the project comes too close to their property and is destroying the neighborhood’s quality-of-life.

Lois Guay has lived in 9 Burney, next to the properties Mr. Coupal has purchased over the last several years, for nearly 60 years. Neither she or her companion, Mary Moran, plan on moving anytime soon, Ms. Moran previously said.

It was Frenchie’s employees and other supporters who packed Tuesday night’s meeting. Mr. Pease asked the crowd to raise their hands if they were in support of the project, and the vast majority in the room did. He then asked who was opposed to the project and approximately a half-dozen people raised their hands.

“It’s an integral component of the expansion plans for Frenchie’s,” Mr. Pease said. “It’ll open up the door to saving a number of jobs.”

Everyone from County Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett to Gouverneur Mayor Ronald P. McDougall and from ex-Massena Mayor Charles R. Boots, to Frenchie’s employees and General Manager Scott Coupal spoke in favor of the project.

Scott related his family’s story of growing the Massena dealership over 30 years to the village board.

Massena resident Thomas E. Macaulay and part-time Frenchie’s employee bet Potsdam’s village board would have done anything to keep Parkway Ford from moving to Ogdensburg.

“You people have the opportunity to make sure this dealership stays in Massena,” Mr. Macaulay told Massena’s board. “The overall effect on the community would be devastating if this dealership were to close and move out.”

Francis R. McDonald also urged the board to re-zone; Massena’s economy needs all the help it can get, he said.

“Jobs are disappearing,” he said. “It’s like the Titanic is sinking, and we’re worried about rearranging the deck chairs.”

Not all of Frenchie’s supporters spoke, but those who did emphasized the dealership’s commitment to Massena’s economy and the greater community.

Larry Smith, who lives across from Ms. Moran at 10 Burney, was among those who spoke against the project.

He envisioned Frenchie’s eventually occupying that entire section of Massena. He said he does not need any night lights in his house at night because Frenchie’s already illuminates his property.

“Where’s it going to go next?” he asked. “Is it going to go to Grove Street? Is it going to go to Parker Avenue?”

Ms. Guay’s daughter-in-law, Cheryl, worried that a car could accidentally crash onto her mother-in-law’s property like one once did at Dunkin’ Donuts. She then apologized to Trustee Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies after being reminded it was he who crashed into the Main Street doughnut shop earlier this year.

“It’s a safety issue, a noise issue, a lights issue and a privacy issue,” Ms. Guay said. “A woman has been in her house for 60 years and everything is changing around her.”

Frenchie’s final expansion plan was met with little opposition by board members Tuesday night. Mr. Ahlfeld said he initially hadn’t been in support of Frenchie’s driveway, but after meeting with the dealership and the neighbors he felt the business was doing enough to address concerns, such as placing trees and a retaining wall as a buffer between the properties and the driveway.

“They’ve taken the ideas and the suggestions people have given them and they’re bending over backwards,” Mr. Ahlfeld said. “I think the democratic process worked here.”

Trustee Francis J. Carvel echoed a similar sentiment and praised owner Real “Frenchie” Coupal’s cooperation.

“I think he’s met all the demands put upon him and I’m satisfied,” Mr. Carvel said. “He’s done what he said he was going to do. He’s done what he could do.”

After the hearing, Terry Guay, Lois Guay’s son, suggested Frenchie’s wealth and influence paved the way for the driveway approval.

“If you’ve got money, this is what happens,” Mr. Guay said. “We’re the poor people. Shame on the board.”

Following the meeting, Real Coupal said any hard feelings between the dealership and the Guays were water under the bridge. He said he asked his staff to show up at Tuesday’s meeting, but was overwhelmed at the result.

Mr. Coupal fought back tears at points during the hearing as community members described what Frenchie’s meant to them. Nearly two dozen little league baseball players Frenchie’s supports also showed up to the meeting but couldn’t get in, Mr. Coupal said.

Mr. Coupal thanked Mayor James F. Hidy and the village board for doing a “super job.” The expansion will help ensure his dealership’s success and provide his employees jobs for years to come, he said.

“The overall support was just staggering,” he said.

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