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MASSENA - The chief of the Massena Volunteer Fire Department is calling on the village‘s Board of Trustees to take steps to resolve a simmering dispute between the volunteer firefighters and a neighboring property owner.

After unsuccessful negotiations with the village board to sell a sliver of property between the fire station and the Grasse River, downtown business owner Vincent Vari has fenced off his property, blocking the fire department from reaching an equipment shed and a pavilion used to barbecue chicken for fundraisers and department gatherings. A dry hydrant is also located on the disputed property, but Mr. Vari claims he’s left the fence unlocked so that responders can reach that hydrant during times of emergency.

Fire Chief Thomas A. Miller said the department had “no idea” the slim parcel of land between the fire station and the Grasse River was privately owned when they began to construct a pavilion there in July 2009.

“Our department followed every law we had to. We applied for a building permit and were given it,” Mr. Miller said.

He said his department was not aware the land was privately owned until early this year when Mr. Vari and village officials were negotiating the extension of a lease on a parking lot partially owned by Mr. Vari’s World Class Gym & Fitness Center.

Mr. Miller said when he learned that fire department equipment was on private land he reached out to the fire committee to reach a deal on the property. The fence hinders the department’s ability to conduct training exercises, hold fundraisers and also restricts handicap access to Veteran’s Memorial Park, he charged.

Mr. Miller expressed dissatisfaction with what he saw as foot-dragging by the village board. “This is unacceptable. A year ago I was told this might happen,” he said at Tuesday’s village board meeting. “I hope the community of Massena supports you guys to take care of the issue, and I hope it’s done immediately.”

Mr. Vari says the issue dates back even further. He said he informed the fire department during the pavilion’s construction that they were building on his property and sent them a letter in May 2010, asking they either purchase or lease the property or remove all buildings from his land. He has also been in negotiations with village officials to sell the property but has not received what he sees as a fair offer.

“I tried to come to a fair conclusion, but they didn’t want to,” Mr. Vari said.

Mr. Vari initially said he initially offered to sell the property to the village for $15,000 and later lowered his asking price to $7,000. He said the village offered $2,000 for the land, which he doesn’t see as fair price. He said he also offered to lease the property to the village for $150 per month.

Mr. Vari said the fence he put up should come as no surprise to the board.

“I’ve been telling them I would be (putting up a fence), but apparently they thought I was joking,” he said. “It’s my property. I pay my taxes.”

Mayor James F. Hidy assured Mr. Miller village officials are working to resolve the dispute. He said the village is looking at its options to address the issue, but believes Mr. Vari is asking an unreasonable price for the property. “It’s going to be taken care of immediately,” he pledged.

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