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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Vision Automotive Group hoping for April return to Massena

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MASSENA — When Vision Automotive Group, Rochester, came to the St. Lawrence Centre parking lot in early December and sold more than 100 used vehicles, it didn’t exactly put local dealerships in the Christmas spirit.

And it looks like the Rochester firm is planning a return during the week leading up to Easter.

But Massena town officials say this time they will be required to meet with them before any action is taken this time.

Vision Sales Manager Jeff LaChance said in December bringing used vehicles on the road is something the company has been doing since 2010.

Massena Town Planning Board Chair Vance T. Fleury said that the board may have made a mistake last time allowing the group to come, but things will be different this time.

“I think what happened before was that (Town Clerk Georgette Davis) gave them a peddler’s deal kind of by mistake. So that’s why we didn’t want to shut them down and make them come back and go through the procedure because they had their cars already here and we didn’t want to take the chance of having a lawsuit against the town,” Mr. Fleury said. “They would have to come for site plan review. They would have to come to our next meeting.”

“Where the problem is lying is when they called the first time back in November, they were told they didn’t need a permit. It was a mistake. They were misunderstood what type of permit they were looking for. They thought it was a peddler’s permit and a peddler’s permit is not needed out there,” Town Code Enforcement Officer Peter Devine said.

“So they moved forward. The only reason why it got stopped was because all of the car salespeople bombarded by cell phone with phone calls. ‘What’s going on at the mall? What’s going on at the mall?’”

Mr. Devine added that during discussion with the Rochester dealership, it was his understanding that they would only be making the appearance once. Since then however, they have been in Ogdensburg three times and are planning on coming to Massena every three or four months, according to the town’s code officer.

During Vision Auto’s last visit, Real “Frenchie” Coupal, owner of three dealerships in Massena, said he spoke with town officials about enacting a law similar to one on the books in Watertown that prevents these types of businesses from coming for a couple of weeks and then leaving town. But until that law, which caps the length of time a temporary vendor can do business at 24 hours, is passed, Mr. Coupal said there is nothing anyone can do about it.

“There’s been no progress (on the law.) It’s still the plan to move it. We’re trying to look at other areas of the code to adjust it. It would be called a temporary vendor, and we would need to tweak it a bit,” Massena Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said.

“This will be more of a kind of multi-faceted effort to correct other areas of the code that need to be clarified. I doubt there would be any change in the code before (April 10.)”

The town of Oswegatchie has broached the subject of prohibiting or limiting private vendors from coming to a location for a short time frame. Nothing has come out of the discussions yet, according to Code Enforcement Officer Timothy C. Tuttle.

“The board left it in the hands of the dealership. They said that if you can come forward with a law that works, you can do it. We investigated the ones they brought in from Watertown and one was to accommodate Christmas tree sales. The town said they were in the process of rescinding it when I talked with them,” he said.

In a letter sent to the town, Vision Automotive Event Coordinator Kim Stanley said that they were hoping to be at the St. Lawrence Centre from April 10 to April 20.

“Our recent auto sale event in Massena was a success despite the local car dealers efforts to steer customers away. Their actions were clearly an effort to restrict trade, which is unconstitutional. Consumers should have the choice to buy a car from whom and where they choose. We offer consumers good deals on vehicles, help those with credit problems, find financing and treated everyone who visited with respect,” board member David Grant read.

“We believe if local dealerships were satisfying consumer demand, our event would have performed poorly. We were happy to fill a need made obvious by the overwhelming positive response in the number of people that visited and bought vehicles from our event. ... In addition, sales tax is paid to the local county. Our dealers are licensed and regulated by the state. We obtained all permits and are looking forward to holding future events in your town,” the letter added.

Mr. Fleury concluded that in order for Vision Automotive Group to return and have another car sale they will need to meet with the planning board, something that he does not see happening before April 10.

“I would say, if they want to get on the agenda for next month’s meeting, they can come in front of us, we can review the site plan, we would send it to the county for their opinion and see how do you interpret a temporary. You can’t give them permanent status on a temporary review,” Mr. Fleury said.

“Once I am told how to handle the temporary, we’ll look at ‘Do we need a code change or an additional amendment to the code?’”

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