August 23, 2011
Conflict bounces 3 officials from project review
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Landlord John DelVecchio’s apartment house at 19 W. Court St. sits behind the former home of George Brockway, the man who owned Brockway Motor Trucks Co. DelVecchio has been fighting with the city Planning Commission for permission to add two apartments in the basement of the new building in the back.
Attorney Scott Chatfield said his client, landlord John DelVecchio, will never get a fair site plan review from the city Planning Commission regarding his 19 W. Court St. student rental property.
On Monday, Chatfield asked three members of the city Planning Commission to recuse themselves because of conflicts of interest or biases against the landlord. He also suggested the site plan be sent to another municipality for review.
“The board as presently constituted is not going to give us a fair shake,” Chatfield said. “They are going to do whatever they can to frustrate Mr. DelVecchio’s rights.”
After the attorney’s request and a meeting in executive session with Corporation Counsel Patrick Perfetti, commission members Jo Schaffer, Bob Spitzer and Troy Beckwith recused themselves from participating in the site plan review, which was postponed to another meeting.
The recusals mark another chapter in DelVecchio’s ongoing legal quest to get an additional two apartments in the basement of a 3,000-square-foot, two-story building he completed in September. There are four apartments on the upper two floors. DelVecchio also has three apartment units in the former George Brockway house on the property. Brockway was the owner of the now defunct Brockway Motor Trucks Co. in Cortland.
The landlord has sued the city three times over the housing project and has appeared at Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals meetings over the last few years to get an additional two apartments in the basement of the new building.
Chatfield said the commission was not acting within the law and that board members were biased against his client.
DelVecchio obtained emails sent during the last two weeks from Schaffer and Spitzer to the city law and code departments. He did not say how he obtained them.
In the emails, Spitzer and Schaffer raised concerns about DelVecchio’s West Court Street property and whether the landlord had the right to build the basement apartments before he received approval from the Planning Commission.
Both Spitzer and Schaffer recused themselves, though both said they could go through the site plan review without prejudice against the landlord.
While he did not think his e-mails showed bias, Spitzer said he understood the need to avoid even the appearances of prejudice during site plan reviews.
Schaffer also said she could take part in the site plan review process and that she was not biased against DelVecchio. She knows about the West Court Street project from previous Planning Commission and court decisions but that should not disqualify her from participating in the review, she said.
She declined to comment on the e-mails, saying they were privileged information.
“We’re there to serve the city and its neighborhoods,” Schaffer said after the meeting. “It doesn’t make me biased if I know the history (of the project).”
Beckwith could not be reached for comment after the meeting. Beckwith and DelVecchio had a “contractual relationship in the past,” which Chatfield said gave an appearance of a conflict of interest.
Without those members, the commission did not have enough people to move forward with the site plan review of the West Court Street project. Commission Chair Rafael Felix and Jeff Gebhardt were not at the meeting.
Chatfield suggested the city move the site plan review to another municipality to decide whether DelVecchio qualifies to have six apartment units in the new building on the property.
Perfetti said the planning commission should wait until it has all its members present before it decides whether it can hear DelVecchio’s review. He said he would prefer for the city to “handle its own business,” instead of going to an outside municipality to sort it all out.
Perfetti said he had never heard of a situation where a municipality needed to send a site plan review to another municipality before last night’s meeting.
Perfetti advised the members of the commission they should recuse themselves if they do not feel they can be impartial or even have the “appearance of impartiality.”
With the three Planning Commission recusals, DelVecchio’s effort to get six apartment units in the new building on the site extends for another month. Chatfield said DelVecchio will bring back his application for the six units in the new building at next month’s Planning Commission meeting.
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