ZBA approves parking for Alhart Funeral Home

   After more than two years since Jeffrey and Susan Deragon applied for a zoning permit to construct a small parking area on vacant property adjacent to the Main Street Alhart Funeral Home that they own, the village zoning board of appeals has approved the application. At their April 1, 2009 meeting, the board voted 3-2 to approve the parking lot, which required a variance because it is located in a residential zoned area of Main Street. A few years ago Deragon purchased the property adjacent to the funeral home, which included a two-story home, and demolished the home to make way for the funeral home parking lot.
The chair of the ZBA, Allen Roggen, and a direct neighbor to the property where Deragon planned to construct the parking area, opposed it for a number of reasons but primarily for the fact that parking lots are not permitted uses in residential zoned areas. Roggen recused himself from the proceedings and after much consideration, the board agreed to hear Deragon’s plea and hold a public hearing so that he could make his case for meeting the criteria needed for a use variance.

   The board considered the evidence and at last week’s meeting and ruled 3 –2 that Deragon had met the criteria and the variance was issued pending a planning board review of the project plans.

   Deragon says he is very thankful for the support he has received from so many in the Caledonia community throughout this lengthy ordeal.

   "I am overwhelmed by the support of this community. It makes me feel good to know that people understand that this plan is so that I can better serve the community during those very difficult times in all of our lives," Deragon commented. 

ZBA to make decision on variance for Main Street parking

   Three years ago New York State Department of Transportation completed renovations to Route 5/Main Street in Caledonia. Along with it, they reduced the number of parking spaces in front of some downtown businesses and enacted no off-street parking regulations outside of the business district. Those parking restrictions have caused a problem for visitors to the Alhart Funeral Home, says owner Jeffrey Deragon, and he’s trying to work with the village to create safer, additional parking.

   The Village of Caledonia Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing to consider Deragon’s application for a use variance that would permit him to create a small parking area on the property he and his wife Susan own at 3604 Main Street in Caledonia, adjacent to the funeral home. The property is currently zoned R-2 (residential). There is a small parking area available at the funeral home but the majority of people visiting the business had been accustomed to short-term off-street parking.

   Because of the inconvenience created by the parking restrictions, Deragon purchased the property next to the funeral home in 2006 and demolished the two-story house that was on it to create the additional parking area. He applied and was turned down for a building permit by the village code enforcement officer who referred them to the ZBA to request a use variance.

   In the absence of ZBA Chair Allen Roggen, the immediate neighbor of the Deragon property who was asked to recuse himself from the matter, ZBA member Steve Wilson acted as chair and conducted the hearing. The purpose of the hearing is for the board to hear evidence of the criteria needed to qualify for a use variance. A use variance gives the ZBA the authority to grant permission to the property owner to use the land for a purpose that is not otherwise permitted by local zoning codes. The applicant must be meet the following criteria in order for a use variance to be granted (this is an adaptation of the local code book):

  • The property is incapable of returning a reasonable profit in its current state.
  • The alleged hardship is unique to the property in question and does not apply to a substantial portion of the neighborhood.
  • That if the use variance is granted, it will not change the character of the neighborhood.
  • That the alleged hardship is not self-created by the property owner.

    Attorney for the Deragons, Peter Skivington, requested that the board consider combining the two properties, the funeral home and the vacant lot, into one tax parcel and to grant the use variance because the parking difficulties that exist at the funeral home are through no fault of Deragons; they were imposed by NYSDOT and have created a safety concern for funeral home visitors. Skivington told the board that the Livingston County Planning Board reviewed the parking lot plans, including enhanced landscaping and recommended approval, subject to the ZBA and local planning board’s approval. He said the plans are designed to minimize the impact to neighborhood properties and to provide safe traffic flow in and out of the funeral home. Skivington said Deragon wants to be a good neighbor to the people of the Village of Caledonia and believes this plan is the best alternative for the village. He encouraged that the board use common sense in considering the application for the variance.

    Wilson requested financial proof from the applicants that the property cannot turn a reasonable profit without the use variance. The attorney said it would be difficult to calculate that information because Deragon would have no way of knowing how much business the funeral home lost due to the lack of parking. He said it is conceivable that families may choose a different funeral home for their loved one because of the parking congestion that currently exists at Alhart Funeral Home. Wilson also said the two properties cannot be combined to a single parcel and that the vacant property where the parking lot is planned must be considered by the board on its own merits.

    Several interested residents attended the hearing and approximately 17 took the opportunity to speak to the board regarding the plans for the parking lot. An owner of a small downtown business told the board that the parking regulations enacted three years also impacted the downtown area and her gift shop specifically as the reduced parking areas led to a loss of business that resulted in her closing altogether at the end of 2008. A representative from the Army Corp of Engineers addressed the board and asked them to consider granting the use variance in the interest of safety along Main Street. Many of those that spoke are neighbors of the funeral home who told the board they are in favor of Deragon creating additional parking spaces on the vacant property. One neighbor of the funeral home said it is common for people to park at nearby church parking lot and walk through neighbor’s back yards to get to the funeral home, because there is no off-street parking available. Another resident told the board that the community at large would suffer if the use variance were not issued so that the parking area can be built.

   Three residents spoke in opposition of the variance. Gail Milner, daughter of Allen and Patricia Roggen whose property borders the property in question, encouraged the board to consider their role and function, which she reminded them is to apply the village’s local zoning code. Milner argued that the application does not meet any of the criteria established for a use variance and requested that one of the board members who also owns property across the street from the vacant lot in question should also recuse himself from the decision. Milner argued that the vacant property is zoned R-2 for a reason, because the street is a residential neighborhood and that a parking lot would negatively impact the neighborhood. Though recused from his official capacity as ZBA chair and the decision making process in this case, Roggen did offer his reasons for opposing the variance to the board for their consideration.

   No decision was rendered at this meeting. The board has 62 days to announce its decision in the matter. They will meet again on March 11 at 7 p.m. in the village office to deliberate on the application for the use variance.


ZBA will hear resident’s appeal for additional parking

   Parking restrictions on Main Street in Caledonia, put in place a couple of years ago when the NYSDOT resurfaced the road, impacted many residents living in the area. Off street parking is not permitted on either side of Main Street outside of the business district. Parking for visitors to the Alhart Funeral Home, located on the west side of the business district, was very seriously impacted by the parking restrictions. Jeffrey Deragon, owner of the funeral home, believed creating a parking lot on the vacant lot adjacent to the funeral home that he owns, would solve the parking problem. Village of Caledonia zoning code does not permit a parking area in the area currently zoned residential.

   Nearly two years after filing the first application for an appeal to the Village of Caledonia Zoning Board of Appeals, Deragon will have his application reviewed after being denied a permit to construct the parking lot. The appeal had been stalled in recent months for a number of reasons. The ZBA chairperson, Allen Roggen, is a neighbor to the Deragon property and therefore was asked to recuse himself from the proceeding. An alternate ZBA member, Barry Ganzhorn, was appointed to the board and Steve Wilson acted as chair.

   With the board members in place, Deragon learned at the October meetings that the ZBA had no record of his November 30, 2006 application for a variance and that the July 2007 application exceeds the local code that states there is a 60 day limit for filing an appeal after a building permit is denied. Representing his client, attorney Peter Skivington maintained to the board that Deragon was not instructed about the 60 day limitation for the appeal.

   The board elected to go into executive session to sort out the facts in the case. When they returned, they reviewed the facts in the case and began the voting process on whether to hear the applicant’s appeal. The first motion to accept Deragon’s application for appeal failed by a 2-0 vote, with two of the ZBA members abstaining from the vote. A second motion passed 3 to 1 to hold a public hearing to consider the appeal for a use variance that would permit Deragon to build a parking lot to accommodate his business, in light of the hardship created by the most recent parking restrictions on Main Street.

   The ZBA will take up the matter on November 5 at 7:30 p.m.