Rome ZBA rejects variance requests for River Street parcel
ROME — After an emotional plea by a local resident, use and area variance requests by Bryant Property Management, LLC, owner of 114 1/2 River St., who was seeking to convert the existing two-family dwelling into a three-family, were rejected by the city Zoning Board of Appeals during its monthly meeting held Wednesday at City Hall.
The rejection was based on lack of proof of financial burden and legal documentation that the property was a three-family dwelling when it was purchased.
Attorney Robert S. Hershman, representing Frank Raspante and Bryant Property Management, explained that 114 1/2 River St. was purchased by Raspante for $30,000 from Anthony DeProspero about two years ago and at the time, it was a three-family house. In addition to the purchase price, Hershman said Raspante invested another $20,000 into the property to replace furnaces, electric boxes and hot water heaters damaged during the August 2021 flooding in the area.
Hershman said having the property established as a two-family is a financial hardship because revenue would drop, resulting in a loss of about $1,259. He said Raspante is charging $500 a month rent for the two tenants.
The attorney also said converting the residence into a three-family dwelling wouldn’t alter the appearance of the neighborhood, as three-family units are next door and located within the area.
Bryant Property Management was seeking a use variance to convert the existing two-family dwelling into a three-family unit, which according to city codes, is considered a non-conforming use in an RP zone. They also sought an area variance for off-street vehicle and bicycle parking as increasing the property to a three-family unit would require making 4.5 parking spaces available, with three spaces being currently provided.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Shelly Gardner, of 118 River St., said there is no hardship for Raspante as he owns “over 250 pieces of property” within the city. Gardner also questioned Raspante’s lack of knowledge that the residence was not “lawfully” a three-family dwelling when he purchased it. She also pointed out that only one of the tenants was paying $500 a-month rent, while the other renter was paying $750. Gardner also claimed that Raspante was able to get an assessment change on the property “by just a phone call.”
“To say this is hardship defies reality,” Gardner said.
This was not the first time Gardner had spoken out against Raspante. During the Common Council meeting held in December, Gardner and her attorney, Nadine C. Bell, of Costello, Cooney & Fearon, LLC, Syracuse, argued that her proposal to purchase 116 River St. at the time, was rejected illegally. Bryant Property Management also submitted a sealed proposal, offering to buy 116 River St. for $1,500. However, Gardner and her attorney claimed Bryant Property Management included a letter dated Nov. 1 with his proposal, which was after the deadline.
After that council meeting, Chief Codes Enforcement Officer Mark Domenico said both Gardner and Bryant Property Management submitted complete applications with a bid price for 116 River St. prior to the deadline in a sealed bid.
Domenico also said the prior owner of the building in 2017 got a conversion permit to convert the property from a three-family to a two-family. And because the building is located within a professional residential district, which doesn’t allow three-family dwellings, Bryant Property Management was therefore subject to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance to re-establish the residence as a three-family.
Zoning Board member James DiCastro said unlawfully converted properties within the city is an “on-going situation” the board has been dealing with.” DiCastro then questioned Hershman and Raspante about whether the purchase of 114 1/2 River St. was through a realtor or private transaction, and if it was a two or three-family dwelling when the property was first viewed.
He also asked if Raspante could produce receipts on canceled checks to prove what he is charging for rent at the property currently.
As Raspante stood before the board to answer questions, DiCastro said without a sworn affidavit from the previous owner that the property was intact for a three-family dwelling, including furnaces, stoves, refrigerators, etc., but that it was used as a two-family (for a possible tax benefit) and without proof or rent expenses, he would not vote in favor of the use variance.
“Because right now we’re going by hearsay, and your information is not accurate in order for us to make a decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, Raspante was interjecting comments and interrupting board members as they attempted to speak. The discussion became heated between Raspante and board members as well as Gardner and at one time Chairman John Sorbello warned, “Hey, be respectful to her,” referring to Gardner.
Zoning Board member Michele Reid said she was also not in favor of the variance request because Raspante did not go through the proper procedures of getting a building permit to convert the building to a three-family unit. According to the city tax map, board members said the property was listed as a two-family.
“We need to know when this (property) was legally changed to a two and when it was physically changed to a three — you needed to do the proper procedure with that, which you didn’t do,” she said.
Board member Raymond Tucker said the hardship was not met and there is “no competent” financial data on the property.
Because of the lack of proof that the property was utilized as a three-family dwelling when it was purchased by Raspante and that the financial hardship was inconsistent — Hershman originally stated they were charging $500 monthly rent to tenants when Raspante later indicated that one of the tenants was paying $750 — board members unanimously voted to reject the use variance request.
In regards to the area variance request for parking at the residence, Zoning Board Chairman Sorbello said, “We won’t address the parking because enough is there already for a two-family unit.”
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