JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a variance for the Sheldon House to be designated as a C1 commercial space. The move clears the way for Jamestown Community College to sell the property, located on the corner of Lakeview Ave. and Falconer Street in an area zoned for residential use only, to the Lynn Development Group for $240,000. The final vote was 5 to 1.
Lynn Development, which owns and operates various properties throughout the Jamestown area, plans to use the home for their corporate offices, while also using it as a community meeting space on a limited basis. A member of the Lynn staff, who will help with the upkeep of the property, would also live in the home.
Prior to voting on the matter, the zoning board spent nearly an hour and a half hearing from legal representatives from both JCC and the Lynn Group along with a dozen members of the public who spoke both for and against the variance.
JCC Attorney Steve Abdella explained to the board that the request meets the hardship criteria required for a variance to be granted, which includes no other option that provides a reasonable rate of return, the uniqueness of the property, that the purchase to Lynn wouldn’t alter the character of the neighborhood, and that the financial hardship JCC’s has endured while owning the property has not been self-created.
However, local attorney Neil Robinson – who represents the Lakeview Area Community Action Project (LACAP) – argued against Abdella’s reasoning.
“JCC may have some financial problems with the Sheldon House but that’s not the issue. That’s not the test,” said Robinson. “The courts in New York have upheld that if you can sell a property for permitted use, even if it is for less money than the property sale would be with a variance, it’s insufficient to show the land can’t yield a reasonable return.”
Robinson also pointed out that a second prospective buyer, area resident John Lampard, has said he would offer $200,000 to purchase the property for residential use, yet JCC has not attempted to negotiate that offer, with Abdella saying the offer by Lampard is not a cash or “as is” offer and is contingent on an inspection. As a result JCC considers it as a statement of interest and not an actual offer to purchase.
In addition to Robinson, several others spoke on the matter, including some residents in the neighborhood who were in favor of selling the Sheldon House to the Lynn Group. However –LACAP president Marijka Lampard presented a petition to the board that had the signature of 53 residents from the Lakeview area who were opposed to the sale.
Following the board’s decision to give the variance, Lynn Group president and CEO Jason Spain said his group is pleased with the decision, but also wanted to assure residents that they will do everything they can to be good neighbors.
“We want to make sure that we’re a good neighbor. That we’re a good resource for the community,” Spain said. “We certainly understand the points that were raised by the opposing party but we’re going to work hard to hopefully bridge those gaps, become a good citizen in that neighborhood and hopefully they’ll see the value in having Lynn Development on their team.”
Despite the zoning board’s decision, the issue may not be over. Those who disagree with the vote do have the option to challenge the zoning board’s decision through judicial review, although they must request that review within 30 days. Marijka Lampard has said it’s something her group will be considering.
“The proposal for the Lynn Group was pre-decided several months ago. Today is just an exercise,” Lampard said. “All four criteria for a variance needed to be present. All four criteria were not present, therefore today’s decision was illegal.”
Even without an effort to challenge the zoning board’s decision, the move into the Sheldon Home won’t happen immediately. Spain says that Lynn Development still has to wait for the college to officially approve and finalize the sale – which requires review from the SUNY Board of Trustees, whose next meeting isn’t until June 21.