(EDITOR’S NOTE: Published June 23, 2017 at 9:56 a.m.; Revised June 23, 2017 at 10:40 a.m.)
JAMESTOWN – An individual who had made an offer to Jamestown Community College to purchase the Sheldon House and keep it as a residential property has some harsh words for five of the seven members of the Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals.
Jamestown-area resident John Lampard is calling for the five members to resign from their post.
In a statement provided to WRFA (provided in full at the end of this story), Lampard accuses five of the zoning board members of being part of a “rigged” effort when they voted in favor a zoning variance for the Sheldon House property on Lakeview Ave. during the board’s May 4, 2016 meeting.
“The only thing said of note by one of the zoning board members was that the application without a doubt failed on one of the key points. All four criteria must be met to receive a zoning waiver. This received no counter argument explaining how they did in fact meet the regulations,” Lampard said, referring to the May 4, 2016 meeting, which he attended along with several other individuals who spoke on the matter.
“The conversation was immediately dropped for a glaring session, and then after a long pause, the board approved the zoning waiver. They stumbled as they tried to encourage any of the board members to motion/propose ratifying the zoning waiver – they just sheepishly asked each other, ‘did you motion for it?’ Finally they put it to a vote and the majority approved it. Watching their amateur acting, I felt certain the game was rigged ahead of time,” Lampard said.
When the zoning board voted in favor of the variance, member Robert Karbacka was the only member to vote against it after noting he didn’t feel it meet the required hardship requirements. The five other members present that day – Richard Hanson, Sally Martinez, Dave Daversa, Judith Sandson, and Patricia Calanni – all voted in favor of the variance. Board chair Ellen Ditonto was absent for that meeting.
The action by the zoning board allowed the Sheldon House Property to be used for commercial purposes, even though it sits in an area zoned for residential use. The variance was requested by JCC – which owns the property – so it could be sold to the Lynn Development Group at a cost of $240,000, in order for it to be used as its corporate headquarters.
However, last week a state appellate court overturned the zoning variance following a lengthy and costly lawsuit brought forward by three residents who live in the neighborhood – Paul Leone, Ann Servoss and Timothy Mills. The decision was based on the court ruling that the variance did not meet the first of four hardship necessities required under law in order for a variance to be given. The Appellate Court ruling said that there was no evidence provided that could prove JCC could not realize a reasonable return on the property if it was sold to a buyer who intended it to be used for residential use. As a result, the court concluded that there is no rational basis for the zoning board’s finding that the property would not yield a reasonable return in the absence of variance.
Following the court decision, Lynn Development announced it would not longer pursue purchasing the property.
According to statements made by Attorney Neil Robinson during the May 4, 2016 zoning board hearing, Lampard also made an offer to purchase the property for $200,000 and said his intention was to see it used for residential use only. However, Robinson said that JCC did not attempt to negotiate that offer, with JCC Attorney Steve Abdella saying Lampard’s offer was not a cash or “as is” offer and was contingent on an inspection. As a result, the college instead went with the offer from Lynn Development.
“Any offer above $1.00 is more than [JCC] paid for the property and therefore, the house could obtain reasonable residential bids – they did not have to go for a commercial sale,” Lampard states. “Therefore, there is no room for a zoning waiver. Now JCC must sell this house to someone for residential use.”
In response to Hanson, Martinez, Daversa, Sandson, and Calanni supporting the sale of the property to Lynn Development and allowing it to be used for commercial purposes, despite knowing there had also been another offer to purchase it for residential use, Lampard is calling for them to step down from their post.
“Looking at what appears to be a different set of zoning rules for friend-and-family, there is only one reasonable solution. I call for the resignations of the rest of the zoning board members that were in attendance that day!” Lampard said, noting that he excludes Karbacka because he voted against the variance on the same grounds that were eventually provided by the Appellate Court. “I realize this opinion piece will anger a lot of officials, but someone needs to speak the truth. The whole thing is shameful and people in this city see it!”
Under the city charter, the zoning board members are city residents who are appointed by the mayor with approval required by a majority of the city council. Once appointed, each member serves for a period of three years and can not normally be removed unless resigning from their post.
Lampard did say in a follow-up statement provided Friday Morning, June 23 that he does plan to bid on the property again, if it were to go back on market
did not say if he would consider purchasing the Sheldon House again, should it be put back on the market.
JCC President Cory Duckworth tells WRFA that no decision has yet been made on the future of the property by the college board of trustees.
“The issue was discussed [during the board’s June 21 meeting], but no decisions were made. Subsequent committee meetings will address the issue in the weeks ahead,” Duckworth said.
The Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals, meanwhile, will meet again on Wednesday, June 28.
LAMPARD’S FULL STATEMENT
I wish the whole city could have watched the [May 4, 2016] city zoning meeting on the Sheldon House. The only thing said of note by one of the zoning board members was that the application without a doubt failed on one of the key points. All four criteria must be met to receive a zoning waiver. This received no counter argument explaining how they did in fact meet the regulations. The conversation was immediately dropped for a glaring session, and then after a long pause, the board approved the zoning waiver. They stumbled as they tried to encourage any the board members to motion/propose ratifying the zoning waiver – they just sheepishly asked each other, did you motion for it? Finally they put it to a vote and the majority approved it. Watching their amateur acting, I felt certain the game was rigged ahead of time.
This special consideration gave the college and Lynn Group commercial spot zoning on this location – they can develop apartments, offices, small manufacturing, etc. The fact is, the city did a favor. Even though it got overturned, we all know that now everyone else can get in line and say, “hey, what about us?” It’s not so much that a legal precedence has been set, but rather that everyone can see rules are flexible for friends. That is, unless you have a neighbor or neighborhood group that is willing to go over their head and shell out $12,000 of savings to fight it in three courts of appeals. (My hat is off to the noble sacrifices of Paul Leone and Anne Servoss.)
This is a residential neighborhood. It used to be zoned R3 which allowed some businesses, but now R1 makes it residential only. Therefore, the house must be sold for residential use. Jamestown Community College’s $35,367,737 budget for 2014-2015 fiscal year means they can carry this house indefinitely. They want to claim the expenses are unbearable, but guess what, even freely donated houses need a new roof every 40 years. There is no fulfillment of the hardship criterion.
In the first week on the market, there was a valid residential bid that they considered. They actually entertained that residential bid: story boards, timeline, references, proof of financing, etc. Any offer above $1.00 is more than they paid for the property and therefore, the house could obtain reasonable residential bids – they did not have to go for a commercial sale. Therefore, there is no room for a zoning waiver; now JCC must sell this house to someone for residential use.
The law states all four criteria must be met in order to grant a zoning waiver. It was obvious that the criteria were not met, otherwise it would not have been overturned. This illicit spot zoning opened the door for cannibalizing any of Jamestown’s neighborhoods for corporate development – as if downtown wasn’t half empty, begging for businesses in word (and property taxing them away with action). On the up-side, it also opens the door for everyone in the neighborhood to have their houses assessed down once the door is opened for corporate development in the neighborhood – property value logically goes down under such circumstances.
Members Present that day were Richard Hanson, Sally Martinez, Dave Daversa, Robert Karbacka, Judith Sandson, Patricia Calanni. Also present were Larry Scalise, Marilyn Fiore-Lehman, and Bill Rice. The only zoning board member who spoke out against it and followed the law was Robert Karbacka. Looking at what appears to be a different set of zoning rules for friend-and-family, there is only one reasonable solution. I call for the resignations of the rest of the zoning board members that were in attendance that day!
I realize this opinion piece will anger a lot of officials, but someone needs to speak the truth. The whole thing is shameful and people in this city see it!
John William Lampard
(June 21, 2017)
ADDITIONAL STATEMENT BY LAMPARD, PROVIDED JUNE 23, 2017
I have been asked if I intend to bid on the Sheldon House again and for my general thoughts on the drawn-out sale of this house. I am most certainly going to bid again! I see that house as a key to making or breaking the neighborhood where I grew up. We are regularly seeing these incredible landmarks fade into the past. I’m going to save it before it goes to pot.
Jamestown Community College (JCC) is sure I am still on the hook since I showed up at their board of directors meeting trying to buy it. I would wager they are thinking, might as well list it and hope the news coverage would attract someone from a different part of the country to grossly overpay for the house. And that may happen, but anyone interested is in for a rollercoaster ride.
They have already listed their intentions with the last offer to sell: auditing the buyer’s renovations and holding them accountable to meet the timeline at the threat of a contractual allowance to repossess the house without returning any money. And if the work is not done to their standard, the buyer agrees to essentially write a blank check to have the work redone to JCC’s standard. At least that’s how I understood the fourth and fifth point on Appendix A – if you miss a deadline they get the house, keep the purchase price, keep the investment in renovations, and have funding and legal allowance to finish the renovations at your expense.
The college is a public institution, and required to do their diligence on sales of properties. They are known to spend significant funds on 360 degree studies for uses of residential properties. They have more accurate projections on renovation costs for residential use than I do. You can request a list of all the conditions they will require from you and ask them for their appraised value based on properties in Jamestown, but make sure it’s not an appraisal based on properties in Buffalo, or Pittsburgh, or Corning. Given the shootings, murders, general lack of reinvestment in properties, and the overwhelming level of property taxation, there’s no comparable place for an appraisal. That’s just my opinion. It’s just too bad that property values in town are below the cost to build these days. It takes a lot of funding to restore a house like this.
Off my recollection, the numbers that Lynn Group estimated at their PR presentation estimated needed reinvestment between $600,000 and $800,000 to revitalize the property for various uses. I have taken tradesmen through the property and now estimate it would take at least $150,000-200,000 to restore it for residential use. By my estimations, it would probably sell for $300,000 in mint condition in our neighborhood.
I have invested $5,000 and 60 hours of time into proposals and planning. I realize I will lose significant money on this investment, but I still believe this house is key to making or breaking our neighborhood. I plan to do right by the house and restore it as an icon of the grandeur of Jamestown. I am still trying to buy this house for fair market value a year-and-a-half later. Hopefully JCC does not continue to show my hand of cards by publishing future bids – that is obviously an invasion of privacy and a rude way of trying to increase the bidding at my expense. I guess we will see how things play out in the next few months.