Friday, December 4, 2015

Zoning Bylaw Safely Upheld

382 North Pleasant Street

If the town ever wants to generate revenue on the side they could always hire out the Building Department as private investigators.

Last night after a thorough 30 minute presentation by Building Commissioner Rob Morra the Zoning Board of Appeals, with little discussion, unanimously affirmed his October 2 enforcement order to the owner of 382 North Pleasant Street declaring it in violation of the town's four-unrelated-tenants-per-one-family-unit bylaw.

 13 names show up associated with 382 N. Pleasant Street address

Morra used Amherst police license checks to definitively show 8 tenants were members of UMass Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity (which coincidentally has no official address) and anther two cars present during the month of September were also owned by frat members, bringing the total to 10.

In addition two more names showed up when police were called to quell a party there on July 4th.

Mr. Morra also presented photos from a Facebook page showing gatherings on the front porch and back parking lot of the house at 382 North Pleasant Street plus Internet comments about how they threw great parties.

Amherst Fire Department assisted by monitoring the parking lot behind the building during the month of September and routinely found ten cars present in the early morning hours with cold engines indicating that had been there overnight.

The two individuals who did not register with the landlord for a parking permit also just happened to be employed by the landlord, Clifford Laraway, who also owns the Subway in town center.

After the October 2 order from the Building Commissioner they went to Town Hall and took out a downtown street parking permit and indicated they worked at Subway.  They then simply started parking near 382 North Pleasant Street, but not in the official back parking lot.

The defendants put up a pitiful rebuttal providing signed statements by (supposedly) all eight tenants saying they were the only tenants in the two unit structure.  Lawyer Tom Reidy also provided copies of eight checks used for security deposits.

But when questioned about the two individuals who work for his client at Subway, Mr. Reidy could only provide their (non local) home addresses.

In addition during their brief discussion of the evidence ZBA Chair Mark Parent also brought up the site visits that showed numerous extra mattresses in storage and extra rooms locked from the outside with a padlock.

At 7:30 PM, one hour after the hearing started, Mr. Parent made the motion to uphold the order of the Building Commissioner due to "overwhelming evidence the building at 382 North Pleasant Street was occupied by more than eight tenants."  The motion passed unanimously.

The board then moved on to the continuation of the Special Permit hearing to allow the structure to remain a "two family" unit with no more than eight tenants. 

AFD Chief Nelson had issued an order on October 29 requiring the owner to "Install Adequate System of Automatic Sprinklers" because AFD considered the house a "boarding house."

 AFD Chief Nelson telling the ZBA, "Safety is our main concern."

But the Chief said he would hold off on enforcing that order if the ZBA declared the property a two family duplex and instituted conditions that made him believe the landlord would enforce the eight tenant occupancy cap.

ZBA member Tom Ehrgood was visibly angered by the Appeal Hearing saying, "I've lost some confidence in Mr. Laraway.  How is it his two employees are parking in his lot without him knowing it?  Every one of those tenants made a false statement!  How do we know everything is not a fictional scenario?"

Unhappy landlord Cliff Laraway (left) befuddled attorney Tom Reidy (right)

Soon thereafter Mr. Laraway was angered to the point of shouting over the contention the rear fire escape needs to be certified by a structural engineer as soon as possible.  Laraway muttered that was "yet another $2,000 bill.  That's ridiculous!"

ZBA Chair Mark Parent shot back "Safety is not ridiculous".  Chief Nelson added, "Bottom line is we want them to have a safe building.  We want to work with them to ensure safety."

Building Commissioner Morra also pointed out he could fine them $1,000 per day for having an unsafe fire escape.

After 2.5 hours of give and take the ZBA unanimously approved the Special Permit for the building to be a two family house as long as the owner follows all the conditions, mainly centered around keeping the number of tenants to eight.

The Building Commissioner is only issuing a temporary certificate of occupancy through May 31, the end of the lease for current tenants.  But by September 1st the owner will install a knox box, wired fire detection panel, certified safe fire escape, and a management plan/lease that helps enforce the 8 person limit.

Between now and June 1st town officials will make three "safety inspections" with only 24 hours notice to the owner, and thereafter one per semester.

The parking plan can retain 10 spaces although stricter language in the lease will now clearly describe the two "guest" parking spots cannot be used more than 3 nights consecutively.

 Two guest parking spaces will be more closely monitored

The Special Permit will come up for review at a public hearing in a year just to review how the new management plan is working.

Building Commissioner Rob Morra told the ZBA that between now and then, "We will be watching them."  Cue the Jaws theme.

 Conditions that must be met and maintained
Click to enlarge/read


Dr. Ed said...

It would be nice if the fraud in the Section 8 program could be pursued this well -- or even with these resources.

Larry Kelley said...

Heck, I'm going to put them in charge of rooting out terrorists.

JohnSmallberries said...

Fireman sneaking around at night, feeling the hoods of cars to judge temperature, now that's science!!!! Anything to bust taxpayer's or student's balls.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually it was in the morning. Pay attention.

sjgmoney said...

"....early morning hours with cold engines indicating that had been there overnight"

Early morning to me could be 1,2,3,4am, is it not still dark out at that point? Am I allowed to refer to darkness hours as nighttime?

What was the temperature on those days/nights in September? Is it possible the cars were only driven a short distance before arriving so the engine temperature didn't take long to reach it's cold state? Don't argue with me about science, I'm way smarter than you.

Larry Kelley said...

Actually I will not argue with you, because you are not worth my time -- no matter who smart you think you are.

And it's my blog so "with all due respect," go away.

Larry Kelley said...

Age induced dyslexia: No matter HOW smart you think ...

JohnBigbootay said...

Just noting the gratuitous Buckaroo Bonzai reference by 3:06.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that literally dozens of houses in Amherst have more tenants than is legal. I know this because I've been house hunting in town for the last year, and have seen multiple instances where more than 6 people are living in a space clearly intended for 2. There's no way the town can find them all, although I suspect if they talk to the realtors, they will get a list.

Larry Kelley said...

"A journey of a 1,000 miles starts with the first step."

Anonymous said...

So once every 5 years, Amherst targets (singles out) one of the many rentals that have too many tenants?

From 2010:
"While the law is usually enforced against houses that are problematic, it was recently enforced against a group of five girls living together on East Pleasant Street who had no history of noise problems. One person was forced to move out as a result of the enforcement."

One would think that the battle (if valid) would be further along than this!

Larry Kelley said...

Yeah that one was a pretty big screw up.

But they learned from their mistake, and now have it down.

Anonymous said...

And we want more gun control when we can't even enforce a housing regulation. More laws? No. Enforce the ones we have. Just at least Try to do it at least.

Anonymous said...

Easy solution, allow more apartment complexes in Amherst. Too easy, since the good ole boys club, landlords, town fathers, and cranky old men would not allow building, for selfish reasons. What a horrible atmosphere for students in a college town.

Anonymous said...

The police state working at its finest, which is the worse possible scenario for the people.

The creepy part, absolutely those involved have absolutely no problem admitting every aspect of their notorious tactics.

The absolute creepiest part, the people are not resisting. Little if anyone cares about their rights or anyone elses. They just want to be told what to do, they just want more rules.

Folks, obvious slippery slope. The local government working to force people out of their homes, by law, using all kinds of questionable tactics. Makes me wonder why students don't have to wear armbands.

Let's face it, if you have to sneak up early in the morning, probing into other peoples' property and happenings when you would never want anyone to do the same to you, you are in fact an utter scumbag. If you have to do this to even really notice the effect of the thing that has been outlawed, is it really so bad that we need to roll history back three quarters of a century?

If the police and countless departments and dollars spent cannot enforce the basic noise and nuisance laws - thus failing at their jobs in such an overall peaceful place, they resort these invasive techniques to make up for their failure and waste, it reflects most poorly on the government for failing to maintain a reasonably free society, i.e. their job. Because of their failure, the people who do relatively little evil in comparison, loose their freedoms, literally their right to their homes, their warm beds and places to urinate in the morning? Is this sane? Wouldn't it be more practical to replace the those who failed to do this the way most other American communities do, peacefully? You can literally negate your good work as a firefighter saving lives when you clearly have no respect for them afterwords by pulling this stuff. You absolutely negate your value to the community as a citizen when you tolerate these sick tactics.

Shame on those that did this and most of all those that condone it.

Thank you Larry for exposing this disgusting behavior by the town employees, elected officials and citizens who do not resist.... and following/documenting all the clear offenses as a result of this law and the immoral people that enforce it. History will now clearly remember those involved for who they are, the type of people that have no respect for the concept of a home. Moral people see this for what it is.

Dr. Ed said...

I have a real problem with firefighters going onto private property and physically touching private vehicles.

You can't put chalk on tires anymore -- that's how one hour parking limits used to be enforced and that was on public streets.

What would the firefighters say if the college kids were to go out to their homes and put their hands on their cars?!?!?

Whatever happened to not touching things that aren't yours?

Dr. Ed said...

Better example: Say the Collegian wanted to run a story on the APD and started putting their hands on the hoods of parked police cruisers?

Say they wanted to claim that the cops were spending all day in the VFW and put their hands on the hoods of parked cruisers to "prove" that they had been parked there more than "a few minutes."

Why do I think the cops wouldn't tolerate this???

Anonymous said...

Yet another liberal cop hater. Imagine where they'd be in San Bernardino without them.

Anonymous said...

The world is the way it is, and this is what you're worried about? Why don't you save some of the eye are you reserve for our firefighters, and duel some of it out to your real enemies, those who are out to kill you.

Dr. Ed said...

December 5, 2015 at 11:30 AM - *I* didn't say that the cops were hanging out in the VFW hall all day, although I imagine that some may be going there for lunch -- they can go to lunch anywhere they want to, and those with the card in their wallet earned it.

I gave a hypothetical example -- although there is a big difference between supporting free speech and agreeing with the content of the speech. We live in a society of rules which no man is above. Isn't that what they were going to impeach Nixon for????

It either is or isn't OK to go down someone's driveway and put your hand on the hood of his/her/its car.

Anonymous said...

There's a shortage of housing in Amherst for students and the prices are astronomical. Can't blame these kids for trying to squeeze a couple more kids in the house and pay a little bit of a smaller share.

Amherst has created this problem with poor zoning and squashing good projects and the students are suffering for it.

Anonymous said...

It's not just zoning - the university and colleges own a great deal of land, and excessive land conservation by the town has blocked a substantial amount of the remaining land from development. Redeveloping apartment complexes and neighborhoods will be necessary to provide sufficient housing. And Hadley will continue to reap all the commercial property taxes. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

The following are from Supreme Court opinion:

The Fourth Amendment provides that,

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The basic purpose of this Amendment, as recognized in countless decisions of this Court, is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. The Fourth Amendment thus gives concrete expression to a right of the people which "is basic to a free society."

the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment.

one governing principle, justified by history and by current experience, has consistently been followed: except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent s "unreasonable" unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant.


In this case, Town's inspection department and fire department trespass into private property, conduct search and investigation without property's owner's consent, nor even knowledge, and without court issued search warrant, the town of Amherst inspection department and fire department already violate this property owner's constitutional right. Damages have already incurred and should be compensated. At least, the town official should apologize to the property owner and the public and make sure such intrusion on private citizens, their properties, and their constitutional rights will not happen again.