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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 17, 2009

Berne business put on standby, violation or vendetta?

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Patrick Hannan’s car-repair business on Main Street was shut down last week. The town says it is because there are life-threatening hazards in the building, and that Hannan never got a certificate of occupancy. Hannan and his family believe it is a personal issue between him and Joseph Whipple, one of the town’s code enforcement officers.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s very personal between Whipple and us,” said Lisa Mann, Hannan’s girlfriend, citing bitter issues with extended family.

The present situation began last year, Mann said, when she went to the planning board in order to obtain a permit to build a garage.

“It evolved into a commercial garage instead of a private garage,” Mann said. “People, especially senior citizens, came up to us and asked if we could work on their trucks. So, we went ahead and got certified as a business and registered repair shop.”

Then, the planning board required a site-plan review, followed by an inspection. The Hannans welcomed Peter Schaming, the town’s building administrator and code enforcement officer, to inspect the building, but did not want Whipple on the property, Mann said.

“So, Whipple says, ‘Well, the law says both [code enforcement officers] have to come,’” said Mann.

Councilman Peter Vance told The Enterprise this week that he believes part of the problem is the town’s history of lax code enforcement.

“Part of this is, we’ve never really had zoning enforcement in this town, and, now that we’ve got it, a lot of people are unhappy,” Vance said.

After the required inspection, the town shut down the business, but Whipple already had a notice of violation in hand when he arrived to perform the inspection, according to Mann.

“How did they know I was going to be in violation before doing the inspection?” Mann asked. “They are taking food away from 12 or 13 employees we have in town; our mechanic is out of work, and we’re losing business.”

Whipple declined to comment on the matter. Hannan and Mann’s attorney, James Long, thinks the family was denied due process.

“I don’t want to threaten legal action yet; I want to talk to the town attorney and see if it can be worked out,” Long told The Enterprise. “This is a classic case of taking of property with out due process. What they should have done is summoned us to town court, and told the judge, ‘This is what they’re doing wrong,’ and seen if the judge wanted to shut it down. To just shut us down without due process — it’s unreasonable and illegal.”

The next step

At the start of the Wednesday town board meeting, Mann joined the town board at the front of the room to discuss the matter face to face.

“What we do generally is we’ll go in and we’ll cite people for a violation, and then we give them 30 days,” Supervisor Kevin Crosier told Mann. “When it comes to life safety, we immediately shut the building down,” he said.

“But I haven’t even been informed it’s a life-safety issue,” Mann replied. “They shut me down before they inspected the building.”

Crosier suggested that, first thing in the morning, Mann contact Schaming, and ask him to list for her the violations, and ask that they be allowed to operate the business if these violations are corrected.

“If they cited you and closed you down, they should have given you a list right there,” said Crosier. “Let’s address the life-safety ones; I don’t think there’re very many; they’ll be easy to address; get them out of the way; open up the business; and then finish up whatever’s left.”

Mann said that the business has been closed for a week, and has not been cited for anything yet.

“When you don’t have a C.O. [certificate of occupancy], you’re really not supposed to occupy a building; that’s the New York State Code,” Crosier said.

“Is that houses, too?” asked Hannan from the audience.

“Absolutely,” replied Crosier.

“Well, then you’d better look in this town then,” Hannan said. “They don’t all have them; there’re about 50 of them,” he said, that do not have certificates of occupancy.

Hannan’s mother spoke out from the audience as well.

“I believe this whole thing is a personal issue with Mr. Whipple and my son, Patrick,” she said. “He has been after him ever since he started a business up here. He’s been from one building to the other; he’s had problems no matter where he’s been in this town, and I just think it’s a personal issue. And we’ll address that if it’s not taken care of.”

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