Account submitted 8/25/07 by Jay O'Hearn & Laura Holland
Please see response below submitted 9/1/07 by CPP Chair Avery T. Ayers


At its meeting held on 8/1/07, the first item of business for the Community Preservation Panel was a request by a resident for a Certificate of Appropriateness for an above ground swimming pool. The members of the CPP, albeit in a friendly manner, nonetheless questioned this resident in some detail about this pool, and discussed its impact, including a consideration of what deleterious effect it may pose to neighboring properties. All told, this above ground swimming pool commanded the board’s attention for ten to fifteen minutes before it was approved.

Next topic before the board was the unauthorized construction being done at 327 Main St. by CJ Koepp and John Place. Koepp and Place have already – contrary to the drawings that the CPP approved last summer – built an addition onto the house on the north side and they have also built a stone retaining wall and steps in the front of the house. They also intend to build a large deck on the back of the house, and replace some of the windows on the second floor.

What Koepp and Place did was to submit drawings for this work months after the CPP approved the demo of Lake House and the house move. Then they never went back to the CPP for it to consider these changes to the house itself, as is required by village law.

The board members showed much irritation at Koepp’s and Place’s end run around the laws. Here are some examples of what they said. These statements may not be exact quotes, but they are very close.

Board Member: We don’t have good documentation

Board Member: The CPP approved only the demolition of Lake House and the relocation of Webb House….. Many of these (unapproved) changes have already been made…

Board Member: The question now is whether or not to make them tear it down, or allow them, or order them to make changes.

Board Member: All this work was done without us ever seeing it.

Board Member: This (meeting) is possibly a waste of time since so much of the work has already been done. The real question is should we make them tear it down?

Place complained that they had submitted those drawings to village Code Enforcement Office Staley in December 2006, and that Staley approved them, saying “ looks good to me”, and he claimed that as far as they knew, that was all they had to do. They also tried to claim that this was brought before the Planning Board, but they were quickly and emphatically admonished by the CPP that the Planning Board does not decide what the CPP should see. Place then claimed that a “mistake” was made, presumably in the bureaucratic process.

In regard to their “mistake” they were told:

Board Member: Ignorance of the law is no excuse

Board Member: Staley should have notified the CPP of the receipt of these new drawings.

Koepp and Place then defiantly claimed that the “statute of limitations” is 30 days. In response to that statement, they were pointedly told:

Board Member: The statute of limitations rule applies to a Certificate of Appropriateness – a Certificate of Appropriateness which they (the CPP) did not issue for this construction.

When the discussion turned to CPP’s own lack of action in regard to some obvious construction that the board members knew they had not approved, this startling disclosure came out:

Board Member: I was told by CEO Staley that he and (village attorney) Fusco had met, and that they had decided that the project needs no more approval from the CPP. That is why the CPP sought no further information. I was also told that I was not allowed to argue with Staley and Fusco.

Board Member: I was told by the mayor that the CEO is the gatekeeper for such projects.

The topic shifted to the issue of the drainage/relocation of the underground creek that Koepp and Place chose to place their house upon. In November 2006, Planning Board meeting, Koepp and Place submitted a drawing for the creek relocation, and assured the board members that the NY DOT had approved it. That plan had the creek veering south around their house, then re-joining the existing pipe behind their house, and draining into the lake using the same pipe that exists there today. Most important of all, their drawing had the creek remaining underground.

In fact, as of today, August 28, 2007, the DOT has still not issued any final approval for the relocation of this creek. But the DOT’s latest proposal is to turn the underground creek into an open ditch, swinging it south of the Koepp/Place house, taking an extensive easement from our property, and removing our patio. This latest plan would have the creek entering the lake via a new pipe, located right next to our dock. DOT representative Chris Covert told me that this change was being made because Koepp/Place “could not afford” to have the creek re-routed in a way to have it remain underground.

Some of the board members expressed astonishment that Koepp and Place now want an open ditch running thru the properties. One member expressed surprise that the project was approved in any form without the drainage plans being finalized. But remember, Koepp and Place had told the Planning Board that they were finalized – as an underground stream.

Board Member: At the time, I was told by the mayor that the drainage matter is not for the CPP to consider because it involved an underground pipe. Now an open culvert is planned, which is a matter of CPP concern.

This matter was discussed by the board, with the conclusion that not much can be done about it now, because the DOT supercedes any authority the CPP may have. John Place blamed the Hollands for this, calling it “Holland’s choice” and saying that “they shouldn’t complain about it”.

The board publicly recognized they now have a real mess on their hands, and in trying to determine who was responsible for it, this was offered:

Board Member: (the problem here)... comes from the performance of CEO Doug Staley, and those who support him. The mayor and Fusco should not have supported Staley on this.

Board Member: I don’t understand why the CPP was ordered to back off and let it happen

The board then got down to considering how they were going to handle the issue of the illegal construction. Some excerpts from this discussion:

Board Member: The law requires that any outward change to a property requires a Certificate of Appropriateness. Koepp and Place changed what was approved, and they need another C of A.

Board Member: We take none of this lightly.

The board cited the Roger Scott case in Skaneateles, where the local government, with the authority of law, tore down a home that was illegally sited and built.

Koepp then tried to show the board a drawing from September 2006, and the board angrily told her that the CPP had acted on drawings they were shown by Koepp and Place in June 2006.

Board Member: We never saw plans for the driveway or the stone steps….we should have had a 3 –D drawing before any of this was built.

John Place then told the CPP how his attorney wanted this illegality made legal - he wanted the CPP to review and vote on these drawings NOW. “Start with a clean slate” was an expression he used.

Never mind that 2 major changes (the north porch and the retaining rock wall/steps in front) have already been built, he wanted the CPP to approve them retroactively

And after all their consternation and criticism, that is exactly what the CPP did. In the end, the board rubber stamped those violations, and did exactly what John Place instructed them to do.

No tear down

No alterations

No penalty

No fine

No official reprimand

No official sanction

No action whatsoever towards Koepp, Place, or Staley.

Besides ‘approving’ the already constructed construction, the yes vote of the CPP also included approving a new 40 foot deck Koepp and Place want to build on the back of that house. The drawing for this addition was now in the CPP’s hands, and the panel spent no more than a minute or two giving it a very cursory look-over. There was no mention or discussion of the deleterious effect this deck may pose to neighboring properties, and no questions posed to Koepp or Place about it.

Earlier, they had spent 10 or 15 minutes considering an above ground swimming pool. They spent about 1 minute considering a 40 ft. deck.

We consider the CPP meeting of 8/1/07 to be a travesty.

If Staley and Fusco had not already destroyed it, the CPP self destructed that night. By its after- the- fact approval of the illegal construction done by Koepp and Place, and by condoning the actions of Koepp, Place and Staley, without so much as an official whimper, how can the CPP expect - legally and morally - to exert any form of authority over anyone else in the village from now on?

With this precedent now established, in theory anyone in the village should now be allowed to proceed with any work they want to do on their property, without any involvement from the CPP. If someone raises a fuss about it, the CPP will approve it after it has been completed.

If the CPP tries to force a tear down or an alteration of any illegal - but completed – work you have done, don’t let it bother you. Because now we have a precedent in place in Aurora. It seems the village could be rightfully sued for selective and discriminatory enforcement of its law. How could the village possibly defend itself against such a charge (or justify an enforcement action) after caving in so meekly to Koepp’s and Place’s unauthorized actions?

But if that’s not bad enough…. far more disturbing is the revelation by the CPP that it had received a directive from Staley and Fusco that it had ‘been decided’ that the project would need no more CPP input or approval. What law entitled Staley and Fusco to decide that?

The CPP’s charge reads:

As of August 1, 1993, Local law #3 – 1993 (Village of Aurora Zoning Law) requires a Certificate of Appropriateness for any significant change – such as construction, reconstruction, alteration, restoration, removal or demolition – to an exterior architectural feature in the Village. (Ordinary maintenance work, repair and repainting do not require a Certificate.) Certificates are issued by the Community Preservation Panel, which is charged, in the words of the Zoning Law, with the “protections, enhancement, perpetuation and preservation of the built environment of Aurora.” The Certificate indicates that the Panel has reviewed and approved a proposal that affects the exterior of a structure designed to be open to view from a public way.

Should not the CPP follow the law as written and make its own determination about what projects fall under its jurisdiction? How is it that Staley and Fusco are allowed to create and impose what appears to be their own unwritten law in this village, one that supercedes the established authority of the CPP? Staley’s and Fusco’s actions will ultimately affect everyone in the village.

The CPP also let it be known that they were told they were not allowed to argue with Staley and Fusco in regard to this matter. Not ‘allowed’ to argue? Even if a blatant violation of village law is occurring before them? Who is saying they are not allowed to argue this matter? Where is this coming from?

To their credit, the CPP members expressed incredulity and a high degree of frustration at this hijacking of their authority. It seemed to me that they fully understood that their board’s autonomy had been eradicated. But they also expressed a weary resignation that they were helpless to do anything about it. Why?

Submitted by Jay O'Hearn and Laura Holland

Response from Community Preservation Panel Chair Avery T. Ayers

I donít usually respond to this type of communication, but then again, I donít usually read it either. So when the submission from Jay & Laura was related to me, I just had to look. I now feel compelled to submit my essay.

First; I want to thank them. Since so many of the ("very close") quotes attributed to a "Board Member" (we are a Panel) were made by me, I can only assume that by not naming me, they were trying to protect my up-until-now spotless reputation from all the dumb things I say. This is commendable, as I clearly am lacking in intelligence, and itís not PC to make fun of idiots, village or otherwise. Some of the smarter folks around me have pointed out in the letter a number of what they see as half-truths and excerpts designed to mislead, and want me to refute them, but I say "No, they must be wrong about this", because Jay & Laura are such productive members of this Village they claim to love so much (well, they run & walk through it all the time anyway...what more proof does one need?), that they would never twist the stupid stuff I say just to use as ammunition in their private war with a neighbor.

These same people want me to say mean things about how the Hollands are actually responsible for this whole mess themselves, but again I say "No, Laura says that they never foresaw that PTR might not do exactly as she said she would, itís not their fault. She and Jay must have some other reason for attacking me, even if I'm too much of a boob to understand it." I mean, come on; This is the guy who smashed my snowmobile headlong into a tree when we were kids, and I didnít even get mad at him. And Iíve never said anything even remotely rude or disparaging about either Laura or her absentee landlords.

They must know something about running meetings and trying to be diplomatic that I don't (no surprise, considering my lack of brain), and this is their way of trying to sort things out and make the Village they love so much a better place to live. Maybe someday they will explain their strategy to me, or everything will become clear to me as it is to them. I donít know, but I do know that I miss the days when if I got in a fight with John Miller, I could just sit on him until he had to give up. I do know Iíll never let Jaymar play with my toys again.

Page created August 25, 2007; Updated September 10, 2007

The Aurora Coalition