Vernon officials say they did nothing wrong in 2006 land deal
By Suzanne Carlson
VERNON — Former Mayor Jason L. McCoy and Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans have responded to claims made by former Zoning Enforcement Officer Abraham Ford, saying their involvement in a private real estate transaction in 2007 was proper and legal.
“I’m just looking to state the facts as they occurred,” Kleinhans says. “There was nothing wrong in what transpired.”
In complaints to the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed Sept. 23 following his firing by the town on July 15, Ford said his discovery of an illegal land deal by McCoy and Kleinhans resulted in dismissal.
On Dec. 21 last year Ford agreed to withdraw the complaints as part of a $21,000 settlement he received from the town.
On Feb. 11, 2009, Ford wrote in his complaint, “I denied an application for construction of a new home at 366 Lake St. It was at this time the property owners discovered that the warranty deed filed by Mayor Jason L. McCoy, attorney at law, and Robert J. Kleinhans, representing CRV properties LLC, was not a legal document.”
Kleinhans says Ford’s claims are “not factual,” adding that “it’s just not true” that he and McCoy did anything illegal or inappropriate.
McCoy has declined to comment on Ford’s claims other than to say they are false and reporting about them has harmed his professional reputation.
Kleinhans says the situation began in 2006 when he bought land including a blighted house on Lake Street adjacent to Risley Reservoir for $160,000. Before making the purchase, he says, he discussed the property with then-Town Planner Thomas Joyce and Town Engineer Tim Timberman, who counseled him on splitting the property into two lots based on zoning regulations.
Kleinhans says he then hired an engineer who conducted a survey so the property could be split by a “free cut, because that’s what it’s called when you do a division.” He added that the town doesn’t approve property divisions, but “the town did indeed approve the creation of the lots” by issuing certificates of zoning compliance and “authorized construction of the two homes by issuing building permits.”
Kleinhans says the engineer he hired met with Joyce and Timberman and drew a site plan for two houses to go on the two new lots, which Kleinhans filed with the planner’s office.
“The tax collector then picked up on it. The assessor split it into two lots, one with a house and one vacant lot,” Kleinhans says. “The town recognized that it was two separate lots.”
Gene Bolles, who was the town’s building official at the time, issued two foundation permits for the lots on March 14, 2006, “so the two lots were legal lots,” Kleinhans says.
“There’s no deed at this point -- there’s nothing,” he adds. “It’s the map and the site plans.”
Kleinhans says that “as the real estate market started to soften in 2006, the permits were extended by letter” from former Building Official Bruce Bryant on Sept. 14, 2007.
Terry and Cynthia Virkler, acting as TLV Transformations Inc., bought the property as lots for $230,000 on June 6, 2007, according to the warranty deed signed by Kleinhans and McCoy.
When the Virklers bought the “raw lots only” in 2007 “the permits were valid,” Kleinhans says. “At that time, deeds were prepared on the two approved building lots by McCoy, as CRV’s attorney, and the lots were conveyed.”
Kleinhans says the Virklers applied for an additional permit to remove the blighted house and built a house for themselves on the first lot at 362 Lake St. “based on the site plan that CRV had created and the permit that had been obtained.”
The second foundation permit expired before the Virklers built a second house, and their application for zoning permit approval was denied by Ford.
“Why Ford denied the permit and declared the lot nonconforming is not something that I have ever understood,” Kleinhans says, adding that the Virklers’ revised plans for a second house “did not match those original plans. That seems to be the reason Ford denied the application.”
Kleinhans adds that Ford “was in fact declaring that prior town officials had acted improperly” because they had found that the second piece of the property was not a rear lot and didn’t require a special permit, while Ford found otherwise.
“This is the substance of the disagreement and the problem encountered,” Kleinhans says.
In his discrimination complaints, Ford said he sought a legal opinion from Assistant Town Attorney Susan Boyan on the matter.
Boyan did not return calls for comment, but in a March 13, 2009, letter she concluded that “because the property for which the building permit was requested does not comply with current zoning regulations for a single-family home, a building permit cannot be issued.”
Kleinhans says that Boyan’s legal opinion didn’t take into account the permit for 366 Lake St. obtained by CRV. And “by the time this review occurred, Joyce had retired, Timberman had left town service, and Gene Bolles, the building official and zoning enforcement officer who had approved the lots, had died.”
Ford’s denial of the zoning permit meant that the Virklers had to seek a special permit for the rear lot, which was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
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