October 23, 2021

Review of historic property set

Owner wants to reclassify 23 Tompkins St., raze carriage house

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Cortland Standard photo of the carriage house on Tompkins St .

The owner of a Cortland historic district property who faces code violations in city court is trying to reclassify that property as a rooming house and demolish a backyard carriage house to add more parking.

The city planning commission approved site review of Paul Armideo’s property at 23 Tompkins St. earlier this week, contingent upon approval from the city’s historic review board for the demolition of the carriage house.

“That building that we’re talking about demolishing is in really bad shape,” architect Eugene Beautz told the planning commission. “It’s not going to win any historical awards.”

However, planning commissioner Jim Reeners said he had considered buying 23 Tompkins in 2012 but decided not to do so after he was informally told by members of the historic review board that he would not get approval to demolish the carriage house.

Armideo Tompkins St., LLC bought the property for $225,000 on May 30, 2019, according to property records.

If the review board denies permission for demolition, the developer would have to alter its plans and resubmit them to the planning commission, said Zoning Enforcement Officer Bob Rhea.

The historic review board, which governs external changes to properties in the historic district, including Tompkins Street from Main Street to Cortland Rural Cemetery, next meets 8 a.m. March 10.

The proposal will also have to be go before the zoning board of appeals, which next meets 5:30 p.m. March 9, for area variances for a front yard that has a setback less than the required 25 feet, for side setbacks less than 15 feet and for lacking a 4-foot vegetative strip in the back of the property, Rhea said.

If the setbacks are approved by the ZBA, the proposal would again go back to the planning commission for a special-use permit so the building could be considered a rooming house, Rhea said.

The property is zoned R-4, in which a rooming house is permitted as a special use, he said.

The proposal would also have to be reviewed by the county planning board at its next meeting on March 18.

The proposal comes against a backdrop of code violation charges leveled against Armideo dating back to August and September, including occupancy, fire protection system and multiple building permit violations.

“This is an effort with a property that was in violation to bring it into compliance, which is our goal,” said Rhea, who issued the occupancy citation. The other citations, he said, were issued by the city’s code enforcement office.

Reeners, however, said he is concerned that Armideo has more than three tenants living in what is considered a single-family residence. He based his opinion on the number of vehicles parked on the property.

“They are coming to us for approval for something that they’re already doing,” Reeners said. “To me, this is all a big mess. I don’t know how to put it. I am thoroughly discouraged in our city’s ability to do what it is stipulated to do.”

Some developers start projects without proper city approval with the attitude of “just go ahead and do it, and if you get caught, then go through the procedure,” he said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”

Armideo said tenants have occupied the building for seven months. If considered a rooming house, the building could have no more than 10 tenants, provided that there is one parking space for each tenant, according to city code.

The developer’s plan would include 11 parking spaces, including two spaces that would be built where the carriage house now stands.

But considered as a single-family residence, the house would be limited to three tenants under the city’s so-called three unrelated law.

Paul Armideo’s brother, Dante, is also being prosecuted for code violations in city court. Dante Armideo has been charged with two building permit violations for a property at 55 Tompkins St., and Armideo Brothers’ Rentals LLC is also charged with two building permit violations. All four charges were filed Aug. 27.

All of these cases — including the charges connected with 23 Tompkins St. — will be heard at 1:30 p.m. April 8 in city court.

The Armideo brothers have both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The cases are being handled by a special prosecutor — Kelly Damm of Ithaca, who was appointed after City Attorney Richard VanDonsel and District Attorney Patrick Perfetti recused themselves. VanDonsel recused himself because the Armideos are his nephews, said Perfetti, who also recused himself “to avoid any appearance of impropriety,” because he has known the Armideo family since he was a child.

Damm could not be reached for comment.