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Mayor: Schafer’s actions on planning board being reviewed by police

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MASSENA - A member of the village planning board who admitted in open session at Wednesday night’s planning board meeting that he had reached out to local developer Dick Maginn and offered to help him garner approval for a proposed Nice N’ Easy store at the corner of Main and East Orvis streets is under investigation by village police for his actions.

Massena Mayor James F. Hidy said Thursday afternoon that police are investigating the matter, and Brian Schafer’s future on the planning board depends on what they find.

“There is a process through the New York state Village Code, but anything I do would be directed through the village legal counsel in coordination with the police department.”

Mr. Hidy was responding to a comment made by Mr. Maginn’s attorney, Mark Snider, who noted Mr. Schafer’s alleged offer to Mr. Maginn had been shared with the mayor.

“This matter is now, and has been, in the hands of our good mayor, and it’s his decision to make in the best interests of our community,” he said.

Mr. Schafer’s alleged actions came to light Monday night following a presentation by John Hagan, a Syracuse architect who designed the plans for Massena’s proposed Nice N’ Easy store.

Mr. Snider disclosed to the village planning board that Mr. Schafer had met with Mr. Maginn and offered his assistance to move the development through the planning board process. “We wanted neither his assistance or obstruction on the project. Either of these would be considered an impropriety.”

Mr. Schafer, who made a 10-minute presentation to the board complete with drawings that would move the proposed two entrance-exits on Main Street to one and add a second entrance-exit to East Orvis Street, admitted he had contacted Mr. Maginn on three different occasions.

The retired mechanical engineer from Alcoa said he had done the work after hearing numerous concerns from community residents and fellow planning board members that two new entrances off Main Street near East Orvis would create major traffic issues in downtown Massena.

“That conversation only went to ‘This represents an option if your people were interested, that would be the Valentine brothers, I guess. If your people were interested to call me without any further delays,’” Mr. Schafer recalled.

Planning board Chairman Frank Hutt tried to steer the meeting back on track, but Mr. Schafer insisted on continuing to explain his side of the story at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“We’re only off subject because of what’s been brought out here,” he said. “I did see Dick Maginn.”

Mr. Schafer said he had two messages from Mr. Maginn on his answering machine. “I’d be happy to play them for you,” he said. “I told him, ‘I have two hats here, if I put the other hat on, which is get it (project designs) through him, that would benefit you guys.”

Mr. Schafer said that on one of the messages Mr. Maginn said he spoke with the Valentine brothers, the developers for the Nice and Easy stores in the region, who told him they weren’t interested in his offer.

However, by that time Mr. Schafer said he began having second thoughts.

“At that point in time I told him, ‘I had already gone too far. I have no further interest. I cannot go to the Valentine brothers. I could have done this through you, if they had some interest and that was it. I’m done.’”

Mr. Schafer then made a motion just minutes after calling the presentation from Mr. Hagan the best he’s ever seen in all his years on the board to approve the proposal, if they agreed to the “conceptual modifications” that had been presented by Mr. Schafer. That motion failed to get a second, but the project ultimately passed with a vote of 5-1. Mr. Schafer was the lone no vote. Brian Trzaskos was not present at the meeting.

While the project ultimately was approved, Mr. Snider said Mr. Schafer’s actions did have an impact on his client.

“He voted no every time there was a vote,” Mr. Snider said, noting there were two previous votes that ended 4-2, with B. Joseph Cardinal also opposing the plans.

When Mr. Hagan agreed to eliminate two more parking spots to meet the county’s recommendations, Mr. Cardinal then changed his no vote to a yes, and while a supermajority was no longer needed one was achieved and the project passed.

When asked to shed a little more light on what happened between his client and Mr. Schafer, Mr. Snider called Mr. Schafer’s explanation “not only vague, but misleading. Mr. Schafer requested to be paid for his services to bring about the successful development of the corner by Sandstone Development, LLC,” he said.

Mr. Hidy said that an investigation into the matter is ongoing.

“I’ve gathered no information that substantiates anything thus far,” he said.

Mr. Hutt though, said he and other planning board members have been suspicious of Mr. Schafer, who has a civil engineering background, for quite some time.

“It (similar improprieties) has gone on with other things before,” Mr. Hutt said. “There are at least a few times that myself and other board members are aware of. The last time he was appointed about a year ago, I didn’t think that would happen, but it did. There must have been people somewhere saying he was doing a good job.”

Even if it is shown that Mr. Schafer has done no wrong, Mr. Hutt said questions remain about his presence on the board.

“Brian is a different member of the board,” he said. “He likes to hurry things up. I don’t know what his hurry is, but he likes to hurry up and get out of there.”

When asked if he thinks Mr. Schafer should be removed from the board, he said that’s not a decision for him to make.

“I’m going to leave that up to the mayor and his people. I don’t have to make that decision, thank God.”

Attempts to reach Mr. Schafer on Thursday were not successful.

Mr. Schafer, in his presentation Wednesday night on his recommendations for changes to the Valentine plan, said he was wearing three hats - village taxpayer, planning board member for nearly a decade and a civil and mechanical engineer with 50 years of experience.

He said he went to work after 90 percent of the people he talked to voiced concerned about the impact on traffic that would be created by the new business with two entrances onto Main Street between the post office and the Orvis street intersection as well as parking spaces that would be lost in the area across the street from the post office, an area already plagued by parking issues.

“They said Brian, it is already bad enough, isn’t there another way it can be done. I went to work on it. I did the measurements. I paid someone in Pittsburgh to do the drawings. I came to a different conclusion. There is a better way,” he said, recommending having two entrances/exits on East Orvis rather than Main.

He acknowledged he had gone to see Mr. Maginn after approximately 70 percent of his work was completed, told him about the work he had done on the project and suggested his efforts might save the Valentine brothers some money.

“It (Schafer’s project work) all came out of my pocket. The only benefit as far as I was concerned was you guys,” he told the developers. “It represented an option if your people were interested in getting through this whole maze without any problems.”

At he conclusion of Mr. Schafer’s presentation, Mr. Hagan had a simple reaction for the board on the presented by one of its member with a counter proposal to his work. “I’ve been a licensed architect for over 40 years, and the circumstances presented tonight are highly unusual,” he said.

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