Tupper Lake planning board debates fuel tanks

TUPPER LAKE – A request by Michael Vaillancourt to put two 500-gallon diesel fuel tanks on his property sparked a lengthy discussion at a town-village planning board meeting Wednesday.

The tanks would be used to fuel vehicles used by Vaillancourt’s Sootbusters and Treebusters businesses. The office for those businesses is located next to Vaillancourt’s apartment building on Barry Avenue.

The property is zoned as residential. A permit previously issued by the board states that up to four commercial vehicles can be stored in the garage there. A variance from the zoning board also granted permission to put the small businesses’ shop on the side of the apartment building.

“That wasn’t part of the original permit, and he’s asking to place these two tanks to fuel his fleet on the lawn,” town of Tupper Lake Assessor and Code Enforcement Officer Paul O’Leary said Wednesday.

O’Leary then read a letter from Vaillancourt, which included a photo of what the tanks would look like. He explained that Vaillancourt is on vacation, so he couldn’t attend the meeting.

The letter stated that workers are required to fill up the trucks after use because the businesses are sometimes called upon to do emergency jobs.

“If they cannot fill up daily at the garage, then the foremen will have drive down the road to the garage, drop off the men in that vehicle, drive down to the junction, fill up with diesel, and have drive back down the road again to park the vehicle in the garage for the night,” Vaillancourt wrote. “That would be four commercial trucks a day that would have to double their trip up and down the road.”

Vaillancourt wrote that the extra trips would cost the business more money in labor, and that other commercial and residential properties around town have fuel tanks that range from 250 to 25,000 gallons.

Vaillancourt also wrote that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is OK with the tanks, which he said would not be permanent structures and would not be visible from the road.

“My feeling is that, when the (Zoning Board of Appeals) gave him the variance, what triggered it was because he wanted to put his commercial office attached to a very large apartment building, which by our own code allowed for parking vehicles for the two apartments,” planning board member Jim Merrihew said.

Merrihew said the permit also included a condition that storage or parking of construction equipment and construction equipment transport trailers is prohibited on the property. He said that indicates that it was the board’s intention to maintain a residential environment there.

“I think we need to do that, because we did take that residential area and put a very large apartment house in that residential area,” Merrihew said. “I would hope that, if I walk down that Barry Ave. extension, I would see an apartment building and not the storage of commercial equipment that makes it look like a yard. I think we need to respect the residential area as much as we can, in spite of the fact that it was allowed to go in there in the first place.”

Board Chairman James Larkin said the zoning board tried to help Vaillancourt at the time.

“It was allowed to go in there because he jumped the gun and had $40,000 invested, and he was hurting, and the board kind of helped him out,” Larkin said. “I think that’s why the ZBA gave him the permit to start with.”

Larkin said the planning board told Vaillancourt they’d let him put his business office on the property as long as he didn’t try to add anything else. He said Vaillancourt agreed to those terms.

Larkin added that there is no law against the tanks but that the board has to discuss the potential ramifications of allowing them there.

“This isn’t the first time these things have happened, where they creep further,” Larkin said. “The question is, what do we want to do with it? This is residential, and these people that live there have rights, too.”

Merrihew questioned whether Vaillancourt’s employees could just fill up their tanks before returning to the garage at night. No one in the room could answer the question, but Larkin expressed frustration at the situation.

“This is the land code that this town has, and this is what the rules are,” Larkin said. “He knew the rules. I understand where he’s coming from. The question comes, where do we stop this, and do we let it go? If you start letting it go, you might as well close the door. It’s a tough situation.”

Larkin said the problem is giving too much ground to landowners, who in turn come back to the board expecting more.

Board member Bob Collier suggested a compromise by way of implementing a provision that would require a rustic-looking shed to hide the fuel tanks.

“I understand your point of giving ground, but I think the ground already got given,” Collier said.

Larkin agreed and said the board already gave Vaillancourt ground twice: once when it allowed him to upgrade the apartment building from two units to four and again when it allowed him to store commercial vehicles there.

The board agreed to hold a public hearing on the issue during its next meeting on Wednesday, June 25.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.