June 23, 2013

Land sale may solve, create problems

Land sale may solve, create problems

By DENISE A. RAYMO Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — Franklin County is holding a land auction this week, but will keep one tax-delinquent parcel out to solve parking problems and another to see if it is contaminated.

Nearly 60 properties will be sold when the auction is held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, at Mo’s Pub and Grill in Malone.

Parcels are for sale in the Village of Tupper Lake (five), the Town of Tupper Lake (one), Bangor (three), Bombay (two), Brandon (three), Brighton (two), Burke (two), Constable (five), Dickinson (two), Duane (one) and Franklin (three). Also for sale are parcels in the Village of Saranac Lake (two), Harrietstown (one), Village of Malone (four), Town of Malone (five), Village of Brushton (one), Moira (six), Santa Clara (one), Waverly (eight) and Westville (two). 

This will be the third time in 10 years that the county has dealt with inadequate parking at the land-locked County Courthouse building.


A portion of one parcel will be held out of the auction — the former Kriff’s Furniture building at the corner of Amsden and Main streets in the Village of Malone.

The 1.2-acre site includes a two-story, nearly 15,000-square-foot building and detached garage that carries a full-market value of $118,000 as is.

It also has a huge parking lot that the county intends to divide, keeping the back portion for additional courthouse-employee parking.

The County Treasurer’s Office says the parking-lot value is about $20,000 of the entire parcel.

Legislators recently agreed to separate the back parking area to the east of the courthouse from space closer to the Kriff’s building, which they say still leaves enough room for tractor-trailer access for a new owner.

“I’m familiar with the goings-on there, and at one point, we rented that land for $15,000 a year to increase our parking,” said County Legislator Guy “Tim” Smith (D-Fort Covington).

“When we have a grand jury coming, you can’t find a parking spot within a quarter mile of here,” he said. “We’ve got to look toward the future.

“Other things may be developed (at the Kriff’s building), but we’ve got it. Let’s take the opportunity to add what we can for our campus,” Smith said.

Tupper Lake Republican Paul Maroun agreed.

“At one time, we spent taxpayer money to secure parking,” he said. “I think we need it, and it won’t cost anything.”

In March 2003, the county paid $6,500 for a former gas-station property on Main Street around the corner west of the courthouse.

It was used primarily by employees and visitors to the former community-action agency ComLinks. County employees have been using it since the agency closed last year.

The county had 216 parking spaces and 12 designated-handicapped spots at the courthouse in 1987, according to blueprints found by Darren Rubadeau, Buildings and Grounds superintendent.

And even though the county conducted a $5.3 million expansion and renovation project in 2009, he said no new parking spaces were added at that time.

Instead, the number of parking slots went down to 169 regular spaces and nine handicapped spots, said John MacArthur, an engineer with Beardsley Design Associates of Malone, which designed the changes to the courthouse.

County Highway Department crews did the work, repaving and improving curbing and the surface of the five graduated tiers of parking lots behind the courthouse.

Legislators soon found they had to buy even more space to accommodate the roughly 500 employees and public users of the courthouse parking lots.

The county paid $50,000 in March 2010 for the former Glazier’s Meat Products building and parking lot off Brewster Street just to the southwest of the courthouse.

This month, it’s keeping the 130-foot by 250-foot space behind Kriff’s in hopes employees will use that rather than parking along the eastern side of Amsden Street.

The county built a concrete staircase on a hill east of the courthouse to get people to and from that street.


County Treasurer Bryon Varin said the other parcel removed from the auction was the 3.7-acre property that was once the County Poor House on Route 11B near Lime Kiln Road.

The building had various owners, but the structure was gutted and collapsed in on itself in the mid-2000s.

Its debris has remained piled there for years. Only a smoke stack is left, and it is that and the debris that raised questions.

“When we take a property over for back taxes, we don’t always know what’s there,” said Jonathan Miller, the county attorney. “We’re taking them because of unpaid taxes.”

But since the land auction was announced, he received a call from a previous owner “who expressed environmental concerns” at the property, he said.

“A lot of old homes have asbestos concerns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good homes,” Miller said.

He said he consulted Varin and told him what he had learned, and the two agreed to take it out of the mix for the sale.

Miller said rather than sell the poorhouse parcel as is and possibly having a new buyer complain that the county knew it was selling a parcel with potential dangers, “we decided to err on the side of caution and pull it from the auction until we know what’s going on.”


Another long-term concern that might also be solved by the land auction is a final disposition of a parcel the county has tried to unload since 2010.

The former Alaskan Oil Co. store near McDonald’s on Route 11 used to hold a gas station and convenience store, but it was abandoned and taken back for taxes in 2009.

Federal-stimulus funding allowed for the county — under the watchful eye of the State Department of Environmental Conservation — to remove a fuel spill, underground tank and tons of contaminated soil.

The 3.4-acre plot was salable again, but no bidders were interested in meeting the $200,000 minimum bid the two previous occasions it was offered for sale.

The parcel is appraised at $220,701 and, this time, there is no minimum bid required, Miller said.

Having a minimum “scares off buyers,” he said, but starting at zero can lead to frenzied bidding.

Varin said the county is owed a total of $454,000 in back taxes on the 59 parcels in the auction, but that figure does not include the interest and penalties on each one.

That figure is not calculated until after the sales have taken place, he said.

Email Denise A. Raymo:



Photos as well as detailed information about each parcel is available online at The auctioneer is Haroff Auction and Realty Inc. A bidders' seminar is set for 7 p.m. Monday at the County Courthouse, where early auction registrations will be taken starting at 6 p.m. and again following the seminar. Those who successfully buy a property have 18 months to improve it to meet state and local building-code requirements.