A village review board took the unprecedented action of ordering a landlord to evict his tenants and tear out improvements made to a property after concluding he willfully violated the zoning law.
Building owner Paul Korzak stormed out of the Feb. 11 Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting when it became apparent the board was going to vote against his request for a variance on his property at 16 Livingston St.
Korzak had argued that commercial rental rates were too low in the village and he needed residential tenants to recoup the investment he made in the building. The ZBA was unmoved.
The building’s zoning allows for apartments on the second floor, but requires the first floor storefront be occupied by a commercial tenant. The building, a former auction house, currently has four apartments on the second floor and two on the first floor.
In 2009, there were no apartments on the first floor and Korzak was looking to rent that space out for commercial uses.
Unable to rent the ground floor, he came before the ZBA looking for a use variance to convert the space into apartments. (The board’s function is to consider exceptions to the zoning code.) At that time, the ZBA partially rejected Korzak’s request, permitting him to convert a portion of the rear of the ground floor into an artist’s studio/apartment, but ruling the front portion must remain a commercial space.
In the ensuing years, Korzak converted the remaining portion of the ground floor into an apartment unit without the ZBA approval. When he was found out, he again applied to the ZBA for a variance.
Korzak pleaded hardship. He said there’s no need for additional commercial space in the village, and the only way he would be able to make money from the building is if the ZBA let the apartment unit stay.
Korzak’s realtor, Karen Vetere of Kingston, testified before the board. She said commercial building owners in the village are getting so little for rent that if her client had a commercial tenant, it would take years to recoup the $250,000 he put into the building.
“The economy isn’t great in this area,” she said.
Korzak said he advertised for commercial tenants for five years through agents and on Craigslist but was unable to find one.
ZBA member Herm Wilcox said he believed Korzak’s hardship was self-created and that he didn’t prove he’d done enough to find a commercial renter.
“The proof of my efforts is in the pudding,” said Korzak. “There were no commercial takers. I apologize, but what I did was without malice, but desperation. It was a bad judgment call.”
Board attorney Alex Betke said in order for a variance to be granted, the applicant must meet five standards:
The variance must not create an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood;
The applicant cannot feasibly achieve their purpose without the variance;
The requested variance is not substantial;
The variance will not have an adverse effect or impact on the physical environmental conditions in the neighborhood;
The variance is not self-created.
“And the burden of proof for this is on the applicant,” Betke said. “As your lawyer, I don’t think the applicant can get past the self-created hardship portion.”
“Our hands are tied on this,” agreed board member Joseph Gavner.
“You knew what you were doing when you created the hardship by putting in the apartment when you were told you couldn’t,” said Wilcox. “You’re coming before us after the fact.”
Korzak can now go before the Village Board and request that it rezone the property. In the meantime, a letter has gone out notifying him he has 60 days to move the tenants out and remove the improvements that were made to convert the commercial space into the apartment.