By Gwendolyn Craig
The Adirondack Park Agency has fined a Hamilton County couple $28,500 for building a deck greater than 100 square feet within 50 feet of the mean high water mark of Lake Algonquin, but the couple intends to challenge the agency’s determination in court.
Joseph Cotazino Jr. said his retirement home has turned into “nothing but a nightmare.”
It started in the summer of 2017, when Cotazino was preparing to build a dwelling on Kibler Point Road in the Town of Wells. The couple owned two campsites and a vacant lot on the lake. They planned to use most of their life savings to build their dream retirement home on the lot, while their son would occupy a campsite next door.
Cotazino had received all the proper permits and checked with the APA so he would be in compliance. But then Cotazino received a letter from former Town Supervisor Brian Towers, concerned that one corner of the house would be only 7 feet from the edge of the road.
The plans were lawful, and the town issued the building permit, but Towers left Cotazino with a warning.
“However with all (due) respect, the town will not be held legally responsible for any damage to your property incurred during the routine maintenance of our road, including snow removal from the driving surface, the height or width of resulting snow banks, and/or naturally occurring water drainage,” Towers wrote.
Cotazino received a second letter, records show, from the next Town Supervisor Donald Beach, again concerned about how close the house would be to the road.
Worried that his house would get hit by a snowplow, Cotazino said he went back to the APA to ask for a variance so he could build within the shoreline setback. Records show Beach provided a letter to the APA in support of a variance for Cotazino, stating that the house’s current position “will cause the town to be unable to safely plow the road.”
At an APA enforcement committee hearing last month, Cotazino said APA staff members came to his property and placed new stakes for where his house could be built without a variance — and that he built it there.
Jennifer Hubbard, an APA attorney, said employees do not design projects. She acknowledged that staffers did put stakes down where Cotazino would not need a variance.
“Frankly what happened here was the development was not constructed within the development footprint that staff flagged,” Hubbard said.
Cotazino disagreed, and believes he built his home where APA staff said he could.
Justin Gray, an attorney representing Cotazino, said during the hearing that APA’s argument didn’t make any sense. Cotazino had originally planned to get a variance, but APA staffers had encouraged him not to apply for one.
“This is a travesty of justice,” Gray said.
Ultimately the enforcement committee ruled in favor of the APA staff’s determination of a setback violation. The APA said Cotazino’s jurisdictional inquiry included a home but not a deck. In its determination, the agency is ordering Cotazino to remove any portion of the deck within the 50 feet of the mean high water mark by June 1.
The agency also issued a $28,500 fine, $1,500 of which is due this month. If Cotazino removes the portion of the deck in violation, the rest of the fine will be suspended.
But Cotazino does not have plans to remove his deck.
Gray said he will be filing a court appeal soon to overturn the order for his client.
“Obviously I’m totally disappointed with their decision,” Cotazino said about the enforcement committee’s determination. “I feel like I’m trying to convince them of a problem that they created. They’re the ones that put me in violation, not me. I was filing the variance, and in their determination, they told me I didn’t need it.”
Another aspect of the case that bothers Cotazino is how he was found in violation in the first place. A neighbor, he said, was trespassing on his property and reported his deck to the APA.
Cotazino said he hopes to be able to confront his neighbor in court.
This article has been updated to say the APA’s jurisdictional inquiry records show it did not include a deck when reviewing Cotazino’s compliance.
New York what can you do . Only option move to Florida and screw it up.
“I’ll just move this stake over here…”
Joseph Cotazino says
People making comments should have the facts of what ACTUALLY happened. There was no actions taken by myself which caused any violation. The APA representatives put the property in violation when they came out at their insistence and set the stakes in the ground themselves after I started the process of filing for the variance needed. Get the facts straight before commenting. This was not a case of me trying to deceive or pull one over on the APA. My reputation for dealing with the compliance of APA rules is outstanding and all of the building inspectors that I have dealt with for several projects in the Adirondack Park will confirm that. This is a case of a state regulatory agency making a mistake and can n ot admit it. They are trying to save face at my expense and it is wrong.
Joy Cotazino says
The photo does not properly depict the lot. The right boarder is 2′ away from the side deck to the house on the right. There is 55′ lake front, not that small point. So upsetting.
Joy Cotazino says
The lot is a Parallelogram, not triangular.
B Mann says
Sounds like the APA screwed up and is laying it at your doorstep. Their attorney says the don’t do the designs or development, then how did they know where to place the stakes? Were any of them surveyors or We’re they throwing stakes like lawn darts? Screw them keep fighting
So why not remove the deck and replace it with pavers? Its allowed and you can go well beyond the 100SF limit for wood structures. And also never talk the neighbor again.
It sounds like the APA was going to deny a variance. Variances are not giveaways even if you have a solid argument. You really have to prove a hardship. Hardships should be based on the complete inability to build on, or enjoy your property. It doesn’t sound like the Town, or the APA were operating in an arbitrary or capricious manner either. It does sound like the Town didn’t have strong enough review criteria in place to deny your first proposal though it presented safety concerns. This isn’t necessarily a hardship though. It does sound like the APA was trying to go the extra mile in showing you where you could build within all of your setbacks and restrictions which is extremely rare for a review body to do because of the liability they could have to assume. Ultimately if your plans didn’t have the deck attached when it was reviewed and the building permit was approved, it means that your deck was not approved. It really sounds like you have a property with a unique configuration which makes it more difficult, and more of a headache to build what you want within the setbacks and restrictions. Sorry for your frustrations. Digging your heals in in this matter may just cause you more pain and monetary suffering unfortunately. Consider the root cause of all of this to be the uniqueness of your lot. Best of luck…
Joseph M Cotazino Jr says
Just as a matter of clarification, the APA came out to review the lot and move the stakes in response to my phone call to them for assistance with filling out the variance request application. They told me after moving the stakes and approving the new location of the house and deck that “a variance application was not needed any more” so we began construction of the house.
The building permit application had the house and deck on it and was approved by the Town of Wells. Where the ORIGINAL house and deck was staked out was all within compliance and approved by the APA. They moved it out of compliance and said “build here” just can’t admit it. I am looking for legal advice and help with fighting this whole issue. Any attorneys who can help I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
Frank Gabriel says
Did you find a good attorney
Joseph M Cotazino Jr says
No. Do you know of one who has dealt with the APA?
Joseph M Cotazino Jr says
No still looking for one who has experience dealing with the APA