Beacon Boardinghouse Denied But Appeal Expected

Owner wants to rebuild after arson destroyed structure

The Beacon Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday (July 18) upheld the building inspector’s decision that the owner of a boardinghouse destroyed earlier this year by fire must rebuild in accordance with the zoning code. 

The single-room occupancy house, at 925 Wolcott Ave., had been what is known as a “legal non-conforming use” in an area zoned for single-family homes. According to materials submitted to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), the three-story, 4,136-square-feet building was constructed before 1965 and had been used as a boardinghouse for short-term renters since then.

The unoccupied house was destroyed on Jan. 3 in a fire that a former tenant, 57-year-old Brian P. Atkinson, pleaded guilty to starting. Atkinson, who was scheduled to appear in City Court for eviction proceedings filed by the owner of the house on the day of the fire, turned himself in to Beacon police. 

Atkinson pleaded guilty on May 31 in Dutchess County Court to the most serious charge against him, third-degree arson, a felony which carries a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in jail. Judge Edward McLoughlin agreed to drop two other charges while sentencing Atkinson to 4 to 12 years in state prison and granting an order of protection for Yeshia Berger, the owner of the boardinghouse. 

Berger has argued that he should be permitted to rebuild the house in keeping with a building permit he received in December to convert its 16 rental units to nine. However, Building Inspector Bruce Flower earlier this year denied that request, citing three provisions in Beacon’s zoning code. 

On Tuesday, the five-member ZBA voted to reverse two and uphold one of Flower’s determinations regarding the building. 

The members disagreed with Flower that the non-conforming use had been “removed” by the fire, noting that the blaze was started by a third party outside of Berger’s control. 

The board also reversed Flower’s decision that a non-conforming building cannot be “structurally altered during its life” if the alterations amount to more than 25 percent of the building’s fair market value. In that instance, board members said that Flower’s decision would have been upheld before the arson, but that the fire effectively ended the building’s “life.” 

Finally, the board agreed that the city code requires structures that have been more than 50 percent destroyed, such as by fire, to be rebuilt according to the current zoning regulations — in this case, as a single-family home.

Berger would only have been allowed to proceed with his December plans if the ZBA had reversed all three of Flower’s determinations. Berger’s attorney, Taylor Palmer, said that his client will appeal and/or ask the board to issue a variance.

Palmer argued that, according to the zoning code, a property owner has a year to rebuild a structure — even in the event of a total loss — and maintain the non-conforming use. 

Numerous residents submitted letters to the Zoning Board opposing a new boardinghouse; the board also received a petition with more than 100 names asking it to deny Berger’s request.

One neighbor on Tuesday called the area surrounding the site “the most dangerous intersection in Beacon” because of fights and gunfire she said had taken place there. “I’ve seen it all on that property,” she said. 

In its resolution denying Berger’s request, the ZBA said it was not “deciding the merits of the applicant’s proposed use and/or any opposition” but was only making decisions on the building inspector’s determinations.

One thought on “Beacon Boardinghouse Denied But Appeal Expected

  1. The owner of the boardinghouse on Wolcott Avenue should be allowed to build what was there. He was in the process of rebuilding when he got burnt out, outside of his control. [via Facebook]

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