Duprey Street neighborhood dispute boils over
Neighbors allege attempt by Saranac Lake mayor to take land, mayor refutes claims
SARANAC LAKE — Weeks of property line disputes, contentious conversations and allegations of moving and removing of property line stakes and “No Trespassing” signs boiled over last month in a confrontation between village Mayor Clyde Rabideau and a neighboring mortgage-holder.
The mortgage holder, Linda Scheefer, said she was replacing stakes along her property line — she alleges that Rabideau removed them — when the mayor started shouting at her, “Get off my f***ing property. Get off my f***ing property you f***ing b****.” She’s said she’s been troubled by this interaction and said she broke down and cried the next day. Rabideau said Scheefer was “trespassing up to the house that we’re building and she was told to leave in very forceful words.” Asked about the specific words he used, Rabideau said “I don’t recall.”
“If somebody comes out waving a stick onto somebody else’s property, they might expect that,” Rabideau said, of his reaction. “She should not have come onto our property and approached us with a stick in her hand.”
The property lines at 21 Duprey St., which is being developed by a company Rabideau owned until recently, have been contested by the land and mortgage owners on either side, John Fust and Scheefer. Fust and Scheefer both believe Rabideau’s company was unfairly trying to take their land. Rabideau says he “never contended Scheefer’s property.”
After a survey of land records produced by a professional surveyor was released this month, some of the conflicts over disputed land are now winding down, but Scheefer says she doesn’t want to let the issue go until she gets an apology from the mayor.
A survey produced by John McLean of Moncrief & McLean Land Surveyors, released two weeks ago, found Fust must yield his disputed land to 21 Duprey St. and that a property line Scheefer staked out was mostly correct.
Rabideau is now striking an agreement with Fust. But Scheefer said she does not want to agree to take down her “No Trespassing” signs and property line stakes until Rabideau apologizes for allegedly cursing at her, lying to her and trying to take some of her niece and nephew’s land.
This ongoing development, and the conflicts over the boundary lines, have left bitter tastes in the mouths of Scheefer and all the developers.
This dispute between Rabideau, Scheefer and Fust comes a few months after Rabideau’s other developments on Duprey Street brought similar animosity from neighbors. Rabideau’s plan to build several townhouses at 51, 53, 55 and 57 Duprey St. was met with weeks of opposition in public hearings and letters to the editor sent to the Enterprise because residents of the road felt the townhouses were too big for the neighborhood.
This resulted in the project being scaled down to a single duplex structure. Neighbors still oppose the duplex, but felt the compromise was adequate.
The lay of the land
The land at 21 Duprey St. is owned by Joel Stretch through Strab Ventures Inc. Stretch said he bought the property at an estate sale around a year ago, removed the trailer and is in the process of building a three-bedroom, single-family home to eventually sell.
Rabideau Corp. is developing the land. The mayor used to own this company, but recently transferred ownership to Rabideau Corp. Vice President Keith Braun. Rabideau said he’s still involved with the company as a consultant.
Scheefer used to own the land to the east of 21 Duprey St., but in June transferred the land to her niece and nephew. She’s still on the home’s mortgage, though.
The disagreement started when Rabideau was cleaning up some topsoil Scheefer had put down which had spilled onto the 21 Duprey St. property. In the process of moving the fill, Scheefer says he also moved the property line stakes.
Scheefer began putting up “No Trespassing” signs on the property and alleges that Rabideau was removing her property line stakes.
Scheefer also alleged that survey pins on the corners of the property were pushed down into the ground. They were not visible anymore but could be found with a metal detector.
Clyde says no one touched the survey pins.
Scheefer recorded a conversation she had with Rabideau Corp. employee Steve Snyder in which he admitted to watching Rabideau move the property line markers she had set up.
“I don’t like being in the middle,” Snyder told her in the recording. “The whole time he was doing it I was saying, ‘This ain’t right.'”
But Snyder told her he didn’t know what happened with the survey pins.
Rabideau says he “never contended Scheefer’s property.”
But Scheefer felt he was and worried they were being taken advantage of.
Scheefer said that in July, Rabideau told her the property line was closer to her side than his. She said that Rabideau offered to give them that long, thin strip of land in a quickclaim deed but she said it was not his to give.
Then, on Aug. 10, the confrontation between Scheefer and Rabideau happened.
This confrontation was detailed in a deposition Scheefer filed with the Saranac Lake Police Department. The acting chief of the department, Leigh Wenske, has not returned calls asking for comment on this deposition. Rabideau said he is seeking an order of protection for his workers. In a statement responding to the whole situation, the village board and police department members wrote that they determined these complaints are “civil, not criminal in nature.”
A survey found that Scheefer’s property line stakes were mostly accurate. However, at the street, a small corner of her niece and nephew’s gravel driveway is in the Strab property, according to the survey.
Rabideau said he wants to strike an agreement with them, to give them an easement for the few feet of the driveway in exchange for them removing the property line markers. Stretch plans to eventually sell this property and the bright strings and signs are not attractive.
Scheefer does not want to agree to this.
She still believes that her niece and nephew own the whole driveway, but said she does not care about the land itself. The driveway is plenty wide. She wants an apology.
Scheefer said she doesn’t want to meet with anyone but Clyde and all she wants from him is for him to admit what he did and apologize. She doesn’t plan to remove her signs and stakes until then.
The survey settled the dispute on Fust’s side in favor of Strab.
A survey is basically an opinion informed by data or records. In this case, McLean built his survey on historical records, going back to find the most accurate original dimensions.
The survey found the 21 Duprey St. property has senior property rights, meaning that property was created or transferred first. If there’s an overlap with a junior property, that property must yield the land to the senior property.
Fust was basing his property line on an old survey map from the 1970s.
The three properties were all originally part of the same parcel of land. Throughout the 1900s they were subdivided out. Fust’s property was subdivided out after 21 Duprey St., meaning it gets junior property rights.
Strab needed this land to match the initial development application plans. If Fust’s property line was where he initially said it was, the development would not have met the required 15-foot setback from the property line. Village Development Code Administrator Paul Blaine said if this had been the case the developers would have sought a variance from the development board to continue work.
In an email, Rabideau said Fust has told him he’s not looking to enter any formal easements at this time but is fine as long as he and the future owner of 21 Duprey St. agree to continue using the land as before.
“In this way, each owner will enjoy their property as they have in the past,” Rabideau wrote in an email.
Stress and aggravation
“It’s been an interesting time working on Duprey Street,” Braun said. “It’s been a less-than-friendly environment to go to work to every day.”
He said subcontractors don’t want to come back after having neighbors yell at them, question them and take photos of them. He said these subcontractors haven’t been treated fairly.
Stretch said Scheefer confronted him in Aubuchon Hardware earlier this month.
He said the contention over the project has caused a lot of “stress and aggravation” and felt he was being harassed in the store.
“All I’m trying to do is build a house. I’m not trying to take anything,” Stretch said.
Rabideau said he believes neighbors have been against the development from the beginning because they’ve been assisted in their complaints by Fred Balzac, a Saranac Lake resident and frequent critic of the village government. Rabideau feels Balzac is getting people “riled up.”
Balzac has organized community opposition to Rabideau’s development on Duprey Street before, at 51, 53, 55 and 57 Duprey St.
Balzac believes the village should not be handling the approval of Rabideau’s developments because he’s the mayor. He said this constitutes a potential “conflict of interests” and said development approval should be deferred to Essex County in these cases.
In the village’s statement, board members and village staff said they found the village Planning and Building Departments’ actions were conducted in proper ways and within the code.
“The village categorically rejects any notion that there has been any favoritism shown by village staff to Mayor Rabideau with respect to 21 Duprey Street or any of his other development projects in the village,” the statement reads. “If anything, village review of the mayor’s development projects, and the response to public complaints, is generally more rigorous than normal to avoid any appearance of favoritism.”
Could this have been avoided?
Blaine says the property lines on Duprey Street were not determined, so when a conflict arose, a survey had to be done. He acknowledged that if the village required a survey right off the bat, a lot of these issues could have been avoided.
Asked why the village did not require a survey automatically, Blaine said surveys are always great to have in development — because they provide definitive evidence of things like property lines — but the village does not require them for most projects because they are expensive.
In this case, the project may have benefited from a survey because the proposed development is close enough to the property lines that the margin of error was very slim.
Blaine said everyone in that neighborhood is operating on old deeds and surveys. He said he took the deeds and other information provided in the development application as accurate, and approved the project.
But disputes over the property lines quickly arose.
“Quite frankly, this is a lot to do about nothing,” Blaine said. “I feel bad that there is such ill will between people. It really is such a minor matter.”