Plassmann Mobile Home Removed, Case Closed Says Building Commish
In a letter to the building commissioner, Angela Plassmann’s lawyer denies the mobile home was illegal and rails against “secret informants” who turned in his client to authorities.
NORTHAMPTON – It’s case closed down in the building department, now that former city councilor Angela Plassmann’s unauthorized mobile home has been removed from her property in the Connecticut River floodplain.
The “trailer” was the subject of an investigation by Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck, who earlier this week determined the structure was a mobile home that was in violation of state building codes and city zoning ordinances.
Lawyer Patrick J. Melnik Sr., who represents Plassmann and her husband Jonathan (a state Environmental Police officer), said the mobile home has been removed. And Hasbrouck told Northampton Media today there’s nothing left to investigate.
The story developed over the past month and splashed into headlines on April 8, when Plassmann quit her City Council job 15 months into her first two-year term. (To see our story on the resignation, click here.)
Over the past two weeks, the city and the Melnik have grappled over the definition of a “trailer,” the power of the city to regulate private property and the nature of the complaints.
But now it all seems to have come to an end.
A Busy Week of Legal Maneuvering
Although Plassmann has been cryptic about why she abruptly quit her City Council post April 8, in a posting on her website she blamed it on harassment by a city department head who she said had singled her out for political reasons.
City Solicitor Elaine Reall said today she has received “no oral or written” information from Plassmann concerning the harassment charge. “I am in the dark as much as your readers,” Reall told Northampton Media.
For Hasbrouck, his probe was the result of an April 4 letter sent to him by Planning and Development Director Wayne Feiden, who said he had received more than one second-hand complaint about the Plassmann property. Hasbrouck began his investigation the next day; three days later Plassmann unexpectedly resigned.
On Tuesday (April 19), Hasbrouck sent a letter to Melnik stating that he had determined the structure on the Plassmann’s property was a “mobile home,” and not a trailer. As such, he said, its presence in the floodplain was a violation that needed to be remedied. He gave the couple two weeks to respond and to begin discussing compliance.
(To see Hasbrouck’s April 19 letter to Melnik, the original Planning Department complaint, and relevant sections of the state building code, click here.)
On Wednesday (April 20), Melnik told Northampton Media that his clients would soon bring their property into compliance, but reiterated his insistence, as expressed in his April 5 letter to Hasbrouck, that the building commissioner reveal who had complained about the Plassmanns.
“If you do undertake an investigation and you aren’t able to determine the name and address of the complaining party, or the specific observations made that are being complained of, I would appreciate you closing this matter without action,” he had written (To see Melnik’s April 5 letter to Hasbrouck, click here.)
Finding out who informed on his clients, he told us, “is the real story.”
On Thursday (April 21), as the City Council prepared to hold its first meeting without Plassmann as a member, the mobile home was apparently removed from the property.
News of the mobile home’s disappearance was delivered in this morning’s Daily Hampshire Gazette, which displayed a photograph shot the day before. The picture showed Plassmann’s property without the mobile home. (See “Plassmann Property in Violation, Says Building Commissioner; Mobile Home Not on Tax Rolls.”)
In Melnick’s letter to Hasbrouck sent today, the lawyer disputed the building commissioner’s determination that the “trailer” was in fact “a manufactured home” as defined in state building codes, and wrote it was was “properly licensed to be mobile.”
Because the deck was under 200 square feet, Melnik wrote, it did not require a building permit but did “require a ‘zoning permit,’ which the Plassman’s (sic) have not yet obtained.”
“Rather than obtaining a zoning permit and quibbling about the definition of a recreational vehicle under the state Building Code, the Plassman’s (sic) have decided that they would simply remove the vehicle and the deck from their premises to end what has become a public spectacle for what they consider to be a private matter pertaining to the use of their personal residence,” wrote Melnik.
He did not state where the mobile home ended up, merely that it had been removed.
“We do live in a free country where we have the right to know of and confront our accusers and know the basis of their accusations before we have to answer for them,” Melnik’s letter to Hasbrouck reads.
“To have the accuser hide behind anonymously (sic) in the background while the Plassman’s (sic) face public scrutiny is not fair to them.”
Melnik then asked Hasbrouck to supply him the “identity of these informants” if and when he learns them, suggesting that they “were simply using city employees as their tools.”
Hasbrouck has repeatedly said he was acting on one complaint, the official one sent to him by Feiden.
No Trailer, No Investigation, Hasbrouck Says
Feiden told Northampton Media that his department as a rule protects the anonymity of tipsters to encourage citizens to help enforce zoning.
As for Plassmann’s mobile home, Hasbrouck said today that the case is closed now that it has been removed from the floodplain property.
“Absolutely,” Hasbrouck told Northampton Media. “I’ve got no reason to pursue anything.”
After all, he said, compliance was the only purpose of his investigation: “That’s how it’s supposed to work out.”
Had the Plassmanns opted to file a permit request for the mobile home, Hasbrouck said, he would have worked with them – much as Feiden offered in his March 21 letter to then-councilor Plassmann. (To see Feiden’s March 21 letter to Councilor Plassmann, click here.)
Asked today if she got involved in the Plassmann mobile home issue, City Solicitor Reall said she did not.
Although she was copied Hasbrouck’s letter to Melnik, Reall said she did not interfere in Hasbrouck’s enforcement action.
“The building commissioner is a man of integrity and competence,” Reall told Northampton Media, adding that she has confidence he will vigorously investigate all complaints on legal grounds devoid of any politics.
The mobile home’s removal not only ends Hasbrouck’s investigation, it also eliminates plans by city assessors to send the Plassmann an FY 2012 property tax bill that includes the trailer. That is something they would have done for the past few years had they been aware that the structure was there at all.
New Complaints and Council Candidates
Meanwhile, Hasbrouck and Feiden said they are receiving fresh complaints about illegal structures in the Meadows section of the city.
At least one new tip, Hasbrouck said, concerns what sounds like a temporary agriculture-related, plastic-sheathed greenhouse. Although he has not yet investigated that one, Hasbrouck said such structures are allowed in city zoning and are not subject to the state building code.
Feiden said he will ensure all complaints about potential violations in the Meadows are followed up, as they were in the Plassmann case and in other instances that routinely arise. “We’re looking into all these things,” he said.
In what has become a politically charged situation in Ward 3, more complaints are likely to be filed, anonymously or not.
Meanwhile, the residents of Ward 3 will have a special election to replace Plassmann, since she quit with more than six months left in her first two-year term, which expires next Jan. 2. Applicants for the job have until May 10 to get their names on the ballot.
So far, two people have taken out nomination papers from the city clerk’s office: Northampton Airport co-owner Lisa Fusco and retired dentist Arnold Levinson. Given the level of interest in that race, both should expect plenty of scrutiny from the press.
© 2011 Northampton Media
David Reid can be reached at email@example.com