Code of conduct: Arcadia special master hearing

Carl McQuay (at lectern) is charged with correcting Arcadia property and zoning code violations.

The hearing is like a funeral, with dimmed lighting and scattered mourners. But the “departed” today at Arcadia city hall have been ticketed for violating city codes. Because they haven’t corrected the things for which they’ve been cited, they’re called before a judge, or special master, an out-of-town lawyer hearing these cases in administrative chambers.

The handful of violators at this Thursday hearing are glum, one of them furious, raging anywhere her frustrations can be exercised … or exorcised.

Welcome to the monthly special master hearing in Arcadia, where locals ticketed for such things as junked yards to illegal placement of trees will have the matter heard, sometimes argue their cases, mostly walk off with small fines or time to fix the problems.

Last Thursday’s code hearing was before William Nielander, the Lake Placid lawyer whose role as umpire is listening to the city and those cited for code infractions. As special master he decides, hoping for corrections without over-burdening the violator, it seemed during the 90-minute hearing.

Carl McQuay is Arcadia’s code enforcement officer issuing violations for maintenance rules or operating outside zoning. City Clerk Penny Delaney keeps minutes of today’s hearing.

The first man on the 10 a.m. docket has rental property on which the tenant operates an improperly zoned repair shop. The matter moves quickly, as the property owner agrees to conditions Nielander has set, including removing a sign soliciting customers for improper repairs. The sign will be gone in an hour, the man assures him.

The next matter is the outraged woman. Her father parks his car on the sidewalk, blocking the right of way, according to McQuay. The outraged woman is the man’s daughter and she tells Nielander that McQuay targets the family for harassment. The father, she said, “is pissed.” That matter is pushed back, as Nielander moves forward.

Next up is another man cited for a shabby home in a historic district. He has health problems and promised to make the repairs, or to “do the best I can,” he said, and is given a timeline or face tougher consequences. Another man parks a dump truck at his home. A daughter interprets for him; he washes the vehicle there, she tells Nielander. “Tell him there’s an ordinance” prohibiting such activities, Nielander tells the daughter. Ultimately, the man agrees.

Another woman has been cited for placing trees at her home in the city’s right of way, or easement. She had been before Nielander on a different violation involving the same trees, but Nielander had dismissed that. McQuay would cite other violations—exotic/invasive plants and utility infractions—for the same trees. Ultimately, Nielander gave the woman 60 days to move the trees from beyond the utility easement … or to remove them. Her presentation seemed to amuse him.

About an hour into the hearing the outraged woman returned. McQuay listed the violation, as the woman insisted that no cash for a gate and his poor health prompted her father to park on the sidewalk at home. Her rage gathers steam. The room is still. Nielander steps in, finally, informs the woman that “yelling doesn’t help.” Ultimately, the sides agreed to a cooling period. And if the car is moved, McQuay promises the city may waive $2,500 in pending fines for code violations. “He’s giving you options,” Nielander tells the woman, encouraging cooperation. He gavels the hearing closed.

McQuay days later in his white truck with smoked windows had cruised by the father’s home. And the car was moved from the sidewalk and parked in the yard.

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