PLATTSBURGH — In the early 1990s, a resident showed up at a City of Plattsburgh Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to comment on a fence that his neighbor was constructing.
The fence, according to city zoning rules, could not be higher than 6 feet. The applicant wanted 8 feet.
When the neighbor was asked if he objected to the fence being higher than 6 feet he said yes, but not because he felt it was too high and would have constituted an unsightly view barrier.
“I want it at least 20 feet high because I can’t stand the guy,” the irritable neighbor said.
Such was the life of city Building Inspector Richard Perry, who had to referee spats between neighbors, as well as deal with many other issues during his 24 years at his post.
“It did get emotional at times, but the challenge always was to take the emotions out of the equasion and let the rules and regulations speak for themselves,” Perry said.
“If you are serious about being a public servant, you have to deal with things like that.”
Perry, 55, retired as the city’s building inspector on July 26.
He joined the city in 1988 in the Building Inspector’s office, and took the top job two years later. As building inspector, Perry was responsible for overseeing the city’s zoning laws as well as safety codes.
AIR BASE RE-USE
He had a lot to deal with during his career, from every-day issues involving college housing, significant growth at CVPH Medical Center and Plattsburgh State, rewriting the city’s development master plan and the city’s takeover of the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base.
“When the base closed, we put together a comprehensive re-use plan and subdivided the property and guided the re-use efforts, and that was a great challenge and one I think we did very well at,” Perry said.
In his career, he estimates that he oversaw about $1 billion in development in the city.
While many of his duties dealt with positives such as growth, he also spent plenty of time dealing with headache issues. Invariably each year, residents of the Center City would complain about college students making noise at all hours of the night and vandalizing the neighborhood.
Those complaints wound up in Perry’s office, as many people reasoned that the college students would behave better if they did not live in what they perceived as sub-standard housing.
“Every college apartment was inspected every year,” he said.
“Whether or not they met the standards of those complaining was one thing, but they did meet our codes.”
Perry credited his staff and the city’s administrations over the years with standing behind his efforts.
“Every mayor I’ve worked with was supportive, and I treasured those relationships because you can’t be effective without that,” he said.
In the last 10 years, Perry was an unofficial kind of liaison between the city and the many national fishing tournament directors that have brought their competitions to Lake Champlain.
The first two contests, in 2001 and 2002, used boat launches in the Town of Plattsburgh, and Perry felt that the city should be the focal point of the events. Plus, it also fell in line with city efforts to improve access to the lake, which his office often worked on.
“It was a great chance to promote the best our region has to offer and to do it in a manner that we could be responsible stewards of the lake,” Perry said.
NEW BOAT LAUNCHES
In the past 10 years, Perry said, he believes the fishing tournaments have generated between $80 million and $100 million in economic impact for the area.
The emergence of new boat launches at Wilcox Dock and Plattsburgh Boat Basin were due to the success of the events, Perry said.
“I think we’ve really made great strides in improving access to the lake for everybody with these types of things,” he said.
Perry has been replaced by Joe McMahon, who served as a housing code inspector for the past 11 years. McMahon, who joined the department in 1993, will earn $56,208 in his new job.
At 55, Perry will now concentrate his efforts on his new career of selling real estate for Fessette Realty LLC.
“I’ve always looked at myself as not just a city employee, but a true public servant,” he said,
“And when you do that, you have to be available at all hours of the day, and I’ve been called out to fires and things like that a lot over the years.
“I just felt it was time to see how much more I can offer the community in a different area.”
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