By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Town officials say it’s an illegal apartment, but Rep. Ronald Belanger, R-Salem, claims the town knew about it all along.
Belanger went before selectmen Monday night to request they reimburse him for $5,000 in fees he doesn’t believe he should have paid, leading to a heated exchange.
Belanger, a longtime state representative and former selectman and Planning Board member, had an apartment built within his North Main Street home a decade ago, but it was never rented out.
When he recently went to Town Hall to get an occupancy permit for the apartment, he was presented with an empty file. Belanger was told he had been granted approval for construction of a garage, but not an apartment above it.
“Nothing we have on file ever indicates there was ever proposed to be an apartment on that side of the floor,” Town Manager Keith Hickey told selectmen.
Selectmen’s Chairman Everett McBride Jr. said he reviewed a decade-old video of a zoning board meeting when a variance was granted for Belanger’s garage.
“There was no discussion of an apartment,” McBride said.
Belanger and his attorney, William Mason, insisted the town knew about the apartment.
“We weren’t trying to do something to mislead the town,” Mason said.
Selectmen questioned why Belanger was appearing before the board for a waiver of traffic impact and betterment fees, something the Zoning Board of Adjustment would usually grant.
“It’s clear we don’t have authority here,” Selectman Michael Lyons said.
Belanger and Mason said Community Development director William Scott told them it was a selectmen’s issue. They said because the town didn’t start charging the fees until 2005, Belanger shouldn’t have to pay them for an apartment completed in 2003.
“(Scott) was kind of arrogant to me and told me I have to go before the Board of Selectmen,” Belanger told the board.
Hickey said Scott never would have told him that.
Scott, who had just addressed selectmen, became angry.
“None of that is true,” he said. “You cannot insult me and my staff like that.”
Belanger insisted the town lost or removed the file’s contents.
“There was plenty of stuff in there before,” Belanger said.
Hickey also became agitated.
“I don’t want to sit here and debate this,” Hickey said. “We have already taken about 20 minutes more than we should have taken.”
Mason said he would present Belanger’s request to the zoning board.
“We will be happy to provide Mr. Belanger his file,” Hickey said.