Friday, December 10, 2010
Abutters request cleanup at Timothy Lane business
On December 6, a routine request from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) for a special permit to run a construction business was complicated by accusations that the owner is operating a community eyesore. Robert Wallhagen of Timothy Lane has run the business from his home for 30 years, and was appearing for the first time to request the permit. The request arose after neighbors Ruth and Charles DeLong complained that they are unable to sell their home because of the visible clutter next door. The ZBA, consisting of Chair Ed Rolfe, Kent Gonzales, Emmanuel Crespo, Lisa Davis Lewis, with Marty Galligan recused, granted the license with conditions that the property must be cleaned up within six months and the items littering the yard be removed or put out of sight.
Abutter Ruth DeLong of 70 Timothy Lane said that when the construction business began she was willing to be tolerant. “The backhoe doesn’t bother me,” she said. “He has to make a living.” But soon Wallhagen started to accumulate cabinetry, bathroom fixtures, and other salvage materials, first filling his barn, then overflowing onto the lawn. The situation came to a head when the Delongs were unsuccessful in selling their home, and were told by a broker, “No one wants to live next door to a junk yard.” “It’s been going on for 30 years,” added Charles DeLong, noting that complaints led to some minimal clean-up, followed by accumulation of more stuff.
Wallhagen described his business as a construction and snow-plowing operation requiring a backhoe, van, and pickup truck to be parked on the property. There are no employees for most jobs, although occasionally someone is brought in as needed. Other equipment such as table saws might be used on site, but most work is off-site. No heavy vehicle maintenance is performed on the property, and no fill or building materials are stockpiled. Wallhagen said he is “trying to phase into retirement” and keeps hours that are roughly 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. He said he is at the end of a cul de sac, “pretty well out of view,” adding, “if I’m bothering somebody I could make things less visible.”
This recital of routine business practices was given a different twist when town building inspector and zoning enforcer John Luther weighed in. He said that after the DeLongs complained, he visited the site and found “clutter completely surrounding the property,” including salvage items littering the lawn, two Quonset huts “that are real eyesores” 30 feet from the abutter’s home, and two cars “that have been there 20 years.” The van and pickup are not registered and “have not been working for several years,” said Luther. “If they were working and needed for the business, okay.” He noted that multiple efforts to get Wallhagen to clean up have resulted in only minimal change.
Rolfe proposed that the ZBA deal with the business as separate from the unsightliness issue. “One is his livelihood, but the condition and maintenance of property . . . is in your domain,” he said, nodding to Luther. But ZBA member Kent Gonzales disagreed, saying the materials are “ancillary to the business” and Wallhagen “is asking for continuance of an activity clearly detrimental to the neighborhood,” and “not done in a manner that’s appropriate and acceptable.” A clearly exasperated Luther said that if a permit were issued, nothing would happen, and he would be forced to go to court to get the property cleaned up.
Wallhagen said that he needs to go through what’s in the barn so equipment and paraphernalia can be moved in, but it’s tough to find time because “I need to pay the bills. “ Luther pointed to months of delay and asked, “Are the cars still in the bushes? One call and they would take them away.” Reluctantly, Wallhagen nodded yes.
Rolfe suggested the permit could be issued contingent on clean-up within one year, to be revoked if the condition is not met. He also suggested automatic renewal if Luther approves the clean-up. Gonzales said, “I’d rather see 60 to 90 days to meet the conditions.”
Rolfe delineated a list of conditions common when issuing permits for businesses, including no sale of construction goods on site, no signage, no unscreened storage or stockpiling, no delivery of construction materials, and appropriate screening to “preserve the residential nature of the neighborhood.” Hours were designated 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday though Saturday with flexibility from time to time, and no restrictions on snow plowing. No additional employees are allowed, equipment is limited to a backhoe, pickup and van, and no major repairs are authorized.
Additional conditions were imposed, including a 40-foot setback for temporary storage and equipment, and a requirement that the Quonset huts and ancillary equipment be enclosed or screened within six months. A review by the zoning enforcement officer (Luther) will be held in six months with the permit automatically renewing if it is determined Wallhagen is in compliance.
An East Riding abutter expressed concern about future noise, admitting there was no current noise problem. “I was not aware he was running a business.” Kathy Galligan of South Street applauded “consideration of the fact it is a livelihood and that has to be respected.”
A vote was taken and the six-month permit was approved unanimously. Wallhagen asked, “If I move the storage so you can’t see it, is that ok?” Rolfe agreed that storage moved 40 feet from the lot line to the center of the property would be fine. Charles DeLong asked, “Does he understand they have to go?” and Luther confirmed that the move could only be temporary until the huts can be removed. ∆
© 2010 The