Robert Dale and the town of Fairfield differ on whether his business is an antique store or a sprawling and unsightly illegal junkyard.
A district court order has settled the dispute: it’s a junkyard.
The year-long argument went the town’s way earlier this month, when an agreement filed in court forced Dale to clean up his yard at 286 Skowhegan Road (U.S. Route 201).
Dale’s business, Maine 201 Antiques, says on its website that it has brass, copper, furniture, taxidermy, Americana and metalware, among many other things. That’s the problem, according to the March 5 order from the Twelfth District Court.
In order to avoid further legal trouble, Dale and the town have entered into an agreement. Dale must reimburse the town for $9,980 in legal fees, plus interest, and to clean up his yard by June 15.
Dale, a lifelong resident of Fairfield who has been at that location for three years, said the agreement will hurt his business.
The expansive front yard of his property is full of wooden cabinets and other furniture, a bandsaw and other tools, and a handful of vehicles that no longer run, all covered with a layer of snow.
“That’s my advertising, is my stuff outside,” he said. “I have more than I should, I grant you that, but they’ll only let me have about six things out there now.”
Dale said he doesn’t see the difference between the items outside his business and items that are regularly displayed outside of other area businesses, including a car dealership down the road and the Fairfield Antiques Mall, which is right next door.
Fairfield Town Manager Josh Reny said the property is unique in town in the scope of the materials on display.
“Since the first notice of violation was given, the junkyard has more than doubled in size and Mr. Dale has not attempted to bring the property into compliance,” he said. “This has become such an extreme violation that it cannot be compared to any other property in town.”
According to the agreement filed in court, the property meets the definition of a junkyard but lacks a state junkyard permit.
Dale has also agreed to fix town fire code violations and to comply with the town’s land use ordinance, which requires that materials stored outdoors be raised off the ground and enclosed in containers.
According to the agreement, Dale had seven violations of the fire code, including failing to clear exits and rights of way of snow and other obstructions, having only one means of egress from the building’s second floor and exit doors that do not swing outward.
The town was represented by Alton Stevens in the case, while Dale was represented by Walter McKee.
Reny said the agreement came after a year of discussions between the town and Dale.
The town got involved after hearing several complaints from residents, according to Reny. Dale said he tried to work with the town by getting permits for buildings that could house some of the stuff, but was unsuccessful.
“They told me they wouldn’t give me a permit until I cleaned up the land,” he said. “It cripples me from being in business.”
The court order defines the junk as “discarded, worn-out or junked plumbing, heating supplies, electronic or industrial equipment, household appliances, furniture, scrap and junked lumber, old or scrap copper, brass, rope, rags, batteries, paper trash, rubber debris, waste and all scrap iron, steel and other scrap ferrous or nonferrous materials, and other junk.”
In December, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld an order that a China resident pay more than $10,000 in fines and court fees, and remove four vehicles from his property, including a 1978 GMC Grumman box van and a 1960 GMC C60 truck. The man’s lawyer, Aaron Rowden, who is also, coincidentally, a member of the Fairfield Town Council, had argued that the man should be excluded from that town’s junkyard statute because he was a hobbyist who planned to restore the vehicles.
In Wilton, a man who ran afoul of that town’s junkyard ordinance last summer said he planned to use, recycle or resell the old cars, buckets and scrap metal on his property. By November, daily $100 fines against him had accrued to more than $5,000.
It’s not the first time Dale has butted heads with a community’s municipal officials.
The City Council of Hallowell was engaged in a four-year legal battle with Dale that ended in 2010 about a building the city found to be unsafe. Dale was eventually compelled to clean up debris in that yard and to take the structure down. City officials said the municipality’s legal fees in that case totaled nearly $75,000.
If Dale isn’t in compliance with the town of Fairfield by June 15, he incurs a $5,000 penalty and fines of $150 per day under the agreement. Town workers, meanwhile, can enter his property, at Dale’s expense, to remove the junk.
“I’m going to attempt to comply with it,” Dale said. “What else can I do?”