FAIRFIELD — The junk piles continue to grow weekly at Maine 201 Antiques on Skowhegan Road, stretching west from the shack in which owner Robert Dale works and reportedly lives, edging their way toward the busy highway.

There are beds, rocking chairs, chandeliers, dishes, bikes, lamps, antique furniture, lobster traps, trash — and rats.

“The rats are terrible,” said Wayne Gamage, who owns Fairfield Antiques Mall next door. “I used to feed the birds out front, and I had to stop because of the rats.”

Gamage for years has worried about a fire breaking out in the debris on Dale’s property at 386 Skowhegan Road and says it is not a matter of “if it happens,” but when. And when it does, he said, his antiques mall is at risk because it is so close to Dale’s land.

“Every day you wonder when is the call coming — when there’s a fire,” said Gamage, 75. “You have to worry about it. We have a lot of dealers here, and a lot of them are older dealers. My building is insured but not the stuff. We have probably about 70 dealers and over 100 booths. We’ve got some dealers with five booths.”

Gamage says a fire at his own business means a lot of money would go up in flames.

“It’s got to be a few million dollars at least,” he said.

The hoarding problem next door has been going on for years. The town has cited Dale several times and tried to get him to voluntarily comply with its land use, property maintenance, automobile graveyard and junkyard ordinances. He now is in violation of them. Dale has worked, at times, to clean up the property by corralling furniture and other items into tractor trailers, campers and vehicles on the property, but then the piles start appearing outside again. The town has taken Dale to court, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees, but at the eleventh hour, Dale’s family has paid off the thousands of dollars in fines and fees.

And then the piles start to grow again. The town cites Dale. He tries to clean it up. They go back and forth. They’re stuck in a loop.

Maine 201 Antiques owner Robert Dale steps out of his business on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield on Wednesday. The town has cited Dale several times and tried to get him to comply with its ordinances, spending thousands in legal costs. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said  the town spent all last summer trying to get Dale to voluntarily correct the issues and avoid costly legal fees.

“Winter came, and our property maintenance ordinance says we don’t do anything to prosecute until the middle of April,” Flewelling said. “Now it’s back on everyone’s mind again. We’re working on scheduling a meeting with legal counsel and the Town Council to address how we go forward.”

The town gets complaints about Dale’s property all the time, Flewelling said, and officials are fully aware and are not ignoring the problem.

“What we are trying to do is find the best possible way to have compliance at that location for the property maintenance ordinance and the most cost effective way to do it on behalf of the municipality,” she said. “Basically, the municipality has spent a considerable amount of money on legal fees to get the area in compliance, and while it did come into compliance for a short period of time, it now does require us to start the legal process over again from the very beginning.”

Flewelling, town manager for more than three years, inherited the situation when she came on board. She acknowledges it presents a challenge.

“Mr. Dale does not have a business license — has never had a business license in the town of Fairfield — and junkyards are not allowed in the zone he is in,” she said.

According to town records from last September, Dale owed $121,629 on the mortgage for the property.

 

BUILDING A FENCE

Dale recently has been erecting a fence near Skowhegan Road, also known as U.S. Route 201, to shield his junk piles from view.

He emerged Wednesday from a back room of his shack when a reporter knocked, meandering through piles of items on the floors and hanging from the walls, including framed artwork inside, to come to the door.

“I’m putting up a fence,” he said, when told about the town’s plans to discuss what comes next. “That should solve the problem. It should be all taken care of by the end of the month. It’s a long process because of the winter. I’m working on it. I’m not ignoring it.”

Robert Dale’s Maine 201 Antiques stock — everything from beds to rocking chairs, chandeliers, dishes, bikes, lamps, antique furniture, lobster traps, trash — and rats creep ever closer to the edge of U.S. Route 201 on Wednesday. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Dale said he has been doing a lot to bring his property into compliance with the town’s ordinances. He said he has not sold anything since last fall, but he plans to sell again when he reopens.

“I have to get the application from the town first,” he said.

Told that the town maintains he does not have a business license, Dale said he has a “tax number.”

Flewelling said erecting a fence will not bring the property into compliance, that violations found there by the town last fall are still current.

Dale agreed to build a fence and gate to block the view of his debris from Skowhegan Road and to have it completed by Sept. 26, 2018, according to an inspection report by Fairfield fire Chief Duane Bickford, dated Sept. 20, 2018.

Bickford and Fairfield Code Enforcement Officer Nicole Martin inspected the property at the request of the Town Council and Flewelling and at the recommendation of Town Attorney William A. Lee III. Lee said Wednesday that he met with the town last fall about the matter but had not received direction since then to take any action involving Dale. Lee represented the town in a number of hearings prior to that.

In 2016, Dale paid the town $36,000 in fines and fees related to violations, including about $16,000 for civil penalties and legal fees. In 2014, a judge declared his property an illegal junkyard. Other court actions put buildings he owns in Hallowell in jeopardy of being sold to pay his Fairfield fines.

In 2009, Hallowell took him to court after he violated an agreement by not tearing down crumbling buildings on Second Street there. He eventually cleared the property, but the legal action cost the town $75,000.

Hallowell Town Manager Nate Rudy said last week that the town’s code enforcement officer inspected Dale’s Water Street property within the last year and discovered a fire hazard in the basement. Dale owns a shop there.

“There were unsafe conditions related to an accumulation of just miscellaneous debris and paper and other items that were a concern for catching fire and burning, perhaps uncontrollably,” Rudy said. “He was not compliant. We had, I believe, the state Fire Marshal’s Office involved. We had a crew come in and clean the fire hazard up to the satisfaction of the code officer. Dale was assessed a fee.”

When Bickford and Martin inspected Dale’s Fairfield property Sept. 20 last year, they found violations of town ordinances, fire lanes blocked with items, second-story exit door platform railings damaged and falling off the building, broken steps on a stairway, and small walkways throughout the debris on the property.

“I found the exterior of the property to be a nuisance,” Martin’s report, also dated Sept. 20, says. “The property is full of filth in the dirty household items that have been placed all over the ground. Some of these items contain standing water that are harboring insects such as mosquitoes, and the piles of items also provide shelter for rodents to live and breed in. Some of the items are broken with glass on the ground and broken glass sticking out of open boxes laying on the ground. The items pose a trip and fall hazard around the entire property.”

Bickford’s report says Dale agreed to build a fence and must pay for it.

“He has also agreed to not be open for business to the public and will post his property as such until such date as to pass a life and safety inspection and comply with the town’s land use ordinance,” Bickford’s report says.

On Wednesday, Dale said his antiques and other items come from various places, though Gamage said Dale gets a lot of it from Somerset Auctions on Skowhegan Road. That auction place, which is south of Dale’s property toward Fairfield, holds an auction every Monday.

Wayne Gamage, whose Fairfield Antiques Mall is next door to Robert Dale’s Maine 201 Antiques, is worried that one day a fire will ignite next door and burn out the dealers that occupy his building. And then there are the rats, which are “terrible,” he said. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

YEARS OF PROBLEMS

Gamage and his wife, Brenda, said Dale had a booth in their antiques mall years ago, and he was the best seller there. About 10 years ago, Dale expanded to the property next door and initially had a passageway from the mall to his property so patrons could easily go back and forth.

The Gamages considered themselves friends with Dale, and he even stayed at their home for about a month, they said. But the relationship devolved over time, and the piles started growing on Dale’s land. Gamage erected a fence between the properties. The Gamages said Dale did try hard to clean up the property and they helped, but what was once an amiable relationship between them coursed downhill.

The Gamages, who have had the antiques mall 21 years, share a well with Dale. They have a right of way to get to the well, which is on Dale’s property, but Dale blocked that access, they said.

The couple said they want to see Dale comply with the town’s requests and, contrary to what a media report in the past stated, they do not want to see him go out of business.

“When customers come in and talk about it, we never say, ‘Don’t go over there; the place is a dump.’ Never,” Brenda Gamage said. “People take stuff when he’s not there, and with as much stuff as he has, he knows when something is missing.”

Wayne Gamage said Dale lives in a little room in the building, which has electricity. A lot of people erroneously think Gamage’s and Dale’s businesses are connected, but they are not, he said.

“We’re not trying to shut him down,” he said. “We’d like to work with him, but he won’t. He has a problem, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”


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