May 14, 2004

Angry neighbors

Nearly two hours of the Town Board's 4½-plus-hour meeting (they went into executive session at 11:25pm) were taken up with problems that the Town Board could only address in small part. Disputes between neighbors made for a long public hearing and a long discussion of whether to ask the town attorney to ask for a state injunction supporting an order Zoning Officer Henry Slater had issued barring people from the premises of 483 Hunt Hill Road.

The public hearing focused on Nick Bellisario's request for a special permit for a self-storage facility at 15 Oak Brook Drive (map). Bellisario presented maps and drawings and said he was willing to be flexible about the design of the project.

Nick Bellisario answers questions about his plans for a self-storage facility
Nick Bellisario answers a question from Marty Christofferson about his plans for a self-storage facility

Neighbors, however, aren't happy with Bellisario's plans. Susan Boutros, a neighbor at 9 Oak Brook Drive and owner of Environmental Associates, a company on Oak Brook Drive, worried that traffic would increase dramatically on the road right by her house - "and especially on weekends in the summer, when I'd most like to enjoy my yard." She wasn't convinced that a fence would reduce the impact of the facility on her property.

Susan Boutros goes over maps and drawings with the Town Board
Susan Boutros goes over maps and drawings with the Town Board

Boutros had concerns about the driveway, which is "at the level of my second story bedroom and porch," as well as about drainage in the area, which is steep and heavily filled. She asked "why do we seem to have 25-year floods every two years?"

The driveway at 15 Oak Brook Drive
The driveway at 15 Oak Brook Drive and the porch at 9 Oak Brook Drive

The county had also found the project to have a negative environmental impact in April, and reversed itself yesterday, the day of the meeting.

Boutros' son Ed and Kathleen Doerge also criticized the impact on the property and Bellisario's practices regarding the property lines shared by Bellisario's properties and the Boutros' properties. Margaret Ackerblade, who lives just downhill from the project at 1149 Dryden Road, said that Bellisario had improved things greatly since purchasing the property from a previous owner, and that she had far fewer drainage problems.

In the end, the Town Board opted to extend the hearing to a future meeting. They couldn't resolve the neighbors' disputes, but they couldn't proceed without having contour maps that were accurate and reflected the last several years of fill. They requested that the property owner do a fresh survey of the contours of the area affected.

The other dispute arose from the agenda item "enjoin 483 Hunt Hill Road residential property - authority from Town Board to Attorney Perkins." On January 13, at the request of the County Health Department, Henry Slater had ordered the premises - the entire property, not just the house - vacated. Various efforts at testing the septic system had failed, there was reason to believe that the septic was faulty, and neighbors at 730 Midline Road had been sickened, apparently by their use of well water.

730 Midline Road and 483 Hunt Hill Road
730 Midline Road and 483 Hunt Hill Road

Craig Basl, of 730 Midline, said that he was "not looking to sue anyone... All I want is fixed. It's affecting my quality of life. I shouldn't be living with a jug of water for everything I want to do."

The situation is complicated by a number of factors, including a dispute over the septic tank between Casey Gaul, who was buying the property under contract from Wayne Armstrong's wife, and questions about whether the Board of Health should be handling this. The current problem, which sparked Slater's request for legal help, is the presence of a camper on the property. Brian Clapper, the occupant of the camper, has been staying there, though he says the camper's septic is completely self-contained.

Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins didn't seem eager to take on the case, first arguing that the county attorney should be doing it, then saying that he thought a court would throw it out since a self-contained camper shouldn't be adding to septic problems. Town Board member Chris Michaels felt the case was simpler than that, and that the "Town has a strong interest in upholding its orders and seeing them honored." In the end the board sided with Michaels.

Both of these situations have roots that aren't resolvable by the Town Board. The board decided - to the extent it decided - on very narrow aspects of the situations, focusing on the town's obligations and its needs for making and enforcing decisions. The rest sounds like it will head for the courts or continue to bubble. I'm not sure that there's a good general way to resolve these kinds of disputes among neighbors, but after last night I'm thinking hard about that problem.

In friendlier news, the public hearing on the proposed bed & breakfast at 125 Yellow Barn Road went smoothly, with neighbors attending to support the application.

Posted by simon at May 14, 2004 12:57 PM in ,
Note on photos