FAIRFIELD — Despite its owner being cited by the town several times for ordinance violations, the junk piles continue to grow weekly at Maine 201 Antiques on Skowhegan Road, stretching west from the shack in which 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, which would put Gamage’s antiques mall  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.”

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 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 by corralling furniture and other items into tractor trailers, campers and vehicles on the property, but then the piles start appearing 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 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.

Maine 201 Antiques owner Robert Dale steps out of his business on 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/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 regularly, Flewelling said, and officials 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 inherited the situation when she came on board three years ago. She acknowledges it is 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.

BUILDING A FENCE

Dale recently has been erecting a fence near Skowhegan Road – 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 and trash – is creeping ever closer to Route 201. Morning Sentinel photo/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 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 have not been corrected.

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, Flewelling and 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. 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.

When Bickford and Martin inspected Dale’s Fairfield property last September, they found violations of town ordinances, fire lanes blocked with items, 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.”

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.

 

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/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 and they helped, but what was once an amiable relationship between them coursed downhill.

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.

“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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