New ‘toilet garden’ irks neighbors

Dozens of wooden poles for a fence to surround a toilet garden stick out of the ground Wednesday on the Pierrepont Avenue property of Frederick J. ‘Hank’ Robar Sr. of Potsdam.

POTSDAM — Having discovered that 28 Pierrepont Ave. soon will be home to another one of Frederick J. ‘Hank’ Robar Sr.’s toilet gardens, nearby residents say they are not pleased.

Retired attorney John A. Lancaster, who lives two doors away from the property, along with three other neighbors, wants the garden creation stopped, and said he talked to Mr. Robar on Wednesday morning after he noticed him installing large posts.

“He was there this morning with two other gentlemen who were helping him, and they were putting in the fence posts that you see there now,” he said. “He told me those posts were for a fence for his toilet garden, and the fence was to keep students out, who tend to break up the toilets.”

Mr. Lancaster said Mr. Robar explained he was installing the fence and garden because he was upset at being required by the village to demolish the rental building that formerly sat on the property, costing him approximately $34,000.

“I asked him, ‘Well, would you please not do that? It’s going to adversely affect the property value of my wife and I two doors down and other neighbors on this street,’” Mr. Lancaster said, reporting that Mr. Robar refused his request. “If he is going to persist in this and go ahead and do it — as it certainly appears he’s going to — then I would like to see the village take appropriate action for once instead of running scared of the guy.”

His next-door neighbor Dr. Charles R. Wilson, a surgeon at Canton-Potsdam Hospital who notified the village’s code enforcement office Wednesday of Mr. Robar’s plans, called the potential toilet garden an eyesore, not art, as Mr. Robar has argued.

“I really don’t want the toilets in my neighborhood; I don’t want them in any part of Potsdam,” he said, adding that he feels the village should halt Mr. Robar’s progress immediately. “There’s no way to avoid looking at his offensive display. It’s not art in spite of his argument. It’s simply not art to place a toilet in your yard. If it were art, I could put an outhouse in my front yard and put a flower in it.”

Dr. Wilson said the garden of johns has no place in a residential neighborhood, and Mr. Robar’s toilets elsewhere in town have been on display long enough to send the desired message to the village.

“He’s had plenty of time to express that idea,” he said.

Village Code Enforcement Officer Gregory Thompson said that in response to resident complaints, he is reviewing local zoning code to see if Mr. Robar’s actions are violations.

“I’ve inherited this situation,” he said, adding that the village properly followed a local code process when requiring demolition of the rental building. “I’m just trying right now to review everything that happened in the past, so I can make sense of where we stand at the present.”

Mr. Robar declined to comment.

The rental building formerly at 28 Pierrepont Ave. was nearly destroyed by arson in 2013 when former SUNY Canton student Brandi L. Saumier set fire to her apartment. The rental building, which later was condemned, was scheduled for demolition earlier this year.

Mr. Robar and the village have sparred for years over his toilet gardens and rezoning the property they are on. The gardens are his response to planning officials’ rejection in 2004 of his bid to have his 82-84 Market St. property rezoned for a Dunkin’ Donuts.

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