CANTON — To settle a dispute with his neighbor, the owner of a towing and auto repair business has agreed to install an 8-foot high fence to enclose junk cars and trucks he stores in his backyard and along the side of his Route 11 property.
Code Enforcement Officer Jeffrey Murray said Erik D. Johnson, owner of Johnson Towing and Auto Repair, 6385 Route 11, and his neighbor, Edward D. Petty, have both agreed to the fence as a solution.
Mr. Murray told town board members Thursday night he believes that Mr. Johnson’s car storage should be classified as an impound lot and not a junk yard because he doesn’t salvage parts from vehicles. He presented a written proposal to the board that he said was supported by Mr. Johnson and Mr. Petty.
“This is what I think we should do. I mean we have to solve this problem with Erik and Ed and the junk cars. There are distinct differences between what Erik does and a junk yard,” he said. “This was the best agreement that I could come up with to solve this problem so that I could put it behind me and move on to the next one.”
Besides the fence, the proposal requires Mr. Johnson to submit a site plan to the codes officer and maintain a detailed log book of all impounded vehicles stored on the site, including the date vehicles arrive and leave. The size of the impounded area would not be allowed to increase without the town board’s approval.
The proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the town’s Planning Board before its finalized.
“I verbally agreed to the recommendation,” Mr. Johnson said.
Originally, the town wanted Mr. Johnson to build a storage building for the vehicles, which he has refused to do, arguing that he doesn’t have $30,000 needed to construct a new building.
Mr. Johnson said the vehicles parked behind his garage and along his property line were towed there as part of his business. His service includes responding to requests from police officers to tow vehicles abandoned along roadways which happens sometimes after an accident.
“He actually gets his money when he gets rid of the vehicle,” Mr. Murray said. “It’s in his best interest to get rid of them as fast as he can.”
Mr. Johnson has said he’s required to wait 90 days before taking junk vehicles to a salvage yard in order to give the owners the chance to reclaim them.
“There’s nothing he’s doing illegally that I can find. We just don’t have any statute on impound lots,” Mr. Murray said.
Mr. Murray wants the town to amend its zoning law to allow impound lots in the commercial zone.
“Every city has them so when they tow a car, they take them there and people have to go to the impound lot to pick it up,” he said. “I thought this was a good way to solve the problem with Ed, and hide the junk cars.”
Board member Philip LaMarche said based on his research, junk yard regulations usually require that the vehicles be placed on a finished surface to prevent oil, anti-freeze or other contaminants from leaking into water or soil. A similar rule may want to be included for impound lots, he said.
“The county and the DEC just paid a significant amount of money to clean up after an auto shop in this town,” he said. “We’ve had these issues before, we have existing issues.”
Town Board member Robert Washo said he believes the town board should get input from the town Planning Board in regards to amending town zoning law to allow impound lots.
“Why should it have to go the planning board?” Mr. Murray responded. “He’s in a commercial zone. He’s doing something he’s allowed to do.”
Mr. Washo said he wants to follow established procedures.
“The order of operation is this would go to the planning board and the planning board would make a recommendation to the town board,” he said. “That’s the planning board’s role.”
Town Attorney Daniel Ramsey said the board could allow the fence agreement for this specific case wile also moving forward on revising the town’s zoning code to allow impound lots and getting feedback from the planning board.
“You can accomplish both objectives with the proposal tonight,” he said.
In May, Mr. Petty said he was fed up with looking at more than a dozen cars and trucks along his property line and said they decreased the value of his property. The two neighbors are separated by a large meadow that’s part of Mr. Petty’s 10-acre parcel.