POTSDAM — Trustees in the village heard from the lawyer of Fredric “Hank” Robar Sr. and concerned residents about the infamous toilets gardens Mr. Robar has set up on his properties around the village.
The hearing was held at the request of Mr. Robar who had been issued notices to comply to the village’s junk storage law, passed in December of 2018.
The village has a long history of battling unsuccessfully with Mr. Robar over his toilets.
Mr. Robar popped onto the village’s radar in 2004 when he asked to get a zone change at his property on 82-84 Market St. so he could sell it to a buyer who would put in a Dunkin’ Donuts. When the village denied his request, he set up what is referred to now as a toilet garden. Since then, he and the village have butted heads twice inconclusively and unsuccessfully in the village court system.
In 2008, the village issued Mr. Robar an appearance ticket for a code violation. Mr. Robar argued that the toilet gardens are art and it’s his First Amendment right to have them. The case was dismissed because Code Enforcement Officer John F. Hill failed to bring documents to the court.
In 2010 the village tried again, but after the presiding judge resigned amid cocaine-use allegations, the case was dropped and the village decided not to pursue it.
Code enforcement officer Liza A. Newby led off the meeting Monday with the timeline of the seven notices to comply that have been served to Mr. Robar for his properties at 10 Pine St., 79 Maple St., 81-83 Maple St., 85 Maple St., 87 Maple St., 82 Market St. and 84 Market St.
The junk storage law, that has been enforceable since Dec. 6, 2018, says that the accumulation of junk, no matter the amount, that can be seen by people from public spaces is a violation.
Ms. Newby said photographs taken of Mr. Robar’s properties showed a clear and undeniable violation of junk storage law because toilets have been specifically listed as prohibited items.
The law, Ms. Newby said, prohibits the “desposit, accumulation, display or outdoor storage of junk — junk appliances, junk furniture, junk mobile homes, junk motor vehicles, garbage.”
She added that junk appliances includes, stoves, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, bathroom fixtures, air conditioners, heaters, water heaters and televisions.
She also said the law was written to include conditions that existed before its implementation.
Mr. Robar was served on June 8. On June 10, Mr. Robar requested the hearing, which is part of the ordinance.
“The following day, June 11, 2020, I observed Mr. Robar at two of his properties, fixing toilets and changing flowers that he has displayed in them,” Ms. Newby said.
Since then Ms. Newby has recorded an accumulation of more toilet on Mr. Robar’s property at 10 Pine St.
“At this time it is my recommendation that the Board of Trustees advise Mr. Robar his only option is to remove each and every toilet and bathroom fixture from these properties immediately,” she said.
Mr. Robar was represented by Mark Snider of the Snider and Smith Law firm of Massena.
“In this state and in this country we have some rules called grandfathering rules,” Mr. Snider said. “Those are more than just statutory, those are Constitutional. So, Mr. Robar is here tonight, not only because there’s an alleged violation of a statute going into effect but to protect his constitutional rights, and his statutory rights.”
Mr. Snider claimed that the law was created to punish Mr. Robar, after the fact.
“The statute itself may be fatally flawed as being vague,” Mr. Snider said. “We do our best when we draft these rules and statutes but they have to tell us in advance the conduct that is going to be forbidden — that we’re on notice of what is appropriate conduct and bad conduct before we are being punished. “
Mr. Snider said that law was illegally written to target Mr. Robar.
“Someone made up their mind that Mr. Robar was going to be punished for what he has done,” Mr. Snider said. “So we may be in the process of violating Mr. Robar’s right to protest, his freedom to speak freely, his freedom of expression, his idea of what is artistic whether it be your view or mine or anyone else’s.”
St. Lawrence Health System Chief Executive Officer David B. Acker said he spoke to the Board of Trustees as both a private resident of Postdam and as a representative of the hospital system.
The toilet gardens, he said, make it difficult to recruit young doctors who would want to stay and invest in the community.
The appearance of the village can be beneficial for everybody, he said.
“In my view, this is not simply about toilets; this is about a broader issue of: ‘Do we care enough about this place to enforce our codes so that we can uniformly allow those natural gifts we have of natural beauty and architectural beauty.’”
Also speaking out against the installations were a representative of Clarkson University and Sharon Williams, president of Temple Beth El, which is on Market Street across from one of the gardens.
Mayor Reinhold J. Tischler said the trustees would likely hold a special meeting in the middle of next week to issue a decision on the matter.