Meadowdale Road row over rubbish

— From Greene submittal to the town of Guilderland

Meadowdale Road residents Elliot and Nancy Greene say their across-the-street neighbor Bernard Radtke is using his residential property as a contractor yard and shouldn’t be allowed to keep a dumpster permanently on-site, which Guilderland’s chief building inspector and zoning administrator said he isn’t and can. The Greenes recently appealed that determination to the town’s zoning board of appeals.

GUILDERLAND —  Elliot and Nancy Greene, the across-the-street neighbors of Bernard Radtke, were before the zoning board on Sept. 7, looking to appeal a determination made by the town’s chief building inspector and zoning administrator, Jacqueline Coons, which said Radtke was allowed to keep more than one large commercial dumpster on his property.

And that Radtke was not operating a contractor’s yard on his residential property at 725 Meadowdale Road.

The public-hearing portion of the meeting allowed the applicant to air over a year’s worth of grievances; however, the board’s acting chair wasn’t having any of it and reminded everyone in the room of the zoning board’s narrow scope that evening. 

Meadowdale Road and New Scotland resident Tim Albright asked if the board was showing favoritism to Radtke because he did business with Guilderland — which, based on the reaction of its members, appears to come as a complete surprise to the board. Albright had to clarify that he was told by Greg Weir, the town’s highway superintendent, it was the Radtke family the town had done business with. 

The Enterprise filed an earlier records request for town dealings with the Radtkes and received documentation showing T&T Sales Inc., which is owned by Radtke’s father, has received at least 37 payments totaling a little under $17,000. 

John Hayko, attorney for the Greenes and a former colleague of Nancy Greene, said Coons was not defining the 30-yard dumpster correctly under the code, that it needs to be defined as a temporary bulk storage container, which can’t be used for household trash. Hayko also maintained that Radtke’s temporary storage container, which had been on-site since March 2021, required a permit. 

Elizabeth Lott, who was acting as chair while Thomas Remmert recused himself, told Hayko that Coons already determined that the container wasn’t temporary, and said Hayko was just offering his own interpretation of the town’s code. 

Hayko then said, “I believe it’s very clear in the ordinance or in the town law that a temporary bulk waste container can’t become a permanent bulk waste container. It needs to either be permanently permitted on grounds that are given to allow it to remain there.”

Lott asked, “And what are you citing that says it’s not permitted, just that the absence of a clear definition? Or is there a section of the law you’re citing that says it does not?”

Hayko did not offer a section of town law that disallows dumpsters as semi-permanent residential trash solutions. 

Elliot Greene, who’s lived on Meadowdale since 1996, said he’d never had a problem with a neighbor before the Radtkes moved in, in 2017. 

Greene said Radtke kept one large dumpster for trash and another dumpster, for eight to nine months out of the year, to hold wood to burn for heating. The dumpster used for trash, according to pictures submitted to the town by the Greenes, is enclosed. 

Lott asked if the second dumpster was on-site the night of the Sept. 7 meeting and Greene said it wasn’t. The garbage dumpster gets moved once every three to four months to be emptied, Greene said in response to a question from zoning board member Jacob Crawford. 

Greene then began describing what he viewed as contractor-yard activity taking place at Radtke’s residential home. He said he contacted the town about what was happening and was told to photograph the activity. 

The town appears to have investigated it because in the summer of 2021, the Radtkes put a sign in their front yard that said, “Honk if you have nosy neighbors,” according to Greene, who said he contacted the police and then the town attorney James Melita, who never got back to him.

Greene then went on to describe what he called retaliatory behavior by Radtke and others because Greene spoke during a public hearing in February, opposing Radtke’s proposed contractor yard on Frederick Road.

Lott eventually cut off Greene and told him the accusations were irrelevant and not germane to his application. 

Radtke’s attorney, William Hurst of Young/Sommer, said Coons’s determinations are entitled to some deference because “she’s the one on the ground making the interpretations.”

It had been Louis Vitelli, Guilderland’s building and zoning inspector, who had been to Radtke’s home and decided it wasn’t a contractor yard. 

Hurst pointed out, if the code is ambiguous, then state law says the code is to be read in favor of the property owner, with which Hayko agreed.

Hurst said, with a contractor’s yard, there needs to be an element of permanence and volume — which Coons found there hadn’t been. He said any tradesperson who drives a work truck home could be subjected to the whim of a vindictive neighbor if that weren’t the case.

On the dumpster, Hurst said, “The only question then, and the question Ms. Coons addressed is whether that is,” in the words of the zoning code a “suitable and sufficient receptacle for the acceptance of residential waste.”

Hurst said, “‘suitable and sufficient’ could not be more ambiguous or more subjective.”

And what Coons did, according to Hurst, was make a “rational determination,” and said, “Well, there’s nothing that says a dumpster is not suitable and sufficient. There’s nothing that says a dumpster bigger than a particular size is not suitable or sufficient.”

Hurst also noted there was nothing in Coons’s determination letter about fuel storage or fuel tanks. (Greene had gone on at length before being cut off by Lott about a fuel tank Radtke kept on his property.) 

“So that’s not really before this board at this point,” Hurst said of the fuel and its storage tank.

Later in the meeting, Nancy Greene made the point Radtke burns wood for heat but has a large fuel storage tank on-site, “which is another indication that the property is being used as a contractor’s yard.”

Coons addressed this after Greene spoke and said, “They are trying to infer that the contractor yard exists because the oil tank exists,” but the oil tank was never included as part of  Coons’s letter addressing the Greenes’ concerns.

The board decided to close the public hearing but deferred on making a decision until at least Oct. 19; the board canceled its Sept. 21 meeting due to a lack of quorum — board member Jacob Crawford was appointed to the town board on Sept. 20 — and its Oct. 5 meeting because it falls on Yom Kippur.

Editor’s note: Enterprise columnist Jesse Sommer is an attorney at Young/Sommer, where his father, Dean, is senior partner.

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