Several residents of Estey Drive complained to the Town Council that a wood cutting business on their neighbor’s property is disrupting the neighborhood.
“The business has devalued my property,” Robert Cinelli of 9 Estey Drive told the Council at its meeting Monday evening.
According to Cinelli, when he tried to sell his home, the business at his next-door neighbor’s 5 Estey Drive residence caused buyers to back out of making an offer.
“We had a purchase and sales agreement on the property and they pulled the agreement around Thanksgiving of last year,” he said, arguing the business is an eyesore in the neighborhood and that Robert Potter of Derry operates the wood cutting business on his parents’ property outside of permitted business hours. “It’s bad enough the property looks like that, but last Saturday he put 10 ‘no trespassing signs’ on trees along my property line, and he put stakes in the ground and ran a string along the stakes. My feeling is that’s harassment. There’s no reason to put 10 signs along my side of the property.”
Cinelli further argued, “there’s no permit and the business is not grandfathered by the Town,” adding he is working with Town Manager Kevin Smith to address his concerns.
“We’ve referred the matter to Attorney Mike Ramsdell to look at all the documentation we have on it,” Smith said. “(Former Code Enforcer) Frank Holdsworth made a ruling on the existing non-conforming use in a residential neighborhood. Ramsdell is looking to see if he concurs with that judgment or not, and we’re waiting for him to get back to us with an opinion on this.”
Adding to concerns over the potentially illegal operation of a commercial business in a residential neighborhood were allegations made by Bonnie Hussey of 3 Estey Drive that Potter started harassing her family after they sounded alarms over his business in 2008.
Hussey told the Council the harassment escalated when “Potter became enraged and tried to run my son down with his truck.
“We have always met with Dick and Freda (5 Estey Drive property owners). They say, ‘we’ll control him, we’ll talk to him.’ Nothing changes,” she said.
Hussey further alleged that Potter called her husband’s employer in an effort to threaten his employment and contacted a local newspaper “to slander” him in retaliation for their going to the Town with their complaints.
Hussey told the Council she also thinks Potter killed her dog, but she can’t prove it.
“We have not been vigilant enough in reporting him. According to (Code Enforcement officer Richard) Canuel, we have made his job difficult in enforcing him,” she said. “This whole situation for me is very difficult.”
Hussey said she lives in fear of retaliation for any complaint she might make to the Town.
“If you believe a crime has been committed, whether or not you think you can prove it, that shouldn’t be the threshold for reporting a crime,” Councilor Tom Dolan said.
“When people are victims of this type of harassment…you don’t want to make it worse,” Hussey said. “You have a tendency to get scared, rather than get angry and making waves. When someone tries to run over your child, especially when it’s someone who presents themselves as someone you’ll never get out of your neighborhood, you never want to give them a reason to go all the way. I’m not willing to risk my life or the life of my child because it’s just too scary.”
Potter denied Hussey’s allegations and said Canuel informed him that as long as he operates within the town’s rules, he is permitted to continue working at his parents’ residence.
“My family has been doing this business there since 1965,” he said. “No, I did not try to run anyone over with a truck. The allegations are exactly that.”
Potter said Kevin Hussey has used threatening language toward him and accused him of “watching his wife and taking pictures.”
Potter told the Council the Husseys’ allegations and behavior toward him are retaliation for calling the police to their neighborhood when he observed the couples’ 8-year-old driving a golf cart up and down their street.
“I just want to work and mind my own business. Now, I can’t even complain because they’ll retaliate,” he said. “All those allegations were serious, very serious. She says she’s intimidated, that she’s in fear for her life.”
“Why do you think she feels that way?” Dolan asked.
“That’s not for me to decide. I’m not to say what kind of person she is. I’m not the judge,” Potter said.
“Now, we have heard two versions of the story and you can’t reconcile them. That tells me someone is not telling the truth,” Councilor Tom Freda said, noting that while the neighbors are not under oath when addressing the Council, being dishonest is not the best way to proceed. “Fortunately, technology fills the gaps in 2016. Everyone in the world has a camera. Someone has made statements here and someone’s going to record events and they’re not going to jive. It may behoove all you people to figure out how to get along.”
Freda said the Council can regulate the traffic laws on Estey Drive and find it’s unsafe for trucks to go down the street.
“It may not have impact on the profitability of your business, but it may,” he told Potter. “Now you brought this controversy to us. What do you expect us to do? Have your business and leave these people alone. You have every right to put up signs, but you’re escalating the situation, and you know it.”
Chairman John Farrell said the Town Attorney has been directed to make a decision on whether or not the wood cutting business is a grandfathered use by March 1.
“It could go either way,” he said. “The Police will be engaged if people feel they are not safe. I’m not there, I don’t know the facts. We’ve heard two stories. When these things finally reach us, generally no one wins. We would much rather see everyone work it out.”