The Town Council renewed a license to operate Murray’s Auto Recycling, Inc. at their meeting Monday night, following lengthy deliberations and passionate testimony from abutters.
The 4-0 vote concluded this year’s expensive annual battle over the junkyard’s operation. Councilor John Farrell was not present for the meeting.
In the last six months alone, the issue has cost the town $20,000 in legal bills, accounting for a little over 10 percent of the town’s legal budget, according to Town Manager Kevin Smith.
Of greatest concern to the Council was salvage yard owner Ed Dudek’s failure to comply with the terms of the license granted him last year – particularly his failure to end business-related activity on the 55 Hall Road property by 5 p.m.
Claudette Adams of 54 Hall Road and Richard Bielinski, also a Hall Road neighbor, argued that Dudek’s employees shouldn’t be permitted to return commercially licensed trucks to the property as it violates the requirement that business be conducted only from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Building the case for Dudek, Attorney Patricia Panciocco of Baroff Professional Association in Bedford argued that because the property has been used as a junkyard for 50-plus years, it has been grandfathered in and the restrictions in question that were placed on his license likely wouldn’t hold up in court.
Panciocco also said that when Dudek accepted his license from the Town last year, he stated he couldn’t comply with all the restrictions placed on it.
Town Attorney Michael Ramsdell advised the council that strictly enforcing a 5 p.m. curfew for vehicles that are merely returning to the property wouldn’t likely hold up in Superior Court.
“The Town took the position historically that if a truck comes back and the gate is opened and the driver gets out and locks the gate and leaves, that is not business operations,” Ramsdell said, explaining a Superior Court judge would likely find it unfair to refuse Dudek a license for incidents where his trucks arrived back to his business late due to traffic and the vehicle was dropped off with no further business conducted on the property.
Also of concern to Adams are environmental concerns with the auto salvage yard.
Ramsdell advised the council that environmental licensing is handled by the state and that Dudek’s ability to secure that licensing shouldn’t affect their decision to grant him his license to operate in the Town.
Dudek’s well has tested clean for volatile organic compounds, as have wells tested in the surrounding area, said Peter Frank, senior hydrogeologist for engineering and environmental consulting firm GeoInsight, Inc. Some of the surface water in the vicinity of the site has been affected minimally, but there is no evidence to suggest contaminated water is posing a threat, he said.
Frank added that “there is strong evidence that what we have in this case, the higher concentrations (of contaminants) under the wetland away from the land, which suggests a historic problem, is a cleaner method of managing the property now than historically.”
Frank said the excavation of about 1,000 tons of soil from the property and a shift to conducting operations, particularly removing oils from the vehicles brought on site, inside a garage with a cement floor that was constructed on the property have helped to address the contamination issue.
But despite the improvements, the property is contaminated and remains a high priority of the state, according to Frank.
“The environmental issue is a matter of interest and we care about it, but it’s not germane to our granting this license,” Council Chairman Tom Dolan told Adams.
In addition to expressing environmental concerns and issue with late deliveries, Adams and Bielinski argued that commercially licensed vehicles should not be permitted to park in the front lot of Dudek’s property, and that vehicles are stacked high enough to be visible over the fence around the property.
Code enforcement is directed to visit the property in December after the foliage has fallen to determine if additional fencing will be necessary to obstruct the view of the salvage yard.
The council agreed the trailer on Dudek’s property, set back to obstruct the salvage yard, serves as a fence and that he has the right to park commercially plated vehicles in his front lot.
Restrictions placed on Dudek’s license for 2014-2015 include no deliveries past 8 p.m., with hours of operation to remain between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Dudek told the Council he will comply with those terms and was relieved to have the onerous restriction of having all his trucks back to the property by 5 p.m. lifted.
Additionally, the council agreed that Dudek’s employees may work on the property outside business hours as long as they don’t make noise that would prove disruptive to his neighbors.
Dudek recently constructed six additional sections of fencing along the westerly side of the property. If additional fencing is required, Dudek will have 60 days to come into compliance.
If Dudek doesn’t comply with any of the restrictions placed on his license, it will be grounds for the Council to revoke his license or refuse its renewal next year.
The Council told Dudek’s neighbors that if they are disturbed by excessive noise coming from the property outside the business’s hours of operation, they are entitled to call the Police Department.
Before voting to approve renewing Dudek’s license, Councilor Jim Butler said that when he moved into his previous home in Londonderry with his wife, he considered the property carefully and became well informed of all the risks involved. Knowing the property behind his own could be developed, he decided to move forward with purchasing the Cape-style home and eventually moved when the area became too busy for his family.
“I think (renewing Dudek’s license) is in the best interest of the town, and quite frankly if it’s something you don’t like, take the town to court,” Butler said.
Councilor Joe Green expressed concern with Dudek’s history of failure to comply with the terms of his license, despite his stating last year he could not comply with those terms.
“The conditions have been violated several times. I think for many, many years these stipulations wavered and we soft-shoe around them. If you have a paid employee going to drop off a vehicle at your business, it’s laughable to not consider that operations,” Green said. “In my opinion we have an issue and duty to the citizens of the Town to enforce the things we put forth in our laws and regulations and ordinances.”