Williamsburg Board of Health to reopen discussion on porta-potties

  • Close up of one of two “decorated” porta-potties at 17 Hyde Hill Road that is causing contention between neighbors in Williamsburg. Both have been painted bright orange. GAZETTE PHOTO/FRAN RYAN

  • An image of Donald Trump stands near the porta-potties at 17 Hyde Hill Road that is causing contention between neighbors in Williamsburg. GAZETTE PHOTO/FRAN RYAN

For the Gazette
Published: 8/18/2016 8:16:19 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — A clerical error is forcing the Board of Health to reopen a controversial discussion of two porta-potties on Hide Hill Road.

The board discovered that no agenda had been publicly posted for an Aug. 5 meeting at which members decided that the potties located on the property of Chris Duval, of 15-17 Hyde Hill Road, do not violate town regulations.

Board of Health chairwoman Donna Gibson said that notice of the meeting had been properly posted with the town clerk, but due to a clerical oversight, the meeting’s agenda had not been attached.

The board is set to reopen its discussion at an Aug. 22 meeting, and then vote again, Gibson said.

The Aug. 5 meeting came as a surprise to several residents who had attended an earlier Board of Health meeting on Aug. 1, at which they were initially told that the board would investigate the porta-potties and return with any additional information and a decision at its Aug. 8 meeting.

However, at the end of the Aug. 1 meeting, when most of the residents in attendance had left, board members decided to schedule an additional meeting for Aug. 5. At that meeting, the board voted to take no action on the porta-potties after reviewing information from two site visits, emails from residents and public comments. Some residents had asked the board to order Duvall to remove the toilets.

When residents showed up to the Aug. 8 meeting, many were shocked and angered that a decision had already been made at a meeting that they knew nothing about.

Town Clerk Brenda Lessard confirmed that the agenda had been appropriately posted in a timely fashion, but noted that the posting came with no agenda as is required by law.

“We didn’t realize this had happened until after the meeting on Aug. 8,” Gibson said.

The board based its decision to take no action on the fact that the porta-potties are not functional, they contain no chemicals, and the doors on each are screwed shut. The board does not consider them “toilets.”

Duval says the toilets are merely innocuous “decorations” that he felt like putting up, but other residents view them and their placement as way to purposely annoy and provoke his neighbors. They also maintain that, in use or not, they are still “porta-potties” and as such, are illegally placed within 30 feet of a “of a lot line or street,” violating state law.

Among the residents who have complained about the porta-potties, Henrietta Wallace of 21 Hyde Hill Road is the most directly effected by the outdoor privies as it is her driveway along which they are displayed. While the property belongs to Duval, there is an easement that allows Wallace use of the driveway as it is the only access to her home.

In a letter written to attorney Alan Seewald of Northampton, who is representing Wallace, Gibson apologized for the agenda oversight.

In the letter she wrote: “We will include in our next Board of Health meeting on August 22 at 2 p.m. the subject of the Hyde Hill Road complaints again and allow more time for discussion of any new information beyond what we already have received from attendees and the August 1 board meeting, by phone, and by emails from residents to date.”

Lessard said that at present, Monday’s meeting will take place at 2 p.m. on the second floor of the town offices.

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