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October 29, 2011 - 8:45pm

Fences, and more, divide business neighbors in Stafford

posted by Howard B. Owens in Stafford.

Robert Frost wrote that "Good fences make good neighbors."

Mr. Frost never met James Pontillo (pictured above) nor Tom Englerth.  

The two Stafford residents and fellow small business owners are in the midst of a dispute that has led to at least three visits by police and is making it more difficult for Pontillo to get his building renovated and a new business open.

"He drew the line," Englerth said. "He put up a fence. He said, 'you stay on your side,' so I told him to stay on his side."

In August 2010, Pontillo purchased a historic building at the intersection of Morganville and Main roads, Stafford. For as long as anybody can remember, there's been a store there that met community needs, but then Englerth put up a new building on land next door.

Shelley Macan-Mouery moved her business, the Stafford Trading Post, to Englerth's new structure. 

With his key commercial tenant gone, the owner of the former Stafford Odd Fellows' Hall, Terry Platt, decided to sell the building. He put it up for auction.

The Stafford Historical Society was concerned that the highest bidder -- possibly Englerth -- would tear down the 120-year-old building. The society secured $35,000 in financing to try and buy the building.

Englerth bid on the building, and the historical society bid on the building, but so did Pontillo and Pontillo won with a bid of $37,500.

And that, according to Pontillo, is part of the reason that Englerth is bent on disrupting his restoration efforts.

Plus Pontillo plans to open a store that will compete directly with the Stafford Trading Post.

Nonsense, says Englerth.

"I own the building," said Englerth. "I rent the store. The rent's the same regardless of what they do."

For Englerth, it's all about fences, he said.

First there is the fence that Pontillo put up, but then there is the fence that Englerth was forced to cut down from eight feet to six feet.

When Pontillo applied for a permit for his fence, he needed a variance to construct an eight-foot-high fence. Part of his argument for the variance was that Englerth had been allowed to construct an eight-high-foot fence.

But it turned out that Englerth never applied for, nor received, a variance for a higher fence than allowed by code.

Englerth accuses Pontillo of turning him in for the out-of-code fence, but Pontillo said that he spoke in favor of Englerth keeping his fence at a town planning board meeting. If Englerth had been granted a variance, Pontillo would likely also get a variance.

Neither got a variance, and Englerth had to take a chainsaw to the top of his fence.

Pontillo is convinced that Englerth has certain town officials on his side, such as Code Enforcement Officer Lester Mullen, whom he accuses of making random inspections on his construction work and roadblocking his efforts.

Mullen has been out on medical leave and wasn't available for comment.

Pontillo is planning to open a pizza shop that will include a deli, ice cream stand and grocery items (much like Stafford Trading Post) called "Talk of the Town." The new building name, which he said he's already trademarked, is "Pontillo's Place."

Other problems Pontillo has faced, he said, has come from the NYS DOT.

Pontillo said he's also been hassled by a guy named "Dan" from the NYS Department of Transportation over parking for the building, even though his parking plan is right in line with the parking that has always been available at the building.

But his problems with the DOT don't stop there. The DOT resurfaced Morganville Road (Route 237), creating a drainage problem that has caused his basement to flood (see photo below). The flooding has caused the hardwood floor on the first level to buckle in several areas -- after the restoration on the floor was almost complete.

The DOT, Pontillo said, has refused to either discuss compensation or fix the drainage issue.

Nonetheless, Pontillo is pushing forward with restoration.

This week he's had workers on the roof ripping off the old shingles with plans to install an entirely new roof.

Which brings us back to the two latest State Police responses to the location.

Pontillo rented a high-lift so his workers could safely get atop the three-story high roof and safely remove old shingles and bring materials to the rooftop.

When it came time for workers to work on the west side of the building, Pontillo asked Macan-Mouery for permission to park the high-lift on the west side of his building.

Since the property line is right at the edge of the building, the only place to park the high-lift was in the parking lot of the Stafford Trading Post.

Englerth reportedly called in State Troopers and accused Pontillo of trespassing.

The troopers said they believed Macan-Mouery had given Pontillo permission to park the high-lift where he did, but after Englerth complained, withdrew permission.

On Friday afternoon, the troopers had Pontillo move the high-lift from the Stafford Trading Post parking lot.

To work on the west side of the building, Pontillo's crews will need to use ladders, which is far less safe and will slow down work.

Meanwhile, on Friday and Saturday, Englerth parked his truck next to the west side of Pontillo's building.

On Saturday morning, he called State Police to complain that debris falling from Pontillo's roof damaged his truck.

Troopers responded but took no action on the complaint.

"The bottom line is he doesn't care about the safety of my workers," Pontillo said Saturday morning. "They could fall and get killed and he wouldn't care."

RICHARD L. HALE's picture
Last seen: 3 years 10 months ago
Joined: May 22 2009 - 9:50pm

Having been involved in a property dispute recently, I can suggest;

Look through all of the old deeds of both properties. Old "agreements" are sometimes over looked, but by law, must be adhered to until both parties agree to change them.

Hire a good attorney. They can do a lot of research also.

In my case it worked out in my favor. I got to see a 60 year old "agreement" dissolved, for non-complience by my neighbor. Turned out I had four plus feet more of property than I thought I did.

Disputes like these can come down to give and take. In my case, I had to let the neighbor have the extra four feet of property, so I could erect a fence on the property line, to permanently separate the two properties.

Seems to me, that if you have properties as in this story, there would have to be a provision, a law, a rule, either through the county or the town, that a person has to be allowed some freedoms, in order to maintain his / her property.....I'm just sayin'

Emily Davis
Emily Davis's picture
Last seen: 10 years 9 months ago
Joined: Sep 28 2010 - 9:26pm

Even if he does open a store to compete with the Stafford Trading Post, I know that it will in no way even come close to being as great of a place that Michelle runs. She has many loyal customers, is a great person, and greets everyone by name. People that go to the Stafford trading post are part of the loyal community and a competing pizza shop cannot compare to the great "hole in the wall" that is the Stafford Trading Post. The "talk of the town" will more likely be the "laugh of the town" so Pontillo shouldn't bother wasting his time.

Bob Price
Bob Price's picture
Last seen: 4 months 1 week ago
Joined: Nov 15 2008 - 3:33pm

Hope he doesn't plan on having apartments above his new deli/store/pizza shop-I believe that is a no-no in a wood framed structure. There always has been water standing on the east side of the building by the road-how would that affect the first floor???The first floor looks like it is 3' above ground level.I hope he has permission to use the Pontillo name in the business-we all know how Batavia went down.

Brenda Ranney
Brenda Ranney's picture
Last seen: 2 years 10 months ago
Joined: Jun 21 2008 - 5:29pm

I can so see a neat little B&B with 1900's saloon on the 1st floor.
Weekend packages with guided hunting trips or golf for the hubbies & antique shopping for the wives.
But then again I think the old Palace Hotel would make a great B&B. Batavia needs a French restaurant.

Either way I'm glad that the building is being fixed.

maryann valone
maryann  valone's picture
Last seen: 7 years 3 months ago
Joined: Sep 2 2009 - 12:35am

pontillo is the man's name. the batavia pontillo name problem had to do with a already established business and seconadary ownership. I think these are 2 different families also -in reference to comment #4

Bart Dentino
Bart Dentino's picture
Last seen: 9 years 3 months ago
Joined: Jul 13 2010 - 8:53pm

Not allowing the lift to be parked in the lot and parking one's truck under the roof reconstruction then complaining about damage are hardly efforts that contribute to truly resolving the conflict. They're antagonistic and exacerbate the ill will of the situation rather than solving the problem. I've eaten at the Trading Post and had a very good meal. I would eat there again. I would guess that Mr. Englarth is really a much better man than these behaviors seem to show. I'm sorry that he's caught up in such an emotional situation that pushes what I'm sure is his better judgement over the line and into vindictive behavior. Those situations are a drag to be in and poison your life. It takes a ton of effort to get past the anger. Good luck to both of you and I honestly hope that you can each find a way to get your good nature to represent you in settling this.

Howard B. Owens
Howard B. Owens's picture
Last seen: 2 days 1 hour ago
Joined: Apr 23 2008 - 3:05pm

There are already apartments on the second floor, completely remodeled by Pontillo. There were apartments there when Terry Platt owned the building and the Stafford Trading Post was located there.

Pontillo told me the rent of the apartments cover all of his expenses for the building so his new shop will be able to operate rent free.

kevin kretschmer
kevin kretschmer's picture
Last seen: 5 years 8 months ago
Joined: Jan 26 2010 - 9:32pm

"The bottom line is he doesn't care about the safety of my workers," Pontillo said Saturday morning. "They could fall and get killed and he wouldn't care."

I'm curious, how safe is it having your workers on the roof at night?

Jennifer Keys
Jennifer Keys's picture
Last seen: 4 years 8 months ago
Joined: Aug 18 2009 - 6:44pm

I can't imagine that such antagonism and ill will is good for either business or person. I hope that they are able to get beyond this to run successful businesses because that is what we need in Genesee County, more successful local businesses. I hope that the community will also embrace both businesses, whatever they turn out to be.

Greg Siedlecki
Greg Siedlecki's picture
Last seen: 5 years 6 months ago
Joined: Aug 25 2009 - 10:04am

Pretty childish behavior. On the other hand, two similar stores right next to eachother makes little sense. The former Trading Post should be made in to some other type of business ............ and there would have been no issues.

Bea McManis
Bea McManis's picture
Last seen: 5 years 9 months ago
Joined: May 4 2009 - 9:20pm

"Even if he does open a store to compete with the Stafford Trading Post, I know that it will in no way even come close to being as great of a place that Michelle runs. She has many loyal customers, is a great person, and greets everyone by name. People that go to the Stafford trading post are part of the loyal community and a competing pizza shop cannot compare to the great "hole in the wall" that is the Stafford Trading Post. The "talk of the town" will more likely be the "laugh of the town" so Pontillo shouldn't bother wasting his time."

Michelle may run a very nice establishment, and I wish her well. However, it is comments like this that tells anyone interested in opening a business in Stafford to beware. Is it really that closed a community that any new business will be ill received? There is no room in that "loyal" community for competition and if someone dare compete, the law will be called in to insure that the business never gets off the ground?
My understanding, from reading the article, is this isn't Michelle's fight. I bet they could compliment each other's businesses.
This is between the owners of the buildings. It is petty and puts them both in a bad light.

Steve Reese
Steve Reese's picture
Last seen: 5 years 11 months ago
Joined: Oct 12 2008 - 9:06am

It's quite apparent that most of the comments have a slant against Mr. Pontillo because of the personal endorsement of the Trading Post owner, not necessarily Mr. Englerth. I'd like to know what neutral parties think. Since the code enforcement officer is on leave, isn't there a zoning board member that can answer questions? Many municipalities will also have a zoning official in a nearby town fill in temporarily.

Kyle Couchman
Kyle Couchman's picture
Last seen: 6 years 5 months ago
Joined: Dec 25 2009 - 8:54am

Well in looking at this article and its comments I have 2 comments. Its obvious the contentions between the two owners have become a tit for tat situation that is already annoying the police involved (as exampled by the fact that police responded to Mr.Englerths complaint of damage to his truck but took no action on the complaint) So this issue is gonna continue until one or the other grows up or outgrows the childishness.

As for the speculations on who gonna succeed and loyalties and such, It is my honest belief that people with very limited views appoint themselves to "speak" for an entire community or for certain people within the community. These people are voicing opinions and opinions are not facts they just are. I dont believe in 2nd hand info so people who speak for others tend to be discredited unless the person whos opinion they claim to know actually backs it up themselves.

As for who is "talk of the town" vs "laugh of the town" only the future can tell since we havent been able to sample the service or product of the new place yet it seems a might bit immature to make predictions. I can say that these predictions have caused me to laugh at certain outspoken members of the town, thats for sure.

Gregory Hallifax
Gregory Hallifax's picture
Last seen: 10 years 3 months ago
Joined: Aug 22 2009 - 10:38am

Since I am newer to the area I can be the outsider looking in, and to me it seems that petty fighting is getting nothing done. Last I knew this was America and everyone has the right to open a business if they want to. It is time to act like grown ups and make the community an even better place to live. It sounds like scene from "A Christmas Story", where they "triple dog dare you". Let's leave the playground mentality to the five year olds. This should be a community that helps each other out and not park a truck in the way, complain about fences, or whatever else they can think of. If Mr. Pontillo wants to open a business let him, if it doesn't work out there is nobody else to blame but himself, and Mr. Englerth should invite the business to the community, instead of what sounds to me like the little boy who is mad because he doesn't want to play fair, and be an adult. We adults are supposed to be role models for our children, and these petty things make me fearful for our future. It is time to "GROW UP" and knock off the garbage. If I acted like you gentlemen, I would have been grounded and get a few wacks on the bottom and told to play nice.

william tapp
william tapp's picture
Last seen: 5 years 5 months ago
Joined: May 9 2008 - 8:38am

im with Emily on this one,i am a customer of Stafford trading post for years, she runs a first class business there and im for one im not going to change.she has the best pizza in genesee county

"hole in the wall is just what it will be lol

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