When a closed Goodwill store became an overnight dump, Danbury’s blight fighting crew stepped in

Photo of Rob Ryser

DANBURY — It wasn’t the kind of “shopping” Danbury wants to encourage this holiday season.

A closed Goodwill Store on a heavily traveled corner of White Street had attracted so much donated clothing, furniture, and downright junk on its empty parking lot that opportunists were perusing the makeshift dump for items they might like, scattering what they didn’t want in the process.

“It got worse and worse and worse,” said Shawn Stillman, coordinator of the city’s blight-fighting crew known as UNIT — for Unified Neighborhood Inspection Team. “Whether it was because the donators didn’t realize that the Goodwill store had closed or they didn’t care, I don’t know and I don’t care — it was really, really bad.”

There at the corner of White Street and Beaver Brook Road, where the Goodwill Store had vacated in October for a new space further east at the Berkshire Shopping Plaza, were “donations” of bed frames, dressers, exercise equipment, couches, chairs, mattresses and bags of clothes that had been ripped open —which neighbors complained were attracting after dark scavengers, who left the lot in worse shape than they found it.

“If you went to the Goodwill Store to drop off a couch and you didn’t know it was closed, I might give you the benefit of the doubt,” said Stillman, who's been fighting illegal dumping and other kinds of blight in Danbury for 14 years. “But I know from doing this job that it is also a question of people not caring and taking advantage.”

“So now we had a situation where people were showing up hoping they could find something they wanted,” Stillman said. “It was all over the parking lot.”

As a result, neighbors were complaining daily about a worsening situation at the highly visible sight.

“While there are many problems with this issue, the biggest problem it that it’s contagious,” Stillman wrote to the City Council as part of his Office of Neighborhood Assistant report in late October. “Once people see an accumulation of stuff, they continue to add to the problem.”

Adding to the urgency of the problem was that the city’s normal course of action would not provide the timely remedy that was needed.

“Typically in cases of extreme or continual blight problems, our department sends out an order via certified mail to the property owner, and it offers 30 days to remedy the issue before daily fines begin to accrue,” Stillman wrote to the City Council. “Given the problem getting continually worse, this mess needed to get cleaned up quickly."

Once Stillman got ahold of the out-of-state property owner, the city began to get the upper hand. The New York-based landlord paid for a cleaning crew to fill a dumpster with the “donations.”

Stillman told the landlord if he installed cameras that were able to get the license plates of people illegally dumping, Stillman’s department could go after them.

“But I also told him, ‘I don’t want to have to call you again about about this, because if I do, I am going to fine you.'”

Instead of fines, Stillman persuaded the landlord that securing the empty lot would be cheaper.

Today, a chain link fence is around the property along with ‘No Dumping’ signs.

“If people are tempted to illegally dump on this property and get caught and reported to our department or to police, they will be given a $200 ticket and will be required to go back and clean it up,” Stillman told the City Council.

Reach Rob Ryser at rryser@newstimes.com or 914-977-3353.