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Two tales of toilets: a Maine man’s protest mirrors familiar Potsdam story

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POTSDAM — Two men from two states, two failed attempts to build a doughnut shop and dozens of flower-filled toilets prove that history repeats itself in the strangest ways.

David R. Labbe, of Augusta, Maine, wanted to sell some of his property to Dunkin’ Donuts earlier this year. The fast-food chain wanted to build a drive-thru restaurant where his home stands.

However, Mr. Labbe’s property is zoned for residential use only, and city officials would not budge on his request to change it.

Mr. Labbe, a plumber who wants to leave Augusta but doubts he will be able to sell his home as residential property, decided to make a stink.

He took five toilets and set them up along the street, planting flowers in them so they technically would be considered planters, which are allowed under the zoning code whereas trash is not.

“I’m a plumber. I had a few in my driveway and I was going to get rid of them, but I decided to keep them,” Mr. Labbe said. A sign on the property requests donations of even more toilets, looking for as many as 60 to 70 porcelain “planters” to add to the display.

This tale likely will trigger deja vu for many Potsdam residents, who may recall a strangely similar tale of doughnuts and commodes.

The details are much the same. In 2004, Dunkin’ Donuts wanted to build a restaurant on Frederick J. “Hank” Robar Sr.’s land at 82-84 Market St., but requests to rezone the property were denied by village officials. In protest, Mr. Robar made the site as ugly as allowed within the law, most notably by adorning the lawn with flower-filled johns.

Mr. Robar and Mr. Labbe live more than 300 miles apart, and neither man knew of the other before this week. Mr. Labbe said the idea for the display was his own, and that he had never heard of Mr. Robar’s porcelain protest. Nonetheless, he said, he’s happy to hear there is another person engaging in toilet-based dissent.

“I just have to say, go for it,” he said.

Mr. Robar’s toilets are still in Potsdam eight years after he began his mission, and he has expanded his display to two Maple Street properties he owns.

“A lot of people think it’s a good idea. If I could put a hundred more around, I would,” Mr. Robar said.

Despite his enthusiasm, he doesn’t think he is fighting a winning battle against the village.

“It doesn’t pay to fight them. They’re going to do what they want to do anyways,” he said.

Nonetheless, he was glad to hear that another property owner had come up with the same way to protest.

“I think he’s got a good idea to do it, just like I did. I think he should. Maybe it would straighten up a few of these townships,” Mr. Robar said.

As for Mr. Labbe, he said he is just getting started. His next step is to build a fence on his property.

“We’re making this fence the ugliest color we can find, and then we’re going to hang the toilet seats on this fence,” he said.

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