Thursday, April 26, 2018

It's like a storm has passed

I've lived in this place for ten years now.  Six acres in the country, with a pond, woods and a pasture.  The most notable feature of this property is the pond, built by damning a ravine.  It's a 1/2 acre jewel, deeper than most farm ponds.  When I moved here I realized that the best way to maintain the pond was to NOT maintain most of the shoreline - just let it go wild.  It's a superb wildlife habitat.  This morning I watched from the sunroom as a pair of wood ducks flew in and paid a visit.  In the evening the frogs can get so loud that, standing on the back deck, my ears start to roar.  For a farm pond, the water is fairly clear with only occasional blooms of algae.  That's because there is no nutrient runoff into the pond, from grazing animals or fertilizers.

It always concerned me that the property line barely contains the pond on the north side, on the left in the picture above.  In fact there is at most ten feet of my property on the north side of the pond.  Still, the lot on the other side of the pond had stood vacant for many years, owned by an elderly couple in Chicago who had no plans for it.  Two years ago, both of them had passed and the lot was given to their nephew, who promptly put it up for sale.  In 2017, a young couple bought it and began making a rudimentary drive to the center of the lot, where they cleared an small area where they intended to build a house.

They were nice people, I was told, and their intended building site was screened by trees from my house.   I hoped that they would be receptive to my concerns for the pond, and agree to leave a buffer strip along the edge of their property to protect the pond.  In return, I would offer them fishing privileges from the levee.  Unfortunately, they ran into some problems and had to put the lot up for sale.

In late January, I found out that the lot had a new owner.  There was an unusual spell of warm weather then, and leaving the house that day I saw that the front part of the lot, overgrown with small trees and bushes, was being cleared.  Since I couldn't see if they were staying on their side of the line, I stopped the car and walked over to have a look.  That's when I saw that they had cleared into my property by as much as 75 feet.  This picture was taken a few days later, after I had put up a temporary fence to mark the property line.  His lot is to the right of the fence.

Just to explain, the flat land in the left of the picture is pasture.  I let the sloped ground go wild, as a wetland and wildlife habitat.  It's the watershed that feeds the pond, which is behind the tree line.  The new owner couldn't be bothered to find out where lines are, he just told his workers to clear off all the overgrown area, including what was on my property.

I talked to the workers, who said they were only following orders.  They told me that the owner was deaf and communication was difficult.  Still, they were clearing on a line toward my house.  They had to know they were trespassing.  Then they told me that he intended to put three trailers on the lot.  For a few seconds I was stunned.  It was like getting hit with a shock wave.  I shook my head and said "No.  That's not going to happen" and walked away. 

A chain of phone calls around the neighborhood began.  This is not a fancy neighborhood.  All of the lots are six acres, subdivided from a pasture in the 90's.  Many of the homes are modulars, some of the people are a little messy, but there are no trailers, and every lot has one home per lot.  It was obvious from the start that this guy intended to rent the trailers as a money making venture.  Visions of meth labs, exploding trailers, loud parties and vandalism, a public nuisance, looked like a real possibility.  The value of my house, which I have been working on for ten years, would plummet as a mini-trailer park went in next door.

View from my back porch.

The next day, I was at the county planning commission, asking them to send enforcement out and shut him down.  It took them a few days, and by that time this guy had brought in at least ten truck loads of stone to put in a driveway that went in about fifty feet from the road then split in opposite directions and ended in circular pads.  He was working very fast.  My neighbor north of this lot was practically screaming "Those are trailer pads. He's putting in trailers."

About a week after that all of the adjoining neighbors received a certified letter from the owner notifying us of a hearing for a zoning variance at the end of March.  At least work had stopped in the interim, and one of the enforcement people told me that if he begins digging anything, to notify him immediately.  I sent a letter, the first of several, to everyone in the neighborhod, asking that they all attend the hearing to oppose this.

Who was this guy?  Did he really think he could get away with it?  Had he done this before, buy up a property in a rural county, possibly pay off some officials to get the zoning approval, and put in rental trailers?  I suspected the worst, but thought there was more to it.  It was clear from his application for a variance that he was barely literate.  The reasons he gave for getting a variance were childlike in their simplicity.  And the clerks at the planning commission had to explain to him, with his girlfriend interpreting, that he had to get approval for three septic systems. 

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I could find out more about him.  He lived in a very nice 4-bedroom house in a small town south of Indianapolis, recently remodeled, nice neighborhood,  large lot, mature trees.  The notion that he would move out of that house and live in one of the trailers was laughable.  Then the second bombshell dropped.  He was a registered sex offender.  Actually he was classified as a 'violent sexual predator' who had been released from prison the previous summer after serving five years for child molestation.  It was his second conviction.  The neighborhood's opposition to this guy at this point had galvanized, to say the least.

In March, he and his buddies towed an old, unlicensed RV out to the property where he spent the weekends with his girlfriend.  When the weather was good, he would take a heavy duty mower or a bobcat onto the back part of the lot, where I could see him from my house, and clear off brush.  With that equipment, he couldn't knock down any tree larger than a couple of inches in diameter, but still, there was the anxiety of wondering what he was going to do next to mess up the land.  It had become obvious that he really had no clue what he wanted to do with the land, and understood nothing about managing a property in the country.
Looking at RV from road.

The last weekend he camped there, about two weeks before the hearing, he and his girlfriend walked to the house across the road and knocked on their door.  Interpreting for him, she asked the neighbors how you go about hooking up to the water, sewer and gas lines.  My neighbor was dumbfounded.  There are no lines, she said, this is the country, you have to dig a well and put in a septic system.  He literally had no clue.  This confirmed for me what I had concluded a little earlier, that he was mildly retarded, and did not understand the consequences of his actions.

The hearing took place.  Everyone in the neighborhood, including the farmer who owns hundreds of acres to the west of us, showed up.  I had never met some of my neighbors, until this.  Some of their speeches were very eloquent.  We talked about low flow problems with wells, how the land could not possibly support three septic systems there, about the damage that he had already caused.  He claimed that he wanted to move his 80 year old mother, in poor health, who lived with him in his house in Franklin, into one of the trailers in the middle of nowhere.  I pointed out that the nearest hospital out here was nearly 30 minutes away.  His petition for a zoning variance was unanimously denied.

He hasn't been back since.  The RV still is there, now stuck in the mud, with a generator wrapped in plastic next to it.  Two weeks ago a for sale sign went up on the lot.  My neighbor on the other side agreed that one of us would buy the lot and sell half to the other so this can never happen again, but my neighbor owns his house free and clear and refuses to put it up for collateral for a loan.  I can't afford to make payments on the full lot, so for the time being it sits there like a festering sore.  I don't think it will sell anytime soon, since the driveways that he put in are useless and detract from the value.  It looks bad, but the real nightmare is finally over, I hope.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

Wow - that truly was a nightmare. Thank God the variances were denied - this situation was so wrong on so many levels. I can't imagine the anxiety you must have gone through over the past few weeks - I would have gone mad thinking, not only about what he was doing/going to do to the land, but also about having someone like that in the neighbourhood. Your entire area dodged a bullet on that one.

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