Board reaches decision in litter ordinance dispute

Published 8:13 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It may not be pretty, but it’s not dangerous.

The junked property of Greenwood Lane resident John Lenoir doesnot constitute a public health hazard under the Lincoln CountyLitter Ordinance of 2001 and is not subject to penalties under thatlaw, Lincoln County supervisors decided Monday. The 4-1 vote inLenoir’s favor ends – for now – a long-running campaign byunsettled neighbors to force the landowner to clean his propertyand avoids a local precedent that could have made the litterordinance a far-reaching law for potentially hundreds of junkedproperties in the county.

“We are not going to take any action on this matter,” saidsupervisors board president Doug Moak. “We feel that location is asomewhat typical county location.”

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Supervisors were wary of establishing the litter ordinance as atool against simply littered properties, saying the law’s “buzzwords” make it a tool against only such sites that are a hazard tothe health of the public. County leaders have already used the lawearlier this year to force Lenoir to remove several junked vehiclesfrom the edge of Greenwood Lane and cease a dumping operation inwhich the landowner was collecting debris from a Brookhavendemolition project for use as a roadbed.

Supervisors and neighbors to the property were afraid theconstruction waste from the Carver Heights demolition might havecontained asbestos and other harmful materials.

But the ordinance is not designed ensure all properties in thecounty are neat and presentable. Using the law to that effect wouldopen the door to numerous property disputes and bog supervisorsdown in endless inspections and rulings, Moak said.

“Our ordinance has to do with health, safety and attractivenessand to what degree you define those terms,” he said.

Board attorney Bob Allen advised supervisors on his one rule oflegal counsel – “consistency, consistency, consistency” – pointingout the hallmark of previous uses of the litter ordinance have beencentered on the health and welfare of the community.

“As with any ordinance you’ve got, it has a discretionaryclause,” he said.

Supervisors’ decision to take no further action on Lenoir’sproperty was a disappointment to Dr. Dorothy Alexander, a GreenwoodLane resident who has led the charge against Lenoir on multipleoccasions since 2003. Alexander and her neighbors have claimedLenoir’s property – which contains several abandoned vehicles andother metal rubbish – constitutes a health hazard as a breedingground for rats and snakes and subtracts from the value of homesand property on the road.

Alexander’s latest argument has focused on the litter ordinanceitself, which is written in language that seemingly does make itthe far-reaching junk-buster supervisors don’t want it to be.

She made her point Monday by quoting from the ordinance, theintent of which is “to promote a clean, healthy, safe andattractive environment in which to live” by controlling “all trash,including that which is unsightly and/or excessive inaccumulation.”

The ordinance specifically names “abandoned automobiles” and”small automobile parts,” which there are plenty of on Lenoir’sseven-acre property. It provides for misdemeanor penalties,including the cost of cleanup if the county is forced to step infor a negligent landowner.

“All in all, (Lenoir) is not in compliance with this ordinance,”Alexander said. “The board needs to abide by what is has adopted -it’s a binding ordinance. We do not need to change horses in themiddle of the stream.”

But supervisors were not convinced, and may soon saddle up to anew litter ordinance with less strict language.

“We may need to address our ordinance and dress it up a bit,”Moak said.

The decision will be welcome news for Lenoir, who feels he’sbeen unjustly targeted by Alexander in a county full of similarlyjunked properties.

Lenoir said the junked cars on his property – which he uses forspare parts and hauls for scrap – is not a health hazard and not abreeding ground for pests. Rats and snakes don’t need his junkedcars to be numerous on Greenwood Lane, he said.

“You’ve done moved in the woods. What do you think is out here?”he said about Alexander’s decision to live in the area. “I’mfeeling like this whole deal is just a fluke. Everybody has a rightto do whatever they want on their property.”