NDS moves to clean up Turlington Road residence after ’10 years of nitpicking’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

There’s nothing pretty about Suffolk resident Wesley Stewart’s backyard.

For almost 10 years it’s been a maze of yard clutter which evolved into abandoned tools, outdoor toys, a swing set, an unused trampoline, above-ground swimming pool, aged fencing and various forms of discarded material, anchored by a dilapidated shed.

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But while Stewart considers the items in his backyard treasures, they are a public nuisance in the city’s eyes. So much so that on Tuesday, in yet another legal chapter involving the property, code enforcers and police arrived at 213 Turlington Road to bring the property into compliance.

In Suffolk Circuit Court on Monday, Stewart asked Judge Rodham T. Delk to issue an injunction to halt Tuesday’s action. Delk denied the request. Now Stewart has filed a case in federal court because he contends his civil rights are being violated. He says the city doesn’t have any business in his yard.

&uot;I think it’s harassment,&uot; Stewart told the News-Herald on Tuesday as contractors worked diligently all day with front-end loaders and pulled large machinery and other debris from the property.

He added that many of the things are his valuables, such as a $1,000 tool box. Stewart also explained that he had simply cleaned out the shed-the only thing he thought would be cleared away-which contributed to some of the excessive remains in the yard.

&uot;We pulled things out of the shed after we were told it had to go,&uot; he added as his nine-year-old daughter looked on taking pictures.

Stewart said he does not have a listing of the items the city intended to take from his yard, and pointed to a city document specifying a shed, &uot;yard debris,&uot; and other compliance issues.

&uot;I had building materials here and they said it was trash and debris,&uot; Stewart claims.

Stewart added that since learning of the planned action on Friday, his family worked non-stop throughout the weekend to address the citations, such as the grass. He did note, however, that some areas of the lawn still lack attention.

But too little, too late was the city’s response on Tuesday.

David Freeman, director of Suffolk’s neighborhood development department, said the city has been working with the Stewarts for 10 years to no avail. Prior to some last minute initiatives, Freeman said there were several other dangers on the property, some including wires and cables extended from telephone poles.

&uot;There’s a long list of code violations here,&uot; explained Freeman at the site. &uot;This is an effort to abate a nuisance. They had several opportunities to fix this, but they didn’t, so a nuisance was declared.&uot;

Assistant City Attorney Louis A. Rosenstock III also joined city officials at the home Tuesday and said in an interview, &uot;There are a number of things in state and city code&uot; that legally permit the city to enforce the clean-up.

He added that a list was compiled and served to the Stewarts as a &uot;notice of violation&uot; on March 10 this year. The Stewarts went on to lose an appeal to City Council. The cost of the debris removal will be recorded as a lien against the property owners.

Judy Stewart said several factors have kept them from keeping the yard in tact, namely Hurricane Isabel and her husband being out of work for a while.

Even so, she disputes the city’s clean-up effort.

&uot;This is destruction of private property,&uot; said Judy. &uot;We’ve had ongoing trouble with the city since we’ve been here. I think it’s harassment that started with a neighbor calling in a complaint. This has been 10 years of nit-picking.&uot;

But Freeman said if the Stewarts had just owned up to the problems, Tuesday’s events could have been avoided.

&uot;This is a rare case when you find people who refuse to do something,&uot; he added. &uot;We’ve educated, sent notices, there’s been an appeal and they’ve still refused. They’ve resisted everything.&uot;