Back yard brawl

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By Ben Carlson

When family members wanted to have a wedding in Shelby Phillips' back yard, they took one look at her neighbor's yard and said "no way."

The property behind Phillips' Ballard Street home is a tangle of overgrown weeds, piles of scrap lumber, junked vehicles and other debris that she says poses a health hazard and is driving down adjacent property values.

"We all keep our yards nice and neat," said Phillips. "But this is horrible. It ruins everybody's back yard."

Phillips, whose back yard includes a vegetable garden, a host of flowers and a canopy beneath which family members gather for cookouts, said the overgrown property and debris behind her make her worry for the safety of children when they visit.

"There just has to be snakes in that mess," she said Monday morning while walking through her back yard. "We have a good time back here having dinner and playing cornhole, but I'm scared a snake's going to crawl out of there. It just keeps getting worse."

The property is located at 126 Bell St., which runs perpendicular to Ballard.

The property is owned by Charles and Betty Sutherland, according to records at the Anderson County Property Valuation Office. The portion of the property that faces Bell Street includes what appears to be a house being remodeled. Behind it is a mobile home that is surrounded by a wooden fence.

Phillips said she has complained repeatedly to city officials, but nothing happened as a result.

Mayor Edwinna Baker said Monday that she didn't recall speaking with Phillips, and said that the Sutherlands have not been cited or fined previously for the Bell Street property.

When told Monday afternoon of Phillips' complaints, Baker visited the property site, along with City Clerk Robbie Hume, building inspector Tom Bond and public works director Larry Hazlett.

"I've been there myself and it's horrible," said Baker.

Asked which of the city's codes the property is in violation, Baker said, "From what I've seen, I think he has violated all of our codes."

Reached Monday by phone at her home in Alton Station, Betty Sutherland said this is the first time she's heard of any code violations at the property and insisted that her family is in the process of cleaning it up.

"It's just taking time and I know it's been time," she said. "If there's violations going on, I sure wish someone would have let us know about it so we can correct it.

"We're in the process of getting rid of some of the vehicles. My husband is retired now and beginning to do some of it. It just takes time."

Baker said she has asked the city's attorney to draft a certified letter to the Sutherlands, informing them of the violations. She said they would likely be given until Dec. 31 to fix the violations or be fined.

"That's not carved in stone," she said. "We have to make sure they are given enough time."

A building permit was issued in April 2007 to the Sutherland's son, Jason, to remodel the house at the front of the Bell Street residence.

The permit was to remodel the house while Jason Sutherland lived in a mobile home behind it.

Baker said Jason Sutherland has asked the city for permission to burn the lumber piles that consist of scraps from the home, but was told he would have to have it hauled away.

Although the Sutherlands have not been fined, Baker said Jason Sutherland has been contacted several times about his building permit. She said if progress isn't made on the house, the permit would expire.

Baker said there are a variety of codes on the city's books, including those regarding vehicles.

"Vehicles have to be licensed and drivable," said Baker. "There's a difference between them sitting broken down for six or eight weeks and a couple of years."

Phillips said she is glad to hear that the city is planning to take action and hopes the situation can be resolved.

"I'm just afraid he'll pay the fines and things will just stay the same back there," she said. "It's not just me. My neighbors don't like this, either, and they've complained about it, too.

"We just want something done."