June 25, 2013 by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
I was hoping we’d be able to get through this stupid saga with our neighbors without really having to get into it here, but alas, no. I mention it a little bit here, but I don’t go into exactly how stupid it’s actually been, and, of course, as things like this do, it’s gotten worse since that post. So, let’s start from the beginning…
We bought this place in October 2012—a mere nine months ago. When we did, there was absolutely no indication that we were part of some suburban co-op, and we’re not. Our property entrance is on West Sunbury, whereas most of our neighbors live on the connecting road, Holyoke. We never use that road, but apparently, it’s full of sad suburban people. Fine by us, because, why should we care, right? We’ve got a total of 5.38 acres, with a beautiful barn and brick silo. This whole property used to consist of the farm house, the spring house, a chicken coup, and the barn and silo. And, of course, a few hundred acres of farmland. Our house is what used to be the spring house, complete with awesome open spring in the cellar.
When we first came to look at this place, all of the grassy areas were neatly mowed. When we bought it, we decided that some of the grassy areas would continue to get mowed, and the rest we’d let return to a more wild, more rural state. There is an acre we are currently doing nothing with, so that’s a meadow (we mow around it for neatness’s sake and road visibility, as it runs up to Holyoke). Behind the barn we’ve planted a 23-raised-bed vegetable garden. Behind the garden are a few apple trees that mark the beginning of a wooded area that stretches all the way back to the end of the property. At the very back is a clearing, also mowed.
When I say that everything was neatly mowed when we first looked at it, I mean every place they could run a lawn mower, including the woods. They mowed the woods. When I first saw it, I was confused because I didn’t think the canopy was thick enough to retard the grass growth that much. Then I thought maybe it was a certain species of grass. It never occurred to me that these people were mowing it. Now that it’s ours, it grows, and we have mown a path up through it for our enjoyment of the woods.
Now, mowing hasn’t been easy for us. Back in November, when we did try to mow around the house, we discovered issues with the lawn tractor that we bought with the house. Also, my husband was job-hunting and I was making trips up to Canada to help care for my aunt who was then dying of cancer (she died November 10th). As we struggled with this (and I really wanted to get the grass mowed at least once before winter), our neighbor, Bob (whose last name we actually still don’t know), approached my husband and asked if we “needed help mowing our lawn.” My husband gave him the benefit of the doubt (he’s a really good person) and I got defensive (I was under a lot of stress and grieving at the time). It struck me as a passive-aggressive way of telling us to mow our damned lawn. Turned out, unfortunately, I was right.
Spring was very late ’round these parts and it seemed like a long time before we could get out from under the snow. We’ve never owned land before; this is our first house, so we were excited to see how things went. I didn’t know how to weed around the house because I didn’t know was should be pulled and what should stay. We tried a few times to mow; I think we managed to get all of what was immediately around the house in two or threes tries (over the course of a couple of weeks) because the mower kept stopping and not starting again, or just stopping and smoking. Meanwhile, my husband is working, I’m working from home, and of course, there’s the garden. 23 raised beds (the land was too eroded not to), started almost 200 plants indoors, direct sowed the rest. Between the two of us, over about three weeks, we moved 25 tons of dirt. We worked hard. The deer got the corn, so we put up a four-foot garden fence. All of this…a lot of work.
At some point, Bob made another passive-aggressive lawn mowing statement to my husband. We ignored him. What was going on with us was only going to go as fast as it was going to go, so we resigned ourselves to it and pushed on (there have, of course, been any number of annoying, you-just-bought-a-house things that have taken up our time as well).
Sometime during everything, I was having my lunch when there came a knock at the door. It was Bob. The conversation went a little like this (and I’m paraphrasing, but I think it’s pretty well accurate):
Bob: Hi! (big smile) I just wanted to come over here and let you folks know what a great job you’re doing with your garden. I see you going up there all the time, and it’s awfully big, and it must be a lot of work, so I just wanted to say that you’re doing a great job.
Me: Um, thank you. That’s very nice of you.
Bob: (Pause) And while I have you here, just so you know…see those houses over there (he points up through my yard, across Holyoke to the houses of people whom I do not know and never think about)?
Bob: Well, just so you know, they’re very particular about their lawn, and things blowing into their yards… (I know he’s not speaking for them but for himself)
Me: What kind of things? (there is no trash on our property, save what we’ve cleaned up from the previous owners)
Bob: Well, you know, things…leaves…
Bob: Well, I had this big, beautiful elm tree in the front there (points to his front yard), and I had to cut it down…
Me: (stares blankly at Bob) You cut it down.
Bob: Yes, I had to cut it down, because the leaves were blowing into their yards.
Me: If my neighbors actually expected me to cut down a tree on my property because the leaves blew onto their property, my reaction would not be to cut down the tree. My reaction would be to plant more trees.
Bob: (unhappy, nervous laughter)
Me: That’s right. I don’t respond well to that sort of thing.
I went on to explain to Bob that we just moved here. We’ve only had about a month of decent weather, and we’ve been very busy. Our grass is getting tall because the mower we bought from the previous owners is broken. It’s not that we don’t want to mow the lawn, it’s that we can’t. That being said, though, when we do mow the lawn, we’re not mowing all of it. Over the next few years, there are going to be changes on this property. Trees planted, meadows growing, this and that. We want to create something different here than the previous owners had, and although it’ll take time, it’ll happen and it’ll be nice.
Bob just sort of laughed nervously, told me I had some imagination! And then he left.
And we wanted to mow the lawn. It just kept getting higher and higher. We even got desperate and asked our good, nice neighbor if we could borrow his mower, which he had to decline (and understandably so…these mowers are not cheap).
Then one day we came home to find this in our mailbox, actually mailed through the postal system.
Please note the smarmy, condescending, patronizing tone of the letter. Please also note the insinuation that we do not value our property because we haven’t mowed it (never mind the massive vegetable garden we’ve put in). At first, we were confused. What the heck was this organization and how had we bought this place without ever having heard of it? Then, as the state of the letter became more obvious (its desperate need for an editor…hey, I’m an editor! and its lack of any indication as to how one could respond to it), it dawned on us that this was a fraud and it could have only come from on place…Bob.
I was too busy angrily yelling and stomping through the house, so my husband walked over to their house, knocked on their door, and waved the letter at Bob and told him that, hey, you could have just come over and discussed this with us. He knew exactly what my husband was talking about and he tried to tell us that he was the association zoning officer and it was his responsibility to keep an eye on things like this in the neighborhood.
An email to the actual township zoning officer confirmed that they had no knowledge of the WSRRA. A chat with our real estate agent told us this kind of impersonation in order to intimidate was illegal, and then a call to the Sheriff’s office, we believe, put an end to that crap. We were told they’d give Bob a call and tell him he can’t do that. We haven’t heard about the WSRRA since.
Meanwhile, we had called a company to pick up our mower and see what was wrong with it. They said they’d pick it up, but never did. We called, they said they would, didn’t. We called another place, who did pick it up. All of that alone took about three weeks. Ridiculous. But, it turned out that whatever was causing the mower to do what it was doing would run us about $500 to fix. It was an old mower, so we thought, with the acreage we have and the age of the mower, we might be better off just sucking it up and getting a new one (it’s $500 for this one issue, how much for whatever else pops up in the next year?). So, another week and a half to two weeks later, we had a new Allis Chalmers lawn tractor (and were out about $2000…that hurt…).
The mower arrived a few days before we were scheduled to go to Florida to visit my husband’s 95- and 93-year-old grandparents. I mention their age because these aren’t ages where you just put off your visits until it’s more convenient. Unfortunately, we got hit by a three-night frost just before we had to leave (we scrambled to cover and protect all the beds—that was a very long 14-hour work-in-the-garden day). We were able to remove all the cover the day before we left for Florida. We had intended to mow, but with the frost and the scrambling, there was no time, and we went to Florida.
I didn’t think the grass could get any longer than it was, but by gum, it did! It was stunningly long by the time we returned (we were gone for about a week). And this time, in our mail box was a real notice from the township (whom Bob had called to complain) to mow our lawn. Nothing scary, nothing angry or insulting. Just a “hey, gotta get that mowed! Thanks!”
Sure! We’re happy to! And dang it, we did. We mowed the crap out of that lawn! We got home from the airport one evening and the next morning we were out there with our new mower hoping it could tackle the mess we had, and boy did it! We were amazed at how well it handled the situation. By the end of the day, we’d mown around the house, backyard and front. Over the next couple of days, we got the free acre by Holyoke mowed about ten feet around the edges. At the moment, we’ve got it mowed around the garden, a clearing in an area near the barn, and parts of our eventual paths through the woods done. Soon, we will mow around the barn and the clearing way in the back of the property. And then we’ve got it the way we want it.
It’s all done, right? We thought so. Until I got an email:
Dear Ms. Meadows,I am the Zoning Officer in the Township and would first like to thank you for cutting the grass around your home promptly after my letter. The main reason for this e mail is that it has come to my attention several of your neighbors have concerns about the grass cutting at your property and intend on voicing those concerns to the Board of Supervisors at their July 8th meeting. I felt you should be aware of this in the event you would like to attend so as to defend your position on the matter. You may also want to bring several copies (5 Supervisors) of the letter you received from WSRRA. I am sure the Supervisors would be interested in seeing the document.The meeting is Monday July 8 at 6:30 PM, 419 Sunset Dr., rear door.
All exterior property and premises shall be maintained clean, safe, sanitary and free from any accumulation of rubbish, garbage or refuse, or uncontrolled growth of grass, weeds or other vegetation.
Exception: Nothing contained herein, however, shall require the cutting of grass, weeds or other vegetation growing in areas which customarily and historically, have contained brush and dense foliage, or which remain undeveloped and are not proximate or contiguous to developed areas; nor shall any such grass, weeds or other vegetation be required to be cut or maintained where such cutting or maintaining would impose a hardship on the property owner because of the presence of extreme slope grades, crevasses, or the existence of areas which are unable to be reasonably cleared.
So, we’ll fight it at the meeting, and if we lose, we’ll see about a lawyer and start talking about the constitutionality of all this. We can apply for a variance in the zoning restrictions (the application alone costs $750). We can try to get re-zoned (I’m afraid to see what that application costs). What we know for sure is that we want a fence. We need a solid fence between our house and Bob’s house, and some other fencing around the rest of the property (we’re hoping to strategically grow vines on a tall, wire fence to block out the other neighbors). It’s all incredibly expensive, but as it is, I see no alternative. When we walk out of any door into our yard, we feel we’re being watched, judged, and harassed. We feel like we can’t do anything on our own property without the fear that we’ll go to the mailbox one day and there will be another complaint, another citation, and we’ll get dragged back through some public meeting (or worse) again. This is no way to live. This is not what we came here for.
We’re putting together a fundraising page to hopefully raise some funds for the fence. I’ve started a Facebook page for it: Block the Neighbors. Please join there to keep abreast of the goings on here and to be notified when our fundraising page goes live!