Us and Our Neighbors

13

June 25, 2013 by Kriscinda Lee Everitt

EighteenthJuneSunbury19I 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury27When 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury14When 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury18Now, 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury44Spring 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury73At 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)?

Me: Yes.

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…

Me: (laugh)

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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury21And 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 no name or return address to respond to.

Please note no name or return address to respond to.

Again, please note no name or return address. Also, he doesn't know our names either.

Again, please note no name or return address. Also, he doesn’t know our names either.

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.

Acre2I 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury76An 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…).

EighteenthJuneSunbury47The 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.

EighteenthJuneSunbury50I 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!”

EighteenthJuneSunbury54Sure! 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.
Go have got to be kidding me.
EighteenthJuneSunbury62So, after some more angry yelling and stomping through the house, I called the zoning officer to see what the hell was going on. According to him and according to the township, we’re good. We’ve done everything required of us in terms of grass maintenance. This is, apparently not good enough for Bob, who has rallied all of the neighbors along Holyoke that border our property and will be citing some piddly, poorly-worded (according to the zoning officer) snippet in the ordinance that says this:
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.
First off, it’s not uncontrolled. We are maintaining it. And second, this is right under that part:
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.
The zoning officer seems to think that expecting two people who have lives to keep 5.38 acres in golf-course condition imposes a hardship and that alone would sink his argument.
EighteenthJuneSunbury68In terms of what is and is not a reasonably clearable area…remember that mowed woods I was telling you about? Well, Bob’s not the only problem neighbor: Another neighbor bordering our woods actually asked us if he could mow into the woods (basically as an extension of his property) so that it’s nice for them to look at (and so his kid could continue to go back there with his mountain bike and create mud path through out property). We asked how far he wanted to mow and he showed us…about 3/4 across our property (!). We said, sorry, but no. We want the woods to return to being a wooded wood. Also, no more bike-riding back there. We don’t want the mud paths and, thanks to the neglect of the previous owners, there are big, old apple trees back there that are falling apart. It’s dangerous and if your kid gets hurt, well, that would be bad for him, primarily, but also, because it would happen on our property, you could sue us. So, no.
GardenJune8th32So now, instead of riding his bike through our woods, he’s set up a target with it’s back to our woods and his kid shoots his BB rifle at it. Yes, that means we can’t walk through our own property without being worried about getting our eyes shot out.
June16thSunbury7I won’t go into the mess of all of this right now, in terms of the upcoming meeting. Thanks to the zoning officer, we now know that we have a Board of Supervisors meeting to attend on July 8th. No sense in getting into that here, now. I’ll update this with a new post after that meeting.
We sank most of our savings into buying this property and the house in order to do with it what we wanted—we wanted to grow our own food, maybe have some chickens for our own eggs. We’d like to have a pumpkin patch and donate pumpkins to families and businesses in town. We wanted a peaceful woods to walk in and we wanted to create a little zen garden in the back clearing. Someday we’d like solar panels (which we’d be able to afford sooner were it not for this garbage). We wanted growth and paths and a feeling of being in the country. We did not want to live in a suburban wasteland, and as with anyone who buys a house and land, you don’t look at it the way it is right that moment, but you see its potential in terms of how you envision your life there. This is not a gated community; we did not sign into a homeowner’s association. We have a barn and woods, for God’s sake.
This is us last year on our wedding day. I'm writing this two days after our first-year anniversary. Little did we know what stupidity we were facing once we bought this place...

This is us last year on our wedding day. I’m writing this two days after our first-year anniversary. Little did we know what stupidity we were facing once we bought this place…

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!

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13 thoughts on “Us and Our Neighbors

  1. Moonwaves says:

    Oh, what a pain to have to go through. I’m glad to hear that you’re going to fight it and hope that it doesn’t get you too much down. Next time you’re talking to that zoning office, find out what the rules are about using a BB gun in an area where there are likely to be people – surely that can’t be allowed? Have you met any of the other neighbours that B. seems to now be claiming the support of? Could be they just nod and let their eyes glaze over if they know what he’s like perhaps? Might be worth going over to them sometime and introducing yourselves, explaining what your plans are, etc. Or at least, I think that’s what the conventional wisdom would say to do. I’m not entirely convinced but it might be worth a shot. Have a neighbourhood barbeque and invite everyone (except a certain someone who has made it clear he’s not interested in being neighbourly). :)
    Hope things work out. I have read through enough of your archives to be sure: are you actually in a town? I had the impression that you were way out in the country. Although there are people who move to the country and then complain about the smell of cow shit so just being in the country wouldn’t be a guarantee you could doing country things like raising your own food.

    • Kriscinda says:

      I think this is too far gone to bother with talking to any more neighbors. We’re just going to try to make the best case we can and hope the Board of Supervisors have a little common sense and basic decency. =) As for the kid with the BB gun—I am going to ask the zoning officer about that, but I’d like to handle it separately from all of this other crap. I don’t want it to seem like we’re just harassing them for harassing us. But it *does* need to be addressed, because someone (one of US) is going to get hurt. =( Oh, and we’re not in town…we’re about two miles out of the town proper. The guy who owns the property right next to ours (on the other side, opposite these idiots) has woods and fields. He had elk on that property, for shit’s sake!

  2. Oh gosh, you poor things :( We have horrible neighbours too and I know what it feels like, it puts me off even gardening out in our front yard…all because they thought I called the police on them and I certainly did not. I can only imagine how you guys are feeling!!! Your property looks amazing, I hope in time it can become the haven you hoped it to be.

  3. What a load of complete and utter horse dung! (Them, not you) I would bet these would be the sort to expect you to assist them at the slightest issue too. Aside from a noisy neighbour and his dogs I can’t complain about ours and having a cemetary across the creek means that it’s dead quiet on that side at least. ;)
    I hope common sense prevails at your town meeting and I look forward to your blog post on July 9th to tell us all that you won your case and B is eating his nasty little notes. Best of luck.

  4. Linne says:

    Reblogged this on A Random Harvest and commented:
    Some of you may not have seen this post, so I thought I’d drum up some more support for the Fence . . . It’s so sad that so many people want “power over” instead of “power to”, isn’t it? Well, we’ll just keep on keeping on and eventually we shall overcome . . . ~ Linne

  5. narf77 says:

    I don’t think you need to cross your fingers, I think the law is on your side and good ole Bob and his old boy mates are just trying to use their collective muscle to keep the status quo. You are not alone in your endeavours. As more and more “young folk” move to the countrified areas of the U.S. in search of a greener more sustainable life the old folk are just going to have to suck it up and learn that a neatly manicured property does NOT do anything towards rebalancing the equation between man and nature. It’s their generation that stuffed us up in the first place and now they want to hamper the change that’s needed to rectify the problem…parasites! Sorry you had to go through this. We have our own “bad neighbours”. On one side the neighbours clear everything and spend their (retired) days whipper snipping everything down to an inch high. To the rear we have view hungry neighbours who want us to clear a line of sight all the way down to the water on our 4 acre property…yeah RIGHT! Unlike you, we are zoned rural and they have bucklies hope of doing anything about us. We leave our back bush block to grow tall grass and I am going to start planting out olive and fig trees but I doubt they will survive…it seems there is some sort of strange wasting disease that occurs on the back block. Any small trees that manage to grow miraculously disappear as soon as they invade the view…funny that ;). I understand your anger but don’t let it eat you up. You have the law on your side. Press the point that being a responsible land owner is part of what you are doing. You are improving the land and the value of the land by returning it to how it is meant to be, its healthy ecology. You are preventing desertification! It might be time to round up a few hippies that are no doubt hunkered down in your local community to accompany you to your meeting. Nothing like a few supporters (with dreads preferably ;) ) to put the wind up the oldies. Especially when they are wearing knitted rainbow trousers! ;). Seriously though W.T.F?! These people have to be kidding!

    • Kriscinda says:

      Hahaa…we need to start an army of dreaded, knitted hippies to convene on our property once a month or so, just to mill around the acre next to Bob’s yard and loudly lament the pile of wood in his yard that was so recently a lovely maple.

      Yeah, all in all, I don’t think there’s anything that they can do about how we want to have our property. But, boy, they sure can waste our time trying! *grumble*

      • narf77 says:

        It goes both ways Kriscinda…where they have a “delightful” series of swans made out of tyres with nice fuchsias planted in them, you can have a delightful rainbow coloured gay couple entwined in an embrace at the edge of your woods. They might get a bit of target practice but hey, at least they will make a statement ;). Those hippies in knitted rainbow trousers could stage sit-in’s in the trees in the woods and have picnics under the trees with their vegan hotdogs and you could host days where you invited the local permaculture group to your woods to check out all of the biodiversity that ended with a bbq cookout right on the edge of the property. Where they are currently getting all the privacy in the world in “their” enclosures, it might be good to remind them that you are a good neighbour (at the moment) BUT things can change. Remember that football team that you support? You might want to get a series of garden gnomes (cheap ones from the dollar shop) and paint them (badly) in your football teams colours and line the boundary fenceline with them. If any of them accidentally got shot in the line of duty then you could report them to the sheriff…it really does go 2 ways Kriscinda…I agree with you about the fence though. I think that you NEED a fence. When we moved to Tasmania my father lured us here with the promise of a house rent free in the city. Who wouldn’t jump at the chance? It would allow Steve and I to retrain at a local college, something we never had the opportunity to do before. The only thing was that there was a “nice old man” living in the granny flat behind our house who never said boo to a goose (dad’s words exactly). When we arrived we found him to be nice but nosey. I know he was lonely but under that loneliness was an absolute control freak who would twitch his curtains whenever any of us went out the back door and who would phone my father up about everything that we did! He watched my daughter get changed in her bedroom and he started to manipulate us to do what he wanted. In the end we put up a HUGE fence between our 2 homes to stop him from ruining our lives. I couldn’t even go out in the back yard without him demanding something of me. It caused a HUGE fight with my father because as soon as the fence went up, dad insisted we take it down because it was ruining the old mans view! I ended up winning but it all went downhill from there. The old man would invite his awful friends around and they were truly horrific! When dad died he knew that the writing was on the wall. He hated that I was his landlord and even though I was as nice as pie (through Steve) to him, he tried to do the most damage that he could before he left the unit. I know how bad neighbours can get and believe me, yours are not there yet. It might be best to just remain civil and be the best citizen that you can. At least then they can’t hold anything that you did up to keep their flames burning…it will all be down to them. At least you have lots of us on your side and who knows, you might raise more than enough money and you can install a set of spotlights on the perimeter of the fence, trained down into the neighbours yards that activate with movement? I hear that moths set them off ;).

      • Linne says:

        I volunteer to join THAT army!! ;-)

        Not dreading my hair, though . . . the idea appeals, but it might scare me if I got a glimpse in the middle of the night!

        I do agree with Narf7 as to the initial attitude (keep your eyes on the long-range goals). One can always escalate later; de-escalating is trickier. In the meantime, blogging is a good way to deal with extreme fantasy . . . I bet you could get a saleable humourous book out of it, too . . . nice, decent ecological metalheads move to the country, begin to resuscitate an eroded patch on Mother Terra, and look how the neighbours react! Then some metalfriends buy property just down the road . . . followed by awesome Hallowe’en parties, and so on . . .

        I’d buy a copy! ;-)

        Sent from my iPhone

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