My township has fined me $5000 for my garden...

pitcom(7a)September 26, 2012

........claiming my garden blocks rainwater from getting to my own sewer on my property. Guess who my neighbor is?

Perhaps some of you may remember that I posted a while ago about some problems that I was having with my neighbor who is the commissioner, and his son who lives next door to me. They planted over 40 trees along the fence including leyland cypress to block my garden. Well, it has gotten much worse.

*This story is being published in a well known newspaper tomorrow in my region*

So, 3 years ago I built a pretty expansive garden on my property. I have grown just about everything. In that time, I have been able to loose over 85 pounds and get my life back on track, living a much healthier lifestyle. I was tired of being fat and unhealthy and decided that planting my own food was the best approach at changing my life. Through my garden, my mother was able to help nearly cure her diabetes after i convinced her to start eating food that i grew from my garden. Today she is off of all of her insulin and diabetic medication.

The problem? My neighbor just happens to be the commissioner in my town. My other neighbor, just happens to be his son. They have made it fairly public that they hate my garden. After i went door to door and had an overwhelming majority of people who live on my street sign a chicken petition, things started to take a curious turn. So curious that my commissioner neighbor and his son, purchased over 40 trees and planted them all in a line right along my property fence to block my garden. He then had the audacity to question my neighbors and ask them why they signed my chicken petition.

It's a long story, but to keep it short, the township sent me a letter claiming that my garden was restricting rainwater from reaching a sewer grate located on my property. We live at the bottom of a hill, so this could never physically be true. The township cites that this water restriction had been, "brought to their attention", by an unnamed source.

We sent certified letters to the township asking for proof that our garden blocks rainwater, and we also asked for proof of the complaint that was called into them. The township ignored our requests and failed to respond to any of our letters. After some time had passed, we received a letter from the township stating that if we did not remove or relocate our garden, they would begin fining us. The township code officer told us we had 7 days to respond to his letter. So, we called his office to talk to him, and what a coincidence, he just happened to go on vacation, so that we could not respond to him in the allotted time frame.

So, we ended up calling and talking to the township administrator. After a lengthy debate the township finally conceded and agreed to send an engineer to evaluate our property to prove what they were saying was true. Guess what? The engineer never came, the township never contacted us and on one fine day we received an envelope in the mail with 3 fines for nearly 700 each claiming that we were in violation for restricting/obstructing stormwater. The citations read that we had 10 days to respond and plead not guilty. Guess what? One of our citations were already 10 days old on the day that we received them. On the very next day, we received 4 more citations for again nearly 700 a piece claiming the same violations.

It still amazes me that this is the world we live in sometimes. People who hold positions of office just do whatever they want. They ignore laws and act as if they can get away with anything they want. Well, i decided to call every newspaper and television news station in my area. One newspaper is running the story tomorrow, and a second one just sent their photographer. I've had tv stations call me back and I am hoping it makes the evening news. At this point, we are going to have to get a lawyer. I know some of you could care less about an organic garden. But for me, this is about a whole lot more, such as property rights and personal freedom. And those two things are worth fighting for.

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dan_nz_gardener

Wow, that would infuriate me. Why did your neighbour have a problem with your garden? I wish you luck shaming those people.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 3:18AM
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ltilton

Sunshine is the best disinfectant. I hope your lawyer finds grounds to sue them for harrassment and corruption.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 5:58AM
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abnorm(Orlando)

Have you investigated to see if there is a legal easement across your property to this "sewer grate" ?....it would be noted on your property records......

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 6:50AM
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pnbrown

Agreed, if this sewer is supposed to receive surface water from areas outside your property, there would be an easement to the city recorded.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 7:38AM
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sunnibel7 Md 7(7)

Also, make sure any and all communications with the township are in writing, and use certified mail, unless you have a legal way of making a record of vocal communications (in Virginia a recording of a conversation can be made if only one person involved consents and is aware of it. For example, yourself having a conversation with someone else... The other 49 states may feel different, so find out). If you ever end up in court, a good paper trail of your reasonable responses and requests would be helpful.

What a PITA, good luck!

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 9:39AM
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abnorm(Orlando)

Here's the newspaper story:

Here is a link that might be useful: DelCoTimes

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 10:32AM
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PlantsAndYarn(5)

What a couple of toadballs you have for neighbors!! I hope you have a really good lawyer and get them good. Make as much "noise" as possible. Contact as many newspapers, TV & radio stations as possible. Perhaps the ACLU? As far as the trees they planted, when the branches grow over the property line, cut them back to the property line. Of course check the laws first. I am pretty sure you can do that w/o a problem.

My Mother has lived in the same house for 47 yrs. One neighbor had been a PITA for most of those yrs. She would call the police when the we played in the street(quiet side-street, very little traffic)& since she worked for the city she was constantly harassing my parents over lots of little things like the grass not being cut(wasn't tall, just wasn't done every Sat like hers), steps my Dad built not being up to code(inspector complemented my Dad on his work & told him 2 L brackets would make them up to code), etc. One time she called the EPA b/c the drill my brother was using was too loud!! Even though she is much younger than my 83 yr old mother, she is confined to her bed & can't do anything, let alone harass my Mom.

Good luck. Please keep us posted on this.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 1:15PM
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nc_crn

News spreading like wildfire. I have my "food protection" friends on Facebook sharing the story for the past many hours.

It's not a solution, but it's more visibility.

Good luck with your bullies.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 4:52PM
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jbclem(z9b Topanga, Ca)

You might consider a change.org petition. I've signed many of those and it seems to be easy to get a large number of signatures if your cause is just. That in itself would make a good lead for a news story.

Is this township official elected or appointed? Does he have someone above him, in the township, county, state government, who you could appeal to?

John

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 6:11PM
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dbardot(z10 CA)

He seems pretty popular! ; )

Here is a link that might be useful: Gary Robinson

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 6:12PM
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IAmSupernova(SE Texas 9A)

I wish you luck.

I had problems with neighbors at my other house, not over gardening, but well... I wasn't the greatest kid (I was always getting in trouble for BB guns and fire) and we lived across the street from a police chief (he was chief in another town though, so he had no legal power over me at my home). For the first few years I can remember, I deserved the cops getting called.. But after those few years he would start doing it for ANYTHING.

We used to have a neighbor just like him at this house too, but they're long gone, or at least I assume they are, they haven't bothered us in years.

So I can definitely understand just how aggravating a neighbor who has it out for you can be. The fact that the neighbor is in a seat of power and is abusing that power, I'd imagine is making things much worse.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2012 at 6:39PM
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stuffradio

Hopefully you win the lawsuit and get those guys out of town.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 12:00AM
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pnbrown

If you can get it to court no doubt it will all get tossed out, since it's obviously racketeering.

Collecting on damages won't be easy.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 6:36AM
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pitcom(7a)

Hey pnbrown, Unfortunately this will not get thrown out in court. They want the garden gone. We've gotten more fines and so far the total is over $6000.00. The largest paper in my region will be running the story this weekend i believe and if they do, i will be sure to post the link to keep everyone updated with the story. While the photographer was here, I was digging in my sweet potato bed and pulled out a real whopper, nearly a 6 pounder that they photographed.

There is more to the story as the Delco Times really made it a chicken issue, which it is not.

I think about 6 years ago, the township did some sewer work on our property and most of the street i live on. Quite frankly they ruined our property. After they dug in the new sewer pipe, our land started to sink real bad after a couple of years. After i had the garden for 2.5 years on the property, I could not stand the ground sinking anymore so asked the township to take a look and see if they can remedy the problem. I took videos of it raining and flooding our property, which our garden had 0% to do with. The township sent out the assistant code official and an engineer. They walked onto my yard with no tools, no cameras, no paperwork, not even a notepad and pen. They pointed to my garden and said, "this is your problem, your garden did this". Despite the giant trashcan lid sized divots forming around our property on top of their new sewer pipe that they back filled. They told me i could fill in the depressions with my own soil and put down grass seed. So I went up to the township building and took almost 12 yards of compost and back filled our property so that it would stop flooding. I then took videos of our property and it no longer had any water issues. All my township was interested in was trying to get out of their own screw up and get me to do the work. I live at the bottom of a hill, so it's impossible for their claim that our garden restricted water from the neighbors house to hold any weight. Its physically impossible. Their engineer never evaluated our garden or anything of the matter. Even now there are spots that are sinking all over again on top of their sewer pipes. The whole side of our property is sinking and water is ponding all over it. I cant even cut my grass for 3 days after it rains because your feet sink into the lawn. Guess what We have no garden there. Perhaps the town will tell us that our garden 200 feet away is causing that water problem as well.

Anyway, thanks for the comments and advice, and I will keep the story updated.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 4:10PM
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jeanwedding(6 ky)

Contact Alex Jones from Genesis Communications and or RBN (Republic Broadcasting Network) which are radio shows
Our Liberties are slowly eroding away. Wake up people "agenda 21" is coming... 1984 is a coming.....
I checked out from library 1984 and I cried could not finish it cause I know its all in the making.
American will accept anything if done incrementally. I also like to listen to Katherine Albrecht... she really is trying to wake us up.... God Bless her
I have believed this for years... long before I dropped TV watching(numbs the brain) tv watching .I took up internet radio and am radio listening to talk stations.....only most of the day via my standalone internet radio...
Just my opinion, I will jump off my stump now... LOL
Jean

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 8:42PM
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tommyr_gw

Ahhhh, America! Land of the "Free"! Enjoy your so called "freedom"! More U.S.A. failure. Pathetic IMHO.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 9:20PM
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tommyr_gw

DON'T contact Alex Jones. If that's the guy I think it is he's a complete idiot.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 9:22PM
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nc_crn

Alex Jones...spreading nonsense, fear, and making local areas run out of tin foil 1996.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2012 at 10:04PM
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mrdoitall(7)

Sounds to me like you are the one that screwed up years ago. When they came on your property to do sewer work you should have took before and after the work pictures. Then when all this happened you could sue them and make them fix all this damage.Now it looks like you will be the one to pay for the damages. Even if it was not your fault. If it was me I would just sale the place and move out in the county if you want a garden and chicken. That is what I did years ago. Out where I live know one tell you what you can and can't do. Good luck to you. Hope you don't waste all your money fighting this wrongdoing my your city. They have unlimited funds and are calling the shots. You have no chance.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 3:19AM
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pitcom(7a)

First of all mrdoitall, how did i screw up years ago? I did not live at the property years ago. Secondly, the house burned down to the ground and no one lived there for two years until it was done being rebuilt. Also I am not sure what damage you are speaking of. Moving out into the country is not the solution for most people. I've gone to school for 10 years for my line of work. To be able to work I need to be near the major cities. So the goal is to find a good middle point between having a decent property and a manageable commute. I already commute an hr to lots of places, so i certainly don't want to tack on another hour ride each way. Moving to the country is something I would do when i retire. But thanks for your input, any opinion is always welcome.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 7:42AM
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greginnd(Z4 ND)

Sorry, Pitcom. I don't follow you. Previously you claimed the city came in and ruined your property with their sewer work. I think that's what Mrdoitall was talking about.

"I think about 6 years ago, the township did some sewer work on our property and most of the street i live on. Quite frankly they ruined our property. After they dug in the new sewer pipe, our land started to sink real bad after a couple of years. After i had the garden for 2.5 years on the property, I could not stand the ground sinking anymore so asked the township to take a look and see if they can remedy the problem."

Now you say you weren't even living there and don't know of any damage.

I'm a little confused.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 9:09AM
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pitcom(7a)

Gregind, gotcha, i made an incomplete reply. My parents had this property when they did the sewer work. I owned a home in a different part of town. When I say ours, i was referring to my family. After they did the sewer work, my parents house burned down and the lot was vacant for quite a while. Once they moved back into the house, it was quite evident how badly the ground was settling where they back filled it. What I meant to say was it was not possible/practical for anyone to complain sooner because no one lived on the property after the house burned down. It was not until the house was rebuilt that I sold my home and moved into the new house. And again the property being ruined was progressive. It took time for the back filling to settle, we had all of those huge blizzards here on the east coast 2-3 years ago and it seemed like each spring after the thaw the ground had sunk a little bit more, until it was unbearable. Sorry for the confusion. I hope that makes things more clear.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 11:15AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Pitcom, I would think that when they lay a sewer that it all should settle about level after a year or two...if they left the right amount of dirt. If a huge pipe was layed, some dirt would need to be hauled away.

If dirt keeps disappearing, I would suspect that the sewer line might have a leak and with sufficient flow inside the pipe, it might suck in dirt and leave holes.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 11:52AM
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melikeeatplants

Sorry this is happening to you. Good luck with this, keep us posted.

Any pics of your garden?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2012 at 5:52PM
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topsiebeezelbub(z7 Al)

Yes it sounds like a leaking sewer line. We received an enormous water bill once and my dad checked the meter and saw it was leaking..the city said it was leaking on our side and we would have to pay. Dad replied that the city had installed the meter and failed to hook it up properly and he would not pay! I have a crazy neighbor too and cannot hiccough without her calling somebody, but she and hubby scream and curse out loud and her dogs bark all the time. Somebody always spoiling things. Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 10:51AM
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topsiebeezelbub(z7 Al)

Yes it sounds like a leaking sewer line. We received an enormous water bill once and my dad checked the meter and saw it was leaking..the city said it was leaking on our side and we would have to pay. Dad replied that the city had installed the meter and failed to hook it up properly and he would not pay! I have a crazy neighbor too and cannot hiccough without her calling somebody, but she and hubby scream and curse out loud and her dogs bark all the time. Somebody always spoiling things. Good luck.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:20AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Very sorry to hear that you are having these problems. An organic garden that helped you lose all that weight and your Mom's diabetes under control is really an amazing accomplishment. You should be very proud of yourself and don’t lose sight of that.

But….after reading the article in the paper you posted the link to, and a few of the responses that suggest you might have had some fault in it, I feel your story is not being told in as effective way as it could be, otherwise, you would not have had that reaction.

And at first it seemed like just a squabble over a neighbor not liking your garden and abusing their position to have their way. Which I’m sure has a lot to do with it, but…the whole sewer issue seems to be more central to your story. The fact that the town worked on it years ago and whether that has something to do with it needs to be presented in a clear way with facts that support your position.

After thinking about it some more, I am not sure that trying to mount public support behind you will be effective yet. I think you need some professional advise and would be better off not talking to the press or the public until you do. There seems to be real legal issues here and you don’t want to do or say anything that will make anything more complicated.

If the cost is a problem, try to find some Legal Aid in your area. Start there. You need a lawyer to stop them from piling up the fines further and to instruct you on how to go about getting the resolution you want.

I hope you will continue to post and update us on how things are going.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 4:32AM
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Edymnion(7a)

I'll see if I can get the story posted up to Fark, just as soon as I can come up with a witty headline for it.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 9:13AM
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Edymnion(7a)

And yes, I've had to deal with corrupt small town officials before. They just love to think that they have all the power and that we are their little peons.

Just do as others have said and send everything through recorded, certified mail. Keep contacting every newspaper and radio station in the area and try to get them to pick the story up. In the end though, get a lawyer and file suit against the man and the township.

In my experience, nothing short of legal action will make these sorts of tiny terrors back down. Only thing is, as long as those people are in office, you are going to have a fight on your hands for the rest of your life. You will have to keep meticulous detail of everything you do so that when they think all of the media attention has died down and they can go back to harassing you that you're prepared to start it all back up again, with your back log of evidence to prove it.

You may get lucky and a half dozen harassment suits later it will become more trouble than it's worth for them to keep pestering you, but you'll always have a great big bullseye on your back.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 9:21AM
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pitcom(7a)

My story made the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer today. You can read the story here.

http://www.philly.com/philly/gallery/20121008_Gardener__Aston_Township_at_odds_over_drainage.html?viewGallery=y

The story still leaves out much info, such as all of the certified letters we sent the township and their neglect to respond to us or provide proof of anything they said was true. Tomorrow is the court case, so we shall see what happens there. Thanks for all of the great responses.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2012 at 3:09PM
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melikeeatplants

Interested to hear what happens. I'm not sure how raised beds could impede the flow of water even if they were in front of the drains, they are raised.

If you didn't bury blocks below the soil line I don't see how you can possibly block water flow.

Good luck...

    Bookmark   October 9, 2012 at 12:18PM
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stake

Pitcom:

I grew up in Delco....I'd suggest you find a solution in Media, and if that doesn't work, go to Harrisburg. Local municipalities can be easily influenced. Try the County then State resources. The very first thing I would do is file a formal complaint with the PA AG's office.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 4:43PM
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stake

Pitcom:

One more thing that I forgot...If you have the room, I'd suggest planting some Black Walnuts on the border of your property...hope you get a good resolution.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2012 at 4:50PM
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pitcom(7a)

The case has been continued, and won't take place until some time in November. It's a while away but i will sure keep everyone updated.

Stake, thank you for the ideas. I will have to do some homework and find out who I would need to contact in media. If you could point me in any direction, you may send me an email if you have the time. Thanks a bunch.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 4:45PM
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ltilton

I trust that the fines won't keep accumulating while the case is continued.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 7:11PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

Stake, why the black walnuts at the border of the property???? Nancy

    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 9:00PM
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stake

NancyJ:

Black Walnuts have a natural toxin that kills/inhibits growth of plants round them...

Pitcom:

I have been out of that county for more than a decade. I would re-iterate, that if you local official has used his.her office to facilitate fining you, call the PA AG and file a formal complaint!. It may take some time, but you will not be ignored!...next since the issue is water based...call the fed epa. get their opinion,,,,also call pa natural resources...they have expert hydrologists... my two cents...I think there are many folks(smarter than I) that would assist you if ask for help and give them the opportunity....

    Bookmark   October 13, 2012 at 8:51PM
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pitcom(7a)

So, after many continuations, and many months. Our court case is now over. The end result was that the township had to dismiss all of the citations. We hired an engineer who proved with engineering certainty, that our garden was not responsible for anything the township claimed. The townships "expert analysis" as to why my garden restricted rainwater was due to the fact, that when the township whet to cut1 foot tall grass on a vacant property next door to me, the grass was wet when they cut it. The assistant code enforcement agent who has no rainwater qualifications and no certifications, confirmed that it was my garden that made the grass wet. This was one of several of their claims as to how they knew my garden blocked rainwater.

The storm sewer on our property is now all but ready to collapse. Through their neglect to do anything when i first alerted them over 1.5 years ago about the ground sinking on the property, a sinkhole has now formed in our yard, and the retaining wall inside of the sewer is bulging and ready to cave in.

The story is much longer, and the townships lies, assumptions, and non engineering related accusations would fill a full sheet of paper. But i just wanted to let everyone know the outcome of the story. Now, we are considering what our next move will be.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 4:50PM
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ltilton

Good to hear it! I'm sure people were wondering.

Not so good to hear about the sinkhole. Who do you get to sue when your house falls into it?

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 4:53PM
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nc_crn

Nice.

There's a lot of stories out there about "gardens being fined" that are the fault of irresponsible or unknowing home owners, but it really seemed like you had a clear cut case of bullies.

Thanks for the update...hope it didn't cost much more than a headache and congrats on the victory.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 5:14PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

good that you won over gov' regulators, but what would happen if the person being harassed did not have the money to fight such claims, and as the claims sounded ludicrous the council still pursued, wasting rate payers money. plus it must have cost you time, money and inconvenience?

this is the new world of regulation, you are guilty until you prove you are innocent not so easy to do, just like and inquisition.

hope they cop their loss, and don't try and set you up again.

len

Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 5:22PM
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galiana(5a NH)

Good for you -- I'm glad you've won. That sounds like the worst-run town imaginable. Best of luck to you whether you decide to stick it out or move along. With neighbors like those slimeballs I wouldn't blame you if you upped stakes and left town.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 7:44PM
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nancyjane_gardener(Zone 8ish North of San Francisco in the "real" wine country)

The neighbor noticed that the grass above the sewer line that goes through our properties was growing faster and staying greener than the rest of the area(it's 30 ft deep!). When she complained, they pooh poohed her. We waited til July or so when the grass dies off in this area and we both took pics of the green strip of grass!
They claimed it was the dirt being shifted, but they dug that line 50 years ago! LOL
They ended up doing a video of the sewer line (for free) showing no leaks. Who knows what area they did the video of, though! Nancy

    Bookmark   May 16, 2013 at 8:50PM
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pitcom(7a)

Gardenlen;

Yes it took us a lot of time and money. We spent several thousand dollars fighting this. However, we are planning to sue the township and those involved in the case to recoup our losses. I have also contacted the district attorney's office, and the attorney generals office of pennsylvania to file a civil rights violation case against the township. There is also a new public corruption task force that was implemented and I am trying to contact them as well. The commissioner whom I mentioned in this story has lost his political backing for the new election this year. Hopefully this story has alerted the residents to the type of person he is and he will loose his seat.

Galiana;

It's funny you mentioned moving. My fiance and myself, have just bought a home in another county. One with a much larger piece of property. In the town we are moving to, chickens and goats are legal. I am very excited about starting a new garden the way I have always wanted to, after learning from all the mistakes i made my first several years of gardening. I already have the plans drawn up for the chicken coop and garden. I will post pictures of the new place at the end of the summer.

One thing I do not look forward to is digging up my 20+ apple, apricot, and plum trees. I also have 36 blueberry bushes and 15 honey berry and currant bushes to dig up as well. It will be a busy, busy, fall, but I look forward to the prospects of the new garden.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 2:37PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

pitcom,

we wish you good tidings in your future legal exploits, the truth be known if we all stood together our gov's could not then treat us in these ways.

len

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 4:56PM
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