Yard that irks neighbors slowly being cleaned up
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Bill Short is making strides toward the Nov. 15 deadline Port Townsend officials set for cleaning up the public areas of his land.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — A man who has drawn criticism from his neighbors for his accumulation of scrap wood and metal has agreed to a city-mandated schedule to clean up the public areas of his land.

Bill Short, who has lived in the house at 1124 Van Ness St., for all of his 76 years, has spent the past few weeks cleaning a corner of the property and plans to tackle the remainder of the 9,000-square-foot lot in keeping with a Nov. 15 deadline.

In the meantime, city officials are satisfied that no hazardous materials are on the property, according to an email distributed Friday by Rick Sepler, the city's development services director.

Sepler reported that East Jefferson Fire-Rescue Assistant Chief Bob Low and code enforcement volunteer Jerry Speickerman visited the property last Wednesday and determined there were no safety hazard or toxic materials on site.

The officers reported that containers that could have held hazardous liquids were either empty or contained properly stored motor oil and that while some rotten wood will need to be removed, there is no immediate fire hazard.

Aside from four city officials, the email's recipients included residents of the neighborhood who either complained or expressed concern about the situation.

“Many of you will not be satisfied with this information and believe that a hazard exists and the schedule for cleanup should be accelerated,” Sepler wrote.

“The City is not in a position to take action without evidence of hazard (which does not exist).

“We believe the approach and timetable is appropriate given that we are dealing with a decades-long situation, and we are making progress and providing
. . . the opportunity for voluntary correction.”

Short has not been charged with a criminal violation or fined but was notified that he is in violation of the city's nuisance and fire codes, Sepler said.

Jim Patton, who used to live a few houses away, is helping Short, he said, because Short always has been generous and helpful to the neighbors.

Said Jeanne Boyer, who lives adjacent to Short: “We want to be good neighbors. But we are concerned about any fire or safety hazards.”

Sepler said the case was “one of the most extreme” he has ever dealt with, not only due to the potential violations but for the controversy it has caused in the neighborhood.

Since a plan was agreed upon Jan. 13, Short has completed the first phase of the cleanup. Two more phases are planned.

Sepler said that if the conditions are not met, Short could face a fine or a sanction, but if safety requirements were met, the city would take no action.

“We want to protect people's safety, but we also need to protect the rights of the individual,” Sepler said. “We have no right to tell anyone what to do with their private property.”

The items are mostly wood and metal that are stacked in an organized way, Short said, and much of the wood and scrap metal is still used.

“I grew up with no money, so if you needed something you made it from what you already had,” he said. “I have use for all this stuff. I still fix airplanes, boats and cars.”

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 16. 2013 6:30PM
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