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Neighbors flower dispute heard by commissioners

August 18, 2010

This seems to be the summer of neighbor issues at the lake, according to the county commissioners, and when these issues can’t be resolved privately, they can evolve into costly and time-consuming public issues.
At the Whitley County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday, two Shriner Lake residents were present to discuss a potential nuisance complaint regarding one resident’s flowers and fence placed near the edge of the road. The other resident said he was acting on behalf of several others who thought the neighbor’s plantings blocked the view and created a safety hazard for drivers coming around the curve in the road and wanted them removed.
Because the flowers and fence extend onto what is likely a few inches of the county’s road easement, it could become the county’s issue if the nuisance complaint is filed.
According to the commissioners, this isn’t the first case of this kind they’ve heard this summer.
But is safety the real issue, or is it a personal matter that the neighbors need to resolve privately? If the issue can’t be settled among the neighbors, should the county pay legal fees to take action to protect its easements? That’s the decision in the hands of the county commissioners, who hear these cases and must decide the course of action.
“This seems to be the summer for neighbor issues at the lake, and these guys, every time one of these come up, they’ve got a tough judgment call to make,” county attorney Dan Sigler said.
Commissioner President Mike Schrader said how the commissioners respond to such claims requires careful consideration of how severe the violation is and what kind of problems it could cause.
“If we ask this gentleman to comply and move back, we are opening ourselves to everybody else that has the same thing, and we’re going to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on attorney fees and whatever to solve a situation which personally I think is a conflict between two neighbors,” commissioner Tom Rethlake said. “We sit here and say you’re adults, get along, but that’s up to you. We can’t force you to ... and if we have to take a course of action, we will probably recommend that it’s settled in court on some sort of civil case.”
If that were the case, the county would have to pay attorney fees in addition to paying the costs of figuring out where the center of the driven road is and where the easement ends, since oftentimes the roads that are originally platted and paved change over the years as they are driven on, especially around curves and turns.
“You certainly don’t want to be paying me my hourly rate to be handling cases around the lake, but the other thing you don’t want to do is walk into a courtroom with a case you can’t win,” Sigler said.
County Highway Director Mike Barton said there are likely numerous other instances of residents putting plants or fences on the edge of the easement, but those neighbors just aren’t complaining. He advised that he thought there were ways to solve the conflict without a court battle.
The owner of the property suggested adding a speed bump so people slow down coming around the curve, or put up some kind of sign to make drivers more aware of the curve. Rethlake said that in the past the commissioners have denied requests for speed bumps, so that’s not a good option.
In the end, the commissioners tabled the discussion for 30 days so that the two parties could meet with Barton and Sigler to try to work out a compromise.
Commissioner Don Amber, an emergency responder for 30 years, attributes many of the neighborly disputes to the scorching temperatures this summer.
“It’s the heat,” he said. “People get frustrated and they get upset and they don’t want to work with their neighbors.”

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