Sunday, May 11, 2003

Junk yard

Peeyew! There goes the neighborhood


In the middle of a clean street of small, neat homes in Madison Place, one house - at 6911 Merwin Ave. - sticks out like a missing tooth in the Mona Lisa's smile. It bristles with antennas, smells like a dump and looks like it was bombed by flying garbage trucks.

"We found unsanitary living conditions that translate into health risks. Debris, animal waste, junk and papers," said Walter Handy, Cincinnati Health Department assistant commissioner.

Capt. Bob Becker, fire prevention supervisor for the Cincinnati Fire Department, said: "Inside the house, it is filled on every floor with debris, with just walking paths through the house. If there's a fire, we would not be able to get the people out who live there, and it would jeopardize our firefighters.''

The neighbors say - well, that's almost unprintable.

"I found a dead rat by my swing set last summer," said Kathy Laube, whose children play in her back yard just over the fence from piles of junk.

Kris Kurtz, who lives across the street from 6911 Merwin, says the smell is so bad she can't open her windows. On the moderately warm day in May when I visited, the odor of eau de landfill filled the air.

I counted 21 antennas, some two stories high, connected to nothing. There were plastic flamingos, bird feeders, piles of soggy clothing, furniture, traffic cones, building debris, garden hoses, a fishing net, gas cans, an ancient outboard motor, garbage cans, dirty patio umbrellas, a tangled scribble of extension cords and utility lights, home-built plywood shanties, a lifetime collection of torn blue tarps, broken screens, a milk can and a sad-looking Virgin Mary from a Christmas cr╦che.

"He's been filling it up with other people's stuff for three years," said neighbor Carl Ayres.

For three years, with help from the city's health and fire departments, the neighbors have been fighting to get Charles O'Bryan, 46, to clean up his mess.

What deadline?

Finally, Municipal Judge Cheryl Grant gave O'Bryan 30 days to clean it up and put an extra-large city Dumpster in front of his house.

O'Bryan said, "I've been going through stuff and pitching stuff." But his neighbors say he's just adding to the mini-landfill.

When his deadline came on May 2, the judge gave O'Bryan six more weeks.

Frank Prouty, assistant city prosecutor, said he understands the neighbors' frustration, but the judge's decision "does not mean we're going to sit back and walk away." He said O'Bryan faces 180 days in jail if he doesn't clean up by June 13.

O'Bryan admits his previous home in Fairfax was condemned. But, he said he's trying: "I messed up my shoulder," he said.

His mother, Mildred Stephenson, said the problem is the fault of their neighbors - and their complaints are making her sick. "This is causing me health problems."

She said she has five "small dogs" and her son has two German shepherds in a backyard pen.

The judge said she cannot talk about the case. Capt. Becker said, "These things take time. We're doing all we can, but we can't just go in and take stuff."

The neighbors are furious that the deadline was not enforced. "If he cleans it up, it will just be like this again in three months," said Laube. "I can't live like this. He can't do this in a residential neighborhood."

O'Bryan thinks everyone else on Merwin Avenue is wrong. "One neighbor causes all the problems," he said.

Right answer. Wrong neighbor.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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