Local neighborhood ‘nuisance’ property finally cleaned up

The “stinking mess” is finally gone.

After terrorizing surrounding streets with piles of trash, cars and people spilling over into its neighbors’ properties and lives for decades, the makeshift junkyard on the corner of Alaska Avenue and Mile Hill Drive was finally removed.

“I am so happy,” said Sally Hubble, who lived behind the property owned by Evelyn Hetrick for years and helped organize a protest nearly three years ago that included more than a dozen fed-up neighbors demanding Kitsap County officials take action.

“Now, we’re planning a party,” she said.

Hetrick, 63, sold the property last month after living there for 35 years with varying numbers of family members, many of whom she said were disabled and could not do the necessary cleanup work.

“I’ve lived there for 32 years and I’ve never seen (my neighbors) lift a hand to help me,” Hetrick said while her neighbors marched near her driveway in January 2003. “They just think I’m lazy and my kids take advantage of me, but I don’t think they have the right to harass us.”

Just weeks after it was purchased by Chad Brown of American Dream Homes, the home was being rehabilitated this week while the lot was already wiped clean of the numerous junk cars, trailers, scrap heaps and just plain garbage that sometimes receded, but never completely disappeared.

“This is probably the single most complained-about property that I’ve had to deal with,” said Steve Mount, a code enforcement officer with Kitsap County’s Community Development Department, who said he struggled to resolve the problems with the property for at least five years.

“(Hetrick) has been written up and the property has been cleaned up, but then the materials re-accumulate,” Mount said.

In the past county officials had few tools at their disposal, he said, and what they had was very blunt.

At the time Hetrick’s neighbors’ frustrations bubbled over into a protest, Mount said code officers could only cite her for the junk vehicles and scrap materials around her home, efforts that were largely futile and just as frustrating to county staff as her neighbors.

“In some cases, we were just wasting our time and county resources (by repeatedly visiting properties) and issuing citations for, ultimately, no relief,” he said. “But now, with the (public nuisance) ordinance, the county has a credible deterrent and something it can do. It is a tremendous tool.”

Passed in 2003, Mount said the ordinance allows the county to force cleanups of properties like Hetrick’s by filing “warrants of abatement,” and was the critical first step in a two-year process that finally gave his department some traction in such cases after years of spinning its wheels.

With the new ordinance in place, Mount said the following year the Kitsap Nuisance Abatement Team was formed, and the third and final step was completed this year when the county allocated $150,000 to the team.

Now with the law, staff and money behind it, Mount said his department is making progress on several nuisance properties, including the former Hetrick place.

On Aug. 5, Mount said his staff was preparing to file a warrant in Superior Court to clean up her property when they were notified she was selling it.

“My conclusions we were that she (finally decided to sell it) because we were coming with a warrant,” he said. “The past civil infractions had little or no effect. This cleanup would not have happened (without the ordinance).”

Since the property changed hands, Mount said the change in appearance and emotions has been a 180-degree turn.

“Now, instead of repeated complaint calls from (the same frustrated neighbors), I’m getting calls of thanks and kudos,” he said, recalling that recently when the county crews showed up at the property, people “stopped, honked, waved, and even walked up and thanked us. It makes you feel good after years of frustration.”

Hubble expressed the same relief, saying her house finally “feels like a home again.

“It wasn’t just how the place looked,” she said. “It was the crime, the noise, the pollution. Now, we’re just so thankful. It’s so nice to feel safe again in our neighborhood.”

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