Neighbors sit by during long court battle over ‘eyesore’ property
As attorneys in Merrimack County Superior Court yesterday flipped through nearly 200 photos of Gamil Azmy’s property on Route 103 East, Judge Richard McNamara sent a bailiff to check his schedule for today.
Set up another hearing, the judge told him. This case would need another day.
“We’ll work through all this,” McNamara said. “I understand I’ve got all afternoon (Friday) and . . . we’ve got to get this done.”
And as what was supposed to be one last hearing ended with yet another court date on the calendar, the neighbors to Azmy’s farm went back to their neighborhood without a resolution again.
Michael Evans, who lives across the road from Azmy’s property, shook his head as he stood up to leave the courtroom after yesterday’s hearing.
In this case, he’s used to waiting.
“That’s what we’ve been doing for five years,” Evans said. “In the meantime, we have to live across the street from this s---hole.”
Town officials asked a judge yesterday to levy $29,600 in fines against Azmy and his wife, Lois, who own an 18-acre property that straddles both Webster and Warner. The parties have been fighting for years about debris, machinery and out-of-service vehicles on the Azmys’ land, which they argue is a working farm.
In May 2011, the couple signed a settlement agreement with the towns that promised to store materials and equipment in permanent structures, and to clean up other debris on the property.
But that settlement wasn’t the end Azmy’s neighbors hoped it would be. In June 2012, McNamara found the Azmys in contempt of court for not complying with the agreement and ordered them to clean up the property again. The order also required the couple to pay a fine of $50 a day for each day past Nov. 15, 2011, that they did not do so.
The Azmys have petitioned for an abatement of their fines, but town attorney Bart Mayer wants the judge to permit the towns to enforce the settlement – and to remove broken-down vehicles and other debris from the Azmys’ property.
“The agreement was not a license (for these items),” Mayer told the judge yesterday. “It was an agreement to clean up the property.”
The Azmys have argued they put hundreds of hours of work into building permanent storage structures required in the agreement. Gamil Azmy keeps a host of animals on his land, and he has said he sells a range of items from produce to birdhouses to aquaculture systems.
“I’m not a gentleman farmer,” Azmy said in a November interview. “I’m a gentleman, and I’m a farmer. But I’m not a gentleman farmer. I would like to be a gentleman farmer, but it takes money.”
Mayer and the Azmy’s attorney, John Vanacore, began yesterday to work through pictures from an inspection in October and an extensive list of items the town claims are in violation of the settlement agreement.
Mayer showed the judge pictures of four powerboats on the property – the settlement allows only three – and the saplings that have grown up inside them as they sit.
“Sure, everybody is allowed to have boats,” Mayer said. “What we’re suggesting here and also stated in our motion is that they’ve turned to junk by now when you have crops growing in them. You have saplings growing in your boats.”
Vanacore and the Azmys had little time to respond to Mayer yesterday, but they promised to produce copies of the registrations for all the vehicles on Mayer’s list. The settlement allows 18 vehicles on the property – but only three can be uninspected, and only two of those can be unregistered. Before the attorneys could continue, the court closed for the day.
The parties will appear before the judge again at 1:30 p.m. today.
As he walked out of the courtroom, Karl Thulin described the vehicles that line the Azmys property on Route 103, just south of his own driveway.
“It’s more than an eyesore. . . . It’s unmanageable,” Thulin said. “It’s unruly, and it’s unfair. It’s really unfair.”
The constant pileup of debris on the Azmys’ property is “a moving target,” Thulin said, too difficult for the town to regulate.
“It looks like a junkyard,” he said. “It is a junkyard.”
It’s definitely doesn’t look like a farm from the street, Evans said.
“He doesn’t have any land to graze anything,” Evans said. “He doesn’t sell any produce or eggs.”
Even if the judge does order the towns to enforce the settlement agreement and fine the Azmys, Evans said he’s not sure he’ll be happy with the state of his neighbor’s property.
“Probably not to my satisfaction.”
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)