Judge tours disputed Webster-Warner property
The legal battle over the state of Gamil and Lois Azmy’s property spilled out of the courthouse and onto their land Thursday, and now the couple and the towns may be a step closer to resolving the yearslong dispute.
At issue is the condition of the couple’s 18-acre property that sits on the Warner-Webster town line. Neighbors and town officials liken the land to a junkyard, and the Azmys contest it is a working farm.
This week, Judge Richard McNamara left Merrimack County Superior Court, where he has overseen the case for years, and toured the land himself.
Following the 30-minute walk, McNamara and the attorneys convened back at the courthouse.
Now, the Azmys’ attorney, John Vanacore, said both lawyers will work together to come up with a final list of cleanup goals that the towns want met. If the list is completed within a certain time frame, there may be no need for further litigation.
Bart Mayer, counsel for Warner and Webster, didn’t return a call for comment.
“Everyone that has been involved in this litigation at this point in time is very impressed at the enormous effort Gamil and Lois Azmy have invested in bringing their property into compliance,” Vanacore said. “I think we are really close right now . . . about 90 percent of the way there.”
In May 2011, the Azmys signed a settlement agreement with the two towns pledging to clean up debris on their property and store materials and equipment in permanent structures. The agreement also set limits on what the couple can store; for example, they are allowed a maximum of 18 motor vehicles and a set number of boats.
But one year later, in June 2012, McNamara found the Azmys in contempt of court for not complying with that agreement. He ordered they clean up the property again and pay a $50 fine for each day they did not comply after Nov. 15, 2011.
Those fees now amount to roughly $30,000, and McNamara will set a future hearing date to determine whether the Azmys will be held responsible, Vanacore said.
On Thursday afternoon, McNamara, clad in hiking boots and sunglasses, convened court at the couple’s property on Route 103 East. Accompanied by an eight-person group consisting of both lawyers, the Azmys, a selectman from both Warner and Webster, and two security personnel, he circled the property, walking through the animal pens, by the farmstand and gift shop, and down the hill behind the couple’s home that slopes into the Warner River.
McNamara made clear the tour was purely to see the land, specifically places of issue pointed out by both attorneys, and to take pictures. McNamara snapped several on his iPhone throughout the walk.
Mayer asked the judge to note buried debris, including a rug sticking out from the soil and roofing and building materials sitting out on the property, among other things.
Vanacore, in close conversation with Gamil Azmy for much of the tour, pointed out things to the judge including several new structures his client had constructed to store equipment.
“It’s a lot cleaner than it was,” said selectmen Chairman Roy Fanjoy after the tour. But he said that the state of the property has caused neighbors’ home values to decline.
Michael Evans was one of several neighbors, not permitted on the tour, who watched from across the street.
“It looks like a used junkyard,” said Evans, 71. He has lived across from the Azmys more than eight years, and in that time he said animals have escaped and ended up on his property. He also said he has been unable to sell his home. “Who would want to live across the street from that?”
“It’s not beautiful, it’s functional,” said Gamil Azmy, 69, before the tour. “It’s a working farm, seven days a week.” Pointing to a pile of wood, Gamil Azmy said, “See this? It’s not junk. I see fencing.” After the tour, he said he got the feeling the judge saw that.
On the property, the Azmys raise goats, sheep, chickens and pigs, and grow produce during the summer months. “I am fighting for the farm,” he said. “We are going to stay farming, and that is what I am going to do until the day I die.”
(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)