Judge sets final date for cleanup of property disputed by towns of Warner, Webster
Neighbors of Gamil and Lois Azmy watched in Merrimack Superior Court as Azmy represented himself against the towns of Warner and Webster over a contempt of court for allegedly not cleaning his property.
(John Tully/Monitor Staff)
Gamil Azmy and Lois Azmy were in Merrimack Superior Court on May 4, 2012, representing themselves against the towns of Warner and Webster over a contempt of court for allegedly not cleaning his property.
(John Tully/Monitor Staff)
A Merrimack County Superior Court judge has set a November deadline for a Warner couple to comply with an agreement to clean up their property, the latest step in a long legal battle that has been to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and back.
Gamil and Lois Azmy will clean up their 18-acre property on Route 103 East by Nov. 15, Judge Richard McNamara ordered yesterday, or the towns of Webster and Warner will do it for them at the expense of the landowners.
“The goal of this court is to vindicate its June 2012 order and have the property cleaned in accordance with the settlement agreement that was entered into by the parties,” McNamara said. “This case has gone on for a very long time.”
The Azmys have been battling Webster and Warner for years over the state of their property, which is uphill from the Warner River and straddles both towns. Town officials and neighbors complained that debris, machinery and out-of-service vehicles on the Azmys’ property violated town ordinances and had become a nuisance.
The couple signed a settlement agreement in May 2011, promising at that time to store materials and equipment in permanent structures on their property.
The settlement included three dates for town officials to inspect the property and check on their compliance, but a number of delays and disagreements about those inspections brought everyone back before McNamara’s bench. In June 2012, McNamara found the Azmys in contempt of court for not complying with the agreement and ordered them to clean up their property yet again. The order also required the couple to pay a fine of $50 per day for each day past Nov. 15, 2011, that they did not do so.
Those fines now total $29,600.
The Azmys appealed McNamara’s decision to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. But in June 2013, the couple lost again.
Yesterday, they appeared with attorney John Vanacore to defend the state of their property yet again. Vanacore said Gamil Azmy works four hours every day to make changes complying with the settlement. The couple has also filed a petition for abatement of the staggering fines they now owe.
“These are working farmers, and they’ve taken huge strides at this point in attempting to bring their property to compliance,” Vanacore said after the hearing. “They’ve cleaned the place up.”
In order to prevent further disagreements over inspections of the Azmys’ property, McNamara ordered two representatives from each town be allowed to examine it no sooner than Sept. 30. Those four officials will be allowed to take pictures and to bring rakes, hoes and shovels onto the property to check for buried trash.
That inspection will allow the towns and the Azmys to make a checklist of what needs to be cleaned up by the Nov. 15 deadline, McNamara said. If the Azmys and the towns disagree over that list, they should come back to court before the deadline to determine what does and doesn’t need to be done.
McNamara will also rule
on the Azmys’ petition for abatement of their fines in November.
Mike Evans, 70, has lived across the street from the Azmys since 2005 and sat in the courtroom with a handful of other neighbors yesterday. He has watched the property grow “worse and worse” from his own home over the years, he said after the hearing.
“I have to look out at it every time I look out my front windows or go out my front door. . . . If we want to sell our house, we can’t because we live across the street from a junk yard,” Evans said.
The neighbor disagreed with Azmy’s claim that he has taken steps to comply with the agreement he signed. While he cannot see the entire property from his own, Evans claimed the amount of equipment, debris and unattended vehicles outside the front of the Azmys’ house has not improved. A visiting grandson noted a lack of progress in the yard across the street as well, Evans said.
“He said to me, ‘Grandpa, it looks worse now than it did a year ago,’ ” Evans said.
McNamara’s voice was stern when he addressed the courtroom of town officials and individuals who have stood before his bench time and time again.
“I’m not out to ruin the Azmys, but they are causing harm every day that the property isn’t cleaned up . . . and this is going to be done on Nov. 15,” McNamara said. “I’ll use every tool the court has.”