Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Am the Crazy Neighbor

As I mentioned in my previous post, one of the latest dramas in my life is a ginormous pile of dirt that a developer recently dumped on three residential lots around the corner from my house.  The dirt originally came from a massive, at least by Athens standards, excavation of about 75,000 cubic yards of dirt for the basement of the new Special Collections library here at UGA.  Fill dirt was once quite a commodity when the housing market was hot, but now, according to a friend of mine who's a commercial contractor, you can't give the stuff away.  Or, apparently, you can, to a developer who will then store it in some lots where he maybe has plans, sometime in the future, to build on the lots.

The problem is that he hasn't drawn up any plans, nor does he have any engineering drawings to show how to accommodate between 1,000 and 2,000 cubic yards (about 100-200 tandem dump truck loads) of dirt on the property.  We got wise to the problem one morning earlier this month when we heard the sounds of diesel engines idling, and dump truck after dump truck banging as it emptied its load.

Now we get to the part where I'm the crazy neighbor lady.  I went away for Spring Break, hoping that my neighbors would be able to stop this madness by calling in the county enforcement folks.  However, apparently dumping continued unabated for at least 3 days. When I returned to town the pile had grown to its current size.  I then read a column in our local weekly about the great Special Collections library project.   While I agree about the coolness of the SC library, I felt like the folks at the magazine should know about its shadow side. So, I e-mailed the columnist and, while I was at it, the on campus newspaper and the local daily. The campus newspaper, the Red and Black, ran the story (see first link above).  It turns out that the Atlanta TV stations read the R&B, and next thing I knew I was getting calls from television reporters.  They were really interested in our giant dirt pile!  I was surprised, but I agreed to give them interviews. While they were out, they got the developer on tape too and ran the story.  (Visit this link on the law school's website to see most of the media coverage - thanks to the law school's public relations staff for pulling that together.)

The next day I was a local celebrity, and not in a totally good way.  My favorite reaction was from a university staffer in my husband's building who, not realizing my husband was related to me, told him, "That land use lady needs to find something to do!"  (When a co-worker of my husband brought our relationship to the staffer's attention, he was apologetic and chagrined.  I just think it's funny!)

I've worked all sides of the development game in my career, including representing developers and neighbors.  I figure it was inevitable I would turn out to be the cranky neighbor myself.  I've started calling myself the queen of the dirt pile.

The local weekly, the Flagpole, has the most interesting take on the story.  Their City Editor, Dave Marr, ran a good column that explains our confusion about how the developer seems to have threaded multiple loopholes in the code.

I've got some great folks in the neighborhood working with me, including a couple of experts on soil and erosion and a civil engineer.  A local commissioner pulled together a good meeting with county staff yesterday and we're working toward a solution.  In the meantime, I'm trying to catch up on my work and get ready for UGA's annual Red Clay conference on environmental issues.  I'm moderating a panel on Georgia's water rights problems called "Is Atlanta Really the 800 Pound Gorilla?"

Jamie Baker Roskie

UPDATE: The latest from the UGA student newspaper on the controversy.

UPDATE TWO: The dirt pile now has its own website.

Development, Environmental Law, Georgia, Local Government, Nuisance, Planning | Permalink

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I just noticed a "ginormous" dirt pile at a brand-new school where my daughter had a soccer game this weekend. Seemed unusual, but it was very popular with the kids.

Posted by: Matt Festa | Mar 30, 2010 8:47:22 AM

Yes, some of the comments to the local newspaper article written about the pile suggested it would become a local amenity for children. On the other hand, one of my students (who is doing a paper on the dirt pile for his State & Local Government class) found that unstable dirt piles can actually be hazardous. I'll post more about that when I read his paper.

This might turn out to be the most document dirt pile in the history of dirt piles...

Posted by: Jamie Baker Roskie | Mar 30, 2010 12:30:08 PM