A contaminated well, feral cats, loose predatory dogs and piles of garbage are just a few of the complaints a group of neighbors heaped on supervisors at Monday night's Mahoning Township meeting.
For a decade and a half neighbors have tried to make the best of dealing with problems at a property at 1325 Orioles Drive, but things have finally gotten so out of hand on so many levels, according to neighbors, that even people close to a mile away are affected by the conditions and behavior of the property owner.
Monday they came forward as a group to ask Mahoning Township supervisors to do something.
"We have tried to be good neighbors, but this has gone too far," said Kerry Verrastro, who told supervisors that their patience has been rewarded with a contaminated well. "We have had it tested every couple years for over a decade and it has always been clean, but the last test indicates it is contaminated with feces. Now we have no source for water."
Verrastro told supervisors that Joseph Frey and his family members living at the 1325 Orioles Drive property, have allegedly been dumping buckets of feces and urine at the edge of their property, near the Verrastro's well, for quite a long time.
Along with the Verrastros, Joseph and Melissa Ring also told supervisors they cannot understand how Frey has not been made to hook up a septic system or connect to a sewer.
"He claims his property is a cabin and does not need one, which is what Scott (Beiber, the sewage enforcement officer) said, but if it is his primary residence, why should he be allowed to get away with it when no one else does?" Joseph Ring asked supervisors.
Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt said Frey had applied for a permit in April and then was issued a citation for failure to hook water up to it on May 22. Ring said Frey allegedly complained to Beiber he didn't have the money to dig a septic system, yet within a day, a back hoe was on the property to install a drain field and tank, but he never completed it by hooking up to a water source. Instead he has a portable outhouse on the property.
Pat Verrastro told the supervisors the contaminated well they have is 875 feet deep and tests definitely confirmed it was fecal contamination that has made it useless. Stawnyczyj asked if it was possible the well could be contaminated by their own field, fertilizer or another neighbor, and Mrs. Verrastro said there was no one else, including their own system, close enough to do so. Even their own system was more than 300 feet from the well and they have not used fertilizer on the property.
Chairperson John Wieczorek said with regard to the contamination, that he did not know what could be done with the contamination issue, but he would definitely refer to professionals, including the solicitor, for information on how to proceed.
The contaminated well was only one issue of eight mentioned by the group of neighbors. The group told supervisors there were piles of garbage all over the property in direct violation of the collection ordinance. There are also allegedly at least four abandoned trailers that have been condemned on the property, and which are used from time to time for what neighbors could best describe as "out-of-state transients who spend short periods of time at the property."
Other items cited by neighbors include Frey's contention that his primary residence is a "cabin" and not his primary home. Neighbors say they know of no other home owned by Frey or anyone else living at the property.
Verrastro and Ring both said they believed Frey first lived there by himself, but over the last 10 years, most of his family moved in with him, multiplying the problems. Beside the garbage and trailers, neighbors allege he has at least 14 scrapped cars on the property.
Ring told supervisors if they looked online at Google Earth they could see these issues on the property. A quick check revealed several rooftops on the property and other assorted shapes, but it was difficult to tell exactly what they were.
In addition to the property complaints, Ring and the other neighbors also told supervisors about the problems with feral animals on the property, claiming there are at least 15-20 wild cats roaming free throughout their property and the neighbors, and several unlicensed dogs as well.
It was the wild dogs that brought township resident Elaine Hughes of 350 Hemlock Drive to the meeting. Hughes told supervisors Frey's black lab and pit bull have been roaming free for several months and have killed a peacock, several chickens and cats on her property. She said the one incident looked like a "bloodbath."
Hughes told supervisors she noticed animals began to be missing at first, but one day while she was in her barn, she heard the dogs charging toward the barn and she stepped out to confront them. They stopped, but the pit bull challenged her before they backed off from the property. It was soon after that the dogs slaughtered her peacock, chickens and pigeons.
"When I got to the barn, it was like a bloodbath," she said.
She contacted the animal control officer, who told her the problem would be resolved and she would not need to worry, but a week later the dogs killed the neighbor's cat. She said Frey at one point came and offered to pay her for replacing the peacock, which she said cost almost $100, but he never did give her reimbursement for the dead fowl.
Wieczorek asked how far from his property hers was located and Hughes told him her property was a mile to a mile and a half away.
When asked why they said nothing for the last 15 years, Ring said they expected the police and officials to do their jobs so they didn't complain before last night. It was only after years of the police not dealing with the problem and other officials not stopping the problems that he and his neighbors felt compelled to bring it to the supervisors.
"I didn't want to bring up our issues with the police here right now," he said, "but we have talked to them several times and complained, but nothing was done." Ring said there were incidents where small children wandered from the property and the police would find them and return them. Based on his job, Ring said he believed at a certain point, the police should have been contacting child welfare officers about the issue.
Ring also said the police were told about the traffic patterns of cars stopping at the property for a few minutes each before continuing, and out of state cars visiting the property. He claimed the police have not really done anything to check into the situation.
"They show up between midnight and 3 a.m. sometimes and stay for about three minutes each."
Verrastro mentioned that he allegedly caught the son burglarizing his home and said the son admitted he had a drug problem.
Wieczorek said he wished this would have been brought to the supervisors sooner, but now that the board is aware of it, they will comprehensively address the problem, starting in-house with the police department, building inspector and sewage enforcement officer.
"I don't know yet what we can do to resolve these issues, but we will do what we can to help you," he said. Wieczorek mentioned the solicitor was currently on vacation, but when he returned he would discuss these issues with him to find out what remedies the board has to deal with the concerns.
Later in the meeting, Supervisor Linda Benner said she was appalled by the conditions the group brought to their attention and she hoped that the board can bring this behavior to a "screeching halt."