Judge Hears Case About Overgrown Property In Five Points

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Some people say it looks more like a jungle. But hidden behind tangled tree limbs is a house in the historic district of Five Points. There have been literally dozens of complaints about the property over the years, but so far, the city has been unable to force the owner into cleaning up the property.
Can the City of Huntsville force a home owner to make his yard look like others in the neighborhood? That question is up in the air.
The owner, James Hessler, says he likes the yard just as it is. But the city says they don’t.
Today, much of Hessler’s home at the corner of Pratt and Grayson is obscured by trees and vegetation. When you round the corner onto Grayson, the house completely disappears from view.
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There is a long history of complaints about Hessler's yard. In 2004, city officials responded to complaints about old cars in the yard, but it turned out the cars were in compliance with city statutes.
Fast forward eight years, as the yard continued to grow and the complaints continued to pile up. The city declared the property to be a public nuisance and passed a resolution to have it cleaned up. But now, Hessler is taking the city to court.
WHNT News 19 spoke with Hessler’s attorney, Charlie Hooper.
"Under the city’s plan, they’ve come up with a measurement that anything that’s four calibers and six inches high, they’re going to get rid of," said Hooper. "Basically they’re going to get rid of whatever trees and saplings that aesthetically pleases them."
Hessler has identified 16 varieties of trees and 39 varieties of wildflowers, shrubs and vines on his property. His petition claims he was denied due process and claims the city’s plan for his yard is ambiguous at best. He’s asking the court to block the city from taking action until the court can fully review the records of his case and then make a final decision.
“It’s just a property that is not maintained,” says Bert Peake, President of the Five Points Historic District Association.
He says there’s a lot more at stake than Hessler’s yard.
“Put simply, what you’ve got here is a violation of city ordinances that’s been cited dozens of times and nothing has been able to happen," Peake said. "I think it’s important for the residents of Five Points to know that the city can back its ordinances.”
The case went to court on Thursday morning.  Madison County Circuit Judge Jim Smith granted a stay in the case, as Hessler had requested, so the case will moved forward.
Had Judge Smith not granted the stay, the City of Huntsville would have been free to begin cleaning up the property.
Now, both sides must gather more paperwork and present them to the court by next week.
WHNT News 19 will keep you posted on how the case develops.

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