After nine years of court dates, deadlines, fines and orders, a town effort to force a Warren couple to clean up their property and fix their crumbling home is in legal limbo this week, leaving one thing certain: The bad blood on Parker Avenue is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Ever since Warren building official William Nash first contacted 24 Parker Ave. residents Clarence “Gene” Davis and his wife Barbara in June 2005, the state of their yard — and the large number of cars, lawnmowers, trailers, boats and other items it contained then and still does — has been a sore spot for the town, which has taken the Davises to Warren Municipal Court and, more recently, District Court in Providence. In April, Mr. Nash declared the Davis’ home uninhabitable, forcing Mr. Davis to move into a neighbor’s house next door while his wife Barbara recovers in the hospital following hip replacement surgery.
The case long ago stirred up a hornet’s nest on Parker Avenue, a mostly quiet street made up of modest ranch houses and tenements left over from the days when neighborhood residents worked in the mills on Metacom and Franklin streets. It only grew worse last week, when a neighbor wrote a letter to the Warren Times-Gazette taking the Davises to task for the state of their yard, which has not changed substantially in the nine years since the town first sought to correct the issue:
“I’m concerned … and I cannot believe the Town of Warren allows this problem to continue,” wrote Dolores Seddon.
In response, Mr. Davis was blunt:
“I’m just trying to work myself out of a bad situation, but I don’t know that I ever will,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can here.”
Mr. Davis, 72, a U.S. Army veteran, worked for years as a diesel mechanic and has for years been storing cars on the property, partly as a hobby and partly through his work. There’s a late ’40s Oldsmobile, a Porsche, several old Fords and Cadillacs and Pontiacs, and more. He has also filled the yard with all manner of random objects from vacuum cleaners to fishing poles and toaster ovens and several trailers; all, he said, are items that he brings to the Route 6 flea market near Seekonk Speedway every week in hopes of selling. It’s his sole income, apart from $680 or so that he gets every month from the government.
“How far do you think that’ll get you?”
He said he is trying to comply with long-standing town orders that he clean up his property, but is hampered by poor health and the recent condemnation of his home.
However, the Calenda family, who own property to the west, want more. Members of that family — including letter writer Ms. Seddon — have been after Mr. Davis to clean up the yard for years, and one of the most vocal neighbors is Steve Calenda, her son, a retired Bristol police officer who serves as a member of the zoning board of review.
Mr. Calenda said he has had many talks with town officials over the issue, and wants only for Mr. Davis to be a good neighbor and clean up his yard.
“What would you do if you lived next door to that?”
Town officials several years ago sent in a cleaning crew which moved items including cars around and cleaned up some of the underbrush. Though the town was charged about $10,000 for the work, it had only a temporary effect, as the underbrush is back, Mr. Calenda said.
Warren is now seeking repayment of the money the town spent cleaning up the property, and the town’s attorney, Anthony DeSisto, wants a clear plan for how to permanently solve the many violations Mr. Nash notes on the property.
Town officials might have hoped to expedite the matter when they brought it from local municipal court to district court last summer, and it looked as if things were moving along until this spring. In April, Mr. Nash declared the house uninhabitable, forcing Mr. Davis to move in with a sympathetic neighbor, Charlene Vernon, at 26 Parker Ave. Then, the Davis’ attorney, Sonja Dejoe, successfully petitioned the court to remove her from the case, effectively putting legal proceedings on hold.
Ms. Dejoe had been working on a plan to present to the town detailing how the Davis family would clean up the property, but nothing has happened in the court since she left, and the plan was never submitted.
At this point, Mr. DeSisto said, the town and court are waiting for the matter of the Davis’ legal representation to be settled. He suggested that in the meantime, neighbors are free to file injunctions with the court seeking that the matter be resolved. But that’s not the best course, Mr. Calenda said.
“I want the town to do what needs to be done,” he said. “Me personally, the position I would be taking, is you issue a court date and allow them to present. If they don’t present, you go forward against them.”
Two doors down, Ms. Vernon said the matter has gotten out of hand. She said Ms. Seddon’s letter contained inaccuracies and was unfair and mean-spirited, as it accused Mr. Davis of spreading junk to her property — “that’s not true,” she said. “Those things are mine.”
She is facing her own problems, she said, as her home is due to be sold at a foreclosure auction in October. She doesn’t know what will happen to her or the Davises if that comes to pass.
“But it’s too bad,” said Ms. Vernon. “We need more compassion in this town. This is a man who served his country, who has been with his wife for 50 years, who is facing hard times and needs a little bit of help. He’s a good man. He’s trying.”
“And what’s he getting? It sure isn’t help. It’s a shame.”