Manchester aims to end junk king's reign
Someone who lets his front lawn grow as free as the hair of a hippie. Someone who's overhauling a car engine in the driveway. Someone whose front porch has become an extension of the front closet.Then there's 703 Maple St.
The tiny lot at the corner of Maple and Blodget streets has become a way station for all sorts of car parts, lawn furniture, firewood, and other once-valuable items that owner Nadir Atiya has pulled into his orbit.It's the North End's version of Sanford & Son.
For at least six years, city officials and neighbors have tried to get Atiya to clean up his property. They've hauled him to court for violating city ordinances. Neighbors have even played nice and invited him to neighborhood meetings, they say.But the mess continues.
'It's a major annoyance to the people who live next door to him, both sides,' said Will Stewart, who heads the Neighborhood Watch in the area. 'This guy has been working the system for a while.'In fact, the Atiya case shows that when push comes to shove, the city has shown little shove, despite all its inspectors and precisely worded ordinances. That may change next week, however.
After years of writing impotent ordinance citations, the city is bringing a case against Atiya to superior court, where judges wield more power. It's only the second time ever the city has taken such a step. The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30.'We want a court order telling him to clean it up, as opposed to a fine,' said Peter R. Chiesa, the assistant city solicitor.
Most of the junk on the 0.1-acre lot can be found on the Blodget Street side yard and driveway.There's cushion-less outdoor furniture and three propane and charcoal grills. A car and trailer are parked in the driveway. Six-foot-square office dividers try to shield the rear of the driveway, which is crammed with unstacked firewood, stacked air conditioners and car body parts.
The front porch holds tires, car doors, more chairs and snow shovels.
But Atiya's mess is neat. His car doors, hoods and trunks are aligned like books on a shelf. Many of the tires are evenly stacked atop one another. And the lawn chairs are placed orderly at the tables.I spoke to a man in his 30s wearing a dirty T-shirt after he parked a car and walked up the porch.
'Later, later, later,' he said after I introduced myself. He wouldn't answer questions and never telephoned me.'He's a very personable guy,' said Kevin Kincaid, the city's building licensing inspector who has spoken to Atiya about violations. 'He feels he's being persecuted because of his (Palestinian) nationality.'
Kincaid said that's not the case, and he just wants Atiya to follow the city's ordinances.
The house was once the home of Isadore and Lucille Zimmerman, who moved out after commissioning Frank Lloyd Wright to build their new Manchester home, which now belongs to the Currier Art Museum.Holly Nagle has lived next to Atiya for years. She said his house slowly turn into a junkyard and defacto rooming house. Now he cuts and splits firewood late at night. She erected a privacy fence to keep Atiya from standing in his yard and staring her down, she said. Nagle said she never turns her back to the house when she's outside, and she always carries her phone with her.
'When you live next door when something goes crazy every week, your radar is always on,' she said.
The city has taken Atiya to Manchester District Court for at least 16 violations of ordinances dealing with sanitation, zoning, building and motor vehicles, according to court files there. Three violations are pending.At times the city has dropped the citation. Other times a judge has found Atiya guilty and fined him $100. Other times, the fine was suspended.
Three years ago, he was found innocent after a judge ordered a competency hearing. Months later, Atiya appeared in his court as a witness in an unrelated case, and the judge realized he'd been duped, Stewart said.'Clearly, the law's set up to protect the individual property owner, which this guy is,' said Alderman Ron Ludwig. He wonders if Atiya will even show up in court next week.
Mayor Ted Gatsas, who like Ludwig said he's frustrated with the situation, said he will be there. In the meantime, Gatsas said laws need to be strengthened to give cities more power to address situations like Atiya. In rural communities, nobody notices junk-ridden properties, in part because lots are much bigger, he said.
"It's different living in the city," the mayor said, "and having something next door to you like this."
Mark Hayward's City Matters runs Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and on UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.