'It's kinda like the Wild West up here," the town official said, shaking his head. "It's remote. It's an old road. People do what they want to -- and they usually get away with it 'cause no one's minding anyone's business."
Except me, that is.
On this occasion, I was standing with the town environmental officer at the end of my driveway. We were discussing a slipshod demolition going on across the street.
"I'm going to make sure this gets done right," he said, wiping sweat from his forehead.
"Good," I said, nervously watching the bulldozer whack away at the two blue-gray shacks that had stood on that site for nearly a century.
I wonder what will happen next, what will be built on the site, which has long been shrouded in mystery.
Neighbors say no one's lived there since the 1990s, but everyone recalls with a smile "old Mrs. French." One neighbor thought she might have been a journalist. Another said she worked in the mailroom at a local paper. She apparently had stacks and stacks of books that filled up her cottages.
The shacks were always hidden from view when the trees leafed out in the spring. When the branches went bare, the detritus of decades resurfaced. The site was strewn with broken bottles, tires and construction debris. Rumor had it teens got high and drunk there.
"I'll make sure the site is completely cleared, and that the homeowner gets hay bales and silt fences around the perimeter before the job is done," the town official added, before climbing back into his SUV.
It's true what the town official said about my mountain road. This is the kind of place where folks skip the paperwork. They knock down trees and bring in fill without permits. They leave half-built hulking structures unfinished with no regard for aesthetics or fire safety.
I know. No one likes a snitch. But I've learned other people's mistakes are costly. One man's hubris is another man's flood or rodent infestation.
To my surprise, town officials can be attentive when asked to intervene when a problem is under way. When the damage is done and it's after the fact, well, that's another story.
To the right of the site with the demolished shacks, and diagonally across the road from my property, was once a densely wooded, steeply sloped mountain. Shortly after I moved in, trees were cleared, rock was blasted and a giant house with a runway-long driveway was built.
Runoff from the long driveway turned our ice-slicked mountain road into a skating rink during the winters. Flooding of our basement cost us thousands of dollars in stone walls and French drains.
Car accidents were frequent. I complained repeatedly to the town. My pleas were ignored until last winter, when a car skidded and plowed through my fence and nearly into my living room. Finally, the town built a trench drain across from the McMansion homeowner's driveway and culverts along the road.
The demolition of the little shacks causes me consternation, because I can't help but wonder "what now?" They say the devil you know is better than the one you don't. At worst, the property was an eyesore -- though I have to admit I found it mysterious and intriguing.
I liked imagining a time before this road had sewers or BMWs in the driveways. When this area really was like the Wild West and people like old Mrs. French shared the road with old farmhouses like mine. The cabins gave my imagination fuel for ghost stories, the kind we used to tell at sleepaway camp around the campfire. Give me a spooky ghost story over a potential house-building nightmare any day.
A few years ago, I heard the property owner was trying to get a zoning variance to build four houses on the skinny two-acre lot. This could be an environmental disaster. Fortunately, the town agrees and is not likely to give anyone the green light to create a subdivision on such a steep site.
It seems the recession has slowed the appetite for castle building, so maybe I can breathe easy for a while. But I will not get complacent, because if you snooze, you lose.
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