Hauled away in St. Paul
A St. Paul man says the city overreacted when cleaning up his property. The city says ample warning was given.
It's hard to know when things went wrong at Lenny Anderson's home on McKnight Road in St. Paul.
The 70-year-old was storing a friend's camper, boat, water scooter and other items in his heavily wooded backyard when someone complained. The city got involved, and after a year of bickering, 10 Dumpsters and a recycling truck's worth of Anderson's and his friend's belongings were hauled out last week, bound for the landfill.
Anderson asserts the city overreacted; the city says it had to take whatever actions were necessary to clean up the property because of Anderson's continued violation of city ordinance.
"I feel very violated," said Anderson, who had a similar run-in with the city about a decade earlier. "They could've taken [some of the belongings] to the impound lot. They're inflexible."
After two complaints, the city inspected Anderson's land in April 2009 and asked him to clean it up. Anderson challenged the complaint, and appealed his case from the city level up to the state Supreme Court, which refused to hear it.
Things came to a head nearly a year -- and several warnings -- later when Anderson failed to meet the city's deadline, and the city decided it had to take matters into its own hands.
"He had his chance to remove it to somewhere compliant, and he failed to do so," said Angie Wiese, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Safety and Inspection. "The order [to clean up the property] says we will remove [items] from your property, not we will remove it and give it back to you later."
After exhausting his appeals, Anderson began clearing six large shipping containers, wood and steel beams from his backyard, which is not visible from the road. He asked for more time in July. The city agreed, but reinspections on Aug. 3 and Aug. 16 didn't show enough improvement, according to court documents.
The city sent Anderson a letter on Aug. 20, announcing its intention to "remove all items found not to be in compliance" on Sept. 8.
When the cleanup crew showed up, it was the manner of removal that agitated Anderson. He watched in horror as an excavator smashed, grabbed and dropped a boat, water scooter, camper, several metal trailers and other belongings into large Dumpsters.
Anderson and his attorney, James Roban, said it was the destruction and disposal of perfectly functional belongings that was unnecessarily malicious. They said that although they expected the cleanup crew, they didn't know so much property would be thrown away.
The city also discarded seemingly innocuous items, Anderson said, including a cast iron planter in his front yard that contained perennials, a park bench in the woods behind his home, $3,500 in firewood, a garden hose, and a large garbage can full of sand and salt for the winter.
Wiese said the only things the city impounds are titled, functioning vehicles. A truck was impounded and later reclaimed by Anderson.
"He had an opportunity to remove [his property] as he wanted," she said.
Anderson and the city went through a similar incident in 1999 involving some of the same items. The city hauled away some items that Anderson later reclaimed. The city billed him $25,000 for that job. It has estimated the most recent one at $30,000.
Anderson said he plans to sue the city for damages. He estimates his loss at $75,000 to $100,000.
"It says they can remove things," Roban said. "It doesn't say they can destroy anything. I don't think it's reasonable to destroy everything."
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708