After dealing with a nearby nuisance property that’s worsened over the years, a group of Hanson County residents’ mounting frustrations have reached a boiling point.

From used semi-trailers to old cars and scrap metal, Greg Patton’s 14.5-acre property that’s located on Old Mill Road along the James River, roughly 5 miles east of Mitchell, has been collecting an assortment of materials throughout the past several decades. While many of the nearby residents have grown angry at the “worsening” conditions of the nuisance property, a breakthrough happened Wednesday. The Hanson County Zoning Board granted Patton’s temporary conditional use permit that establishes a timeline for the property to be adequately cleaned up and abated.

“Our ultimate goal is to get this property cleaned up. At this time the conditional use permit is in everybody’s best interest, and I think they’ve demonstrated terrific faith already with cleaning zones one and two,” said Hanson County Zoning Board Chairman Matthew Barnard.

To help expedite the abatement of his property, Patton applied for a temporary conditional use permit that allows him to operate as a junkyard until he fulfills the clean up work outlined in the permit. While Hanson County has taken Patton to court recently in an attempt to get the nuisance violations resolved at his property, county officials are hopeful the conditional use permit will resolve the issues. The two separate court cases between Patton and Hanson County are ongoing.

Under the conditions of the temporary permit, Patton must complete the entire abatement and clean up process at the property within two years. But Patton’s daughter, Shelby Holmberg, who spoke on behalf of her father during Wednesday’s meeting, told the board and nearby residents she anticipates the abatement process to be completed in less than two years.

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“I would say about 75% of the abatement process will be done by the end of this year, weather permitting, I don’t think it will take two years to get it done,” Holmberg said during Wednesday’s board meeting.

Holmberg emphasized the temporary conditional use permit was intended to abate the property in a timely manner, along with giving the zoning board oversight authority and avoiding additional courtroom battles with Hanson County.

“What this permit is doing is allowing Hanson County to have a paper trail to watch him clean it up. I think there was some confusion from the people living near who thought my dad was going to run a junkyard,” Holmberg said in an interview with the Mitchell Republic. “But that’s absolutely not the case. This permit allows him to remedy his nuisance and zoning violations on his own dime while allowing Hanson county to moderate progress and encourage speedy clean up.”

Attorney Jack Theeler, who is representing some of the nearby residents, rejected Chairman Barnard's sentiment that the conditional use permit “was in everybody's best interest."

“Your zoning code requires that your actions be found to be in the best interest of the public, but it is not in the best interest of the public that they have a junkyard in that location,” Theeler said. “We don’t think the conditional use permit should be granted. It should be an injunction.”

An aerial photo of Greg Patton's nuisance property that's located on Old Mill Road in Hanson County, roughly 5 miles east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
An aerial photo of Greg Patton's nuisance property that's located on Old Mill Road in Hanson County, roughly 5 miles east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

As Chairman Barnard put it, the Hanson County Zoning Board is putting its “faith and trust” in Patton to successfully clean the area up in the established timeline, bringing it into compliance with the rural residential district zoning codes.

Patton’s clean up plan is divided into five zones, with each zone representing a section of the property. The permit established he must complete zones one through four by October 23, 2021. For zone five, the Hanson County Zoning Board will reconvene in November 2021 to set a deadline for the completion of the final zone.

If Patton fails to clean the property, he could face a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. In Mitchell, the City Attorney Justin Johnson has been working with Patton to correct similar nuisance violations at another property he owns along Havens Avenue near Performance Pet Products.

Nearby residents sound off

With the growing number of residential homes being built around Patton’s property, many of the nearby residents allege that the “nuisance conditions” on Patton’s land is having a negative effect on their property values.

Over the years, the land around Patton’s property has developed into a nice housing development, with most of the homes ranging in value from $200,000 to $400,000. On the high end, some of the surrounding properties in the area hover around $650,000. Hanson County tax records show a house that sits on 2 acres of land overlooking Patton’s property recently sold for $626,000 despite the nuisance issues.

Ryan Thompson is one of the nearby residents who believes the junkyard is hurting the value of his property that sits atop the hill overlooking Patton’s land. Tax records showed Thompson’s property has an assessed value of $445,515 over the past several years. While Thompson didn’t speculate how much his property value has been impacted by the junkyard, he said it’s clearly not helping the area.

Thomspon built his home atop the hill along Race View Drive roughly 11 years ago. At that time, he said Patton’s property wasn’t as bad of a nuisance as it is today.

“I don’t know how the additional junkyard and salvage scrap helps anyone’s property that’s close by in the long run,” Thompson said. “In the last five years, the junkyard area has expanded. We were aware it was there and hoped it was just temporary, but it’s clear that’s it not.”

With the ongoing history of the nearby nuisance issues, Thompson called the Hanson County Zoning Board’s decision to establish a timeline for clean up efforts a "step in the right direction."

An aerial photo of Greg Patton's nuisance property on the right next to a housing development in Hanson County. The Hanson County Zoning Board approved a permit for Patton to begin cleaning the property that's located on Old Mill Road, roughly 5 miles east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
An aerial photo of Greg Patton's nuisance property on the right next to a housing development in Hanson County. The Hanson County Zoning Board approved a permit for Patton to begin cleaning the property that's located on Old Mill Road, roughly 5 miles east of Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Arlen Schuh was one of the first residents to build a home near Patton’s property roughly 25 years ago. Although Patton’s property had some material already existing in the area when Schuh decided to build his high-end home along what’s now Rock Creek Drive, he said there wasn’t nearly as much “stuff” at that time than there is now.

“I watched the whole thing develop … But it’s just gotten worse over the years,” Schuh said of the junkyard. “They have a very valuable piece of property, and it would also be in their interest to clean up the area."

In response to the nearby residents’ concerns of property values being affected by Patton’s property, Holmberg pointed out that the area had been occupied by her family prior to homes developing around the area.

Clean up plan

The clean up zones were prioritized around clearing the floodplain and addressing environmental concerns. Much of the work in the first four zones includes removing the nuisance materials and consolidating them to zone five, which is located toward the middle of the property further away from Old Mill Road.

Zones one and two, which are in the process of getting cleaned, will remove the nuisance materials and old cars from the 100- and 500-year floodplain that stretches near the shoreline of the James River.

For zone three, which encompasses the area directly next to Old Mill Road, the plan will be to remove non-operational vehicles, unlicensed semi-trailers and scrap metal.

While the first four zones of the plan are expected to be complete within roughly nine months, Holmberg said the fifth and final zone will be the most challenging, as it entails disposing or recycling the variety of nuisance equipment and materials from the property.

“Zone five will be the area we consolidate everything to have it disposed of and recycled,” Holmberg said. “Our primary goal would be to remove and scrap the larger recyclable items first."

While Holmberg said she understands some of the used semi-trailers, old cars and various pieces of scrap metal that are collected on Patton’s property is viewed as “junk” to some of the nearby residents. But to Patton, Holmberg said, the items have sentimental value.

“My dad had this property inherited to him by his father, and some of the things he has out on the property have sentimental value. So it’s not like he’s just storing these things for no reason at all,” Holmberg said.