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Judge dismisses nuisance violation in dispute over Hanson County property

Hanson County officials alleged the assortment of materials and equipment on Greg Patton's property violated the county's nuisance codes.

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An aerial photo of Greg Patton's property taken on Feb. 25, 2021. The property is located on Old Mill Road in Hanson County, roughly 2 miles east of Mitchell.
Republic file photo
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HANSON COUNTY — A property in Hanson County that’s been the source of frustration for some nearby residents who allege it’s become a nuisance and eyesore is back in the spotlight.

The assortment of material and equipment sitting along Greg Patton’s 14.5-acre Hanson County property, located about 2 miles east of Mitchell, led to a courtroom battle in October. After a brief jury trial, a judge dismissed the nuisance violation Patton was facing.

Patton’s property is situated along Old Mill Road, which is a main artery to a rural housing development. Some of the homeowners in the development that’s situated along Rock Creek Drive have pressured Hanson County officials to take action on what they see as nuisance conditions that are hurting their property values.

Leading up to the trial, the Hanson County Zoning Board granted Patton a temporary conditional use permit roughly a year ago in front of a room full of disgruntled residents that established a timeline for Patton to clean up his property in accordance with county codes. As part of the conditional use permit, the clean up timeline of Patton’s property was divided into five zones, each having a time frame for Patton to follow.

Hanson County officials alleged Patton had failed to meet the clean up requirements that the zoning board put in place, which prompted Hanson County State’s Attorney Jim Davies to bring charges against Patton.

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Initially, Patton was facing two misdemeanor charges, including one for allegedly violating the temporary conditional use permit and another for a nuisance violation. Prosecuting attorneys opted to pursue the state's nuisance concerns that alleged Patton “failed to remove a nuisance.” However, Patton’s attorney, R. Shawn Tornow, highlighted that the charge filed against Patton was not a nuisance violation under law since it was not charged or proven to be a “public nuisance violation."

One day into the jury trial, Judge Chris Giles dismissed the charge upon Patton’s request to be acquitted, eliminating the need for the jury to make a determination.

When people say (and yes, I do hear your comments), “The local newspaper just isn’t local anymore,” my response: That’s just not true.

“The judge saw the ultimate weakness of the state's case,” Tornow said after the trial concluded.

Tornow emphasized Patton's family has resided at the Hanson County property since the 1970s, well before the nearby rural housing development started going up.

“In the end, Greg Patton and his family have long held this rural property back into the 1970s. It can be unfair and hypocritical for the state to pick on this property compared to hundreds of other rural properties throughout our state,” Tornow said.

Hanson County officials were the witnesses who testified throughout the one-day trial, but none of the nearby homeowners who have voiced their concerns of Patton’s property took the stand.

During the trial, a limited number of photos displaying what the criminal complaint called “accumulated junk” were presented to the jury. The photos submitted to the court show semi truck cabs, boats, old trucks, barrels and various pieces of scrap material.

As part of the Hanson County Zoning Board’s clean up plan outlined in the temporary conditional use permit, zones one and two were intended to remove the materials and old cars from the 100- and 500-year floodplain that stretches near the shoreline of the James River.

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Clean up of zone three – which encompasses the area directly next to Old Mill Road – entailed removing non-operational vehicles, unlicensed semi-trailers and scrap metal. Ultimately, the permit expires in 2023. Disputes over Patton's permit were not relevant to the recent trial because it was dismissed prior to the trial commencing.

Although the judge’s dismissal of the charge brought some closure to the legal side of the case, it's unclear what, if any, future steps will be pursued by the county over Patton's property.

Related Topics: MITCHELLCRIME AND COURTS
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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