DOBSON — Three residents bordering on the city line have appeared before Surry County officials two months in a row over what they call a public nuisance.
And they vow to keep coming back until they get help with this neighboring property they say upsets their lives.
The first “appearance” before the Surry County Board of Commissioners occurred during the May 18 meeting in Dobson. The board meets in the historic courthouse, but the county staff set up a video camera in the government service center on Atkins Street so that people could make comments during the open forum that starts each regular session.
Delores Taylor, of Alton Lane, spoke first about the neighborhood, which is just up the hill to the west of Northern Wellness and Fitness Center (formerly Pro Health) off Galax Trail.
”We had a quiet residential area, residential, three homes on our street,” said Taylor. “In 2015 we had a lady move in with her family, and she now has a micro farm in my door.”
“The house sold with a commercial tennis court. … She has turned the tennis court into a dog lot. I have 14 dogs barking in my bedroom window on and off almost all day long.”
Taylor said she looked into what county noise ordinance there might be and learned that the time of day for quiet was only 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.
”I just turned 75; they can bark from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. — that’s about my whole day. I about had a breakdown. … It’s been life-changing.”
Seeing what has been happening right next door to her house, Taylor said she’s counted 14 dogs, and there must be 50 chickens in the basement.
“They shovel out the chicken stuff every week. She’s got 20 ducks in the backyard with no water access. She’s got six goats — she’s selling goats now. Last weekend she sold three or four goats. She’s got three roosters that crow from daylight all day long. … It used to just be the dogs, but now it’s the goats, the chickens, the ducks, the roosters. They have ruined our property.”
After speaking with some of the other neighbors and hearing they, too, have complaints about the disturbances, Taylor said she reached out to government officials for help.
”I have called everybody in Surry County. I’ve called Zoning, I’ve called the Health Department, I’ve called Animal Control, I’ve called the Air Control, the Planning Committee. Everybody says, ‘There’s nothing we can do. There’s no ordinance against this. She can have as many dogs as she wants to.’”
“I know there’s certain things that can’t be done, but anything would help us,” she said. “And she’s got point-five (0.5) acres of land, it’s not even an acre of land.”
Pam Bledsoe spoke next.
“They are right on top of us, and all that poop just comes running down the hill,” said Bledsoe.
”I have pictures of them in our yard: the chickens are in our yard, the dogs are in our yard. Like Delores said, it’s a constant torment every day. And these are not roosters that crow every hour or so; no, they crow every 3, 5, 6 seconds all day long. They have told me it wasn’t their problem that their roosters woke my husband and me up at 3:30, 4, 4:30, 5, 5:30. … We should adapt to her, she should not adapt to us.
“I’m sorry … they come down here from Pennsylvania, they think they can just come down here and they don’t have to abide by any rules. … People in the swimming pool at Pro Health can hear those dogs barking all day long.”
Because of the noise and other issues, Bledsoe said the Surry County Sheriff’s Office has been called before.
“The deputies have been over there a million times. They know what they are dealing with. I begged them, I said, ‘I wish one of you would just come here and spend the night and see day and night what we are tormented with.’
“They have five adults and a child. It’s outrageous. … It has been Hades, pure Hades.”
Jennifer Adams said she lives diagonally across the intersection from the Alton Lane property on Leatherwood Trail.
“My concern is for animal welfare,” Adams said. “How that many animals can be on such a small lot is beyond me — and to be cared for the way they should be. Their animals continually get out. I have returned animals to them, their dogs particularly.
“This isn’t the only residence in the area that has what is called a micro farm. I have one other neighbor on the left side of me that also has a micro farm, and I deal with their goats, their sheep, their chickens and roosters, and their five dogs as well.”
The reason the residents appeared before the county commissioners instead of the city board, despite having a Mount Airy address, is that the land is just outside the official city limits. Homeowners have different rules to follow in the city than in the county.
“Yes, we’re in county, but there’s not enough land to adequately take care of these animals. And the fact that these animals get out, roam around and cause other issues in the the neighborhood, again, is a great concern,” said Adams.
“I have been in contact with Waste Management about a year, year and a half ago about their garbage piling up. It’s a continuous pile of trash.”
Adams added, “I’ve owned my home for 20 years. I’m in the process of renovating it. Yes, tax value is of great concern.”
“I used to live there in ’08 and it was a beautiful, lovely neighborhood, and it felt really safe,” said Rhonda Baylor. “But I have rolled through there lately and witnessed all that these ladies are talking about: the smell, the animals. And the whole neighborhood, it looks like it is devaluing the neighborhood. … What it used to be when I stayed there and what it is now is totally different.“
A month later at the June 15 commissioners meeting, the three neighbors (minus Baylor) were back.
Pam Bledsoe, a retired Surry Community College instructor, said she has lived in her current home since 1985 and hasn’t had a problem with any neighbor until now.
”They have over a hundred animals. We have tried to appeal to their sense of common courtesy. We have tried to explain that they need a container for their trash. They think they don’t have to obey the rules.”
She said that neighbors have told the family time and time again that bags of garbage can’t simply be placed at the curb overnight because animals will tear into the bags and strew garbage “all the way through the neighborhood.”
“We’re also concerned with the skunks, the flies, the vultures, the buzzards, the feral cats, and even a bobcat,” she said, that have been drawn to the area since the micro farm was established.
“Now they are even raising mice. They have all kinds of cats inside the house.” She said she hadn’t discovered a mouse inside her own home in eight years, but has seen two mice recently. “Dead, of course; I do keep out d-CON.”
Taylor said, “My bedroom is about 15 feet from this tennis court where these dogs reside. I’ve even had to move my room because I can’t sleep in that room anymore.
Chairman Larry Johnson asked Commissioner Bill Goins if he would check into the matter and see if there were any ways to address the citizens’ concerns with rules already in place.
“I think those of us that have visited the area, we feel for them,” said Johnson.
“I do feel for them,” agreed Commissioner Goins, who had visited the property since the previous meeting and heard the dogs barking.
Commissioner Van Tucker asked County Attorney Ed Woltz, “If I came into your office and said, ‘Ed, I’ve got these people, I can’t even sleep in my own bedroom they are making so much noise, so much foul odor.’ Is that a nuisance lawsuit that could be won?”
“That’s a nuisance lawsuit that could be won on a private basis,” agreed Woltz. “That was my recommendation early.
“We are limited with what tools we have to help these people,” the attorney said. “I’m not saying that we can’t revise our animal ordinance to include something like this. But, you end up backing up to bona fide farms and just dozens of competing issues. At this point I have not been able to identify any existing ordinance or state law that is going to really provide a benefit.”
“It looks like to me it’s certainly a nuisance, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live beside of it,” said Tucker. “I feel sorry for these people.”
Still, he said, “Before we go down the road of only looking at an ordinance change county-wide, it’s going to have to be some very delicate maneuvering and write it out. What might be applicable right on the edge of Mount Airy city limits, but just outside, would cause a lot of pain in a community like Shoals where, for example I’ve got a peacock that lives half a mile away, and I can hear him every time he makes a chirp. I’ve got another neighbor with a set of ‘coon dogs that bark all night. And I’ve got another neighbor that shoots pistols and rifles and something all the time.
“What fits well within this situation as far as an ordinance may very well open up a Pandora’s box across a rural county.”
The board passed no motions on the issue this month. With the annual budget approved, the board is following its usual routine of skipping the first Monday meeting of the month and will hold its only session on July 20.
Taylor said this week that she will be there again if nothing has been done by then.