Problem property to be cleared

McCORDSVILLE — After a three-year struggle with a county resident whose unkempt property has drawn numerous complaints from neighbors, local officials say they’ve been left with no choice but to take action.

The Hancock County Area Board of Zoning Appeals recently approved a $4,700 bid from a local contractor to remove loose blocks of concrete, wood and trash that are piled haphazardly around a home in the 7100 block of North County Road 200W. Despite numerous court orders issued by the county to clean up the property, the owner has been uncooperative, officials said.

John Stark, the resident, declined to comment. His attorney, John Strain of Tennessee, could not be reached.

After requesting bids from five contractors, the board approved the lowest for $4,756 — a sum that ultimately will be billed to the homeowner. The decision comes as a last resort, said Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Area Plan Commission.

“We spent years trying to get the property owner to voluntarily comply with our zoning code,” he said. “We delayed any enforcement action because the owner said it’d be taken care of by a certain date, but that date went by several times.”

The first violation against the property was filed in June 2012. The plan commission issued the homeowner a citation, which was paid, but Dale said that when he returned to inspect the property it was still in a state of disrepair. The resident was issued several other fines after that and continued to refuse to comply, Dale said.

Stark was issued a court order in April 2014 to clean up the property but did not respond, Dale said. He was issued two additional notices, and after failing to clean up the property, a judge approved the county hiring contractors.

The owner has acted aggressively toward county officials throughout the process, Dale said. When Stark was issued a fine in 2007 over similar issues, he came to the county office and threatened Dale and his assistant, Darla Smoak, Dale said.

To avoid any confrontations, Dale said, he has asked a sheriff’s deputy to be on hand when the contractors come to remove debris.

Dan Craig, president of the board, said properties like this pose a threat to neighboring homes.

“It not only substantially degrades the value of the other properties in the area, but it creates a health hazard and could bring varmints and diseases,” Craig said.

In the 13 years that he has served as director of the board, Dale said, he’s never had to confront an issue like this, so there’s no precedent established as to how to collect the money.

The Hancock County Commissioners agreed to foot the cleanup bill for now, but those fees will be recouped from the resident through fees tacked on to his property taxes. In addition to the cost of removing the debris, Stark will have to pay $2,850 as reimbursement for the county’s legal fees.

Stark has until 2017 to pay the fees. Stark did not attend the zoning meeting Thursday.

Gregg Morelock, Greenfield city attorney, said that, if the resident doesn’t pay the fees on his taxes, the property will be seized.

“The property will go to tax sale, but even if someone buys it then, they’ll have to pay (the fees),” he said.

If it doesn’t sell, the county will gain ownership of the property, Morelock said.

Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or