Anchorage's code enforcement commissars have ordered the removal of an unofficial long time seasonal landmark in a residential neighborhood, and a firestorm of community opposition to the action is slowly simmering. Full story published December 22nd, 2008 in the Anchorage Daily News. This story has gone national, with reports filed by the Associated Press and United Press International. And here's a January 2007 MSNBC report which illustrates the public nuisance aspect.
View a series of 10 ADN photos HERE.
The unofficial seasonal landmark is called "Snowzilla", a 16-foot tall snowman built in an Anchorage residential neighborhood at 1556 Columbine Street each winter during the past three winters, beginning in 2005. However, Anchorage code enforcers found it to be both a public nuisance and a safety hazard, and ordered the property owner, Billy Powers, to remove it, issuing a cease-and-desist order.
The safety aspect is anecdotal. Although Snowzilla was 16 feet high, the only people endangered should the behemoth topple are those who actually set foot on the property. But the public nuisance aspect is very real. Not only did camera crews from Russia and Japan visit, but the two-story snowman caused increased traffic in the neighborhood to the point of endangerment. In addition, city officials have an issue with an excessive amount of "junk" on his property, and they may be using "Snowzilla" as an excuse to slap him down. Although the city claims they've fined Powers $100,000 over a period of time for his "junk", Powers called in to KFQD conservative shock jock Dan Fagan's program on December 22nd and claimed the cumulative fines have only amounted to $16,000. In addition, Powers further claims his own junk abatement measures have been hindered by conflicting guidance given by different code enforcers.
However, even though some neighbors have actually helped Powers build his behemoth snowman every winter, some neighbors have had enough of the traffic funnelling through the neighborhood, according to the Alaska Dispatch, a professional left-of-center team blog. And they have a point - when you move into a residential neighborhood, it is reasonable to expect that there will be no more than the typical amount of traffic commensurate with a normal residential neighborhood. When you suddenly get inundated with an upsurge in traffic, with motorists driving by, tossing their trash on the streets, it becomes a full scale public nuisance. And the extra traffic, some of which drove through the neighborhood during nighttime quiet hours, can be a danger to kids living in the neighborhood.
Rich Fern, Anchorage's lead code enforcement officer, states that the city has broad authority under its public-nuisance law to order the removal of Snowzilla if it is interfering with the peace. “The law covers pretty much anything that would irritate the public, anything that would create a nuisance,” Fern says. “Snowzilla has generated a lot of traffic through the neighborhood in past years. The people who were coming to see it were going on other people’s properties to get a look. When the bars were letting out, it was a popular attraction to go by and see Billy Ray’s snowman. And these aren’t the quietest people.”
Fern also cited the safety issue. “The other issue,” Fern says, “is that it looked like where he was going with it that (Snowzilla) was going to get real big this year. He’s not an engineer. If a hunk of snow rolled off and hit a kid, that wouldn’t be good for anybody.” Ironically, the Daily Paul reveals that the chief code enforcement officer who signed the order is named Jack Frost, but KFQD's Dan Fagan says it's not the same Jack Frost who ran for mayor of Anchorage in 2006.
But Billy Powers says the city already has shown itself to be the Grinch who stole Christmas. “This is the worst thing that has happened to me in a long, long time,” Billy Ray says. “To tell us to stop two weeks before Christmas, the kids just don’t understand why (the city) is doing this to us. This is Anchorage Alaska. You tell me, do we have a law against snowmen?”
And The Alaska Standard, a professional right-of-center team blog, leans towards Powers' point of view, downplaying the public nuisance angle. They play the "nanny-state" card, and don't consider this an efficient use of enforcement resources. Here's an excerpt from their post:
Some cranky, scrooge-like neighbors have complained about the extra traffic brought into their neighborhood after families all over Southcentral traveled to show their kids Snowzilla during the holidays. Our city bureaucrats with the full force of government behind them got behind the cranky neighbors and made sure no more Snowzilla for the kids--a trip that has become a family tradition for some. City code enforcement officials declared Snowzilla a public nuisance and safety hazard.
Cranky? Scrooge-like? Perhaps I might be a bit "cranky" and "scrooge-like" if I lived on Columbine Street and was frequently awakened at 3 A.M. by headlights, car stereos thumping rap crap, and rubberneckers tromping through my yard. Neither Dan Fagan nor most of the 850+ people who've posted comments to the ADN story in support of Powers specify whether or not they would tolerate such a nuisance in their own neighborhoods. This is neither expected nor is considered acceptable behavior in a residential neighborhood; this is why we have differential zoning laws.
And what will Powers do next? He plans no litigation; his finances preclude it. So Snowzilla is just a big pile of snow rubble. Powers said he doesn't plan to rebuild, because under the city's nuisance abatement order, he could be arrested if he rebuilds it. However, community support for Powers continues to build; I've now learned there is a website, Snowzilla.org, which has just been formed.
There is absolutely NO EXCUSE for municipal code enforcers giving conflicting guidance. Government should never be allowed to put anyone in a box; it is government's responsibility to solve problems, not create problems. We have a right to expect correct and consistent answers from bureaucrats.
But the city did solve a legitimate problem when they "melted" Snowzilla. The evidence showed that the giant snowman clearly created a continuing public nuisance in the neighborhood. Zoning restrictions are crafted to minimize public nuisances in residential neighborhoods. Perhaps Billy Powers should rebuild his "Snowzilla" in a nearby city park.