Monday, December 22, 2008

Anchorage, Alaska Code Enforcement Commissars Melt 16-Foot Tall "Snowzilla" Giant Snowman, Call It A Public Nuisance And A Safety Hazard

Update December 23rd: Snowzilla has been resurrected. Updated post HERE.


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.

5 comments:

  1. Support Snowzilla

    Snowzilla is no more. Municipal officials in Anchorage, Alaska have given a cease-and-desist order to builders of the giant snowman that made appearances the last three years in an east Anchorage neighborhood.

    Show your support and build your own Snowzilla and send in the pictures to supportsnowzilla@gmail.com and we will show them on this website

    Go to http://www.snowzilla.org now!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Finding Truth12/23/2008 10:35 AM

    If you don't live in that area, how do you know people drive by at 3:00AM and play ANY kind of loud music; rap, country, classical... it is all "crap" at 3:00AM if it is loud and wakes me up.

    And yes, I would tolerate it for this short time of year when goodwil to men and the spirit of giving and joy are supposed to be filling the air.

    Does it hurt being this grumpy?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Snowzilla rises from the dead, as "someone built" Snowzilla overnight!

    Good job Powers family!

    Gee, I wonder if the "stuffed shirt complaining neighbor" has any CHRISTmas lights on display?
    If so, she better take them down. As someone my drive down the street just to see them!

    As I understand it.
    The Chief City Code Enforcement Officer, is named Jack Frost.

    So the headlines from the ADN (Alaska Democratic News) should read:
    "SNOWZILLA BEATS UP POOR JACK FROST, TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS!!!"

    Come on folks, get a life.
    In a few weeks, Alaska is fixing to celebrate its 50th Anniversary.
    What better way than with a Alaskan size snowman!

    This goes for the STUPID ADN link below too.
    50 years ago it would of been called CHRISTmas light gallery.
    NOT holiday lights!
    http://www.adn.com/holiday-lights/story/601348.html?gallery

    "If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a Nation gone under."
    -- Ronald Reagan

    A man WITH a gun is a CITIZEN
    A man WITHOUT a gun is a SUBJECT

    Take care, be safe
    God Bless
    Chris - Alaska

    MERRY CHRISTmas!

    ReplyDelete
  4. "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."

    Sorry...but this EXCUSE doesn't cut it. If you are going to hold the Powers family to this standard, then ALL of those houses with with christmas lights on them that cause "more than normal" traffic...well....those lights now have to come DOWN. If it's the LAW for one....it's the law FOR ALL.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's arbitrary and capricious to fine one person for a holiday display and not all the others, especially the ones that are potential electrical fire and electricution hazards. Yet the city actually sponsors a contest that encourages that kind contest, doesn't it? (what if Snowzilla had lights, then what?) Some of those displays generate even more traffic, noise and complaining neighbors. I would think admitting that they are going after the snowman to get at him for other issues would be enough to get the whole mess thrown out--and the officials in a heap of ethics trouble.

    ReplyDelete