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Pigs' arrival turns feud into court fight

After Rodney Chapnick buys land surrounding Dan Smith's 4 acres, disagreements about lake access, a trash pile and a pigpen spoil a chance to be happy neighbors.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2002


BROOKSVILLE -- Dan Smith found his heaven on earth when he bought a home and 4 acres on Griffin Road a decade ago.

Huge, mossy oaks shade the land and create a canopy over the curving street east of Brooksville. A small fish-filled lake stands just a cast away. Cows munch at the vast expanse of pasture that spreads behind his Cracker-style house.

"Look around. Where are we going to move where we're going to have this?" Smith, a 38-year-old husband and a father of two children and three stepchildren, wondered from his front porch. "Can you think of a better place to raise kids?"

Then Rodney Chapnick, a Clearwater businessman, bought 15 acres surrounding Smith's land in July 2000.

Even before Chapnick broke ground on his yellow stucco home six months later, the men disproved poet Robert Frost's adage that good fences make good neighbors.

At the Hernando County Courthouse, folks call the dispute that erupted "the pig case." And for those keeping score, Smith won the first round earlier this month -- a code enforcement complaint by Chapnick that Smith's pigpen did not meet setback requirements -- but observers expect the battle to continue.

"It sounds like it will be going on long after we're involved," assistant county attorney Fred Wagner said. "Just because it doesn't violate this particular paragraph doesn't mean they won't do other things."

To hear Smith tell it, the relationship between the two men started out amicably enough. As Chapnick walked the land before deciding to buy, Smith said, they talked about how beautiful the area is. Chapnick promised not to change anything, Smith related.

In particular, Smith expected his children would continue to fish the nearby lake, just a few footsteps off his property.

A short time later, Chapnick erected a wire fence with a locked gate.

"When (Chapnick) bought the property, Smith was essentially using as his own the property behind the Smith property for access to the lake," Chapnick's lawyer, Joe Mason, explained. "He had stored some of his own property there, including a boat. Mr. Chapnick asked him to take the personal property onto his own. He wouldn't do it."

So Chapnick moved the items himself and put up the fence and some "no trespassing" signs.

"At that point, Smith reacted angrily. They had words," Mason said.

Or, as Smith put it, "the gloves were off."

Smith called the state Division of Forestry and complained that Chapnick was damaging majestic oaks. He also complained to the state Department of Environmental Protection that Chapnick was illegally altering wetlands around the lake.

Chapnick turned Smith in to the county Health Department for running a pipe from his laundry machine into a field. The pipe soon came out.

Chapnick created a mound of roots, branches and other debris in full view of Smith's game room window. Smith called the pile a "rat's nest" and dumped a dryer, toilet and other trash on his side of Chapnick's fence.

The biggest feud came over the placement of Smith's pigpen and Chapnick's home.

Chapnick took a permit to construct his house as close to Smith's land as possible. This, Smith says, despite Chapnick's ability to build anywhere on the 15 acres.

"The fencers on day one told me he wanted to buy me out," Smith said. "I think he's got a really nice envelope. I've got a really nice stamp."

Mason countered that Chapnick placed the house logically -- close to the road, in a nice grove of oaks, and near the lake.

Up went Smith's "Pigs coming here" sign. Mason says Chapnick had his building permit first. Smith disagrees.

Either way, true to his word, Smith installed a shaker-screen pen on the property line and welcomed four pigs to his family.

"We used to fish and eat the catfish," Smith said. "He took that away from us. Now we do pigs."

Chapnick called county Animal Control, claiming Smith was abusing the pigs. That complaint went nowhere.

Next, he called code enforcement, contending the pigpen was too close to his house.

The code states: "No odor- or dust-producing substance or use, except in connection with cultivation of permitted uses, shall be permitted within one hundred (100) feet of the property line of an adjoining parcel containing a residence or the property line of a residentially zoned parcel."

Smith didn't back down. As he slaughtered the pigs for their meat, he placed the cleaned skulls on Chapnick's fence for decoration.

He chided the notion that pigs in an agricultural area were a nuisance. They don't squeal louder than the miniature donkeys down the street bray, he noted, and the cows on Chapnick's property leave the same kind of "odor-producing substances" as the pigs.

Smith also hired a lawyer, Darryl Johnston, who pointed out that Chapnick had a structure and not a house on his land because he did not have a certificate of occupancy when the pigpen went up. Johnston then asked the county Code Enforcement Department to issue a citation to Smith, so he could fight the issue in court.

County Judge Peyton Hyslop quickly found Smith not guilty.

"What it came down to was, it has to be a residence. It's not a residence" at the time, said Wagner, the county attorney. "It was premature in citing (Smith). There was no violation."

And there will not be one, he continued, because Hyslop's ruling essentially grandfathered the pigpen as a use pre-existing the home.

Still, the battle continues.

Each side seeks further redress from the county, which Wagner said does not exist. And each still has vitriol for the other.

"I'm not pretending that I'm without blame," Smith said. "Maybe I could have done something different, like be a patsy and let him push me and push me, and just accept it, and life would be easier. But that's just not the way it's going to be. If I give this up, where are they going to go next?"

Mason argued that Smith is the bad neighbor.

"Chapnick has no intent, never had any intent, of buying Smith's property. He has what he needs," Mason said. "It's a prime example of a landowner, of a neighbor, engaging in socially inappropriate behavior to exact revenge, to thumb his nose, whatever the motivation."

-- Staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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