GRANITEVILLE - A graveyard of gutted cars with smashed windshields is parked in uneven rows behind the first yard on the left of Sherwood Forest Avenue.
Near all this old, immobile iron, a moldy, crumbling mattress sags over the side of a boat that last saw the lake more than a decade ago.
For the past five years, members of the Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Watch have badgered Aiken County officials, demanding that the owner of this weed-choked lot be forced to move the immobile automobiles off of the property. Now Larry Williams, the owner of the vehicles, has been hauled into court because Aiken County has decided to get tough with its revamped nuisance ordinance.
ìI hope we can get the junkyard gone for good this time," said Jerry Griffis, the head of the neighborhood's crime watch. ìThe weakest link in your community is what your community is judged by. (The junkyard) is the first thing you see in the neighborhood."
The eyesore of rusting clutter isn't area residents ' only concern . Mr. Griffis said the partially dismantled cars and trash piles are a fire hazard and lure rodents and crime into the neighborhood. He said Mr. Williams has been shuttling cars that can't be driven by tow truck between two locations ñ the one on Sherwood Forest Avenue and the one in front of what used to be an automotive repair shop in Clearwater off South Carolina Highway 421.
ìHe got (the yard) cleaned up the first time. But he moved the cars to the Valley and then he moved it right back," Mr. Griffis said. ìNow we're back where we were a year ago."
Aiken County Magistrate Judge Tracey L. Carroll gave Mr. Williams 30 more days to get rid of the 90 disabled vehicles on the properties. He was also fined $257.50, a fine that could have been more than $1,000. If the vehicles are not removed from both properties within the next month, Mr. Williams will face 30 days in jail.
ìThese cars aren't the same cars that were here before. I've already gotten rid of a lot of them," Mr. Williams said. ìI've been sick this last month and it's been hard to work on this."
He estimates that 90 vehicles remain on the property.
Alton Johnson, a building inspector for Aiken County, investigates complaints made by area residents and has been monitoring the case for five years. With a reworked nuisance ordinance that features tougher penalties, Mr. Johnson said he will now be able to pursue cases more aggressively, from junk collectors to abandoned buildings that often turn into crack houses.
The county nuisance ordinance passed in September has more stringent penalties for offenders, including fines of as much as $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail. It also streamlines the process so offenders don't go before the county council, but directly to the magistrate if they do not comply with warnings from the county.
But even with tougher laws, Mr. Johnson said it takes a while to change the habits of people who clutter their property with old cars and other mechanical detritus.
ìIt's like a circle of junk. It's like matter, it can't be destroyed," Mr. Johnson said. ìUnfortunately, it's more of a cultural thing and it will take a while for that culture of collectors to change."
Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395.
The Aiken County nuisance ordinance was toughened in 2003 with stiffer penalties. The ordinance prohibits the following items in a residential area:
motor vehicles on property for more than 10 days
Source: Aiken County code