James Hessler can name virtually every vine, shrub and tree that grows in the yard of his Five Points home. In fact, he's even had it declared a wildlife refuge. But the city says, refuge or not, his yard is a threat to public health and safety. So Hessler says he's taking his fight to court.
"I think I have some right to privacy and to use my property as I see fit," says Hessler.
Hessler says several years ago, he saw fit to create a forest of vegetation around his Pratt Avenue home.
"I decided to create a private, low maintenance, environmentally friendly, wooded lot. I've planted wildflowers, ground covers, trees and shrubs to that end," Hessler explains.
But last month, the Huntsville City Council declared his property a public nuisance. The abatement document calls it "virtually neglected, unmaintained and undisturbed" and "injurious to general public health." City officials say the thick brush even "provides a breeding ground for vermin." But Hessler says he has the right to landscape however he chooses.
"There is nothing that says you have to conform," insists Hessler.
The council's order gave the city the right to clear cut all saplings, plants and ground cover and then send Hessler the bill.
Hessler says it was a scare tactic. "I think the abatement plan was intended to be shock and awe, to beat me down into submission," he says.
But Hessler isn't submitting. Instead, he and his attorney are asking Madison County Circuit Court Judge Jim Hall to declare the council's order a violation of state law.
"What they're stating that they are going to do, which is basically clear cut the property, in total disregard of the statute, we don't think that's going to fly," says Hessler's attorney Charles Hooper.
Hessler says just because his yard doesn't look like everyone else's, doesn't mean the city has the right to take over his yard.
"I think some people would like to be able to enforce a turf lawn, cute little button hedges and total conformity," he says.
The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Thursday.