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Homeowner may be forced to pay hefty fine for smell

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Updated: 11/01/2013 12:47 am
NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. -- A Neptune Beach homeowner could be ordered to pay a $500 daily fine for an odor emanating from her home that neighbors call offensive, obnoxious, and repulsive.

"When the wind's blowing the wrong way, you run out of your own yard to head inside, " says Robin Rutledge, whose mother lived next door to the home on Oceanwood Drive for more than a decade, before her passing last year.

"It was sad. In her last year, we couldn't let her sit outside and enjoy the weather because the smell was so bad."

Rutledge and other neighbors blame the home's owner, 70-year-old Edith Alcorn.

In July, the city removed 34 cats from Alcorn's care, after a concerned citizen called police requesting a welfare check. Police found the cats soaked in their own urine and feces, living in what they reported as squalid conditions.

Alcorn was arrested earlier this month, and charged with animal cruelty, stemming from the July investigation.

"What Ms. Alcorn is guilty of, if anything, is having too much heart," says her attorney, Duke Fagan.

Fagan says Alcorn never meant to put anyone's health at risk, but neighbors tell Action News the stench has been a problem for a decade, and still hasn't gone away, months after her home was condemned.

"We're not against her," says Rutledge, "and that's why this went on so long. We tried to ask her to do something about it many times, but she'd clean up and it would happen all over again. You can only use the law to get something like this to end."

That process is taking longer than they hoped, however.

A court order issued to Alcorn in September, demanded she get rid of the smell by October 7, which is a violation of two city codes. The order was the third of its kind issued this year.

On October 7, building code officials attempted to inspect Alcorn's home to see her progress.

"She refused to let me in," said Building Official Don Ford during testimony at a hearing held Thursday.

Fagan says Alcorn thought the source of the odor had to be eliminated from areas outside the home only, and that progress toward fixing the home's pool and outdoor storage areas was indeed underway.

"I'm absolutely shocked at the harshness of the city's solution," said Fagan following the hearing, where the attorney for the city, Crystal Broughan, suggested Alcorn be fined $500 a day until the odor is eliminated, starting from October 7. "They want to fine her into oblivion until the house is demolished."

Testimony from witnesses revealed Alcorn began ripping drywall from the home last week, and that she called for an odor eliminator to inspect the home for the first time on Wednesday morning.

"The smell is bad," said Robert Sears, owner of EIEIOdors. "It could take six to eight weeks to get rid of in my opinion. We are prepared to begin work on Saturday if Ms. Alcorn accepts our proposal."

Fagan argued that a hefty fine, could leave Alcorn penniless if the work lasts that long.

Alcorn told the court she had no savings when the repairs began and has used her retirement fund, as a former federal employee, to pay so far.

"I applied for more money a few weeks ago, but the government was shut down. The employees who process the checks were furloughed and now the checks are backed up."

Fagan says Alcorn has been living in an extended stay hotel while completing some of the repairs. He says she's tried various means of cleaning the home before pursuing more expensive demolition and professional cleaning options. Money to pay Sears, he says, won't be available for a least another 10 days.

"This is a process that takes time," said Fagan. "If you care enough about your home to rip out the drywall, you're doing what you need to do."

But neighbors say penalties are the only way to hold Alcorn accountable.

"I really think the best thing is to tear down and start over," says Rutledge. "That would be the healthiest option for this community."

Special Magistrate Thomas Ingram is expected to issue his opinion in the coming days.
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