Toilet-shaped planters cause conflict between residents, town
All stories have two sides, and quite often, both sides appear reasonable. Such seems to be the case of a trio of toilets re-purposed as planters on a Prescott Valley lawn.
Property owners Pat and Bob Schmidt say the planters pleasingly overflow with flowers and greenery and don't offend anyone. But when Town of Prescott Valley Code Enforcement Officer Mike Young first noticed the toilets in early April, summer's bloom had not occurred.
"In most cases, toilets we find in yards are just junk. We notify and they come into compliance voluntarily," Town Code Enforcement Supervisor Fernando Gonzalez said. "In this case, at the end of winter, with no plants - or dead plants - the toilets appeared as just toilets. After we notified the Schmidts, then plants were starting to grow, and it changed into something else. There's not as much of an impact now the plants have grown up. But they have a flag on one, so it really stands out. Foliage has overgrown the rest."
Gonzalez said Town Code prohibits open storage of nuisance objects such as furniture and refrigerators on real property that devalues other neighborhood properties.
The Schmidts argue that toilets are not mentioned specifically in the code, while Gonzalez said the list is not all-inclusive, but that listed items provide guidance for determining what similar items may fall under the umbrella of nuisance.
"We've been here for 23 years and the toilets have been there for five," Pat Schmidt, 81, said of their home at the corner of Ocotillo and Spouse. "Both of us are getting older and it's getting harder to do what we used to do, but we keep it up."
She said the toilets are not discarded, but placed specifically in their well-tended yard.
"We live by CASA (Central Arizona Senior Association) and I stopped people for three weeks asking if the planter was tacky and offensive. I went door-to-door to my neighbors. Not one person complained," Bob Schmidt, 80, said.
However, Gonzalez said his department received two phone calls from neighbors bothered by the toilet planters.
"The neighbors admitted they told Mr. Schmidt they were not offended, because they didn't want to hurt his feelings. But they feel the toilets are kind of an embarrassment," Gonzalez said.
Pat said from the Internet, people can order planters shaped like toilets.
"It's silly to spend $25 when what I was doing was recycling," she said.
Bob said he broke the bottom out of the toilets, which they had replaced with low water use commodes five years ago, filled them with potting soil and turned them into art deco flower planters.
Gonzalez said the distinction lies in the item's intended use.
"But what about the 'saguaro cactus' made from horseshoes in someone's yard, and the motorcycle sculpture at the Civic Center," Pat wondered. "They're beautiful and I love them, but it's still junk. Maybe the town should ask the Arts Council (about the planters.)"
Gonzalez said the town's public buildings are separate from residential neighborhoods, where people "don't want to have to explain (to visitors) why the toilets are there."
Ultimately, Town Code authorizes the Town Manager or his designee - in this case the Zoning Administrator - to determine what non-listed uses of objects may be prohibited.
"Realistically it's not my case, but I'm involved here. It's part of my job to protect residents," Gonzalez said. "There has to be a place where we say, we have to follow these rules. What else are we going to see as a planter?"
He suggested to the Schmidts that they situate the toilets so they would be the only ones seeing them on their property.
"I thought it was a fair option. They can still enjoy them. From the timeline, when we first notified until now, you can see we're trying to work with these folks, even up to the hearing officer," he said, adding, "This is the first case that has gone this far. We usually remedy the situation through the process and education."
On July 22, the Schmidts lost their appeal before the Zoning Commission's five-member volunteer Board of Adjustment, and will plead their case further next Monday, this time before an administrative hearing officer.
"I'll let it go to a lien against my property before I remove it. It's just that simple," Bob Schmidt said.
Gonzalez said anyone is welcome to attend the hearing at 2 p.m., Aug. 26, in the Civic Center's courtroom (first floor).
"The hearing officer allows testimony from anybody," he noted. "Every case is heard on its own merit because every one is different."