March 14, 2014

Owner of Arlington ‘sustainable’ community to appeal code violations

Residents of the Garden of Eden, a “sustainable lifestyle community” raided during the summer, say they are being targeted.

The owner of the Garden of Eden, a “sustainable lifestyle community” in southwest Arlington that was raided by police and code enforcement officials in August, was found guilty of a dozen code violations by a Municipal Court jury Thursday.

Shellie Smith, who owns the property in the 7300 block of Mansfield Cardinal Road, plans to appeal, a friend said Thursday night.

Smith had requested a jury trial to dispute the Class C misdemeanor citations for violations including high weeds and grass, unclean premises, nuisance outdoor storage and hazardous wiring.

Arlington issued the citations in February and August 2013 after responding to complaints about unsanitary conditions, city spokeswoman Sana Syed said.

“While we were looking into those complaints, we tried to work with the property owner, and we tried to get them into code,” Syed said.

“In the majority of cases, when someone is fined they rectify the situation. With the Garden of Eden, they weren’t doing that.”

Smith did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Garden of Eden residents have said they are trying to maintain a sustainable lifestyle that includes growing their own food, building and creating with recycled materials, and using little electricity.

Quinn Eaker, who has lived on Smith’s property for years, said the city has unfairly targeted the community for “completely ridiculous things essential to our way of life.”

On Aug. 2, Arlington code officers executed a search warrant and removed 20,420 pounds of materials, included compost, carpeting, tree limbs and cardboard, as well as two dozen tires holding stagnant water.

“We have codes and standards that our council has put in place for a reason. These things are there for the protection, safety, sanitation and health of our community,” Syed said. “They are still not up to code. We will continue to try to work with them to rectify all those code violations.”

Eaker said Arlington’s actions were harmful and unnecessary.

City crews destroyed numerous fruit and vegetable plants, as well as tall grasses that members use to weave baskets or feed their goats, he said. Additionally, the city hauled off valuable recyclable items, such as wooden pallets used for raised garden beds; 55-gallon barrels used to catch rain or store livestock feed; and scrap metal that the group was collecting to sell, Eaker said.

“Code enforcement is cracking down upon us. It’s not to keep us safe. It’s not helping us in any way. It is to control us,” Eaker said. “Code enforcement came here without any education on sustainability, without any care of what we are doing whatsoever.”

Arlington’s SWAT team also raided the property Aug. 2, looking for marijuana plants but finding none. Some adults in the group were handcuffed for 20 to 30 minutes during the search, police have said.

“We haven’t harmed anybody. All we do is wake up, feed our chickens, grow our food, water our plants. We live a very peaceful, harmonious, graceful life,” Eaker said. “The result of that is a bunch of men with guns coming and cutting down our crops and stealing our stuff.”

After the jury’s decision Thursday night, Municipal Judge Stewart Milner reduced the fines on the 12 violations from about $4,400 to about $2,400, Syed said.

Eaker said the fines will not be paid.

“No one here has jobs. The way we sustain our lives is building, creating and growing everything ourselves. We sustain our lives by creating things with our bare hands,” Eaker said. “There is no way we will pay it.”

Three of Smith’s citations are still pending trial.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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