Bamboo grove leads to criminal charge in New London
New London — A New London man whose bamboo grove has captivated — or alternatively annoyed — surrounding neighbors on his small dead-end road is the subject of a criminal complaint by the city.
Carlos Carrion, an artist who says he sometimes uses the bamboo to create furniture, is the first person to be criminally charged under the city’s newly revised blight ordinance. The charge comes months after the city says Carrion ignored requests and orders by the city to cut back his bamboo and clean up the property outside his home at 16 Borodell Place.
The bamboo forest, complete with sounds reminiscent of a rain forest because of the large number of birds it attracts, completely covers Carrion’s 0.18-acre property.
Multiple attempts to reach Carrion were unsuccessful. But he spoke publicly about his case at a recent blight hearing for Maggie Redfern, a Montauk Avenue resident who successfully challenged a blight ordinance violation over the condition of her yard.
Carrion also questioned the need to have “perfect square lawns” and maintains he is the subject of a “witch hunt” by city officials.
“I eat it, construct furniture ... it’s a home for the birds,” Carrion said of his bamboo at the hearing. “The bamboo I grow is not invasive. I maintain the plants. It stays within the perimeter of my property and yet it’s considered to be a blight?”
Carrion said he additionally trims the dead stalks in the spring and uses them for things like lighting fixtures and at times delivers bundles to neighbors.
Carrion became the target of the city’s blight officer in January, following a complaint passed on from the mayor’s office, city records show. It was around that same time that Carrion had staved off an unrelated foreclosure action, court records show.
The complaint led to warnings, abatement orders and finally a violation notice. Blight Officer Kenyon Haye alleged two different violations — one focused on the abandoned car and debris outside the home, and the other on the bamboo that was apparently spreading beyond the property borders.
Carrion appealed the violation and during a hearing in April said he had planted the bamboo 35 years ago, having brought it from Thailand.
Carrion, according to the decision issued by Blight Hearing Officer Gregg Wagman, said the bamboo was a Fargesias variety, a non-invasive and clumping bamboo that does not need to be contained like other running bamboo species.
Carrion has lived at the address since 1985 and had no prior complaints.
Wagman ruled that since the trash was removed, there was no violation there. He ruled, however, that Carrion was in violation of the property maintenance code regarding care of cultivated plants and ordered Carrion to trim back the bamboo and cut the root systems that were beyond the property line.
He imposed a fine of $100 per day. The penalty would be remitted and violation vacated if Carrion had cut back the root system around the perimeter of the property by at least 18 inches and removed dead stalks.
Wagman sent Carrion a letter dated July 13, notifying him that the city was fining him $13,500 in fees and civil penalties, “as you did not take remedial action within 60 days ... of my decision ...” Wagman wrote. Carrion also was threatened with a judgment lien if the full amount was not paid within 30 days, which it was not. The court on Sept. 13 ordered Carrion to pay $35 a week toward the amount.
Carrion additionally was issued a criminal summons on Aug. 7 for allegedly violating the town blight ordinance, a measure made available to the city when it passed a revised blight ordinance in 2015.
The police incident report reiterates the chronology of the complaints against Carrion, alleges he has ignored multiple blight remediation orders from the city and that the city had “exhausted all civil avenues."
“Carrion’s entire lawn is covered with a thick growth of bamboo; the height of which extends at least 20’, extending above the power lines. The bamboo has also crept into the yard of other homes and was coming into contact with power lines themselves. The bamboo is so thick, it’s nearly impossible to traverse through,” the complaint reads.
The complaint says Carrion’s property “is in the condition of an individual who could be best described as a ‘hoarder.'”
On July 19, Haye visited the property with Chief Administrative Officer Stephen Fields to plead with him to remove the rubbish and cut the bamboo, according to the police report. Fields even reportedly offered to bring a dumpster to the residence to assist in the removal, according to the report.
Abutting property owner Scott Gello, whose home is on Hempstead Street, said the bamboo is so close to one of the structures on the property that it leans on his walls in the winter. It was just a small patch, he said, when he moved in 17 years ago.
Attorney Daryl Justin Finizio, who is representing Carrion, said he has raised several defenses to the charge with the state’s attorney’s office and was hopeful that office and city administration would consider his arguments before they continue prosecution of the case.
He declined to discuss details of his arguments. Carrion is due back in court on Oct 6.
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