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Yard Art Is in Eye of Beholder and Court
Monday, September 03, 2007 5:17:32 PM

For Dwight DeGolia's neighbors, the last straw was the fake palm trees.

The 62-year-old retiree had spent years fixing up the sliver of sloping land outside his home, adding two putting greens that were almost 30 feet long, a small creek and a gazebo.

Then he added 50 tons of beach sand to complete the illusion of a tropical golf vacation, as well as a portable golf hitting cage and a bar with a pergola roof.

"We had that place really shining," DeGolia said.

But the 8- to 12-foot palm trees made it impossible for neighbors to ignore DeGolia's project anymore, a passion that they said was making the neighborhood look tacky and led them to take DeGolia to court.

"We gave it a nickname," said Dennis Taylor, a former subdivision trustee. "Wally World."

Cities and neighborhood associations have struggled for years with how to handle situations in which eccentric people with a penchant for lawn decoration get into fights with nearby homeowners.

The battles often feature issues that are far from straightforward, such as whose property rights are more important -- the woman who fancies dozens of cupid statues on her front lawn, or the next door neighbor who has to look at it?

"It's a hard balancing act," said Carlos Trejos, planning and zoning administrator for the city of Olivette. "We are not there to determine taste."

Two months ago, members of a Ballwin neighborhood demanded action from their Board of Aldermen after retired art teacher Lewis Greenberg built clusters of colorful, twisted metal and wooden spikes on his front lawn and hung silver bowls from the trees. Greenberg said it was to commemorate the Holocaust.

City officials cited Greenberg for littering, but that's not the end of it, said his attorney, David Howard.

"It's going to be extremely expensive, the route they've chosen," Howard said.

He has argued that Greenberg's art is no different from the neighbor who hangs Christmas lights or installs a bird bath or rose trellis. He said the issue isn't that Greenberg put up art but that people don't like the art he put up.

"Once you go down that slippery slope, where do you stop?" Howard asked.

But not all self-expressive yards lead to confrontation.

Ronald Kuper has stone lions guarding the sidewalks to his Webster Groves house, which also features seven collectible automobiles displayed in a couple of driveways and a backyard rimmed with a waist-high iron fence and several stone columns. In the backyard are a dozen seminude female statues surrounding a couple of ornate birdbaths.
 
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