By Brandi Makuski
A Stevens Point woman says she’s being singled out in her neighborhood after receiving an ordinance violation notice from the city.
Steph Jones, 38, said the city notified her of several violations at her 908 Second St. property involving “safety and sanitary” issues on May 3. Lack of weather-proofing to her home, a buckling front porch, peeling paint and accumulation of items in her yard were among some of the offenses.
According to city documents, Jones has until July 1 to bring her property up to code.
Jones said she’s been singled out partly because of her unconventional lifestyle as an artist. Her home doubles as the work space, she said, for Second Space Art Place and Studios. She utilizes her front porch and yard as a place to create, and showcase, some of her sculpture art, but also noted the building inspector took photos of her property just after the 90 FM Trivia contest in mid-April, during which she said some of the recyclables and other items in her yard had accumulated due to having guests at her home.
“There was a whole list of things noted, down to even a two-inch rip in my screen porch screen,” Jones said by phone on Friday. “[The building inspector] also told me it’s inappropriate to have public art on a private residence; she told me the college had a sculpture yard just up the street, and she said if I asked them, I could do my work there — she was unaware it was a city-owned sculpture park.”
The building inspector to whom Jones was referring is Ximena Christianson, who was hired earlier this year. City records indicate Christianson underwent some building inspector training in February and May.
Jones said she already has three pieces in the Stevens Point Sculpture Park, and has created artistic benches for the downtown. She is scheduled to teach a workshop at this year’s Energy Fair in Custer.
Jones said she began installing art in her yard shortly after buying the house in 2005, some of which is visible from the roadway in front of her home, which includes a decorative arch on her front walk.
Some of Jones’ art includes the natural surroundings in her yard, she said, which is home to what she calls “an extensive garden” with 85 varieties of wildflowers, along with lots of space for birds to nest — something she said Christianson chided her on.
“She told me if I wanted to be surrounded by nature I should live in the country,” Jones said. “She actually said that — I couldn’t make that up. She also said gardens were hard work, kind of alluding to not wanting me to have it.”
The city noted Jones’ property contained “Vegetative material that may provide harborage for rodents or insects: The piles of yard waste (one at the south part of the yard, one at the east on Second st. [sic] and one to the left of the rear entrance) must be removed.”
Jones said the yard waste was being utilized for her garden, but added, “I just hadn’t gotten my soil yet”.
One of Jones’ trees was also included in the ordinance violation report. A tree in her front yard, which is felled and decaying, according to city documents, has potential to attract carpenter ants and rodents. The tree in question is visible from the road and according to Jones, is home to at least one bird nest.
“[Christianson] said I had to seal it with polyurethane,” Jones said. “But I asked for an extension because there are birds nesting there.”
Jones also said during one of their conversations about the violations, the building inspector made negative remarks about a “public art invasion” in Stevens Point.
“She actually said ‘public art invasion’,” Jones claims. “She said she had taken pictures of the barrel art and reported that to her supervisor as well.”
Christianson’s supervisor, Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski, was not immediately available for comment.
When asked about her visits to Jones’ property, Christianson declined to answer questions.
“I’d have to refer you to Mr. Ostrowski, which is the procedure in these cases,” Christianson said on Friday.
Jones said she has photos of other properties in her neighborhood with similar ordinance violations. She plans to present those at the city’s public protection committee on Monday when she requests an extension to comply with the ordinance codes.
“I probably took 200 photos of houses in my neighborhood with about 1,000 infractions,” she said.
Jones said she also believes her public political views have made her a target by those who work for the city.
“I’m concerned it might have something to do with my political affiliation because I have a Bernie [Sanders] sign out, I have had Obama signs and I protested [Governor] Walker,” she said.
City documents make no reference to Jones’ political views or the political signs in her yard, nor does it reference her artwork.
“Several items with the building are not complying with City Ordinance,” the letter from Christianson to Jones reads in part. “There is accumulation of items in your backyard that are incompatible with the surrounding residential and commercial neighborhood and are in violation of City Ordinance.”
In a letter to the public protection committee, Jones said the extensive improvements will be “costly”, and she’s requesting the extension so she can “have time to obtain a loan, or grant” to pay for them.
She also wrote that her “miscreant” neighbors have forced her to keep a thick natural barrier between the properties, part of which includes her natural elements and art work.
“My yard is an extension of the work I create for public spaces, and effort to beautify the street [sic],” Jones wrote to the committee. “I daily [sic] have new admirers of Second Space Art Place and Studios. I take time to greet them, have conversations and promote the Sculpture Park. This is grassroots ‘Community Engagement’ [sic]”.
Jones was even allowed to include 70 pages of documentation in Monday’s meeting packet via her response to the city, which included multiple articles discussing Hugelkultur — a type of no-dig sustainable gardening Jones practices, as well as the benefits of public art and the need to care for wild birds and bees in urban areas.
“I’m just trying to do what I need to do preserve my livelihood in the community,” Jones said. “I preserve the Sculpture Park through my front door. I feel singled out, I feel like it’s somewhat of an attack. I know there’s a lot of other people who’ve had problems, but this is taking it too far. ”
The public protection committee meets Monday, June 13 at 6 PM in the Lincoln Center, 1519 Water Street. The public is welcome to attend.