Property owners left out in the cold

When police evicted Gabriel and Livia Ferrari from their home at 22 Sulphur Springs Road in West Asheville last week, they marked the end of a decades-long battle between the Ferraris and the city over the upkeep and look of their large lot at the corner of Sulphur Springs and Haywood Road.

Going places: Police evicted Gabriel and Livia Ferrari from their home at 22 Sulphur Sprints Road in West Asheville on Feb. 27. The Buncombe County tax office foreclosed on the property, known for its signs and goats, after the Ferrari’s failed to pay $3,123 in property taxes. Photo By Jason Sandford

Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Asheville Police Department officers evicted the Ferraris for unpaid property taxes. The Ferraris owed $3,123.75 in taxes from 2003 through 2007, according to the Buncombe County Tax Department.

But the real argument between the Ferraris and the city revolved around building safety code and sign violations. As far back as 1989, the city fought the Ferraris over everything from an unvented gas heater to religious signs that plastered the front yard of their home, known for its odd angles, turrets and corrugated metal. The Ferraris also kept goats and pigeons, junk cars and rusty drums on the property.

In 1998, Asheville City Council went so far as to vote to demolish the home, noting that Ferraris had endangered themselves and their neighbors by housing livestock and not cleaning up piles of rubble.

During the eviction, Capt. Daryl Fisher of the APD said police executed a court order to seize the goats and pigeons on the property and remove junk vehicles, including a bus.

But Gabriel Ferrari argued that everything he had done with his property was done by commandment of the Heavenly Father.

Outside the Buncombe County Courthouse the day after his Feb. 27 eviction, Ferrari told the Mountain Xpress that “the entire situation is a gross violation of the law, a brutal display of terrorism. This is against property dedicated to the Heavenly Father.”

Ferrari described what he called a government conspiracy against him, as two sheriff’s deputies stood nearby, watching closely. He claimed that court officials acted illegally against him because he once displayed the Ten Commandments.

“The government treats people with terror and contempt and they’ve become Satan dictators,” he said.

Court documents show that Buncombe County initiated foreclosure proceedings and put the land up for public sale in November 2006. The winning bidder didn’t follow through on the purchase, so the county put it up for another public sale in August 2007. Potential buyers engaged in a bid and counter-bid process until the property was finally sold to Buncombe Realty on Feb. 20 for $155,132, according to court records.

Kevin Wei, the owner and broker in charge of Buncombe Realty, said he plans to “try to find the best use of the property and improve the value of the neighborhood,” but he doesn’t have specific plans for what to build on the .84-acre lot. Wei said he has submitted a demolition permit and is awaiting city approval.

Buncombe County Clerk of Court Bob Christy said last week that the Ferraris were due $122,000 after paying the back taxes and various fines. The Ferraris refused to take the check, Christy said.

In the blustery cold outside the courthouse, Ferrari said he planned to live in a local shelter until he could mount an appeal. “We are frozen and hungry. We understand now how Christ suffered.”

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