LaPlace man forced to cut 7 feet from trailer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / April 14, 1999

LAPLACE – Imagine slicing nearly 7 feet off one end of your home. ALaPlace man, by court order, started work Monday doing what most people would consider unthinkable.

“They’ve been giving me the blues back here,” Robert Keller said.

Keller, 68, has lived in a trailer residence at the end of Nutmeg Street, off West Fifth Street, since 1966. Three years ago, he said, St. John theBaptist Parish allowed him to place a newer trailer at the site.

Last week, 40th Judicial District Judge Mary Hotard Becnel ordered Keller to remove the trailer which overhangs the adjoining property line, owned by Andrew Berthelot of LaPlace. Keller said he couldn’t move the trailer,so he began sawing off a 7-foot section of his home, walling up the open end.

Demolition began Monday, despite the pleadings of Parish Councilman Dale Wolfe, who said he is trying to straighten the matter out and asked Keller to hold off. The matter was due to go before Tuesday’s meeting of the St.John Parish Council.

The property in question is behind the old Jacob’s Merchandise store which itself encroaches on Berthelot’s property by approximately 2 feet and has stood on its site since the 1890s. The property line is also encroached bythe residence roofline of Robert Sterling, Keller’s brother-in law.

On May 15, 1995, Berthelot bought a tract facing Keller’s trailer, which includes property on both sides of the dead-end street and on the end.

According to records in the Clerk of Court’s office, Berthelot bought the site knowing Keller’s trailer extended over the property line by nearly 7 feet.

“He moved it in 1996,” Berthelot claimed, “and I’ve been fighting it ever since.”On April 1, the matter went to Judge Becnel’s court, which ruled in Berthelot’s favor. Keller claimed his case was not properly presented incourt and he was not told the proper time for the court hearing, which resulted in his being late.

In his absence, Keller said, he lost his case and was ordered to pay $500 in contempt of court fines, plus court costs, plus come up with the expense of chopping 7 feet off the end of his trailer as he cannot afford to move it by the court-ordered deadline of April 16.

“The judge is wrong in this situation,” Keller contended. “She wouldn’t letme say nothing. I don’t know why the judge is down on me.”In September 1997, Planning and Zoning Director Laurette Thymes told Berthelot of the permitted encroachment and told him at that time the encroachment was “grandfathered” in, as it pre-dated not only the land purchase but also the parish’s zoning regulations.. In her letter, Thymes wrote: “In August of this year, inspectors from the parish documented that the setbacks conform to parish requirements,” and she added that the parish zoning ordinance “provides that when 40 percent or more of the frontage on the same side of the street is improved with buildings that have existing front yards less than required, the setback will be the average front yard depth. The mobile home meets this standardbecause other structures on the same street are also encroaching.”Berthelot is also attempting to claim Nutmeg Street as part of his property and hopes to fence it off. The street was originally a private lanebut has been maintained by the parish for three years and is now thereby a parish street by state law.

“I own three sides of Nutmeg,” Berthelot said. “It’s useless to the parish.”Thymes recalled after the court ruling that Keller called her to ask how much he could cut off the end of his trailer to conform with the court’s ruling. “I wish he had the opportunity to have his case heard on themerits,” she said.

On the other hand, Berthelot said, “I don’t know what they’re trying to get at. It’s obvious they don’t understand the law.”

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