When driving through in Benton, most will notice a lot of small town charm, that is, until they get to the corner where North Street runs into Main Street.
When driving through in Benton, most will notice a lot of small town charm, that is, until they get to the corner where North Street runs into Main Street. Looking to the east one will see a beautifully manicured lawn on one corner, and the Peabody State Bank on the other corner, but when looking to the west, one will see the rundown home at 335 N. Main. It has four-foot tall weeds and a giant tree limb that has split and fallen in the yard. It’s a sight that has made neighbors angry for months.
Josh Reida, a firefighter with Butler County Fire District number 7, has kept his lawn perfectly trimmed for 12 years and is not happy about the condition of the property right across the street.
“The owner is doing it in protest over a city zoning board and city council decision,” said Reida. “They bought the house intending it tear it down and build apartment buildings.”
Something Reida says he, and over a dozen other neighbors, went to protest at a planning board meeting over the matter.
“We are trying to raise families in town,” said Reida. “Once the zoning is changed they could build anything there. I didn’t want an apartment building across the street from my children.”
According to the county appraiser’s office, Steven Brinks purchased the property last year. City records show that he applied for the zoning change from single family to multiple family on October 31, 2013. The matter went before the planning board and after hearing the protests from neighbors, the board recommended against the change. In March, city council meeting minutes show that on a vote of 3-1, the city upheld the planning board’s decision.
“He hasn’t mowed it since,” said Reida. “But what really makes it bad is his connection to one of the city council members.”
That city council member is Sharon Weaver. According to neighbors, Brinks works out of town most of the time, but resides at Weaver’s home at 621 N. Main, on the occasions he is in town. A claim, that when asked, she would neither confirm nor deny. His official address, listed with the county appraiser’s office and on the zoning change request, is a post office box in Benton. His phone number has a St. Charles, Missouri area code, but while on paper he has no ties to Weaver, she is quick to come to his defense.
“The city denied his request for several reasons, many of which are not valid. Proper procedures were not followed.” said Weaver. “In fact, Mr. Brinks has considered filing a lawsuit against the city.”
Weaver says that in the small town of 900 residents, none have complained to her directly about the condition of the property. But someone has now made an official complaint to the city. City Manager, Charles Hefton, says he called Mr. Brinks on Monday, July 7 and told him he would need to get the yard cleaned up.
“We usually try that first,” said Hefton. “I will give him about a week and if he doesn’t do anything I will send him a registered letter.”
Hefton says that once the registered letter is sent, Brinks will have 10 days to comply or he could face fines. There is not a code enforcement officer in the town, so Hefton, who is also the police chief, is left to take care of those duties. Still, Reida questions why something wasn’t done sooner, after all the property is right on Main Street, where everyone passes it just about every day.
“Once you get off of Main Street there are several places that are run down, some are unlivable,” admits Reida. “But at the same time, if something has gone on this long, they have a history of cleaning it up and sending a bill.”
Mayor Ken Gile was contacted about the issue, but he said he had “no comment.” Scott Seaton, who is in charge of zoning in Benton, did not answer his door, and Steve Brinks asked staff to call back at another time. Weaver says that Brinks will be in town this weekend and will clean the place up. She also adds that she feels like he is being picked on because he is an “out-of-towner.”
“There are so many properties that have fallen in to disrepair around town and nobody seems to care about them,” said Weaver. “I find it odd that they are picking on one property owner when there are at least 10 others that are in as bad of condition or worse.”