AVALON, N.J. — The case of Elaine Scattergood’s leafy green vines vs. the beach town of Avalon is creeping toward trial.
Scattergood has been clashing with borough officials all year over the vines that climb the outside of her beach-block home, ever since a code enforcement officer cited her for violating a town ordinance on overgrowth. Scattergood refuses to cut them, saying her Virginia creepers produce berries that nourish birds during the winter. According to Scattergood, that makes them a valuable environmental resource in a town known for multimillion-dollar vacation homes with immaculately trimmed lawns.
On Monday, Municipal Court Judge Andrew Cafiero dismissed a motion by Scattergood asking him to have the case dropped. Her lawyer, Joseph Grassi, said he was prepared to go to trial as soon as next month.
If she loses, Scattergood could be forced to cut down vines she said she has been cultivating for decades with no previous complaints from the town.
“I’m not worried about it,” Scattergood said of the prospect of a trial. “We have an expert witness, a landscape architect. But I don’t like having to do this, be here in court.”
To Scattergood, a full-time resident for 35 years whose parents previously owned her house, the conflict is emblematic of Avalon’s shifting identity, from a sleepy, free-spirited beach town to an enclave for the wealthy.
Scattergood also believes local officials are targeting her because of her history of environmental activism, which has included protests of construction projects and the creation of a grassroots organization called Save Avalon’s Dunes. And then there was the time she ended up in court over noise complaints involving her two Amazon parrots, a story that made national headlines in 2015 before a judge allowed her to keep them.
Town officials have said that the citations were issued because multiple residents complained about the appearance of Scattergood’s property and that hers was one of several that has received citations for overgrown weeds and grass in recent years.
In January, a code enforcement officer cited Scattergood for “failure to remove overgrowth vegetation” from her 30th Street home. She was also cited for violating a sanitation code that requires that the outside of properties be maintained in a clean, safe manner. According to the town’s code enforcement, vines must be trimmed to under nine inches in length.
Monday’s ruling followed a hearing that was barely 30 minutes in a near-empty municipal courtroom a few blocks from the beach.
Grassi, her attorney, argued that the borough’s citation was too vague and never specified which provisions of the ordinance were violated. Cafiero disagreed, saying the citations were later amended to include more information.
Afterward, Grassi said he was optimistic about the outcome of a trial. Scattergood, though, said the past year has made her question whether she still belongs in Avalon.
“I think my days here are numbered,” she said. “But I don’t know. It’s so hard to move. I don’t know where I’d go.”