Junk Man

Is It Trash, Or Art?

Altamonte Springs, Fla., is a quiet suburb just north of Orlando.

"You can still get a house at a reasonable price," says real-estate agent Jann Schmitt. "We're a neighborhood. And we like to think we can take a lot of pride in our neighborhood."

Four years ago, she built a new home of her own on Alpine Street. Almost as soon as she moved in, Jann discovered a problem, Bill Lagattuta reports.

That problem was one neighbor--Alan Wayne Davis. The 46-year-old Davis is Alpine Street's own Fred Sanford, turning his yard into a virtual junkyard. And his neighbors are furious.

"It's a sty," says neighbor Amy O'Meara.

"Reminds me of Appalachia," says another neighbor, Janet Reynolds.

Davis responds, "The hell with my neighbors."

Davis fills his yard with a rotating collection of old cars, worn tires, rusty scraps, machinery, tarp-covered piles of who-knows-what, and broken bits of this and that.

He says he likes how it looks.

Says Schmitt: "We have Disney World, Sea World, maybe this can be Junk World."

The main attraction in Davis' world? Half-built, life-size replica airplanes sitting right in the front yard.

Davis shares his home and his yard with his 6-year-old daughter, and his wife, Aileen, who's a bookkeeper, a homemaker, and maybe the most tolerant woman in America.

Alan Davis is a freelance welder, and a self-proclaimed artist. He makes fake bombs for vintage warplanes and sells them to museums and collectors.

"I'm full-time employed at being a government subversive," he says.

Davis isn't just your run-of-the-mill slob, he claims he is a patriot, standing up for the rights of private property owners everywhere... to trash their own yards.

"This is a political protest under the First Amendment," he says. "You cannot use the allegation that something is unsightly to violate people's protected Constitutional rights. I will not tolerate it."

His neighbors have complained to the authorities, who have fined Davis more than $600,000 over the years. But he's yet to pay a cent, which has Alpine Street up in arms.

Schmitt says that people are not willing to buy houses in the neighborhood because of Davis.

Neighbors worry Davis isn't just lowering their property values, they worry he might be dangerous.

"They say he's a genius, very intelligent, but wasn't Ted Kaczynski, too?" asks Janet Reynolds.

Davis says he would shoot anyone who came on his property and tried to take his junk away.

That kind of talk got the attention of the authorities.

Dep. Sheriff Duane Kvalheim, who has been watching Alan Davis for years, thinks Davis may be dangerous. "Well, he makes dangerous statements," says Kvalheim. "And this day and age, people take those statements very seriously."

County Planning Commissioner Don Fisher takes the Davis case seriously, too: "It's certainly dangerous. People, especially children, could get hurt by some of the things that are out there."

But while Fisher has figured out how to fine Davis - $500 a day - he can't figure out how to collect the fine.

"I never will pay," Davis says.

Seminole County has little leverage in dealing with Davis because of a Florida law called the homestead exemption that makes it illegal for the government to foreclose on Davis' home, even if he's breaking the law. Stymied, the authorities even arrested Davis and charged him with felony littering. But a judge threw the case out, ruling that the litter law didn't apply to Davis.

That ruling left Davis charged with four misdemeanors involving nuisance or public nuisance - not enough to get the junk off his property permanently, prosecutors say.

And Davis responded to the county with his latest work of art: a realistic-looking sculpture called "Kiss My Ass," which he has displayed right in his front yard.

So with no one willing - or able - to stop him, Alan Davis keeps throwing bombs, and laughing at his neighbors.

Says Schmitt: "You can't control what's going to happen after you buy a house or a neighborhood. He just needs to conform to the human race, that's all. Join the human race. You'll find that we're OK."

The county is still trying to stop Davis, this time with a lawsuit, but Davis predicts he'll win. "I'm living proof that it's very difficult to intimidate a neighbor," says Davis. "Neighbors want to bitch about it, but they don't have a right to tell me what I can do on my property."