RIVERVIEW — Don Wood and R. Keith Hopper have been neighbors in Riverview since the early 1990s.
Back then, Wood said, his back yard in the Ashley Oaks subdivision off of Krycul Avenue "was like Jurassic Park."
But now, the trees on Hopper's property are gone, replaced by a horse stable on the other side of Wood's back fence. A black tarp several feet higher than the fence now obscures Wood's view.
Since 2007, Wood, 72, has tried to correct what he sees as injustice. He wants Hopper to cut down on the number of horses he owns and take stable waste off-site. He says Hopper is still in violation of county codes, but he says he can't force code enforcement to follow through on their judgments.
"I just don't know how he gets away with it," Wood said of his neighbor. "I don't know who's the biggest offender — the stable owner or code enforcement."
Code enforcement officials say they deal with this case like any other: issue citations, wade through appeals and wait for the smoke to clear. Hopper, 58, who runs the stable with his wife, Linda, says Wood is malicious.
Hopper said his lawyer advised him not to speak to the Times. But he offered this: Code enforcement issues are a problem only because Wood keeps calling officials.
"We have an innocuous little horse farm here," Hopper said. "It's quiet. It's pleasant. It's as immaculately clean as we can possibly keep it."
David Carr, Hopper's lawyer, did not return calls seeking comment.
Three neighbors whose back yards also overlook the stable said they don't have a problem with it. But each of those property owners declined to comment on the record, saying they did not want to get involved in the two men's ongoing dispute.
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It all started with the trees, Wood said.
In 2007, Wood sent Hopper a letter asking him to remove some dead trees bordering his property. Wood said he was concerned that the trees would be a danger to his home during hurricane season. By that point, Hopper had operated his stable for about 13 years.
Hopper responded with a letter of his own, saying that he planned to cut down the trees within a few days but that the trees were not dead or a danger to Wood's property.
In response to the disagreement, Wood said Hopper piled manure up along his fence.
That's when Wood called code enforcement and found out Hopper's stable didn't meet county code, he said.
In April of 2008, Wood complained about the smell of horse manure on the property, county code enforcement records show.
Since April 28, 2008, code inspectors have inspected Hopper's property at least 11 times. Hopper has received one citation: special use of the property without approval, said Andy Pfeiffer, a code investigator involved with the case.
Hopper's land, which is zoned for agricultural and single-family conventional use, was approved for conditional use as a public stable in December 2007. However, he found the conditions cost-prohibitive, Pfeiffer said. In order to operate a public stable, Hopper would need to make changes to meet code, such as possibly adding parking areas, Pfeiffer said.
The Hoppers asked the Planning and Growth Management Department to consider their stable a legal nonconforming use, meaning that they used the land as a stable before current zoning requirements went into effect. This would allow them to continue running a public stable as a business without making the required improvements.
County planners denied that request, which Hopper is appealing. According to the county's ruling, the Hoppers established their stable before 1992 and should have obtained a permit then. Since they did not obtain the permit, the county ruled a public or private stable was not legal.
Both Pfeiffer and Tom Hiznay, a planner with Planning and Growth Management, said Hopper could probably get approval for private use of the stable. The sticking point with current appeals for a private stable has been that only one parcel of the property has been included instead of the full 10 acres, an oversight for which the county and Hopper blame each other in documents.
"In his case, it's a matter of a technicality," Pfeiffer said. "I'd love to see it come to a conclusion, one way or another."
Even so, obtaining zoning for a private stable would not allow Hopper to operate a riding stable and give riding lessons.
Wood isn't the only party unhappy with Planning and Growth Management. The Hoppers also filed a lawsuit against Hillsborough County after the agency denied their request to grandfather their public stable into county code.
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Wood and Hopper are embroiled in litigation against each other, as well.
In 2007, Wood went to small claims court seeking damages for his fence, records show, but he dropped the suit. In September, Hopper's attorney wrote a letter accusing Wood of digging ditches that drained water onto the stable property. Hopper filed a suit over the matter in August 2008, records show. Wood is countersuing for nuisance.
Wood said he has spent more than $25,000 in legal expenses. He said the Hoppers still operate a public stable, and he has hundreds of photographs to state his case.
Wood said he has to have two air filters to deal with the dust floating over from his back yard. He said he's tired of the fighting and wants to go to trial and get it over with.
If anyone asked him for advice in a similar situation now, he said, he'd tell them to "just look the other way."
Wood, who was in the military for 20 years, said he isn't one to back out of a dispute.
"I wasn't about to go home or let the bully on the street push me around."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Hilary Lehman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2440.