Friday, May 25, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando man's peacocks rile neighbors

BROOKSVILLE

Durwood and Susan Horak bought the former marijuana grow house last fall in a rural neighborhood sandwiched between tracts of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Looking forward to a peaceful, bucolic lifestyle, they spent several months remodeling and restoring the house, which had been gutted by vandals. They moved in just after Christmas.

But their lives have been anything but peaceful.

Soon after they moved a travel trailer onto the property to begin the remodeling, they discovered that a neighbor kept approximately 100 peafowl — males and females — in cages lined up just feet from their back property line.

And the peacocks — the colorful males — called all the time.

"They start in the morning and they go until night,'' Horak told Hernando County commissioners last week as he begged for their help. "I believe you have an obligation and authority to regulate nuisance and noise.''

It's not that simple, though.

Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor, said he has been to the Horaks' home twice. He's heard the din of peacocks vocalizing. But currently, county codes only regulate barking dogs.

State law severely limits any kind of rules that would negatively affect a farm, and both the Horaks' 5-acre lot and their neighbor's are zoned agricultural.

Horak argues that the state's Right to Farm Act speaks to the "reasonable'' use of farmland, and he and his attorney maintain that having to endure hours of piercing peacock screams is not reasonable.

When the peacocks are calling, Horak said, he must don earmuffs or earplugs when he is outside. Even the peacock owner wears earmuffs when he is outdoors.

When the birds are at their loudest, Horak said, having a conversation on the patio of his home, which is centered on his lot, is impossible. Even when the house is closed up, the bird calls — which some liken to a woman's screams or an extremely loud "meow" — are so annoying that he has to turn up the volume on his television.

"I need some help,'' Horak told commissioners. "The property is virtually useless.''

• • •

Horak, who oversees a water utility cooperative in Hudson, and his wife love the outdoors. She gardens, and the rich soil was part of the reason they selected the home site on Pine Hill Drive, northeast of Brooksville.

But as it became clear that the outdoors was not going to be a pleasant place to be, Horak began to seek relief.

He called the county, and Linsbeck and code enforcement came out. An officer visited with the neighbor who owns the peacocks, Bernard Iscla, but could only ask him to remove a mattress and some other junk he had piled up on his property.

Nothing in the county's codes speaks to loud peacocks.

Horak also called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which sent an officer to check out the situation. The officer called county Animal Services because peacocks are not considered wildlife. In addition to the peacocks, Iscla has many other birds, including dozens of parrots, cockatoos and macaws as well as a couple of dogs and several donkeys on his property.

By the time state and local officials were done, Iscla had been ordered to provide more appropriate housing for the peacocks and was given a warning for improper caging of some of the other birds. For the peacocks, he brought in metal cages, set them up about 15 feet from the Horaks' property line and arranged groups of the colorful birds in each cage.

Iscla told the Times he does not appreciate all of the attention focused on his home in recent weeks. He also voiced concern that a number of his neighbors were trying to drive him out and had established a "pattern of terror'' by firing their guns every time he comes out of his house.

"As I come to the end of my life, I have to put up with this crap,'' said Iscla, 64, who considers himself a farmer. "For three weeks, I haven't slept.''

A native of France who once lived on the land where the Horaks' house is located, Iscla has been in the area for 35 years.

In a telephone interview during which the sound of shrill parrots nearly drowned out his voice, he said he tried unsuccessfully to buy the house and land before the Horaks made the purchase.

He said he has been raising birds since he was 5. He said he keeps the peacocks for breeding purposes and dabbles in cross-breeding the birds to see what rare colors might emerge.

Iscla said he didn't want to move the birds to another part of his property because he believed another neighbor was trying to kill the peacocks, using rat poison and antifreeze.

While he acknowledged that officials found various animal care violations on his property, he said he believes the neighbors are upset because "they realize they can't do s---'' to get him to remove animals or move.

He is unapologetic about the peacock noise bothering the Horaks.

"I'm here before him," Iscla said. "If he doesn't want to hear peacocks, he can move to the city.''

• • •

Horak said he doesn't want to sue his neighbor. He said he has been talking to an attorney who believes the county might have the power to do something about the noise.

Another option he is considering is to erect a tall metal barrier along his lot line to block the sound. He might cover it with foam, which could help deaden the cacophony next door. But he said he's still doing research.

During last week's commission meeting, Commissioner Diane Rowden asked whether county staffers had gone over to have a friendly talk with Iscla to see if they could find a gentle solution to the conflict.

Linsbeck said he intends to do that.

He also is seeking the advice of the county attorney and trying to determine whether he can apply the "public nuisance" section of the county's new animal ordinance to the situation without violating the provisions in the Right to Farm Act.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he wanted to see the county try to find some relief for the Horaks.

While the right to farm is important, Russell said, "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is even more powerful.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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