Ain't That a Ditch

Hiram Butler and his neighbors are fighting to retain the funky charm of Magnolia Grove, and they're drawing their battle line in the ditch.

Butler retaliated by raising hell at every inconvenience -- like the time raw sewage started spewing from the gallery's toilets -- and by refusing to allow city equipment to be parked on his property. The conflict grew so heated that he was threatened with arrest numerous times by off-duty sheriff's deputies who had been hired to guard the work site.

Three weeks ago, Butler threw himself into action when he noticed some ditch-cleaning equipment parked a few feet away from a particularly lush section of his swale. He quickly backed his car from the driveway, and parked it in the middle of Blossom, barring any further advance by the workers. Butler saved his swale from the backhoe, only to find out later that the civic club had arranged to have some of the unkempt ditches in the neighborhood cleaned; the city workers had simply gone to the wrong location.

Such close calls could be avoided if Magnolia Grove decides to place deed restrictions on its residents, a possibility being considered by the civic association. The new rules would dictate what homeowners can and cannot do with their homes, from the size of their fences to how they maintain their swales. It's not an ideal solution, says Karen Hallett, and it may prove near impossible to enforce. But deed restrictions, she explains, might make it easier to deal with the outside forces that threaten to change the neighborhood.

"Most people accept this place the way it is," Karen Hallett says. "But still, it's a strain."

As for Hiram Butler, until the day they outlaw concrete, he'll wake up every morning wondering if this will be the day his swale gets whacked. In hopes of overwhelming the public works crew with the sheer number of beautiful ditches, he has secured an annual donation of Louisiana irises from the local chapter of the Lafayette-based Louisiana Iris Society.

Every year, Butler needs more bulbs to meet the demand of residents anxious to gussy up their swales. Maybe the day every homeowner in Magnolia Grove lines up for a Louisiana iris will be the day he can rest easy.

"There's something that has always surprised me," he says, "and that's that people many times will move to a neighborhood because there's something charming about it. And, the first thing they start talking about is removing all the things that are charming. And then you don't have a charming neighborhood anymore.

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