People move to deep South Dade because they want peace and quiet, a semblance of life in the country. Less traffic, less noise, fewer people. That seems to be why Christine Fuchs moved to Princeton in late 1989. Her house, near the intersection of SW 248th Street and 133rd Avenue, is isolated, with only a school, a church, and very few residences in the immediate vicinity. Here, in an area zoned for agricultural development, no one was likely to bother her or disturb her dogs, cats, and horses, or interfere with her new bird-breeding venture.
In January 1993, landscaper Wayne Lapradd was looking for a place big enough to store his airboat, a place where he could mind his own business, spend time with his infant son, maybe piece together his broken marriage. He bought the house right next door to Fuchs. (Driving by, it's easy to tell whose place is whose: The landscaper's has the fastidiously manicured lawn, while the Fuchs spread sports more of a back-to-nature look and an aviary in the back yard.)
The relationship between the two neighbors has been anything but peaceful and quiet. For the past three years, they have been entangled in a very noisy feud, whose denouement is slated for June 17, when a jury will decide whether the 39-year-old landscaper is guilty of four counts of cruelty to animals with intent to injure or kill and an equal number of counts of disrupting an animal enterprise -- all felonies that carry potential sentences of five years in prison.
Lapradd, who intends to plead not guilty to all counts, spent thirteen days in jail this past summer before his bail was dropped from $100,000 to $25,000. For the next several months, he was under house arrest in the custody of his parents, allowed to leave their home after 6:00 a.m. to run his business but required to return before 6:00 p.m. and to wear an ankle transmitter at all times.
"I had to conduct business in Coral Gables and Coconut Grove with this thing on my leg," he complains, sitting in his father's chair in his parents' living room and combing the newly washed hair of his three-year-old son. "Do you think anyone's going to trust me? They see that thing on my leg and they think they're looking at a criminal."
The house arrest ended in October, but Lapradd is still barred from returning to his abode.
It all started with the peacocks. A cacophony of chirping, warbling, and other fowl noises often erupted from the other side of the six-foot-tall fence that separates the properties. The source of the racket: Fuchs's back-yard aviary, a menagerie that includes chickens, cockatoos, and lovebirds. But it was the peacocks that made an indelible impression on Lapradd. "They were waking me up at all hours of the morning," he says. "I couldn't sleep. No one would be able to."
When he'd first moved in, Lapradd says, he shared a cordial acquaintanceship with his new neighbors, and even invited Fuchs into his home to show her the improvements he'd made to the structure. So when the bird noises began bothering him, he felt comfortable enough to mention it to her face to face.
In a deposition given this year, Fuchs explained that she had moved her bird cages around in an effort to accommodate Lapradd's gripes about her peacocks, guinea fowl, roosters, and hens. "Then he started complaining about the exotic birds, and at that point it became obvious to me that no matter what we did, he was going to complain," she stated. (Fuchs refused to be interviewed for this story.)
The simmering feud quickly squelched neighborly relations. "When you're continuously aggravated by something every day and you get no response and you call the police and they tell you there is nothing you can do, you just want to explode," asserts Lapradd.
But Lapradd didn't blow himself up. Instead, he admits, he made a threat or two over the phone. "I told them I was going to go outside and shoot my shotgun off," he says. But telephone threats, he insists, were as far as it got.
Over the next year, the feud intensified. Lapradd concedes he confronted Fuchs and her boyfriend at times, and that they exchanged epithets. Fuchs responded by calling in Metro-Dade's finest. In her deposition, she says she called police every two weeks during that period to report that her neighbor was harassing her and her animals.
Then things got really ugly. Fuchs alleges that on March 20, 1994, Lapradd killed several of her birds. "He backed the airboat up to the aviary," she said under oath. "We spoke to him earlier, and he said he would see we would never make a fucking penny off our birds as long as he lives there, and he said that he'd back the airboat up and he'd blow them sons of bitches clean off their perches."
According to Fuchs's deposition, the airboat damage amounted to three smashed eggs, sixteen wing injuries, and eleven fatalities. In addition, according to the police affidavit accompanying Lapradd's arrest warrant, "[one] distraught male umbrella cockatoo plucked himself." Fuchs estimated her total losses at $5000.
That wasn't all, Fuchs has alleged. In three additional complaints logged with Metro-Dade police between May 1994 and April 1995, Fuchs accused the landscaper of hosing down her fowl, honking his car horn repeatedly, pounding on a sheet of metal, and igniting fireworks near her aviary, acts that she claimed created chaos inside the birdhouse and exacted a heavy toll on its inhabitants A five dead birds and six that were injured; 38 eggs destroyed. Total alleged damage: nearly $10,000.
Lapradd denies any of the incidents took place. "I did nothing that was abnormal to living in my house," he asserts. "I'm beating on things all the time because I'm rebuilding the house. There's a school behind on the other side of us that has parents picking up their kids and honking their horns to get their attention and she hasn't said anything about them."
Lapradd wasn't spending all of his time rebuilding his house, however. From March 1993 through the end of 1994, he fattened a file at Metro-Dade's building and zoning department, lodging complaints about illegal construction at the Fuchs home. In response to Lapradd's allegations, inspectors cited his neighbor for storing a mobile home on the property and for building a shed without a permit. In addition, officials discovered that the very crux of the spat -- the aviary itself -- had been erected sans permit. Although Fuchs had applied for and received a business license for the aviary, Deena Mullininx, a Metro-Dade zoning information supervisor, says that at about a quarter of an acre, her property is too small for such an enterprise. "By today's standards, you have to have a minimum of five acres for the commercial raising and breeding of exotic birds," Mullininx asserts. "At no time would this land qualify."
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Additionally, despite a county code that requires a twenty-foot setback, the structure was found to actually encroach on the property line between the Fuchs and Lapradd residences.
The construction and storage violations, for which Fuchs has been fined $6000, are as yet unpaid. The county was prepared to place a lien on the property this past August but suspended enforcement after Fuchs requested a public hearing before the Metro-Dade Zoning Appeals Board, which has the authority to grant her a variance for the aviary. "Everything is on hold until the hearing," says Diane O'Quinn, zoning hearing section supervisor.
Lapradd still lives with his parents. After submitting to a judge the complaints she'd filed, plus tapes of Lapradd's angry messages on her answering machine and a video of him hollering at her during a confrontation in the street, Fuchs won an injunction preventing her neighbor from returning to his house and a restraining order forbidding him to come within her sight until the dispute is resolved in court.
"This is a malicious attempt to get back at me because I complained about her illegally building a shed and the aviary," Lapradd fumes. "They have screwed me in the perfect manner. I still have to pay the mortgage, FPL, the phone bill, but I can't live there.