Video cameras at center of feud in New Lenox/Joliet subdivision
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org August 11, 2013 5:48PM
The Danas installed video cameras on their front porch, on the front and sides of this detached garage and on the side of the camper (behind the fence) which faces west into their neighbors' yard. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 13, 2013 6:13AM
A burning issue has escalated into a battle of health vs. privacy among neighbors in the Spring Creek subdivision that is shared by the village of New Lenox and the city of Joliet.
Steve and Pam Dana, of New Lenox, acknowledge that their weapons in this battle — strategically aimed video cameras — are extreme. But so are Pam’s health concerns, they said.
Pam Dana suffers from reactive airway disease, which is aggravated by smoke and airborne chemicals, they said. She has been hospitalized twice.
“We have legitimate fears,” Steve Dana said. “This is life-threatening.”
In recent years, he has complained to New Lenox police about open burning around his home, most recently in June, according to police. But last week, after his neighbors to the south, Steve and Laura Hackett, fogged their yard with insecticide, Steve Dana installed a video camera to monitor his neighbors.
The Hacketts say they were awakened at 5:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning by the sound of Steve Dana climbing a tree to install a video camera overlooking their backyard burn pit. They responded by installing a large mobile sign in their front yard that read: “Warning: my neighbor is videotaping me. Is he taping your children too?”
“My whole street is up in arms. We all have little grandchildren. What else is he watching?” Laura Hackett said.
The Danas have multiple cameras on the outside of their Golf Drive home, their two garages and their camper.
They said they have had issues with other neighbors, whom they claim also have burned illegally, and they need to know if there is smoke in the area before Pam leaves the house.
Steve Dana declined to show the SouthtownStar the video equipment in his home and said he could not provide photos of any illegal burning because they were “not handy.”
Hackett’s mobile sign is illegal in New Lenox — and so is any type of open burning, according to village officials. The sign since has been taken down, and so was one camera.
Yet neighbors are still upset, calling the video cameras “creepy” and “sad.”
“How would you feel if your neighbor had a camera on you? Everyone should be outraged,” said neighbor Teri Mateski.
“I don’t trust them at all. Why does he have so many cameras?” said Linda Green, who lives across the street from the Hacketts.
Hackett said she wants the law changed to make such surveillance cameras illegal. She believes they are an invasion of privacy.
The cameras are not only legal but necessary “because of the huge amount of open burning going on,” Steve Dana said, adding that the cameras are on 24 hours a day.
“Health trumps privacy,” he said. And while security cameras increasingly are a sign of the times, open burning, on the other hand, is not — due to health and environmental concerns, he said.
“Rarely do I see a campfire. It’s usually debris,” Steve Dana said.
He is not opposed to a simple campfire. In fact, the Danas own a camper and will stay at campgrounds, but they leave if the smoke is too much for Pam, he said.
“We don’t have a problem with smoke there like we do here,” he said.
Dana has complained to New Lenox police six times in the past three years regarding open fires in his neighbors’ yards — including the Hacketts, who were warned twice on the same day in April not to burn, Deputy Chief April DiSandro said. Another neighbor was cited for a burning violation in June, she said.
“We have warned them many times,” DiSandro said. “They are aware of her health issues.”
The recent situation with the Hacketts escalated from an old dispute with another neighbor.
Dana said he first installed the video cameras three years ago hoping to prove that his immediate neighbors to the west — Joliet police officer Jim Schnura and his wife, Beth, who live on the Joliet side of the subdivision — were burning construction debris.
“There were fires every day for three weeks,” Pam Dana said.
But their complaints to Joliet fell on deaf ears until they produced video evidence, he said.
“I was so angry, I had to put up cameras,” he said. One video he gave to the Joliet police resulted in disciplinary action against Schnura, for “deviating from acceptable behavior,” Joliet police Cmdr. Brian Benton said.
“It’s unfortunate to have that conflict with your neighbors,” Benton said, adding that he thought the issues have been resolved.
The Schnuras have stopped burning — except for using the small covered fire pit, which is legal in Joliet.
But Dana said he has no plans to take down the cameras, claiming he needs to see what is happening on the far side of his garage.
Those on both sides of the camera say they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
Pam Dana cannot leave if there are smoke or chemicals in the air. Beth Schnura said she feels like she is living in a cave and has to keep her blinds shut, knowing that several cameras are directed at her back yard and hot tub.
“It’s very stressful,” she said.
The Schnuras also have taken down a large deck and swimming pool, and installed trellises next to their hot tub and around their yard to provide more privacy.
DiSandro said she offered to mediate the dispute, but neither party seemed interested.
Hackett said she won’t let the issue go until all the cameras are gone. Steve Dana said a compromise “is not going to happen. I do not need to be their friend.”
“It’s a shame it got to this point. I’m happy the sign is down. I’m happy the camera is down,” Disandro said. “We can’t solve all the problems of the past. Let’s move forward and be good neighbors.”