A South Hill resident’s unusual protest of a four-story condominium building across from his house is drawing attention to a once-sleepy street.
Offended that the building blocked his view of the landmark St. John’s Cathedral, Jim Mahoney weeks ago began installing an evolving menagerie of weird mannequins in his front yard.
To one of the developers of the upscale project and a Realtor representing it, Mahoney’s actions are perplexing and threatening, and they’re seeking a restraining order against him.
The mannequins include a one-eyed pregnant woman holding a placard calling the developer a “Vista Terrorista.” A woman with bat wings and an aboriginal figure sit in chairs near the house. Fluorescent signs label the structure a “Greene Latrine” and “Catheter Pointe,” a play on its name, Cathedral Point.
“I was looking for blight for blight,” said Mahoney, 56.
Mahoney, a counselor who runs his business from his home on the 1200 block of South Division Street, feels betrayed by the developers, who constructed the building last year on the foundation of a shorter, rundown historic home.
Only its demolition would satisfy him.
“In true spirit of protest, why stop after a week?” he said. “If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing for a couple decades.”
Expectedly, the project’s owners do not want to tear down the nearly completed building. They have sold two of the condos, which cost from $520,000 to $608,000.
“We want to maintain our privacy and make sure there’s just no contact,” said Jeremy Tangen, a partner in the project by Jordalen Tangen Development LLC. “He’s not going to break us or ruin the project. Pretty much all he’s doing is alienating neighbors.”
Neighbors say they sympathize with Mahoney, but it is time for the demonstration to end.
“If it’s that upsetting, then I think he literally needs to move on,” said Tom Shore, 65, who owns a building on the block. “That’s a terrible thing to be so upset that you have to sell your home and move out of the area. But if it becomes such a terrible focus for you every day … then obviously you’ve got to do something.”
David Asplin, 54, said he supports the protest in spirit, because the condo building “replaced a very beautiful old historic structure” with a “modern atrocity.”
But the protest “wouldn’t be a method that I would choose,” he said. “It’s just not my taste, that’s all. I find it interesting, from a psychological point of view, given his background.”
The parties offer diverging accounts of what both agree is an escalating incident dating to last year.
Mahoney, who has lived in his house since 1985, criticizes many aspects of the structure, but he’s especially concerned that it is too tall and conflicts with the character of its surroundings.
Zoning for the site allows a forty-foot-tall building and city planners signed off on the project.
Tangen said Mahoney did not protest until after the condo building was approved by the city. “We just built what the city would allow us to build,” he said.
Mahoney began installing signs a few months into the project. After expressing concerns to the city, Mahoney said, he made one “very upset” phone call to Realtor Marianne Guenther last spring.
“What I said is, you’ve ruined me,” Mahoney said. “I bought this house with the view of St. John’s in mind, and that’s been taken away.”
Guenther, however, contended Mahoney made multiple threatening phone calls. “He was very belligerent,” she said. “It got really bad.”
Tensions mounted May 30, when Mahoney had a barbecue on his front lawn during a condo open house. He played loud Hawaiian music, and smoke drifted across the street. Guenther called the police, who showed up and talked with Mahoney.
Last week, Tangen and Guenther asked that Mahoney be barred from displaying derogatory signs and be prohibited from communication with Guenther, the developers or prospective buyers. The parties may go before a judge Tuesday morning.
Lisa Brewer, an attorney for Mahoney, contended his actions on his property are constitutionally protected speech. But Tangen said perceived threats cross the line. “I wouldn’t consider that a First Amendment right,” he said.
Mahoney hopes the court recognizes his freedom to protest. “If I have crossed any line, jeez, I’ll be the first to suck it in an extra foot,” he said. “But I can’t imagine being restrained from this artful display of an evolving family of mannequins, each with their own narrative.”