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Obnoxious Developer


Jesse

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What an a**hole developer!  I understand the issue but it seems like there's got to be a better way of dealing with it.

 

http://abclocal.go.com/ktrk/story?section=news/local&id=9420564

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=730+lawrence+houston+tx&ll=29.784343,-95.406872&spn=0.000019,0.006899&sll=29.784332,-95.406636&layer=c&cbp=13,78.86,,0,5.52&cbll=29.784344,-95.406877&hnear=730+Lawrence+St,+Houston,+Texas+77007&t=h&z=17&panoid=W0RxDl2HnB35SRhxemq2lA

 

On google maps you can even see the property line issue in detail as someone (surveyor probably) spray painted the property lines on the ground.  This issue had to come up with title insurance and could not have been a mystery to the buyer.  It is a pretty clear cut case of adverse possession with the house as it has been there for decades.  Only issue might be with the fence if it has not been there for more than ten years (suspect that it has).  The only real question is whether the residents will be able to get pro bono legal help to get legal title to the encroachment or whether they will let the developer push them around.   

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Those makings look to me like the location of utilies for digging (811) not boundary surveys.  Orange = gas and red = power.  You can see the orange gas main and the service lines to the homes.  Also the red power line from the utility pole to the street light at the dead end.  I don't see blue water lines marked, so hope they didn't hit a water main!  A little off topic maybe, but locating utilities was one of my first jobs so I have a fondness for those markings.

 

However, "generally" power poles are placed on the property lines, so the location of the pole in street view might indicate where the actualy boundary line lies.

Edited by Urbannomad
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Those makings look to me like the location of utilies for digging (811) not boundary surveys.  Orange = gas and red = power.  You can see the orange gas main and the service lines to the homes.  Also the red power line from the utility pole to the street light at the dead end.  I don't see blue water lines marked, so hope they didn't hit a water main!  A little off topic maybe, but locating utilities was one of my first jobs so I have a fondness for those markings.

 

However, "generally" power poles are placed on the property lines, so the location of the pole in street view might indicate where the actualy boundary line lies.

 

That is probably correct.  The news story says that the house in 8 feet over the property line.  But still, any surveyor worth his pay would have shown the encroachment.

 

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For true adverse possession, they likely have to prove they've paid taxes for 10 yrs on the encroachment in question. Still, I can't see anyone ruling in the developers favor.

 

You do not have to pay taxes to show adverse possession.  It is good evidence to support a claim and failure to pay can be evidence used against a claim of AP.  But that is usually in cases of leases v. fee simple and not a simple property line dispute.

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Those makings look to me like the location of utilies for digging (811) not boundary surveys.  Orange = gas and red = power.  You can see the orange gas main and the service lines to the homes.  Also the red power line from the utility pole to the street light at the dead end.  I don't see blue water lines marked, so hope they didn't hit a water main!  A little off topic maybe, but locating utilities was one of my first jobs so I have a fondness for those markings.

 

However, "generally" power poles are placed on the property lines, so the location of the pole in street view might indicate where the actualy boundary line lies.

 

 

Related to the issue - the owner has a strong case of adverse possession.  The builder knew about the encroachments, but probably thought he could fix the issue.  The builder does not sound like that big of a jerk though...he offered to move the stuff at that encroached and rebuild the guest house (poorly maintained shack) at his cost.  That is pretty generous...way more than I would do.  Those houses are awful.  While I feel for the owners who just want to be left alone, there are multiple legal issues at play here, and adverse possession is never a slam dunk.  They would probably be way ahead financially by selling to the developer and moving somewhere much nicer but in a less central location.

Unrelated to the issue, but the utility folks will not mark water lines/mains any longer.  I just went through this trying to place culverts in a ditch over the right of way to connect my driveway to the street.  The survey shows that the water main is in the ROW but give a +/- 10 foot area for the main...I asked to get the main marked so the excavator would not hit it but the city and 811 both say they will not mark water lines...The water department gave me approximate locations and depths and say just dont break it...its a big line....I asked what to do if I hit it then while digging and they said call 311.  Im talking about a main here 36" water line, not the small supply line.

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Related to the issue - the owner has a strong case of adverse possession.  The builder knew about the encroachments, but probably thought he could fix the issue.  The builder does not sound like that big of a jerk though...he offered to move the stuff at that encroached and rebuild the guest house (poorly maintained shack) at his cost.  That is pretty generous...way more than I would do.  Those houses are awful.  While I feel for the owners who just want to be left alone, there are multiple legal issues at play here, and adverse possession is never a slam dunk.  They would probably be way ahead financially by selling to the developer and moving somewhere much nicer but in a less central location.

 

 

I wonder whether the developer bought the property for pennies as no one would issue a title policy on a property pregnant with a big AP issue.  If the strategy was to try to strong arm out the old couple by building a big town home right up to their roof line, then the builder may be a big jerk.  The article says that he offered to build a new house.  It does not say that he offered to do it for free.  I would actually agree that the old folks would be better off taking a favorable deal and moving out.  But leaving a long time residence can be a big issue with old folks.  I once had a condo buyout fall apart when an elderly woman would not sell because she was afraid she would lose her memories of her late husband if she lived somewhere else. 

 

AP can be tricky, but having a house that is 8 feet over a property line for at least 93 years is a pretty good head start on the claim.

 

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Met Mr. Reyes while out and about today. What they've done to his disputed property is done right disgusting. Not even humane. Doesn't seem like they gave them much of an opportunity to secure their home. Not very nice when you consider how many disturbed Houstonians call Lawrence Park "home".

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Paying taxes on it is an important part. I am not an atty, but adverse possession is not as simple as people think. I don't agree with the developer, and I am not sure how they closed on his transaction unless he paid cash. A lender would've required a survey and that huge encroachment would have stopped the deal. It's very odd, IMO.

Edited by Dakota79
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OK, what I do not understand is why hasn't this issue come up before now (or last year when Petruzzi bought the 734 property).

 

There are 5 houses on that block of Lawrence.

 

736---closest to the church, last sold in May of 2012, not homesteaded, house (built 1920) may actually be partly on church property.

734---Petruzzi's property, sold June of 2013, house (demolished ?) was partly on property of 736

730---Reyes property, object of Petruzzi's claim, homesteaded, bought by current owner's parents in 1981, house (built 1920) partly on property of 734

728---Last sold November 2012, not homesteaded, house (built 1928) partly on property of 730

726---Last sold April 2007, not homesteaded, 2 houses on property built 1920 and 2002, both houses partly on property of 728

 

So, one was sold in '07, two sold in '12, one (Petruzzi) sold in '13.   It seems to me that someone, somewhere would have seen that something was wrong before now.  Shouldn't there have been surveys done in '07 and '12 that would have triggered other questions?

 

How can Petruzzi just go in and take what has been theirs for over 30 years, property which they have paid taxes on for all those years?

 

And, if he were to build them a house, free of charge, they would only have half a lot if they in turn did not want to "take" from their neighbor at 728 Lawrence.  It would just snowball to both neighbors to their south (they are the middle of the 5 houses). 

 

At any rate, they should be left "whole" and not with less than they had.  They also should not be out any additional money because of a mistake in city or county records that started happening back in the twenties.  They bought in good faith in 1981.

 

Of course, I'm using HCAD records so they may or may not be accurate, for all I know, all the Reyes' neighbors may have already sold out and HCAD records are not updated.  I haven't checked the clerk's records except for the Reyes information.  It appears that they transferred the house into their daughter's name.

 

I just really feel for these folks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How can Petruzzi just go in and take what has been theirs for over 30 years, property which they have paid taxes on for all those years?

 

   They haven't paid taxes on the part of the 734 lot that their house(s) is(are) on; they've paid taxes on the 730 lot that their house(s) is(are) on, including the piece that the 728 house is on.

 

   I'd say that the lots need to be replatted as is, but I think that's a pretty difficult thing to do.  The one on the far end is going to be the only winner...

 

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If they've been paying what the city said they owed, isn't that paying in good faith?

 

I understand what you're saying, and I agree but the fact that they have been paying taxes for over 30 years should count for something.

 

So are you saying that the city will not jump in here and right what has been wrong for so long?

 

According to the Ch. 13 story, Petruzzi wants  it to go before a judge. 

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They've paid taxes for the platted lot, not the piece of the lot next door...

 

I don't think the city (county) will do anything unless they're forced to.  It isn't the city's (county's) fault.  They have nothing to do with dividing pieces of land into lots; they just record what/where a surveyor tells them the lots are.  (I'm not a surveyor, but my father was a surveyor and civil engineer...)

 

The "correct" thing to do would be to make everybody move their houses to the right until they're on their own lots.  (Not going to happen.)

 

There's no fair fix for everybody.  If you replat as they are, the church loses.  Who's going to compensate them for the loss?

 

I do wonder if the developer is trying to get the piece of his lot next door plus the piece that the former house on his lot occupied.

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I think Petruzzi will likely lose, kind of like the Ashby.  Even if he has a right to win.  If it is a pier and beam house, why don't they come up with an agreement to lift it and move it over to the proper place.  Replace the fences, put the AC units back etc.  I think there will be some litigation regarding surveys, title company insurance, and if real estate agents were involved, they will likely be dragged into it.   I would not have closed with an encroachment like that.  A fence, and a half a foot, maybe.  A house over the lot.  No way.

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I'm sure this Petruzzi fellow isnt from the Heights like most of the devolopers building those big homes on the small lots. I spoke to a couple of other home builders in the area and I've been told these guys are coming in, bullying there way around and pushing folks out. Then they build these homes cheaply and over charge these suckers who arent from the Heights. Its so sad to see a small bungalow between 2 giant homes. These homes are nothing what the Heights is about. 

 

I feel bad for the older couple because this has been their home for years and to have someone come and tell them 'I have more money than you!" and other comments pisses me off. 

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 I think the builder does live in the Heights.  Otherwise, agree.

 

I just do not understand how the builder could have gotten into this mess in any way other than assuming that he would be able to buy out the old couple.  Unless he replats the property to delete the part that is subject to adverse possession, no one will buy the property who intends to finance.  Banks will never lend on a property pregnant with an adverse possession claim as title insurance will not bind.  And I doubt a cash buyer would want to buy a lawsuit with their new patio home. 

 

The old couple should be able to stay in their home as long as they like and have someone rebuild their fence.  I cannot think of any good argument that would allow the developer to win a trespass to try title action on the property line issue.  Taxes are really not that relevant in this kind of dispute.  They are more of an issue when it is a question of ownership.  For example, when grandpappy Jed dies without a will and cousin Carl keeps up the ranch, it is relevant that Carl paid taxes on the property when Jed, Jr. shows up thirty years later seeking to claim title to the property and evict poor cousin Carl. 

 

But here, it is simply a question of whether the possession was open and adverse for the required time to limit the claim of the builder. 

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I'm sure this Petruzzi fellow isnt from the Heights like most of the devolopers building those big homes on the small lots. I spoke to a couple of other home builders in the area and I've been told these guys are coming in, bullying there way around and pushing folks out. Then they build these homes cheaply and over charge these suckers who arent from the Heights. Its so sad to see a small bungalow between 2 giant homes. These homes are nothing what the Heights is about. 

 

I feel bad for the older couple because this has been their home for years and to have someone come and tell them 'I have more money than you!" and other comments pisses me off. 

 

I feel bad for the old folks too, but lets face it - the Heights is not changing - It HAS changed.  Transition complete.  There are still some houses that have not been added onto, but they are becoming the houses that stand out, not the new construction, or the additions.   Whats left of the small homes, is great, they are cute but in 90+% of the cases, they are not realistic homes for the current demographic buying houses in the Heights.  The original folks that are still in the Heights are mostly holdouts..., people over 65 who have their property tax values capped, who are just going to ride that gravy train to the grave.  There are very few people, very very few people who have been living in the Heights for more than 15 years.  The ultra majority of the Heights residents have been there less than 10 years.

 

I personally like the look of the smaller houses, but I also recognize that not everyone else does, and a 900-1400sqft house on a $300,000 lot is an economic misimprovement.  Like it or not, the days of the bungalow are gone.  I personally like it, you probably do not.  I like much of the new construction.  I see it, and the people that are coming with it, as improvements to the neighborhood.  Higher prices, more disposable income means more venues to cater to them....new restaurants, grocery stores, etc.  I like the way the Heights has changed...up until the historic ordinance, the neighborhood was doing great.

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I feel bad for the old folks too, but lets face it - the Heights is not changing - It HAS changed.  Transition complete.  There are still some houses that have not been added onto, but they are becoming the houses that stand out, not the new construction, or the additions.   Whats left of the small homes, is great, they are cute but in 90+% of the cases, they are not realistic homes for the current demographic buying houses in the Heights.  The original folks that are still in the Heights are mostly holdouts..., people over 65 who have their property tax values capped, who are just going to ride that gravy train to the grave.  There are very few people, very very few people who have been living in the Heights for more than 15 years.  The ultra majority of the Heights residents have been there less than 10 years.

 

I personally like the look of the smaller houses, but I also recognize that not everyone else does, and a 900-1400sqft house on a $300,000 lot is an economic misimprovement.  Like it or not, the days of the bungalow are gone.  I personally like it, you probably do not.  I like much of the new construction.  I see it, and the people that are coming with it, as improvements to the neighborhood.  Higher prices, more disposable income means more venues to cater to them....new restaurants, grocery stores, etc.  I like the way the Heights has changed...up until the historic ordinance, the neighborhood was doing great.

 

I'm a long time resident since the late 70's. If you knew what it was and how it felt to grow up in this neighborhood, maybe you'd understand. I agree with the transitioning but it isnt done. They have many nice smaller homes in the area still. I went driving around the neighborhood this past weekend. Who needs a house that big?! LOL These people might not live up to your standards but to them their small home is everything theyve worked hard for. Again, I feel so bad for these folks. 

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I'm a long time resident since the late 70's. If you knew what it was and how it felt to grow up in this neighborhood, maybe you'd understand. I agree with the transitioning but it isnt done. They have many nice smaller homes in the area still. I went driving around the neighborhood this past weekend. Who needs a house that big?! LOL These people might not live up to your standards but to them their small home is everything theyve worked hard for. Again, I feel so bad for these folks. 

 

 

Anyone is perfectly within their rights to live in a smaller house. However, with land values in the Heights now exceeding $40/s.f. in a lot of cases, the economics have changed. Given the choice between a 1000 s.f. bungalow on a large lot ($150k in structure on $300k of land) and narrow 2000 s.f. houses on sub-divided lots ($300k of structure on $150k of land), there seems to me more of a market for the latter than the former.

 

Granted, some of this may be Say's Law in action. Developers are in the business of adding value to the land they buy. There's not much sense in buying a $300k lot, building a house on it, and selling it for $450k. From what I've observed, 3X the underlying land value is about the floor for the price point developers aim at.

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Anyone is perfectly within their rights to live in a smaller house. However, with land values in the Heights now exceeding $40/s.f. in a lot of cases, the economics have changed. Given the choice between a 1000 s.f. bungalow on a large lot ($150k in structure on $300k of land) and narrow 2000 s.f. houses on sub-divided lots ($300k of structure on $150k of land), there seems to me more of a market for the latter than the former.

Granted, some of this may be Say's Law in action. Developers are in the business of adding value to the land they buy. There's not much sense in buying a $300k lot, building a house on it, and selling it for $450k. From what I've observed, 3X the underlying land value is about the floor for the price point developers aim at.

I'm sure all of those numbers and sq ft dimensions don't mean a thing to these long time residents. I'm here because I was raised here and it's where I have most of my memories from. I'm thinking this elderly couple has the same.

I can't speak for them and I'm not but you can't put a price on this.

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The Heights as seen by Jack Olsen in 1974, from his book on the Corll/Henley/Brooks murders, "The Man With The Candy". I doubt there are many residents left for whom Olsen's words are living memory as opposed to unfamiliar history.

 

 

Just to the northwest of downtown is a tired old neighborhood called The Heights, not quite a slum except for a few blocks, but plainly too afflicted with civic arteriosclerosis to resist slumhood much longer. At night, when other parts of Houston sparkle and hum, The Heights is dark and silent under its canopy of gnarled and twisted trees, the streetlights at each corner blotted by leaves. The rare pedestrian walks in blackness, crossing under the soft blue glow of a light and then passing back into darkness, stepping into potholes and picking up the gray-white clammy mud of old shell streets, rutted and patched.

 

 

The Heights remained stable until World War II, but America's new mobility was too much for the staid old neighborhood. Younger generations that might have been content to remain in the musty homes of their childhood, living off patriarchal indulgence and later inheriting the places for themselves, now were swept away by the swirls and currents of war and postwar. In the early 1950s, when cities were still short on housing and Houston had become the mecca for every failed rancher and displaced cowpoke in Texas and Oklahoma and Louisiana, homes in The Heights began to be split into floor-through apartments, and split again into individual rooms. Land in the fractionating neighborhood dropped in price, cheap labor was plentiful, and small factories and foundries and machine shops began to appear, unburdened by zoning laws. [...] Cottage industries proliferated; junk stores thrived on the stream of objets d'art pouring from the crumbling mansions. [...] The area around Yale Street, once a center of commerce in The Heights, was infiltrated by Army-Navy stores, loan shops, fresh vegetable stands, storefront churches (JESUS SAVES AND SATISFIES), ma-and-pa groceries and hamburger joints and pizza parlors and every kind of small, underfinanced business except taverns, which remained banned under an old law.

 

 

By the 1970s, The Heights had become a broken collection of mini-neighborhoods and subneighborhoods with no over-all character of its own and no common cause except suspicion of outsiders. On the fringe were shabbily decadent areas, displaced Appalachias, where one could imagine retarded children or senile aunts locked away in attic crawls, muttering in the shadows. Spotted about the shady overgrown streets, there were still a few antique mansions, with turrets slightly askew and windows cracked and weeds hip-high over abandoned formal gardens, their gazebos rotting and their trellises splintering, but proud homes nonetheless, held together with twine and occasional dippings into capital by bent and withered figures who detested tax collectors and spouted senile curses at trespassers. 

 

Whole blocks of The Heights were stubbornly kept neat and clean, garnished with flowers, lawns carefully manicured, houses repainted every three or four years, but even in the middle of these prideful areas one saw occasional falling-down bungalows out of Erskine Caldwell, slanting porches strewn with abandoned refrigerators and washing machines, muddy front yards scarred by tire tracks, and no blade of grass to hide the damage, gray, weathered, slatternly houses inhabited by the poor. Bony children played with shopping carts "on loan" from the supermarkets. Families adjourned to the front steps on Sunday afternoon, lacking the funds to attend the refrigerated sports events at the Astrodome, and drank beer and listened to country-and-western music. Withered ladies perambulated along the streets, sheltering their heads from the sun with fragile umbrellas that were hastily lowered when the wind came up. 

 


 

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The Heights as seen by Jack Olsen in 1974, from his book on the Corll/Henley/Brooks murders, "The Man With The Candy". I doubt there are many residents left for whom Olsen's words are living memory as opposed to unfamiliar history.

 

 

 

 

 

LOL. His writing obviously got your attention and some of his statements in these quotes were true.  I actually lived next door to Goldy Locks. ;)

The Candy Man murders were just before my time. My older sibs and older family members can tell you more about it. There was another serial killer that lived in the area. I want to say near this whole builder/lifetime resident situation is located. I think they called him 'Drippy Eye'. I forgot his name but do remember seeing him around the area. Houston is huge people and you are inside the city. The 4th largest city at that. You want a Mayberry feel....youve picked the wrong city. The Heights still has some of its charm but Im afraid its charm is disappearing.

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The Heights as seen by Jack Olsen in 1974, from his book on the Corll/Henley/Brooks murders, "The Man With The Candy". I doubt there are many residents left for whom Olsen's words are living memory as opposed to unfamiliar history.

Thanks for the excerpts.  I first heard of the murders from neighborhood friends when I moved here in '92 but really didn't grasp the extent until subsequent research.  My contemporaries (grad HS in 70's) almost brushed it off as a homosexual thing therefore it hadn't been a real threat to them personally, while my friends of their parents' gen never spoke of it at all.  The historical thing I remember having the most impact on the Heightstonians was the riots around Moody Park after that Mexican American kid was killed by HPD and latino integration in general.

 

Olsen's description of the Heights does not correlate with accounts I have from local friends....it was all quite normal here except for gang activity.  Maybe on the inside you don't know you're in "appalachia". Sure it was run down like a lot of inner city at that time, but the blessing of no zoning allowed many independent citizens to bootstrap businesses like motorcycle repair or flooring or tile work or a chicken plant, and thus were able to live comfortably and send their kids to good schools....that freedom is far more important to lower/middle class than curbside appearances, thus my view that zoning advocates (and perhaps Olsen) tend to be elitists who never knew poverty.

Edited by fwki
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Olsen's description of the Heights does not correlate with accounts I have from local friends....it was all quite normal here except for gang activity.  Maybe on the inside you don't know you're in "appalachia". Sure it was run down like a lot of inner city at that time, but the blessing of no zoning allowed many independent citizens to bootstrap businesses like motorcycle repair or flooring or tile work or a chicken plant, and thus were able to live comfortably and send their kids to good schools....that freedom is far more important to lower/middle class than curbside appearances, thus my view that zoning advocates (and perhaps Olsen) tend to be elitists who never knew poverty.

 

Olsen was clearly not a native, and he was primarily a true-crime writer. I thought his perception of the Heights at that time was interesting from an outsider's perspective (some of the other quotes I didn't include were from a local reporter). There's definitely some hyperbole and questionable analysis in some of his statements, but as BullMan points out, there are also some truths as well. What really got my attention was his contention that it was only a matter of time until the Heights completed its descent into slumhood, when what ultimately happened was exactly the opposite. 

 

Olsen died in 2002 but his website is still up:

 

http://www.jackolsen.com/

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Olsen was clearly not a native, and he was primarily a true-crime writer. I thought his perception of the Heights at that time was interesting from an outsider's perspective (some of the other quotes I didn't include were from a local reporter). There's definitely some hyperbole and questionable analysis in some of his statements, but as BullMan points out, there are also some truths as well. What really got my attention was his contention that it was only a matter of time until the Heights completed its descent into slumhood, when what ultimately happened was exactly the opposite. 

 

Olsen died in 2002 but his website is still up:

 

http://www.jackolsen.com/

That particular comment was dead wrong. Near slumhood? No there were way to many hardworking and decent folks that would have never let that happen. People actually were friendlier to each other back then. There were some shady areas around the Heights but it wasnt that bad. My mother would tell us to stay away from certain areas at night. LOL  But 'slumhood' is way off. Mr. Olsen was a writer and thats exactly what he did. Now Im interested in reading this. Thanks!

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