North Scottsdale resident Henry Becker’s art is about to be crushed under the force of a city judge’s gavel.
Scottsdale City Court Judge Monte Morgan on Wednesday signed an abatement order giving the city the authority to go on Becker’s undeveloped property to clear away displays and debris the city alleges are a fire hazard and public nuisance.
Morgan’s decision came after 5 1 /2 hours of testimony, most of it over the philosophic and legal definition of what the city calls junk and what Becker considers art.
“If you have a use for something that tickles someone’s fancy at City Hall, you get to develop it. If you stand up for what you believe in, you wind up sitting here,” Becker said during his testimony.
Commenting immediately after Morgan’s ruling, Becker’s attorney vowed to file an appeal in Maricopa County Superior Court.
A wealthy, retired Wall Street investor, Becker has been at war with the city for years over litter, property rights and sign ordinances.
At issue is a small portion of the 95-acre tract of land he owns along Pima and Happy Valley roads. That portion is adorned with items Becker insists is commissioned art — colorful poles, various displays and signs bearing acerbic criticism of some local politicians and the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak.
Some of those displays include candy cane-shaped poles, an exercise bicycle and two geometric displays — a large sphere and a polygonal shaped object.
The city contends those displays and about 50 brush piles constitute a fire hazard and a public nuisance.
Becker and his attorney, Robert Stewart, argued the displays are commissioned works of art and the brush piles do not pose a fire hazard.
“I don’t expect a judge to believe me, but it’s astounding how many people honk their horns and give me the thumbs up,” Becker said on the stand.
The signs and displays have raised the ire of neighbors and travelers.
Becker erected the displays several years ago in protest of the city’s rejection of his plans to develop the area.
Three city planning department and code enforcement employees testified against Becker, each claiming they have received hundreds of complaint calls over the years from area residents and passers-by.
They called Becker’s displays “blight” and routinely referred to his tract as “a dumping ground.”
“When I see pristine desert that is out of control . . . I find it offensive,” code inspector Don Flack said during his testimony.
Becker and Stewart argued the city has a double standard when it comes to its definition of art and playing by the rules.
“I don’t know why they think they can sit in judgment over my property because they don’t like it,” Becker said.
Becker several times during his testimony winked, smirked, smiled and nodded to the city staffers who had testified against him.
Twice during the hearing, Morgan admonished Stewart to keep Becker’s comments directed to the court.
With regard to the brush piles, Becker said he had trees trimmed and the brush pilings placed in clearings in order to abate a fire hazard.
According to the abatement order, Becker has 16 days to remove the piles and the displays or the city will do it for him.