This Place Is a Dump!

Beelzebub arrived in a white pickup. He pulled to the curb in front of the Kelleys' home in Cherry Creek, his truck facing oncoming traffic, and proceeded to leer at Vicki, who stood in jeans and a T-shirt cleaning her own truck.

Vicki is blond, pretty. When men glance her way, as they often do, her husband, Ben, usually takes it as a compliment. But when Beelzebub arrived -- in the form of a leering, dirt-hauling construction foreman with a ponytail -- Ben took offense.

"What are you doing?" Ben shouted, stomping onto his porch. "That's my wife!"

Beelzebub kept gawking, his truck idling.


Beelzebub slowly shifted his gaze.

"And that's when I got my first spooky look," Ben recalls. "He looked over at me like, 'I'll eat your lunch.'"

After that, the dump trucks came, the dirt piles rose two stories high, and the neighborhood went to hell.

The Kelleys live on South Monroe Street near Alameda Avenue, in one of the last original houses on the block. The rest have been systematically bulldozed, scraped off and replaced by $400,000 townhomes, condos and duplexes. Over the past decade, Ben, a native of Cherry Creek, has watched his friendly, working-class neighborhood turn into an exclusive enclave.

When I first wrote about him last summer ("Up the Creek," August 12, 1999), Ben was counting the days until the Kelleys, too, would be pushed out. Ben is a 32-year-old impressionist painter just establishing his career; Vicki, also 32, works as an accountant for a mining company. Between them, the Kelleys barely cover the monthly bills and their $1,000 rent. They're saving for their first home, but in this white-hot real estate market, they can't afford a house anywhere near Ben's old neighborhood. That bothers him.

And then came the man Ben considers the devil incarnate, the construction foreman for JBC Enterprises. That's the excavation company that's working for Paragon, the developer that has decided to store fill dirt and excavation equipment on two lots that it leases on South Monroe. For the better part of a year, Ben and his neighbors have been choking on Paragon's dust. And although the lot is fenced now, the dirt piles smaller, the street cleaned and the storage site officially permitted, residents aren't breathing any easier.

"It might be quiet now, but it's not over," Ben says. "Not by any means. As soon as the development in the neighborhood kicks up again this spring, all that dirt is coming right back across the street. This is just round two."

The first JBC dump trucks arrived last February, Ben remembers, shortly after the ratty pink house across the street -- the one with the tenant who'd skulked around like a hermit and let his dogs defecate in the basement -- was demolished. In the beginning, Ben and Vicki were so happy to see the pink house go that they didn't mind the trucks working on the vacant property next door to where the house had stood. The city was in the process of replacing the neighborhood's water pipes and paving the alley behind the Kelleys' house, so they assumed JBC was working with a developer that would soon put up a few more houses.

"The assumption was that it wouldn't go on very long," Ben says.

But the building project seemed to be going very slowly. Crews showed up at sunrise, fired up their rigs, then proceeded to haul dirt from nearby construction sites, dump it on two vacant lots kitty-corner from the Kelleys' and push the dirt into huge mounds. Then the trucks would rumble away like Panzer tanks, in the process waking up the entire neighborhood, including Ben and Vicki, whose front door was seventy feet away.

"They'd be out there at 7 a.m., and sometimes earlier," Vicki says. "You'd hear 'Bleep! Bleep! Bleep!' and 'Clang! Clang! Clang!' You didn't need an alarm clock."

"You'd have to close all the windows and all the doors and crank up the TV," Ben concurs. "That deep bass sound of the diesel engines would rumble the house. They'd come on Saturdays, too."

And they'd leave dust behind. After dumping their loads, the trucks tracked dirt back onto the street, where it was pulverized by passing cars, kicked up by the wind and blown into the homes of the Kelleys and their neighbors.

"When they're working, this street looks like a dirt road," Ben says. "You can see huge plumes of dust just blowing off into the atmosphere. Hundreds of pounds of particulates just going into the air. And that dirt is not clean, either. I've seen parts of broken foundation in that lot, pipes, rebar, different colors of dirt, different kinds of dirt, dirt that glows in the dark. And keep in mind that this area used to be a dump, so we were breathing in whatever they used to dump around here. You walk around with flu-like symptoms all the time, and when you cough, there's dirt in your phlegm. This has just been a devil of a winter."

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Harrison Fletcher

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