Snapping timbers and the crunch of debris being felled by an excavator pierced the calm of a quiet Vernon Hills neighborhood Thursday morning, as the final resolution of a years-long problem got under way.
But as the demolition crew proceeded at 80 Brook Hill Lane, it was an action even those involved in the two-year effort agreed was a sad conclusion to a persistent issue.
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"It's unfortunate it came to this but it is about time there is an end to the story," said Ed Horvath, who has lived across the street in the Stone Fence Farms subdivision for eight years.
Empty since being declared uninhabitable last August by village inspectors, the unmistakable smell of animal waste that advanced the legal action against homeowner Lisa Sliwa to this point remained evident in the light morning breeze.
"It's terrible. You can't even get near it," said Nick Ciprian, owner of Phase One Excavation, the Lombard firm selected by the village to remove the garage, home and foundation, fill in the hole and plant grass.
"It's one of the worse ones I've smelled," he added. "You can't even go in the house -- it'll choke you."
Family members were not at the scene, though neighbors said Sliwa removed some items from the 1980s-era two-story home over the weekend. Her whereabouts have been unknown, and her attorney has not responded to calls.
In seeking a demolition order in Lake County circuit court, the village had three restoration contractors and an appraiser examine the home.
"It was determined at that time the house was not salvageable," said Mike Atkinson, Vernon Hills' building commissioner. "It's a shame. It's an end to a long, sad story."
Public involvement with Sliwa originally began in 2004, when it took animal control workers four days to remove an estimated 130 cats and other animals. The home was declared uninhabitable but eventually was restored without legal action.
Problems resurfaced, and the village filed suit in October 2010 to inspect the premises. Some neighbors complained their lives were impacted by the noxious smell, be it walking to the mailbox or being unable to entertain guests on their outdoor deck.
Nearly a year passed before Atkinson was allowed inside to inspect. Wearing full protective gear and a respirator, he chronicled 18 violations and declared it unfit for human occupancy.
In mid-May, Lake County circuit court Judge Mitchell Hoffman found Sliwa in default and granted the demolition order effective June 1. The village board on May 15 approved a contract with Phase One for an amount not to exceed $21,000.
That amount, legal fees and lawn mowing bills have been charged as a lien on the property.
By about 3 p.m. Thursday, all that remained were the foundation and the fireplace chimney.
"In three or four days, it'll be backfilled, seed will be planted and that will be that," Atkinson said. "As sad as it is, I'm sure it's a relief for the neighbors."