NEW YORK €” A nasty brew of cross-allegations has engulfed a New York neighborhood where a family that practices a witchcraft religion is at odds with neighbors who complain that the family’s penchant for feeding stray cats is attracting rats and pigeons.
Ivy Colmer Vanderborgh and her mother, Marlene Colmer, say their adherence to Wicca made them a target.
People who live near them on Oceanview Avenue in Staten Island’s Annadale section dispute that. They maintain their concern is that food left out for cats has brought scavenger critters to the neighborhood.
And some former neighbors of the two women and Ivy’s husband, Harry Vanderborg, also complained of “trouble with cats” and friction with the family when they lived elsewhere on the island.
Police said last week the family was not the victim of religious persecution, but a source of frustration.
Food cans left open
“It’s a situation whereby one neighbor’s actions or behaviors are clearly aggravating other people on the block. However, it does not appear that these behaviors are in violation of the law, nor does it appear that the religious practices of the family have anything to do with the neighbors’ frustrations with the family,” said Capt. Richard F. Gutch, commander of the 123rd Precinct.
“It is a dispute because of quality-of-life issues that are not enforceable by the police,” added Gutch.
Gutch has encouraged people to call the city Health Department and the ASPCA.
Police arrested one Oceanview Avenue man after he allegedly threw a plate of cat food at the family’s truck before he overturned their mailbox. The neighbor has denied the charges.
A spokeswoman for the city Health Department said the agency received three complaints about 3 Oceanview Ave., where a cauldron can be found on the front lawn and a stained-glass pentacle hangs in the window.
Celina De leon said a Health Department inspector who visited the home June 13 found no violations and will “be revisiting the residence.”
A city Sanitation spokeswoman, meanwhile, said two summonses had been issued for a dirty sidewalk and failure to sweep “matted material” from the sidewalk.
One Oceanview Avenue resident who requested anonymity said people on the block repeatedly had asked the family to stop leaving open food cans for strays.
She said the women usually responded with accusations and anger.
The mother of three is convinced the Wiccan family made a false complaint about her to the city’s child welfare services.
“It’s been hell,” she said.
“I don’t know what anybody else’s religion is, and I don’t care,” added the woman. “They can practice whatever they want. … You want to be a witch, be a witch.”
Another neighbor said she found rat droppings and then a rat swimming in her pool one night €” a problem she said was created by the open cans of cat food.
She also believes the family was responsible for leaving a picture of a dead dog that looked like hers in front of her house. The incident prompted her to make a police report.
Accusations on both sides
Marlene Colmer reiterated Monday that the neighbors zeroed in on her family after she and her daughter appeared on a Staten Island Community Television show promoting the Wicca religion.
The two women allege their dog was poisoned, their car vandalized and their property damaged.
Colmer said her daughter leaves bowls of cat food only on their own property.
“We are not troublemakers,” she said. “They are vicious people who want us to leave.”
But one former neighbor who lives on Stone Lane in New Springville recalled the family members as “troublemakers” who created a cat problem.
Jewel Hall, another former neighbor, said that once after her car had been parked next to the family’s automobile, they blamed her for a problem with their tire.
Colmer, who sold the Stone Lane condominium and purchased her Oceanview Avenue home in 2004, accused the condominium association of harassing her by taking away her parking and fining her for putting in an air conditioner.
“I figured I’d buy my own house and live by my own rules,” she said.
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