Recently, Paul Anspach received a ticket from the Clarkfield Police Department for a nuisance violation concerning wood being stored on his property. He appeared Tuesday, at the regular Clarkfield City Council meeting, with about eight supporters to refute the fine and the label that the actions on his property qualify as a civic nuisance.
Tempers, rhetoric and decorum ran hot, high and lose, respectively, as public comments hijacked what would have been a ho-hum meeting, of little import, for about 45 minutes.
Anspach, his residence and his business aspirations for that property have been a regular, though lightly discussed, topic at Clarkfield’s council meetings for roughly a year—or, since Anspach purchased his property at 513 12th Ave. (formerly a mobile home park).
At Tuesday’s meeting, Anspach’s wife Charlann (Kuehl) Anspach read a statement chastising the council, the police department and the city’s administration for their handling of the issue. She stated that the police department and Clarkfield Police Chief Ian Hodge qualified their wood piles as a nuisance, because they might harbor vermin. She said this hadn’t been proven and pointed out there were several people in town with wood piles and questioned why her property was the only one ticketed. The council couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer and she requested that, in respect to the nuisance violation they clarify, as for residential property: How much wood can be kept? How should the wood be stacked? How long can it be stored? How close to an alley can it be stored? How far can wood be hauled in from? And what should the Anspachs do with the wood they use for personal use?
Only to the final question did the council qualify an answer, with new council member Scott Vold stating, “Wood for personal us is one thing. Commercial use is another.”
And here it starts to get a little tricky. You see, since Anspach first started leasing the property at 513 12th Ave.—about five years ago—he has been operating as a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approved firewood vendor, using his property as a processing and storage location.
The property at 513 12th Ave., having been a mobile home park, is zoned high-density residential and not zoned for commercial business. Yet, when Anspach began his business, it drew little attention from the council, or anyone else with the knowledge to know that Anspach was operating out-of-bounds of zoning practices. Also, the area of the property used for the former mobile home park has been, and is, taxed commercially.
The question was first brought to the council’s attention by Anspach himself after he bought the property. On April 3, 2012 Anspach appeared at a Board of Appeal and Equalization hearing; questioning how the property would be taxed. At that meeting Anspach said he wanted to zone part of the property commercial to pursue his business aspirations (which, besides for the wood, has included stripping water heaters, work on abandoned sheds, off street storage of campers and vehicles and something concerning solar panels).
Page 2 of 4 - At that time the council was willing to work with Anspach; directing him to put together comprehensive business proposals and take steps through the council to schedule a public hearing on the matter.
Responses from Anspach, on any matter, have been sporadic at best and he has yet to provide the council with anything resembling a proposal of any sort and he has not followed any timeline set by the council, or city administration. Meanwhile, since that first meeting, the council has fielded several complaints from at least two neighbors and have had concerns brought to them from the city’s building inspector; concerning the dilapidated sheds being brought onto and stored on the property as being hazardous.
Excerpts from council minutes over the past year, concerning Anspach are as follows:
August 20, 2012: A concerned neighbor was wondering what was happening with the property and with the sheds being trucked in. Council asked [City Administrator Scott] Weske to call the building inspector and have him take a look and report back.
September 18: Anspach Property-Owner needs to be reminded of the information requirements and public meeting. Weske is instructed to write a letter to request information otherwise the city will order a cease and desist.
October 16: Public comments by Chris and Marsha Thompson— the city is asked to look into a way a fence could be built between the Thompson and Anspach property [sic]. It was asked that the fence would be placed directly on the property line so there wasn’t a chance for any trespassing. This fence would be built by a third party and the costs would be split by property owners. Thompsons do not want chunks of rocks on their side of the fence for the fear of wrecking their mower... Council feels that something needs to be done because this dispute has gone on long enough. It isn’t the responsibility of the Cities [sic] taxpayers to be involved in this kind of issue. This needs to be resolved by both property owners and lawyers if needed. Procedures need to be followed and if they aren’t people with the correct authorities [sic] will be involved. If there is [sic] any nuisance violations then whoever is in fault will get cited... (from Police Chief monthly council report concerning Anspach vs. Thompson: Both Weske and I [Chief Hodge] were present to have a meeting with Anspach at city hall on Oct. 10, 2012 to discuss his property. Anspach did not show up at the scheduled time. I have spoken with Dave Gilbertson to reference possible trespass charges on Anspach. I am putting together the report with photos and the ultimate decision to press charges or not will be Gilbertsons.)
November 7: Paul Anspach-Property Use/ Plans: Anspach presented to the council what he plans to do with his property. Fence: ... It is going to be a chain link fence running the length of the property... Property Use: Section of the property will be used for solar panels if feasible... The south and middle section will be used for firewood. Supplying to the DNR and state parks... The east section will be used for off street storage. Storing [sic] of campers, vehicles, etc. It will be fenced in and secure. Will be working with Eschens [sic] to build a fence that faces her property so she wont have to see the storage area... Motion by Linscheid, second by Schlenner to set a public meeting for the Anspach Property to be rezoned commercial. This meeting will be set for the first meeting in December, or as soon as possible with the required amount of time to be posted and information given to the neighbors impacted. Motion passed unanimously...
Page 3 of 4 - November 20: Anspach property- Fence has been put up. Not really what was expressed to the council.
December 4: Anspach property- Emailed Paul to fill out an applications/petition before the public hearing will be set.
January 22: Anspach property-Motion by Linscheid, second by Vold to deny application to rezone his property from residential to commercial due to state statutes defining it as spot zoning. Motion passed unanimously
Continuing with Tuesday night’s meeting, Anspach openly displayed his anger and frustration with the council (being warned to check his temper three times by his wife, Chief Hodge and Public Works Director Jeff Lobdell, who was in attendance on other business); sitting at a table about two feet from and parallel to the council’s table. Beside him, stood his wife while supporters sat at tables behind, or milled freely around the council meeting room as discussion ensued. Those supporters included former Clarkfield City Council members Jeff Randell (former mayor) and Leo Kuehl (also Anspach’s father-in-law), Clark Field and Duane Tongen (who have each entered into their own antagonisms with the council in the past over nuisance violations) and a neighbor.
Said Kuehl, “He [Anspach] really did you guys a big favor by purchasing that property and putting it back on the tax rolls... Now you’re harassing him. It’s like your picking out people... It’s like he’s being singled out... You guys should have told him what he was doing was wrong right off the bat... You should rip up this ticket (referring to the nuisance violation).”
Another point of contention for Anspach was that he was never notified that his property and it’s zoning would be discussed (and ultimately struck down) at the Jan. 22 council meeting.
Meanwhile, the council asked Anspach if moving his businesses to the industrial park would be more feasible than his current location. Anspach replied that action would be cost prohibitive.
The citation issued to Anspach gives him 30 days to come into compliance with city ordinance. After that period of time a court hearing will be set for Anspach to argue why the property was not brought into compliance. In this case, the final decision will rest with a judge.
Near the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, after Anspach and the majority of the public had left, the council discussed the night’s public comments concerning Anspach and directed Weske to put answering the questions about the nuisance wood and city ordinances on the top of the council’s agenda. “I think we definitely need to act quickly on this and be responsive to all parties concerned,” commented councilman Neil Linscheid.
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The Clarkfield City Council is calling for a special meeting (outside of the regular council meeting calender) to discuss and take action on a new contract with Ecumen for management of the Clarkfield Care Center as the previous contract expires on Apr. 1. The special meeting will be held Monday, March 18 at 7 p.m. at Clarkfield City Hall.