By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — True to his word, Colfax Police Chief Pete Gehring has met with the property owner at 606 Balsam regarding the complaint filed by Beth Noer Fierek.
The Colfax Village Board discussed the police report at the March 10 meeting.
As Police Chief Gehring reported at the Colfax Village Board’s last meeting in February, there is only so much he can do legally considering Colfax’s current ordinances.
Juul and Penny Noer own the house across the street from 606 Balsam.
At the February 24 village board meeting, Fierek cited village ordinance Section 8-1-8 related to unhealthy or unsightly materials on public or private property “detrimental to the appearance, neatness and cleanliness of the immediate neighborhood or the Village of Colfax in general …”
From the perspective of enforcing an ordinance — what is unsightly and what is detrimental? How is it measured?
The dictionary definition of unsightly is “not pleasant to look at,” and the definition of detrimental is “causing harm or damage.”
Who determines what is unsightly? Who determines what is detrimental? The village president? A neighbor? The police chief? The property owner?
And if the issue should end up in court, whose definition of unsightly and detrimental would a judge consider?
In addition to the general complaint of unsightly, another issue with the property is trailers and vehicles parked on the boulevard.
Police Chief Gehring reported to the village board that there is a problem with the width of the street and the official village map, and that the street, First Avenue, would need to be resurveyed so the map could be updated.
Scott Gunnufson, village president, said at the March 10 meeting that the village’s maps should be updated.
“We need new maps for the village. Whatever we need to do to get that done, so we can enforce some of these (ordinances),” he said.
The Colfax Village Board did not take any action to officially declare the property at 606 Balsam to be unsightly and detrimental to the public’s health, safety and welfare.
The Colfax Village Board also did not take any action directing Police Chief Gehring to cite the property owner for maintaining an unsightly property detrimental to the public.
At the February 24 meeting, in view of the village’s unenforceable ordinance that does not define unsightly or detrimental, Police Chief Gehring suggested several times that the village board would have to take official action to give him direction.
The Colfax Village Board also did not take any action related to declaring 606 Balsam unsightly or detrimental at the February 24 meeting.
According to a written report from Police Chief Gehring included in the village board’s packet of information, the specifics of Fierek’s complaint were “too many vehicles some of which may not be operational; too many trailers; long grass; weeds; animal cages; trailers parked continuously in the boulevard; brush; and general junkyness.
“I explained I needed to stay within the guidelines of our ordinances. The vehicles were registered, there is no limit to the number of trailers and they didn’t have to be registered if under 3,000# GVW [gross vehicle weight]. Whenever we abated long grass, weeds or brush, the problem was taken care of.
“With the present snow cover such things were undeterminable. The animal cages were empty so no animal violations. The trailers in (the) boulevard had been abated before and the plat of the street was contested. The Village is not able to determine the actual street right-of-way without a new survey. Map shows street 18 (feet) in Noer’s front yard.
“There were several comments made by complainants and board members. I explained that this department will not select enforce junk ordinances.
“I suggested that I talk to Mr. Nosker and report back to the Board. This was agreed to by all parties.
“After several phone calls, I met with Nosker on 3-4-14 at 1357 p.m. at the Colfax police offices.”
Police Chief Gehring’s report goes on to say:
“I explained the following issues: a) unregistered vehicles; b) inoperable vehicles; c) trailers 1. unused, 2. in boulevard, 3. with brush; d) long grass/grass over sidewalk; e) weeds 1. in flower beds, 2. along alley fence; f) animal cages; g) fence preventing meter reading; h) dogs at large.
“Jim responded as follows: a) all vehicles are registered; b) all vehicles are operational except for red pickup which has been sold and when snow/ice allows it will be removed; c) does not know of a limit on trailers, and all are used for purposes. Brush in trailer from an abatement. It snowed and trailer can’t be moved until a thaw; d) can’t tell length of grass under snow; e) blackberry bushes along fence; f) no animals in cages; no ordinance against an empty cage; g) fence was built with permission [from village board]. Old meter reader would call before and Jim would put dogs in. I explained there are new meter readers and they are not required to call first. It was explained the fence could be moved to accommodate readers; h) he acknowledged dogs at large. Was reminded dogs needed to be registered. Any further violations would result in citations per dog per incident.
“Mr. Nosker was informed that a new ordinance book was being prepared and there may be changes. He should keep up to date on any changes.
“Mr. Nosker further explained this was a personal issue with the Noers that had gone on since the week he moved into the property. He cited several incidents where he felt they interfered with his compliance to Village ordinances. I asked if he would like to speak directly to the Board. He did not think it would accomplish anything. I explained I would report his response to the Board and they could decide the next step.
“No further information at this time. Chief Peter J. Gehring.”
Gunnufson said at the March 10 meeting after the snow has melted this spring, the village would consult with the village’s attorney to find out exactly what could be enforced considering the current ordinances.
“If there is an ordinance that prohibits what is there, it should be fixed … if the ordinance needs to be tightened and the village tightens the ordinances, it will make it easier for other neighbors, and the village will look better,” Fierek said.
Fierek noted that her parents are planning to sell the house and that she expected it would be listed sometime in April.