Colfax moves forward with clean-up of Ziebell property on High Street

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The Colfax Village Board has approved continuing with the clean-up of the Eugene Ziebell property at 407 High Street through the abatement process.

The village board initially approved the process September 22, and during the village board meeting on November 13, approved continuing with the process.

The Colfax Village Board originally was scheduled to meet on Monday, November 10, but the meeting was rescheduled to Thursday, November 13, because of winter weather conditions.

At issue for the Ziebell property are the complaints of neighbors concerning piles of lumber and trash, junk vehicles and a yard that was not kept mowed during the summer.

The village board is proceeding with the abatement process under Section 8-1-8 of the village’s ordinances relating to unhealthy, hazardous or unsightly materials on public or private property.

Following the September 22 Colfax Village Board meeting, Colfax Police Chief Bill Anderson sent a letter to Ziebell informing him that he is in violation of the ordinance and that he had 30 days “to remove the unhealthy, hazardous, unsightly materials from the exterior of your property. This includes all refuse/rubbish/waste, inoperable and dilapidated equipment and/or machines, vehicles, tarps, woodpiles, as well as any other items on the exterior of the property considered to be in violation of this ordinance.”

The letter goes on to say, “If this notice is not adhered to, and the above mentioned property not abated by October 22, 2014, you could be subject to daily fines until the property is taken care of. Also, the village of Colfax will remove the property mentioned and the cost of this will be charged to you.”

The ordinance requires that notice be sent to the property owner by registered letter with return receipt requested.

Registered letter

According to an e-mail from Police Chief Anderson on November 17, the registered letter was mailed on September 22, and a receipt signed by Ziebell was returned on September 25.

“Since the notice, the bags of garbage that had been outside of the house had been cleaned up. This would take care of the ‘unhealthy and hazardous’ part of it. The items that were being discussed now are the unsightly materials which are still present and have not been completely taken care of yet,” Police Chief Anderson said in the e-mail.

As for the junk vehicles, Ziebell had previously been given a separate notice on removing the junk vehicles and did, in fact, get rid of the broken down car, Police Chief Anderson said.

Removing the inoperable van in the yard has been a slower process.

According to Police Chief Anderson, Ziebell said he had contacted Happy Hooker Salvage (Aaron Sand).

In a written report given to the village board at the November 13 meeting, Police Chief Anderson noted that Sand had confirmed he was scheduled to pick up the van and would contact Ziebell within the next few days.

In his November 17 e-mail, Police Chief Anderson said that he did not believe the van had been removed yet from the Ziebell property.

The police chief’s report to the village board at the November 13 meeting went on to say, “Also, since the last board meeting, I spoke with Wesley Ziebell (one of Eugene’s sons). He said he started a new job, but, he is now available on Saturdays and will be continuing to work on his father’s property and cleaning it up. Wesley told me he and his sister have been in regular contact about the property and what they are going to do to take care of it. I explained to Wesley that the cleanup needs to continue and I would like to see it completed before we receive any significant snowfall. Wesley agreed and said that was the family’s plan as well. I also told Wesley that a noticeable difference needs to be observed and easily visible to the surrounding community to assure them that things were being taken care of with the cleanup. Wesley told me he completely understood, and they would be working on it.”

8-1-8

According to the village’s ordinance under Section 8-1-8, “whenever the Building Inspector, Fire Inspector, or other authorized Village official shall, upon inspection of any premises within the Village of Colfax, find that there is deposited, placed, stored, or remaining on said premises any garbage, junk, rubbish, rubble, trash, abandoned, outmoded or non-salable merchandise or parts, accumulation of grease or food wastes in a grease trap or other place or depository which presents a risk of clogging or blocking a sewer system, or any other unhealthy, hazardous or unsightly materials or thing which create a fire or health hazard, or which is detrimental to the appearance, neatness and cleanliness of the immediate neighborhood of the Village of Colfax in general, such official shall issue a written order to the owner  and/or occupant of the premises to remove said garbage, junk, rubbish, rubble or trash, abandoned, outmoded, or non-salable merchandise …”

Appeal

The village’s ordinance includes a provision for appeal that allows a property owner or occupant to request a hearing before the Board of Appeals within 30 days of the order to clean up the property.

The ordinance requires the  Board of Appeals to hold a hearing within seven days of the request and prohibits the village from taking abatement action until the requested hearing is held.

If the Board of Appeals were to determine that a public nuisance did exist, the Board of Appeals can order the village to proceed with the abatement.

Ziebell did not request an appeals hearing.

It is not clear from the ordinance whether “Board of Appeals” refers to a Zoning Board of Appeals, which deals with special exceptions or variances for zoning issues, or whether this is a reference to another board appointed by the village board for the purpose of hearing appeals.

Under the section of the ordinances establishing boards, commissions and committees, only a Zoning Board of Appeals is included to deal with zoning issues.

Under the section of amended ordinances, a Board of Adjustment/Appeals is included that also deals with zoning issues and variances.

Abatement

Subsection “e” of the ordinance, Abatement by the Village, states that if the inspecting officer determines that a nuisance is a human health hazard, as defined in Wisconsin statutes Section 254.01, and is not cleaned up within 30 days of receiving the notice and there has been no appeal, the officer shall file a written report of his or her findings with the village board.

The village board shall then direct the village’s health officer in the case of health nuisances, or the chief of police in other cases, to cause abatement or removal of such public nuisance.

Wisconsin statute 254.01(2) defines “human health hazard” as “a substance, activity or condition that is known to have the potential to cause acute or chronic illness, to endanger life, to generate or spread infectious diseases, or otherwise injuriously to affect the health of the public.”

Under Chapter 823 of Wisconsin statutes related to nuisances, nuisances are defined as “repeated violations of an ordinance (that) constitute a public nuisance as a matter of law,” and “a nuisance is an unreasonable activity or use of property that interferes substantially with the comfortable enjoyment of life, health, or safety of others.”

Court action

Under the “abatement by court action” section of the ordinance, if the inspecting officer determines that the nuisance is not a human health hazard as defined in Section 254.01 of the Wisconsin statutes, and the nuisance is not abated within the 30 days and no appeal has been filed, the officer must submit a report of findings to the village board.

After receiving the report, the village board can then file the case in Dunn County Circuit Court according to the provisions of Chapter 823 of Wisconsin statutes related to nuisances.

Penalty

Section 8-1-8 of the village’s ordinances refers to general penalties found in Section 1-1-6.

Under Section 1-1-6 of the Colfax ordinances, the penalty for a first offense, upon conviction, is a fine of not less than $25 and not more than $1,000, along with the cost of prosecution. If the fine and the cost of prosecution are not paid, the defendant will be put in jail for 90 days or until the fine and cost of prosecution are paid.

For a second offense, any person found guilty of violating an ordinance a second time within one year shall, upon conviction, be fined not less than $50 or more than $1,000, along with the cost of prosecution.

According to the ordinance, if the defendant has not paid the fine or the cost of prosecution for the second offense, he or she will be put in jail for up to six months until the fine and cost of prosecution are paid.

Each violation of an ordinance, and each day a violation continues, will constitute a separate offense, according to Section 1-1-6.

The Colfax Village Board voted to abolish the village’s municipal court in October of 2011, and it is not clear from this section of the village’s ordinances whether the conviction mentioned is conviction in municipal court or conviction in Dunn County Circuit Court.

It also is not clear from this section of the ordinance whether a continuing violation is referring to a violation that continues after being convicted in either municipal court or circuit court or whether it is referring to being issued a citation for an ordinance violation — or whether it is referring to not taking any action after receiving a letter requiring that an action be taken.

After creating an ordinance to abolish the municipal court in 2011, the Colfax Village Board also created an ordinance authorizing the issuing of citations to enforce ordinance violations.