Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 30, 2005

LP bar, cafe at odds over fence between properties

By Lynda Jensen

A fence being erected in downtown Lester Prairie appears to be the focal point of what amounts to a border dispute between the owners of the Central Cafe and their neighbors.

Construction of the fence started a few weeks ago when the owners of the Central Cafe, Mary Kay Metz of Waverly and Steve Wernimont of New Germany, employed surveyors to stake out property lines.

They wished to enclose the empty lot area between the businesses, Metz said, making a screen between bar patrons and their own patrons at the cafe.

Dave Groff, owner of the Porthole, watched with curiosity as the crews went to work.

But then, to his surprise, Groff came to work one day and found contractors cutting in half a common sidewalk between the two businesses.

“They left us with a 10-inch sliver of sidewalk,” he said. The sidewalk is located on private property and shared 50/50 between the businesses.

The city ordinance for fencing requires a two-foot setback to other property lines, and a four-foot setback to any street or alley – which would have left the sidewalk intact, according to Police Chief Bob Carlson and City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk.

As a result of the setback issue, the cafe owners were ordered to move the fence back two feet from the Porthole and four feet from the alley.

Metz and Wernimont must move the fence within seven days, with the deadline being today (Monday), or risk being fined $300 or 90 days of imprisonment. Each day begins a new offense, which means they could be fined $300 per day until they move it, Pawelk said.

The pair were advised of the setbacks by the city before they began cutting the sidewalk and building the fence, Carlson said.

“They were told this before they put the fence up,” agreed Mayor Eric Angvall, whose hardware store is next to the Central Cafe on the other side.

The fence, which has only posts at this point, is precisely where the property lines are, facing the alley and along the Porthole property line.

“Commercial (setbacks) are to the line because of taxes and liability,” Metz commented Wednesday.

The city ordinance is meant for residential and not commercial properties, Metz said.

She added that every fence in town is on the property line.

However, Carlson and Pawelk said that isn’t so – the ordinance pertains to both commercial and residential.

Wording on the city ordinance does not make mention of residential or commercial properties, thus applying to both, they said.

Groff described the sidewalk as an “unbelievable travesty,” noting that his older patrons use it to access the building.

He also noted that his family has owned the Porthole for decades, sharing the property line with numerous other neighbors, without incident. The sidewalk has been there since the 1950s, he said.

“It’s no harm to them (the Central Cafe) having a sidewalk there,” Angvall said. “It doesn’t interfere with their business.”

Previously, a separate snow fence was erected that actually extended over the property line by a few inches, Groff said. He was told by Central Cafe owners that it was a liability issue, he said. This fence has since been removed.

In addition to the fence issues, there was also a property and parking dispute last year between Wernimont and Angvall.

Angvall said he noticed Wernimont started parking in the back of Angvall’s building on a regular basis.

He let it go for awhile, Angvall said, until he finally asked Wernimont to kindly not park there all the time, since it can be used for wheelchair access for the hardware store.

Wernimont swore at Angvall, using “words that I never even heard of before,” Angvall said.

Apparently, Wernimont believed it was his property, but it’s likely that there was confusion over a Gopher One State marker, which Angvall supposed that Wernimont mistakenly thought was a surveyors’s marker.

“I was perplexed,” Angvall said.

Angvall hasn’t heard from Wernimont since, but he has stopped parking there, Angvall said.

Metz and Wernimont may still apply for a variance if they wish to build the fence that close to the property line, but it has to follow the proper channels and be approved by the city council.

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