The team trying to keep Earl Giefer on his Oak Creek farm is worried he will end up in the same situation as a Muskego contractor facing $18,000 in fines for zoning violations.
The Oak Creek resolution abandoning the idea of acquiring Giefer’s 24.4-acre farm also declares city officials’ intent to enforce all city codes and correct any violations on the property.
Jason Fry, owner of Simple Solutions Grading & Snow Plowing Inc., called Giefer’s niece, Susanne Mordja, after hearing his story and offered to help with any site improvements the city may demand for zoning violations. Fry faces $18,000 in fines for five zoning violations Muskego officials levied against his property.
“We’re a full-service general contractor. That’s why I offered it to her,” Fry said of Mordja. “Anything she needed, free of charge.”
Giefer said he is worried he will become a target of city building inspectors that impose fines and orders for site improvements that he cannot afford.
“It ain’t over,” Giefer said shortly after city officials dropped the proposal to declare his farm blighted.
“They’re not going to give up,” he added. “They’re going to make things so miserable for me that I can’t stand it.”
Fry already moved his business from Muskego to Milwaukee. Fry said he, like Giefer, feels singled and out persecuted by local government officials.
“The outcome I’m looking for is for them to cease and desist,” Fry said, “and just let me prosper like any good capitalist.”
City officials in Oak Creek and Muskego said they enforce the laws without bias. Lawrence Haskin, Oak Creek city attorney, said the city will follow its regular procedures to enforce city codes on Giefer’s land and will not treat it any differently from other city properties.
Muskego Mayor John Johnson said the city is not trying to persecute Fry, but is sticking up for the rights of neighbors who complained about him driving trucks through the area. The property where Simple Solutions operated is a house, Johnson said. The zoning laws are there to keep it that way, he said, by preventing truck traffic and noise from businesses bringing down the values of neighboring land.
“He was pushing us,” Johnson said, “and he was hoping we would not pull the trigger. Well, we did.”
Michael Schober, Giefer’s attorney, said he agrees with Johnson that zoning should be used to protect the general welfare of the community. Still, he said, it can also be abused, and he remains concerned that the Oak Creek resolution promising to enforce zoning codes on Giefer’s land could result in heavy-handed enforcement.
“That’s troublesome to me,” Schober said. “That’s, as I see it, an announcement to go after Earl, and the question becomes are they treating him like everyone else or are they treating him differently?”
Schober and Mordja said they are unaware of any code violations on the property. Mordja said city inspectors have not been on the farm since 2008 when Giefer’s house burned down and he needed city permits for demolition and new electrical wiring for the property’s well pump.
Johnson said he is not familiar enough with the Giefer case in Oak Creek to comment on it, but disagreed with Fry’s accusation that Muskego officials are abusing their authority.
“That’s why zoning laws are out there: to protect people’s rights for their property,” he said. “I take exception to that. I don’t think zoning is out there to take people out of their homes.”
With Giefer waiting to see what Oak Creek will do next, and Fry continuing to contest his zoning fines, both said they just want government to leave them alone.
“I hate people,” Giefer said. “I can’t stand people. If they were halfway decent, but they’re not.”
Fry said he feels Giefer’s pain.
“I hate it when the big hand of the law comes in,” Fry said, “and says you have to do something.”
Lawrence Haskin, Oak Creek city attorney, explains city staff members’ decision to consider declaring Earl Giefer’s 24.4-acre property a blight on city development.