Desotells continue efforts for garage variance

By: 
Shirley Prudhomme

PESHTIGO – The regular monthly Peshtigo City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 4, included a long discussion with Hank and Sherry Desotell on their long quest for permission to avoid tearing down a garage on their property on which they started construction before a building permit was issued. The garage is 1,296 square feet, while the zoning allowance in their multifamily residential district is 960 square feet.

During time for public comment Council, also heard a plea from Renee Stefaniak for the city to replace the dishwasher at the Drees Community Center and complaints from Kathy Wills Vorpahl about city beautification issues, including maintenance of flowers in the decorative old truck on the triangle parking lot at the stop lights.

All three issues were brought to the Council at the start of the meeting, and all three brought promises from Mayor Katie Berman for actions to get them resolved soon, including placing them on agendas for the next applicable committee meeting.

For some months, the Council has been hearing about problems with the Drees Center dishwasher.  Alderman Keith Klimek said it has seemed to work whenever city maintenance personnel fix it and suggested the meal site staff has been turning it on too early. Stefaniak said the dishwasher continues to cause problems and should be replaced since it has been in service for over 25 years. She said washing dishes takes a few minutes, but becomes an hour and a half chore when they must be washed and sanitized by other methods.

The Desotell’s described frustrations over their dealings with the city, Building Inspector Tom Smith and the Plan Commission that had been plagued at the outset with delays. Desotell here had been planning to attach it to the house, in which case it would have not violated any ordinances, but Desotell said that would not be a good solution for several reasons.

The Desotells outlined their frustrations with months of delay and decision reversals by city officials, Building Inspector Tom Smith and the Board of Appeals at the start of their building project over two years ago. In October of 2022, the Desotells had been advised to seek a variance and paid the $200 application fee. Meetings were delayed for various reasons, and with winter setting in, those delays, along with confidence their application would be approved, led to their decision to start construction on the garage without the permit in hand. Desotell said their contractor had told them at the time they either had to start immediately or hold off entirely until spring. “We didn’t realize it would turn into the huge mess that it is,” Desotell declared. “We ask the city to help us figure out how to get out of this mess.”

He said they subsequently had obtained tentative approval of plans to attach the garage to the house, which would not require a variance, but explained would cause a new set of problems, since their plans include an entirely new roof for their house shortly, at which time they possibly could attach the garage.

Mrs. Desotell said they have already paid over $1,000 in fees for meetings and permit applications.

As the discussion went on, Desotell said if this cannot be resolved amicably they may decide to sell their property and move because they no longer want to live in Peshtigo.

Building Inspector Tom Smith has been working with Desotell, but comments indicated there may have been some miscommunications between the Desotells, Smith and Spangenberg, including plans that Desotell said were tentatively approved by Smith and then unapproved.

Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal said if the Zoning Board of Appeals refuses a conditional use permit the applicant has 10 days to appeal to the City Council, “...and they didn’t.”

Kasal and Spangenberg explained conditional use rules, which had changed between the time neighbors of the Desotells had built similar garages and the construction of the Desotell garage. Kasal said they should not set a precedent, where people think they could pay a small fine and then build what they want. She said the variances can only be granted for “hardship” which meant there were no other options for that specific property, and said changing the ordinance would be the only way around it.

Spangenberg said this is a unique situation. He agreed to help seek an amicable solution but agreed citizens need to know they have to follow the rules, not assume anything, but get permits before starting any building project.

Earlier in the discussion, Mayor Katie Berman suggested that while they were going through this process it would be prudent for her and other council members to talk with the building inspector so they have an idea of what the procedures are from start to finish.

Berman said the Drees Community Center dishwasher issue will be put on the agenda again for the next Fire, Lighting and Building Committee meeting, where it has come up several times in the past.

All intoxicating liquor and malt beverage license applications were approved as advertised without dissent along with a license for a Conditional Street Use Permit for the River Pub to hold a block party as a charitable fundraiser on Aug. 16, Saturday, Aug. 17 and Sunday, Aug. 18.

After some questions from a police officer, including a comment that the action may be contrary to their union contract, the Council approved a change in meal reimbursement for city employees to pay up to $12 per breakfast, $18 per lunch and $25 per dinner individually, with no per day totals allowed.

In a letter to the city, Police Chaplain Archer Leupp thanked the Council for adding a budget line item to support the chaplain program. Leupp, who has been Peshtigo Police Chaplain for 15 years, said police officers handle evil and unpleasant things, and often need help dealing with them. The chaplain assists officers and community members in times of grief over incidents such as suicides, crashes and death notifications.

At 8:10 p.m., after completing other business scheduled for the evening, the Council voted without dissent to go into closed executive session on two issues, one of which was conferring with legal counsel on litigation in which the city may become involved, and the other listed as, “Considering dismissal, demotion, licensing or discipline of any public employee or person licensed by a board or commission or the investigation of charges against such person....” and included, “Preliminary review of potential ethics and personnel issues without evidentiary hearing or formal action.”

In the Council Chambers for the closed session were Mayor Katie Berman; Aldermen Debbie Sievert, Allen England, Angel Wink, Robert Warren, Keith Klimek and Brigitte Schmidt; Clerk/Treasurer Tammy Kasal and City Attorney David Spangenberg. Also in the Council Chambers during the first half hour of the closed session were Decur and Fire Chief Chuck Gardon. After they exited the room Chief Popp was called in.

After returning to open session at 9:17 p.m. the Council adjourned without taking action on the closed session items.

At a special meeting on Wednesday, May 22, the Council also held a closed session with the same reasons given. That closed-door discussion lasted from 6:43-7:54 p.m. 

Also, at that meeting, the Council approved adding $2,500 to the Professional Services contract with Ayres Associates for studies on the condemned Landmark property to have a Phase 1 Environmental Site Assessment done.

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