Court orders $6,000 fine in Gaede case

Steve and Ruth Gaede
Steve and Ruth Gaede in their retail shop. The couple say they plan to open a canoe, kayak and personal watercraft rental as well as offer bait and tackle from the shop starting some time in August, in order to fulfill their zoning requirement and comply with a court order. The couple cannot stay on the property until a business opens at the location. (Photo by Trudy Balcom)

By Trudy Balcom

After a more than a year of delays, the civil trial against Steven and Ruth Gaede for a zoning infraction at their property at 83 Water St. in Marquette is over.

In a decision filed on June 12, First Judicial District Judge Joel A. Dalrymple found the couple’s structure “not in conformity” with Marquette’s zoning ordinance.

The court has ordered the Denver, Iowa, couple to pay $6,000 in civil penalties and has barred them from using their structure for “personal, residential, storage and recreational purposes until such time as a bona fide commercial activity, consistent with the city of Marquette’s zoning ordinance is established and maintained throughout the entire lower level of the said structure,” the ruling states.

The Gaedes purchased the prime  riverfront lot in 1998, when zoning for the lot was unrestricted. In 2001, the city adopted a zoning ordinance which placed their property in a C-2 zone for general office and retail businesses. In this zone, a dwelling is allowed on the second and third story, but requires a business to be located on the main floor of the structure.

The Gaedes did not build on their property right away. According to court documents, the Gaedes were denied a building permit by the city in May of 2004, because their application said the structure would include “an office for personal business and retail.” They then re-applied for a permit stating they planned to use the bottom floor as a bait shop.

The most recent court case is not the first conflict between the city and the couple. Previously they were involved in an unrelated suit with the city over the deed to their property. The Gaedes also appealed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment in 2007 when they did not complete construction on the building within the time-frame of their building permit, and were granted an extension into 2008.

“If they had built their house in 1998, they would have been grandfathered in,” Marquette City Attorney Jim Garrett said.

A court-ordered inspection of the property in 2012  revealed no business activity in the lower level of the building.

According to their attorney’s response to the city’s legal petition against them, the Gaedes denied that their property was wrongfully being used for residential purposes. They asserted  that “the premises is under construction for commercial use, but has not been completed because of the on-going medical condition of Steven A. Gaede.”

The court rejected their assertions.

“On the eve of trial (nine years later) the defendants have consistently used the property for recreational purposes,” the ruling stated. Additionally, the ruling states that “defendants were clearly aware of the city’s expectations.”

At some point before their case went to trial, the Gaedes purchased some inventory and a sign for a bait and tackle shop, which has not yet opened. The judge was unimpressed with their effort, calling their “purported bait shop” a “farce.”

The Gaedes feel that the city is overly litigious. “They never actually said when we had to have the business open,” Ruth Gaede explained.

Garrett also said Steven Gaede made an offer to the city to sell them the property for $500,000 during depositions held before the trial. City Manager Dean Hilgerson has confirmed that the city made an offer to purchase the Gaede property for $300,000 before the current case went to trial in response, but the couple declined to sell at that price. The Gaede property is adjacent to a city parcel for which the city has received a grant to develop a boardwalk pier over the water as a tourist attraction.

The City of Marquette has taken other actions in the past two years to enforce commercial zoning in the downtown district, including removing grandfather status on two residential structures that remained vacant for one year, and denying a variance application for a proposed main floor bed and bath rental.

Steve and Ruth Gaede have rented a house in Monona to stay at on weekends while they prepare to open a new business. Ruth Gaede says it will include a personal watercraft and canoe rental as well as a bait and tackle shop. Steve Gaede has also been a licensed gun dealer for the past 30 years, and he says he is also considering moving that business to Marquette. They say they plan to have the business open some time in August. They said they have not yet made a decision whether to appeal their case.

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