Homeowner Continues Her Struggle
In December 2016, City Attorney for Emmetsburg, Brian W. Thul, mailed Doris Schubert a Notice of Hearing regarding her property on Ontario Street. The notice informed Schubert she had been cited for having a dangerous building in an unsafe condition on her property. Thul cited Emmetsburg City Code 145.03. Schubert had 20 days from receipt of the notice to abate the nuisances; failure would result in the city council convening a hearing on the issue at the next city council meeting in January.
Schubert’s odyssey began after the city received a complaint regarding the generally rundown condition of her property. She and her husband, Frank deceased 2015 moved to 2201 Ontario Street 45 years ago. Frank was from Estherville; Doris hailed from Nebraska. There, they raised three children, cows, geese, dogs, cats. To date, the cows are gone but Schubert has a mule named Sassy. Schubert’s husband had a penchant for collecting disused materials wood, metal, aluminum. Over the years, these materials accumulated on the property. The spread also has a number of outbuildings in disrepair. Fences are a mishmash of wood and wire; they sag. The property has any number of detritus; some of it resembles kitsch; some, not so much.
Schubert failed to remedy the situation by the January meeting. At the meeting she stated she does not have any family around to help her clean up the place. (Frank Jr. lives in Emmetsburg but does not come by much.) City councilmember Brian Campbell suggested giving Schubert 60 days to formulate a plan and 10 months to enact it. Councilmember Bill Burdick, Jr. proposed Schubert meet with City Building Inspector Clint Young to make a list of what needs to be done. Campbell seconded and the motion was carried.
In March, Young compiled an 11-item list. The list included removing tires that were on a roof (Schubert said the tires kept a tarp in place). An old school bus on the property had to go (it is still there). One mobile home trailer and another old trailer were on the list; as were barrels, scrap metal, livestock (Schubert objected, claiming her long-time residency accorded her grandfather status). At the March council meeting, Schubert asked the complaint be made null and void because the individual who filed it was not present. The council declined but did give Schubert until October 1 to show progress on the cleanup.
Schubert, now 72, works 35 hours a week at Casey’s. She contracted with an individual to go 50-50 on the removal of scrap metal from her property (this same individual removed the dilapidated mobile home that was second on Young’s list). Her contractor has three other jobs and, recently, his vehicle broke down. Her view on her situation is prosaic. “It’s just me out here; I’ll do what I can.”
At last October’s city council meeting, Schubert, again, was listed under unfinished business. Then City Administrator John Bird reminded those present that Young provided Schubert a list and an extension the prior March and now that time is up. Councilmember Mike Hermansen sympathized with Schubert’s situation but that this was her last chance. Councilmember Brian Malm seconded Hermansen’s motion to authorize the approval of necessary remedial work on Schubert’s property. The motion was carried by a unanimous vote.
Save for the mobile home trailer (now gone), nothing else on Young’s list constitutes an unsafe structure. Under Emmetsburg’s Code Ordinances, Chapter 50, Nuisance Abatement Procedure (which is the next step in this saga), “Whatever is injurious to health, indecent, or unreasonably offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property so as essentially to interfere unreasonably with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property is a nuisance.” Just like snowflakes, no two senses are alike. The detritus strewn across Schubert’s property is offensive to some sensibilities; others may be more forgiving. But not unlike Stewart’s proclamation regarding hardcore pornography, absent universal agreement on what is and is not offensive, these determinations come down to a quorum of those making the decision. This is not to say categorically that the condition of Schubert’s property is offensive to the senses; rather, this decision is the consensus of the city council.
Anyone expecting a villain in this story won’t find one. To date, the city council has not begun a nuisance abatement procedure in the sense it has not intervened and taken action to clean up the property. At its last meeting, the council gave Schubert until August to finish the cleanup. Members have explored different avenues to help Schubert fix the problem.
Schubert’s age, her financial resources and her living situation preclude any real hope she will be able to solve the problem on her own. The city council is acting in the best interests of the city to ensure Emmetsburg does not devolve into an unsightly sprawl of rusting autos on cinderblocks. Perhaps it does take a village.