Lowell Friday must remove the 27 horses he has on his East Bethel property because his interim use permit (IUP) to have them expired March 18, the East Bethel City Council unanimously ruled April 4.
Friday is in the middle of a criminal court proceeding in Anoka County District Court. The city of East Bethel’s prosecuting attorney charged him Jan. 9 with 35 gross misdemeanors for the alleged mistreatment of 17 horses that were seized from Friday’s property.
This case did not precipitate the council’s action April 4. According to City Attorney Mark Vierling, Friday’s IUP to have horses on his property expired March 18.
Although Friday applied for the IUP renewal March 16, all those who get IUP renewals must go through a public process and receive approval from the planning commission and then the city council. IUPs for having animals on property cannot just be approved by city staff.
Without an IUP, the council told Friday that he had to remove the 27 horses off his property. Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr. said people with only two horses on their property have needed IUPs from the city.
“If we knowingly allow him to have these animals on his property in East Bethel without having the proper permit, the precedent of that will overwhelm us with people doing this,” Councilmember Heidi Moegerle said. “I really think that we need to abide by our ordinances. The ordinance says you can’t have those animals without a permit.”
It seemed to her that Friday had plenty of notice that his IUP was expiring, she said.
There was some debate between Friday and City Administrator Jack Davis on how the application for the IUP renewal went down.
Friday came before the council March 7 during the public forum to express interest in renewing his IUP, which had 11 days remaining on it at the time. He said then that he thought the IUP expiration date would be May 5.
Davis told the Anoka County Union that the previous council approved a three-year IUP for Friday on March 18, 2009. The clock began ticking then and not when Friday signed the paperwork after that.
Vierling informed Friday at the March 7 meeting that he needed to fill out an application, go through the public process and the council could not offer any preliminary comments before a hearing.
Davis told Friday to make an application during business hours at city hall.
During the April 4 council meeting, Friday claimed that he reached “a gentleman’s agreement” to keep the horses on his property while the city reviewed his IUP renewal, but that he would cease all business operations including boarding of other horses, training and breeding.
He said he met with Davis and Mayor Richard Lawrence.
Davis disputed Friday’s account.
“There were no guarantees,” Davis told the council. “Let’s make that abundantly clear that there is no agreement that represents the city in any way whatsoever in this matter.”
Friday said to Davis that they had discussed giving Friday “a written deal” that operations would stop but he could still keep the horses.
Davis said this was “totally incorrect.”
Davis said he told Friday to have his attorney contact Vierling so they could get clarification on this matter.
“It was my opinion that your IUP had lapsed and you were not entitled to continue your operations,” Davis said April 4. “That’s why we’re here tonight.”
Davis said Friday visited him at city hall once in February to show him pictures of horses and talk about his IUP. He said the city mailed Friday two letters as a courtesy to notify him that his IUP was about to expire.
The city received no response. Friday said he received no letters.
Friday claimed that City Planner Stephanie Hanson did not return several of his phone calls.
Davis said records at city hall indicate that Hanson did respond to the phone calls.
“This all comes down to a lack of Mr. Friday doing anything,” Councilmember Bill Boyer said.
Councilmember Steve Voss said it seems like an odd situation that the city may seek legal action against Friday if he keeps the horses on his property while reviewing his IUP application and going through the review process.
Vierling agreed it is an odd situation, but he said if the city waits to enforce any violation until after the council action on Friday’s IUP permit, the potential ordinance violation proceedings would be even farther down the road than if that process started now.
Friday said earlier in the council meeting that he planned to remove the 21 mares from his property before he would get any new IUP, but had planned to keep the six stallions because he felt it would be more difficult to find a place to board these horses.
Voss said removing the six horses does not seem as monumental as if the city was removing 27 horses. He wondered if the city could take action against Friday regarding his lack of a permit and look into whether there were places these stallions could go, but avoid the substantial legal costs of going to court.
A big element of this is the council may not even grant a new IUP. The results of the criminal case against Friday may have a huge bearing on all of this. A pre-trial hearing in Anoka County District Court is scheduled for April 26.
Vierling said if Friday continues to have the horses and there is a IUP violation hearing, he would recommend the council hire a hearing officer to oversee the proceedings.
This type of hearing, especially because of the notoriety of the case, would be difficult for the East Bethel Planning Commission to oversee, he said.
Vierling said he will talk with several retired judges who could be a hearing officer to see how much this service would cost and report back to the council in two weeks to see if it wants to hire one of them.
Any violation hearing would be held in the city council chambers, he said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org