From feud to fear

A dispute between two households in Lowry Hill has sparked fears across the neighborhood

LOWRY HILL — A feud between neighbors on the 1700 block of Colfax Avenue South has left many area residents feeling unsafe, prompting police and the local neighborhood association to get involved.

Events and accusations have been piling up: Illegal business operations. Feces and urine dumped on a driveway. Bricks thrown through a window. A man holding a blowtorch and making rude gestures in the front lawn.

The neighbors in the dispute are Tina Wilcox and 14-year Lowry Hill residents Barb and Jimmy Fogel, two sides that have been at odds since at least the spring of 2006. But it’s another individual who has frequented Wilcox’s home that the Fogels are really fired up about.

It’s that person who they believe hurled the bricks, shot large BB pellets at their home and poured acid on their driveway and lawn. They aren’t alone in their suspicions — in late October, Assistant City Attorney Lisa Godon charged Jeffrey Groves, Wilcox’s friend and former contractor, with numerous offenses, including harassment and stalking, assault, violation of a restraining order, damage to property and disorderly conduct.

The incidents have frightened neighborhood residents so much that a special community meeting was called by the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. A group of about 50 — including Wilcox and Jimmy Fogel — heard from police officers, Godon and several others to learn the latest news and to air out their own frustrations.

Residents complained about being afraid in their normally quiet neighborhood. They asked how to kick the guilty party out of the area. Some went further than others.

"This is a direct act of terrorism," said Barry Lazarus, a friend of the Fogels. "They’re terrorizing the Fogels! We need to get this cancer out of the neighborhood."

Origins

Exactly when the dispute started is just one matter of dispute.

Wilcox said it’s as old as her time in the neighborhood.

"This problem started long before Jeff Groves came into the picture," she said. "I know, because it was going on when I moved in."

The Fogels have a different view. They said the problems developed after Wilcox hired Groves to do renovation work and the two started dating. The Fogels said it seemed Groves was running his business, A Cut Above Restoration, from the garage.

Vehicle traffic, which often included large trucks, was a chief concern, the Fogels said. They put up with it for a while, they said, but eventually called the city.

Paul Smith, a zoning investigator for the city, said citations were issued.

"At this point, we are no longer investigating the matter," Smith said.

In early January, a Southwest Journal reporter saw Groves pull into Wilcox’s driveway in a white utility van, where he unloaded some materials. The Fogels said that was a regular occurrence, but Wilcox’s attorney, Peter Watson, said it doesn’t mean Groves is running a business there.

"I can’t help it if he drives his business truck for social visits," Watson said. "He’s helped [Wilcox] move things. He’s moved exercise equipment and other heavy objects."

Two sides

After the citations were made, the Fogels said things got worse.

They recounted verbal abuse and intimidation. They talked about property damage that has involved acid on the lawn and driveway, urine and feces on the front walk, BB pellets to the door and windows, and two bricks that crashed through a front window at 3:15 a.m. Jan. 13. One of those bricks, Barb Fogel said, was wrapped in an invoice from A Cut Above Restoration.

Groves has been charged for many of the incidents the Fogels have reported over the past two years. He also has a lengthy criminal record that includes disorderly conduct, driving offenses, giving false information to police, domestic assault and other crimes.

Recently, a warrant was out for his arrest for driving after revocation of his license.

But, Wilcox said, there are two sides to the story. At the community meeting, she emphasized that people are innocent until proven guilty.

"If Jeffrey Groves did this, I would be the first person to say, ‘Prosecute him,’" Wilcox said. "… But I don’t have the evidence that he’s the one doing this."

Attendees at the Jan. 15 community meeting seemed split between the two sides, with a larger group leaning toward the Fogels’. While names were requested for speakers, many chose not to give them. One resident said it was because of a fear of retribution.

"We’re afraid to say anything," the resident said. "If we say something, those pellets could come through our house."

But Jeff Dypwick, who lives in the same house as Wilcox, said the neighborhood has a skewed view of the situation.

"To say that the Fogels are being singled out, it’s very convenient," Dypwick said.

Wilcox nodded her head.

"There are two sides to this," she said. "I will not budge from this."

Moving forward

Wilson, chairman of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Organization, said his group normally stays out of neighborhood disputes. But the level of community concern over the dispute prompted it to take a different approach.

The group is looking at ways to beef up its block-club network, as well as its crime and safety committee. Keeping a closer eye on people with criminal histories is part of the plan, too.

"We talked about developing policy that encourages mediation," Wilson said. "We’ve kind of said we don’t get involved. It probably would be more proactive to encourage mediation."

At the community meeting, he directly asked Wilcox and Jimmy Fogel whether they’d be interested in the mediation process.

"Yes," both Fogel and Wilcox said without hesitation.

"And just so you know," Wilcox added, "Jimmy and I have never spoken to each other."

"Amazing," Wilson said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com. Reach Cristof Traudes at 436-5088 or ctraudes@mnpubs.com.