Tree service provider has more employees than permit allows
Town will look further into staffing issue

By Melanie Boyung - Special to the News Graphic

Aug. 13, 2019

GRAFTON — A longstanding business in the town of Grafton had its permit renewed last week, but not precisely as requested.

Hoppe Tree Service, located at 1009 Arrowhead Road, came to the Plan Commission last week to renew its conditional use permit, requesting amendments to the previous permit to add a building to shelter vehicles and equipment and to increase the number of employees allowed to the business.

“They cited the crisis with the emerald ash borer as part of the reason for the (employee increase),” town Engineer Kevin Kimmes said.

While the Plan Commission did approve the two-year renewal of the conditional use permit and the building Hoppe Tree Service requested, the expansion of employees to allow 20 was removed from the motion before approval, after lengthy discussion.

The village staff’s recommendation was to allow up to 20 employees for the business, but only 10 allowed on the property at one time. The current town code dictates that level three landscaping, which Hoppe Tree Service is, has a 10-employee limit.

During the public hearing for the permit, two neighbors spoke against the renewed permit, including comments about the number of employees.

Jeff Stay and Roy Swisher, who are residents near Hoppe Tree service, spoke about the business and its employees being disruptive in the neighborhood.

“August (Hoppe) is gaming you. He says he needs to open up to 20 people – he already has, he’s just not telling you,” Swisher said.

“There’s over 20 personal vehicles on the property,” Stay agreed.

“I find it to be completely unacceptable to approve and extend the permit for two years, when they’re violating the permit that’s already there,” Stay said.

When asked by the Plan Commission, Hoppe owner and operator August Hoppe told them he did have 18 employees.

Town Chairman Lester Bartel looked up the documents from the last Hoppe permit renewal and found that staff approved 12 to 15 employees. Staff last week noted that employee limits on landscaping businesses in residential zones were impacted in the last two years by an overhaul of the town zoning code.

“I’m going to have to lay people off, this is going to be a major thing … If this was a true issue, I should have been informed of that,” Hoppe said.

“If you don’t allow me to have – I’m asking for the meager increase to 20 – I have to lay off my employees,” he added. While the Plan Commission did eventually approve the permit renewal with the previous 15-employee allowance intact, they did not take action increasing the permit’s allowed employees.

Bartel said later last week that the town would have to further define the employee limit with Hoppe Tree Service, to determine how to move forward with the business currently having more employees than permitted.

“I understand the predicament you’re in, but in my mind, we’re bound by the code,” Plan Commissioner Patrick Stemper said.

The Plan Commission briefly discussed that in this case, a variance to the ordinance would not be appropriate. Increasing the employee limit would require Hoppe to apply to have the code changed to allow for greater numbers.

Other concerns raised by the neighbors included noise and large equipment from the property, a festival held once a year that included loud music and drinking and the business’s gate, which was a stipulation of Hoppe’s existing permit to be locked outside business hours to control entry.

“We have a good relationship with most of the neighbors, other than the two you heard from … Since 1986 it’s been the perfect place to have a business. We try to be good neighbors,” Hoppe said.

One of the neighbors speaking in the hearing said he had seen young people coming and going from the property, and it constituted an “attractive nuisance.” Both neighbors commented they had frequently seen the gate left open. When asked by the commission, Hoppe said the gate was likely not consistently shut, and had not been shut in several months since it was damaged in an accident.

“It’s hard to get our people to buy into the last one out, lock the gate,” Hoppe said.

Bartel told Hoppe he had to get the gate fixed. Having been damaged in May or June, there was no reason for it to not be fixed or replaced, and once fixed it needed to be closed to prevent nuisance access to the property, as the permit required.

“I can’t understand how someone who runs a business the size, efficiency, operation and scope of yours, can’t lock the gate,” Bartel said.

The permit and staff report on Hoppe Tree Service also addressed the Hoppe Tree Service property’s history of firearmsrelated issues. There have been complaints in the past of excessive firearms use at the property, which was found to be members of the Hoppe family not involved in the business. The use of the land as a firing range not occurring was tied to the conditional use permit.

“The use of the property as a recreational shooting range, outside of hunting as allowed by the DNR, is strictly prohibited from this day forward,” Kimmes said.