Neighbors convince village to sue resident over tree

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by Diane Moca

MUKWONAGO – The Village is suing one of its own residents to try to force him to cut down a tree that has been bothering his neighbors for years.

“It's a messy, dirty tree, and I've just had enough of it. I just don't want it anymore,” said Sandy Buchholz, who has lived on Conrad Lane for 43 years.

For a few weeks every June, Buchholz says her neighbor's cottonwood tree behind her property spreads balls of fluff-covered seeds all over her yard, and she wants it cut down.

Last month, the Village filed a lawsuit to do that, saying the tree is in violation of an ordinance from 1966 prohibiting female cottonwoods.

The lawsuit claims the tree “has interfered substantially with the comfortable enjoyment of life, health and safety of others within the village” and “has irreparably harmed residents.”

“It's just a tree. Leave it alone,” declared Paul Teply, who owns the cottonwood and has refused to cut it down.

Teply says his big, beautiful tree is one of the tallest and oldest in the county and provides shade and privacy for him. He says the 80-foot cottonwood also blocks the wind and reduces flooding by absorbing excess water. He says the 100-year-old tree enhances his property.

Teply says he thought vandals attacked it when he saw a red X on the trunk, but he later learned the Village marked his tree for removal and paid an arborist to verify it is the female cottonwood tree causing the neighbors' complaints.

Teply said there are about 800 other cottonwoods in Mukwonago, including many on land owned by the village, and no one is removing those.

Village Administrator Paul Moderacki said the Board only requests removal of a tree that has generated complaints.

Moderacki says Teply's tree has become a nuisance because it has clogged pool pumps and air conditioners.

Village Attorney Shawn Reilly says the lawsuit could cost taxpayers up to $10,000 in legal fees and drag on for a year or more.

Teply says the Village shouldn't get involved in neighbor vs. neighbor squabbles.

He says he's lived in his home 22 years, and his next door neighbor Lori told him she would find any ordinance she could to go after him, after he asked her guest to move a car away from his driveway and she accused him of embarrassing her during a party.

Teply says after that incident, Lori began complaining about where he parked his boat and about the fluff from his tree. He says he suggested splitting the cost of a fence between their yards, offered to trim a branch near their yard and bought her kids Christmas presents. But he says she refused to talk to him.

When CBS 58 went to her door, the man who answered said they had no comment.

CBS 58 obtained an email sent by Lori and Tony Acompanado to the village attorney saying the “cotton that falls from his tree covers our yard, fills our swimming pool, blows into our house every time we open the door, and makes being outside generally unpleasant.”

Village attorney Shawn Reilly advised the couple more than two years ago that “you also have the ability as an individual to file a lawsuit to have the tree removed.”

But the village says this is a community problem because there are multiple complaints about the tree and Teply has not responded to any requests to deal with the problem.

Buchholz says the cotton balls ruin her pond every summer and make a mess of her flowers. Teply says he has offered to clean up the yards of both his neighbor next to him and his neighbor behind him.

Teply says the village went after him now because he's been complaining about sidewalks at village board meetings recently.

“I don't know. Maybe it's like, You put something on my plate; we're gonna put something on your plate,” said Teply.

Moderacki says other cottonwood owners have removed their trees after the Village informed them of complaints, but Teply never replied to four letters sent to him in 2008 and 2009. Teply says he never got those letters and didn't know his tree was violating a village ordinance until he was served with papers this year.

Teply says he has contacted the DNR about awarding the tree trophy status to protect it.

He and Moderacki both say they are investigating an inoculation treatment that could reduce or eliminate the shedding of the cottony seeds, which may solve the problem without the removal of the tree.

If you have an issue you'd like us to investigate for our “You've Got To Be Kidding” segment, you can email dmoca@cbs58.com.

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