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City, resident at odds over future of vegetable stand

Tom Piekarski says city officials are trying to force him out of business. The city, though, says it's just trying to make sure everyone is abiding by an a longstanding ordinance.

Piekarski has sold vegetables and flowers from his Dodd Boulevard home for the past 16 years, but in recent years he's found himself at odds with city planners. He says the city is forcing him to shut down a business that has become a popular source for fresh produce in Rosemount.

"I normally have cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet corn, everything," Piekarski said. "Now I can't do nothing."

The problems between Piekarski and the city started three years ago, when he put up several signs advertising his produce. Eric Zweber, the city's senior planner, said those signs made it obvious Piekarski was running a retail business from his home, something prohibited by a city ordinance that went into effect in 1989. The 20-year-old ordinance prohibits any home-based business that involves customers visiting the home.

The city asked Piekarski to remove the signs, and he did. But last summer Piekarski started selling hanging flower baskets. Those baskets, which Piekarski bought from another source and resold, were one more sign there was more going on than just an oversized vegetable garden. Zweber said the city allowed Piekarski to sell the baskets he'd bought -- they didn't want him to lose the money he'd invested, he said -- but told him not to buy any more.

This summer, the baskets were back. As a result, the city has filed a suit asking a judge to determine once and for all whether Piekarski's flower-and-vegetable stand qualifies as a retail business.

Zweber said Piekarski left them with no choice.

"We try to work with residents first and we try to gain compliance with the ordinance. We try to describe, 'This is what the ordinance allows,'" Zweber said. "We've been doing this for three summers and his business has expanded, so we feel like we have to take the next step."

Piekarski has some options. The city's ordinance allows residents to hold as many as three garage sales a year. And Zweber said Piekarski is welcome to continue growing his vegetables and sell them at the weekly farmer's markets held during the summer at the Rosemount Community Center.

But Piekarski, who married into the vegetable stand business, said he's confused about why the city is just now choosing to get strict about its ordinance.

"I've been doing it for 16 years and all of a sudden they're getting a court order to shut it down," Piekarski said. "It's ridiculous. It's almost to the point where it's going to be a communist town."

Piekarski, who has 200-some tomato plants in his garden, said the city's decision will leave him with a lot of vegetables this summer and nothing to do with them.

"I'll have cucumbers coming by the bushel in a week or so," he said. "There's nothing I can do with them. The vegetables I can use for myself, but my neighbors are going to be fed pretty well."