A dispute over a wood stove and a cease and desist order that has been in place since 2011 dominated the Preston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Dave Keene first attended the Dec. 6 council meeting to request that the council lift the order that prevented him from burning wood in his stove, which is located within his garage.

His next-door neighbor, Dianne Ruud, contends the smoke from his stove is acrid and infiltrates her home, with the furnace being located only feet from her dryer vents and windows. She stated she will sometimes return home to find the interior of her home smelling like smoke. She would like the cease and desist order to remain in effect.

During the December meeting, the council agreed to lift the order for a 30-day trial period. The item was then placed on the Jan. 17th agenda for review.

It was noted that council members had driven by the Keene home several times throughout the month, but noted they did not observe anything out of the ordinary.

Attorney Tom Manion spoke on behalf of Ruud and suggested that the council was approaching the issue from the wrong standpoint. Rather than the alleged smoke issue being a violation of the nuisance ordinance, Manion contended it was a zoning issue instead. “My proposal is that Preston would be better off if you looked at this as a zoning issue,” he reiterated.

In Preston’s zoning ordinance, free-standing, exterior wood furnaces are not allowed and Manion felt Keene’s furnace may not look like what one would typically think of when classifying an outdoor wood-burning furnace, he argued it could be classified as one because it is located in an accessory structure, is free standing and is the primary heat source for that structure.

Keene did state that he has an alternative heating source, in the form of electric heat, so Manion’s description was not entirely accurate.

After considering Manion’s argument that the issue be considered a zoning violation, the city council asked for the opinion of city attorney Dwight Luhmann. He acknowledged that the city ordinance may not be “perfect” in its description of the banned wood-burning furnaces, however he did not agree that Keene’s furnace in his garage was in violation of a zoning ordinance.

After considerable discussion, the council members agreed with Luhmann and continued to discuss the matter as a possible violation of the nuisance ordinance and not a zoning issue.

Keene also explained he has updated his furnace since the initial cease and desist order was placed and claims to have taken steps to work with Ruud on the issue.

Manion stated that he realizes Keene burns wood for heat, but also enjoys the act of burning, utilizing his “free use and enjoyment of his property.

He added, “However, this is distracting from my client’s free use and enjoyment of HER property. It adversely affects her health needs and her property values. She is looking for this ordinance to be enforced.”

The council asked Ruud if she had observed any problems during the 30 days the cease and desist order had been lifted as no formal complaints had been made during that time.

“To me, I think it was used very little,” she said.

Ruud also added she was unsure as to when the 30 days were in effect. She also noted that she was away from home several days during this time visiting family and celebrating the holidays. She had notes of several days in January when Keene was burning, including on Jan. 14 late in the evening and in the early morning on Jan. 16, the day before the meeting. She stated that on Jan. 10, she noticed the smoke was especially acrid, coming into her home and burning her eyes.

Keene told the council that he had been running the furnace for three days, with family gatherings and projects he had been working on in his shop. He did not feel any unreasonable smoke was created during that time.

“You didn’t make any formal complaints,” councilmember Bob Maust said to Ruud. “Those of us who drove by and looked at it, we didn’t notice anything.”

As the council struggled with the issue and the discussions continued into the second hour, Maust suggested the council extend its lift of the cease and desist order.

“I would like to see it continue to our second meeting in February,” he said. “If Dianne sees a problem during that time, she needs to call city hall and have them come and observe the problem.”

The residents who claim to be affected by the smoke were discouraged by this motion. “There are other neighbors who are affected,” said Dr. Dale Loeffler. “I don’t know what can be achieved by giving this another month. He can change things to go in his favor.”

City Administrator Joe Hoffman encouraged the residents to monitor the situation and to call city hall if there was an “unreasonable quantity of dense smoke.”

The matter will once again be discussed during the second meeting in February.