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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily
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Artist fined, fighting back

Dan Hefty isn't sure what else he can do. The Madison artist received notice from the city of Madison last October that he was running an "illegal home occupation" that he needed to "cease" ("City to Artist: Knock It Off," 10/23/09).

At issue is a city zoning rule barring the use of accessory buildings like garages in home-based businesses. (Even storing lawnmowers for a landscaping business in a residential garage would be illegal.)

Hefty doesn't think he was ever in violation, since none of the art made in the garage-like structure he built behind his house was sold, and personal use of outbuildings is permitted. And, after receiving his notice, "I dissolved my art LLC and am no longer making any art for sale."

But a re-inspection on Dec. 23 led to Hefty getting a terse note from the city saying his "violation was not satisfactorily corrected," along with a $177 citation. It warned of additional citations if the unspecified violation was not corrected by Feb. 1, a day before his initial court appearance on the first citation.

City zoning administrator Matt Tucker says Hefty is considered in violation because the outbuilding contains "a piece of nonresidential-type mechanical equipment" - a fancy laser used to make etchings and cut materials.

"We have reason to believe a home-based business is occurring there," asserts Tucker. "We don't think the situation has changed from our initial inspection." He says Hefty could, with the necessary approvals, legally move the laser into his house.

Interestingly, the city is now working on a major rewrite of its zoning rules. The proposed new code would let homeowners obtain city permission to use outbuildings for home-based businesses, something the current code does not allow.

That means the city is going after Hefty for violating a rule even it regards as too inflexible and in need of change. Tucker defends this, saying "we can't not enforce" the current code, which will likely be in effect at least until fall. There's no telling if this rule change will be enacted or whether Hefty will receive an exemption.

Hefty thinks he's already in compliance, since he's not using the outbuilding for making commercial art. He plans to plead not guilty to the citation and fight further enforcement efforts.

"My wife and myself have been through enough from the city," he says. "Just let us make our art in peace."

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