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[whitespace] Good neighbor helps to head off ugly Monte Sereno battle

Monte Sereno--Trouble was brewing in the neighborhood where Ken Peak's golden Guernsey cows once grazed, but efforts by a neighbor to bring warring factions to a peaceful agreement appear to been successful.

The dispute came to the attention of the Monte Sereno City Council when Tom Conom of Danielle Place sent a letter to the city alleging that his neighbor Alan Aerts was violating numerous city ordinances and acting "in a threatening manner."

Aerts built his home on two acres purchased from Ken Peake, the longtime dairy farmer who died earlier this year. Aerts roused considerable attention at the time from Monte Sereno residents with his large home and its five auxiliary structures.

The City Council, in fact, responded to concerns about the number of structures on the property by limiting large lots in the future to two structures--without a public hearing for a use permit. The city also decided to exempt basements from limits on maximum square footage, as Aerts had complained that the auxiliary structures were necessary because he had not been permitted to build a basement.

Conom alleged in his letter that the Aertses were parking and using a work van on city streets, using overly bright lighting on their property, repairing cars in the street, and failing to provide adequate coverage of the building with landscaping.

City Manager Brian Loventhal, who also acts as the city's planner, was to examine the accusations and report back to the council on Oct. 26.

Meanwhile, good neighbor Le Nguyen stepped in and mediated a settlement of the ongoing dispute between the two neighbors. According to Conom and Aerts, Nguyen worked with the two families during a 3 1/2 hour meeting on Oct. 12. "It took some time to clear up all the misunderstandings," Nguyen said about the session, "but we reached an agreement."

Conom said Aerts agreed to meet all codes, and Aerts said he would be dropping all litigation against the Conoms.

Conom also said that he would agree to the city's evaluation of whether the Aerts residence blends in properly with surrounding homes. Aerts agreed to correct any violation the city finds, and will voluntarily lower the wattage of his porch lights.

The letter to the council was just the latest development in a longstanding feud between the Aertses and the Conoms, who live directly across the street from each other. The feud has involved alleged threats, a toilet-papered house, threats written in chocolate syrup--even a restraining order.

Aertes also said Nguyen agreed to mediate an earlier dispute, and had succeeded in doing so. Aerts said the restraining order had been dropped but that the letter to the council was a breach of the agreement brokered by the mutual neighbor.

Conom, however, said no such agreement was ever made, and that Nguyen only met the Aertses the day the letter was circulated. "I'm not familiar with anything about a mediator," Conom said, prior to the most recent agreement.

Nguyen said a tentative agreement had been reached previously.

Aerts credits Nguyen for being "a very, very good neighbor" who saved both parties time and money. He suggested that the Conoms and Aertses donate the money which would have gone into litigation to an orphanage group that Nyueng's church raises funds for.

Nguyen, who is employed in the electronics industry, says he stepped into the fray for the most basic of reasons. "I think a peaceful and familial approach is the best way to solve conflict," he said. "I've always valued neighborhood friendship."
Nathan R. Huff

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Web extra to the October 21-27, 1999 issue of Metro.

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