Neighbor vs. neighbor: Feud envelops Lowry Hill

What began as a minor dispute between two households has mushroomed into a string of violence gripping a whole Minneapolis community in fear.

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Jimmy and Barb Fogel have been in a feud with their neighbors across the street in their Lowry Hill neighborhood. The spat has escalated into vandalism, including bricks thrown through their windows last week and pellets fired at the house.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The trouble in Lowry Hill started with one neighbor accusing the other of having marketing and construction businesses operating out of her mansion.

Then the dispute took a nasty turn. Barbara and Jimmy Fogel, who complained to the city of Minneapolis about the alleged zoning violations of an across-the-street neighbor, have endured a wave of vandalism. Over the past 18 months, the couple's house, yard and car have been the target of dumped feces and grass-killing chemicals. In late December and early January, someone fired bullet-like pellets into their house.

On Jan. 13, in the most ominous incident so far, the Fogels were jolted out of bed by a tremendous crash. Two bricks had been hurled through their century-old front windows.

The Minneapolis police are investigating, and the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association held a special meeting last week so residents could voice the fear that is seizing this district of grand old homes.

"We would like the nightmare to be over," said Jimmy Fogel, a realtor who sells many homes in Lowry Hill. He and his wife no longer feel safe having their grandchildren visit, and they have set up a surveillance system in their 1900-vintage home.

Minneapolis police have made no arrests in the pellet shooting or brick-throwing case. But Jeffrey Morgan Groves -- a contractor who was living with the mansion's owner Tina Wilcox -- has been charged with nine misdemeanor counts, including harassment and stalking, damage to property, violation of a restraining order and fifth-degree assault, in connection with vandalism, threats and confrontations between September 2007 and October 2008.

In October, Wilcox told the Hennepin County courts that she was the one being harassed by her neighbor. Barbara Fogel admits that she did go over the line once, when she dumped garbage and debris around Groves' van in frustration. The act earned her a ticket for littering.

Groves says he is innocent, the victim of a frame-up. Wilcox, who did not respond to interview requests, herself has a restraining order against Barbara Fogel.

But as the conflict escalated into vandalism, the neighborhood has come down on the side of the Fogels, said Craig Wilson, president of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association.

"Mr. Groves is accused of many crimes in our neighborhood. It has very much impacted the feelings of safety of people," Wilson said. It's no longer a neighbor-versus-neighbor spat, he said. "This is really an entire community issue at this point."

Wilcox's manse looms over the corner of Summit and Colfax Avenues, so large that it has addresses on both streets. Wilcox's marketing business, Black Design, occupies part of the house. Groves, who had worked on the extensive restoration of the house, moved in with Wilcox about two years ago.

In 2007, the Fogels complained to the city about a constant parade of vehicles across the street. The city issued citations to Wilcox and Groves for violating the zoning restrictions, which forbid home occupations from generating excessive traffic or employing more than one nonresident.

City zoning officials determined that Groves' company, A Cut Above Restoration, was running a contractor's yard out of the property.

In the meantime, bad things were happening to the Fogels. Their front lawn, plantings and a tree died, poisoned by a chemical. Their driveway was stained by a corrosive substance. Their Range Rover was twice scratched by keys. Even the big billboard displaying Jimmy Fogel's face on Hennepin Avenue was shot with a paintball.

Last week, as Jimmy Fogel walked barefoot through the glass littering his living room floor, the couple knew that the conflict had reached a new level. Barbara Fogel summed up her feelings: "Terrified, upset, angry, and sad -- kind of depressed."

The Fogels estimate it will cost $4,000 to match the glass, on top of the $15,000 they have already incurred from the past acts.

Association steps in

Not everyone in the neighborhood is aligned with the Fogels. Caroline Dunn-O'Brien has only good things to say about Groves, who did recent work on her Lowry Hill house. "I know he hasn't had a squeaky-clean slate. It's very, very hard to believe what's being said about him is true," she said. "I think the public airing of this is very vicious."

In an interview Thursday, Groves said he didn't know who was responsible for the vandalism. He said the Fogels want to whip up public opinion against him in advance of his court appearance Monday on a felony theft charge involving a trailer stolen from nearby Groveland Terrace.

"The Fogels have called the police over 40 times on me over last three years, and used every channel to try to get me out of their neighborhood," he said. Groves wouldn't say whether he is still living in the neighborhood, and said he is currently operating his business out of his van. His driver's license has been revoked.

"I have not done anything to the Fogels," he said.

Yet most neighbors who showed up at last week's Lowry Hill association meeting felt otherwise, with some stepping forward to report trouble with Groves, Wilson said. He said the association is working on a new policy to help mediate neighborhood disputes.

Barry Lazarus, past president of the neighborhood association, said no one wants to see the situation escalate any further.

"The fact of the matter is, an attack on one of our neighbors is essentially an attack on us," he said.

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