A Shakopee man shut down his annual holiday toy drive, alleging the city harassed him about a storage unit in his driveway he uses to collect toys and other donations.
Robert Weikle Jr. and his wife, Diane, collect toys and other items for the "Hope for the Holidays" toy drive through Community Action Partnership of Scott, Carver and Dakota Counties, a tradition since 2003. It's a way to give back, he said, noting that he once relied on county services and charity assistance.
"This is messed up," Weikle said. "I don't know how someone who throws out hundreds of hours of volunteer time can be thrown under the bus."
Shakopee officials say a metal storage container parked in his driveway year-round violates city code and must go.
Weikle contends the storage unit doesn't violate city rules. He says he'll fight the two tickets he's received over the container. A trial over the dispute is set for late January.
"I'll take a hit for a lot, but I'm not going to roll over for this one," he said.
Nathan Burkett, assistant city administrator, said the city never wanted to enforce an ordinance against a modern-day Kris Kringle. He said they tried working with Weikle and offered him a room in the city's old engineering building to store his donated goods.
"What we're trying to do here is show that we're reasonable," Burkett said. "I don't know what else I can do to make it easier."
Weikle said old urinals and toilets fill the city's storage room, making it unsuitable for stashing stuffed animals. And every time he wants to drop off items, he said, city staff would have to let him in, an inconvenience.
City staff says the toilets are new, adding that they would provide Weikle a different space to store the holiday donations, if asked.
Weikle said the city twice offered him a deal: plead guilty to a single violation, remove the offending metal box, accept a fine, fees and probation.
Santa no more?
Weikle said his toy collection efforts have ballooned over the years, requiring more space. Last year he amassed nearly 5,000 toys, including 2,000 stuffed animals.
In 2011, the gray, corrugated metal box arrived in the Weikles' driveway. DART, the company that owns the 20-foot-by-8-foot unit, lets them use it for free.
Weikle stockpiles everything from beer signs to paintings to T-shirts inside the bin, auctioning the goods off throughout the year to raise money for toys. Inside are signs advertising the drive and collection boxes covered in candy-cane wrapping paper.
Jennifer Baker, spokeswoman for the Community Action Partnership, said the Weikles have brought "joy to the families that we serve."
Weikle insists that the unit comports with Shakopee's ordinance governing exterior structures. The city lets residents keep "construction materials" while they are in use and storage sheds less than 200 sq. feet are allowed. "This isn't hurting anyone," Weikle said.
Shakopee Mayor Bill Mars said he visited Weikle at his home and spoke with him about the issue.
While running a toy drive is a "very honorable thing to do," Mars said, it isn't relevant to the problem at hand.
"A code violation is a code violation," Mars said. "This is a problem he could solve on his own."
Police Chief Jeff Tate said the city has "bent over backward" for Weikle, issuing him five warnings before the tickets, though Weikle said he received just one.
Tate said everyone has been treated equally in terms of code violations, adding: "I guess some people just like to fight."
Neighbor Carol Zevenbergen, who happens to be a city employee, has no objection to the storage bin, given the reason behind it.
"It's very unfortunate that he has to not do [the toy drive] for this year," Zevenbergen said. "It makes him feel like Santa Claus."