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updated: 10/4/2013 2:42 PM

Horse farm owner sues neighbor over motocross track

Maple Park horse farm lawsuit pits business against property rights

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  • Dora Christensen, left, operator of Epona Farm in Maple Park, sued her neighbor, claiming his motocross track is spooking her horses and ruining her business.

       Dora Christensen, left, operator of Epona Farm in Maple Park, sued her neighbor, claiming his motocross track is spooking her horses and ruining her business.
    Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

  • Dora Christensen, operator of Epona Farm, says local laws don't do enough to protect property owners from disruptive neighbors.

       Dora Christensen, operator of Epona Farm, says local laws don't do enough to protect property owners from disruptive neighbors.
    Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

  • The view from an access road into Epona Farm in Maple Park is near a neighbor's motocross track, the subject of a lawsuit by the horse farm owner, claiming the motorcycles there scare her horses and have damaged her business.

       The view from an access road into Epona Farm in Maple Park is near a neighbor's motocross track, the subject of a lawsuit by the horse farm owner, claiming the motorcycles there scare her horses and have damaged her business.
    Harry Hitzeman | Staff Photographer

 
 

Since 2003, Dora Christensen has helped board and train horses at the Epona Farm in Maple Park. She rebuilt after a 2005 fire killed 33 of 34 her horses, but she now fears her neighbor might be the biggest threat to her business.

Donald Cinkus moved next to her horse farm on the 1N800 block of Francis Road in November 2011. The following spring, he built a motocross track less than 100 yards from an outdoor training area at Christensen's facility and less than 250 yards from the stables.

In rural areas of Kane County, landowners are allowed to ride motocross cycles, ATVs and other vehicles on their property virtually all day.

In a lawsuit that pits protections normally afforded to businesses against rural private property rights, Christensen argues the two hobbies are inherently incompatible uses because the noise from the cycles scares the horses.

She says Cinkus has crossed the line and she has sued for damages, arguing he is intentionally trying to ruin her business with the track, harassing her clients and even setting off a propane air cannon that spooked a horse and caused it to throw and injure its rider.

"He's just a hostile man. He's like, 'I can do whatever I want,'" Christensen said of Cinkus. "It was clearly deceiving when he said it was a practice track for his son."

The dispute has drawn the attention of Kane County Board member Drew Frasz, who is trying to broker some type of compromise and truce between Cinkus and Christensen's business partners in a meeting Oct. 11.

"There's a hundred stories like this you don't hear about because the neighbors communicate and work things out," Frasz said. "I'm crossing my fingers that we'll have a very productive meeting."

Christensen says as many as 40 riders have used the track at once and she has 50 video recordings to back up her claim. She also believes Cinkus, whose 40-acre site is zoned agricultural, should have to apply for a special permit for the track. Christensen points to the 40-acre Epona Farm as Exhibit A because she had to go before the county board years ago to get approval as a business use.

"That's the question," said Frasz, whose county board district includes Epona Farm and Cinkus' property. "Is it an organized event or is it just kids who come and ride their bikes? I'm trying to stay neutral on this, but the horse farm was there first."

Reached by phone, Cinkus said he had not been served with the lawsuit and that he had no comment. His attorneys also did not return repeated messages.

In the lawsuit, which seeks damages of more than $50,000, Christensen argues that Cinkus built the track to create the "loudest possible disturbance" for horses at Epona.

"You can't ride in the outdoor area. The horses start freaking out," she said.

Christensen also contends the noise and dust has hurt her business and that his behavior has scared off customers. Two examples:

On Aug. 4, Christensen alleges, Cinkus fired a large propane cannon that caused a horse to throw its rider, injuring her left shoulder. Cinkus was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and he is due in court Nov. 6. Propane cannons are typically used on large agricultural sites and vineyards to scare away birds and predators.

According to court records and the lawsuit, Cinkus has put large rocks on a shared driveway for Epona Farm, told Christensen's customers he's been recording their license plate numbers and called her clients "a bunch of lesbians" and "pedophiles."

Citing those and other incidents, Christensen obtained a no-contact order against Cinkus. He is due in court on that matter Nov. 21.

Frasz said he feels for Christensen because his neighbors also used to ride motocross bikes, which he said can make noise like "chain saws on steroids" and can "rattle the windows on your home a quarter of a mile away."

Still, Frasz said the county board as a whole is "extremely respectful" of people's private property rights and that as long as Cinkus is not charging riders money to use the track, he does not need a permit to have it.

Frasz also recalled visiting the site in summer 2012 and experiencing a lot of dust in addition to the noise. "It was almost like solids falling out of the air. It was that thick," he said. "It really has affected (Christensen's) business."

Christensen doesn't know what is going to come out of the lawsuit, and even if she wins, she doubts Cinkus will be ordered to remove the track.

She believes county laws offer little or no protection to rural businesses or property owners.

"In Kane County, there's absolutely no protection if somebody wants to move in next to you and disturb your peace. That's exactly what he's doing, He's a public nuisance," Christensen said. "You have no security because anybody can move in and have an annoying, obtrusive hobby next door."

Frasz said officials looked into whether Cinkus was violating the county's noise ordinance but decided not to ticket him.

"As a board member who represents a rural area, I'd like to have a little bit more say as far as a noise ordinance goes. It would be helpful to have a little stricter ordinance," Frasz said. He acknowledged: "When you live in the country, you buy into a certain amount of freedom that people have. A lot of it comes down to common sense and being a good neighbor."

Under the noise ordinance, violators can be fined up to $500.

Motocross cycles, ATVs and other vehicles may be driven on private property between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. However, another section of the code prohibits "harsh, prolonged or unusual noise" that interferes with a neighbor's peace or aversely affects a business.

"A lot of times with the noise thing, it's not clear cut," said Kane County sheriff's Lt. Pat Gengler, adding that a lot of times when deputies are called to an area, the noise is over with and homeowners offer the following rebuke: "'How far should the government go to tell me what I can do on my property?' We get that a lot when called out. It's a different mentality."

Gengler said deputies have been called to Francis Road about five or six times during the dispute between Christensen and Cinkus.

Even if Cinkus was ticketed for excessive noise, "It's not going to resolve the problem," Gengler said. "At some point, a judge somewhere is probably going to have to intervene to get this solved."

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