Party ain't playing possum: It really is dead after court rules against bike club's local fundraiser

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MUSCATINE, Iowa — To party or not to party?

That was the question before the Muscatine County District Court Thursday morning, and the final decision ended up being ... not to party.

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren petitioned the court for an injunction on a party that members of a local motorcycle club want to hold from May 30 to June 1 at the club's headquarters, located at 2097 Old U.S. Highway 61 South, located just south of the Muscatine Municipal Airport.

The ruling in the case, Muscatine County vs. Edward Zeman and the Sons of Silence, puts a preliminary injunction against the event, known as the Eastern Iowa: We Ain't Playing Possum Party. Zeman is the owner of the property and a member of the club, which Zeman identified in court testimony as the Eastern Iowa chapter of the Sons of Silence Motorcycle Club.

Zeman and Cyle Geertz, the chapter's president, testified that the club had decided to host the event as a fundraiser to meet club expenses, such as property taxes, on their clubhouse. For the past several years, the group had raised funds at an event near Conesville, Thunder in the Sand, which had typically been held on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. However, since that event is no longer allowing motorcyclists to ride into the event, the club decided to host a smaller event at its property and hoped to have had 150-250 guests at the event.

In his arguments before District Court Judge Stuart Werling, Ostergren said the club's plans would be a violation of county zoning ordinances for the property. Currently, the property owned by Zeman is zoned as R-3 residential and C-1 commercial. Under questioning by Ostergren, Zeman and Geertz said they had not looked into the zoning status of the property before planning the event and had not applied for any special use permit for the event.

C.J. Ryan, chief Deputy for the Muscatine County Sheriff's Office, also testified regarding the property's official zoning designation and the office's concern that the three-acre property would not be big enough for the party.

"It's still not in compliance with the [zoned] use down there," Ostergren said.

Under questioning by Ostergren and their attorney, Pete Leehey of Cedar Rapids, Geertz and Zeman outlined the group's planning for the party, which would have included:

  • Off-property parking at the nearby House of Atlas motorcycle shop
  • Portable toilets
  • Security
  • Efforts to keep the noise at the event down, such as arranging recreational vehicle campers and vendors around the edge of the property and facing the stage away from nearby neighbors.

Ostergren asked Geertz what would happen if more than 250-300 people showed up to the event, which Geertz said was the maximum number of visitors he thought could fit on the property. "If it gets to that point, we're going to have to turn people away," Geertz replied.

Ostergren also asked Geertz and Zeman about the presence of alcohol during the party. Geertz and Zeman said the event would be a "bring your own beer" event, although alcohol would be available on the property. They said the donations were not specifically for the alcohol, but for attending the event.

Leehey also suggested that the group might have been singled out for attention by authorities, claiming that other common events in the area, such as graduation parties, could be considered technical zoning violations.

"Then the question is, why are we picking on these guys?" Leehey said.

However, Werling sided with the county on the matter, writing in his ruling that the club's intention to use the party as a fundraiser for club expenses, a party which would include live music and the presence of alcohol, was a violation of existing county zoning ordinances.

"Further... the County has no other sufficient remedy to protect the quiet enjoyment of the properties by the surrounding homeowners other than an injunction," Werling wrote, adding that the rights of the surrounding property owners overrode the property rights of Zeman and the club.

"The club was naturally disappointed by the ruling on the injunction," Leehey said in an email to the Journal after the ruling. "The club will respect the injunction, and at the same time research other options within the letter of the law."

"I'm pleased with the court's ruling," Ostergren said Thursday afternoon. "I believe it's supported by the facts and the law." He said the ruling also worked to protect the rights of nearby property owners to enjoy the use of their property.

There is a possibility that the club could appeal the ruling to a higher state court, Ostergren said. It also could seek out a special use permit from the Muscatine County Zoning Board of Adjustment, but Ostergren said such a permit couldn't be given in time to meet the May 30 start date for the party.

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