Lake of the Pines vet flap draws heated reactions
July 31, 2014
Scores of The Union readers are responding to the plight of Lake of the Pines resident Dennis Kocher — some with offers of help, some extending support and still others lobbing criticism, complaints and "the other side of the story."
Kocher, a disabled U.S. Air Force Vietnam veteran, was profiled Tuesday as being under attack by the homeowners association for his hobby — making wood furniture in his garage and donating it to military families in need. Since then, more than 100 people have posted comments on The Union and Nevada County Peeps Facebook pages and staff have received numerous letters and emails.
"Lake of the Pines had granted Mr. Kocher the exemption for the entire previous year to operate his business as long as he limited operation of his business to his home's garage and he did not unreasonably disturb his neighbors in his otherwise quiet residential neighborhood," said Mary Catherine Garcia, attorney for Lake of the Pines homeowners association, in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "Unfortunately, Mr. Kocher failed to comply with those reasonable requirements.
"Rather, Mr. Kocher operated his woodworking business outside of his garage in his front yard," Garcia said. "This directly resulted in Mr. Kocher unreasonably disturbing his neighbors with excessively loud power furniture-building machinery and noxious fumes from varnishes."
“… What I see is a guy who is running a little business out of his garage. He puts about 10 to 15 pieces he has made in his driveway with a sign that says ‘Garage Sale.’”
Lake of the Pines
She said residents did complain, although Kocher said he had asked about complaints earlier and was told that the complainant was General Manager Fred Turner.
"I don't want to make this into a mudslinging thing," said Kocher, who is appealing a July 11 notice from the homeowners association revoking his exemption at an Aug. 5 hearing. "We'll see what happens (at the appeal hearing)."
He said support and help has been pouring in, including a call from Dan Rossovich, of USC Supply Inc. in Auburn, offering free space for Kocher to build furniture in his 10,000-square-foot warehouse. Rossovich said he and his brother Ed, who was wounded in Iraq in 2004, co-own the business and employ other veterans.
Nevada County resident Rose Hoyt also called to offer a free stack of hardwood.
"My husband was in the Navy," Hoyt said in a phone message to The Union.
"It's good to get the support," Kocher said.
Other Nevada County residents said it sounded like the homeowners association was being heavy-handed.
"LOP homeowners association could be the meanest organization in Nevada County," Mike Clute posted on Nevada County Peeps Facebook page, which as of Wednesday had 85 comments on the story.
"It just so happens that my son is a wounded warrior," said Nancy Sargent in an email and letter to the editor of The Union.
"The outrageous behavior of Mr. Turner toward a veteran who is doing something wonderful for other military families just makes me sick."
But neighbors of Kocher said they noticed he was holding frequent garage sales and that the furniture hobby was spilling out on the driveway.
"Dennis may be a nice man and he may do altruistic work," said a Lake of the Pines neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because, she said, she was concerned about retaliation. "But he's living in a fantasy world if he thinks he's not hurting anybody.
"He made the story about what he claims he was doing (donation, not hurting anyone) but he was either oblivious or didn't care about how he went about it," said the neighbor, who has lived "up the street" from Kocher for more than 10 years.
"We now know that he agreed to do work in his garage and minimize the visual blight.
"But the truth is, he was firing up power tools in his driveway regularly, his front yard looked like a flea market and he was blatantly selling the stuff (at garage sales)."
Steve Rosenthal, of the Grass Valley Downtown Association and a Lake of the Pines resident, had a similar observation.
"I happen to live a few houses down from this gentleman," said Rosenthal, one of more than 15 people to comment on the story at The Union's Facebook page. "I have talked with him a few times as I am a woodworker as well.
"He is a nice man and I have nothing against him," he said. "If the only information I had was what was written in this article I would be outraged.
"How dare anyone question a veteran doing good things for our men in uniform?" Rosenthal wrote. "I have to admit I never knew he was doing that.
"I can tell you what I see almost every weekend," he said. "I literally drive by this house every single day. What I see is a guy who is running a little business out of his garage. He puts about 10 to 15 pieces he has made in his driveway with a sign that says 'Garage Sale.'
"He is selling to the general public," Rosenthal said. "I know this because I have stopped by and looked at his stuff and asked the price."
Kocher said residents are allowed under the homeowners association rules to have regular garage sales, and that those sales don't mean it's a business.
"There's nothing in the rules that says you cannot run a garage sale," Kocher said on Wednesday.
He said any money he gets at the sales is used to pay for materials and supplies for his hobby.
"Whether I'm a veteran, a retiree, a husband and a father, the bottom line is I build furniture as a hobby and donate to family, friends, neighbors and the men and women in our military," Kocher posted on The Union's Facebook page.
"I've spent over $2,000 in building supplies and maybe have recovered $600 in selling some of my furniture.
"The dictionary defines a hobby as an activity that is nonprofitable and I certainly fall within that definition," he said. " I am encouraged that 95 percent of the people responding to the radio and news media coverage of this sad situation support what I am doing for others.
"These are heartfelt projects that I build from scratch," he said. "I am only willing to make others happy by donating."
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.