Family Hangs Huge Banner in Protest to Sunflower Days

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MTT News's picture
Michelle Phillips

MIDDLETON–Some people have barn quilts on the side of their buildings, but the Pope/Zoerb family has something a little different, a 60-foot banner spans the barn on the family’s property, which sits next to Pope Farm Conservancy.

The bright yellow banner reads: Sunflower Days Should Be Free and Open: It’s in protest to the way the Town of Middleton, who resumed the festival this year after the Friends of Pope Farm Conservancy decided not to host the event, is allegedly commercializing the conservancy. The family is also concerned about the use of neonicotinoid treated seed, and is upset with the lack of communication the town has shown, all of which are outlined on the website.

David Zoerb, who is the spokesperson for the Pope/Zoerb family, said that out of frustration with trying to work with the city, and the concerns listed above, the family decided to place the banner to draw attention to their cause. 

“You can see it from the first tee at Pleasant View Golf Course, near the clubhouse,” Zoerb said. He his family got together before posting the website and took all of the issues that the family members had concerning the Sunflower Days event and use of the land.

In a covenant agreement that the family and Town of Middleton came to during the sale of the property, which was overseen by the Department of Natural Resources through a Stewardship Grant, the property was to be free and open to the public. Zoerb said the agreement has been broken because the town is charging admission to Sunflower Days, charging a participant fee for a 5k run, and getting businesses to sponsor the run. The covenant also states there should be no athletic activities in the conservancy, according to Zoerb.

In an email, Town Administrator Greg DiMiceli said the town has done nothing wrong, and stated, “This event is designed with the primary desire to bring people together to share the joy of nature within the Town’s Conservancy. Unfortunately, there are people who wish to draw the Town into a controversy that simply does not exist.”

DiMiceli also said that the land was purchased from the family, and that as part of the sale, the following was agreed upon: "Park" shall mean a typical municipal park open to the public either free of charge or for a reasonable usage charge and comprising only open space, picnic tables, recreational equipment or other recreational improvements such as, for example only, a municipal swimming pool, which are in keeping with the character of a typical municipal park.

In addition to the above, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, which assisted with the original purchase of the property through a Stewardship Grant, concluded that the fees to recoup event costs for the 2019 Sunflower Days event are reasonable” DiMiceli added. 

The Pope/Zoerb family is worried that the by charging for sunflower days, the town will open a floodgate, and more commercial activities will follow. “The long-term gain is to get the Town of Middleton out of the entertainment business in the conservancy,” Zoerb explained. “We want what we legally negotiated upheld.”

Zoerb said the family is frustrated because they have tried to communicate these concerns, “We have tried to get a dialogue going,” he said.

Zoerb added that his family sold the land to the Town of Middleton to keep it from being developed, and the Art and Betty Pope hoped the land would be used for educational purposes and protected. Art Pope dreamed of have a school close by, which is about to come to fruition, so children could learn from the property. The family is afraid that if the town does not honor the purchase agreement provisions now, that vision of a free and open space could be in jeopardy. 

“As my wife succinctly puts it, we all feel betrayed,” Zoerb concluded. 

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