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Judge denies request to halt Watson's legal action against vegetable grower

WATSON -- A district judge has denied a request by Aziz Ansari to dismiss legal action against him by the city of Watson.

The recent order by District Judge David Mennis allows legal proceedings by the city of Watson against Ansari to continue. The city is asking the court to or-der Ansari to dismantle four plastic-covered hoop structures in which he raises vegetables for a seasonal, self-service farmers market.

But Ansari vows he will fight to continue raising tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers on his residential property, and said the judge's recent ruling has only left him encouraged. While it may keep the city's legal action against him moving forward, the memorandum by Judge Mennis also includes a clearly worded warning to the city.

Judge Mennis warns in his memorandum that if Ansari can show that he is being targeted unfairly by the city, especially as a minority person of color in the community, it opens itself up to state and federal claims by the defendant.

Ansari claims that the city of Watson has turned a blind eye to a wide range of planning ordinance violations and eyesores in the community that are far more egregious than what it alleges exist on his property. It's a point that supporters of Ansari have repeatedly made to city officials as well, including at a public meeting in September.

"Indeed, if defendants can show that other Watson residents -- especially those outside of Defendants' protected class -- have not been cited for violations of Plaintiff's Zoning Ordinance for erecting other seemingly innocuous things on their properties that could be deemed 'structures,' it seems that Plaintiff is opening itself up to state or federal claims by Defendants too obvious to require elaboration,'' wrote the judge.

Ansari's legal dispute with the Chippewa County community dates to September, when the city filed the legal action alleging that he violated city ordinances by erecting four raised-bed structures that are 96 feet long and 6 feet wide. The city cites ordinances restricting the number of outbuildings allowed on residential lots and restrictions on how much area on a residential property can be occupied by buildings.

Ansari claims that his corner lot property -- which he said includes two separate legal parcels -- offers ample space to meet the requirements of the city's ordinances. He also counters that the hoop structures are not "buildings'' as claimed by the city, and that he has a right to sell vegetable produce.

Ansari had initially obtained pro bono legal help from a farmer's rights group based in St. Paul, but it has since informed him that it does not have the resources to continue representing him. Ansari represented himself during a Feb. 25 hearing in Montevideo on his request to have the legal action dismissed.

The city of Watson has retained attorney Robert Alan Alsop with the Minneapolis law firm of Kennedy and Gravens.

Ansari said he has found support in the region from proponents of local foods. They'd like to make it easier for people to raise their own food, and revise ordinances that now make it difficult or impossible to do so. They have set up a Web site "Justice for Tomato Man'' to tell the story. It can be found at: