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Detroit Lakes veteran lines up witnesses, hopes to stay in rental home

Brian Fraser outside his rental unit that opens onto an alley behind Elizabeth Street in Detroit Lakes. Meagan Pittelko / Forum News Service1 / 3
A side view of the cabin off Elizabeth Street. Meagan Pittelko / Forum News Service2 / 3
Vietnam War veteran Brian Fraser with his dog. He has lined up several witnesses to help make his case and hopes to convince the Detroit Lakes City Council to let him stay in his home. Meagan Pittelko / Forum News Service3 / 3

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — A Detroit Lakes veteran is hopeful he may be allowed to stay in his rented home after all.

Brian Fraser, 59, says he and his landlord, Laurel Carlson, have found several witnesses to help make their case that the house at 327 Elizabeth St. should be "grandfathered-in" because it was being used as a rental unit before a 1968 city zoning ordinance.

The City Council earlier this month voted to deny a request to grandfather-in the rental unit and gave Fraser until the end of the year to find a new home for himself and his 6-year-old dog, a friendly Pomeranian named Rocky—unless proof was provided that the home was used as a rental unit before 1968.

One witness remembers watching the Kennedy assassination there as a child visiting her grandmother, Alma Bunkowski, Fraser said. Bunkowski had moved from the big house to the smaller house after her husband died, he said.

"Her granddaughter remembers being here watching the assassination of Kennedy, watching it with her grandma in 1963—I was in kindergarten at the time," Fraser said. "She said she'll do whatever needs to be done, including showing up at the council meeting (on Aug. 8)."

Another witness is Denny Meyer, a Detroit Lakes businessman who lived in rental units on the property (both the cabin and the basement of the main house) from 1965 to 1970. He provided letters to the city and to Fraser to that effect.

Fraser said up a third witness has also been lined up, "somebody who lived here from 1970 to 1974," he said. Taken all together, "It shows quite the history. ... I can actually go from 1963 to 1974."

Fraser, who was born in Winona, Minn., arrived at age 8 in Detroit Lakes with his family. His father, Wilfred Fraser, "started the job service in town in october, 1966," he said.

Fraser graduated from Detroit Lakes High School in 1976, and joined the Navy at age 17, "without parental permission," he said, because he had gotten into some trouble with the law and thought the military would help straighten him out. He served in the Navy from 1975 through 1976.

He was married briefly, and has two children, daughter Genevieve Perry, who has three daughters and lives near Rock Lake in Becker County, and son Justin Vigesaa, who has three sons and lives in Fargo.

Fraser lived in the Deadshot Bay area for about 10 years, and has lived at his current address for about six years, where he has put a lot of sweat equity into the house, and developed a thriving vegetable garden in pots on the patio.

Fraser is glad and grateful for the online support he has received, including a petition of support signed by 683 people and a Go Fund Me account that has so far raised $1,550 to help bring his house up to code.