Auto salvage business appeals; Owner says facts don't support city's denial of application

WILLMAR -- Amy Meyer says the Willmar City Council's recent denial of an application to operate an auto salvage and recycling business was not supported by the facts.

WILLMAR -- Amy Meyer says the Willmar City Council's recent denial of an application to operate an auto salvage and recycling business was not supported by the facts.

In a Sept. 18 letter to the City Council and Planning Commission, Meyer indicated that the council's findings in early September were made without visiting her business, known as Amy's Auto Salvage, at the corner of state Highway 40 and Trott Avenue Southwest.

City Attorney Richard Ronning reviewed Meyer's letter and wrote to City Administrator Michael Schmit that Ronning was informed that only one City Council member visited the site prior to the council's decision.

"If that is correct, then I am not sure how the council got the information on which they based their findings in that resolution,'' wrote Ronning. "In addition, if her assertions are correct, it would appear that the council may have acted on misinformation.''

In his letter, Ronning said he saw no harm in council members visiting the site. If council members conclude there is no basis for their findings, a motion can be made to reconsider at the next meeting.


"If her assertions are correct or even close to correct, that is, that there is not a factual basis for the findings that were made, then it would be extremely difficult to uphold in court,'' Ronning wrote.

He said council members should not visit the site all together because such a visit would violate the Opening Meeting Law, unless notice is given of a special meeting for the purpose of council members visiting the site all together.

According to the zoning ordinance, an automobile salvage/reduction yard is a permitted use with plan review in a general industry district. The use shall be permitted provided plans are submitted to and approved by the zoning administrator and the Planning Commission, subject to such conditions as they may attach.

Meyer and partner Doug Skaug brought their plan review application to the Planning Commission on Aug. 9. They planned to tear out and sell usable vehicle parts, recycle fluids, and crush and remove vehicles.

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to approve the plan review application. Among other things, the commission said the auto salvage use is permitted in the industrial district and that the use conforms and is complimentary to the district.

Neighboring business owners, however, believe the salvage yard does not fit the area, and some City Council members said the business more closely resembles a junkyard. On Aug. 21, the council sent the plan review back to the Planning Commission, seeking clarification of the definition of an auto salvage yard, along with some other questions.

The Planning Commission on Aug. 23 reaffirmed its previous definition of the business as an auto salvage yard, saying the use is more closely related to a recycling center.

On Sept. 5, the council overruled the Planning Commission, saying the application did not meet plan review standard in that the use will impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of neighboring property.


The council also said the use does not compliment neighborhood characteristics of the district in which it is located, and the use is most accurately defined as a junkyard, and not a recycling center, as defined by the zoning ordinance.

On Sept. 6, City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday notified Meyer to immediately halt salvage and recycling activities.

In an interview this week, Meyer and Skaug say they have halted disassembly of vehicles pending the outcome of the appeal. Among the vehicles in their lot are 38 vans from a Clara City business.

They say they were surprised by the council's decision because they believed the property was already zoned for this business.

They agreed to seven conditions placed on them by the Planning Commission, including erecting a fence around the area where salvage vehicles are stored. Meyer said a fence was planned anyway because "that was just something you do in a salvage yard.''

Skaug has been in auto-related business all his life, including owning a salvage yard in the St. Francis area. Meyer grew up working on cars and trucks with her father in Ham Lake and was an office manager of an auto mall. Both have been in business together for the past eight years.

Their building is the former location of a farm implement company and other business. They received permission from the city to run a consignment auction business "to help pay the bills.'' They said their first auction on Sept. 9 was successful and others are planned.

Meyer says they wouldn't be fighting to keep their new business in Willmar if it weren't for an outpouring of public support.


"If it wasn't for that, I don't think we would be pursuing it as hard as we are,'' she said.

The pair said they have talked to a lawyer who is familiar with zoning issues and believe they have a good case.

"We're hoping that the City Council, city attorney and everybody will at least come out here, pay a visit, see what we're doing and maybe overturn their decision without the use of the courts and judges and lawyers and stuff that's going to cost the city of Willmar a lot of money ... cost us a lot of money,'' said Skaug. "The problem with going to court is if you win, you still lose.''

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