City Council seeking answers on auto salvage plan
WILLMAR -- Is it a junkyard or is it an auto salvage/reduction yard? The Willmar City Council wants to know. The council voted 6-1 Monday night to ask the Planning Commission to clarify the definition of an auto salvage business being proposed by...
WILLMAR -- Is it a junkyard or is it an auto salvage/reduction yard? The Willmar City Council wants to know.
The council voted 6-1 Monday night to ask the Planning Commission to clarify the definition of an auto salvage business being proposed by a Cambridge man at the intersection of state Highway 40 and Trott Avenue Southwest.
Doug Skaug proposes to remove usable parts and crush vehicles.
The council also asked the Planning Commission to review plans for fencing to screen the property, landscaping and the number of vehicles to be allowed at the site.
The Planning Commission on Aug. 9 approved Skaug's request for plan review of his auto salvage business, with certain conditions attached such as eight-foot opaque screening, plantings outside the fence and no stacking of vehicles.
City staff had recommended storing no more than 30 vehicles; the Planning Commission approved up to 200.
The Planning Commission said Skaug's business was a permitted use in an area zoned for general industry. The commission said the use conforms and is complementary to the district as a permitted use, but said the surrounding businesses are industrial uses with indoor operations.
The Planning Commission's decision would have been approved under the council's consent agenda when minutes of various boards and commissions are approved and accepted. But council member Denis Anderson asked to have the Planning Commission's minutes pulled from the consent agenda to discuss Skaug's plan review.
Anderson said he had a number of concerns about the plan review.
He said there seemed to be confusion about the definition of the business. Some council members called Skaug's business a junkyard.
Bruce Peterson, director of planning and economic development for the city, said the use has been classified as an auto reduction facility, or auto recycling facility.
"There's no hard and fast definition in the zoning ordinance that would apply to that type of use,'' he said. "It's kind of a consensus use that was reached in communicating with the applicant as to what his intentions were on the property.''
Anderson asked if the definition determines the time vehicles stay on the property. "If they were going to stay for 30, 60 or 90 days, then it would be a junkyard. But since this is turning over rapidly, is that why it's the recycling?''
Peterson said he did not think 30 to 90 days would be considered long-term. He said six to 12 months would be considered long-term.
Anderson asked about the commission's discussion on fencing.
Peterson recalled staff recommended wood screening so that vehicles would not be visible, but the Planning Commission did not feel comfortable dictating the type of screening material.
Anderson was also concerned about the number of vehicles allowed.
Peterson said staff recommended 30 to stimulate discussion.
Anderson asked if the council has latitude to recommend condition changes.
Peterson said the council cannot change the conditions adopted by the Planning Commission.
"You can refer it back to the Planning Commission for review if there are issues you think warrant further consideration,'' said Peterson, who based his opinion on a discussion with City Attorney Richard Ronning.
Anderson said he was uncomfortable with the commission's action. He offered the motion, seconded by Ron Christianson, to refer the matter back to the commission.
Council member Jim Dokken asked Ronning if the nearby city impound lot should be screened. He asked if the visual impact is not the same.
Ronning said the impound lot has a different use and purpose. "The impound is storage. The city is not destroying vehicles,'' said Ronning.
Council member Steve Gardner pointed out that representatives of nearby businesses were attending the council meeting, as were representatives of an area auto salvage yard. But they were not called on by Mayor Les Heitke to speak.
After the council voted to refer the matter back to the Planning Commission, the audience members left the meeting.
Council members voting to send the plan review back to the commission were Anderson, Gardner, Ron Christianson, Cindy Swenson, Bruce DeBlieck and Rick Fagerlie. Dokken voted against. Doug Reese was absent.