Commission splits on approval for auto salvage facility

WILLMAR -- Members of the Willmar Planning Commission split down the middle Wednesday night over a plan to open an auto salvage facility at the corner of Trott Avenue West and Highway 40.

WILLMAR -- Members of the Willmar Planning Commission split down the middle Wednesday night over a plan to open an auto salvage facility at the corner of Trott Avenue West and Highway 40.

Ultimately the project was approved -- with several conditions attached -- on a 4-3 vote after a motion to deny it failed on a tie vote.

The owner, Doug Skaug, also received the OK Wednesday night for a conditional use permit to operate an auction center at the same site.

Skaug said his intent is to run an orderly business.

"This is going to be a very carefully controlled environment. It's not going to be an eyesore," he told the Planning Commission.


Commission members spent nearly two hours hashing out the details of Skaug's plan and debating issues ranging from traffic control to fencing.

Skaug will use the front portion of the property for seven to 10 auctions a year, selling cars, trucks, farm equipment and household goods. The back portion will be used for a separate salvage operation to dismantle, crush and dispose of vehicles that can no longer be used.

Commission members approved the conditional use permit 7-1 for the auction facility after receiving assurances that a plan for parking and on-site traffic will be developed. Ken Warner cast the single dissenting vote.

The panel deadlocked, however, on Skaug's plan to open the salvage yard.

Under the city's land-use requirements, auto salvage already is a permitted use for the property, which is in a light industrial zone. Plan review is required, however, and the Planning Commission also can attach extra requirements to meet special circumstances.

The biggest concern -- and the concern of the dozen or so neighboring business owners who attended -- was the aesthetics of locating a salvage yard in the area.

Warner said the site is at the entry to Willmar's Industrial Park and on the highway leading to the city's new airport.

"It's a major thoroughfare to a major-league investment we're making in the city. I think it might have a little impact," he said.


While the proposed use conforms to zoning requirements, "it's not complimentary," he said.

Skaug tried to allay those worries, saying vehicles will be dismantled indoors and won't be stacked in the yard. At most, there will be 200 or fewer vehicles in the salvage yard at any one time, he said.

"This is a complete recycling center, not a junkyard," he said. "We're going to run it clean. It's going to be neat."

Several members of the Planning Commission also insisted on screening so vehicles awaiting salvage or removal won't be visible.

"What I want to make sure of is that we've got screening that is functional and maintainable," said Bruce Peterson, director of planning and development for the city of Willmar.

The commission deadlocked 4-4 on an initial motion to deny the plan. Warner, Fernando Alvarado, Dr. Michael Morris and Chairman Jeff Nagel voted in support of the motion; Jay Lawton, Carol Laumer, Audrey Nelson and Andrew Bjur voted against.

A second motion, this time to approve the plan, succeeded 4-3 after Nagel abstained from voting. Lawton, Bjur, Nelsen and Morris voted in favor; Laumer, Alvarado and Warner voted against.

The plan that ultimately passed calls for a maximum of 200 vehicles, requires them to be stacked only one row high, and requires opaque fencing or screening. Skaug also must submit a plan for how he'll accomplish this.

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