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‘Illegal flea market’ slowly being cleared in Brainerd

Chad Ross carries a shell from a television set across his property on Pine Street in Brainerd, Minn., on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. Ross leaves jail on work release every day to pick up the debris on his property. Ross has been in jail for almost a month because he refused to clean up his property. BRAINERD DISPATCH/Steve Kohls

By Jessica Larsen

BRAINERD, Minn. -- An “illegal flea market” is slowly dwindling in size as owner Chad Ross picks away at the items in the few hours each day he’s released from jail.

Ross has been in jail for almost a month because he has refused to pick up the items cluttering up his Pine Street yard.

Not thousands of dollars in fines, not formal charges, not even the threat of time behind bars persuaded Ross to clean up the property.

Recently, however, Ross has been released from jail for six hours a day to get rid of the items, said Brainerd City Planner Mark Ostgarden.

He’ll continue the effort until March 28 -- his last day in jail. If the project isn’t finished, it’s back to jail, Ostgarden said.

Attention was first brought to the cluttered yard in August. Ostgarden said Ross was in violation of a city zoning ordinance because he was operating a large sale out of his yard.

The duration and size of the sale made the collection an “illegal flea market,” he said.

Since the story was first reported in September, the density of items accumulated on Ross’ property ballooned, even being blanketed by several layers of snow.

Ross was first given until Dec. 20 to clear his yard after he pleaded guilty in November to three misdemeanor counts of storage of junk and debris in Crow Wing District Court. In turn, two misdemeanor charges of operating a business in a residential zone were dismissed.

With the guilty plea, all fines racked up from the city for the zoning violation -- about $6,000 -- were dismissed.

The catch, however, was that Ross was required by the court to clean his yard to the city’s satisfaction by Dec. 20, and to keep it that way throughout his three-year probation. A violation could mean being sent to Crow Wing County Jail for 90 days for each count consecutively.

When that deadline came and went, he was offered another deadline: Feb. 12. When he missed that deadline as well, it meant jail time.

That’s where he’s been since Feb. 27.

City leaders have since started the civil process to have the items removed by city staff or a contractor. The cost of removal will be charged against the property via an assessment. The property is currently in foreclosure.

Ross requested a hearing, which is allowed per the civil process. That hearing is tentatively set for April 1, and will be conducted by the Brainerd Safety and Public Works Committee. It will be held only if Ross is out of jail.

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