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Council hits the road

In an unusual move, possibly a first, the Detroit Lakes City Council took a road trip to visit the agenda item site in question.

Council members, city staff and a few others toured the facility and grounds of Todd Simison's TS Recreational, located east of Detroit Lakes on Highway 10.

In December, the city failed to meet a standard state-imposed deadline and the property was accidentally allowed to be rezoned without council action.

Following that, the council was asked to decide if the business is operating within the bounds of a B-3, auto oriented zone.

Simison said he has owned similar businesses on Pelican Lake for 12 years and Ottertail Lake, and has never had a complaint filed or brought to his door. His Detroit Lakes' site is the largest and is used as headquarters.

A large portion of the discussion centered on whether the property should be considered a junkyard, and what in fact defines a junkyard or a salvage yard.

City Attorney Bill Briggs said the actual term junkyard isn't so much what should be questioned as the language in the city ordinance pertaining to a junkyard.

He said that there is no definition in the city code as to what exactly a salvage yard is, but "the city is allowed to define as long as it's done (fairly), not arbitrarily."

In evaluating the issue, Briggs said the council and committee that was formed to look into the issue -- which consisted of city council members, city staff and citizens Sharon Josephson and Roy Smith -- need to take into consideration Simison's promotion of sales, what Simison actually does in his business, what is allowed in B-3 zoning and whether everything done at TS Recreational is under B-3, then possibly look at amending the ordinance if need be for future similar issues.

"You need to determine (whether to take) action, no action or somewhere in between, maybe further action," he said.

Representing Simison, attorney Tami Norgard of Vogel Law Firm pointed out it was "unprecedented to have an entire city council visit" the site and that usually it would just be city staff. She added that she didn't want to see a "knee jerk" reaction because of the 60-day slip up with the rezoning passing without a council vote and have this be "blown out of portion."

She said that on Simison's 2005 application, he listed that he would be refurbishing docks, boats, etc., clearly stating his intentions.

"This was the landscape of the business and you approved it," she said.

As for trying to determine the definitions between junk and salvage and which best describes Simison's property, Norgard said it was "fairly offensive" to be calling the business a junkyard.

Unlike some salvage yards, Simison said he holds the titles to every boat, camper, motorcycle, etc. on his land. He doesn't sell the items for parts, but only the entire unit. He said using the word salvage is "purely a marketing tool" because he pays to have his Web site and business show up on search engines such as Google.

When Simison applied to the city, he simply used TS Recreational, not mentioning the word salvage.

On the Web site -- and, until recently, a sign outside the business -- said it was in fact a salvage yard. He pointed out that Community Development Director Larry Remmen signed off on his dealer license, stating what he was salvaging.

Norgard said this isn't a surprise or new because the application mentioned what was going to be sold there in the future, and rather than rezone the entire area at once, the council chose to take portions at a time.

Alderman Ron Zeman asked if Remmen had always known. Remmen responded that everyone knew, according to the application, what Simison would be selling.

"People were not kept in the dark," he said.

Others questioned where Simison gets his units to sell. He said a large portion comes from insurance companies or from police departments. Remmen said it's not the city's place to determine where Simison gets his units to refurbish and sell.

Simison said July through mid-September is the busiest season for purchasing damaged goods because of storms. He turns an average of seven units a day, mainly from online bidding. Units that don't sell, which he said are rare, either go to the city landfill or Hartmann's as scrap metal.

Alderman Leonard Heltemes said he saw light industrial, retail and junk at the site, and wondered how to define how the business should be zoned.

Many residents along East Shore Drive have expressed their dismay over the business, saying they don't like having a salvage yard in the neighborhood.

"It's something new in the community, and no one wants the change," Norgard said. But, she added, this is a progressive time. "If you want serene, don't live next to Highway 10."

She also pointed out that during the first reading of the rezoning request, there was no dissenting vote from the council.

The issue will be brought before the city council at the February meeting where action will then be determined.