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GF looks at moving salvage yards

Grand Forks' planning and zoning committee has formed a new taskforce to come up with a plan to clean up the appearance of the U.S. Highway 2 entrance into the city -- and possibly relocate two salvage yards off the highway.

A privacy fence separates Gateway Drive from salvage yards west of Grand Forks. Herald photo by Eric Hylden.

Grand Forks' planning and zoning committee has formed a new taskforce to come up with a plan to clean up the appearance of the U.S. Highway 2 entrance into the city -- and possibly relocate two salvage yards off the highway.

The issue came up at Wednesday's meeting when committee members discussed granting new conditional use permits to Swangler Auto Wrecking and Weekley's Auto Parts, both located between the airport and the western edge of town along the highway.

The current permits, good for a five-year period, will expire Dec. 19.

Ryan Brooks, senior planner for the city, said the yards have been operating under these permits since about 1980. After the last ones were granted for five years, salvage yard owners added more fence along their property to hide cars and equipment from view.

The city repainted the old fence and added signs warning people that they could face a $1,000 fine for abandoning their vehicles outside of the salvage yard gates, an issue that Brooks said seems to have been taken care of in recent years.


"I think those things have kind of gone away," he said.

Brooks said there have been no complaints or violations in the past five years. He recommended the committee renew the permits for 10 years once the City Council takes up the issue later this year.

But committee member Doug Christensen said the issues have been the same for more than 25 years -- the salvage yards don't make a good first impression on visitors to Grand Forks who enter the city on Gateway Drive.

"Why would you possibly recommend that we continue the same view coming into our city for the next 10 years?" he asked Brooks.

'20 percent there'

Christensen told the salvage yard owners, Jerry Swangler and Scott Weekley, that they should begin coming up with a plan for a time in the next five years when their businesses won't be located on that spot of land anymore.

"If they can find some other land to have a salvage yard in another permitted area that isn't on the Gateway entrance to our city, what's wrong with that?" Christensen asked. "We have to do something about them. We can't just say yes."

Committee member Dana Sande suggested trying to find a way to get the businesses to move 400 or 600 feet off the highway and make room for other businesses or warehouses to act as a buffer between the road and the salvage yards.


Christensen said that would be a "very good idea," but committee member Jim Galloway pointed out "this is like acres of cars."

"It's been an improvement," Galloway said about recent efforts to improve the area. "I'd say we're 20 percent there, though."

Brooks said "it's safe to say it's never going to be a major commercial corridor out there," adding the salvage yards "aren't the worst offenders" compared to some other businesses along the highway between the airport and Grand Forks.

Swangler told the committee he doesn't understand what his business, which has been in this spot since 1966, needs to clean up now.

"You can't see the place; how can you clean it up?" he asked. "That's why we complied with the fence and the sign and covering on the buildings and such and we met all of those conditions."

'A collective problem'

Christensen said the discussion serves as a "notice" that their permits will expire in six months, giving them time to come up with a plan to address the issue in the near future.

Weekley said he had other properties years ago that he cleaned up to follow the wishes of the city, but the expense of moving the amount of equipment and iron in his salvage yard could be too much.


"Who wants to start a business just to have to move it later?" he asked.

Christensen said it's "a collective problem" that the city and the business owners need to address.

"I'm not here to hurt you," he said. "I'm only here to deal with a corridor of our city."

And if the businesses were to move and the owners wanted to sell the land, they would likely need to clean up the ground and address any environmental problems, Christensen said.

Gary Malm said the only way to come to a conclusion is to get all involved people together to figure out the options. He made a motion, seconded by Christensen, to establish a taskforce of committee members, salvage yard owners and other city staff to come up with recommendations.

It also will assist the business owners in finding programs that could help them in relocating and cleaning up the land.

Committee member Tom Hagness said the city is looking at this issue now because of an airport terminal project and a renewed focus on improving the look of this entrance to Grand Forks.

"We just appreciate how far you've come with the fence out there," he told business owners. "Work with us please and we'll work with you."


Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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