The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 20, 2013

Car business owner appeals

By Katie Dahlstrom
Assistant Editor

---- — CLINTON — The owner of the car business the city of Clinton decided to shut down is asking the courts to review a city board's decision, claiming it was unreasonable and not supported by any evidence.  

Donald Walker, owner of Walker's A to Z Auto, last week filed a petition for the court to review the ruling made by Clinton's Zoning Board of Adjustment in August that upheld Building and Neighborhood Services official Mike Harmon's decision to revoke the certificate of occupancy for Walker's business.  

When a certificate of occupancy is revoked, a placard is placed on the front of the building stating that no occupancy is allowed and any attempt to occupy the building illegally will result in citations.

Walker’s A to Z has operated at its current location since November 2005. The property is zoned C-2 commercial and allows Walker to run a car sales and service business.

Harmon contended the property has been used as an illegal salvage yard and vehicle recycler rebuilder for several years, a violation of the zoning ordinance. Walker disputes the allegation that he illegally operated a salvage yard.

In July, Harmon informed Walker the city would revoke his certificate of occupancy, a move that would essentially shut down Walker's business.  

Walker appealed Harmon's decision to the ZBA, but the quasi-judicial body voted 3-0 to uphold Harmon's decision to revoke the certificate of occupancy based on the allegations that Walker was operating an illegal salvage yard, operating a an automobile recycling and rebuilding facility in a prohibited district, without proper zoning compliance and without a special use permit.  

Walker claims revoking his certificate of occupancy is not required by law and has a negative impact on his private rights that is "so grossly disproportionate" to the benefits reaped by the public interest that they lack "any foundation in rational Zoning Board policy."  

In his filing, which was made through William Shafer, a Williamsburg attorney, Walker also claims the ZBA decision wasn't supported by substantial evidence and the ZBA did not consider relevant and important matters relating to standards that a "rational decision maker in similar situations would have considered."  

"The actions are unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, or abuses of discretion," the court filing states.

Walker is asking the court to reverse the ZBA's decision and further relief as the court deems fit.  

His business will stay open as the court considers his case.  

The battle between the city and Walker dates back to 2008, when he was cited for violations of the city's zoning ordinance. Walker was subsequently found not guilty in magistrate court.  

He was cited for illegal scrap operations in July and entered a plea of not guilty. That case is set for trial in October.  

During the August ZBA meeting, Harmon cited various ongoing violations to support his decision to revoke the certificate of occupancy, such as junk and scrap vehicles being kept illegally, constant parking on city right of way that would have blocked emergency vehicle access and neighbor’s driveways, piles of scrap metal, ties, rims, engines and other debris and repair work being performed outside the enclosed building.

In the past, concerns also surfaced over oil seeping into the ground from the vehicles stored on the property and possibly leaching into the storm and sanitary sewers. Improper disposal of waste oil on the property resulted in a citation from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in 2008 and was later cleaned.

Walker claims the oil seepage was caused by vandalism which resulted in holes being drilled into barrels containing oil on the property. 

He provided a copy of his automobile recycler's license issued by the state of Iowa, which authorized him to recycle and rebuild vehicles and sell used parts at his Camanche Avenue location. Harmon has asked the state to revoke the vehicle recycler's license.

Even with the license, the city claims, the property is not zoned for Walker to operate as a vehicle recycler.  

To do so in Clinton, Walker would need a special use permit from the city, which there is no record of Walker having. The property also doesn’t meet the requirements for the special permit and salvage operations are not allowed in the Liberty Square area under the Liberty Square Overlay Zone ordinance, Harmon argued.  

Because his business was an existing structure when the Liberty Square Overlay Zone was put in place, Walker claims he is exempt from the requirements.