The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

August 16, 2013

Car business shut down

By Katie Dahlstrom Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — A Clinton car business will be shut down by the city of Clinton after years of allegedly operating as a salvage, rather than a car sales and service shop.

Walker’s A to Z Auto, at 2020 Camanche Ave., which is owned by Donald Walker, had its certificate of occupancy revoked by Building and Neighborhood Services official Mike Harmon in late July.

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 appealed the decision to shut down his business, but the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Thursday upheld Harmon’s decision to revoke the certificate.

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.

Stating his case to ZBA members, Harmon cited an investigation that dates back to 2008 that found several violations on the property 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.

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 subsequently cleaned.

Walker also was cited and contacted by the city a number of times, but has not fixed the alleged violations during the years the investigation has been active, Harmon told members of the ZBA on Thursday.

“What it looks like today is not the issue here before you. It’s what it’s looked like since 2008 — actually since 2005. Specifically, what it’s looked like for the three years I’ve been investigating it,” Harmon said.

Walker showed the members of the board his recycler and rebuilder permit from the state, which was issued in 1987 and transferred from his former property in South Clinton to his current location on Camanche Avenue. The city is trying to have the license rescinded based on the storied history of violations.

Walker argued that he was told by a local authority he could sell parts from used vehicles, but didn’t provide any evidence that he was ever granted permission.

To operate a salvage yard in Clinton, Walker would have needed a special use permit from the city, which there is no record of Walker having. Further, Harmon told zoning board members, the property doesn’t meet the requirements for the special permit, nor is a salvage operation allowed in the Liberty Square area.

The board also reviewed pictures of the property with Walker, showing vehicles and parts scattered about in the front.

Walker said the cars in the front were not junk vehicles, but for sale.

Members of the board did not agree.

“The appearance of this is that it is a junk yard. That’s what it appears to be,” ZBA Chairman Les Shields said.

The board ruled 3-0 to uphold Harmon’s decision.

“So how do I get my business back?” Walker asked.

Walker can appeal the decision to Clinton County District Court within the next 30 days. In the meantime, the city will placard the property, forcing Walker to cease operations.