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Commission addresses concern over vehicles stored on acreage

WORTHINGTON -- A Worthington businessman appeared before the Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday night after some neighbors raised concern about the number of vehicles he has parked on his acreage.

WORTHINGTON - A Worthington businessman appeared before the Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday night after some neighbors raised concern about the number of vehicles he has parked on his acreage.

Jose Vasquez, who owns an automobile repair shop along Worthington’s First Avenue, has more than 100 vehicles stored on his acreage in the southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 23, Elk Township.

While some of the vehicles have been stored on the site for more than four years (since he purchased Balk Automotive Service), Vasquez has taken vehicles out there periodically - there is no space to park the cars at his business. Oftentimes, he said, the vehicles are stored at his acreage because the owners either can’t afford to fix them or they need a place to keep them while they are away.

Vasquez said he currently has a truck parked on the site owned by a person who died while in Mexico. He doesn’t have the keys to the truck or the title, so he has no way of moving it.

As for the junk cars, Vasquez said he’s been waiting for the price of iron to increase so he can market them and make a decent living for himself and his family. He said it’s no different than farmers holding onto their corn until the price goes up.

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One of the primary concerns raised by Nobles County Environmental Services Director Wayne Smith during the meeting was the potential for fluids to leak from the cars stored on the site.

“I think one of the things the committee is going to look at is the location,” Smith said. “It is a good location, but they also have to be concerned about the environment.”

Vasquez said he hasn’t removed fluids from vehicles on the acreage, noting that he can do that at his shop.

The conversation then went back to the number of vehicles stored on the site. Vasquez disputed Smith’s count of more than 100 vehicles, though Smith said he’d been to the acreage Wednesday morning and counted between 104 and 111 vehicles.

Planning Commissioner member Gerald Erstad asked if the county had a precedence for number of vehicles allowed to be stored on a farm site. Smith listed a half-dozen individuals who obtained permits in the past. In each of those instances, the permit allowed no more than 30 cars be stored onsite; the limit was six or 12 vehicles in some cases.

“There is some history for having 25 and 30 cars on one site,” Smith said. “There is a need for just what Jose is doing - people who don’t want to leave a car on the (street); people who leave for a while and need a place to store their vehicle.”

Vasquez said he could build a fence around the property, but noted that he has nothing to hide and pictures can always be taken from up above. He also said he’s planning to build another building on the acreage at some point and move vehicles inside.

Some of the junk vehicles, he said, are being used to store firewood for his home because the wood can be kept dry.

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During the public comment portion of the hearing, Elk Township Chairman Andrew Dierks said he’s received some phone calls from citizens within the township expressing concern about the number of cars.

Marv Zylstra, who farms the land around the Vasquez site, said the cars pose no problem to him and his farming operation.

“At one time, the cars were cleaned up because the scrap market was good,” Zylstra said. “People are abandoning cars, and they have to have a place to go with them and he’s offered storage out there. He’s not advertising, he’s not selling parts out there - he’s storing cars.”

Zylstra said he has environmental concerns relating to the vehicle fluids, though, noting that he has a pond and a waterway both in proximity to the acreage.

With several of the commission’s questions unable to be answered by Vasquez - such as how many of the titles he has for the vehicles stored on site, and why the city of Worthington isn’t impounding the vehicles at its own lot  - the decision was made to table action on Vasquez’s request to keep the vehicles stored on his site. The matter will reappear before the commission on March 22, at which time the county’s legal counsel can also be present.

“It’s a unique problem,” said commission member John Penning. “You’re good to people, but you can’t keep this up.”

The commission did request Vasquez not store any additional vehicles on the acreage.

In other business, the board:

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  • Gave preliminary approval for Henning Construction, Adrian, to operate a new gravel pit in the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 30, Westside Township. Ryan Henning explained this will be a new gravel pit on land owned by David Mente and Willis Sandbulte. The 10-acre site will eventually expand along a diagonal vein of gravel.

Henning said chloride will be used for dust control along two nearby farm sites, as well as on the access road to the pit. Dust control, as well as weed control, were the conditions placed on the permit. The permit is for six years, with a review after three years. The request will now advance to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners for final action March 7.

  • Elected Richard Schlichte as board chairman and John Penning as vice chairman.
  • Approved the removal of a conditional use permit on a gravel pit. The site has been restored and the owner, Roger Tweet, is seeking to enroll the land in the Conservation Reserve Program.
  • Received an update on the Environmental Services department. Smith said the community of Reading is moving forward with plans for a centralized sewer district, adding that they should be coming before the county in the next few months.

He also provided recycling data for 2016, noting that his office collected 2.5 tons more of electronics in 2016 than in 2015. Meanwhile, the landfill also took in increases - 422 tons from residential consumers and 450 tons by businesses. Smith said more than 600 tons of office paper and newsprint was recycled in 2016. A planned mattress recycling program is hoped to start soon.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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