The scrap continues in North Loop

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July 7, 2003 // UPDATED 10:57 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Council committee deadlocks on car-crusher expansion

A key City Council committee deadlocked on plans to expand a Downtown auto scrapyard, as the decades-old industrial business conflicted with the new North Loop condo culture.

The City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee debated a plan by Northern Auto Parts, 643 N. 5th St., to increase its car-crushing and truck traffic. After 90 minutes of debate, the committee sent it back to staff for further research.

City Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said expanding Northern Auto's activities was incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood and conflicted with city goals to transform that part of Downtown.

City Councilmember Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward), a Green Party member, supports Northern's plan, which includes limits on operating hours, fixing fences and cleaning up debris.

"I worry about the future of this city if we continue this onslaught on industrial businesses," he said.

Northern Auto Parts recycles automobiles it gets from insurance companies and impound lots. It strips the vehicles and sells the salvageable parts. It hauls the cars off-site to crush them for scrap or brings in a temporary crushing machine on site.

Northern's plan includes installing two mobile car-crushers in the yard, allowing the company to process 50 to 75 cars more per day, according to a city Planning Department report by Michael Orange. Truck trips to and from the shop would increase from 11 to 29 daily.

The Planning Commission gave the project the go-ahead June 2. The North Loop Neighborhood Association and Kit Richardson, a residential developer, appealed to the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission. Northern's car-crushers would be two blocks south of Richardson's proposed lofts at 701 N. 4th St. and the Bookmen Lofts, 525 N. 3rd St. An elevated I-394 exit/entrance ramp sits between both lofts and the car-crusher.

The council committee deadlocked 3-3 on supporting the neighborhood appeal. A motion to deny the neighborhood appeal failed 2-4. A motion to refer the issue to the full City Council without recommendation also deadlocked 3-3.

Committee Chair Gary Schiff (9th Ward), Ostrow and Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) voted with the neighborhood, to stop the expansion.

Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward) said he wanted more information, "to avoid a lawsuit."

Northern Auto Parts' land is zoned I-2 -- medium industrial -- and some of its current activities go beyond permitted uses. Orange said the company's use of mobile car crushers is only authorized in an I-2 if they are fully enclosed, which Northern Auto is not.

In a June 25 memo, Orange proposed new conditions for approving Northern's expansion. They include full enclosure of the crushing and stripping operation.

Christopher Dietzen, Northern's attorney, said full enclosure would cost $500,000. Northern has proposed three-sided sheds housing the car-crushers as an alternative. They would face each other to mute noise but have enough space for forklifts to maneuver.

There appeared to be disagreement and confusion over Northern Auto's "non-conforming rights." The business has operated for nearly a half century -- through several zoning code overhauls -- and so may do things outside the rules, called non-conforming uses.

Dietzen said the Planning Department had told the company months ago its changes were a legal non-conforming use. "We don't think the proceedings have been fair," he said.

Some Councilmembers asked why the Planning Department would allow a business already out of zoning compliance to expand.

Niziolek said he wanted Planning staff to research Northern Auto's "non-conforming" rights.

The Zoning and Planning Committee is expected to discuss the issue again Thursday, July 17.