Council rejects scrapyard expansion

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August 11, 2003 // UPDATED 11:02 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

The Minneapolis City Council scrapped a North Loop salvage yard's expansion plans on a 10-2 vote Aug. 8. The Council denied Northern Auto Parts' request to upgrade and expand its operations.

City Councilmembers Dean Zimmermann (6th Ward) and Robert Lilligren (8th Ward) voted no.

The Council reversed the Planning Commission, which voted June 2 to approval the expansion.

City Councilmember Natalie Johnson Lee (5th Ward) represents the Downtown neighborhood and voted against the expansion. It was a hard decision because she did not like voting against a long-term family business, she said, but she voiced concerns about poor property maintenance.

"I have driven that area more in the last couple of weeks than I would choose to," she said. "I was not pleased with what I saw."

In technical terms, Northern Auto Parts, 643 5th St. N., had sought an expansion of a nonconforming use. Howard Chanen, owner of Northern Auto, said his family had been in the neighborhood for 57 years and called the expansion critical for their business to stay competitive.

James Grabek, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, and Kit Richardson, a housing developer, appealed the Planning Commission's decision to the City Council, saying it was incompatible with the increasingly residential character of the Downtown neighborhood.

Northern Auto Parts recycles junked cars, striping them and selling the salvageable parts. It either crushes the car hulks off-site or uses on-site mobile car crushers. Its plans included limited hours of operation, fixing fences and cleaning up debris -- and permanently locating car crushers on-site in partially enclosed buildings, increasing crushing by 50 to 75 cars a day, according to a Planning Department report.

The business is zoned I-2, medium industrial, and some of its current activities go beyond permitted uses. After the Planning Commission vote, the Planning Department said the company's use of mobile car crushers is authorized but only if the business is fully enclosed -- which Northern Auto is not, even with the planned expansion.

Zimmermann said Northern Auto already had a license to operate and was upgrading its business. He expressed concern about a city onslaught against industrial business and called the vote "Draconian."

Zimmermann was at odds with Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward), chair of the Planning and Zoning Committee, and a vocal opponent the expansion. "It is not the best place in the city for a scrap yard," Schiff said.