Columbus council denies requests for auto auction lot

Plans for Lake Drive business stall with lopsided votes


Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

A vehicle auction lot will not be coming to Columbus this summer, after a rezoning request and comprehensive plan amendment tied to that proposal did not get the City Council’s support Feb. 12.

Following comments from neighbors and lengthy discussion by Mayor Dave Povolny and the council, the elected officials voted 4-1 against a comprehensive plan amendment request.

Council Member Denny Peterson voted for the amendment, but Jessie Messina and Jeff Duraine followed with votes against it. The applicant, Insurance Auto Auctions Inc., needed a super majority of four council votes for the amendment to be approved and for the process to stay alive.

Council Member Bill Krebs and Povolny also voted to deny the amendment, which could have allowed the applicant to proceed with plans for developing 59 acres west of Lake Drive and north of Pine Street.

Rezoning would have been needed for two-thirds of the land on the west side, toward Zodiac Street. Neighbors there said from the start of Insurance Auto Auctions’ request that they did not wish to see rows of cars through a chain-link fence on an acreage that recently has been tilled for agricultural use.

Company representatives came back Feb. 12 with a greener option of installing a berm with planted trees as a buffer along Zodiac Street, but Council Members Messina and Duraine, in particular, said they had heard enough other details to know an auto auction lot was wrong for the land.

Based on other lots that the company operates in St. Paul and throughout the United States, the applicant estimated turnover of 400 to 500 cars per week. These vehicles would have arrived primarily on trailers, as the company buys and sells damaged cars and trucks that have been written off by insurance companies, dealerships and rental car agencies.

Insurance Auto Auctions staff would have received vehicles only between proposed business hours of 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, but the applicant said it would have been necessary to allow other haulers to arrive anytime around the clock for moving vehicles that were sold from the lot.

Some residents said Feb. 12 that a more appropriate location might have been in Columbus’ freeway district, where visitors to the auto lot would not have added as much to traffic on two-lane county roads. The proposed site would have hosted one regular live auction per week. The company arranges about 70 percent of its sales through online bidding.

Duraine did not disagree that an auto auction lot could work elsewhere in the city.

“You seem like a great company,” he said to Insurance Auto Auctions officials, adding that the use at the proposed site would not have fit a good vision for Columbus.

Messina said that he had recently visited an Insurance Auto Auctions lot in Phoenix, Ariz., where the sales activity is centered in a “heavily industrial” area with three concrete plants. He said he was convinced that type of area – not one like Lake Drive with a mix of homes and other businesses – is best for an auto auction lot.

The council voted 4-1 to deny the lot rezoning, with Krebs casting the minority vote. A super majority also would have been required for the rezoning request to pass.

Duraine, Messina and Povolny later voted as a simple majority to deny a related conditional use permit that would have been needed on 20 acres of commercial land.

Tree board cancels work

Despite a 5-0 vote, the council had mixed feelings in accepting the city Tree Advisory Board’s decision for calling off meetings through the coming spring and summer. The board does not plan to convene until it knows early in the fall of the city’s budget plans for 2015.

The city cut $20,000 in related funds from the 2014 budget, with that portion paying for city forestry services and covering some costs for an Arbor Day tree giveaway.

In light of the council’s denial of the requests from Insurance Auto Auctions, Krebs said the city must start attracting businesses or there will likely be more budget cuts.

“We need to get Columbus healthy again,” he said.

Messina said he was saddened by the hiatus for the Tree Advisory Board, noting it was three years after a city survey where residents said they placed high priority on parks and trails.

  • To some degree land owners should be able to do with their property as they wish but if a city is going to go through the extensive process of creating zoning rules and regulations it should stand by them. As it turns out Columbus has done that and should this land owner believe that the property is better suited for a different type of zoning (s)he should be active in that conversation during the next comprehensive zoning changes. If the city had quickly changed its zoning rules it would have simply been saying all the zoning it had done in the past were for show.

    • Frank

      It really has nothing to do with what the property owner believes his property is best suited for. He has the right to the highest and best use of his property as it is presently zoned. No one, city or property owner, has the right to rezone from rural residential to commercial/industrial and damage the whole surrounding residential community. I appreciate your getting involved and voicing your opinion. I think there needs to be a more thorough understanding of this topic and what’s going on in the community by all members of the community. A rezoning of one property from rural residential to commercial/industrial would make all contiguous properties potentially at risk for rezoning to commercial industrial; potentially damaging every adjoining property in it’s path. Is that what you are really proposing here? I don’t think so. I encourage you to google “Rezone from Rural Residential to Commercial/ Industrial” and research the pitfalls of such action and the case law and statutes in this regard. The impact to adjoining property values etc. When this comes next door to your property I think you may have a very different outlook. Thanks for getting involved. Don’t stop now. Learn all you can about this so you may be prepared when it’s your turn. This is a great opportunity for people like yourself to be more proactive, join the conversation and protect yourself from any such action in your neighborhood. In spite of the general consensus most city planners and councilmembers encourage your involvement. Makes their job easier unless they have an agenda and that’s where you’re needed the most. In your post you alluded to the Comprehensive Plan which a majority of your neighbors couldn’t tell you what it is or how it affects their neighborhood. Not likely that the city is going to be the first to enlighten them. That’s the bigger part of the problem. See you at the meetings??

      • Frank – I think you misunderstood my statement. I’d rather the property owner go through the longer process of rezoning at an appropriate time than circumvent it as they attempted to do. At no point have I suggested the property be rezoned.

        • Frank

          Thanks for the clarification Eric. I was simply responding to your statements which read; ” to some degree land owners should be able to do with their property as they wish” and…. “should this land owner believe that the property is better suited for a different type of zoning”. I think I pretty much read them as written, however I see we’re mostly on the same page. This whole ordeal runs way deeper and has been an ongoing issue. In this particular case, it doesn’t take a ‘Harvard Grad” to know when you’re being crapped on. It simply doesn’t pass the smell test. Usually when a Mayor of a city is doing something great for your community they stick their chest out and are all over the local newspapers. I didn’t see that happening. If you can’t be proud of what you’re doing for the city, maybe you simply shouldn’t be doing it. The city had worked on this for over a year and no-one in the adjoining properties knew anything about it until a couple weeks before the P & Z public hearing. Thanks for summing it up in one word; “circumvent”. As you can see it was voted down so there are at least a couple council members with their head/heart in the right place. Have a great day and thanks for your concern.