Plans for Lake Drive business stall with lopsided votes
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.