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'Illegal flea market" nuisance abatement order upheld

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

An order to clear the “illegal flea market” on Pine Street has been upheld by a city committee.

Now, property owner Chad Ross has 10 days to appeal the decision to the Brainerd City Council, or should he not finish cleaning the property by April 11, the city will have the authority to come in and do the work for him. The cost of the removal would be charged against the property via an assessment. The property is currently in foreclosure.

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At a hearing held Tuesday by the Brainerd Safety and Public Works Committee, the group voted to affirm the city’s nuisance abatement order. Absent was committee member Gary Scheeler.

Ross has put off clearing his yard since the back-and-forth with the city started in August.

About half of the collection at the property has been cleared during Ross’ month-long stay in jail, which was completed March 28.

But not thousands of dollars in fines, not formal charges, not even the threat of time behind bars convinced Ross to pack things up on his property completely.

Because of his refusal, the city issued an “order to abate the nuisance” on his property, ordering the items be picked up in 14 days.

Ross requested a hearing appealing it, which is permitted in such orders. That hearing was held in front of the Safety and Public Works Committee, which acts as the governing board in this case.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Ross represented himself in the courtroom-type setting at City Hall.

First, Brainerd City Attorney Eric Quiring presented his evidence of the city’s side.

In that process, he questioned City Planner Mark Ostgarden as to why the yard was an issue for the city.

Ostgarden said there was a safety problem, as well as vermin possibilities and health hazards with an accumulation of that size.

Quiring presented the committee with photos of the property, as well as the letters sent to Ross throughout the whole process.

During the city attorney’s presentation, Ross sat silent, following along with the paper evidence handed out.

Ostgarden said while there has been an improvement of cleanup at the property, it still “very much so” violates city code.

Next, Ross had a chance to present his case.

He said he started the flea market in his yard as a way to prevent useful items from going to a landfill.

“I never intended it actually stay on the property,” he said. “I was just looking to start my own job or create more jobs in the community.”

Ross said the collection quickly ballooned as people dropped items off.

He admitted the situation got out of hand and that he should have worked better with city officials in getting the property cleared.

Committee member Mary Koep questioned what assurances the city had that he would keep his word this time.

Ross assured the group he was determined to finish the job. He’s moving out of town in two months, he said, and plans to have the yard cleaned by then.

Committee member Chip Borkenhagen said he was struggling with accepting Ross’ word, and pointed out the council has received more complaints about Ross’ property than any other issue.

“If this is an April Fools’ joke you’re playing on us, it will come back to you,” he said to Ross.

About the illegal flea market

Attention was first brought to the cluttered yard in August. Ostgarden said Ross was in violation of a city zoning ordinance since he was operating a large sale out of his yard.

It’s the duration and the size of the sale that make the collection an illegal flea market, he said.

Since the story was first reported in September, the density of items accumulated on Ross’ property ballooned, even being blanketed by several layers of snow.

Ross was first given until Dec. 20 to clear his yard after he pleaded guilty in November to three misdemeanor counts of storage of junk and debris in Crow Wing District Court. In turn, two misdemeanor charges of operating a business in a residential zone were dismissed.

By pleading guilty, all fines racked up from the city for the zoning violation — about $6,000 — were dismissed.

The catch, however, was that Ross was required by court to clean his yard to the city’s satisfaction by Dec. 20, and to keep it that way throughout his three-year probation. A violation could mean being sent to Crow Wing County Jail for 90 days for each count consecutively.

When that deadline came and went, he was offered another deadline of Feb. 12. When that deadline was missed as well, that meant jail time for Ross.

JESSICA LARSEN may be reached at jessica.larsen@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5859. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/brainerdnews.

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