'Illegal flea market' owner misses cleanup deadline
The deadline to clean his property has come and gone for the owner of an “illegal flea market” on Pine Street in Brainerd.
What’s next for property owner Chad Ross is still up in the air.
Office staff from misdemeanor prosecutor Matthew Mallie said “the matter is pending as far as further action,” but could not detail what that action might be or if Ross will see jail time.
Mallie did not respond directly to several interview requests.
Ross was 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.
Attention was first brought to the cluttered yard in August. Brainerd City Planner Mark 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.
According to zoning regulations: “Garage sales or rummage sales (are allowed) when conducted in or by a nonprofit institution, or when conducted upon the premises of an owner of the articles being offered by sale provided that such sales do not last longer than 72 hours, and provided that no more than four sales be conducted by any given location within one year.”
Since the story was first reported in September, the density of items accumulated on Ross’ property on the 1200 block of Pine Street has ballooned. Today, items sit blanketed in snow.
Ostgarden said he and the police chief reminded Ross a few days before the Dec. 20 deadline.
“He didn’t seem too concerned about it,” Ostgarden said.
He continued, “I do find amazing that with the potential of jail time hanging over his head, there wouldn’t have been more urgency put into what he needs to do...In some regard it doesn’t surprise me.”
Once optimistic Ross would clear the items himself, Ostgarden is now convinced he won’t. That’s why he wants to take civil action.
“If he is in jail, nothing gets done. The case is closed. He comes back and there is still stuff there,” he said. “We need to approach it to a civil violation.”
Ostgarden hopes that will come in the form of a judge’s order that will allow the city to come in and remove items.
Just when that could happen is still in question.
Ostgarden knows neighbors of the messy yard are frustrated with the eyesore, but he says the city is doing everything possible to mend the situation.
“As a homeowner, he has legal rights. We have to let the court system work the process. That doesn’t happen overnight,” he said. “The city is doing all it can legally to correct the matter. We can’t just go in there with bulldozer and take things away without some legal process.”