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'Illegal flea market' not cleared, owner stays in jail

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

About half of the collection at the “illegal flea market” on Pine Street has been cleared, but it’s not good enough.

So it’s back to jail for property owner Chad Ross, who has put off clearing his yard since the back-and-forth with the city started in August.

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“It’s not very good,” Brainerd City Planner Mark Ostgarden said of Ross’ progress. “He’s done some clean-up but it’s not completed.”

Ross will only stay in jail until Friday, when his sentence is complete. City leaders will ask law enforcement that he continues being released a few hours a day to chip away at clearing his yard.

Ross has been in jail for almost a month because he’s refused to pick up the cluttered items in his yard.

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.

Recently, however, Ross has been released from jail for six hours a day to get rid of the items in his yard.

“I think serving time in jail made him realize we were serious about compliance,” Ostgarden said.

But it wasn’t up to satisfaction at 2 p.m. Friday when Ostgarden checked in on Ross’ progress.

Now, city leaders are continuing with the civil process to have the items removed by city staff or a contractor. The cost of the removal will be charged against the property via an assessment. The property is currently in foreclosure.

Ross requested a hearing, which is allowed per the civil process. That hearing is tentatively set for 4:30 p.m. April 1, and will be conducted by the Brainerd Safety and Public Works Committee.

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: Feb. 12. When that deadline was missed as well, that meant jail time for Ross. That’s where he’s been since Feb. 27.

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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