Scrap and Debris, Illegal Dumping, Salvage Yards…Commissioners Seeking Solutions


The Prowers County Commissioners met on August 14th with County Attorney Darla Scranton Specht, members of the County Planning Commission and Michelle Hiigel, County Land Use Administrator on what steps may be taken to enforce operating regulations pertaining to county-based salvage yards and auto body shops. The main goal is to keep them within regulations and operating agreements and to prevent any more non-authorized operations from coming into use.

Based on appearances at the entryways into the county and from past and current complaints, both written and verbal, the Commissioners want to begin to enforce basic performance standards for these operations. Attorney Darla Scranton Specht said the departments are on the same page regarding the appearance and impact the operations have on the community, but the next course of action is to detail the best way to approach any changes and improvements.

Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade felt letters should be sent to the owners and to those not currently zoned for commercial operations informing them of the need to be cleaned of weeds or debris or to fence from public view unsightly salvage yards or body shops, regardless of whether they might be exempt due to any grandfather clause which would exclude them. She added the problem is growing, “As you drive into Lamar from any direction, it’s staring you in the face.  You can find it (debris) behind the old KOA, along County Road HH where it’s almost up to the road and it’s spreading out to the south of town and the east entrance.  How are we going to start attracting any new business coming into town when all we are known for is, we look like old junk!”  She added that this is also a health issue as out in the county they have become aware of illegal junk piles that have attracted rats.  “I understand that salvage can be an income source for people earning money from selling scrap and I don’t want to put someone out of business, but we need to understand this can also hinder community growth.”

Scranton-Specht, in response to a question from Commission Chairman Ron Cook, said there are enforcement regulations which can be brought into play. “You do have regulations regarding land zoned as Highway Commercial C-2 and even if there is some grandfather clause, there are performance standards that need to be met.”  She mentioned some which require barriers or fences high enough to prevent viewing from the road, the operation must not be objectionable to adjacent properties and the area must be maintained for an orderly appearance.  She added that there are regulations pertaining to highway frontage roads as well.

Planning board member, Jim Larrick, outlined one problem area, explaining, “When they make an application with us, they’ll tell us what we want to hear and then they roll on and do whatever they want and we try to put some teeth into it and send out letters, but from there, it doesn’t go anywhere.” He wanted to know who would be responsible for taking the next step to enforce the regulations.

Scranton-Specht replied that this would be an enforcement issue which would be handled by the county’s Land Use department. She added the board can hear an appeal on a ruling, but it is not the tool through which enforcement is conducted.

Board member, Chad Hart, said, “We need to act on the complaints from dumping. There are some places that have gone beyond the limits for what they said they’d have on their property.  I know there can be an added cost for fencing or barriers, and perhaps we can offer some tax relief to help them out as well as allow some time to make alterations, but if they don’t then the county needs to enforce the regulations to make them comply.”

There was some discussion about salvage yards parting out cars. Some used vehicles may have been in the same spot in a yard for a couple of years and owners will claim the vehicle as inventory which can’t be thrown away.  The rebuttal was that, those vehicles or ones that are being held in settlement cases can be placed indoors, the cars can be placed in rows and not spread haphazardly, and the weeds can be cut back to provide a better appearancede

Scranton-Specht suggested the board begin with a notification letter based on a complaint and from there the Land Use Department can meet with the landowner, review the regulations with them where they are not in compliance and where a grandfather clause does not apply in their case. From that point, she suggested both parties work towards a solution explaining to the owners what courses of action can follow if they don’t attempt to improve the property.  The County Commissioners can receive written updates on any progress being made and from that; decisions can be made if further action is required.  She also said any future special use permits should become very specific on the obligations of the property owner so there are no questions in either party’s mind of what’s expected of them.

By Russ Baldwin

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