Natrona County grapples with 'grandfathering' car collectors

Multiple-car owners object to nuisance notices
2010-09-16T00:00:00Z Natrona County grapples with 'grandfathering' car collectorsBy TOM MORTON - Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online
September 16, 2010 12:00 am  • 

These may be your grandfather's cars.

But we first need to define "grandfather," as in the provision in a new law that exempts from regulation those who have been operating in the existing system.

Then we need to define "car."

Then Natrona County needs to figure out how to enforce health and safety codes while respecting the rights of those who have been collecting lots of vehicles for years.

County code enforcement officials recently have written nuisance notices for properties with inoperable and unlicensed old vehicles.

That angered Dana Jones, whose family has had a trucking business on 10 acres on 8 Mile Road since 1977, he said.

Jones likes trucks, especially unusual ones with Marmon-Herrington all-wheel drive capabilities.

He keeps about 200 mostly inoperable trucks -- Kenworths to half-ton pickups -- and some late-1960s Chevrolet Chevelles on this property, he said.

Jones also owns about 75 other vehicles on his property near Natrona, which also received a nuisance notice, he said.

The family business, and his affection for collecting trucks, predates Natrona County's zoning regulations, Jones said.

And while state law says counties may restrict people from having more than four or more abandoned vehicles on their property, he said the law does not apply to antique or historic motor vehicles. (Natrona County's rules don't allow for any abandoned vehicles on a property.)

"We should be grandfathered," Jones said.

So he and four others who have received similar notices in the past month want to contest what they see as a misunderstanding of the law and what they regard as heavy-handed behavior by the county planning and zoning department.

A meeting scheduled for Aug. 31 was postponed, and Jones said he doesn't know when they will be able to present their case.

Meanwhile, the Natrona County Commission and County Attorney Bill Knight want to resolve the thorny issues of apparent zoning violations coupled with residents who have collected vehicles for years.

"We just want to be fair to everybody," commissioner Ed Opella said at a work session Tuesday.

Opella asked Knight about the grandfather clause for abandoned vehicles, and the attorney responded "grandfather" has a strict application.

"The law is very clear on what a 'use' is," Knight said. "Uses are grandfathered."

So if someone built a sawmill in a rural area that later developed into a subdivision, the sawmill's original and primary use as a business would be grandfathered and not subject to more recent zoning laws, he said.

But if the sawmill owner had horses on that property, that would not be part of the original use, Knight said. "Accessories to use are not grandfathered."

As he understands state law, collecting inoperable and unlicensed cars and trucks would constitute an accessory use to a trucking business, he said.

State law does not define "car," either, Knight said.

So there's no clear understanding if just a front end of a car is, well, a car, he said.

Commissioners talked about amending the state law-based county zoning codes, which bothered Opella.

"I don't want to have a public hearing; it's like a barking dog ordinance," he said.

"It's going to be a nightmare," Opella said. "Everybody will say how valuable their antique car is."

But commission Chairman Rob Hendry said changing the codes would require a public hearing.

After speaking to the commission, Knight said people who have received the nuisance notices should not overreact as if they were charged with a crime and fined.

"We have not cited one person. Period," he said.

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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