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Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission: JPC votes to deny Hensley

Time is running out for Hensley Auto Salvage.

The Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Commission voted 9-1 Thursday night to recommend denial of an Interim Use Permit for the business, which conducts auto salvage, auto repair and used auto sales at 4701 Irvine Ave. N.W. Commissioner Genevieve Lowry cast the lone dissenting vote.

On July 8, the matter will go before the Greater Bemidji Area Joint Planning Board, which rescinded Bill Hensley's Conditional Use Permit Dec. 8 because of numerous violations of conditions set in the CUP. An IUP is issued to an individual, while a CUP is issued to a business.

JPC Chairman Clark Chambers, who made the motion to recommend denial of the IUP, said his concern was that Hensley has basically had 15 years of non-compliance. The business received a CUP with limited conditions from Northern Township in 1994 and has had numerous violations since.

Chambers said Hensley has shown willful disregard of conditions of the CUP and has a history of violating regulations of numerous agencies. Hensley also violated the cease and desist order of Dec. 8, he said.

Commissioner Joe McKinnon asked Hensley if he had been operating since then.

"It all depends on what you mean by operating, I guess," Hensley said, noting that he and employees have crushed some cars and drained some vehicles, bought some vehicles and taken them to his Solway property, and sold some merchandise online.

McKinnon then asked Hensley if he was selling parts at the Irvine Avenue property, and Hensley said he was.

Hensley made an impassioned plea to commissioners before they voted.

He explained that in 2005, things were looking up. He was working with someone who was going to buy in as a partner, but the man turned out to be a thief. He went to prison, but "put me in the hole half a million dollars," Hensley said.

"It's almost impossible to make enough money to pay half a million dollars in bills," he said. "It put me in a state of depression that you wouldn't believe."

When the vote came in, Hensley left City Hall abruptly without comment.

Joint planning staff had not made a recommendation to the JPC in the case. Planning Administrator Mel Milender said that although Hensley has made impressive improvements, staff is not willing to make quarterly visits to make sure he continues to comply.

"Quite frankly, the entire operation is in better shape than it's been throughout most of the time I've been working with Mr. Hensley," Milender said, adding that the only areas on non-compliance during a June 12 inspection were some barrels of oil that should have been disposed and the height of the tire pile, which was down but still at or above the limit set by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"We clearly can get Mr. Hensley's attention, but it generally requires a trip to the Joint Planning Board to do that," said Milender, who has worked with Hensley on the issues for 9½ years.

Milender told the JPC that if it recommended approval of the IUP, it should incorporate severe consequences for non-compliance.

During the public hearing, Hensley said that the oil barrels Milender observed have been drained and the tire pile was three-quarters removed and would be gone in a few days.

"I wouldn't work as hard as I've done in the past year if I didn't think I was going to get it reopened," he said, adding that he has been reminding employees to work to keep things as good as they are or better.

Milender told the JPC that Hensley has several options if his IUP is denied by the JPB. He could move his business to the Solway location, he could allow it to deteriorate as unused property, or he could challenge the ruling in district court.