Stillwater Collision and Mechanical, at 804 Laurel Street W. near Lake McKusick, has until Oct. 3 to comply with the seven conditions of its special use permit for its auto repair facility, and it has until Oct. 17 to update the ventilation system on its paint booth.
If it fails to comply, the city council has threatened to revoke the special use permits currently allowing it to operate.
For years, neighbors have complained about paint fumes from the business, with several saying the problem became significant in the past five years. Some have claimed that they and their children are forced to stay indoors with the windows closed due to unbearable odors and fume-related health concerns.
Other complaints have alleged that Stillwater Collision isn’t complying with the seven conditions of a special use permit issued in 2004 to allow operation of an auto repair facility next to a residential zone. Conditions were primarily aesthetic and required the installation of a wood fence and planting of a hedge and also
governed storage of vehicles and other materials on site.
A year ago, city staff informed Stillwater Collision that it was out of compliance with this special use permit. According to city staff, the business had still not met any of the seven conditions as of Sept. 19, 2016.
On Sept. 20, the city council considered revocation of the business’s special use permits for the auto repair shop and paint booth.
Several neighbors addressed the council Sept. 20, asking for relief from the paint fumes.
“This has been a known nuisance for years,” said Ryan Smith. “The owners have known about it and have done nothing that helps.”
At times, Smith said, he won’t let his children play outside because of the fumes in the backyard.
Another neighborhood resident, Cheryl Kane, said the fumes regularly make her feel ill.
“When I leave my windows open, my whole house smells like paint,” she said.
Some area residents defended Stillwater Collision, however, praising the skill and character of its owner, Tony Grove. They said his business is a staple in the area, that he treats customers fairly, and that he plows snow for elderly and disabled neighbors. Several people urged the council not to revoke Stillwater Collision’s special use permits, but seek another way to resolve the issues. Some suggested the complaints about the fumes were exaggerated.
Grove and his wife, Vicky Jensen, who helps with some administrative aspects of the business, told the council they have been working toward building the required fence and meeting other special use permit requirements since the issue was brought to their attention last year. They said various delays have prevented them from completing the tasks but that a contractor is now in place to do the work.
Greg Schmidt, an attorney representing Grove, said Stillwater Collision has a letter from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that says the business is in compliance with air quality standards. Nevertheless, Schmidt said, Grove plans to upgrade his air filtration system. The new system will position the vent above the shop, instead of behind, and will have a more sophisticated system to disperse the air it releases. As of Sept. 20, a contract had been signed for installation of the new system, pending a building permit from the city.
An engineer who monitors clean rooms for a medical device company spoke on Grove’s behalf, explaining why he believed the air quality near the shop was safe and wouldn’t cause long-term harm.
Grove himself was apologetic and said this was the first business he’s owned and that he’s still learning.
City council members said Grove runs a good business and has improved the appearance of the building since taking over from the previous owner in 2004. However, they were frustrated with Grove’s lack of action until the business was facing the possibility of closure.
“Five years ago you knew this was a problem, and tonight you come in with a contract dated today,” Councilmember Tom Weidner said. “That’s ridiculous.”
Weidner said he’s visited the property and witnessed firsthand how bad the odor can be.
“You do great work and you have a great business and you are a really great guy, but you’re not solving a problem that you’re causing on your neighbor’s property,” he said.
Councilmember Doug Menikheim said Grove’s explanations of why he hadn’t fixed the problems sounded like a series of excuses, and suggested the city needed to put a formal timeline in place to assure compliance.
Councilmember David Junker made a motion to require the seven conditions of the 2004 permit, such as installing a fence and planting a hedge, be complete by Oct. 3, the day before the council’s next meeting. The council approved the motion unanimously.
Junker also made a motion to require installation of the paint booth’s new filtration system be completed by Oct. 17, but the motion would allow the business to operate in the meantime.
Weidner suggested the city prohibit operation of the paint booth until the fumes problem is eliminated, but the rest of the council didn’t accept the idea.
Junker’s motion was approved 4-1, with Weidner dissenting.
We would like to thank The Stillwater Gazette for reprint permission.