Home » This Michigan City Took 30 Cars From An Alfa Mechanic And Now They’re Sitting In A Junkyard

This Michigan City Took 30 Cars From An Alfa Mechanic And Now They’re Sitting In A Junkyard

Alfa Junkyard Ts2
ADVERTISEMENT

In a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, a group of 30-some-odd Alfa Romeos has wound up on a prominent southeast Michigan U-pull yard. How, where, and why did this happen? It’s time for an Autopian Investigation!

If you’re not a car person the jokes almost write themselves. Alfa Romeos are not exactly known for their longevity, so a preponderance of them in one U-pull junkyard shouldn’t be a huge surprise. However, as car people, we know that the inherent value and general rareness of these cars means that something else has to be going on here.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Here’s the story of how so many of these cars ended up in one place.

These Cars Belonged To Man Keeping Alfas Alive

As I was hanging out on The Autopian Discord, user dogapult brought this post to our attention.

Hot damn! That’s a lot of Alfas huddled together. It turns out they used to belong to 72-year-old Dean Russell in Dearborn Heights. He runs Trail Auto, a factory-authorized repair shop that specializes in only Alfa Romeos. During my conversation with Russell, he said 30 Alfas were parked in a backlot two doors down from his shop. They were primarily parts cars, with some of the cars also being used to store specific parts.

ADVERTISEMENT
Trail Auto Google Maps
Photo: Google Maps
Pxl 20240608 172448867
Photo: John Gustin

“I’ve got cars in process and if I need a switch, or a headlamp, a door handle. I could go over there and get it.” Russell says things started to change over the last year or so from the city. He said a new ordinance officer started coming around, who said they were going to be more stringent about enforcing moving forward. According to Russell, there’s a building on the lot that housed an apartment that had been vacant for 40 years.

Despite this, he said in the city’s opinion, it was still zoned for residential use and the vehicles on the lot were considered “abandoned” and “unlicensed.” Russell disagrees with that point, saying his tax bill lists the property for commercial use.

According to Russell, an ordinance officer flagged his property. After a long back-and-forth with the city, a judge signed an order allowing the city to come and take his cars.

“I’ll admit that some of these things were ready to go away,” said Russell. “But not under these conditions… Destroying my property and taking it away like they did with the cars, it’s ugly.”

The Need For A Private Salvage Yard

Russell said his parts lot was formed out of necessity. There used to be a warehouse in Orlando for Alfa Romeo parts that’s since closed down.

ADVERTISEMENT

I did a quick search and found a mention of  “Alfa Romeo, Inc.” of Orlando in a forum posting from 2009. Going through the web archive, the site was maintained until some point between 2018 and 2021. Since the shutdown, Russell has been using a network of friends in the state with stockpiled inventory, or he has to go to Europe himself to locate items. “It’s not been fun.”

Alfa Romeo Inc
Photo: Web Archive

While we talked, Russell pulled up the Facebook posting to see what US Auto has on display. He said a number of the vehicles were ’91 sedans and demand had fallen off because of the lack of available parts for the 30-year-old vehicles. However, he got back the cream-colored ’65 convertible, pictured next to the red convertible, and a gray sedan, pictured on the far end, from the tow company. But, it was “expensive” and he couldn’t afford to do that with all the cars.

Taking A Field Trip

Trail Auto 1
Photo: US Auto Supply of Sterling Heights, Facebook

After hitting up the DTE EV Ride and Drive in Troy, Autopian Nick Hernandez and I moseyed on over to US Auto Supply of Sterling Heights. This was my first time at the yard and it was impressive. Last year, during David Tracy’s walk-through, ahead of his goodbye party, I was still on the road from South Bend.

It was like an open-air automotive Costco, with an impressive setup for check-in and check-out, and row after row of salvage cars for almost every automotive needed. Supposedly the reputation for this place is so strong, that they’ve seen people drive as far as Kentucky and New York for their Black Friday sales. In all, there are 1,200 cars on stands, with four new rows of 18 cars cycled in each day.

Trail Auto Overhead
Photo: US Auto Supply of Sterling Heights, Facebook

Near the back and to the right, Nick and I found roughly a half-dozen Alfa 164 sedans mingled with Milanos and Spiders.

ADVERTISEMENT
Pxl 20240608 172507890
Photo: John Gustin
Pxl 20240608 172707942
Photo: John Gustin
Pxl 20240608 172800555
Photo: John Gustin

Even more were located further back in the holding lot.

Pxl 20240608 173354807
Photo: John Gustin
Pxl 20240608 173402990
Enhance and pan right! Photo: John Gustin

According to a US Auto worker, while they couldn’t get into specifics about how they bought these Alfas, most of their cars are bought at public auction from tow companies appointed by nearby cities. I inquired if it was common to buy such large amounts of a singular make and model. “No, hell no. If they’re after Pontiac G6s? Yeah. But unique cars, no.”

Pxl 20240608 173236663
A few other Alfas spotted on the far right side of the holding lot. Photo: John Gustin

The man said most of their Alfa inventory is still in a holding area and will be slowly put out on the main lot over time. “We don’t want to put them all in at once because we turn our imports over every 21 to 25 days … We do one every day or every other day, we can spread this out over a couple months.” He described the acquisition as a “Holy Grail” event, but, “when they’re all the same manufacturer and the same kind you, literally just flood your own market.” At that point, lots like this have more value in marketing for US Auto Supply than straight revenue.

Was It Blight?

According to an article by Arab America News, an initiative for “city-wide sweeps to address blight and ordinance enforcement” started in May of 2022, reportedly the first time such action had been taken in six years.

It was still a hot-button issue in June of 2023, with then-City Councilman Ray Muscat saying, “We’ve been too lax for too long” during a special hearing on blight. While the article by Press & Guide mostly covers grass enforcement, improvements to the department, and public outreach, it’s clear this is an issue of great importance to the city.

ADVERTISEMENT

Going through the ordinances for Dearborn Heights, it’s not friendly to parts cars. Under my understanding, any parts car would be considered an “abandoned scrap vehicle” per Sec. 32-119 “Abandoned vehicle proceduresof the Code Of Ordinances Of The City Of Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

(2) “Unregistered abandoned scrap vehicle” means a vehicle which meets all of the following requirements:

a. Is on public or private property;

b. Is seven (7) or more years old;

c. Is apparently inoperable or is extensively damaged, to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle so that it is operational and safe as required by section 32-386, would exceed the fair market value of that vehicle;

d. Is not currently registered in this state and does not display current year registration plates from another state;

e. Is not removed within forty-eight (48) hours after a written notice as described in section 32-118(b)(2) is affixed to the vehicle.

A situation like this could be resolved in a hearing, but according to Russell, it did not go his way in court. Reading further, I found Sec. 36-255 “Open storage of vehicles or materials,” which explains the issues regarding the vacant apartment. A similar ordinance in Troy doomed David Tracy and his infamous “Greep Jeep.”

(b) Motor vehicle parking and storage.

(1) No motor vehicle shall be kept, parked, or stored in any district zoned for residential use, unless the vehicle is in operating condition and properly licensed, or is kept inside a building.

(2) These provisions shall not apply to any motor vehicle ordinarily used but temporarily out of running condition.

(3) If a motor vehicle is being kept for actual use, but is temporarily unlicensed, the ordinance enforcement officer may grant the owner a period of up to twenty-one (21) calendar days to secure a license.

Russell expressed his frustrations with the process from start to finish but for now, said he was more or less resigned to the reality of the situation. I did reach out via email and phone to the city of Dearborn Heights’ Ordinance Enforcement department, its officers, and the mayor’s office for comment. As of publication, I have not heard back.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to see how a situation like this unfolded. Blight is a real issue that has consequences for the general public’s health and safety. People want to see their communities improved and I’d imagine it’s a winning issue for local officials.

On the other hand, it sucks to see something like this happen to a specialist who has worked so hard to keep unique cars on the road. At least according to our scouts, he still has a fair amount left on the shop’s immediate property.

ADVERTISEMENT
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
67 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
25 days ago

No motor vehicle shall be kept, parked, or stored in any district zoned for residential use, unless the vehicle is in operating condition and properly licensed, or is kept inside a building.”

The solution to his problem is in bold. He needs to put up some sort of cheap shelter so the parts vehicles are out of sight or lease/buy some proper warehouse space.

And if the vehicles aren’t worth enough to spend a bit of money on proper storage, then they should go to the scrapper.

NosrednaNod
NosrednaNod
25 days ago

If you business requires you to store your goods in a way that offends the neighbors or runs afoul of local regulations you don’t have much of a business.

Jim Zavist
Jim Zavist
25 days ago

As someone who has dealt with issues like this one, for years, it all boils down to one of two things, it’s either a politician (often newly elected) on a mission to “change things” or it’s a neighbor/busybody (either a new arrival or a bored, long-term resident) who’s on a mission to see every ordinance enforced.

The vast majority of zoning cases start with a citizen complaint (don’t piss off your neighbors!). Rarely are code enforcement officers out looking for new things to enforce. But, if/when a complaint is received they’re required to, at least, investigate, and use their discretion to obtain compliance.

Many times, the person being enforced disagrees, takes offense, refuses to comply, and things escalate. As they say, “urban living is messy”, and everyone needs to be willing to compromise. It may be “your land”, but you’re certainly not free to do whatever you want with it.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira
25 days ago

Dean was my Alfa tech when I lived in Michigan many years ago. He worked on my GTV6 and 164S. He’s a very well spoken brilliant mechanic and a fascinating guy who exudes an elevated Zen aura. I believe he has degrees in law and psychology, but decided to wrench on Alfas and other Italian cars for a living.

He somehow always managed to look stylish when elbow deep in Alfa guts, with his Dickies pants tucked into military boots, Dickies shirt sleeves neatly rolled up, round thin wire frame glasses, and a black beret holding back his hair. He looked equal parts like a professor, artist and Jedi master. His tone of voice rarely changed from commandingly serene, which was strangely at odds with the utter chaos of his shop and yard. It always looked like an abandoned junkyard, and it surprises me it took this long for the city to take notice.

Arthur Flax
Arthur Flax
25 days ago

You can argue the limits of government power over private property and eminent domain. But if you are going to argue that the owner of these junkers was running a good business — he wasn’t. If this fellow had the same junkers on his lot for several years that the junkyard is parting out in just a few weeks, that isn’t good business.

Turning and burning (selling) your inventory is good. Sitting on the cost of inventory and the land to store it for years is bad. For the sale price of his rusty inventory, I’m sure he (or she) could have traveled to Europe on the company and bought and sold several inventory turns. Probably could afford to buy (and repair) a few new Alfas in the meantime too.

-Tom-
-Tom-
24 days ago
Reply to  Arthur Flax

I feel like the appropriate thing for him to do would have been to hire a high school kid interested in working on cars to fully disassemble them down to bare shells and bag&tag every part. Like Today we will remove the LF suspension from all of them. Tomorrow we pull the RF…and so on until every car is a bare shell.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
25 days ago

So it appears David pissed in in everyone’s well in Michigan and then left.

3WiperB
3WiperB
25 days ago

Seems like the cheapest solution to prevent a tow in this case would be to register the vehicles with a Michigan Historic License Plate. They have to be over 26 year old, but it’s $30 and good for 10 years.

It wouldn’t work in every city, but since in Dearborn Heights it has to meet all the requirements on the list to be considered scrap, that would be the cheapest way to knock this off the list. “d. Is not currently registered in this state and does not display current year registration plates from another state;”

Nice job John.

Norek Koss
Norek Koss
25 days ago

I love Alfa Romeo, in my young time I had lot fun to repair.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
25 days ago
Reply to  Norek Koss

My 1971 1750A Berlina (with rare automatic gearbox) was a lot of fun to drive but was no fun when the car required frequent maintenance and expensive parts, including four-electrode Golden Lodge spark plugs ($7 each, which was about $20 each in today’s money).

Idiotking
Idiotking
25 days ago

I recently came into possession of a free parts truck for my Travelall project, and had no choice but to park it in my driveway, which is on the main road through my town. My local zoning laws are pretty similar to the others posted here—basically, if the vehicle ‘looks’ abandoned, or inoperable, or you’re visibly parting it out, the authorities can fine you and demand it be removed.

So I did what any other gearhead would do: I parted it out from the inside, kept it under a tarp and put the second plate from my registered truck on the bumper. After I got the front clip disassembled I set it up so that I could hang the fenders on with one bolt. When it came time to get it out of here, I pulled everything off in one weekend and had it towed away a day later.

I am looking forward to finding a quiet place in the country with more space, fewer zoning laws, and a nice big barn.

Professor Chorls
Professor Chorls
25 days ago

People want to see their communities improved and I’d imagine it’s a winning issue for local officials.

All of us automotive hobbyists need to constantly remember that we are almost never viewd positively by anyone interested in “community improvement”. Having had my own fights with a city/county over alleged derelict vehicles, practically everyone who is elected or hired into these positions have an idealistic view of what their community, neighborhood, city, or subdivision should look like and those with offbeat, mechanical or artisanal hobbies are rarely included in that view.

My goal whenever I am financially able is to move to a rural county with minimal or no codes and zoning. I have a few in mind.

Cryptoenologist
Cryptoenologist
25 days ago

I live in a pretty small city in California, about 2000 people, and blight is a huge issue in our community. There are a few individuals that have bought up a bunch of property over the years, and much of it for cheap. Because of the way California property tax works they are never reappraised as long as they own it. So they pay almost nothing in taxes(making it cheap for them) and providing no revenue to our city(which needs it). But the thing that pisses off the rest of us more than the money is that it means too much competition for the properties that are available, and it means our downtown is less vibrant than it could be. People want to open businesses downtown and having 10-20% of properties kept vacant really sucks and makes the town feel like it is doing poorly even though it isn’t. For example, when any commercial property on our Main Street comes up for rent or sale, it is occupied pretty quickly. We’re thinking of passing a vacancy tax that ratchets up on property owners that don’t legitimately utilize or rent out commercial property they own.

WR250R
WR250R
25 days ago

What’s this now? Government took advantage of vaguely worded bylaws to take private property from a citizen? Something something to be an American where at least I know I’m free….

Jdoubledub
Jdoubledub
25 days ago

Must be David’s Italian cousin, David Traccia.

Norek Koss
Norek Koss
25 days ago
Reply to  Jdoubledub

Cousin Vinny?

Vee
Vee
25 days ago

It seems like if there was a fence the officer would’ve magically ignored the things sitting there. Though somebody else would’ve eventually come along to cause problems because the city certainly has it’s eye on that side of the road where the lot is.

The thing that irks me is the far too vague phrasing in this:

(2) “Unregistered abandoned scrap vehicle” means a vehicle which meets all of the following requirements:

a. Is on public or private property;

b. Is seven (7) or more years old;

c. Is apparently inoperable or is extensively damaged, to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle so that it is operational and safe as required by section 32-386, would exceed the fair market value of that vehicle;

d. Is not currently registered in this state and does not display current year registration plates from another state;

e. Is not removed within forty-eight (48) hours after a written notice as described in section 32-118(b)(2) is affixed to the vehicle.

This means that a car with hail damage or a car with excessive clearcoat erasure, both entirely cosmetic issues, could be yoinked by the city. So could a recently purchased car without tags because the DMV hasn’t yet issued temps (which can sometimes take up to a week in a place as dysfunctional as Detroit or Columbus). Even worse, “market value” is a bullshit subjective measure up to insurance companies to determine. Alfa enthusiasts might value a 75/Milano with a broken $40 timing chain at $7,500, but to insurance that’s a $300 car. I’m sure the local used dealerships don’t appreciate the wording about private property either, as they often store their cars in open air lots while they condition them for sale.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

They need to meet all those criteria to be abandoned scrap vehicles.

If your hail damaged car is currently registered, it’s clear.

Vee
Vee
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

That’s the reason why I mentioned the used car dealerships as the perfect confluence of all three. They often buy damaged cars in bulk at auction and repair them cheaply in open air lots somewhere near their dealership. So those cars that are “extensively damaged, to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle … would exceed the fair market value of that vehicle”, are stored in an open lot of private property, are sitting without license plates and registration stickers because they’re stock to be sold, are more than seven years old (most dealerships target between six to twelve years because the cars are heading towards the bottom of the depreciation curve), and cannot be moved within forty eight hours because there’s nowhere for them to go are subject to this.

Last edited 25 days ago by Vee
Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

I would say that the fact those cars are owned by a dealership that bought them to repair and sell for a profit means the repair cost will not exceed the market value.

The dealership has no use for parts cars, and just by through good business practices will get any car that can’t be sold profitably off their lot and off their books.

I don’t know how much actual business this guy has been doing. 2022 street view just looks like an abandoned service station. The building isn’t marked with a business name or phone number and all the lights are off in the shop in the middle of the day.

ES
ES
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

i’m also not sure about the strays you directed at Detroit and Columbus? 1) DMV’s are state ops, not municipal. 2) Dearborn Heights isn’t Detroit. 3) Columbus isn’t in the story nor are the states of Ohio, Missouri, or Indiana. Not sure why you used it as an example. 4) a paper temporary tag takes 5 minutes to obtain (after the two hours in line) at any DMV i’ve been to in either state, as a private owner, and to refer to your concern for dealers, they’ve got a much more streamlined process for “dealer tags”.

(And i’ve been a resident of both cities you listed, and some suburbs of both cities, assuming your Columbus was the one in Ohio).

Other those remarks, i don’t have an opinion on the merits of this individual case, other than i hope the judge made a thoughtful and justifiable decision.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
25 days ago
Reply to  Vee

I would guess that the particular ordinance would not apply if they were not on property zoned Residential.

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
25 days ago

Something doesn’t quite add up here. If he owned the lot where the cars were parked, he should have been able to easily prove the lot was zoned commercial. I found a Wayne County parcel map circa 2015, but it is outdated and doesn’t show the owner’s names and the local governments don’t appear to offer this info online easily unless you already know the owner’s name, no map searches that I could find for Wayne Conty. Anyway, the old parcel map shows he had his cars easily spread across four different parcels.

I have a job where I often have to research property ownership and say what you will about Florida, but our state and local counties make this extremely easy. If you needed to find the current zoning of a parcel in Florida, you could have it in about five minutes.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
25 days ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

Zoning conflicts like this are not unheard of, likely there’s a mismatch between the city and county databases. County could have it as commercial and be collecting property tax on it as such, the city could still have it as residential (possibly a clerical error). But, it was the city that decided to enforce the zoning laws and remove the guy guy’s cars, so whether they were right or not, it still happened

JerryLH3
JerryLH3
25 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Definitely possible. And I think there could also be some issue on if he even owns all the lots were these cars were parked. It seems the cars were only removed from one or more of these other parcels they were on, not his main place of business where his shop is. It would also be possible if they were spread out on multiple parcels that not all of the parcels were zoned commercial. There’s more to this that appears to not easily be sleuthed.

06dak
06dak
25 days ago
Reply to  JerryLH3

In Michigan they make it very difficult to find out that info. When I lived in Ohio, of all things they were very progressive in making that info easy to find as well.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago

This is hoarding. Not ‘collecting.’ Not ‘saving.’ Not ‘preserving.’

That said, the internet maps make it look like the area is appropriate for this type of business. He should have put in a few sheds and some shelving to store and organize the parts.

But that would never happen. For the cost of a shed and a shelf he could acquire three more rusted-out crapcans and fill them with rusted exhaust parts that will never be sold or installed on anything.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

The lesson is that if you can’t afford the space to store something properly, you can’t afford to own it. If you want to be in a zoned area, you can’t run your place like the set of Sanford and Son.

Ignoring the rules just because they haven’t been enforced is a deliberate risk. Eventually the bill comes due, whether in warehouse cost, or property lost to seizure.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
25 days ago

See also people who buy privately imported cars that were brought in when they were less than 25 years old. Sure, your state might not care, because it can pass the required safety inspection, but you have to be comfortable with the idea that you can lose it any time the federal government finds out you have it. I’d think you’d have to be independently wealthy to be comfortable living that way, and if you are independently wealthy, a zoning issue, at least, becomes irrelevant, since you could just go get a big warehouse somewhere

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
25 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I would never buy a grey market import unless I also had an offroad use for it as a farm vehicle or as a track car. It’s always been a risky proposition to buy one for on-road registration. While some have been upfront about it, other sellers have undersold or even told buyers to ignore that risk.

Black Peter
Black Peter
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

As much as I want to take this guy’s side, you’re absolutely right.
A pole barn and a couple of high school gear heads could have solved this before it got out of hand.

Colin Althen
Colin Althen
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

I mean he was selling parts of them, so in this case he was kind of running a scrap yard. Which is hard to get zoned for. Lots of specialty car repair places do similar they just are better at limiting parts cars on hand. There is a dealer near me that works on British cars that looks the same way. Also know a Saab place that similar. That’s thing this hoarding makes some sense when your talking about cars with hard to find parts.

A. Barth
A. Barth
25 days ago

I’d like to offer a *golf clap* for the text in the topshot.

(Many years ago there was a kids’ breakfast cereal called Alpha Bits.)

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
25 days ago

Situations like this are difficult to overcome without loads of money. If a developer came in, bought the abandoned apartments, and submitted a proposal to change the land to commercial use in order to develop the area better, the town would likely convert it, as it would bring value(MONEY) to the surrounding area. But because this repair show a specialist, with no added value to the town, they will simply enforce the laws they already passed in an attempt to make the land more appealing to the previously mentioned developers (that will get the zoning changed). Round and round they go, with the little guy getting rolled over every time.

The town going after the vehicles also seems misguided in the sense that they view them as non-operable cars, and not as inventory pieces for a business. Will they go around telling lumber yards they can’t keep palates of wood outside? To take away a business’ assets like this seems to indicate that someone has grand plans for that area, but they need everyone out first, before they can pay to re-zone.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago

These cars are just gathering dust and rust. I’m assuming some of these cars have been in the guy’s front lot for decade(s), while area residents have just watched these become less and less car-like.

Not sure what’s going on with the zoning. He’s right next door to another auto repair shop and both sides of the street are lined with commercial buildings.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

Yes, but they are business assets, and inventory for repairs. There may have been ways for him to hide them better, like a fence with tarps, or a storage facility, but those options cost a lot. For a city or town to come in and tell one business they can no longer operate the way they always have, starts us down a dangerous path that ends with businesses folding due to imposed costs.

A lot of repair shops near me keep old tires outside for weeks or months at a time before they picked up for recycling. Are car parts eventually going to be considered the same as whole cars? It’s a slippery slope, and I’m not a fan of attacking a real specialty repair shop that is trying to keep as many remaining examples on the street as possible.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago

They are only business assets if there is an operating business. This place doesn’t even have a sign.

I was flipping through older street view photos and some of the cars have been there since 2007 – and at one point they were under tarps. They’ve been there so long that the tarps deteriorated and were never replaced.

I would also say that if your inventory is not worth a tarp then it’s probably scrap at that point.

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

This place doesn’t even have a sign.

The vast majority of storage overflow lots for new and used car dealers are completely unlabeled and without signs. This is largely the same. At the end of the day we can all agree some of the cars have deteriorated, but at the exact same time, that’s 17 years the town was both aware and willfully ignoring the situation at hand. I don’t know about you, but if I’ve had a habit in place for 17 years without a single person challenging it, it would be pretty jarring to find out that it was a problem.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

“Russell says things started to change over the last year or so from the city. He said a new ordinance officer started coming around, who said they were going to be more stringent about enforcing moving forward.”

It sounds like he was given some advance notice before the city took any action. That would have been his chance to work with them.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

If the business pays for a business license, or business tax, it is in fact a real business. Advertising and signs do not make a business.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago

Do we know for sure he has been? With the level of organization I wouldn’t be surprised if some administrative tasks are overlooked.

If he’s delinquent on taxes, fees or licensing it could have put him on the town’s radar.

If the zoning changed years ago but he was grandfathered in, he’d lose that courtesy if there was a lapse in licensing the business.

Last edited 25 days ago by Jj
Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

This wasn’t at the guy’s actual business location, it was at another property down the street that he owns and uses as overflow storage for parts cars (there are apparently still more parts cars parked at his actual shop up the road that weren’t messed with)

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Thanks, that makes a little more sense.

Spikedlemon
Spikedlemon
25 days ago

On one hand, Detroit has some serious blight issues that bleeds into the neighbouring suburbs. Not to mention the heavy mix of poorly maintained industrial areas that are mixed in the midst of residential areas that don’t hope it look pretty. And, worse, Michigan does it to itself intentionally.

On the other hand, I feel for the guy losing rare stock like this over a poorly enforced ordinance just trying to keep people rolling.

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
25 days ago

The funny(?) thing is that frequently ‘blighted’ buildings/lots/streets have greater tax value per acre to the city than the shiny new developments. That’s where the city should invest capital to make the *public* realm better and drive business to those places. More reading here via Strong Towns dot org:
“What is blight?”

Also, get outta here with property standards bylaws specifically with respect to derelict vehicles. They wouldn’t care if the parts were sitting in a cardboard box, why is it ‘blight’ to have a vehicle sitting there?

Captain Muppet
Captain Muppet
25 days ago
Reply to  Scone Muncher

How much of a car do you have to cut away until it’s “parts” and not “a car”?

Would cutting them in half have been enough?

Or weld them all together and call it an art installation.

Scone Muncher
Scone Muncher
25 days ago
Reply to  Captain Muppet

We have this super weird system set up specifically for automobiles. Licensing, registration, insurance – OK, I get all of that. Vehicles are a type of private property that is used (almost) exclusively in public and that has implications. But I just bought a used motorcycle from a friend and when I transferred the ownership I had to pay sales tax to the government. What? Why? On no other private transaction does the government levy taxes. I actually wonder if municipal ‘blight’ by-laws actually hold up if challenged in court. In Canada at least re-wilding your lawn with native plants counts as a constitutionally protected form of self expression…

JunkerDave
JunkerDave
25 days ago
Reply to  Scone Muncher

Technically, there’s probably sales tax on other private transactions. I think there is in my state. But for most stuff there’s no practical way to collect it if you’re not a business. Cars are easy, because you’ve got to deal with the bureaucracy to register them.

Municipal blight laws apparently do hold up in court. You’re far from the first person to question that. They’re sometimes used to condemn properties that are not blighted, but that the city wants to do something else with.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
25 days ago

Sounds like he needs an Alfa Seltzer to cure this heartburn.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
25 days ago

Oh boy… as an avid Alfa Romeo enthusiast and a 164 Q4 owner myself, I’m both saddened and aroused at the same time.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  AlfaWhiz

Did you know about this guy before this article?

If not, his hoard of parts was never going to find their way into the hands and under the hoods of running Alfas maintained by enthusiasts.

AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

I did not, and you have a good point. Probably deteriorated a fair bit over the years too.

Fourmotioneer
Fourmotioneer
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

People would call him and he mailed people parts. I’ve done a car for him and gotten many parts from him

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
25 days ago

Man, what the hell? How was he supposed to even know that empty lot was zoned (what I’d call) incorrectly?

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago

Is not removed within forty-eight (48) hours after a written notice as described in section 32-118(b)(2) is affixed to the vehicle

This is the most absurd requirement I’ve ever seen. they blatantly stop enforcement for seven years (or 2,557 days or more) then give the guy TWO days to figure out all of this. Not to mention he’s been paying taxes on the property as if it were commercial, which means he is either owed his taxes back, or the proceeds from his cars back.

I understand ordinances like these have a time and place, but the arbitrary and uneven enforcement of them is pathetic, and what degrades trust with the public.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

Seriously. They should’ve done SO much more to work with this guy. Help him get the lot rezoned to allow the use, maybe get a fence installed if they didn’t want to look at it. It’s clear there was a business reason for keeping this many rare-for-here parts cars around in the same spot, and that these were actively supporting the guy’s livelihood.

But no! Instead, they just took his stuff. What absolute idiots.

Last edited 25 days ago by Stef Schrader
UnseenCat
UnseenCat
25 days ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

This seems like it’s a knock-on effect of gentrification. Everything is fine until hitting a tipping point in population change, then the recently-elected local officials feel empowered to go on an “everything must go” spree. Along with tax increases. And anything “undesirable” that’s survived the tax increases naturally moves into the “must go” category.

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Everything’s fine and dandy until some wealthy couple starts flipping homes in the neighborhood and see one lot that’s “bring the property values down” and they make a few donations to low-level city campaigns. A state-sanctioned HOA with the average HOA board of Karen’s running the show.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
25 days ago
Reply to  UnseenCat

Gentrification, indeed. This is exactly what is happening in my old town in a large metro area (a five minute drive to the downtown). Values are soaring (we doubled our money at selling three years after buying, not a flip, we just decided to move several states away), the town is invested in high-end development (with the accompanying rumors of corruption), and the code enforcement officer is now off the rails. Long-time residents are left wondering why they are suddenly getting tickets and enforcement actions for things they have had for years.

And as Alexk98 noted, it was pretty easy to see who was donating to the new town elected officials.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

Would it really? This guy has his tetanus piles overhanging the sidewalk between a residential neighborhood and a public park.

I’d bet there are more parents in the area than alfa owners.

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

I think to an extent that’s a fair point, he certainly had some trimming and thinning he needed to do for the public good. My issue is more that the code enforcement seems to have been sloppy and incomplete, but resulted in the guy permanently losing his cars, and that the city went from completely hands off to extraordinarily heavy handed in an instant, which almost nobody could be able to reasonably react to.

I completely understand if an 03 Altima with missing bumpers and 2 flat tires has been left on a street corner for a month, giving that car a 48 hour notice. But this guy clearly and continuously grow a fleet of cars on a property he has payed taxes and used as a commercial property for seven years. To pull a 180 and point to a ordinance but ignore any valid counterarguments and seize property like that is just cruel. Like a Tyrannical HOA on steroids.

Last edited 25 days ago by Alexk98
Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

Except that the guy has obviously been acquiring these junkers for years or decades. He has definitely had a chance to manage his parts inventory and instead came up with the ‘Trunk Full of Manifolds’ inventory management system which they probably do not teach in business school.

I would bet that half of these cars have been sitting there since before 9/11 – becoming gradually uglier with time, weather and neglect.

Alexk98
Alexk98
25 days ago
Reply to  Jj

What you’re arguing has nothing to do with the law at hand or the unequal enforcement of justice. Poor business or inventory management does not mean the City can suddenly pat themselves on the back for blindsiding a man who is trying to keep his passion alive.

Additionally, I think it’s important to understand Human behavior, and just like people trapped in echo chambers, or small isolated towns cut off from a more diverse population, without a reasonably frequent intervention, people can lose a sense of what is reasonable. This guy was allowed to do as he did for years, payed taxes on a property that is very clearly a commercial space based on location/visuals/proximity to businesses, and was never bothered by the City.

I find it wholly unbelievable that this situation would have happened if the City would have even annually impounded a car or two, or left notices, or had had even two sentences of communication with the guy letting him know what he is doing is a problem. A more gradual reminder and remediation is what these ordinances are meant to do, and leaves everyone more satisfied and made whole at the end of the day.

In this reality, everyone loses.

Jj
Jj
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

HOA-ification is not something that I support.

I was saying that the action seems abrupt but it could have been addressed incrementally over a long period by the shop owner.

The 48 hours thing seems like it’s aimed at single vehicles in residential neighborhoods, where that time frame is relatively reasonable. I’m guessing this guy’s getting the same short notice because they say his business is a residence.

The zoning thing seems screwy just looking at the area on internet maps. Both sides of that street seem commercial.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

This guy said his troubles with the city started a year or so before they actually cleaned up the lot. While I agree that 48 hours is too little, that’s not what was instituted here.

Ben
Ben
25 days ago
Reply to  Alexk98

I ran afoul of a similarly poorly-written ordinance a few years back. I left my trailer parked at my barn (which is weirdly within the city limits) for longer than I intended and got a nastygram from the city that it couldn’t be there. Fair enough, but apparently the ordinance requires it to be moved within 5 days or something like that and they sent the notice on July 3rd, right before a long holiday weekend. By the time I actually received the letter I was already out of compliance.

Luckily they were not dicks about it. I called the city office the next day and explained what happened and they were cool about it, but if someone had wanted to make trouble for me they could have. And there’s no reason for the compliance period to be that short. A couple of weeks at least would clean up any problems in a timely fashion and avoid causing someone grief just because they happened to be out of town the week the notice was sent.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
25 days ago

Well if you live in Michigan and ever wanted to put a Busso in the engine bay of a Spyder, now’s your chance.

67
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x