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A photo of the infamous sign at Van Gelder’s office on Elm Street.(Megan Glenn/ News and Times)

A public hearing held at the July 22 Norwood Young America city council saw sizable involvement from the community. The hearing pertained to a zoning violation at a business located on Elm Street, but it was the owner’s response to being served with the violation that received more attention at the hearing.

The business owner, Mark Van Gelder, received a zoning violation back in May for two trailers parked outside of his building, as they were considered outdoor storage by the city - which is not permissible under city code. Van Gelder requested a hearing before the council, which would allow the council to examine the evidence and make certain that a violation had occurred at the property.

City Administrator Steve Helget reported to the council that he had no knowledge if there was business operating out of the building, and that the trailers rarely moved. Based on that, a notification letter was sent to Van Gelder from the city.

Van Gelder argued that he invited Helget into the business to see that the inside was indeed an office. Van Gelder, who owns a courier business and is often driving out of town, stated that while he isn’t usually in his office on weekdays, he’s in on weekends - which means the space is in use.

“There’s nothing that says a building needs to be occupied 24/7 for it to be retail, there’s nothing that says you need to be here five days a week for it to be office,” said Van Gelder. “There’s nothing like that.”

Because the building is a commercial space, according to Van Gelder, that means the trailers are parked acceptably, as their space would be considered off-street parking. The trailers don’t apply as storage, according to Van Gelder, because they are movable and not for sale or rent, which is what defines storage space in city code.

As such, he argued that he is not in violation of zoning codes for the city of NYA.

What took over the public comment portion of the hearing, though, wasn’t the placement of the trailers, but a banner Van Gelder had placed in the window of his office. The banner shows an upside down United States flag, (which is a sign of distress under U.S. Code) as well as a large middle finger with “Steven Helget, City Harasser” and Helget’s city phone number written on it.

“I have a banner being printed in inspiration from you guys saying, ‘You can all get [expletive],” said Van Gelder. “As an inspiration, I’m thinking retail.”

Many in the community, including a worker from The Quilting Grounds, expressed distaste with the banner, as it’s bringing in complaints from the community and visitors. The sign is directly across from The Quilting Grounds, meaning it’s also in full view of any patrons.

A few also argued that because the signs have nothing to do with the ordinance itself, the signs shouldn’t even be put up.

“It is just really so disgusting,” said one resident. “I believe this is a nice, quaint, beautiful community with lots of potential for positive growth. and this is completely opposite that and destructive, and is not the way that you handle things as adults.”

The council reiterated at the hearing that the signs were not the specific issue, since the hearing was regarding a possible zoning violation.

Once all public comments were complete, the council began their discussion. The city attorney stated that no additional evidence was presented for Van Gelder’s appeal. The attorney also pointed out that the trailers are being used as storage as they are holding goods.

The city council agreed with the city attorney, reasoning that the off street parking would be used more for people visiting businesses around town, not just for trailers to be off the street. Many of the councilmembers also expressed that they never have seen activity at the building, and all agreed that they haven’t seen movement from the trailers aside from moving them for the Art Fair.

Van Gelder returned to the podium to argue that he didn’t submit evidence for two reasons. The first being he didn’t receive the letter regarding the hearing until two days before he was required to submit evidence. The second was he didn’t feel comfortable submitting some of the information as he didn’t want it to be public record, such as his travell records for work.

He also said that he would be happy to file the evidence if it doesn’t become public record. Mayor Carol Lagergren stated that as a city council, all records would have to be public. Van Gelder then asked that if the vote could be extended, if he could redact the sensitive parts of his records.

The council moved to make a motion to either sustain or dismiss the violation. Councilmember Mike McPadden moved to sustain the violation for the reasons discussed by the council. Councilmember Charlie Storms seconded the motion.

The council unanimously passed to sustain the violation. What this means for the banners remains to be seen.

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