Cars parked in driveway are public safety hazard, MN court says

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What we have here is a public safety problem, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled.

A Minnesota law requiring collector cars to be “screened” from public view has survived a challenge from a Cleveland Avenue, St. Paul man who buried two of them under tarps.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today that neither the tarps nor the fence that John Krenik built to screen the cars from an unhappy neighbor, satisfied the language of the state law, which says:

Pioneer, classic, collector vehicles, collector military vehicles, or street rods, licensed or unlicensed, operable or inoperable, may be stored in compliance with local government zoning and ordinances on their owners’ property, provided that the vehicles and any outdoor storage areas they may require are maintained in such a manner that they do not constitute a health or environmental hazard and are screened from ordinary public view by means of a fence, shrubbery, rapidly growing trees or other appropriate means. The appropriate local agency or authority may inform an owner of the owner’s failure to comply with these requirements, and may order the vehicles removed from the outdoor storage area if the owner fails to comply with these requirements within 20 days after the warning

Someone complained about Krenik’s two cars at his home on Cleveland Avenue so, after a warning from a city inspector, Krenik built a fence to “screen” the vehicles.

But, the roof of the car was still visible from next door, so City Council ruled him in violation.

Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, saying if people can tell there’s a car there, it’s not screened.

“The city argues that the vehicles’ presence must be hidden from ordinary public view, or in other words, that Krenik’s efforts are insufficient because a person could tell that cars are located under the tarps and behind the fence,” Judge Rene Worke wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel. “Krenik argues that the vehicles must be screened so that a person cannot see the condition of the vehicles and, thus, cannot tell whether the vehicles are “junk” cars. Both interpretations are reasonable; thus, the statute is ambiguous.”

But Judge Worke concluded that the condition of vehicles in a driveway doesn’t matter, one of the few times the beauty of a Model T was invoked in a decision from the Court of Appeals.

Moreover, Krenik’s claim that the legislature enacted section 168.10, subdivision 1e, solely for aesthetic purposes is unpersuasive in light of the scope of the statute. Krenik argues that in enacting the statute, the sole “mischief to be remedied” is hiding the appearance of an unsightly collector vehicle. See Minn. Stat. § 645.16(3). Such an interpretation, however, is unreasonable because the statute also encompasses vehicles that do not create an “eyesore,” such as a well-maintained Ford Model T registered as a pioneer vehicle.

The law is as much about public safety as aesthetics, she concluded. Having the cars out in the open could lead to vandalism. And she noted that because junk yards must be screened from highways because they could distract drivers, the two cars could also pose a distraction.