John's Repair shop fighting Fargo City Hall to remain open
John Bultman recently received notice from the city of Fargo that the business he has operated for 42 years violates city ordinances and he was given until March 30 to shut down.
FARGO — John Bultman has been operating an auto repair business out of a garage in north Fargo for 42 years and he wants to keep doing that for the foreseeable future.
However, Bultman recently received notice from the city of Fargo that his business near 12th Avenue and 11th Street North is operating in violation of city ordinances and he has been given until March 30 to shut down his shop.
Bultman maintains that John's Repair shop, which was also known as Bass Auto when Bultman was also in the business of selling cars, was "grandfathered in" when zoning changes were made years ago and he said that still holds true, even though he recently sold the garage that houses the shop, along with the nearby home he lives in and several other homes/rental properties he owned in the neighborhood.
Bultman, who now rents his former home and the unattached garage housing his shop, said he was willing to work with the city and shutdown the business when he turns 70 in August, but when he was informed by the city that he had to leave at the end of March he decided he would stay indefinitely.
The city said in a statement that as of November 2022 the property has violated the original terms of the agreement/special use permit the business had with the city, including:
- Junk vehicles are being stored at the address
- The properties are now rentals and fall under the city's rental program, which lists junk vehicles as a violation of city ordinance
- Things are happening outside the garage, which the city maintains violates its special use permit, which it also maintains is no longer valid
- Vehicles are routinely in the alley right of way
According to the statement released by the city, the situation that allowed for John's Repair to remain in operation has changed and the location went from being a "legal non-conforming land use" to a violation and departure from the original agreement Bultman had with the city.
The current situation continues to violate planning department and building inspections code ordinances, as well as the the shop's original special use permit, the statement added.
The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit public interest law firm, recently took up Bultman's cause and sent a letter to the city warning city officials to stop their effort to shut the vehicle repair shop down.
The city's actions violate both the North Dakota Constitution and the city’s own ordinances, according to Erica Smith Ewing, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice who is the letter’s author.
"Fargo’s own laws make it clear that grandfathered status is tied to the property, not the owner. The fact that this property is now owned by a different person doesn’t change the nature of the business being run there, and the city’s explanations for shutting it down make no sense," Ewing said in her letter to the city.
She added the city offered Bultman no opportunity to appeal the decision and warned that if he continues operating after the March 30 deadline, he will face daily fines of $1,000 and possible legal action.
Bultman said he still puts in long days and enjoys meeting new customers, though he added he has slowed down a little bit since the 1990s, when a customer accidentally ran him over and caused a knee injury that resulted in more than a dozen operations.
He figures he's met thousands of people over the years who came to him with vehicle problems.
"Treat people fair, you're always going to have work," he said.