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Fargo mayor to settle John's Repair shop dispute short of legal action

A public interest law firm that had taken up the cause of John's Repair shop and its owner, John Bultman, hailed Tuesday's decision as a victory.

020623.B.FF.REPAIRSHOP.2
John Bultman operates his vehicle repair shop out of his garage, as seen here on Feb. 6, 2023, at his north Fargo home.
Chris Flynn / The Forum

FARGO — The Fargo City Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 28, voted to authorize Mayor Tim Mahoney to negotiate a solution to a dispute with a northside auto repair shop that would preclude either side having to take legal action.

A public interest legal firm that had taken up the cause of John's Repair shop and its owner, John Bultman , hailed the decision as a victory.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Institute for Justice (IJ), of Arlington, Virginia, asserted that the City Commission's decision came in response to a letter the institute sent three weeks ago urging city officials to allow John's Repair to remain open.

The letter sent to city officials, dated Feb. 6, 2023, did not specifically threaten legal action, but such a step was implied with wording such as: "We have sued dozens of local governments for infringing on individuals' property rights, including through unreasonable and unfair zoning regulations."

Bultman had recently received notice from the city that his business near 12th Avenue and 11th Street North was operating in violation of city ordinances and was given until March 30 to shut down.

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On Tuesday, the City Commission met in executive session to discuss the possible legal repercussions of the IJ letter. When the board reconvened in open session, a vote was taken to allow the mayor to negotiate a settlement.

"We’re glad that city officials are now reconsidering their illegal and unconstitutional order to force Mr. Bultman to shut down,” said IJ Senior Attorney Erica Smith Ewing. "Stripping him of his grandfathered status would violate his constitutional rights and break Fargo’s own city ordinances," she added.

"I wish the city hadn’t made it necessary to get lawyers involved, but I am glad they now seem open to doing the right thing," the IJ statement quoted Bultman as saying.

Bultman, who has been operating John's Repair shop out of a garage near his home in north Fargo for 42 years, said the issue caused a lot of stress. "I’m 69 years old, I shouldn’t have to be worried about this right on the eve of my retirement," he said.

The shop's owner has maintained that his business was "grandfathered in" when zoning changes were made years ago. 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 now rents his former home and the unattached garage housing his shop.

The city said in a written statement issued earlier this year that as of November 2022, the property had violated the original terms of the agreement/special use permit the business had with the city in a number of ways, 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.

The situation that allowed for John's Repair to remain in operation has changed, according to a statement from the city, 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.

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Bultman said in early February that he had been willing to work with the city and shut down 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 said he decided he would stay indefinitely.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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