AUBURN — RM Auctions says it is committed to continuing its giant collector-car auctions in Auburn twice each year.
The assurance comes after this week’s apparent collapse of a proposal to sell Auburn Auction Park, where the auctions take place, and lease it for use by RM Auctions on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
The auctions draw hundreds of thousands of people to Auburn. The Labor Day weekend sale takes place during the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival, helping to make the festival one of Indiana’s largest tourist events.
This week the Auburn Board of Zoning Appeals denied a special exception that would have allowed the sale of semi trucks and trailers at the auction park.
The denial appeared to squash plans for Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction to buy the 150-acre property south of Auburn on C.R. 11-A near Interstate 69.
With the zoning denial, the potential buyers would “walk away, and we would move somewhere else,” Carl Miskotten, a partner in Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction, told the board in a hearing at City Hall. The company sells semis at one-third of its auctions.
Miskotten said the purchase offer included a five-year lease for RM Auctions to use the park for its auctions, with a renewal option for five more years.
“I don’t think you can guarantee next Labor Day if I’m not in the picture,” Miskotten told the zoning board about the future of the auctions.
In response, RM issued this statement Friday:
“RM Auctions would like to clarify that we are committed to continuing to hold collector car auctions at the Auburn Action Park and we look forward to continuing the great, 49-year Labor Day weekend tradition that is Auburn Fall,” the statement began.
It continued, “RM Auctions views the potential sale and subsequent lease-back of the Auction Park as an opportunity for further economic growth in the Auburn region, as we currently use the Auction Park for a mere two weeks per year. The agreement we have explored has stipulated RM Auctions’ continued use of the Auction Park for our well-established collector car auctions. RM Auctions has no plans to discontinue our collector car sales at the Auburn Auction Park.”
Answering a question during the zoning hearing, Miskotten said RM Auctions leases the sites for all of its auctions except Auburn. A spokesperson for RM Auctions confirmed that is true.
“Part of our agreeing on buying it is that Rob (Myers) can continue what he does now,” Miskotten said about the founder of RM Auctions.
Miskotten said Myers has “mentioned that it cost them $56,000 to mow the lawn last year, and he’d like that to be somebody else’s responsibility” at the Auburn property.
Questions about the site’s future hung over Wednesday night’s zoning hearing.
“I’m concerned that if we don’t grant this, it’s going to be sold, and something will come in there that is not related to the auction at all,” zoning board Chairman Pete Kempf said during Wednesday’s discussion. Kempf cast the only vote against the motion to deny truck sales, which passed 3-1.
“Without them, what are the chances the classic car auction would continue?” Stephen Brown asked the board. He said his company, which is developing the upscale Heron Lakes subdivision nearby, supported Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction purchasing the auction park.
Brown said clearly the auction park seemed to be for sale, and its current zoning would allow a variety of other uses.
“If the auction park is allowed to expire … the use of that ground is going to change, and it’s going to change drastically,” Brown predicted.
“If it is up for sale, and people want to continue the car auction, where else would the classic car auction be held other than that site?” Brown asked.
“We would welcome this type of a user at this location, because it does preserve the car auction,” Brown said about Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction.
Miskotten raised the possibility that if his company did not buy the auction park, the property’s zoning could allow other uses that Auburn residents might find undesirable. He said a recycling collection point, a gasoline station or even an adult store might take over the site.
It “would take some analysis to see if a sexually oriented business would be permitted at the site,” responded Amy Schweitzer, director of the Auburn Department of Building, Planning and Development.
Friday, Schweitzer said she had concluded the property would not be eligible for a sexually oriented business, which must be 1,000 feet from a residential use.
“Do we want to make that gateway look industrial? To me, that’s the question,” said Mary Hohler, a zoning board member who voted against allowing truck sales. She said the auction park serves as the south gateway to Auburn.
Miskotten seemed to question the city’s consistency in worrying about the sight of semi trucks. He said approximately 20 semi trailers are parked across from the street from the Auburn Water Pollution Control plant at the south edge of the city.
The city’s first hearing on the proposed sale of semi trucks at the auction park took place Aug. 27. At that hearing, Hohler asked to postpone any decision for a week and encouraged her fellow board members to visit Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction’s existing operation at 3600 E. Washington Blvd., Fort Wayne.
Kempf said he visited the business, and he spoke positively about it at Wednesday’s hearing.
Board member Don Myers said he talked to neighbors of the business, who told him they were unhappy about the appearance of the Fort Wayne site.
“I don’t want to bring something like that into this neighborhood,” Myers concluded.
Board member Dave Schlemmer joined Myers and Hohler in voting against truck sales at the auction park. Schlemmer said he weighs the opinions of neighbors heavily in making zoning decisions.
Two neighbors of the auction park spoke in opposition to truck sales at Wednesday’s hearing. Doris Blickenstaff said she also visited the Fort Wayne site and came away “disappointed in the fact that it was so grossly different than we had been led to believe.” She said she counted 150 semis on the property on a day when no auction was being conducted.
Mark McCullough said he was impressed by the company’s pledge to plant trees screening neighbors’ view of the property and to keep truck traffic off C.R. 23 along the auction park’s east side.
However, McCullough said his chief worry is that trucks would cause contaminated runoff into neighbors’ water wells. He called it “an environmental disaster waiting to happen.”
The auction park lies south of Auburn’s city limits, but the city controls zoning because the site is within its extra-territorial jurisdiction.
Dean V. Kruse of Auburn opened the auction park in 1989 and sold it to RM Auctions in 2010.
When Kruse built a museum on the west side of Interstate 69, the auction park eventually became part of the Kruse Museum Area, Auction Park, and Adjacent Properties Planned Unit Development District.
The district on both sides of I-69 exit 326 is zoned as a C2 General Commercial District, which permits dozens of potential uses. Its designation as a planned unit development also allows uses not normally associated with C2, according to a city report.
Additional permitted uses for the auction park are:
• general retail sales, including small shopping centers of 50,000 square feet or less; and
• automotive service or automotive-related businesses, such as auto sales, car auction sales, car wash, auto repair and service shop, auto parts sales, motorcycle or bicycle shop, outdoor automobile exhibition area, automobile road course/track with condo garages, travel plaza and service or visitor center, convenience stores and fueling stations.
However, the standards for a general commercial district required Fort Wayne Auto Truck Auction to obtain a special zoning exception for sales of semi tractors and trailers on the site.