The clock is ticking for a small Manistee County business whose parking lot has become the centerpiece of a property dispute with the Michigan Department of Transportation.
MDOT says that part of Brian's Auto Parts' parking lot, and some of the things that are for sale on it are a hazard to drivers and that the business is trespassing on their "right of way zone."
"The concern is this encroachment within the clear zone of the highway and this is an area we maintain free of obstructions so that motorists can see," said MDOT Communications Representative, James Lake.
Owner of Brian's Auto Parts, Brian McLaughlin, says he started receiving letters from MDOT 18 months ago. In the beginning, they said the business was in violation of three different civil infractions. After discussing those violations with McLaughlin, MDOT officials later found that they were invalid but still pursued the "right of way" violation.
MDOT representatives said the discussion began when they noticed that the parking lot was expanding.
"They were driving by and they saw where we added on to our parking lot with gravel and that's false," said McLaughlin. "We didn't add on anything. We just repaired what was there and that area that they're talking about has been the exact same way it is now since 1956."
McLaughlin has owned the business for almost 14-years and says he was never informed of a problem before. He says part of the building has been there since the 1930's.
The two sides discussed many options for how to resolve the issue so that the impact on the business could be minimal. McLaughlin says he thought they had reached an agreement to put a curb in place that would push back the parking lot by a few feet, but that a few months later they received papers that MDOT wanted to take the issue to court.
"We did not reach an agreement," said Lake.
On March 11, 2014, a Manistee judge ruled that Brian's Auto Parts excavate the entire portion of their parking lot that is in violation by April 1 at their own expense.
"We compromised with them," said McLaughlin. "We've worked back and forth with them. We've worked our way through numerous things along the way and came to an agreement to the best of my knowledge a while back and they're not abiding by that at all."
McLaughlin says downsizing the already full parking lot will force him to lose a driveway off of the highway and his used car sales that make up about 1/5 of his business. He says the parking lot is already full of cars that are either waiting to be repaired, or have parts that are available for sale and that his customers alone have very limited parking space.
"Makes everybody suffer all the way around," said McLaughlin. "We're working on a skeleton crew as it is just baring the financial burden of the litigations over the last 18 months."
"We've been very supportive of industry and business in Michigan," said Lake. "That's one of our primary goals is to encourage and support commerce in Michigan but unfortunately in this case we have a safety issue and it's a safety issue we can't ignore."
McLaughlin says he is working with his attorney on his options to file for an appeal by Tuesday. He says it's questionable whether or not MDOT has jurisdiction over the property in question because there are documents from 1954 that he says say otherwise.