MONMOUTH — The town’s clash with a Back Street property owner over what it describes as an illegal junkyard appears headed to court.

Town Manager Curtis Lunt met with the property owner, David Mihalik, last week in what Lunt believes was a last-ditch effort to avoid litigation.

Lunt said that effort failed when Mihalik, who denies he is operating a junkyard, refused to submit a plan for removing the cars.

“We’re not anxious to take people to court, but the state law is pretty clear,” Lunt said.

Mihalik, who said the town has singled him out for prosecution as part of a long-standing conflict with officials, says the state’s junk yard laws don’t apply to most of his vehicles, which he says are exempt.

“He wants me to get rid of everything,” Mihalik said after the meeting with Lunt. “I have vehicles here that are in extremely nice condition. I can tell you right now I ain’t getting rid of these cars, come hell or high water.”

The dispute started this spring when town Code Enforcement Officer David Shaw notified Mihalik that he was operating an automobile graveyard and a junkyard without a permit. An automobile graveyard, according to state law, is an outdoor area used to store three or more unregistered or uninspected vehicles. A junkyard is defined as an outdoor area used to store or dismantle worn out equipment or waste material.

At a hearing before the town’s board of appeals in June, Mihalik’s appeal was overturned 5-0.

According to official findings of that meeting, Mihalik provided an inventory that included more than 30 vehicles on his property at 17 Back St., which is just a few hundred feet off U.S. Route 202. Mihalik testified that 17 of the vehicles were uninspected and unregistered.

Mihalik said two buses on his property ran, but were not inspected or registered, and were being used for storage. He said several semi-tractors were not registered or inspected, though most were being used for parts.

Mihalik included in his inventory a list of what he described as vintage cars, at least one of which was for sale. One of the vehicles, a 1977 Ford three-ton truck, had been used in a truck pull competition.

“Mr. Mihalik testified that none of the other so-called vintage cars had been utilized in any exhibitions, club activities, parades or other functions of public interest,” appeals board members wrote. “The vehicles were also not substantially maintained in original or restored condition primarily for use in exhibitions, club activities, parades or other functions of public interest.”

Mihalik, who is going through bankruptcy after losing his trucking business in 2008, said he hoped to begin using the vehicles once his economic situation improved.

“He could not state a date by which he could accomplish that,” board members wrote.

Mihalik acknowledged this week that four vehicles, including a 1996 Cadillac he described as showroom condition, meet the state’s threshold for a graveyard because they are neither registered nor insured. The remaining vehicles all are important to his trucking business, are farming equipment or are collector vehicles, making them exempt from state law.

“I just collect cars. It’s what I do,” Mihalik said. “It’s almost like you don’t have any rights in this country anymore.”

Mihalik said he has been told by his bankruptcy attorney that he cannot get rid of any of the cars on his property until the case has been settled in court.

“I’m doing everything in my power to do what’s right here,” he said.

Mihalik said he and town officials have a long-standing dispute that dates to when he ran a large trucking business and his wife ran a daycare center on the property. He believes the town is singling him out while ignoring other property in the area that could qualify as a junkyard.

“I have 72 pictures, all of properties within three miles,” he said. “All are worse than mine. The town knows they’re breaking the law coming after me.”

Lunt said there is not a concerted effort to single out Mihalik or junkyards in general. The town most recently went to court to address junkyard issues in 2009 and 2010. In each case the judge found in favor of the town, which was subsequently able to work out an agreement with the landowner.

The town inspects property that is noticeable from the road and follows up on complaints, Lunt said. “We’ve had complaints on this one,” he said.

Lunt said the town is willing to give Mihalik time to remove the vehicles. He doesn’t believe Mihalik would be eligible for a junkyard permit.

“Most people in that situation want to work out a schedule,” Lunt said. “If he thinks we’re harassing him, that’s not our objective.”

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