Property owner ordered to remove junk by April 5

Joyce F. Nowell Gannett reporter

Decrying the legal action against him as a "hate crime," a Greencastle man was found in contempt of an order to remove junk from his borough property during a hearing Thursday in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.

John T. Conrad III also was ordered to pay a hefty fine and part of the attorney's fees incurred by the Borough of Greencastle during a four-year legal battle in the zoning violation case.

Judge Todd Sponseller heard an hour of testimony and attorney arguments before taking a half-hour break and then rendering his decision. 

The judge gave Conrad 45 days, until April 5, to remove the junk.

Sponseller also assessed a $8,960 civil penalty, which, by law, could have been as high as $112,000 under provisions allowing a $500-per-day penalty for not complying with the order to remove the junk.

Conrad also was ordered to pay a portion of the $28,293.43 in Greencastle's legal fees related to the case.

A final figure, which will be based on attorney costs since the first judgment of violation, wasn't determined Thursday.

Since Greencastle filed the zoning infraction in spring 2016, courts at several levels have found Conrad in violation of using three West Franklin Street properties and one on Spruce Lane as junkyards. The properties are adjoining.

In August 2019, Greencastle gave Conrad 30 days to comply. Conrad appealed on the final day of that span to trigger Thursday's hearing.

Scott Arnoult, Conrad's attorney, argued that Conrad has started to comply.

"They are moving the vehicles and will finish in time," Arnoult said.

Zach Rice, Greencastle's attorney, presented evidence he believed showed continuing violations on the properties, including two buses filled with chairs and other items.

Rice indicated willingness to compromise on fees and fines, and agreed to one more time extension for compliance.

"We just want the things moved," he said.

Conrad has countered in court documents that he has sold, repaired and towed vehicles as a business venture since the 1950s and his business predates the enactment of zoning ordinances in the borough.

The 77-year-old man took the stand Thursday and repeated several times, "This is a hate crime against me. I know it is."

At one point, Sponseller ordered the statement stricken from the record.

Conrad contended he was told years ago that his auto-repair enterprise was "grandfathered" in and allowed in the borough.

Conrad said he has suffered health issues recently, but his sons have removed six vehicles from the property.

"They said, 'Dad, we don't want to see you lose any of your antiques,'" he said. "I'm not able to help."

Sponseller's order provides for Greencastle to remove and dispose of the junk if it is not completed by April 5, and also to recoup costs from the property owner.

Arnoult said after the hearing that he will discuss with Conrad what their next action will be. The hope is to comply.

"We'll try," he said.