A proposal to change Killeen’s law on storing junked vehicles has provoked a debate on the Killeen City Council over how to best clean up the city.
The state defines junked vehicles as vehicles that have either an expired license plate or inspection sticker, and are either wrecked, dismantled or inoperable.
Junked vehicles cannot be kept on public property for more than 72 hours and on private property for more than 30 consecutive days, according to present municipal law.
Exceptions are made for locations, including classic car collectors, licensed vehicle dealers and licensed junk yards, where the vehicles must be kept behind a fence or out of public view.
City staff has proposed to open the law to allow vehicle repair shops to store junked vehicles — many of which already do.
The city’s current law does not allow junked vehicles to be stored at repair shops,;however, the Killeen Planning Department believes the change would encourage shops to put junked vehicles out of sight.
“Staff is working on the premise of improving the appearance of the city,” said Ray Shanaa, the city’s planning director, during Tuesday’s council workshop.
“If you can have them hidden behind a fence, is that going to improve the appearance of the city? The staff believes it does.”
Mayor Dan Corbin — who has led the march on cleaning up the city’s image — supported the change, arguing that mechanic shops often need more than 30 days to bring a vehicle up to operable condition.
The proposal met strong disapproval from Councilmen Terry Clark and Jonathan Okray, who thought it would lead to more unsightly mechanic shops in Killeen.
“We talk in one meeting about cleaning up the city’s image but then we come back later and say, ‘Well, somebody can’t afford to get their car fixed so I guess we allow repair shops to become junk yards,’” Clark said.
“Do we want to clean up the city’s image or do we want to soften our ordinances in such a way to create more urban blight.”
Shanaa argued that if the junked vehicle is behind a fence or inside of a building, no one will be able to see it.
“The premise here is improving the appearance of the city. Appearance is what we can see from the street,” Shanaa said.
Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Blackstone said junked vehicles leaking oil and other chemicals under the fences could have environmental effects.
“I think we have to account for those effects,” Blackstone said. “That junk is getting into our water system.”
Corbin said the idea of mechanic shops becoming junk yards as a result of the amendment was a “ridiculous notion.”
“We have dozens of auto repair shops in this city, many of which take more than 30 days to repair a vehicle, for whatever reason, waiting on parts or the customer to pay,” Corbin said.
“We are suggesting that these people who are in the business of repairing cars can’t keep vehicles on their premises until they get them repaired, when it takes more than 30 days. What is this council thinking? It’s ridiculous.”
Councilman Jose Segarra agreed with the mayor, arguing that vehicles arrive at body shops in very bad shape.
“You have to have at least a fenced-in area where they can keep the car until they get some of your parts,” Segarra said. “A body shop is one of those places because they look like junk.”