Car collector Dana Jones urges the Natrona County Commission on Tuesday to approve his request for a conditional use permit for an auto recycling center west of Casper.
Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

Years of some forward, a lot of reverse, an occasional neutral, and not a few fender-bending ego bruises cruised to a relatively happy park Tuesday with car collector Dana Jones receiving a permit from the Natrona County Commission for an auto reduction and recycling center west of Casper.

The five-member commission voted 4-1 to grant Jones a conditional use permit for the center on a six-acre plot on his 50-acre property just east of Natrona and just south of U.S. 20-26.

"The two issues that we dealt with with Dana Jones are resolved with the contingency that a conditional use permit is a permit that has restrictions on it," Commission Chairman Bill McDowell said after the two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the old courthouse.

Jones and his wife Judy, who own a fuel-hauling company, had been locked in a code enforcement and property rights dispute with the county for years over whether he was allowed to keep hundreds of old cars, trucks and other vehicles on his properties on North Eight Mile Road near Mills and near Natrona.

District Court Judge Thomas Sullins ruled in January on a civil suit Jones brought against the county that state law allowed him to keep vehicles older than 25 years on his North Eight Mile Road property. Jones said Tuesday that the county's criminal case against him over code violations ended now that he had obtained the conditional use permit for the other property.

But the permit didn't come without the final, critical skirmish Tuesday evening.

Commissioners expressed concerns over whether Jones' scores of vehicles would be adequately screened from view from the highway, and whether the permit might lead to other, bigger industrial operations in rural Natrona County.

Jones, his attorney Harry Bondi, and  a group of supporters testifying during the public hearing fielded questions from the commissioners about cleaning a nearby creek where cars had been put decades before Jones bought the place, and removing any vehicles not adequately kept from view.

"We need to do whatever we need to do to make it work," Jones said.

The size of the containment area had been reduced from 18 acres as approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission on March 17. That commission's department already had vetted the Jones' request and determined it met the requirements for a conditional use permit to not overburden county resources, not cause environmental problems, not impair the use of adjacent properties, and not hurt public health and safety.

The Planning Department had received six letters from neighbors opposing Jones' project, but none of those critics attended the meeting.

However, neighbor Tami Larsen told commissioners she supported Jones' plans.

Others came to Jones' defense, including local car restorers who would use parts or vehicles from Jones' collection.

"We need this," said Scott Clamp of Mills. "This is highly valuable."

Commissioners Terry Wingerter and Matt Keating supported the permit request from the outset.

Commissioner Rob Hendry had his doubts because of some neighbors' concerns, but was impressed that Larsen supported Jones.

Commissioner Forrest Chadwick flatly objected to the permit request, saying itwould open the door to industrial operations in rural areas.

McDowell voiced the same doubt until commissioners approved a motion insisting Jones screen the majority of vehicles from view. "This will not be as big an impact as it would have been had it been delivered through the planning and Zoning process."