Landowners have asked Albany County Commissioners to step in over a dispute about whether A-1 Recovery and Towing can park a mass of towed cars on agricultural land directly east of the Cavalryman Steakhouse.
Just a few years ago, a view of open plains stretched out directly east of the Cavalryman, uninterrupted, for nearly a mile.
But in the past few years, A-1 Recovery and Towing has started parking abandoned vehicles on agricultural land, owned by A-1 owners Shane Swett and Nicole Candelaria, that lies directly east of the Cavalryman.
While the towing company’s practice has drawn the ire of some other businessmen, it’s a practice that Swett argues is both legal and inevitable because of Wyoming’s clunky towing laws.
At a September meeting of the Albany County Commissioners, Laramie businessman John Pope urged the commissioners to “enforce your zoning rules” and prevent A-1 Towing from parking abandoned cars on property that’s not zoned for commercial use.
Pope is the President and CEO of Blue Sky Group, an umbrella company for his numerous entrepreneurial ventures. His company purchased the restaurant in 2006, with the hope of preserving its legacy, he said.
“It’s been around a lot time, and it’s one of the last great historic steakhouses in Wyoming,” Pope told the commissioners. “We’ve committed to taking care of this. We’re trying to fix up, both inside and outside.”
Pope said A-1’s mass of abandoned vehicles is making that effort more difficult.
The steakhouse was constructed as the clubhouse for the Laramie Country Club in 1925 before being converted to a steakhouse a half-century later.
“We’ve had a lot of questions from our customers and we’ve seen an impact on our ability to get the financing that we need in order to fix (the Cavalryman) up,” Pope said.
Both he and Swett disagreed about whether the business’s operation is allowed by its current zoning.
“This is zoned agricultural, but this is a commercial activity of A-1 Towing,” Pope contended. “They’re storing and towing cars there and it’s clearly in violation of their zoning.”
Swett said state officials have already cleared the practice.
“It is zoned agriculture, and there’s nothing that says you can’t park cars out there,” he said. “I’ve already checked with the (Department of Environmental Quality) and the state inspector. We can park whatever we want out there as long as we’re not charging storage.”
While Pope and other detractors of A-1’s practice are looking for a government solution, Swett said the build-up of vehicles is a government-created problem.
A-1 tows vehicles at the request of governmental agencies, and some vehicle-owners may have no hope of recovering their property for a variety of issues, like a lack of insurance or other funds.
However, Swett said he can’t dispose of the vehicles without having possessing the title — which he said typically costs $1,000 to obtain.
The process of disposing of towed vehicles have been made more costly by 2015 legislative changes in the state, he said.
Considering state law has created procedures for the towing of vehicles by private businesses, Swett said the law needs to be changed to create an economically viable way for vehicles to be disposed of.
“When the patrol, the police department, the sheriff’s department, and the university, and the forest ranger — when they call for me to come do a tow, I go do it as my civic duty to the county,” Swett said. “There’s no guarantee that I can get paid. I don’t have $100,000 extra to drag these people into court so I can get a title, nor would I want to get (Judge Robert) Castor or (Judge Tori) Kricken’s court all tied up with all this stuff that nobody can pay. I do what I do for my community, and we try to be the best at what we do.”
Arvin Martinez, owner of ARW Auto Recycling, echoed that sentiment.
“Until the Wyoming law changes and titles aren’t going to cost us over $1,000, there’s no money in it for us,” Martinez said. “I hate to say this for all the Trump lovers in the world, but right now we’re in a world of hurt with metal prices.”
Other property developers and residents near Cavalryman also expressed their frustration at the county commission meeting.
John Evans, developer of a 75-site subdivision south of the property, said the vehicles also create an environmental concern.
“We don’t think that should be in a floodplain because that could wash a lot of things down the Laramie River,” he said.