Community Rallies Behind Van Ness Auto Repair

Fresno, California Rarely has an auto repair shop evoked the kind of emotion seen at Wednesday night's planning commission meeting. But Van Ness Auto Repair is a different breed. It's on the local register of historic resources. It's the oldest gas station in the state and Jim Clements says it maintains the spirit of the original business ... which his father Russ started back in the 1920's.

"If you want to see how Russ Clements' service station looked in 1935-36, you go by there today," said Clements.

It's just a repair shop now and it stands out as the only business in a quiet neighborhood. It's just blocks away from Christmas Tree Lane and the holiday decorations keep with the spirit of the neighborhood. But some neighbors say the shop violates the spirit just by doing business, and by parking cars on the street. They got the city to issue a conditional use permit three years ago.

"Yeah, they did (give him conditions) and he accepted them and yet he doesn't want to live by them," said Lloyd Evans, who lives across the street from the station.

Jim Medina has owned the shop for about ten years and he says he's tried to meet as many of the conditions as possible. But some, like building a four-foot fence in front of the business on Van Ness, just don't make sense to Medina.

"This conditional use permit that's on that property really makes it almost impossible to run my business," said Medina.

Medina has the support of many neighbors who credit him for turning a blighted building into a beautiful complement to their neighborhood. And he has support from Fresno history buffs as well.

"Do the right thing for these people," said Charles Barrett of Heritage Fresno. "They're here for Medina. They're here to keep that thing alive."

The city revoked Medina's business permit in October, but he's been able to stay open while appealing the decision. If he doesn't win the appeal, he'll have to close the shop immediately.

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