NEW BUFFALO — If Jim Corwin had collected antiques or art or even comic books, who knows what might have been.
But it was used Volvos that the New Buffalo Township resident chose to accumulate, as a car dealer, mechanic and auto salvager who specialized in the popular Swedish brand.
And that was his undoing.
At one point Corwin had as many as 225 Volvos on the 10-acre property at 19267 West U.S. 12 that he co-owns with a sister — too many, as far as township authorities were concerned.
In their view, the property had become an eyesore, and it detracted from the desired image of the area as an inviting tourist destination.
Corwin dismisses both assertions. “If you don’t like how it looks,” he says of the property, “don’t look at it.”
As for it marring the area’s image, Corwin counters that many of his Volvo customers are first-time visitors to the area who would never have come to Harbor Country were it not for his car business.
“A couple of them liked the area so much that they ended up buying property here,” he said.
It was in either 2004 or 2005 — Corwin could’t recall exactly when he spoke to the News earlier this week — that the attempts to get him to tidy up his property began in earnest. He resisted at first, but like many efforts to battle “city hall” (in this case, New Buffalo Township Hall) it ended with Corwin being cited, fined and even jailed at one point for his lack of cooperation in the effort.
Not that any of that changed his view of his predicament. Then, as now, Corwin sees his persecution as nothing more than a sinister attempt to drive him and his family from the property so it can be snapped up by speculators for a fraction of its value.
“Somebody wants this property real bad,” he said, citing his and his sister’s 550 feet of frontage on U.S. 12 as one possible incentive.
“They’re not just trying to put me out of business,” he added. “They want to get my property on back taxes so one of their rich attorney friends or somebody else they’re connected with can buy it at a tax auction. It’s disgusting.”
The wheels of justice may indeed turn slowly, as the saying goes, but, after years of court battles and confrontation, they finally rolled up to Corwin’s property on Aug. 16.
That’s when township Zoning Enforcement Officer Dennis Buller, accompanied by six employees from Randy’s Recycling of Eau Claire, arrived to remove the last of the autos — at least 30 of them — from the property. It took a day and a half to complete the job, a privilege for which the recyclers paid the township $22,320. After the township’s expenses have been satisfied, whatever remains will be handed to Corwin.
According to the Volvo enthusiast, the only cars that were allowed to remain on the property were a handful that were operable mechanically and had functioning headlights. Those are the cars that are parked on the western edge of the property, along U.S. 12.
Corwin said he was able to remove more than a hundred vehicles from his property over the last eight months, most as scrap but a portion of them sold as parts vehicles or as collector cars.
“Those are worth a lot more than scrap,” he said.
So is the Corwin saga, long a thorn in the side township officials, finally over?
According to Corwin, no.
“They’ve taken my livelihood away from me. Now they’re saying I can’t work on cars outdoors, that I can only work on them inside a garage or covered building. Can you believe that?”