Saturday, January 16, 2021

A victim of too much success?

Pastor Adair with attorney Pat Neale. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Pastor Adair with attorney Pat Neale. SUBMITTED PHOTO

by Carol Glassman

The City of Marco’s Code Enforcement Board met Tuesday, September 11 at City Hall. Members present were: Dick Adams, Dawn Henderson, Phil Kostelnik, Rony Joel, Chairman Lou Prigge, and two new appointees, Debra Shanahan and Martin Roddy.

Debra Shanahan said she was encouraged to volunteer for the Code Board realizing there were openings and a lack of volunteers. She approached Councilman Frank Recker, she said, and volunteered to accept the appointment, “So that the city could get on with its business”. She said she hopes to bring her own knowledge of situations to help advise on cases.

Martin Roddy said he is an old friend of Councilman Kiester, and responded to his request to serve. Roddy said that with his scientific background, “I would study the data before me, listen to other Board members’ comments, and come to my own decision” on each case.

The city hall meeting room was filled with supporters of the United Church’s Bargain Basket retail outlet at 750 North Bald Eagle Drive and neighborhood business owners, upset by the parking and traffic problems its success seems to be causing.

Attorney Patrick Neale, representing the Church, first requested that all charges be dropped, using the doctrine of equitable estoppel (when there is a contract stating that it had been reviewed by the city’s staff and that the contract was proper: estoppel would be applied to estop the city from claiming the contract was invalid), and then argued that charges are unjust.

According to Code Compliance Supervisor Liz Carr, as she prepared to respond on behalf of the city to numerous parking and traffic complaints, a study of due diligence revealed the Bargain Basket lacked both an occupational license and a zoning certificate. According to Attorney Neale, the Bargain Basket has been in business for the last 37 years and has never been asked to produce these documents.

City attorney Burt Saunders, Code Board advisor, pointed out that as a non-profit religious organization, the Church could obtain the legal forms without cost.

Board member Richard Adams moved to deny the motion to dismiss, stating the Code Enforcement Board is not able to handle the legal issues; the Board voted 4 – 2 (Joel abstaining, conflict of interest) against dismissal of the charges, wanting to hear all details of the case.

Neale called upon Pastor Richard Adair who stated the Bargain Basket building, completely staffed by volunteers and purchased with funds donated by parishioners, represents the Church’s mission to donate all proceeds to the needy. Adair said that when the Church indicated it was intending to purchase the building for $1.1M, they tried to do everything properly up front, and no one from city staff ever indicated there would be a problem with not enough parking.

“When we purchased the building in 2010, the city said were were good to go, and parking was never mentioned,” Adair stated.

He said they cooperated in every way, making changes to the interior as directed by the Fire Marshal, and maintained the changes did not in any way increase their basic retail operating space that would require them to provide more parking spaces. They were given a CO (certificate of occupancy).

Beleaguered by parking and traffic problems that have been caused by their success in their new location, they have tried handing out printed information about approved parking to customers, renting a vacant lot until the increased cost didn’t justify it (over $1,000/month), asking volunteers to park at the church and driving them to the shop via a shuttle service.

Obviously frustrated, Adair asked the city if the Church purchased another lot and built on it, would they ever have a guarantee that somewhere down the road they wouldn’t be challenged once again about parking spaces.

When Attorney Saunders questioned Pastor Adair, several times Attorney Neale cautioned him that he was “wearing two hats”, telling him he should not cross examine witnesses if he represents the city. Although Saunders assured him he was representing the Code Board, Neale indicated to the court reporter transcribing the proceedings that Saunders is also the city’s attorney.

No one from the business community offered any comments or information.

The primary problem seems to be one of parking and safety issues caused by increased traffic and pedestrians in the area. As the city’s Zoning Administrator Joe Irvin explained, based on its square footage and use of the property, the code requires 24 parking spaces and there are only 14.

As possible solutions for the problem were suggested such as using a rear laneway or the city-owned right-of-way, Board Chairman Lou Prigge stated it is “not the Board’s job to solve the problem”, it is just to discuss compliance and see that it is met. The board recommended that the Church once more meet with appropriate city staff and formulate a plan that is legal and acceptable to all, by January 2, 2013. The situation will be recalled at the first meeting in January.

The next meeting of the Code Enforcement Board will be held on Tuesday, October 9 at 3 p.m. at City Hall chambers. The public is invited to attend.

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