Monday, October 10, 2005

Zoning Enforcement Update II: 351 Summit Avenue

I posted here and here about an illegal junkyard that has grown like a nasty, cancerous mole near my neighborhood. Here's what it looks like today, October 10, 2005:

Taking Anna's advice, on August 29th I wrote to the city's zoning enforcement chief, Bill Ruska, with my opinion that there was no way under the zoning ordinance that this junkyard could be made legal, since the ordinance specifies that no junked vehicles may be visible from any street, and even a 30-foot fence wouldn't hide them from the Fisher Avenue bridge (as the photo below shows).

I told him that I might post his response.

Bill wrote me back on September 8:

David, we are finally approaching a resolution of this matter. Mr. Gerald Petty who leases the property from Hugh Sarvis has a business license to operate an auto towing and storage service on this lot. Such a use is allowed in a GB zoning district subject to certain development standards. One of these standards is that no more than 20 vehicles may be stored on the premises at any one time. Also, the automotive storage area must be surrounded by a minimum 6-foot high opaque fence.

With the recent installation of the new opaque fencing, we feel that the intent of the development standard has been achieved. Ron Fields has been working with the Pettys to get the inoperable motor vehicles removed from the property. Ten inoperable vehicles have been identified as ones which must be removed from the property and the Pettys understand that the total number of vehicles must be reduced to 20. Ron will re-inspect the property no later than the end of October to insure that compliance with the ordinance has been achieved.

I was a little surprised at this answer, because earlier e-mails from a zoning enforcement officer indicated that the property was being used for the storage of junked vehicles -- but now the city considers it to be a "towing and storage service." The zoning standard for this kind of business does not require that the vehicles be totally screened, only that they be surrounded by a fence.

That is, the requirements for screening had been lowered by fiat.

However, as you can see from the photo, there are still plenty of inoperable (that is, "junked") vehicles on the property. Will they be removed by the end of October? Call me a cynical pessimist, but I very much doubt it.

Nor will anything much happen after that, I expect. A junkyard it was, a junkyard it remains, and a junkyard it probably will be for some time to come, whatever the city calls it.

Bill Ruska told me in a subsequent conversation that the city has only two zoning enforcement officers in the whole city to handle this kind of thing. That means there will be no aggressive enforcement of the ordinance in this case. One case he mentioned took ten years to resolve.

This is only one of countless such cases where frustrated property owners are unable to get relief from violators through city ordinance enforcement. Part of the problem is that the ordinances are often weak, and part of the problem is that enforcement of them is feebly supported by elected officials.

The result?

People who can afford it tend to leave older neighborhoods for places where they are protected by homeowners' associations and restrictive covenants, which are often more powerful and effective than the city at maintaining property standards.

People who can't afford to leave have their once-decent neighborhoods eroded by predatory landowners, weak enforcement, and the draining away of social capital.

That is, "For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath."

Nihil sub sole novum.

8 comments:

jsykes said...

Nulla regula sine exceptione.

(I don't speak Latin, but that seemed appropriate.)

We face the same issue in Reidsville where they cut the inspections department by refusing to fill a vacancy created by retirement. So we now have only two in inspections, both dedicated to new construction inspection, and they refuse to make ordinance enforcement a priority.

Looks like only political pressure will carry the day in your case. Does a city councilperson live in your neighborhood? ;)

David Wharton said...

Not yet.

diane said...

David,
I have lived in a downtown neighborhood since 1971.
Don't forget me when you vote.
diane davis

David Boyd said...

Thanks for the link on the latin. That is so not pretentious.

Anonymous said...

Have you actually started these vehicles yourself to determine that they are inoperable. It looks like a towing/storage lot to me. Unless i personally start or try to drive a vehicle, that is when I will be able to tell if its junk or inoperable. Never by a guess

David Wharton said...

Anon, you'll notice that this post is two years old. At the time of the post, the zoning enforcement officer had determined that a number of the cars were in fact junked.

But the lot is now used for a different, legal purpose -- there's a small repair shop on it.

Anonymous said...

MR. WHARTON,
SINCE YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO WITH YOUR TIME THAN RIDE AROUND TOWN ALL DAY TRYING TO PUT HONEST HARD WROKING PEOPLE OUT OF BUSINESS, I THINK I HAVE A SOLUTION FOR YOU. YOU SHOULD CONSIDER GOING TO NEW ORLEANS AND WORKING FOR HABITAT FOR HUMANITY TO HELP THOSE WHO REALLY NEED THE HELP. BETTER YET YOU COULD GO TO CALIFORNIA AND HELP THOSE REBUILD FROM THE DEVESTATION FROM THE FIRES THAT OCCURED. I THINK YOU NEED TO SPEND YOUR TIME MORE WISELY IN THE COMMUNITY AND HELP THOSE WHO REALLY NEED HELPING AND NOT JUST THINK OF YOURSELF. THANK YOU,
BETTY GAULDIN

David Wharton said...

Thanks for the advice, Ms. Gaudlin.

Although I sometimes do ride around town, this particular property is only one block from my house.

I wasn't trying to put anyone out of business: I was trying to make sure that a business near my home complied with the zoning ordinance.

In other words, I was trying to make sure that my honest, hard-working neighbors (and myself) did not have their property values affected by a business owner who was breaking the law.

I've also done some work for HHFM, but thanks for the suggestion.