A group of homeowners are asking city officials to stop a towing company from relocating across Lake Street into their neighborhood.
Residents of Miller Avenue, Steele and Harvey streets are circulating a petition against Baker's Towing and Repair, the owner of which plans to relocate the towing and auto repair operation across Lake Street and a few hundred feet west from its existing location.
The previous location on the north side of Lake Street was surrounded by large industrial companies as part of the former Gougler Industries complex. The new location is surrounded by houses.
Steele Street resident Kirk Noden is circulating petitions to gather signatures of area residents who also oppose the company's move.
Noden said, in a letter to city officials, residents oppose the move for several reasons, including because they believe a 24-hour business should not be permitted in the middle of a neighborhood.
"To have tow trucks pulling in and out of a lot next to residential homes and apartment buildings would be a constant nuisance and a decrease in the quality of life of residents," he said. "We are circulating a petition within a one and-a-half mile radius of this property and we expect to get 80 percent of homeowners to sign this petition voicing their opposition."
But Aubrey Baker, the owner of Baker's Towing, said if he can make the move, towing — and therefore impound storage — will play a smaller role in his business.
Baker contracts with the city to handle some towing for the Kent Police Department and also impounds cars parked illegally for Kent-area apartment complexes. But towing in Kent has become increasingly competitive, and his goal is to develop his auto repair side of the business by moving across Lake Street.
"That’s more of what I want to do," Baker said. "There’s so much towing competition around town that it’s not hardly worth having a tow truck. I know a lot of the residents were very concerned about cars, impounding cars."
Baker said towing is done 24 hours a day, but he only plans to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the new location, and any towing done outside those hours would enter the new site on its western edge to try and limit noise for the houses to the east.
Residents who oppose the move plan to meet with city officials today to discuss the situation.
Noden said the property also isn't zoned for an auto repair or towing business and said if it must go to the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals, residents plan to voice their opposition.
Noden said another of the surrounding homeowners' concerns is the general appearance of the property if Baker moves in. The new location is bordered by neatly landscaped front and back yards.
"Allowing Baker's to relocate to this property would almost inevitably make the six residential homes adjacent to this property lose most of their value," Noden said. "It is hard to imagine anyone (would) knowingly want to buy a home next to a junk yard/towing company."
Baker also said he plans to freshen up the landscaping, clear the property of weeds and eventually paint his new garage. He also plans to install a landscape buffer along the southern edge of the property with shrubs and mulch.
"We're trying to make this building look as nice as possible," Baker said.
The business, which has been on Lake Street for about five eyars, learned it had to move when the owner of its existing location, Furukawa Rock Drill USA, advised them the building would be torn down as part of the former Gougler complex demolition.
Baker, who's run the business in Kent for about 20 years, said there are very few options for existing buildings in the city that meet the needs of an auto repair shop with drive-in garages and visibiility from a main road. He said buying land and building a new garage for his close to 10 employees would not be cost effective and would force him to raise repair rates to an exorbitant level.
He plans to attend today's meeting to address concerns and said he is hopeful residents will listen with an open mind.
"I am open to listen to the people," Baker said. "Those people are potential customers of mine, I hope. I already want to beautify this piece of property so it looks great. I don’t want to have any bad neighbor feelings."