Residents of Miller Avenue, Steele and Harvey streets gathered Wednesday to voice concerns about a towing company's proposed relocation adjacent to their back yards.
Kirk and Rosa Noden opened their home to about 30 neighborhood residents to share thoughts and concerns about Baker's Towing & Auto Repair's .
After about an hour, in a show-of-hands vote the residents agreed they didn't want to see any incarnation of the towing or repair business a stone's throw from their back yards.
"We seem to be in agreement ... we are opposed to Baker's Towing," Kirk Noden said.
Among the concerns voiced by residents about the proposed move were: late night and early morning noise from the towing operation; fumes from diesel exhaust; negative effects on property values; and car storage.
Harvey Street property owner Larry Beck said he's afraid the towing company will encroach onto other properties if it moves further into the neighborhood.
"He has a right to have his business, but not on our block," Beck said.
Whether or not the residents can stop the company's relocation could be determined next month.
Heather Phile, development planner for the city of Kent, said Baker's Towing owner Aubrey Baker filed on Monday for a "substitution of a non-conforming use" request with the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals.
Phile said the property at 638 Lake St. is zoned R-3, which permits dense residential uses. Two businesses, a catering firm and storage operation, have run out of the building for years, and several years ago the zoning board voted to allow those non-conforming uses.
Phile said Baker has asked to substitute another non-conforming use, the towing and auto repair business, via the request to the zoning board. She said Baker's request is preliminarily scheduled for the zoning board's June 18 meeting.
Several members of attended the meeting at the Noden's house Wednesday and encouraged the neighbors to offer suggestions for what kind of business or use they would like to see at the property.
Council members Tracy Wallach, whose Ward 6 includes the property, Mike DeLeone, Roger Sidoti and Robin Turner all encouraged the neighbors to let Baker's request work through the zoning process.
DeLeone and Wallach urged the neighbors to consider potential compromises.
"Something's going to go there," DeLeone said. "I want to see what you guys want."
Most residents said they would prefer to see the storage and catering operations remain instead of the towing and auto repair proposal.
While most opposed the entire idea, a few residents offered potential compromises that included prohibiting truck traffic on the neighborhood streets, thus limiting Baker's traffic to Lake Street. Another neighbor suggested limiting the hours of operation to week day, day time hours.
Baker told Kent Patch in a previous interview that 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. 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, he said.
He also said he planned to focus more on auto repair and less on towing and impounding cars because the new location is smaller and has less room for car storage.
"That’s more of what I want to do," Baker said. "I know a lot of the residents were very concerned about cars, impounding cars."
Baker added that he also wanted to build a landscape buffer at the rear of the property to try and shield the back yards from the business.
"I already want to beautify this piece of property so it looks great," Baker said. "Those people are potential customers of mine, I hope. I am open to listen to the people."
Wallach said, as a council person, the best she could do is listen to the residents' concerns and try to have Baker address them if he is allowed to make the move by the zoning board. She said he has already bought the property and legally has permission to use it for storage because of the existing non-conforming use allowance.
"I'm kind of in a tight spot because I represent Baker's Towing because he's a business in my ward and I represent you as residents," Wallach said.
However, the residents pushed for stronger action or commitments of support from the council members present and argued the city should not lose focus on its neighborhoods in light of Kent's economic redevelopment boon.
"It's been great to see the town's resurgence," Jeff Langstaff said. "Stabilization of all the neighborhoods ... is critical. We can't just focus on downtown."
Noden said the residents' next step is to approach Baker with their concerns and then attend the zoning board meeting when the issue is up for a vote.
"I have a 6- and an 8-year-old kid who are going to walk out into my back yard and potentially smell exhaust fumes every day," Noden said. "This is my life, this is my family, this is this community's quality of life. And I'm going to fight for it very hard."