The owner of a towing company in the midst of says they are not operating illegally at their new address despite lacking the necessary approval to do so.
Aubrey Baker, the owner of Baker's Towing & Auto Repair, said Monday the business is not operating illegally even though they don't have the required non-conforming use certificate to be open at 634 Lake St.
Technically, Baker's towing and auto repair business is not allowed to operate at the new site, which is zoned for residential use.
But Baker has applied for a non-conforming use certificate with the Kent Board of Zoning Appeals, and if the zoning board approves it — the board will vote on the application in one week — then the business can operate there.
City officials have said they won't enforce Baker's non-compliance while he is in the process of applying for the non-conforming use certificate, which would bring his business into compliance with city zoning codes.
Baker conceded that it's a gray area in the application of Kent's zoning code.
"As far as I know it's not illegal for us to be (working) here," Baker said.
Kent planning engineer Heather Phile said recently the city has already served Baker with a civil infraction warning to start the zoning enforcement process.
"However, the enforcement process will be stayed during the time that Baker seeks his approval from the BZA," Phile said. "If Baker's is not successful at the BZA, he does have a right to appeal their decision to the (Portage) County Common Pleas court. This can draw the process out even further and such action would stay any further enforcement by the city. Do we like this? No, but it is the legal system and we have to abide by it."
Baker's Towing was operating in a garage at 667 Lake St. that was part of the Gougler Industries complex, but along with the rest of the old factory the garage was and forced the towing company to move.
Baker said he was supposed to be out by May 18 but worked with Furukawa Rock Drill, the owners of the Gougler complex, and was able to stay until June 8.
He said he started operating at 634 Lake St. in order to avoid having to lay off any of his employees while he waits for the zoning board vote, which is scheduled for June 18.
"We're operating, but we're operating at a quarter throttle," he said. Baker also sought to allay fears of some of the neighboring homeowners by reiterating that there are no plans for barbed wire fencing or impound storage at his new location.
The business does have a permit for a fence on the property, but it's only a 6 foot chain-link fence, Baker said. No signs are allowed to go up until after the zoning board vote and if they approve the non-conforming use request.
Still, neighboring residents remain opposed to the move and continue to circulate petitions against the relocation, write letters to city leaders and local media and conduct a door-to-door campaign against Baker's move.
Baker, who said he has not met with any of the residents other than those who have stopped by his business, said many of the concerns could be addressed if he could meet with the organizers. He said several requests to meet with the neighbors leading the opposition campaign have not led to any meetings.
"There's no need for this," he said.