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Towing Company Owner says New Operation not 'Illegal'

City staying enforcement against Baker's Towing & Auto Repair for non-conforming use

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.

Chic-chick June 11, 2012 at 05:10 PM
The bottom line is that he wants to change the nonconforming use of it, this nonconforming use has been the same for 40 years and the law says that it has to be similar to what it has been. That line of businesses belongs to INDUSTRIAL , not even commercial. Departing from a catering businesses to a engine working, storing of vehicles, towing will be changing the zoning. By the way the application by Baker's says it will be 8" tall fence not 6" also his applications says different things from what he is saying.
Pat June 11, 2012 at 11:05 PM
Every one needs to calm down as you are fighting a loosing battle with the city. Didn't anyone pay attention when Silver Oaks asked the city for help--oh no let's put a campus apartment house in there instead. So if you protest it won't help much --I think the cirty also has a contract with Baker's--interesting!!!
Teresa K. June 12, 2012 at 01:58 AM
If Baker's isn't illegal at all, then why isn't he operating at full throttle? And if the amount of vehicles there during the day is only 1/ 4 throttle, what will full throttle business look like? : ) I know he SAYS he isn't going to use the lot for an impound. Exactly how many broke down vehicles waiting for repair will be allowed to be on the property? Every form or application Baker's have provided the city with, has been viewed by many of the people opposing the relocation. Some look very vague. Even if neighbors met with Mr. Baker, WORDS mean nothing. It's best to go by the law. And the zoning law CURRENTLY says, an auto repair/ towing business is not appropriate for the property. The only thing there is no need for is a meeting. With all due respect, Baker's plans have changed a couple times in the last 7 or so weeks for that property. Had any residents met with him concerning the plans, they would have objected all times to the use of the property. The only reason the plans have changed was because people raised objections. If no one had called zoning and inquired IF an auto repair business was permitted on that property, Baker's would be operating at full throttle with all the tow trucks and have made a parking/ impound lot out of the property.
Diane Stresing June 18, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Pat's point that the city apparently has a contract with Baker's is interesting, indeed. So is this: Mr. Baker and dozens of residents appear most interested in working toward a good solution. But where is our council person in all the fray? MIA. Also worth a replay: because the business broke the (zoning) law AND THEN asked the city to change the law, the city isn't enforcing the law, at least until a hearing. I think that's called the ask forgiveness/not permission rule, which most certainly isn't the rule in my house. I'll be clear: I expect city codes and laws to be a lot less flexible than the ones in my house. While the situation has been poorly handled thus far, I hope all parties will remain civil and the city decision-makers will be reasonable as they work to find an alternate location for Baker's business, which already has the proper zoning in place. For a little amusement - using the same logic as the "stay" Baker's has very kindly received from the city, I suppose we could all fly down Lake Street at 65 mph and not pay our fines by simply petitioning to change the speed limit. I'm not game to try it, but you might want to check with your legal counsel. The logic is sound.

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