Although today's ruling cannot be appealed further, the auto repair businesses at the location will likely be able to continue some operations, FHRA Nuisance Abatement Committee chairman Ricardo Gomez will be working on getting the city to enforce compliance with the zoning regulations. He has carefully researched the property's history.
Rene Weitzer, Councilman Tom Labonge's planning deputy, was of enormous help during the hearing frequently strongly addressing the panel about neighborhood concerns after the commission muzzled Franklin Hills representatives with a 2 minute gag rule that was not applied to other participants.
At one point FHRA member Michael Miller, who has long experience as a city attorney, objected to the fact that that he and Gomez, who both had detailed information about the issue, were denied equal time with the property owners to explain our case. A commission staff member even threatened to have Miller ejected from the hearing. During Miller's brief testimony he asked the dozen Franklin Hills residents who attended the hearing to raise their hands to show the community's support. In the end, that presence may have helped sway the vote.
Commission President Beverly Ziegler was one of those eventually voting to deny the variance although she had initially complimented Rogers on the appearance of his property (see photos below). Commission Vice President Mary Lou Dudas showed strong support for area residents suggesting that, since "clearly the applicant has not been a good neighbor, like a slumlord he should be forced to spend time" on the property.
Hyperion resident Lisa Henschel told the panel that the property would "have to be upgraded to be an eyesore." King Middle School activist Mary Rodriguez pleaded with the commission to curb the pollution from the many Hyperion body shops that foul the air at the school. And Delongpre resident Garbiel Bristol testified a shop employee told him, "I'm not here to make the neighborhood happy."
The neighborhood can be a little happier after the hearing but there is far more work to be done before we can all breathe easier.
BODY SHOP DENIED ZONING VARIANCE
But They Are Appealing (in a legal sense)
By Bruce Carroll
"It's a blight on the neighborhood." That's how Franklin Hills resident Chela Landau described the auto body shop located on the southwest corner of Hyperion and DeLongpre. Landau and several other Franklin Hills residents were down at City Hall on February 12, 2002, to give zoning administrator David Kabashima an ear full and an eye full and by suggestion even a nose full of just how much was wrong with the body shop.
FHRA member Landau, who lives just up DeLongpre from the shop, alerted the FHRA to the zoning hearing. That enabled us to spread the word via-email to all the other residents offended by the noise, unsightly appearance and especially the paint fumes associated with the shop. Landau told the hearing the fumes were so bad that "there are some days I cannot go outside." And that even with her windows closed, on bad days "I can still smell paint seeping into the house."
That odorous theme was oft repeated in letters from neighbors presented by Franklin Hills resident Michael Miller. An experienced city attorney, Miller termed the auto repair shop, "a classic public nuisance in a residential area." Another FHRA member and also a city attorney, Stephanie Scher, said her research uncovered that property owner Gary Rogers, who had applied for the a conditional use permit for his repair shop, actually allowed two or three other shops to operate on the small property in violation of zoning rules. The business even had the nerve to post private "no parking" signs on city property adjacent to the north side of the shop so they could store up to a dozen cars. Residents also complained that the shop's cars clogged the street, which already had limited parking, and sometimes even blocked entrances to houses.
In addition to Gary Rogers attorney, who pointed out the shop had been a neighborhood fixture since 1953 and promised improvements, one long time FHRA member, Patty Miles, expressed a favorable opinion of the shop. She explained, "I'd like it to stay so I can get my car fixed there." Rogers' attorney also conceded that apartments on the second story of the building are no longer rented out because of concerns over paint fumes.
Councilman Tom LaBonge's deputy, Rene Weitzer, told the hearing that her boss remembered walking past the shop everyday on his way to school at Thomas Starr King. But, she pointed out, "times change" and "there was a reason why the zoning was changed" in 1986. That was because the current usage was no longer compatible with the neighborhood.
That incompatibility was termed an "eyesore and a health hazard," by Hyperion Ave. resident Lisa Henschel. And FHRA President Ricardo Gomez presented captioned photos showing just what a bad neighbor the shop was. Administrator Kabashima seemed most impressed with one that showed the paint fume vent almost on the property line shared by a house on DeLongrpe Ave. and also pointed out unsightly auto body parts stored on the shop's roof.
When the comments were finished, Kabashima told those attending the hearing that he was going to deny the application in part because "I don't think there is any way to reduce the fumes." And from an aesthetic standpoint he noted that storing "parts on the roof show the owner's attitude" toward his neighbors.
In his May 3rd final decision Kabashima detailed all the problems and writes, "there are so many complaints about the existing uses and their operation that it is surprising that a nuisance abatement proceeding has not been initiated against the subject uses."
The shop has appealed the decision and likely will continue to operate for some time. The hearing on that appeal is set for Tuesday, July 9th, after 4:30pm, on the 10th floor of City Hall. At the time the May 3rd decision was issued the shop had made some changes to the paint vent. It now points toward Hyperion, which moves the fumes only a few feet from adjacent homes. The parts have been removed from the roof. But they still had cars parked on the city land, and too many inside their fence.
It's clear that the fight against unsightly, polluting businesses in
our area is far from over, but just as clear is that as residents we can
make a difference. Through coordinated efforts our words and images can
have an impact down at City Hall and other citadels of power. We've won
a battle, not the war. To continue with our effective strategy the FHRA
needs to hear from you. When you get a zoning notice, see an unsafe condition,
spot graffiti or other possible crime, e-mail us at FHRA@FranklinHills.org
or leave a message at 323-664-7247. Please, let us know what's going on.
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