Tradersmart didn't have operating permit Code violations hadn't been corrected, inspectors say

November 01, 1993|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

The Tradersmart bazaar in Glen Burnie, shut abruptly last month, was in violation of building and fire codes since the day it opened.

Anne Arundel County Chief Building Inspector William Bryant said the county let the group of vendors open at the former Mr. Goodbuys in the Beltway Crossing Shopping Center without an operating permit in an attempt to help a business get started.

The owners wanted to be open Thanksgiving Day weekend 1992 -- the biggest shopping weekend of the year -- and promised to correct violations quickly, he said.

But the anticipated telephone call from Tradersmart to inspectors never came, and with one commercial inspector to cover the entire county, the county did not follow through by contacting the market again to check on compliance, Mr. Bryant said.

"I will take the blame," he said Friday.

Inspectors often cut property owners slack as a way of helping them correct problems to bring their buildings into compliance, he said.

"We go the extra mile to help people," he said.

He said building and fire inspectors tried to work with the building's operators to bring Tradersmart into compliance for nearly a year.

But Richard B. Kabat, a member of the partnership that owns Tradersmart, saw what inspectors were doing as playing "hardball."

The building was closed Oct. 21 by fire and building inspectors, leaving nearly 100 vendors with merchandise inside. Tradersmart had been open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

"The building inspectors and the fire inspectors were the straw that broke the camel's back. But it was a pretty sick camel," Mr. Kabat said.

"I think they played much too hardball with us. I pleaded with them."

Mr. Kabat said Tradersmart did not make enough money to warrant repairs. Customers weren't flocking to the market, and overall Tradersmart was failing financially, he said.

Merchants said they were unaware that the building had no occupancy permit. Their licenses listed the Tradersmart address, but because they were only renting space, did not indicate whether the building had passed inspection.

"I am thoroughly confused," said Neil Penn, owner of P&P Comics and Cards.

He said he feels that the nearly 100 vendors are the big losers, because they have to remove their merchandise and have no place to open shops.

On April 5, nearly six months after opening, Tradersmart was cited for occupying the building without an occupancy certificate and was given a month to make plumbing and other repairs.

A second notice of a $100 fine went out the next month, Mr. Bryant said. On June 19, the case joined a backlog of matters to be referred to county prosecutors. At that time, the building could have been closed.

On July 26, the $100 fine was paid, Mr. Bryant said.

During the summer, no action was taken.

Other than a fine for not having enough fire doors, Tradersmart manager Chuck Jackson said he had no idea that the building was in violation.

If he had suspected problems, he said, he would not have invested about $16,000 to start Bonkers, a no-alcohol club for youths. He sought a building permit for the facility Aug. 2 and began work soon after.

Mr. Bryant said Tradersmart's building plans needed to be revised to match reality -- a reality that included carnival rides and a petting zoo that had been there almost from the opening although not shown in plans filed with the county.

The addition of Bonkers pushed the use of the building from mercantile to assembly, which requires more stringent safety measures, he said.

Bonkers never received a permit, largely because of the change in the building use.

The only thing that has changed since Bonkers opened in early October is that a wall has been removed to allow people to use emergency exits, but Bonkers met other requirements, Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Jackson said he never would have built Bonkers, advertised and let people in if he had thought there were problems with Tradersmart. A stop-work order for Bonkers was issued Oct. 19, after it was running.

"At this particular time, we are looking for another location for Bonkers," Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Kabat said he was unaware he needed a different type of permit until county officials presented him with a list of changes.

In the days after the building was shut and posted as unsafe, talks between the county and Tradersmart centered on moving out -- or at least barricading -- the carnival and petting zoo.

A fire inspector and building inspector waited until about 4:30 p.m. Friday, on the chance they would get a telephone call asking them to reinspect and let Tradersmart reopen.

But Mr. Kabat has said Tradersmart was a "money-loser that will not reopen."

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