Activists aim to oust pawnshop

March 24, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

Zakhar Trutstsi, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, looks on his pawnshop in the Woodmoor Shopping Center as the capitalist dream come true.

"My partner and I came to this country 13 years ago, drove cabs at Dulles Airport, paid our taxes and saved our money to start this business just like good Americans do," Mr. Trutstsi said.

But community leaders along the Liberty Road corridor in northwestern Baltimore County see the pawnshop, the Gold Trading Center, as something quite different.

"Pawnshops attract undesirables to the shopping center and to the surrounding neighborhood and generally gives our community a negative image," said Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council Inc.

The community wants the Gold Trading Center closed or moved out. After inquiring last fall about it and Papa's Pawn Shop on Liberty Road in Randallstown, community leaders found that both violated the zoning code and filed a complaint. The county zoning office issued violation notices at the end of December.

Pawnshops are prohibited in light business zones, the zoning for Woodmoor Shopping Center and McDonogh Road and Liberty where Papa's Pawn Shop, now closed, was situated. The shops are permitted in more intensive business zones.

The owners of the Gold Trading Center had applied for a traders license for the Woodmoor store before opening. The zoning office, which checks all such applications to make sure the proper zoning exists, mistakenly approved it.

Mr. Trutstsi, a native of Azerbaijan, and his partner, Vladimir Leytush, a native of Belarus, have appealed the zoning citation and remain in business.

At a hearing yesterday, Julius Richter, their attorney, told Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt that since the county mistakenly approved the traders license, the pawnshop should be allowed to operate at Woodmoor until its lease expires in 1997.

Because of the mistake, Mr. Richter argued, the commissioner has the legal authority to allow that.

Mr. Schmidt said the case hinges on whether he does have the authority to allow an enterprise that clearly violates the zoning code to continue.

Dr. Campbell said the community is concerned about a pending Baltimore City Council bill that would place a three-year moratorium on new pawnshops in the city.

"If that bill passes, then those who want to open up pawnshops are going to move into the county," she said. "And they probably will settle in the areas between the city line and Beltway, the older communities.

"If Gold Trading Center wins its case, it will set a precedent, and coupled with the City Council bill, that will hurt communities like ours."

Mr. Trutstsi said the complaints against his business are unfair.

"We don't attract any more undesirables than liquor stores, but the community isn't going after liquor stores," he said.

Several adjacent business people said the pawnshop has posed no problem at Woodmoor.

"There's actually fewer so-called undesirables around the shopping center than in past years," said Arlene Glaser, owner of Second Time Around, a "nearly new" clothing store, for 11 years.

County police officers who deal with pawnshops said the owners of the Gold Trading Center always have been cooperative. Only about 30 percent of the business is pawning and the rest retail, Mr. Trutstsi said.

However, zoning inspector Derek J. Propalis said that in investigating the community's complaint, he was told by Mr. Trutstsi that 90 percent of the business was a pawnshop operation. On that basis, Mr. Propalis issued the zoning citation.

Mr. Trutstsi didn't dispute that account but had an explanation.

"When this government official came in and started asking me questions, I was nervous," he said. "I didn't think so good about what I was saying."

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