Roadside car sale ban leads to a plan

Balto. County man wants to link sellers with buyers at city lot

May 18, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Yoni Alon wants to make it clear that he is not a used-car salesman.

He is an entrepreneur, he says, who is planning a marketplace that could solve a problem in Baltimore County involving roadside car sales by bringing together those who sell used cars with potential buyers.

"I do not sell the cars and am not responsible for any cars that are sold," says Alon, 36, of Pikesville.

Alon is applying for a city permit to use the 1,500-space Fallsway Park and Ride parking lot at Monument Street and the Fallsway each Sunday afternoon as a site for his Maryland Auto Flea Market.

The father of four, who emigrated from Israel, said the facility would prevent problems like those in Baltimore County, where the County Council last night passed legislation prohibiting roadside sales of used cars.

The county ordinance, which passed by a 4-3 vote, prohibits leaving a car or truck with a for-sale sign on a public road "for the primary purpose" of selling it. It specifies fines of up to $200, but allows people to sell their own cars in front of their homes.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said he voted against the bill because it goes too far in regulating roadside car sales.

"As originally intended, I thought the bill would go after the large-scale wholesalers selling cars by the side of the road," Gardina told the council. "But this bill goes well beyond that."

Also opposing the bill were Democratic council members Joseph Bartenfelder of Fullerton and John A. Olszewski Sr. of Dundalk.

Months of complaints

The bill comes after months of complaints to council members from residents who say that thoroughfares near their homes have been turned into "used-car lots" by people who post for-sale signs on cars and leave them unattended for days or weeks.

The measure is similar to a repealed Howard County ordinance that prohibited cars from being parked and sold on public streets. Howard County removed the law in 1997 after an Ellicott City man convinced a Howard County District Court judge that a prohibition against having a for-sale sign on his car violated his right to free speech.

Baltimore County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a lawyer and co-sponsor of the Baltimore County measure, said the ordinance shouldn't face any constitutional challenges because it's a zoning regulation and allows cars to be sold in front of the seller's home.

"I think it falls squarely within the regulatory powers of government," said McIntire, a north county-Owings Mills Republican.

Some Baltimore County residents welcome Alon's operation and the ordinance.

"I hope the law passes and this gentleman gets his business off the ground soon," said Linda Percy, whose home near East Cherry Hill Road and Kingsbury Road in Reisterstown is often used by people selling used cars.

But used-car dealers have problems with Alon's plans.

Dealers' opposition

Irene Turnage, a Waldorf car dealer who is chairwoman of the Maryland Independent Auto Dealers Association, which represents used-car dealers, said Alon's proposal sounds similar to many of the "park and sell" lots that have cropped up in Southern Maryland in recent years.

She said such lots have caused problems because unlicensed salesmen are importing "clunkers" from other states and selling them without Maryland inspections, a requirement for a sale by a licensed used-car dealer.

"What you're going to see here is a lot of automobiles without tags and with a lot of other problems being offered for sale, and a lot of unsuspecting buyers getting hurt," she said.

Buy with care

Alon said that the sales will be no different than those arranged through newspaper advertisements, and that buyers should always be careful.

"You'll see people here who know they may be taking a risk, but they're here for the bargain. It's not the ones who would be going to the dealers," he said. "I don't see this hurting dealers at all."

If the city grants him a permit, Alon plans to begin leasing the lot next month and charge potential sellers $25 to keep their vehicles at the lot from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Those shopping for cars will not be charged for looking over and buying any of the "hundreds" of used cars and trucks Alon hopes to attract.

"The advantage is that they will be all in one place," he said.

Baltimore City officials say that Alon will need a $31 use and occupancy permit to begin operating and that he might have other hurdles to clear.

Because he plans to use a park and ride lot established by city ordinance, Alon also might need City Council approval for amendments to the ordinance that designates specific uses for the lot, according to Donald Small, an administrator with the city housing department's zoning administration, which issues zoning permits.

"There are a number of issues we'd have to look at before a permit could be issued," Small said.

Alon said that he will apply for the permit and take whatever steps are required.

"I just want to get started," he said.

Pub Date: 5/18/99

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