City sweep, fines rile auto shop owners

Officials asked for meeting on storage, parking codes

March 31, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Car repair and detailing business owners in Park Heights are refusing to pay fines they have received for illegally parked and stored vehicles until they can meet with city officials to discuss them, they said.

"We don't want to fight, we just want to meet and talk so we can coexist," said Tyrone Grooms, owner of Pop's Auto Repair & Towing.

City zoning and parking officials inspected several shops, including Grooms', in the 5200 block of Fairlawn Ave. last week, handing out 46 citations for unlicensed vehicles. Some business owners were told that they also would receive citations in the mail for zoning violations.

"Our focus was not to target businesses but to target inoperable vehicles that were not licensed or registered," said David Brown, a spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

Mayor Martin O'Malley announced an initiative to rid city streets of broken-down and abandoned vehicles more than a year ago. Last week's sweep -- which resulted in the towing of 49 unlicensed or unregistered vehicles -- was part of that effort, Brown said.

The Fairlawn merchants, whose businesses were also the focus of a fire safety sweep last year, say they are tired of the city sticking them with fines. They said they want a meeting with officials so that they can better understand city codes and avoid future citations.

Transportation spokesman Brown could not say yesterday whether a meeting between city officials and shop owners might occur.

"If this is going to happen every year, it is a good reason to get mad," said Herman McKeithan, owner of Herman's Auto Body Shop.

McKeithan said that he spent $6,000 to upgrade his repair shop last year and that he can't afford more fines; he received 19 citations for unlicensed vehicles during the sweep last week. He said his property is zoned for vehicle repair and storage.

City officials said that even though a property might be zoned for vehicle storage, there are limits to the amount of space owners can dedicate to inoperable vehicles.

McKeithan, like other repair shop owners, said he uses the yard in front of his shop to temporarily store vehicles to free up garage space.

Customers often buy the cars at auction and then bring them to his shop for repairs before they apply for state tags and registration, he said.

City officials said that vehicle auction operators must provide temporary tags for the vehicles they sell. McKeithan disputed that claim.

Grooms, who was cited for six unlicensed vehicles, said that he has towed some vehicles back to owners' homes at his own expense. The sweep couldn't have come at a worse time, he said, as many customers use cash from tax returns to pay for vehicle repairs.

"This is our busiest time," he said. "We think it's unfair."

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