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Small Businesses Mobilizing Against Broad Restrictions on Commercial Vehicles

| July 8, 2010

The same residents who want those services as immediately as they make an emergency call don

During the public comment period at the end of the June 1 Palm Coast City Council meeting, Al Wagner, owner of a couple of new auto businesses in town, briefly addressed the council just to “let everybody know that we’re still plugging away on the good note of trying to bring business to Flagler County and to Palm Coast.” Mayor Jon Netts called it—in jest, and to great laughter—“a shameless plug,” then added: “That’s all right. We’ll take all the businesses we can get.”

But do they?

One of the council’s most recurring themes at every meeting is job creation. The council’s words don’t quite match its policies, at least not when a certain type of small-business, working-class jobs are concerned—the type that requires 24-hour operations such as handymen, air conditioning repairmen, plumbers, taxi drivers and the like to park their vehicles in residential driveways. The city’s code doesn’t allow it if those vehicles exceed a certain size, are “equipped with a hoist or other similar mechanical equipment,” or display signage larger than three square feet.

The very next speaker after Wagner at that June 1 meeting was Patrick Thomas, owner of the local Rent-A-Husband handyman operation, who wanted to let the council know “how certain aspects of the code just need to be maybe perhaps relaxed or updated to be less hostile toward small-business owners.” Thomas’ primary vehicle is also his work vehicle. It’s a van with signs on the side and a ladder rack on top. He received a code-enforcement warning saying he had to keep the vehicle at a storage facility, “which for me, really is an impossibility, because how am I going to get to it?”

Wagner made an equally key observations that resonates with other small business owners in the same situation in Palm Coast, where non-working retirees have a propensity to play code cop in their idle hours: “There are people who seem to like to use code enforcement as a tool to harass people. For example I got a warning three days ago—I got one today, and I wasn’t even home. My wife called me up and said yeah, you got another citation for the van in the driveway. I said it’s not in the driveway, I’m in it. And they said yeah, there’s a trailer and a van in the driveway. In the three minutes it took me to take my trailer out of my garage, hook it up to my van and drive away, someone had already called code enforcement. So I think it has become a tool of the idle-minded, and they should be cited for abusing the system.”

Wagner wasn’t kidding. Barbara Grossman, the city’s code enforcement manager, says one neighborhood watch group near the Palm Coast golf course “will ride around and they’ll give us all the violations they feel are violations there.” Code enforcement is required to follow up on those complaints. “It’s not me going and looking for them, it’s me being reactive” to the complaints, Grossman said. But Grossman doesn’t write the code. The code is city policy. And the council writes those policies.

On Wednesday, some 30 people representing small businesses impacted by code enforcement’s residential restrictions gathered at the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce to decide whether and how to approach the city and either change the code or at least change its restrictive interpretation. It wasn’t clear at the end of the nearly two-hour meeting how they would proceed, or whether they would assign a smaller committee to develop an action plan and perhaps meet with City Manager Jim Landon. A second meeting is scheduled for July 14.

“We ended it with a list of concerns, and they’re going to put their heads together and decide what to do next,” said Jay Livingston of Livingston & Wolverton, the Palm Coast law firm. Livingston volunteered his time there as a member of the chamber to give the group some tactical clarity on the difference between legal and policy issues. “These types of restrictions are given a lot of deference by the courts, so the city is definitely not doing anything wrong,” Livingston said, so it’s an uphill battle if the businesses want to get the restrictions loosened, at least through a legal challenge.

But they may have recourse as a matter of policy—and the city’s interpretation of the policy. That may well be the route the businesses takes. “The group is more inclined to use their voices as opposed to the law to get what they think they need,” Livingston said.

That, too, won’t be easy, given the city’s most recent stance on the matter. As a follow-up to Thomas’ and other complaints, the council discussed the matter on June 29. Council members—only one of whom currently holds a job—watched as 39 images of vehicles of various size (from sedans to backhoes) displayed various examples of vehicles that have drawn code violations. The council wasn’t inclined to change its interpretations of the code. (See the presentation.)

At one point, Landon showed two images of stretch limousines parked in residential driveways. The cars looked clean, well kept, visually unobtrusive. “Why does the neighbor complain?” Landon asked. “Because it’s seven o’clock, six o’clock in the morning. What are they doing? They’re unloading the dirty dishes, all the alcohol bottles, all the things they’re cleaning up and the vacuums, and then they’re putting all that trash out on the curb. It stays out there for two or three days.” (There were no images of either alcohol bottles or trash sitting out.) “So all of a sudden this looks like a nice car, the business aspect of it does irritate the neighbors, and why am I having to watch this business activity, and it’s waking me up, etc., and that’s when we get the phone call. So even though it’s like, well, why is that objectionable, it’s the activity that’s associated with these commercial vehicles sometimes that’s the objectionable part, not just the visual part. And that’s what you don’t hear many times, is that other side of the story.”

The next set of pictures showed vehicles almost psychedelically covered in signs and drawings. This is becoming more and more prominent. I call it the tattoo society,” Landon said. “We are tattooing our vehicles now similar to what some people do to their bodies. And they paint the whole vehicle. That’s a little car on a driveway that then—this is one that my staff assures me we drive on by—but when we get the phone call and that neighbor knows that that sign is over three square feet, we don’t have much choice right now. So when you have just a little passenger car, a van with no rack, it’s just their paint job, you’re starting to get into more difficult issues.”

The 39 pictures presented graphic examples of what the city is contending with, but even the pictures weren’t the full story: there was no gauging how many semi trucks are being parked in driveways as opposed to, say, over-painted cars or vans with ladder racks on top. That’s what small businesses are objecting too as well—the lumping of all such vehicles into one category that ranks the inadmissibility of a semi truck or a backhoe on the same plane as an air conditioning repair truck.

“They’re showing us pictures of backhoes and dump trucks in the driveways. We understand that,” says Paul Aiello, owner of RHS Mechanical and one of the business owners at Wednesday’s chamber meeting. But “a service vehicle that’s clean and neat and parked in the driveway is not an eyesore.” Nor is it an indication of a business being run out of the residence (also a city concern). The city, Aiello says, doesn’t know where to draw the line, especially with small, service businesses whose customers want immediate relief in emergencies. A service van in the driveway can mean getting to a service call 30 or 40 minutes sooner. Aiello’s suggestion: small businesses like his could pay an annual permitting fee of about $50 to enable the parking of such vehicles in residential driveways.

Don’t tell that to Mike Johnson, a former New York City cop who nine months ago started All County Taxi in Palm Coast. “No, for the simple fact that if we’re providing service that’s going to help people, why should we have to pay for that?” Johnson, who was also at Wednesday’s meeting, said. “We pay our insurance on our vehicles, which is very expensive, we pay our repairs, why should we have to add another expense if we’re providing the community with 24-hour service? We don’t charge them extra money if they call us at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, so why should we have to pay more for it?” The local hospital and some nursing homes have contracted with Johnson’s service for prescription and patient pickups, which can take place any time of day or night. Johnson’s neighbors have been pestering the city over the presence of his cabs.

Back in their workshop, council members had their own disagreements of where the line should be between an overtly commercial operation and a mere commercial vehicle parked in a driveway. They didn’t, for example, seem bothered by tattooed cars sitting in the driveway during the day, though they didn’t want them sitting there day and night. They certainly didn’t want semi trucks in driveways. But they were glad to hear the city manager tell them that for now, the city had no recommendation to go one way or another: the presentation was merely for their information. That lifted the responsibility from the council to more actively address the issue, though it’s likely they’ll have too sooner than later.

Council member Bill Lewis said the ordinance should stay as it is, and tied commercial vehicles in residential driveways to negative impacts on home values. There is no evidence that the odd commercial vehicle in a residential driveway affects home values anymore than does a higher ratio of pine trees as opposed to oak trees in any given neighborhood. Jon Netts, the mayor, was willing to look more closely at drawing a line that’s more reflective of where problems really are. But other council members were not as interested. “If you like Palm Coast because it was a nice, clean city, that’s why you came here, well, keep it that way,” Lewis said.

“I can’t figure out where I sit on this one,” Council member Frank Meeker said. “I feel sorry for the guys that are struggling right now, in a very tough economic environment, and have had to cut their costs, and part of the reason they’re cutting their costs is they’re bringing their vehicles home. I bleed for people like that. I really do. On the other hand, I also agree with Mr. Lewis. I don’t want to trash up the city of Palm Coast and make it look like—I don’t want to say the name of a town in another county nearby. Clearly, this is the first time where I don’t know where to go.”

Which left the council where it was all along: championing job growth, but only up to a point, and only for certain kinds of businesses. Landon warned of “a very strong” movement from those small businesses—not from residents—for change. That movement was mobilizing Wednesday at the chamber, but so far without a clear direction of its own. “The ball,” Livingston, the lawyer, said, “is really in the court of the business owners.”

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30 Responses for “Small Businesses Mobilizing Against Broad Restrictions on Commercial Vehicles”

  1. BottomLine says:

    This is very simple: do not buy or rent a house in Palm Coast if you do not want to follow the rules. I am glad that I do not have to look at “service” vehicles up and down my street 24/7. I understand that in the day, they will be conducting business and that is fine. If they were sitting in driveways and going and coming all day on service call, then that is a major problem. Why should a neighbor live next door to a business? Go rent commerical office space and pass the cost on to the customers, if needed.

    Go to Deltona if you want to do whatever you like!

  2. Citizen says:

    One could just as easily argue that if you don’t like the vehicle a person owns, who is parking it on the property that they own, that you too could just as easily move into rural Flagler County where there was a mile or more between you and the next house. You could build a nice fence on your property and stare at that when you look out your window. You could even choose not to look at that house…

    You may want to consider what will happen to your property values when these small business owners do move to another city and leave a bunch of vacant properties on your block. You may also want to think about the businesses that go under and possibly push the homeowner into foreclosure… nothing raises home values like surrounding your castle with foreclosed properties!

    Oh and how about all those tax dollars that will go away when these businesses pack it up. Then we’ll get to hear you guys whine and cry that your taxes have gone up and you don’t think it’s fair, that government needs to do more with less. But heaven forbid if the government services are taken away.

    This isn’t Mayberry, some people still have to work for a living and they have just as much right to park a damn tank in their driveway as you do to park your buick and water your grass all day.

  3. Citizen, I tend you agree with you. The concern for property values should be on this small business owner being able to do business cost effectively so he can pay his mortgage. When we bought our house two and half years ago, I don’t recall my realtor calculating and factoring in the number of service vehicles sitting in neighboring driveways to help us determine the value of our prospective property. It was how many were empty.
    Now, if a small business’ entire fleet of vehicles is lining the streets, that would be a problem, but a single vehicle? I don’t see this as a problem for me in my home.

  4. Bizowner says:

    The ball may be in our court, but watch out for that rebound!

  5. Foreclosed says:

    What about vehicles that aren’t shiny and new? Are people going to start complaining about rusted beaters in the driveway that aren’t new and shiny looking like the car in your driveway? That would be more of an eyesore than a service vehicle, but not everyone can afford a new looking car. What about cops who drive their cars home? what is good for one should be good for all. It is pretty bad when you have to be told what you can drive to your home. My advice, mind your own business and worry about yourself! If you don’t like what is in your neighbors yard, don’t look in their yard. Your wife or husband might be ugly too, what is City Council going to do about that?

  6. Small Business Man says:

    I think that the city needs to lighten up on these restrictions. If someone is abusing the restrictions, such as multiple cars up on blocks for weeks on end, then I can see some intervention. But many of us have vehicles and or trailers that we need for work and I believe that we should be able to park them
    ( tastefully ) on our own property, without issue.

  7. Bizowner says:

    Unless I am running a meth lab in my garage, it is really none of anyone’s business what I keep in there or if I choose to leave the door open for a while. It’s July in Florida folks, so should I be forced to do my laundry in 110 degree heat because the code says I can’t leave my garage door open? If you are so compelled to mind my business and what goes on within the borders of my property, then you are crossing over into peeping tom territory. Don’t go there! Whatever happened to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”?

  8. Charlie says:

    But, there are exceptions to the “rules”.. Right now, on my street, I have a red pickup truck, emergency fire vehicle parked over night in the swale, another FCSO vehicle parked in a swale, and a City of Palm Coast, large swale digging backhow, parked in the swale, facing the wrong direction, so that when you come up behind it, in the dark, you don’t see the red refectors, as they are on the back side. The fire and FSCO are regular parkers in the swale. Has anyone ever seen the 140 City pickups in the parking lot of City walk?

  9. Marie Clark says:

    One of the people you quote in your article as being opposed to the rigid city codes pertaining to commercial vehicles is the owner of Rent a Husband.

    A perusal of the city’s presentation which you so kindly attached contains a photo of Rent a Husband’s work vehicle parked in a (I assume his) driveway. (slide 11)

    That photo is a perfect example of why these codes are so desperately needed.

    Nothing against this small business owner at all, in fact, I have used the services of Rent a Husband and found him to be a fantastic handyman. However, I would not want to see a vehicle like that parked on my street every day and night.

  10. H Peter Stolz says:

    One of the attractions to Palm Coast when we bought was the existing code and its enforcement. It continues to be. I look at other cities and I find their code and code enforcement appalling. I would not live in a community where my “neighbor” can have a car repair business in his garage, where a fleet of commercial vehicles can be parked in a large driveway or on the lawn and swale, where signs can be put up, etc. Violators in Palm Coast know they are in the wrong, but being in the wrong doesn’t matter to them apparently. Instead of complying – like some of my neighbors do – they chose to challenge the code “at this difficult time in the economy”. Its akin to the red light runners wanting cameras removed because they’re intent on breaking the law and getting away with it.

  11. elaygee says:

    All complaints to the code violations departments are public records and must be revealed and released when asked. Every business owner who has been hassled about parking a vehicle in their driveway should request the information on who made the complaint and then put that person’s name on a county wide, business run “No Service” list. They would get no cabs, no prescription deliveries, no AC service, no plumber, no nothing. That’ll fix the problem without changing the law or making the mindless city council members to actually make a decision which might offend someone.

  12. Bizowner says:

    Who is saying anything about a car repair business operated out of a garage? Where does a single vehicle become a fleet? Lawn parking is not permitted and should remain that way. Who is advocating allowing signs to be erected? Red light runners run the risk of killing and maiming themselves and others. What’s the connection? Is a van or pick up with sinage and possibly a ladder rack parked in a driveway really going to kill someone? There is no need to take on this alarmist mindset.

  13. Bizowner says:

    Complaints to CE are confidential. This is so there will not be reprecussions to reporting a violation. On paper this looks good, but it also allows abuse. Each person who calls CE should be required to give their name but it will be kept in confidence. This will allow CE to see if certain callers habitually send them out on wild goose chases. After so many false alarms, those callers will be cited for wasting CE’s time and taxpayer’s money.

  14. Bizowner says:

    About Marie Clark’s comment: Rent a Husband has been having issues lately with vandalism to his van. The picture shown has one of the tarps removed. This was done during the night and CE was notified first thing in the morning. Possibly the same tresspasser who slashed his tires. There have been reports of acts of vandalism to other vans and pick ups as well.

  15. Pierre Tristam says:

    Bizowner: All complaints to code enforcement are public records, as elaygee notes, including the identity of the person making the complaint. Anyone can look up those records by request. You’re correct, however, regarding anonymous complaints: those may be filed as well, though I like the idea of junking anonymous complaints — and actually publicizing complainants alongside complaints, on the web: that would likely reduce abuse and point to habitual complainers.

  16. H. Peter Stolz says:

    It’s not an alarmist attitude. Its code! When you agreed to move, rent or buy here, you knew the rules. If you didn’t like the rules, why did you chose to live here? It’s like the person who moves next to the airport and then complains about noise. Now – because of “the economy” – certain people want the rules changed. Why? I like them the way they are and so do a lot of my friends and neighbors.

  17. Bizowner says:

    Airports? Again with the farout comparisons. I choose to live here because this is my home. Why did you move here? To impose doctrine? We aren’t doing any damage. We aren’t hurting anyone. Why you hatin’?

  18. PCresident says:

    Get over yourselves. Small businesses are the backbone of Palm Coast. If not for them we’d have no businesses left. They’re entitled to make a living. They’re entitled to work from home. Unless it’s a ugly, beat up old hoopti (slang for clunker) let them earn their a living. I can’t believe the people fighting this have never hired any of these companies to do work on their homes. You want to save money using their services but you don’t want to support how they’re able to offer you a lower price. Unless they’re in a gated community with “resident rules” I don’t think our city should prohibit them from earning a living. The rest of you are a bunch of narrow minded cantankerous curmodgeons.

  19. Marie Clark says:

    We operate a small business from our home and we have a vehicle that contains signage for that business. We also have a trailer that contains the materials needed to operate the business.

    Signage on the vehicle is within code and is on magnetic signs.

    We pay $300 per year to store the trailer off of our property.

    On occasion the trailer has been in our driveway for short periods of time, perhaps for us to change clothes, to fix something, to handle an issue on the computer and we have dealt with a neighbor complaining to code enforcement about this.

    In spite of that, I don’t find it to be an extreme hardship for us to keep the trailer off of our property. I believe it keeps the neighborhood looking nice.

    Regarding the response to my comment on Rent a Husband, I was not complaining that a tarp was missing. I was complaining about the van draped in tarp. It looks awful and I would not want that in my neighborhood. Patrick needs to find offsite storage for his van or modify it so it can be parked in his garage.

  20. Jim R. says:

    Simple answer to the problem, if what your neighbor does bothers you, move to a gated community where you will be told what color to paint your house, what kind of shades are permitted, how many cars allowed in the driveway etc. Or move to the beach where nobody cares if your surfboard is leaning against the side of the house, how many bicycles are parked in the driveway, or if your boat and trailer are parked on your less than perfect lawn.

  21. Bizowner says:

    Several business owners were told that CE would accept a tarp covered vehicle in lieu of the removal of a ladder rack. Personally I would much rather see a ladder rack than a bunch of ugly blue tarps. But code is code and we all must comply, no matter how ludicrous.

  22. Imightmovehere says:

    What about law enforcement vehicles? When I see them parked in driveways because the officer is renting there I think…YES! This is a good thing to keep the criminally minded transients thinking twice.
    They have more lettering, bracketing, and lighting than any service or contractor vehicle I’ve seen. The powers to be need to re-think the working man’s needs in order to employ people in PC and not play a double standard…Cops drive service vehicles, you let them be ~ so let the other contractors be as well. We all need to survive.

  23. P.C. 94 says:

    I have a commercial vehicle on my street that has 2 big tanks in the truck bed. Are they hazardous? Benign? I don’t know. The code is there for a reason. I’d like it enforced.

  24. PCer says:

    I say we get rid of all of the old geezers on the Palm Coast City Council and vote in either a professional council or some people who actually want to bring jobs and businesses to Palm Coast. We cannot survive in a town full of CNA’s and retail shops. We need to bring in industry. Don’t scare it away by running the small businesses out of town.

  25. newcomer says:

    I say, buy a truck that fits in the garage or follow the rules!!! quit whining and then taking a tax deduction for your “personal” vehicle that you use for business which I end up paying for !!!

  26. John Oswald says:

    People have the right to make a living. If part of their business entails a badged passenger vehicle or truck – non cdl vehicle in size then I say it has a right to be parked in a driveway. A bucket , a backhoe, a huge delivery -panel truck ARE eyesores so they shouldnt be allowed. How many of those old geezers will be needlessly calling the Flagler County Sheriffs office reporting “suspicious activity ” because a generic non badged white vehicle is parked in a neighbors driveway or looking for an address driving around their neighborhood trying to make a service call ? In their perfect world all vehicles are white and non badged- thats what will happen as they have nothing better to do . As far as graphics or tattoos on vehicles thats a freedom of expression thing isnt it , how about banning “baby on board” , jesus -fish badges or my Child is the Greatest at XXX Elementary School stickers ? Palm Coast get REAL you are chasing small businesses out of Palm Coast with your ridiculous rules and listening to these old geezers who dont need to work anymore as they are retrired and have already made their money already…..thats what I am trying to do now – dont I have that right to own a successfull business and help residents in my town and make money like you did during your lifetime old geezer ?

  27. Becky Covington says:

    When we first moved to Palm Coast, we had the most difficult time finding where certain businesses were located. I even noticed one business took out radio ads to help customers find their ‘hidden’ business. The low ‘signage’ regulations are ridiculous. The ugliest signs in Palm Coast are the tacky, blue ‘camptown looking’ neighborhood entrance signs. When driving in Ormond and Palm Coast, (do they have the same signage rules?), it’s hazardous when the vehicles in front of you are slowing down, speeding up, and slowing back down again trying to find the business they are looking for.

    Also, if a person is not parking their business vehicle(s) on the grass or on the street, and any business tools of the trade are being kept and used behind garage doors, or in a fenced in yard, it should not be of any concern to the government or the neighbors. The government is infringing on our rights as property owners.

    I would like to say that the City of Palm Coast does an excellent job in landscaping the roadways and public areas!! Now, if we could just get the residents, and/or their visitors, to stop throwing trash out of their vehicles! I’ve never seen such poor, trashy habits in neighborhoods where one would expect the residents to have much more ‘home training’.

  28. iv been looking for this info everywhere ty

  29. Magicone says:

    Code is Code. Getting code enforcement to enforce the code is a whole different story. Palm Coast has “selective” code enforcement. They select who they want to hassle for violating the code; and who they don’t !!! If Palm Coast wanted to solve their monetary problems, they should enforce the code about parking on the lawn or swale at night. If they were to fine people for parking illegally at night; in a matter of months their would be enough money for the city to build their city hall. Of course that would mean that code enforcement would have to work at night and we all know that is not going to happen. They drive right by violations everyday on their way to write a violation that someone has called to their attention to. The whole department of code enforcement in Palm Coast is a joke, but no one is laughing.

  30. TONY says:

    the city of palm coast sucks, you cant park your boat , your commercial vehicle, if you have the same bussiness adress as where you live, but if you do get a different bussiness adress yes you can ???? the city of palm coast should worry about all the foreclosure properties they have , and not what or who parks what in ther driveways. THATS WHY IS PALM COAST , A CITY OF NOTHING BUT , DEAD BIT TOWN, no work, minimun pay and its a big deal to just get a regular job. THIS IS AS FAR PALM COAST WILL EVER GO AND GROW. GREAT FUTURE FOR ALL THE KIDS WHEN THEY GROW UP. FINAL ANSWER IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE FAMILY ,,,,LIVE FAST TO A REAL CITY WHERE THERE IS PROGRES AND NOT SO MUCH BUROCRACY, NOT EVEN IN BIG CITYS HAVE ALL THESE NON SENCE ON WHAT YOU CAN PARK IN YOUR PROPERTY OR NOT……. PALM COAST A LOOSER ,LITTLE TOWN……………………………..

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