Life Lessons

No One Is Immune To Regulations



George Gardner shared a recent experience with his city’s codes and regulations.

FAIRCHILD PHOTOGRAPHY

Auto recycling has come a long way since its early beginnings of selling scrap parts from the back of wagons. But even though many auto recyclers are now stewards for the environment, they still face hurdles from city, county and state regulations about business practices.

George Gardner has owned Gardner Foreign Auto Parts, in Pompano Beach, Fla., since 1979. The facility’s history is even longer; its 1.35 acres was established in the 1950s in a “heavy” industrial park area. Under Gardner’s ownership, the facility it has earned several environmental distinctions: Florida Green Yard, CAR and Gold Seal certified and Broward County’s Emerald Award in 2003 and 2009. Even with these environmental accolades, Gardner said his auto recycling facility became a target for the city’s zoning requirements.

“We are surrounded by other business on three sides but our entrances all face the street,” he explained. “For the last 15 years customers, tow companies and auction companies have parked on the gravel swale area in front of an eight-foot concrete wall. We kept the area clean from debris and had railroad ties and placed decorative large rocks in front of the wall area.”

About five years ago, Gardner said a code officer mailed his company a violation stating nothing shall be placed on city swale and the business had to pay a fine to the city. Gardner appeared at city hall to argue precedent.

“I told him that we were in business before the city annexed us and that from time-to-time we would hire halfway prisoners as the county asked us to do. I indicated that I played basketball here in the local high school, as I was trying to show him that we were here to stay,” he added. “Again, the code stated these rules will vigorously be enforced.”

Gardner argued the penalty and was fined $1,500. He was also told the investigation was ongoing.

“Soon after, the letters really started to arrive and every letter carried a fine from $48 to $550 depending from when it was written. We negotiated some of the fines to less money, but the city manager said he was going to impose the ‘open storage lot / junk yard’ rules that were enacted 10 years ago.”

The city stated that open business areas must have approved landscaping on either side of a wall or fence - grass at least 10 feet on both side, with sprinklers, and a certain type of trees every 40 feet. Since Gardner had already poured concrete inside the walls and set up three-vehicle high racks, the expense to remove it would be astronomical. The city said he would have to hire an attorney to go before the planning and code board to ask for special variances Gardner hired an attorney who helped him get a new survey of the property and the landscaping requirements for the wall.

“The city gave me a list of approved trees and my wife tracked down the ones that we could afford. We paid for 10 trees at $140 each, including delivery. We got an entire 60-foot trailer load of sod for $900 delivered. We installed grass and tress ourselves. The city decided not to make us put in a sprinkler system, but I buried a pipe for possible future use,” described Gardner. “In the meantime, we continued to receive certified mail that we were not in compliance and that  fines were being accrued.”

Gardner said a certified letter came to his home that stated the city was liening the business property until all conditions were met. Gardner’s attorney presented the city with photos of the business’ progress and was granted a hearing in front of the appeals board.

“In order to get rid of the inside the wall grass and trees, we had to install inside parking for eight spaces (employees only) and provide a run-off retention area beside the parking lot. At the appeals board, we showed glossy before and after 8x10 photos of the yard and we were unanimously approved for the variances. I guess you could say that we won but it cost me $35,000 - 40,000 and 14 months of stress.”

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