What happens when you’ve lived in East Ridge all of your adult life in a quiet residential neighborhood and somebody buys the house next door to you and sets up shop? No, not just a household but something that more resembles an auto shop.
Apparently, the answer is nothing happens.
Last week, our Administrative Hearing Officer (AHO) dismissed complaints against a Shady Drive couple, Herman Peoples and Whitney Roach, that they were disturbing the neighborhood and making a general nuisance of themselves by operating a custom wheels shop out of a large garage in the back of their beautiful home.
The couple had appeared in an AHO hearing in June, where they were informed that they couldn’t operate a business from their home that created a nuisance to their neighbors. City Attorney Mark Litchford explained to them that the area is zoned residential and you can’t run a loud business for profit from Shady Drive.
Peoples told Litchford that his business wasn’t the problem in the neighborhood. The problem was the nosy neighbor next door who had the audacity to report them to the City of East Ridge.
That “nosy neighbor” was Wanda Kohlmann and her husband, Tim. Wanda has lived in her home for 55 years. She has a fondness for hummingbirds, cats, and hiking and fishing.
Wanda said when her new neighbors moved in about a year ago, the pneumatic wrenches used to put lift kits and custom wheels on cars began whirring. The music blared from the backyard garage as the big dog barked incessantly. All this happened after midnight within 50 feet of her bedroom.
Wanda complained to city officials. She sent e-mails and video files to them. When she didn’t hear back, she was told the e-mails never were delivered. She collected all her electronic data, put it on a thumb drive and put it in the hand of a city officials, she said.
She complained to the cops about the noise. The cops sent officers by who never heard any loud noises in the neighborhood. Later, Wanda was told by one city official that Peoples had been issued a business license and there was nothing that could be done.
Finally, Wanda got some action out of City Hall. Peoples and Roach were summoned to appear before the AHO on June 26. During that meeting, Peoples told City Attorney Litchford that all the cars he was doing work on belonged to him. The man said the city couldn’t tell him what he could and could not do on his own property.
Litchford explained to Peoples and Roach that their actions on their own property were “bleeding over” into the neighborhood. He reiterated that all of Shady Drive is zoned residential, and if he is doing body work on cars at his house for profit it is not allowed.
Litchford said it boiled down to Roach and Peoples’ desire to be good neighbors.
East Ridge is the most densely populated city in the state of Tennessee. Our 21,000 residents are crammed into eight-square miles.
In the last year, three new neighbors moved in across the street from my home on Marlboro Avenue where I’ve lived for the last 21 years. Luckily, my new neighbors set up households and didn’t set up shop.
I think its pretty clear that city officials in East Ridge have an issue with enforcing zoning laws, and not just in this particular case on Shady Drive. I’ve seen it and experienced it time and time again.
There is a single-family home on Marlboro that was renovated some years ago. The new owners are renting it to multiple Hispanic families. I have no idea how many people live in the house, but it violates the city’s ordinance which states no more than six people who are not related can live in a single residential home.
There’s a house down the street that sticks out like a sore thumb. The front yard is so overgrown it’s difficult but not impossible to see the small trees growing out of the gutters, the rotting casement windows, and the crumbling stoop.
In the recent past, this property came under the scrutiny of our codes division. The owner was summoned to appear before the East Ridge Housing Commission numerous times. Finally, the owner mowed the grass a couple of times and picked up some limbs from the front yard. That was good enough for the housing commission.
In 1999, when my wife and I lived on Franklin Place in East Ridge, a neighbor began renting rooms out by the week in three houses his elderly live-in girlfriend owned. A clear violation of residential codes. Ads were taken out in the newspaper advertising the rooms for rent. At one point, 13 cars belonging to the transient, weekly tenants were parked either on the narrow streets or scattered on a vacant lot. I complained to City Hall and got nowhere.
We moved. I hope the Kohlmanns don’t have to.
I guess it all boils down to a couple of things. If the zoning and codes laws in East Ridge are too hard to enforce and be effective, the City Council needs to amend them so they can be applied to improve the quality of life of our residents.
Secondly, do we simply want to act as decent human beings and be good neighbors or not?