Danedri Thompson
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Tyrone Jones may get his money paid in city fees back, but his business as he knows it is over.
Gardner City Council members approved changes to the city municipal code that will allow city officials to waive or reduce certain fees in the case of demonstrated hardship. The code change may allow Jones, an embattled used car business owner, to recoup some of the fees he spent to keep his business in town. However, Jones was notified on the day of the meeting, Nov. 18, that he would not be allowed to apply for a temporary use permit that would allow him to continue used car sales in his current location for up to two years.
During a heated discussion between community development director Mike Hall, Jones and Police Chief Gerald Cullumber, Jones said it appears the city wants to run minority-owned businesses out of Gardner. Jones is black, and the property from which he sells cars is owned by a man of Indian descent.
Jones cited several reasons for his belief that Gardner officials don’t care for minority-owned businesses.
For example, Jones said during a previous meeting that Jones shouldn’t be allowed on the sidewalks.
“I was told I couldn’t stand on the sidewalk,” Jones said.
Fotovich was referring to conducting business from the public right-of-way, arguing the lot was so small Jones would have to do business on the sidewalk.
Jones also recalled that police officers escorted city council members to their cars following one council meeting. The officer told council members he was offering an escort because Jones had left the meeting, and no one was certain where he had gone.
“We just provide a level of security at every meeting,” Cullumber explained during the heated discussion. He offered to meet with Jones privately to discuss the issue.
Jones also cited how city officials have handled the mistakenly-issued permit that started the used car sales debate.
City staff issued a permit to allow the sale of used cars at 18865 S. Gardner Road in September 2012. At the time, officials told Jones that renewing the six-month permit would be a simple formality. It turned out to be anything but.
In March of this year, Jones received a letter saying the permit was issued in error and he would have 90 days to cease and desist from selling cars. By code, used cars can only be sold in areas with a C-3 zoning. His car lot is located in a C-2 zone.The current zoning allows the sale of used cars, but only alongside new cars. When Jones first approached the planning commission for a remedy, commissioners suggested they could consider changing the definition of C-2 zoning to allow for the sale of used cars. The idea was eventually nixed.
Commissioners and staff next suggested that the property owner apply for a zoning change from C-2 to C-3. After a lengthy process, and a more than $900 in application fees, planning commissioners followed the advice of city staff and recommended denying the request. They voted under the assumption that Jones could apply for a special use permit that would allow him to continue selling used cars in Gardner for up to two years.
The city council followed suit a few weeks later. Following the suggestion of city staff and public officials, Jones applied for a temporary two- year special use permit to remedy the situation. He was informed on Nov. 18 that legal counsel had said the application is not legal. Ryan Denk, city attorney, told council members that per Kansas statute and city code, that a special use permit can only be issued for properties that first qualify under zoning ordinances.
Angie Jones, Tyrone’s wife, said their house is on the market and they are leaving town as soon as it sells.
“We’re going to sell our house. We’re going to shut down our business,” she said.
She said the year-long fight to keep their business in Gardner has been a drain on her family’s resources.
Their son goes to the high school and has to hear about her family being treated like criminals.
““We’re respectable citizens who have just been told tonight that we’re going to lose our livelihood,” she said.
City council members agreed not to direct staff to enforce the city’s zoning rules at 18865 S. Gardner Road for up to six months.