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Inoperable vehicles

The Hays City Commission is being challenged on its ordinance prohibiting inoperable vehicles from sitting for too long in plain view.

Not challenged in a legal sense, although who knows what will happen ultimately. But for now, commissioners certainly are being questioned about the law's practicality as it relates to a particular industry.

"How can somebody sit down and put an ordinance in place that prevents somebody that's in a business of repairing vehicles from having damaged vehicles on their property?" asked Chris Miller, owner of Auto Tech on Vine Street.

Miller has been cited for having inoperable vehicles on his properties for longer than 30 days. City staff has followed established procedures in an attempt to remedy the situation, but the vehicles remain. City commissioners now need to decide whether to approve having the vehicles removed and charging Auto Tech's owner for the service.

Miller is hoping elected officials will give special consideration for commercial operations.

"We, as business owners, should be allowed some leeway to run our business, to try to turn a profit and do what we think is right for our business without worrying about being picked on by our city officials," he said.

If we believed the city to be picking on this particular business, or if officials actually were attempting to tell the owner how to run his business, there would be no doubt where we'd stand on this issue. When it comes to private citizens vs. big government, we'll virtually always side with the underdog. Safeguarding the rights of individuals is one of the ways we perform our role as watchdog.

In this case, however, the extenuating circumstances offered by the business owner are not enough to persuade us the requested abatements not take place. We perceive the "little guy" in this scenario is not Mr. Miller but the public at-large.

Municipal zoning regulations adopted decades ago declared that "junked, wrecked, dismantled, inoperable and abandoned vehicles in and upon private real property within the city is a matter affecting the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the city ... " The ordinances even exempt auto repair and body shops, although they must house the vehicles in a building or otherwise "totally screened from view."

The fencing option is relatively new, and appears designed with these businesses in mind. After all, a fence is much less expensive than an enclosed building.

As the rules were in place when Auto Tech opened for business, it appears the commission's proper response is straight-forward. The city has the authority to decide where such a business can operate in the first place, and has the responsibility to ensure the general welfare for all residents. Commissioners are under no obligation to change an ordinance simply because somebody chooses not to follow it. In fact, their obligation is to enforce that ordinance.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net