What: City Zoning Hearing Officer
When: 8:30 a.m. Aug. 8
Where: Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St., Garden Level Room No. 30
If you're dyslexic, or even if you're not, you'd probably swear a pawn shop is about to open where a produce and craft store is supposed to be.
But regardless of whether “Summit City N.W.A. P.” is a pawn shop or not – and owner Tim Bryant insists it's not – the business slated to open next month in a former veterinary clinic at 3030 N. Clinton St. is likely to be scrutinized very closely by city planners and officials whose support for the previous marketplace does not necessarily transfer to a business that may or may not have received all the approvals it needs to operate.
City Councilman Marty Bender and former Mayor Graham Richard had no reason to expect controversy last year when they wrote the city's Board of Zoning Appeals in support of Dr. Jay and Patrice Kumaran's request to open an outdoor produce, food and crafts business where Kumaran's Allpet Animal Hospital had been. “We were studying the need for more markets at the time,” explained Bender, R-at large, who wrote that the market would boost the economy.
But the Kumarans' idea never really caught on, which explains their desire to find another use for the property. Whether the use they found passes legal muster remains to be seen and is likely to be addressed when the city's zoning hearing officer reviews the case next week.
Last year the BZA granted the Kumarans a “variance,” which is bureaucratic jargon for permission to use a property for a purpose not normally allowed under zoning laws. In this case, the variance was required because the market would not have been permitted under the property's CM2 “limited retail and commercial” zoning.
But a variance allows only the use for which it was approved unless that use is consistent with the property's zoning, and city planner Rachel Black said a pawn shop would not be allowed in a CM2 district.
Not to worry, said Summit City N.W.A. P. owner Tim Bryant, who added that his business won't really be a pawn shop at all.
“We're going to open in two weeks. I don't have a pawn license,” Bryant said, noting that the shop's name is just an acronym for “North West All Products.” Instead of a pawn shop, which loan money and accept goods on consignment that can be reclaimed later, Bryant's business will be a straightforward buy-and-sell operation.
And, as another sign in front says, he'll buy “all pawn shop items”, including coins, musical instruments, tools, etc.
“I'll pretty much buy and sell anything of value,” said Bryant, who previously owned a similar store in Bluffton and said he'll have no problem complying with a zoning category that allows coin shops and music, book and variety stores.
Just one problem with that: Black said zoning officials will have to make that determination before the store can operate, and Bryant has not yet filed an application to do so. Even if he filed tomorrow, Black said, the approval probably couldn't come within two weeks.
“It appears to be a violation,” she said.
As a result, the only permitted use on the books for that property is a market place that no longer exists. BZA officials had asked the Kumarans for an update last month, but nobody showed up at the hearing.
“We no longer own the property. We're selling it on contract (to Bryant), Patrice Kumaran said, adding that she will send a letter to the city explaining the situation. “I didn't know there was a debate (about the proposed new use).
“As near as I can tell, they'd be operating illegally,” said Bender, who is also a city police officer. “I'm not big on another pawn shop, but if you want to do it, let's do it the right way.”
With the popularity of “Pawn Stars” and similar TV programs, the industry's image has been on the upswing. And even though Bryant's business is technically not a pawn shop, there's an undeniable similarity – something his signs implicitly acknowledge and even encourage.
Zoning laws exist to protect property owners from uses that might devalue values by allowing incompatible use. From what I could see of Bryant's operation, it will be clean and professionally run, will create jobs and pay taxes. That's all to the good.
But I have seen too many examples lately of property owners who did something first, then asked permission later – a practice that unfairly cuts the public out of the process until after the fact.
Government officials make their share of mistakes. But so do business owners, who are no less human. That's why it's important they work together to follow regulations or change them as necessary. If that hasn't happened here, it should.
If not, "pawn" won't be the only thing that's backwards here.