1721 Como and Joe Baker Auto
Today, the Council passed a resolution I authored taking the somewhat unprecedented action of declaring a property – 1721 Como Ave SE – a “municipal problem.”
This issue goes back several years, and centers around a business called Joe Baker Auto. Back in 2003, responding to numerous concerns from Southeast Como residents, City Licensing staff started holding Mr. Baker accountable for some shoddy business practices, which included long-term storage of junk cars on the lot and in the street. After multiple violations, citations, and a mass impounding of a collection of inoperable vehicles, Mr. Baker allowed his business license to expire in 2006.
Since a licensed business was no longer involved, Zoning enforcement staff stepped in. From 2007 until the middle of last year, they gave Mr. Baker a number of citations, totaling $5,500, for violating the zoning code’s enclosed building requirement and for operating an illegal parking lot. (The fact that the auto repair license had been allowed to expire meant that the cars continuing to be stored on the lot could only be called a parking lot.) These fines have yet to be paid.
Then, last year, Mr. Baker allowed the property to go into tax forfeiture, which means it was controlled by the County. City staff asked that the property not be sold for six months, to give the City and the neighborhood a chance to find the highest and best possible use of the property, something that would actually serve the surrounding community. Unfortunately, during that time Mr. Baker has applied to repurchase the property from the County.
Along with Licensing staff, interested neighbors and County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, my staff attended a public hearing held by the County Auditor's office on Mr. Baker's repurchase application. The City's position is that 1721 has been a problem for the neighborhood and our regulatory staff for more than five years, and continues to be. The County's policy on repurchase applications states that one of the conditions for denial is if the property is considered a "municipal problem," with code violations. Commissioner McLaughlin recommended that the City make a formal statement to this effect before the next public hearing on January 12th. After some good work by my staff in conjunction with Licensing, Zoning, and the City Attorney's Office, the resolution was passed unanimously this morning.
It is my hope that this will help the County see its way clear to denying Mr. Baker's repurchase application, so that this property - located at a busy and highly visible intersection at 18th and Como - can go from being a frustrating eyesore to something that strengthens and serves the neighborhood.