Rubble, Rubble, Toil and Trouble
Frankford Residents Complain That a Local Business Refuses to Play by City Rules and Regs, But No One's Doing Much About It
On the morning of May 31, Terry Jett abruptly awoke to the sound of bulldozers demolishing the house next door.
Throughout the week Jett hadn't seen any notices posted on or around the home to signify it was going to be gone after that Saturday. He knew that the owner of the house at 4205 Parkwood Ave. was Bahram Bagheri, who also owns Sina Auto Sales, a used-car business on Belair Road.
Jett bought his home in Frankford just over two years ago. At the time, it was blocked off from the noisy Belair Road by two neighboring homes, 4203 and 4205 Parkwood Ave., and by a commercial property at Parkwood and Belair. He chose this home thinking he wouldn't have to hear the constant passing of cars, trucks, and buses. But Bagheri bought both of those Parkwood properties, and last year he knocked down 4203. Now that he's also knocked down 4205, Jett's house is exposed to the road, save for the used cars at Sina, and he says he can hear everything.
"I asked two of the guys who were standing [at the demolition site] why they didn't ring our bell," Jett says. "They said they were told not to tell anyone they were tearing down the house, like we wouldn't notice."
Jett says Bagheri told him he planned to renovate 4205 and rent it out; Jett says he was surprised to see this was not true.
"As much of a bad decision I think it was, [Bagheri] owns the property and he could tear the house down if he wanted to," Jett says. "My major beef is that the city and permit department gave this guy a permit and proper notification wasn't given [to us]."
When contacted for this story, Bagheri relayed a message through his secretary that he declined to comment.
Jett says that his house could have been damaged or destroyed by the debris, because he saw no effort to ensure safety during the demolition. "If this house hadn't come down the right way, it would've crashed into my house," he says.
Now all that remains on the spot is a large pile of rubble and dirt. Not only is it a mess, Jett says, but it has produced other problems: Since Parkwood Avenue is a steep hill, and the pile of rubble is at the top, neighboring properties are having problems with runoff.
"We have issues with water drainage at our houses," he says. "When it rains my neighbor's yard fills up with water. We have trash blowing down into our yard."
This isn't the first time Sina Auto Sales' actions have upset neighbors. Problems between Sina and the Frankford community began last year when Bagheri expanded the original location of his business at 4939 Belair Road. He tore down properties at 4941 and 4943 Belair and created one large, paved parking lot, according to Jett and other residents.
Within a few days of the first round of demolitions, Bagheri knocked down 4203 Parkwood, which was zoned residential. Jett says that no safeguards were used for those projects either, and that there were never any buffers installed to separate Sina Auto Sales, and its various half-finished projects, from the neighborhood.
A member of the Valley-Park Community Association (of which Jett is a member) contacted Donna Fairweather, an attorney for Baltimore Housing, to hold Bagheri accountable for the work he did and did not complete.
In May 2007, Baltimore Housing provided Bagheri a permit to repair the blacktop at his original 4939 Belair Road location. Upon inspection, seven days after the permit was granted, the city found that Bagheri had gone ahead and paved lots at 4941 and 4943 Belair without the proper permits, in violation of city building codes. In June 2007, Bagheri then was granted permission to construct a new parking lot at 4939 Belair after he submitted plans for the site. Baltimore Housing later inspected 4939 Belair and found that Bagheri hadn't followed through with the plans laid out in the permit. He was ordered to obtain the proper permits, remove the work, or both. He was issued a court order in September 2007 by Housing, which states that the lots Bagheri used for his business expansion "pose a serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public," and that he "did work beyond the scope" of the permit, citing the creation of the parking lot.
Baltimore Housing asked Bagheri to apply for a lot consolidation and a single-use permit for the combined lots, with plans for the multiple properties, within 10 days of the court order.
In January 2008, Baltimore Housing served Bagheri with another court order, claiming his three properties were still posing a threat to public health and safety. He had consolidated the three lots, but he did not remove the unpermitted work as the city had asked. He submitted plans for the three lots, but the court order noted that they had not been followed through. It ordered him, once again, to submit plans for the future of his properties. He had 30 days to submit the plans to the city and 90 days to "review and complete the required work."
As of May 31, when Bagheri demolished 4205 Parkwood Ave., he had not met the demands of that order. And the demolition of 4203 Parkwood, which took place a year earlier, had yet to result in anything but a heap of rubble.
Barbara Stratton, a resident of Frankford for the past nine years, and a member of the Valley-Park Community Association, says she's concerned about Sina's business practices and how they will affect the neighborhood's zoning. Right now, according to the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation, the property at 4205 is zoned for residential use. Stratton says that some neighbors worry that Bagheri will expand his business onto the site.
"Our fear is that [Sina] will apply for a change of usage permit for 4205 Parkwood," Stratton says. "Then the city will say it's a pile of rubble, so now he should do something with that."
The concerns of Stratton and fellow residents go beyond the demolitions, though. Last year, when Bagheri first demolished properties, people in the community began to smell paint fumes coming from Sina, Stratton says. She and Jett both say they smell the fumes every few days because Sina workers paint cars with the garage bay windows open.
"The odor comes as far as two blocks into the neighborhood from Belair Road," she says. "I have something called multiple-chemical sensitivity, so it's particularly bad."
They also noticed discharge leaking from Sina into an alley with houses along it around the same time they smelled the fumes. The discharge run into the storm drains.
Stratton contacted the Baltimore City Health Department, which told her the discharge was a result of washing cars. "But there were no bubbles," Stratton says. "The last time I saw the discharge I looked at [Sina] from the front and didn't see any car-washing going on."
Representatives from the Health Department told Stratton that Sina had obtained a permit for painting cars from the Maryland Department of the Environment, she says. They told her that Bagheri should not be painting with his bay doors open, allowing fumes to drift into the neighborhood, but also that in order to do anything about it, they had to catch Sina in the act of violating the laws.
Bernard Bochenek, director of the Bureau of Food and Ecology at the city Health Department, says that inspectors have visited Sina at least four times but no violations were found. "Every time we've been out there we can't justify there are odors or paint odors outside the building," he says.
Kim Lamphier, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment, says that an inspection took place on Jan. 8, after Stratton had called the department. She says that Sina was issued a violation for not having a permit for its paint booth on Jan. 17, but that the business acquired the proper permit in March.
Jett was out of town the week of June 23, and while he was gone, he says, workers piled dirt onto the empty lots at 4203 and 4205 Parkwood Ave. Neighbors called the city and were told by the Department of Planning that the dirt was not interfering with the neighborhood, but the city did present Bagheri with another court order for not following up with the first court order, which required that he submit his plans for his consolidated properties; he is now in contempt.
A hearing on the Bagheri case is scheduled to take place in July.
In the meantime, Jett says, the Frankford community is trying to revitalize itself and recently received $5,000 from the city for a beautification project. "We bought flowers, plants, and mulch for members of our community to make it a better place to live," he says. "We have police walks once a week. We've been actively trying hard to rectify years of neglect and blight."
It's frustrating, he says, to have to deal with the "eyesore" created by Bagheri's business.
"I look out my window and all I see is banged-up cars from auctions, piles of tires and car parts," Jett says. "I'd rather look at the side of a house."
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201