Zbyneck Frank Omelka of Damascus may not be able to open a planned sign and advertising business in Mount Airy.
After purchasing the former Dennis Kitchen and Bath property at 1010 S. Main St. in 2009, Omelka has been planning to open Royal Signs and Services LLC.
However, after buying the property, in a residential part of town, he learned that the property was not zoned for commercial purposes.
Prior to its sale, Dennis Kitchen and Bath had operated under a nonconforming use that was applied to the property in the 1930s.
Councilman David Blais asked the Mount Airy Town Council to consider altering the town’s ordinance to lengthen the time before the nonconforming use on a town property would expire to five years.
The nonconforming use expired by 2009, two years before Omelka bought the property, because no business was operating on the property for a year.
However, the council voted 3-2 against Blais’ proposal, saying it applied to only one business.
Councilmen Blais and Bob King voted in favor of the ordinance, with councilmen Peter Helt, Chris Everich and Scott Strong voting against.
Blais and King said at the meeting that the ordinance should be considered because it would benefit the town’s economy.
Currently, properties that have been designated under nonconforming uses lose the classification after a property has become nonoperative or has been vacated for one year.
“I think we are playing catch up here simply because of the economic climate we’re dealing with right now,” King said.
The proposed ordinance was first introduced in September.
“I know it’s not commercial, I know it’s a residential zone, but it’s still my warehouse,” he said Monday. “I don’t see any big deal and I always try to work with everybody.”
The Mount Airy Planning and Zoning Commission also voted in November to deny the proposed ordinance.
Some councilmen expressed concerns Monday that, if approved, the ordinance would change town law for the benefit of one business.
“The problem here is, this property is residential. It was known to be residential, it was purchased as residential and now we are trying to change the code to allow someone to use a residential property as a commercial property,” Everich said.
However, Blais said nine properties could benefit from the proposed ordinance if it was approved. He also said that the five-year limit outlined in the ordinance is something that he would be willing to negotiate.
Several businesses, including nursery schools, professional offices, community centers and veterinary clinics, are allowed under the existing residential designation, under which 1010 S. Main St. is now classified.
Residents expressed mixed reactions about the proposed ordinance and Omelka’s business during a public hearing at the meeting.
Phyllis Reed, who lives nearby on Fairwood Lane, said she is concerned that Omelka’s planned business is not compatible with the rest of the community because it’s in a residential area.
“I’ve spent many sleepless nights worrying about the safety of myself and my property, but I am more afraid to think what might happen to my property if I don’t speak up,” she said.
Reed displayed several photos of the property that she took from her yard, most recently on Jan. 26. The photo presentation included, among other things, pictures of several trucks coming in and out of the property and people unloading materials into the building.
Omelka said during the meeting that most of the vehicles being seen in the pictures are personal vehicles.
Clare Morton, who lives next door at 1102 S. Main St., said that Omelka is a better neighbor than the previous business, Dennis Kitchen and Bath. She said Omelka has allowed her grandchildren to ride their bikes in the parking lot of the property and built a fence around it.
“[The] difference is night and day,” she said.