Convenience store ordinance stopped in courtWritten by John Krudy | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Toledo ordinance imposing new requirements on carryout owners is stopped in court while the Toledo City Council and lawyers for carryouts and the city discuss the legality of the law, and possible amendments to it.
“We thought it was just like another cigarette licensing permit,” said Dan Ridi, who owns several Stop & Go locations in Toledo. He and other carryout owners first learned about the law March 17. Police officers started hand-delivering applications May 26. “It turned out it was a lot more than that. The cost is not an issue — it is illegal and unconstitutional.”
The City of Toledo originally approved Toledo Municipal Ordinance 797-07 on Dec. 11, 2007, but the law did not take effect until May 1. The Midwest Retailers Association (MWRA), which formed in response to the ordinance, sought and won a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court of Northwest Ohio (Sixth Circuit), which prevented the law from taking effect. On May 27, city lawyers requested an extension, and now have until June 12 to file their case.
The law, now known as Toledo Municipal Code 721, is primarily composed of three new requirements. It requires store owners to fill out a license application, including background checks, a zoning review and building inspection and a $250 annual fee for a license. It requires convenience stores to install cameras in the register area, and keep a tape library dating back 30 days. Any “authorized” city official can pick up a tape, without a warrant, with eight hours’ notice. And it makes store owners responsible for criminal activity in the store and its parking lot, crimes including loitering, lurking, gambling, prostitution and sales or use of guns or drugs.
What do the store owners think about enforcing the law?
“Absolutely not, even if I had three or four employees in the store,” Ridi said. “It’s putting their lives in danger.”
Kamal Abu Layla, who owns Nebraska Market near I-75, agrees.
“Should I ask every woman in my parking lot, ‘are you a prostitute?’ Should I ask every man if he has a gun? It would put my life in jeopardy,” Layla said.
Give or deny licenses
Former city councilman Robert Ludeman, whose term finished after the law passed in December, first drafted the ordinance.
“We were always frustrated when a special-use permit for a store selling alcohol would come up, and the city couldn’t do anything about it, since the state regulates alcohol sales,” Ludeman said. “This ordinance would give Toledo the ability to give or deny licenses,” a practice he said depends on the amount of police attention one address requires.
City lawyers John Winterhalter and Jim Bishop said they could not comment, since the case was under litigation. But Ludeman said Toledo could gear its licensing laws toward controlling specific sectors as they see fit.
“It’s a question of how the city can control the bad apples that cause criminal activity,” he said, referring specifically to The Spot Mini Mart on Dorr Street, which closed in 2006 after the city did not renew its erroneously granted special-use permit.
CEO Terry Glaser of UnitedNorth, the community development corporation of North River and LaGrange, said he took part in some meetings leading up to the formulation of the law. He said his group supports the licensing laws.
“In general, we support licensing for convenience stores that cause problems. We’ve got 15 of them in our area; some are great. But when they’re selling alcohol and cigarettes, it tends to cause problems.
Glaser said the stores, while necessary, aren’t always desirable.
“There’s not a lack of convenience stores,” he said. “They’re not a form of economic development. By nature of their business, they’re in areas of crime and trash.”
Attorney Keith Wilkowski, who represents the Toledo CDC Alliance, said he reviewed Ludeman’s draft of the new ordinance last year before it went before the council. But Wilkowski, who has announced his intention to run for mayor of Toledo in 2009, stressed that the alliance has usually supported zoning and spacing requirements rather than licensing.
“The City Council has taken up a very complicated and overly complex scheme,” he said. He said carryouts proliferated after the council changed zoning rules in 2004, and that spacing rules, while imperfect, were more effective. Councilman Joe McNamara introduced comparable spacing rules, unrelated to the licensing ordinance, on May 13.
No current city council members contacted by Toledo Free Press would speak since the case is under litigation.
Delivered by hand
Toledo City Police began hand-delivering applications for licenses to convenience store owners May 26. Chief Michael Navarre said his officers would not have delivered the one-page summary of the new law if he had known city lawyers would seek a court extension the next day. But he defended the practice of delivering the application form by hand.
“We checked to see how many applications were in, and we knew there was going to be a lot of noncompliance,” he said. Navarre said the police department met with the city’s law and neighborhood departments and decided to take action.
“It’s not our goal to generate a lot of criminal and administrative citations — we just want to get compliance,” he said.
Navarre said that most convenience stores do a good job, and that police will still respond to calls from convenience stores.
“We don’t expect [the owners] to be Superman, or put themselves in harm’s way,” he said. “We want them to make an effort, and the people who don’t make an effort will have their license revoked.”
Late on May 29, Ciolek asked that the court to deny the city’s motion for an extension and grant his convenience store owners a restraining order against the “armed” officers who delivered the forms. He said he had received “over 70” fearful calls from carryout owners, not all of them members of MWRA.
“I believe [Navarre] when he says he didn’t know about the extension,” Ciolek said. “But why the chief would not know — it’s a sad commentary on the city, and I think it shows they’ve not taken it seriously. These owners are scared — that letter suggests they could spend a month in jail.”