Jul 29, 2014

City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops

Franklin Street residents complain to city about K&C Auto Repair, AutoHaus.

City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops City Keeping a Closer Eye on Auto Repair Shops

Over the last two years, Dorothy Healey Lemelin has called or emailed city officials 34 times complaining about her neighbor, the and on Franklin Street.

Her complaints range from paint fumes that exacerbate her asthma and cars blocking her driveway to late night welding and tow trucks dropping off cars at 3 a.m.

She said calling and emailing city officials has been “exhausting.”

The fumes from the auto body shops “burn my throat, sting my eyes and make me dizzy,” Lemelin said. Doctors have prescribed medication for her asthma, made worse by the paint fumes. And the fight with the auto repair shop “makes me very nervous,” she said.

The City Council subcommittee on public health and safety, having heard similar complaints about the auto repair shops for years, convened a public meeting last Thursday night to ask city health, building inspection and police departments what are they doing and what needs to be done about K&C.

Subcommittee chairman, Councilor-at-Large Steven Pinto, also invited the K&C owners, which reportedly include John Anezis, to attend the hearing. But no one from the business appeared at the hearing in the city council chambers.

A visit to K&C after the hearing found the business closed for the night.

Jon Pitt, another neighbor, told the subcommittee that the paint fumes were so pungent that they smelled like you had your nose in a nail polish bottle. He also complained about a 5 a.m. tow truck drop off that was so loud it woke up his year-old baby.

Leslie Limon, a member of the Neighborhood Improvement Advisory Council, questioned if the business could operate until 11 p.m.

Others warned that children being driven to the Kiddie Koup on Foster Street are in danger from the traffic jams created by illegally parked vehicles at the auto repair shops.

City officials from three departments that supervise health and safety issues said there was little they could do.

Residents were not happy with the lack of city action against the repair shops.

Health Department agent David Greenbaum, who only learned about Lemelin's recent complaint against K&C in the last few days, said he would do an inspection of the business to see if it is complying with an agreement with the city to install charcoal filters to reduce the paint fumes.

K&C agreed to install the charcoal filters and build an extended chimney as part of a criminal complaint filed by the city several years ago.

But Greenbaum said he visited the business last year and stood on Lemelin's steps and did not find the fumes to be health threatening. He said he believes the car repair shop now uses latex paint, instead of oil-based paints, which are being phased out by the manufacturers.

He told the councilors if he hears any new complaints about fumes, "I will drop everything and go there immediately."

Police Sgt. Dennis King promised that he would alert the patrol officers to watch for parking violations around the auto repair shop. He said he would also find out what action the took when Lemelin filed complaints.

Building Inspector Tom St. Pierre said he would talk with the assistant town solicitor about any possible violations of the city's zoning laws. But he noted that an auto repair business appears to have been operating in that location since the mid-1960s.

“To take action against them for something that happened 45 years ago is just not going to work,” St. Pierre said.

He conceded that there are some unresolved violations, including issues with the dumpster. He said the city had not moved against K&C because of a lack of manpower. But he expects to enforce the issues against K&C soon.

Ward 6 Councilor Paul Prevey, whose district includes Franklin Street,  brought the issue to the council; he was frustrated that the city has little ability to help the neighbors. He said he would work with the city solicitor to write a new bylaw that restricts the hours of operations for industrial businesses near residential areas.

The subcommittee said it would review the departments' efforts again in the near future. 

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