PATERSON, NJ – The city has ordered the shutdown of five 5th Ward auto businesses, including a repair shop and junkyard, because they do not have the requisite certificates of occupancy.
The shutdown order, issued on December 27, is supposed to take effect in two weeks from that date. City inspectors visited the location at 189 18th Avenue in November after receiving a complaint from activist and possible mayoral candidate David Gilmore about the illegal businesses.
Gilmore, who publicizes various code enforcement issues on his “Let’s Save Paterson” Facebook page, is calling the impending shutdown a triumph for “the persistence of community and those interested in municipality and governmental accountability.’’
But the property owner, Jair Ramirez said he was stunned when he received the enforcement letter.
“I don’t know why they’re coming after me,’’ said Ramirez. “My taxes are up to date. I pay $32,000 in taxes. I spent $5,000 to get rid of the dirt that was here when I bought this place. I can take you all over this town and I can show you places that look like real dirt. They’re not shutting them down. All I’m trying to do is work and do the right thing.’’
Ramirez has a certificate of occupancy hanging on the wall of his own business, J&J Auto Sales One, Inc., which he operates at the property. Ramirez said he thought that document would cover the auto repair businesses that also operate on his land. The site, which Gilmore calls Gasoline Alley, contains more than a dozen garages for the various businesses.
The city’s shutdown notice says the repair shop, tire shop, junkyard, auto body painting shop, and auto electric repair must close. Ramirez said the businesses are all well run. He pointed to four license certificates hanging from the Lombert Auto Electric wall. “That guy, he went to school and did everything by the book,’’ said Ramirez.
Paterson officials – Business administrator Charles Thomas, Community Development Director Lanisha Makle and Community Improvements Director Kathleen Easton – did not respond to messages seeking their input on the situation.
It’s not clear whether the city conducts routine and comprehensive inspections regarding certificates of occupancy or if it only responds to complaints.
Gilmore said the city only pursues and prosecutes violators when pushed by the public. “We also believe that revenue opportunities from Code Enforcement go overlooked many times over,’’ said Gilmore. He said the Gasoline Alley the case illustrated that “with the number of violations in this concentrated area you can see that opportunity magnified clearly.’’
Gilmore said his efforts on code enforcement “continue to show the deficiencies of the execution of the duties of the Community Development Office management under the leadership of Director Lanisha Makle.’’
Meanwhile, Ramirez plans to consult with his attorney. He said he transformed an eyesore when he bought the property in 2002. “This makes me feel like I’m running something illegal,’’ he said, holding the shutdown notice.
“Look at these,’’ he added, reaching for a stack of sales receipts from the previous month. “I paid $7,310 in sales tax last month,’’ Ramirez said. “Do you know how much money and effort I put into getting my licenses for all this? Now I get this?’’