Published January 31, 2019
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING —The Select Board voted 4-0 with one member absent not to grant a Class II license for the sale of used motor vehicles at 144 Main St. for a multitude of reasons.
The applicant, Valentine Ndanga of Danvers, represented himself and applied for the license under the name VW Gas LLC d.b.a. Enterprise Petroleum.
The granting of such licenses is governed by state law requiring the applicant to meet specific criteria, none of which the board members determined that he could meet based on Ndanga’s description of his business operations and the opposition to the license request by Police Chief Michael Murphy, Building Inspector Gerry Noel and Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto.
According to Gilleberto, currently the properly permitted businesses operating from 144 Main St. are a gas station and an auto repair facility with two bays and an accessory towing operation granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals in October. He emphasized any towing operations are supposed to be directly related to towing vehicles to the shop with the intention of repairing them there for customers.
However, in his own testimony to the board, Ndanga stated that he has 11 tow trucks and 15 employees, including three mechanics and several gas station attendants. He explained that his trucks are sent to pick up vehicles for customers, often for Geico or All-State Insurance, and if they can be repaired they are towed back to 144 Main St. but if they are not able to be repaired the drivers take them elsewhere.
And therein lies the problem, argued Police Chief/Public Safety Officer Michael Murphy and Building Inspector Gerald Noel. By his own words Ndanga is operating the towing business as a principal operation, not as an accessory use, which is not allowed under the zoning bylaws and is in direct violation of the accessory use permit granted by the ZBA on Dec. 10, 2018.
Murphy and Noel provided the history of the business dating back to January 2018 when Ndanga filed with the state to operate a “Towing Service/Roadside Assistance” service out of Saugus and subsequently transferred that business to 142 Main St., a site which had previously had its Class II used car dealer’s license revoked by the town.
Ndanga is leasing the property, he is not the owner of either 142 or 144 Main St. The property owner did not appear at the hearing Monday night.
After reviewing the business certificate Ndanga submitted to his office in August for 142 Main St., Noel did not approve it because the towing operation was not a permitted use in the highway business district. In September, Noel and Murphy visited Ndanga after seeing signage advertising the towing business on the site. They met him on the premises and he told them he had just signed a lease to operate there.
Noel issued a cease and desist, which was appealed to the ZBA 29 days later, just under the 30-day appeal window. Subsequently, on Oct. 10, Ndanga filed another Certificate of Organization with the Secretary of State’s office for VW Gas LLC as a gas station and auto mechanic shop. The ZBA’s hearing on the appeal by 142-144 Main Realty LLC was opened Oct. 18 and the ZBA’s decision issued Dec. 10 found that the primary use of 142 Main St. is a rent-controlled trailer park for single family use and therefore the special permit request for towing and storage of vehicles on the front portion of the site was denied.
However in the same decision the board voted that the petitioner was entitled to an accessory towing use for the gas station /auto repair shop at 144 Main St. with a prohibition for use as a separate towing or storage operation not related to the principal use,
On Monday night, there were five tow trucks parked at 144 Main Street and in the fenced yard at 142 Main Street there were no less that 20 vehicles stored there, plus a boat.
Murphy testified that throughout the month of December various members of the NRPD observed the towing operations from this site and they counted 12 vehicles towed with only one returning to the site for repairs. “The other 11 vehicles observed were towed to the Coparts Auto Facility in Billerica” which he added is mostly used by insurance companies to “liquidate crashed vehicles.”
Murphy also stated that VW Towing was observed performing “substantial work at the Lynnway Auto Auction in Billerica.”
Based on these observations, the police chief told the board that the NRPD “established that VW Towing is not an accessory use to VW Auto Repair as stated to the Town of North Reading building inspector and Board of Appeals by Valentine N. Ndanga.”
In voting against the issuance of the Class II license, Select Board Chairman Mike Prisco told Ndanga that a Class II license “is a privilege not an entitlement and based on the feedback from our department heads in this case I am getting an unfavorable response and your response corroborates what they are saying.”
Prisco added, “My problem is you are not running a towing business to bring them back for the repairs. That is the issue at hand.” He advised Ndanga to try to get out of his lease based upon the fact that the property owner “gave you a false sense of availability of what you could do.” Also voted against the issuance were board members Kate Manupelli, Andy Schultz and Bob Mauceri. Member Steve O’Leary was absent.