By Alex Bridges
MIDDLETOWN -- A gas station owner says she wants to work with Middletown leaders to resolve complaints about tractor trailer noise.
Town Council wants Liberty gas station on Reliance Road to take steps to keep tractor trailer drivers from idling or parking their vehicles in the lot overnight. Members argue that the business appears to operate as a truck stop against local regulations. The business remains a popular stop for tractor trailer drivers.
Business owner Sherry Bohnenkamp said Tuesday she offered to pay for signs that would tell truck drivers not to idle their vehicles for long periods of time. Bohnenkamp said she and police Chief R. Philip Breeden discussed options and he suggested that the town could split the cost.
"I would put up signs saying 'no idling' and that's what's been causing the issue I'm assuming," Bohnenkamp said. "I hope we can come to an agreeable decision because it is in the town's favor. The more vehicles that can come into the lot the better because that brings more income to the town."
Bohnenkamp took over the Liberty station at 90 Reliance Road almost four years ago. The station sits on about 2 ½ acres of land owned by Holtzman Enterprises. Bohnenkamp pointed out that the business brings tens of thousands of dollars in revenue to the town through its annual business license fees and taxes on cigarettes and meals. For example, Bohnenkamp said her business brought in $15,755 in cigarette taxes. She paid $8,000 to the town for her business license. She pays about $800 a month in meals tax.
But at the work session Monday, council scoffed at the idea of the town paying for the signs or to install them. Councilwoman Carole Snyder questioned why Bill Holtzman, president and owner of Holtzman Corp., had not formally responded to their request.
"I think he should have come back to the Town Council myself," Snyder said. "We addressed him and I would have thought he could have at least responded us officially."
It appeared that at least some of the discussion remained between the police chief and the business owner.
"I talked to the people at Holtzman and I told them the chief and I had come up with a compromise and he asked if the town could send him a letter saying that they agreed with the compromise," Bohnenkamp said. "So that's kind of what we were waiting on."
Trucks have parked in the gravel area of the property for 20 years, with the exception of the time when the business put up barriers, Bohnenkamp said. The business removed the barriers when the town's Zoning Administrator Fred Wharton found that there was no legal requirement for the barriers, she recalled.
The housing development behind the station was built after the store, Bohnenkamp said. The developer should have constructed a barrier to protect the neighborhood from the noise of the gas station, Bohnenkamp said.
"So I'm paying the price for that," Bohnenkamp said.
The station owner noted that the noise comes from the idling trucks, not because they park on the property.
"Or it could be their dog barking at the trucks, which is really the problem," Bohnenkamp said.
Councilwoman Carolyn Ailiff lives directly behind the Liberty station and brought the issue up to council a couple of months ago. Ailiff has argued that the gas station is being used as a truck stop. Council at that time agreed to have Mayor Charles Harbaugh IV write a letter to Holtzman and directed Breeden to talk to the business and property owners.
The letter sent to Holtzman states that "We understand that barriers have recently been removed from your location at Liberty gas station ... The barrier removal has led to an increased tractor and trailer presence at the business." The letter goes on to state that "We have also had a few complaints from citizens recently of some unlawful activity and noise complaints at the location at late hours. The town and its government greatly respect your business and your right to run the organization as you see fit."
Council then asked Holtzman to consider putting up signs on the property to restrict overnight parking or to set a time limit. The letter indicates council's wish to hear back from Holtzman.
Breeden told council Monday that he has spoken with Holtzman and the operator of the station in an effort to come up with a compromise.
"They have agreed that if we put the signs up and we pay for half the signs then they'd pay for the other half," Breeden said.
The chief told council four to five signs installed at the business entrances would suffice and police could enforce the restrictions. Breeden noted that the letter to Holtzman did not mention cost sharing, only that Middletown would cooperate with the owner.
Council also discussed the idea of asking the owner to put up a noise barrier between the lot and nearby homes. Snyder said she doubted that the owner would foot the bill to put up such a barrier.
Ailiff presented to council a copy of a regulation that requires industrial and commercial uses in town to have a hard-surface parking area and a driveway for access. However, as Breeden and Ailiff noted, that the ordinance does not address overnight or extended parking. Ailiff argued that the ordinance does not allow the station to use the gravel area for parking.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org