Neighbors are fighting the conditional approval of a man’s home auto-detailing business in Uppertown over noise concerns.
City staff had initially denied an application by Will Gutierrez, who details cars in the garage of a house he rents off of 34th Street, to run a home business, Vanguard Auto Detailing, over noise and traffic concerns. After agreeing to limit his hours of operation and take no more than three vehicles a week, Gutierrez received the support of city staff and approval from the Astoria Planning Commission in January.
Gutierrez argued that he can’t afford to lease commercial space for the business and pay child care costs for his newborn.
“My wife works outside of my home,” he said. “And when my son was born in July 2020, I realized that by running the business out of my home, I could have a scheduling flexibility necessary to share child care responsibilities. Providing for my family while also being present in my child’s life are values that are very important to me.”
Stephen Fulton and his sister, Sara Orr, who live across from Gutierrez in a property owned by a family trust, appealed Gutierrez’s business, along with neighbor Don Heiner.
Fulton and Orr complained of constant buzzing noise when Gutierrez is working. They argued that his business had been operating illegally before seeking a home occupation license, and that the city should require a zone change and analyze the impact of the business on the neighborhood.
City code on home businesses prohibits the on-site repair or assembly of vehicles and equipment with combustible engines. The neighbors contend city staff interpreted the code too narrowly, potentially allowing Gutierrez to run a full-service auto body repair shop.
“It is obvious that the intent of the code language is to prohibit the nuisance of any automotive repair, not just repair of engines,” the appellants wrote.
The issue of Gutierrez’s business has divided neighbors on 34th Street.
Anne Odom, who lives next to Fulton, argued that Gutierrez had addressed her concerns about noise by limiting hours, switching to quieter electric equipment and testing decibel levels at her house to ensure she could not hear him working.
“Will has done everything he can do to make this business, (with) which he is just trying to support his family,” Odom said. “As we know, that’s very difficult in a small town.”
The appellants called the change to quieter electric equipment “appreciated but irrelevant. The code is clear: If the noise cannot be contained on-site, the requested use must be prohibited.”
The appeal also took issue with potentially hazardous runoff and that Gutierrez would not be subject to the same inspection and record-keeping requirements of a business in a commercial area. Gutierrez explained that he plans to use biodegradable cleaners and a low-flow system for washing vehicles.
Planning commissioners were convinced Gutierrez had appeased concerns and that his business, if restricted in hours and number of vehicles per week, would not adversely impact the neighborhood.
“I would definitely not be in favor of this if it were 10 or 20 (vehicles) per week, but this is something (where) we’re talking three customers per week,” Commissioner Chris Womack said.
The appeal goes before the City Council on March 15.