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Tent sales irk nearby businesses

Established merchants call the vendor an eyesore. The tent owner says she's being harassed.

By TIM GRANT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002


CARRLLWOOD -- A group of business owners are lobbying to shut down an Ehrlich Road tent business they say is operating illegally.

The owners of Galaxy Fireworks and Flower Hutt have a vendor license allowing them to operate temporarily from a roadside tent near the corner of Ehrlich and Hutchison roads. The business sells trees at Christmas, pumpkins at Halloween, flowers on Mother's Day and firecrackers for the Fourth of July.

Galaxy owner Sharon Honeywell has been cited for code violations in the past, but the process stops whenever the business closes for several weeks. Nearby merchants say Honeywell is operating year-round and manages to skirt the more stringent requirements placed on permanent businesses.

"This is not a curbside vendor. This is a continuous business that is not following zoning regulations," said Frank Leto, a real estate agent who has been a tenant at the office park for five years.

Not only is Honeywell's business an eyesore, area business owners say, but she lets trash pile up and it lowers the image of the area.

"Last Halloween, she had rotting pumpkins in an open pile behind the business that had begun to emit a foul odor," said Joseph Kerstein, an insurance agent, who called the Sheriff's Office to complain.

Honeywell, who runs 25 vendor sites in Hillsborough County, said she has all the required permits for the Ehrlich Road business. It has been at that location for three years, but the business has been in the vicinity for 20 years, she said.

"This is total harassment and we're getting tired of it," Honeywell said. "The people in that business center have called code enforcement continuously."

Honeywell denied the allegations of rotting pumpkins at her business. She said during Halloween season, a local pig farmer collects the rotten pumpkins daily.

County code enforcement supervisor Jim Blinck said Honeywell's business has a long history of violations at that location.

Those violations include improperly displaying nonconforming signs, having more than one recreational vehicle on the property and parking a semitrailer there for storage, Blinck said.

Blinck said Honeywell has been cited for not complying with the conditions of her roadside vendor permit. A stipulation in the code allows Planning and Growth Mangement to revoke the permit if she does not comply. If she operates without a permit she could be fined.

"Right now the business is in compliance because it's closed, but next week when they start selling fireworks for the Fourth of July, the violations usually start all over again," Blinck said.

Most curbside businesses close and move frequently. They include car sales, fruit stands, Elvis paintings and boiled peanut sales, which are allowed with a vendor license. Such vendors are held to lower standards for the type of signs they can use to advertise their businesses. They pay no property taxes and have few, if any, overhead expenses. It costs about $100 a year for a vendor's license, and they are not subjected to the extensive site review process often required of permanent businesses.

Galaxy Fireworks and Flower Hutt is unique because it is a large roadside vending operation. Most vendors operate single stands, but this statewide company has 25 stands in Hillsborough County and stands in three other states. Honeywell said that of all her vending sites, this one is most problematic because of the constant complaints from nearby businesses.

"We've been out there half a dozen times," Blinck said.

Kerstein, an insurance agent at the Ehrlich Road office park for 10 years, was one of the four tenants who signed the petition May 30 urging that Honeywell be compelled to follow the rules.

"As businessmen we pay property taxes and have to obey codes and we expect the county to uphold the same business rules for all businesses," Kerstein said. "They are classified as curbside vendors but they are there for weeks on end."

-- Tim Grant can be reached at 269-5311 or at grant@sptimes.com.

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