Hampton auto shop owner feels ‘choked’ by new law limiting number inoperable cars seen on his property

Hampton

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A longtime auto shop owner on the Peninsula is worried he could be forced out of business after the City of Hampton has been quick to enforce new property rules aimed at eliminating eyesores.

On Oct. 14, the city council approved a change to their “inoperable vehicle code” that limits businesses that are licensed to conduct “heavy vehicle repair” to having a total of five inoperable vehicles in public view.

On Oct. 22, the owner of Autobahn Auto received five letters of violation for properties at 114, 116, and 120 West Pembroke Avenue. The letters signed by James Gillie — the city’s codes compliance inspector — listed at least 18 inoperable cars were located on the properties.

The city council’s code update requires them to be removed within 10 days or the city would step in, do it themselves at the property owner’s expense and fine the property owner.

In the case of Martin Bartloff, who owns and operates Autobahn Auto, this means he would have to remove all those vehicles by Monday. Something he said he has no means to do.

“I can’t believe it, what am I supposed to do? This is what I do for a living,” Bartloff said in an interview Tuesday afternoon at his lot.

Bartloff — who was born in Germany — has been working on cars since graduating high school. His shop — which he opened in the early 2000s — specializes in repairing German-made cars such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

He buys slightly damaged cars at auction and either uses them for parts or repairs and resells them.

Walking through the property one gets the experience of maneuvering through a maze of sorts. Customer cars in for a simple fix sit inches from historic VW buses that are surrounded by shells of totaled cars that are rusting away.

The scene is similar up and down Pembroke Avenue, with nearly half a dozen auto sales, repair and parts yards located along the roadway.

“It will impact many of the properties on Pembroke Avenue,” said Kimberly Mikel, Property Maintenance Division Manager of Hampton, in her presentation to city council.

An inoperable vehicle is defined as one that is not in operating condition and does not display either valid license plates or inspection decal.

Prior to the change, the city was allowing anyone engaged in auto sales to have an unlimited number of inoperable vehicles on their property.

Mikel did not include in her presentation any information on if any outreach was done to property owners ahead of time.

Bartloof said that is what bothers him them most.

“I never heard about it, nobody told me about anything. I would have gone to the meeting,” Bartloof said.

Especially since he has already been in a fight with the city on another issue.

Currently, Bartloof parks roughly 30 of the more than 100 cars on the property in what is actually a city street that has never been opened to traffic. Known as Cranberry Street, according to city records, over the summer the city also asked him to remove all vehicles from that land.

“By the city’s decision, I wouldn’t have any room to park any customer cars,” Bartloff said, as the city right-of-way runs right between his property. “It doesn’t make any sense to us. If it’s empty and they are not doing anything else with it, what is the purpose?”

The city’s stance: It’s simply not Bartloff’s property.

“Businesses are not supposed to use public property without a legal agreement,” said Robin McCormick, a spokesperson for the city. “It’s quite possible that they have been doing it for years but the city just discovered it.”

As for Barfloff’s inoperable car issue, McCormick said the property has brought about complaints from neighbors. She went onto explain that “if a property owner contacts the city and is working to bring the property up to code, the city generally will work with him or her.”

Still Bartloff feels the city is trying for force him out of his spot. The neighboring property — the former Nick’s Auto Sales — was purchased by the city earlier this year.

“We’re mom and pop business and that’s not very mom and pop business friendly at all,” Bartloff said. “I feel like they are choking me is what I feel like.”


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