Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Welcome, entrepreneurs

It's not easy to run a business in Youngstown, which, along with Mogadishu, are the only two cities to win more points than Cleveland for incompetence and corruption in this year's Winston Cup. That's what Jamie Lundt learned when he tried to open a towing business on Midlothian Avenue.

The property is zoned industrial, but the planning department said it wasn't the right kind of industrial zone for a towing company, so it refused to let Lundt open.

His mistake: He appears to be in a strip-joint-only zone. Next door sits the gentlemen's club A New Affair. According to city code, all strip joints must be 500 feet from a residential neighborhood. Angry at the city, Lundt measured it and found the nearest house just 300 feet away.

Lundt squawked to the city, but got no response. So he painted "Save R Neighborhood" and "Close the Illegal Go-Go Bar!" in giant letters across the front of his vacant building.

City Hall wasn't happy. Planning director Bill D'Avignon tried to get a special ordinance giving A New Affair a pass on the zoning law -- though he wouldn't do the same for Lundt's towing business. Then the city charged Lundt with criminal graffiti. Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains also sent Lundt a letter threatening him with jail if he didn't appear at the prosecutor's office at 10 a.m. December 10.

But this being Ohio, government officials didn't have a clue what they were talking about. The graffiti charge was bogus, since state law defines graffiti as painting stuff on someone else's property without the owner's consent. Anyone familiar with a little thing called the First Amendment knows that Lundt can write whatever he pleases on his own building. And no prosecutor in the country can order someone to appear; only judges can do that.

"It was complete bullshit," says Randi Barnabee, Lundt's attorney.


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