By Tony E. Windsor

A resident of Lake Drive addressed the Laurel Mayor and Council recently, offering suggestions on ways the town could address issues that create a bad look for the community. George Lodato made his comments during the Tuesday, Feb. 20, meeting and focused his concerns on the number of unregistered vehicles within the town limits.

“I have been coming to these monthly meetings and have listened to residents talking about how to make Laurel a better community for its citizens to live in,” he said. “I have listened to our citizens talk about the crime, with some good suggestions on what we need to do as a community to improve our town. I recall a citizen spoke recently to the council about his concerns on the condition in and around our center of town and on how he felt that the town was not moving forward on keeping up our appearance. This got me thinking and looking around to better see our surroundings.”

Lodato said he sees in the monthly police report issued to the council by the chief of police that there are a number of citations issued by officers to owners of vehicles that are not registered. However, he said he continues to see numerous unregistered vehicles in the town.

“As I drive along the main road coming through our town I see in one area on Market Street what appears at first to be a junkyard with unregistered and damaged automobiles in clear view. At first I thought it was a repair shop, but it seems the same autos are there,” he said.

Lodato went on to say that in January he noticed cars and trucks blocking the sidewalk in the 400 block of East 4th Street. He took photos to document what he feels is a concern about vehicles blocking the sidewalk. “I was confronted by someone from the business who asked me why I was taking photos. I explained to him my concerns that the automobiles and trucks should not be blocking the sidewalks. A couple of other people from the business came out and we had a basic conversation about my concerns and I was told that they were not doing anything wrong and that if I wanted to report it to the police that I should do so. I was told that the police will not do anything about it because it is a commercial area,” he said.

Lodato inquired of the council whether there are “different ordinances” for commercial properties than those for other parts of the community. “Do they (commercial property owners) not have to keep up their appearance? Can they let their property go in disarray? Can they block the sidewalks, and allow the lots to become messy with overgrowth and be a town eyesore?” he asked. 

Lodato said he was not aware of town ordinances as it pertains to tow yard storage, but said he believes the property should be fenced in and secured. “If either of these areas are not considered or registered as used car lots, the automobiles should be registered and insured but I see some do not have plates on them. The lot on Market Street looks more like a junkyard. There are few or no license plates on the vehicles. There are also no visible ‘for sale’ signs or any signs showing that it is a used car lot or a repair shop. I’m not sure if either one is a registered business as a repair facility or used car lot,” he said.

Lodato moved to Laurel from New Jersey three years ago. He shared about an incident that he had with his grass being uncut at a time he was still living in New Jersey and had not made the move to Laurel. “I received a letter stating that my lawn was overgrown,” he said. “I hired a landscaper to take care of the lawn. About two months later I received a citation for $250 saying that the lawn was again overgrown. So the town had it cut and issued me a fine.”

Lodato said unknown to him, the landscaper he hired had closed his business and he was not informed. “I sucked it up, and paid the fine. I felt that this was the type of place where I wanted to live and that it was my responsibility to do my part. I believe in ‘we the people’. It is only we the people who can make our town and community better for our children. Not only as it pertains to crime, but also the environment,” he said.

Mayor John Shwed thanked Lodato and suggested Town Manager Jamie Smith and Code Enforcement Officer James West review the written report Lodato submitted to the town and respond to his concerns.

Shwed said the property he was referring to on Market Street is a used car lot. He said the business is not required to post signs acknowledging the business. 

Lodato took exception and continued to express his concerns regarding equal treatment under the law. 

“I’m sorry, but if it’s a used car lot, storage facility, or whatever, they should be held to the same account as me as a resident,” he said.  “I can’t park my car on the sidewalk. They should be held to the same level of accountability as all of us.”

Shwed said the town manager would respond to him once she and the code officer have reviewed his written concerns.