Covenant restriction sends startup Glenwood green business packing
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A pair of young entrepreneurs say the threat of a lawsuit over what they believe to be a selectively-enforced neighborhood covenant is forcing their small-scale startup business out of the city, taking its potential sales tax revenues elsewhere.
“Manik” Ryan Johnson and Corey Britten said they began work in March to obtain the necessary local, state and federal business and tax licenses to start their new venture, Rooted Cultures LLC, producing an organic “compost tea” for use in landscaping operations, gardens and lawn care.
They began brewing batches of the tea, using organic ingredients and cultures, in the garage of the house they both rented at 804 23rd St. in Glenwood Springs. The product was then transferred to a 55-gallon drum in the back of a pickup truck for delivery to customers.
“We provide organic land remediation services, organic compost tea and biological soil testing,” Johnson explained of the business. “We’ve been utilizing our space at home to create this business, store a couple bags of compost and try to create a sustainable, green business for this valley.”
However, the operation was shut down last month following a dispute with neighbors over a large compost pile Johnson and Britten were building in the front yard for their landlord, Lisa Manzano, who also lives at the house.
The compost pile was not directly associated with the business, although it served as an example for how the compost tea can be used, they said.
Manzano had intended to use the resulting compost for the backyard terrace gardens and the newly xeriscaped front yard, which she said was in response to neighborhood concerns that her lawn had become overgrown.
“I finally had some roommates who could help me do it, and was really learning a lot about the process and how to do it correctly,” Manzano said. “It’s been really fascinating to me.”
Neighbors complained about the compost pile, however, calling it a “nuisance,” mainly because of its size and highly visible location. One neighbor, Donald “Rusty” Ford, approached the Glenwood Springs City Council at its July 1 meeting asking the city to have it removed.
“It’s a terrible eyesore,” he said. “It’s odorous, and a health hazard and a wild animal attraction. We need some enforcement of the rules.”
One of the next-door neighbors also happens to be Glenwood Mayor Bruce Christensen and his wife, Patti, who’ve also leveled complaints.
Johnson countered that a properly maintained compost pile presents none of the problems cited by the neighbors.
After several visits by local law enforcement, Manzano and her housemates were asked to remove the compost pile or face a $1,000 fine and possible jail time.
“OK … no problem,” Johnson said.
In the process of dealing with the city, though, the home business venture came to light. It was suggested that he and Britten seek a home occupation permit through the city planning department.
Again, no problem, he said.
They researched the requirements, applied, were approved and were only waiting for the final go-ahead.
“We were inspected by the fire marshall, the zoning office and building and planning office,” Johnson said. “All passed, with no concerns over what we were producing in our garage.”
Then, last week, they got a letter in the mail from Glenwood lawyer Tony Durrett on behalf of a group of undisclosed neighbors, saying they intended to file a lawsuit against the business owners and Manzano for operating a business out of their garage. The letter cited a Crestwood Park Subdivision homeowners’ covenant prohibiting anything other than residential uses in the neighborhood.
“This was something written in 1966,” Britten said. “But there’s no active homeowners’ association or governing body to review such things.”
Christensen declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said, “The neighborhood does have covenants, which prohibit anything but residential uses.
“Most of the subdivisions around the city have covenants, and as a homeowner in that subdivision you are expected to abide by those covenants,” he added.
According to Glenwood Springs Community Development Director Andrew McGregor, home occupation applicants are advised that, regardless of any city approvals, homeowners’ covenants can restrict business activities in residences.
The city’s residential zone districts generally allow for home occupations, as long as they’re low key, don’t generate a lot of traffic or present any other “outwardly apparent impacts,” he said. In fact, the home occupation rules were recently amended to make it easier for people to operate small businesses out of their homes, McGregor said.
As for Rooted Cultures, “They went through the process and got a permit to allow them to run the business out of their home. But, apparently that type of use is in conflict with the covenants in their neighborhood,” he said.
Rather than fight it, Britten and Johnson decided to move on and operate their business elsewhere.
“There’s no reason to fight, we’re not here to create conflict and make people upset,” Britten said. “If we could have just communicated and explained things, though, we might have come to some understanding.”
Instead, he and Johnson were refunded their home occupation permit and city sales tax license fees.
Johnson and his girlfriend have since arranged to move to Missouri Heights outside Carbondale, and he is currently researching Garfield County’s regulations for such businesses in agriculturally zoned areas.
But, he questions why Glenwood isn’t more open to small businesses that don’t require a full-scale commercial location to operate.
“How is a local, new green business supposed to thrive, or at least get their roots in the ground, when we have lawsuits hitting us?” he said. “I had the idea that for the local and national economy to grow, recover and thrive, local business would be the key.”
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