PHOENIXVILLE - After 18 months of attempting to straighten out her business, Heidi Kaminsky was given conditional use approval for her do-it-yourself dog-washing business by borough council.
However, that conditional use is contingent upon meeting borough codes her business, PNK Pets, reportedly stands in violation of. Until then, Kaminsky may not open her business, which council had difficulty nailing down whether or not has already been operating illegally.
Kaminsky bought the building, a former hair salon operated by Martha Dennis since the 1930s, several years ago. After years of renovation, Kaminsky said she went to borough staff in January 2011 to begin straightening out her business.
She said her property has been classified as commercial because of the former hair salon and has been taxed as such, not as a residential property that the borough has classified it as.
According to a report done by Phoenixville's codes supervisor, Dave Boelker, Kaminsky's business violates two of the borough's codes for a home-operated business.
First, the business must be proven to be the bonafide residence of the applicant, which Boelker's report determined it was not. According to him, he did not see a bed, which would have helped prove that the applicant really lived there, he said.
However, Boelker only investigated the building's ground floor and was unaware that the applicant kept a bed in the basement.
The code violation more difficult to remedy is that the residential space on the ground floor, where the business is, constitutes 38 percent of the total floor space. Phoenixville's codes allow for just 25 percent or less residential space.
'You're going to have to move some walls,' council president Richard Kirkner said.
One way PNK Pets might not have to adjust itself to fit the zoning ordinances would be to apply for and receive a variance from the borough's zoning board.
Since the building was operated as a hair salon by its former owner, Kaminsky believed that its continuous use as a business would carry over to her.
In turn, Kirkner believed it had been some time since the salon was operational. As such, he said there was no continuous use that could be crossed over to PNK Pets.
Several members of the public at Tuesday's and other previous meetings have spoken out in support of PNK Pets, some calling it an 'asset to the community.'
Kaminsky said her business serves customers from a certain townhouse community which has tubs with warranties that are voided if pet toenails scratch them.
One of the big sticking points for council was whether or not Kaminsky was actually operating her business without license.
'You're telling us that you have hours and people have been coming there, patronizing your business,' Kirkner said. 'I go by, see doors open there with a sign that says 'Call.' Yet we're here talking about conditional use?'
'When I purchased the property, I paid a commercial tax,' Kaminsky said, though she said borough staff told her the building was residential.
'I have opened my doors and let people wash their pets,' she added.
The council established that PNK Pets does not have an occupancy permit. Without an occupancy permit, running the business would be illegal.
Eventually, council member Jennifer Mayo pushed the issue.
'If you started this (January 2011, then) you knew at that point, it was being run illegally, then why did you continue to stay open?' she said. 'I think the that's question that every single person up here wants to ask you.'
'It's allowing people to come to your house and wash their dogs. How is that illegal?' Kaminsky said. 'I would like to operate and have a (legal) business. I would like to have a sales tax.'
Kaminsky again reiterated that she's been trying to straighten things out for a year and a half.
'I'm not operating illegally because I'm not operating,' Kaminsky said.
Kirkner pointed out that the sign in her window with a phone number could be taken as an invitation for business.
Kaminsky said the sign could be construed as her 'decorations as a homeowner.'
A modified conditional use was put forth by council that would require for zoning codes to be met or variances to be acquired within 12 months,
In that time, Kaminsky would not be allowed to conduct any business. The definition of that, however, remained murky.
'I mean, a friend could call me up and say, 'Hey Rich, I'm going to bring my dog over to your house and wash him,'' Kirkner said. 'He could (then) throw a case of beer at me.'
Every council member that spoke said they supported the business, but the fact that the business violates borough code was overwhelming. Council voted 7-0 for the modified conditional use.