A Summerville Park Road man’s plan to construct a pole barn on his property has caused some residents frustration, and is being investigated by the county.
Robert Atkinson was granted a zoning permit from Columbia County on April 8 and a building permit from the town of Lodi on April 22 to construct a 1,800 square-foot accessory building on his property.
But during a May 28 Town Board meeting, upset residents – most of whom live on neighboring Bay Drive – said Atkinson is currently operating an unauthorized business out of his home, and contest that he plans to expand the operation into the approved pole barn.
Atkinson did not return a voicemail by press time.
However, a website lists his home as the mailing address for Atkinson Engineering, an industrial machine company that specializes in powder coating, welding and product development, among other services.
“It’s a residential area, a high dollar area,” said Town of Lodi resident Bob Collins in a phone interview following the meeting. “It’s not a place to run a commercial business … Before, (Atkinson) got away with it because people didn’t really care. But now he’s got people working for him … and is expanding. People are tired of it.”
The website for Atkinson’s business says he has one employee.
In response to the issued permits, Okee resident Roberta Arnold drafted a memo to Columbia County, which issued the original permit.
Arnold listed several potential issues with the approved project, including her contention that the alleged business activity on Summerville Park Road – which allegedly operates in a residential category classified as “R-1” – does not meet various criteria to exist within the R-1 zone.
At best, Arnold wrote, a conditional-use permit is required for the activity to continue. At worse, she asserts, the operation is entirely prohibited due to its industrial nature.
Columbia County Director of Planning and Zoning Kurt Calkins said his office received a complaint, filed by Arnold, on June 3.
“We took it as a formal complaint and we’re looking into the status,” Calkins said. “If we determine the use is (not in compliance), we will follow our enforcement to get him into compliance.”
“There may be no issue,” he added. “There may be an issue that can be solved through a conditional use permit.”
Lodi Town Supervisor James Brooks said the town cannot confirm Atkinson is in fact doing business from his home. Even if he is, Brooks said many types of home-based operations are allowed under county zoning laws.
He said it depends on several factors, including the square-footage of the residential-based business and its number of employees. Either way, Brooks said, the town doesn’t have authority to block construction because the Town of Lodi relies on Columbia County’s zoning code.
“I think the simple fact of the matter is this: It’s this person’s right to erect the structure,” Brooks said. “It’s within his right. He’s following the ordinances. I don’t know that this gentleman is even going to be running his business out of his garage.”
“I think we could assume that (Atkinson is operating a business from his home), but you know what happens when you assume things,” Brooks added. “But I wasn’t born yesterday, either.”
Brooks said the town could adopt its own zoning ordinances, but Brooks and several officials in the town office said there likely isn’t the political appetite to do so.