People living near North Miami dry cleaner 'Call Christina' to complain of noise, fumes
City records document laundry list of violations
NORTH MIAMI, Fla. – There is an industrial-sized problem just feet away from apartments and homes in one tree-lined neighborhood of North Miami.
Residents living near North Miami Cleaners, doing business as Spotmasters Linens "R" Us, called Local 10 News investigative reporter Christina Vazquez to complain of an incessant, loud hum of machinery.
"A constant turbine sound, a constant hum," explained Robert Husted. "The frustration gets really high."
"Seven days a week," said resident Dr. Hector Medina. "We don't have no peace."
Residents have shared their experience in videos posted on YouTube.
Medina said he has invested thousands of dollars on new windows, even a new door, to help shield the interior of his home from the loud hum outside.
For years, the company has racked up a series of city violations and code enforcement cases pertaining to performing work on the property without permits.
In 2010, it was issued a "zone prohibited use." The notation in the city's log reads, "Operation of a dry cleaning plant in a C-3 zoning district is prohibited. Immediately cease such operation."
In Husted's view, the company has been operating for years, "in full violation of code compliance and the city has not done a whole lot about it. Despite our best efforts to see them come into code compliance they flout the law."
There are also complaints about fumes.
"People have complained of respiratory problems," explained Husted, who described the smell lingering in the neighborhood as a "chemical smell" like "sweet corn."
Medina and Husted are two of the dozens of residents who have petitioned the city to take action.
In a complaint affidavit with North Miami police, complainant Manal Harsouni wrote, "We have been living under extremely uncomfortable and unhealthy conditions due to Spotmaster Linens 'R' Us located at 1290 NE 125th Street. We cannot even open the windows of our own home due to the toxic and unpleasant fumes that enter."
"Spotmaster should be applauded for having grown a great business, but they have potentially outgrown their location and that is where the conflict has come into play," city Councilman Scott Galvin said.
"They are not a good neighbor nor have they tried to be a good neighbor," said Husted.
When Vazquez worked to both share the residents' concerns and provide the company's owner a chance to respond, Gwen Meckler, the woman state records identify as the owner, slammed shut the door of her Porsche and drove away.
"I agree that you should applaud any success," said Husted, "as long as it's in full compliance of the law."
City records document a laundry list of violations at a facility it said is operating unlawfully at an industrial scale.
Last December, the city filed a complaint for injunction and declaratory relief.
Monday, the city filed an amended complaint which reads, "This is an action for declaratory and injunctive relief to enjoin the cleaners from unlawfully operating its cleaning facilities without a certificate of use ("CU") and for a use not permitted under the city's zoning code."
"Beginning in the fall of 2013," the suit states, "nearby residents began registering complaints with the city regarding the level of noise (generated both by on-site operation of industrial cleaning machinery and by travel to and from the facility of large delivery vehicles), fumes and odors emanating from the facility, traffic concerns regarding the large delivery vehicles, and operation of the facility (with attendant deliveries) throughout the night. At that time, the city urged the cleaners to meet with residents to address their concerns. Within a year, however, the residents' complaints to the city had only increased."
As that case makes its way through the court system, the constant hum -- the industrial soundtrack to the lives of nearby residents -- continues.
While pleased the city appears to be working to address their concerns, Medina said he simply can't understand why it has taken this long.
In his view, the company's large-scale operation is "inflicting on the peace and tranquility" of neighbors.
"This has really flared up to be a big issue for the city," said Galvin. "Now that they have hit critical mass, we are getting critical mass complaints."
HISTORY OF THE PROPERTY:
Galvin said the location for the dry cleaner is a former Arby's restaurant.
In 2008, the City Council approved an amended special exception permit which allowed the business to operate as a dry cleaning establishment.
"At first they were a regular mom-and-pop dry cleaner," said Galvin. "Over the years they have expanded their business."
In the city's recently filed suit against the company, it is stated that in 2009 "the cleaners applied for a rezoning of the property from its commercial designation (then C-2A) to an industrial designation. An M-1 industrial zoning designation allows a 'dry cleaning plant' as a permitted use."
The company's application for rezoning was denied, "and the cleaners abandoned the application," the suit said.
But neighbors said it doesn’t appear the company took no for an answer.
The city claims in its suit that "in recent years, the cleaners has operated as a 'dry cleaning plant,' an industrial facility performing large scale linen laundry and dry-cleaning on the premises for off-site commercial and institutional customers. Such use is beyond the scope of the dry cleaning establishment approved by special exception for this C-3 zoned property."
In a zoning violation letter sent to Gwen Meckler in 2014, Nixon Lebrun, a zoning administrator, said the "many documented nuisance complaints brought forth by these residents attest to the fact that their health and general welfare have been adversely affected by the operation of your facility and that the necessary safeguards were not provided."
A meeting between the city and cleaners followed, but "no resolution was reached and complaints by residents continued."
"Residents would love to see us march right on in and turn off the lights and lock the doors," explained Galvin, "but we don't have the authority until a judge rules one way or another."
NOW A JUDGE MUST DECIDE:
Right now it is all up to a judge.
In the meantime, in a separate case against the city, the company has argued that the violations are based on "free-for-all" allegations since in their view, there was no independent testing to measure the level of noise.
That's based on the company's court filings. The owner, and the attorney representing her, didn't reply to repeated requests for a statement.
A judge will need to rule on the bigger question of whether the company is operating outside the scope of the company's current zoning.
"We can't just shut them down until a judge rules whether or not they're in violation of their operating licensure," said Galvin. "Until a judge rules one way or another, we just have to play this game out."
Galvin said the city did try to work with the company; showing them available industrial sites. He said the company claimed that, because to the heft of the large machinery, a move would be cost prohibitive.
Back in the neighborhood, the hum drones on.
A February 2015 Florida Department of Environmental Protection Hazardous Waste Inspection Report said the facility "was not in compliance at the time of inspection."
In May, Norva H. Blandin, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's compliance assurance program-hazardous wastes sent an email to Gwen Meckler saying that "the containers need to be storage indoors according to the state rule."
In June, Blandin told Meckler in an email that the facility "has returned to compliance."
Local 10 News also checked in with county regulators, who said they inspected when complaints have been made. To date, no issues have been noted with the operation of the facility.
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