River Cities Gazette

Tempers flare at Medley council meeting over seafood processing business

HOT UNDER THE COLLAR: Medley businessman Gary DiPalo was one of many business owners lined up at the podium at Monday night's meeting to voice their major objections to a potential seafood processing business being given a special exemption to come in and set up shot right next to them.
HOT UNDER THE COLLAR: Medley businessman Gary DiPalo was one of many business owners lined up at the podium at Monday night's meeting to voice their major objections to a potential seafood processing business being given a special exemption to come in and set up shot right next to them.
Gazette Photo/BILL DALEY

River Cities Gazette

Even though the Fourth of July is still three months away, that didn’t mean the Town of Medley didn’t have its own version of an early fireworks show at its monthly meeting last Monday night, April 7.

More than a dozen business owners were lined up to take their turn at the podium and give the council their very strong opinions.

Opinions that became so heated that Mayor Roberto Martell, normally a cool, collected customer, was forced to raise his voice showing plenty of anger, slammed his gavel several times and at one point ushered a police officer to “take him out” when one business owner would not back down from the podium.

At the heart of the controversy was a public zoning hearing for the council to consider a resolution approving a Special Exemption Use within the M-1 Zoning District for Casa Blanca Fish Market, Inc., a seafood-processing business.

As the building owners at 7287 NW 78th Terr., both Rolando Castillo and Alejandro Alonso were present at the meeting representing Casa Blanca and took to the podium to try to assure council members and their neighboring business owners that all the proper measures were in place for proper disposal of all materials and sealing of any outside odor.

But none of the business owners were buying any of it as past promises from other seafood places had never been kept.

In the end, nothing wound up being done. The council ultimately voted unanimously (5-0) to table the issue until its May 5 meeting, but that didn’t come before more than an hour of debate not only with the irate business owners but even amongst themselves as four of the five members clearly were on opposite sides of the fence.

Martell and Jack Morrow were in favor of giving Casa Blanca a chance, while Vice Mayor Griselia Digiacomo and Edgar Ayala were clearly opposed. Susanna Guasch more or less straddled the fence and wanted to hear what both sides had to offer. 

Then, one by one, the business owners, who were literally standing in line behind the podium, were allowed to have their say and given a three-minute time limit since there were so many in line.

“I love fish but I’ve already had to deal with two other fish distributors in the past and it’s been a terrible struggle,” said Gary DiPalo of All Tool & Fasteners. “These places have a track record. The smell is terrible, water trickles right to the front door of my business and when it dries, there is a slimy film in the parking lot and it simply drives our customers away.”

“I have seen this before and what amazes me is the way that Mr. Morrow is defending these people,” said Manuel Vazquez of Danadri, LLC. “Even though I understand it hasn’t, it sounds like it’s already been approved or going to be approved.”

“I feel for the owners of this business but you see us all lined up here to voice our objections,” said Mike Keener from Hemisphere Packaging. “You’ve heard from your neighbors and nobody wants this for a variety of reasons.”

“Why should all of these businesses suffer for one single business?” said Maggie Arango of Ace Spray Service. “We’re all struggling in this poor economic climate and if you see this through you might gain one business but you might lose all of us in the process.”

At one point, Ayala jumped in to voice his concerns and objections and then actually made a motion to deny the Special Exemption Use, which was seconded by Digiacomo. But when Morrow, Martell and Guasch voted no, the motion fell by a 3-2 margin.

That’s when things started to get out of control in the council chambers as the business owners, sensing this thing was being rammed down their throats, didn’t even bother approaching the podium but just started shouting out from where they were standing.

Morrow and Martell were advocating giving them a two-month trial period, at which time if they didn’t comply to all the restrictions, they would be shut down.

“Come on, are you serious?” shouted one business owner. “There’s no way anything like that could be enforced in such a short period of time.”

“I will inform you now in this meeting tonight that we’re here to make sure your businesses are protected,” said a clearly annoyed Martell. “That’s my intent, but at the same time I don’t want to deny a business person an opportunity that if he says he’s going to have it sealed tight, to give him a chance to do that. The first time there is a problem, code enforcement will come in and shut them down. The special exception expires with no further action. No citation. No hearing. We are putting the burden on them.”

Then it was time for Town Attorney Steve Helfman to get involved and voice his concerns over exactly how such restrictions would be set up and how they would be enforced.

“As a council you would need to make it very clear exactly what these conditions were,” said Helfman. “The No. 1 issue is that there are no odors, correct? We need to understand this. If there is any odor from outside of the premises, who decides that there is an odor? A complaint from the neighbors? The town? You need to make that clear because if we’re going to be shutting them down, it has to be clearly defined. Is it one time? Do they get a warning? A lot of things need to be made clear.”

At this point, Guasch jumped in and made the motion to table the issue until the next meeting so as to get whatever restrictions for Casa Blanca would be in place clearly defined before even considering approval. Ayala quickly seconded the motion, which then passed unanimously.

“When is the next meeting?” inquired one business owner, who was told May 5. “I’ll be here.”

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