HALF WIN—Business owners in a strip mall on Airport Boulevard, such as Oasis Lounge owner Melanie Hearn, have been having it out in court with the Town of Gander for the last few years. The feud is over who’s responsible for paying the bills for work done on the town-owned parking lot in front of the building and the service road behind the block of businesses. A Supreme Court judge ruled in early April the group of business owners are responsible for the parking lot but not the service road.
For the last few years, there has been a court feud between the Town of Gander and a number of local business owners who own businesses in a strip mall on Airport Boulevard.
The battle was over who pays for work done to the town-owned parking lot and service road located in front and behind of the mall. A number of business owners have shared a frustration over paving bills, snow clearing, and other property “enhancements” on top of the property and commercial taxes paid to the Town of Gander.
An early-April decision by a Supreme Court judge stated the business owners are responsible for the parking lot in front of the strip mall, but not for the service road.
Loretta Dwyer, owner and operator of Loretta’s Flower World, has been sort of a representative for business owners who’ve set up shop in the strip mall and disagree with the footing the bills. The decision was a partial victory to a frustrating feud with Gander’s municipal government.
“I’m half pleased, and I’m half not,” she said. “It’s great that we don’t have to pay for the back of it, but I still don’t think we should have to pay for the front.”
According to Dwyer, the dispute over payments has been ongoing for about a decade, and there was an effort made by both the Town of Gander and a group of business owners in the strip mall to settle out of court.
“We tried reasoning with the Town, but what we found is that they were very unreasonable. One of the things that started it in the beginning was the snow clearing. I don’t mind paying for the snow clearing – mine is paid for. My dispute is the parking lot out there, the paving of it, fixing holes out there continuously, and billing us thousands of dollars for it. Within three weeks, it’s back to what was or worse. ”
One of the biggest frustrations shared by some business owners in the strip mall is what their tax money is being used for, said Dwyer.
“The parking lot was paved, and that’s where the big expense came from. They come in once a year to put a few stripes out there to mark the parking. As for our own garbage, we pay to have that moved. We pay business tax and property tax. Our question to the town is what our money pays for. If you’re a homeowner, and they came in to do work on your street – you’re a taxpayer – you don’t get billed again. You don’t get double-dipped for it, and as far as I’m concerned, we’re getting double-dipped.”
According to Dywer, the outlook on the situation is quite simple.
“It’s not our property,” she said. “It’s the Town of Gander’s property, and we pay taxes for it. Having to pay for it all affects our revenue big-time.”
While a number of business owners have refused to pay some of the bills, there were a few who were left with little choice, said the local flower shop owner.
“There were a few people who did pay up on the parking lot maintenance. A couple of them were town councilors and had no other choice but pay, so it didn’t look very good if they hadn’t paid the bills. Anyone selling their place was forced into paying, anyone trying to get a permit to work on their business was forced into paying.”
Melanie Hearn owns the Oasis Lounge in the strip mall. The Supreme Court decision warranted celebration, but not satisfaction, she said.
“It was a partial victory, but I’m still not satisfied,” said Hearn. “The big issue for us is not so much the snow clearing because I don’t think anybody really minds paying for that. The big issue for me was when they have a contractor come to do the snow clearing; we have no say in who we hire and who does it. When you’re paying $60 per hour, they should be paid by the minute. With regards to the front, the paving is a big issue that everyone had with the front parking lot. That was a bill that was almost $10,000, and that was just for my one business and me. There’s no one that can just pay that, but they did give me the option of a 10-year payment plan.”
According to Hearn, changes are made with little notice to the business owners, and that’s another frustrating part of the whole ordeal.
“It wasn’t even that bad,” she said, referring to the paved parking lot in front of the strip mall. “It didn’t even need to be done and I have the pictures to show that it wasn’t that bad. If we had gotten together as a block, all the business owners in the strip mall, and decided the parking lot needed to be done over the next couple of years, you could have planned for it. They make these decisions without consulting with us, and then they just send us the bill.”
The bar owner echoed the same frustration as Dwyer.
“The point is that it’s not our parking lot,” said Hearn. “It would be like paying for the streets. We pay thousands in taxes for our business every year. Where is that money going? It’s supposed to be used to pay for the snow clearing, paving, and the sweeping. Obviously, it’s not going towards what it’s supposed to be. I don’t mind taxes. I understand the Town has things to pay for like paving, water and sewer, and snow clearing, but we feel like we’re being pushed into this us against them mentality.”
According to Dwyer, it’s still unclear whether or not business owners in the strip mall will be compensated for bills paid for work on the service road behind the block of businesses. The group is set to speak with its lawyer before the end of April to determine if the decision is worth appealing.
“If we appeal, we could lose it all,” said Dwyer. “At least now we’ve halfway won.”
According to a representative of the Town of Gander, members of the municipal government are not commenting on the situation until the window of appeal closes, which is 30 days from April 3.