The operator of a controversial inner tubing and rafting service on the Gunpowder River argued at a Baltimore County code enforcement hearing Wednesday, Sept. 5 there's nothing illegal about his business.
Gary Kloch, of Cockeysville, owns Gary's Tube N Taxi, a 4-year-old seasonal business based at 16938 York Road. There, people can rent inner tubes and rafts for $20 and $25 respectively, and then board shuttle vehicles to Big Gunpowder Falls, where they can spent three hours floating down the river. At the bottom, they are dropped off and taken back to their cars.
But people who live along the Gunpowder have complained that rafters, tubers and kayakers from several such services are noisy, drink alcohol, urinate in the river and throw bottles and trash in yards.
Tensions between residents and people floating on the river reached a boiling point in June, when one such resident, Michael Hamilton, of Monkton, was arrested after shooting at several kayakers — none of them Kloch's customers.
The county claims that Kloch, who closed his business for the year after Labor Day last week, failed to cease operation of what the county calls a "bus terminal" and a "trucking facility" at Kloch's headquarters on York Road, and that he failed to take down in a timely manner oversized signage at the site.
The county also claims that Kloch violated county zoning laws by operating the service in a Business Major zone that does not allow for such a business.
Kloch and his landlord on York Road, Carl Yarema, have been hit with fines totaling more than $16,000, said Kloch and his attorney, former county zoning commissioner Lawrence Schmidt.
Jerry Chen, a code enforcement officer for Baltimore County Department of Permit Approval and Inspections, said at the county administrative law hearing Wednesday that he issued a corrections notice to Kloch on July 19 and later met with Kloch to discuss the citations.
"We discussed each violation and how he could comply," Chen told administrative law Judge Lawrence Stahl.
But Kloch told the North County News after the hearing that he got the runaround and was sent to several different offices over the course of about three hours.
Kloch was issued a formal citation Aug. 15.
Schmidt on Wednesday asked Stahl to dismiss the case against Kloch, arguing in part that the vehicles aren't buses, but "step-vans," and that since the shuttles are free to customers, Kloch "doesn't operate a transportation service. He operates the rental of tubes and rafts."
However, Chen countered, "One cannot get on the bus unless you rent a tube" or a raft.
Schmidt argued that a shipping container on the site does not qualify the site as a trucking facility under county law.
Schmidt also argued that Kloch has a vendor's license, known as a hucksters license, and doesn't need a use permit under county law.
Schmidt said that Chen issued citations too soon after the corrections notice, because the county allows for a 35-day grace period.
However, Chen told the judge that Kloch demanded a citation, but that Chen told him it was premature.
Schmidt further argued that his client makes customers sign a form stating that they will not bring alcohol on the river.
Schmidt contended that Kloch is a scapegoat because of mounting tensions between residents and users of the river.
"Obviously, the county is concerned about this, rightfully so," Schmidt told Stahl.
"Something has to be done," agreed Yarema, in a separate statement to Stahl. "All Baltimore County is doing is trying to remedy the situation. But I personally don't think this is the right way to do it."
And Yarema, noting that he is a lifelong county resident who floated down the river as a youth, suggested that the issue could be "eliminated by saying no swimming in the Gunpowder."
Stahl said he is not prepared to rule yet and asked both sides to submit formal letters arguing their legal positions by Sept. 21.
"Frankly, there's a lot to look at, and I'm not going to make a decision sitting here," Stahl said after the hour-long hearing in Towson.