CEDAR RAPIDS — The owner of Little House Artifacts must clear merchandise displayed in the front yard of a home reclaimed from the 2008 flood because it violates city code, officials said.
Beth DeBoom gambled two years ago in renovating an old house that had been flooded three times in an underused part of the New Bohemia District for her salvage business at 1301 Third St. SE. Her wares — things like secondhand doors and windows, lawn ornaments, sinks and patio furniture — lie in the lawn, which entices customers, she said.
“That is the discouraging part,” said DeBoom, a well-known historic preservation advocate. “What they are coming to see is mostly my yard. I hear that all the time, ‘I love your yard.’”
The most recent violation notice gave her a deadline of Friday to clear the yard.
DeBoom said she is working to comply but expects to experience a loss of sales that threatens the viability of her business, located at 1301 3rd St SE. She plans to re-evaluate this summer.
“I understand and appreciate this is a neighborhood of so many different types of businesses but we are eclectic and we need retail down here,” she said. “I’d like to believe my business has a place down here and I don’t want to think it has to be all pretty and shiny and new.”
City involvement started last fall after an anonymous person questioned whether the lawn violated the rules. City staff determined the display wasn’t allowed in the zoning code, which deals with displays of outdoor merchandise.
“All outdoor display and sales areas shall be maintained in a neat, clean, orderly fashion to assure that no adverse impacts will be caused to adjoining properties due to lack of poor maintenance,” Vern Zakostelecky, city zoning administrator, wrote DeBoom in a Nov. 20 email.
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DeBoom contended she sells primarily building supplies, for which there is an exemption. Zakostelecky disagreed saying in an email that “pertains to the principal use of the property, which the city has consistently determined to be facilities such as Menards, Home Depot, Lowes, etc.”
The staff is working with DeBoom on a possible conditional use permit that would allow a hard-surface display area, Zakostelecky said. If she applies for the permit, the deadline would go on hold and the city would allow an extension if needed, he said.
“She has already made changes to the site, and we always work with property owners who have made efforts to correct a violation,” he said.
DeBoom said she is torn, but plans to file for the permit.
She estimated it would cost $2,000, which is a big investment for her small company. Also, pouring concrete over an open grassy area flouts the city’s plan to reduce impervious surfaces to help with stormwater absorption, she said.
Steve Shriver of the New Bohemia Group, the representative organization for the district, said members “support what she does and how she does it.”
“It was a huge surprise to me to hear there was any problem with her merchandising her products out in the yard,” Shriver said. “I’ve seen this across the country. That’s how you sell vintage home goods. ... In our opinion, Beth is doing a good job of being a steward to the neighborhood and enhancing the retail experience of visitors.”
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