The property’s owner, Celestino Venturi, asked the city to amend the zoning at the strip mall that houses Cruchelow Jewelry & Loan at Cobb Parkway and Mack Dobbs Road, said Atlanta attorney Michael Pryor, who represented pawnshop owners John and Serena Cruchelow. Venturi; his lawyer, Garvis Sams; and Council members Bill Thrash and Jeff Duckett did not attend Monday’s hearing at the Kennesaw City Council’s regular meeting.
Mayor Mark Mathews said the rezoning could be discussed at public hearings before the city’s planning commission as early as May 3 and with city council on May 7.
If the rezoning is denied, the pawnshop could be forced to move, Mathews said.
Monday’s hearing was initially called after the city determined the pawnshop to be in violation of a state law prohibiting pawnbrokers from having the word “loan” in their name. According to Georgia code section 44-12-138, any pawnbroker that opens after March 1, 1992, must prominently use the word “pawn” and cannot use “loan” in advertisements.
But, after a threat on constitutional charges from the pawnshop’s attorney, the council voted 3-0 to dismiss the claim referring to the word “loan.” Mathews said city attorneys determined late Friday that, while state law prohibits advertising with the word “loan,” the city had no such wording in its ordinance, meaning it has no jurisdiction to enforce the law.
Despite the city’s claims being dismissed, John Cruchelow told council members he is already working to come into compliance with state law by removing any signs referring to the word “loan.” But he said moving the business would be too costly since he and his wife already put $40,000 into licenses and outfitting the store.
When questioned by Councilman Tim Killingsworth, John Cruchelow defended himself against allegations that he physically and verbally assaulted a neighbor, which led to an arrest in September for disorderly conduct. John Cruchelow said the neighbor had kicked in his door and made “sexual gestures” to his new wife.
“I’m not a public person. It seems everybody is trying to put my business out there,” he said. “I thought he was my friend.”
The Cruchelows left the council chambers after their case was dismissed, but Pryor convinced them to return to hear comments from some of the 50 audience members in attendance. Speakers delivered more than 100 signatures from residents of nearby subdivisions opposing the pawnshop.
Summer Stream resident Lisa Stables even volunteered to help the couple move to another location.
“Hopefully, we’ll find a way to work together so the law’s held up and you’re not hurt financially,” she told the Cruchelows.
But others pointed the finger at the City Council for not enforcing the law.
“They didn’t face the issue,” Summerbrooke resident Robin Ferguson said after the meeting. “They took the easy way out.”
After the hearing, John Cruchelow referred questions to Pryor, who said they plan to work with neighbors.
“The neighbors have a right to come out and express their concerns,” Pryor said. “Obviously the Cruchelows want to meet people halfway. If there’s something they’re doing that the neighbors don’t like, they want to hear from them because they’re their potential customers.”
Mathews apologized for the city’s error, admitting a “serious, serious oversight” in its zoning department at the March 26 meeting and echoed that feeling Monday.
“We’ve been put in a very, very bad position, just as everybody has,” he said. “It’s all been a serious, very serious mistake on our part, when they were approving the business license,” he said.
As of Monday, the Cruchelow Jewelry & Loan website maintained the word “loan” in the store’s name. It was also on signs at its location at 2953 N. Cobb Parkway.
Mathews said the City Manager Steve Kennedy’s office was reviewing whether anyone should be held responsible for the licensing foul-up.
“It’s purely within his abilities,” Mathews said.
In 2004, the city’s approval of a zoning request for Venturi put in writing that the Mack Dobbs Point shopping center would be free from certain kinds of business — including pawnshops.
After neighbors expressed concern about the strip mall during the initial zoning process, an agreement was reached that restricted what could be put at the strip mall. Among the other uses prohibited at the site, which were written into city ordinances, were adult bookstores and massage parlors.
But the city council, on the recommendation of city finance director Gina Auld, approved a pawn and precious metal license for Cruchelow Jewelry & Loan at its Sept. 19, 2011, meeting.