For those of us who came to support Jeff it was a bit like a reunion. Like I said in the earlier post, this is not a "club" in the traditional sense of the word. Rick was there. The last time I saw him was 2007 at Lime Rock. I had no idea he had stopped racing. Tony was there. We exchange an occasional e-mail, but I can't remember when the last time I saw him was. Chris, a newer "club member", was there. He has an incredible and eclectic collection of cars (Everything from Bugattis - yes, that's plural - to an Amilcar, a Fiat Topolino, a Talbo - if you haven't seen a Talbo, check out this 1994 Car & Driver article - and many others). There were a few people there that I had never met. Prior to the hearing coming to order we stood around and talked about cars. No real surprise there.
The opposing side were a dour bunch. They didn't talk much to each other and they certainly didn't talk to us. I found myself standing next to one of them in the hallway. I said something about how nice it was being in an air conditioned building after being outside in the heat. He didn't say a word back.
The meeting was called to order. The first person to speak was the local tow truck operator. This was interesting because he didn't want to be there. For all intents and purposes, he was subpoenaed by the ZBA. He was asked how many times each year he delivered or picked up cars in the neighborhood. "40 or 50 times", was his response. How many times did he go to Jeff's house to deliver or pick up cars? "4 or 5", he answered. Did he remember which cars they were? "Yes, twice it was Jeff's dad's car, twice it was one of Jeff's". Did he know of anyone who had their car brought there for repair? "No", was his answer. I have to give this guy a lot of credit. He most likely lost 35 or 45 calls a year from that neighborhood by testifying truthfully.
The opposition stood up and said their pieces. One person had supposedly hired a private investigator to look into what cars were coming and going from Jeff's property. The PI allegedly found a car belonging to a man from Albany, NY. In a spoof call, he supposedly had gotten that person to say that Jeff was working on his car and was a "very good mechanic". I use the words "allegedly" and "supposedly" because the report was dated 2004. Jeff's garage didn't go up until 2005. One neighbor wanted to see Jeff's tax returns, to see how he derived his income. I don't know about you, but there is no way in hell I would show my tax returns to my neighbors (and I like mine). I couldn't believe the ballsiness of the request. One by one they droned on about people and cars visiting Jeff. One neighbor admitted that he can't see Jeff's property from his house (I don't think any of them can, as the neighborhood is very wooded.) It had turned from "Jeff works on cars at his house" to "Jeff has too many people visiting him". Too many people drive down the road to see Jeff. Too many of Jeff's friends drive "high end" (their words) cars. Something must be going on.
Being a friend and a frequent visitor, I can say with all honesty that virtually everything they said was false. Period.
We, the "club members" there to support Jeff, got up and said our pieces. I opened by saying that I had known Jeff for 25 years. I mentioned that I had aged better than he had. The ZBA members chuckled, the "club members" laughed. The opposition sat stone faced. One by one we all said essentially the same thing: Yes, we visit Jeff. Yes, we sometimes do some minor work on our cars there. Yes, Jeff often helps us. No, we never paid him a dime.
Hook me up to a polygraph machine and ask me the same questions and I'd pass the test with flying colors. (Including the part about having aged better than Jeff.)
After all the testimony, the ZBA members spoke. They all agreed that there was no reason to believe that Jeff was running a repair shop from his house. (In fact, they were the ones who called us a "club". I stole their terminology.) They all agreed that Jeff's garage was an impressive, clean, well designed building that violated no zoning laws and was well within code. They even agreed that it seemed to have been built with the neighborhood in mind. They all seemed to agree that Jeff was a good guy.
Then they took their vote. I figured it was a slam dunk in Jeff's favor.
While they agreed that everything was on the up and up, they seemed to feel, like the neighbors, that Jeff has too many friends with nice cars. We, the half dozen or so "club members", were too many acquaintances for Jeff to have. By a vote of 4 to 1, the ZBA upheld the cease and desist order. If anyone stops by Jeff's house, they had better not pop the hood on their car for any reason. (Including a jump start, which could be a problem for those with British cars, I suppose.) The city will impose a hefty fine on Jeff if we do.
Now, there are probably some of you who are thinking, "Welcome to the real world, Dave. A world where car repair isn't done for free and working on your own car means using a creeper and a set of jack stands." I fully understand that. I'm lucky to have a friend like Jeff. If all this means that I pay for my car repairs or do them at my own house without a lift, so be it. That's all that will change. I'll still talk to Jeff 2 or 3 times a week and we'll still talk about cars. (We may talk about his neighbors a bit now, too.) Instead of a call or an e-mail, I may drive my "high end" car (a 15 year old BMW - Which we will not be working on at Jeff's house) to see him, just to piss off the neighbors. ("Damn it, Jeff and his friend are sitting on the deck and they're doing... nothing. Doesn't that violate some law?")
The point of this is not me and my life. The point of this is what a person is allowed to do on his own property. I'm not anarchist or a Libertarian. I believe that there should be certain limits on what can and cannot be done on your property. (I mean, really, would you want your next door neighbor to open a rendering plant next to your house?) And in the grand scheme of things, with the the Gulf of Mexico beginning to look like the Gulf of Texaco (Yeah, I know, wrong oil company, but it sort of rhymes) and everything else that's going on in the world, this is extremely minor. Still, it needs to be pointed out.
There's a little irony here. I remember a call I got a few years ago from Jeff. He was in Ohio visiting John (the BMW 2002 / Volvo fan mentioned in Part 1 of this rambling post). He lost one of the fuel pumps on his 750iL just west of Buffalo, but managed to drive the car the rest of the way on 6 cylinders since it was a dual redundant system. Two days later he was able to fix the car in John's driveway - outside in the cold and the snow - and drive it home on all 12 cylinders. Today, if it was John visiting Jeff in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the same thing happened, John would not be able to fix his car in Jeff's driveway or in his warm garage. (I should also mention here that when Jeff told me on the phone that his car had a "dual redundant fuel system", I had no clear idea of what he meant. His response was, "Stop by the house after I get back and I'll show you." It's not real clear if he'd be allowed to do that today.)
Jeff has chosen to take this to court. As far as I can tell, no one has taken a case like this to court before. This could very well be a test case. If this decision is upheld, it's possible you'll see towns trying to pass ordinances and/or bylaws saying that you can't fix or restore your own car in your home garage, let alone help a friend or family member.
Again, I'm not a conspirasist or an anti-government, anti-zoning law type of person. In this case though, the town of Stockbridge took things too far. The thought of what the outcome of this case could have on car geeks, collectors, hobbyists, amateur racers, etc., is chilling.
I'll keep you posted.(If anyone reading this is involved in the media and wants to speak to Jeff about this, shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you in touch with him.)