From her home on Persimmon Tree Road, Rosalie Norair could hear the noise of trees being cut down nearly a quarter-mile away, and she wasn’t too pleased about it.
"It was five in the morning," said Norair.
Cherner Automotive closed its shop in Potomac Village at the end of January, but the cars haven’t gone very far away. They sit now in a tent behind a private residence at 9600 River Road across the street from Behnke Nursery, a short distance from Norair’s home.
Jonathan Cherner said that after he sold the Cherner Automotive property to Chevy Chase Bank, he sold the cars to Robert Peacock and has no involvement in the matter. Peacock did not return calls regarding this story. A recorded message at the former number for Cherner Automotive in Potomac identifies the business as Classic Cars of Potomac, formerly Cherner Automotive, and specifies its address as 9600 River Road. Cherner said that Classic Cars of Potomac is Peacock's company and that he passed the number along to Peacock to use for his company.
Frank De Lange, a zoning investigator with the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services, said that he issued a Notice of Violation to Peacock at that address on Feb. 5. The notice informed Peacock that his operation violated Chapter 59-C-1.31 of the county ordinance for accepted land uses in a residential zone.
"An automobile storage lot is not a permitted use in a residential zone," said De Lange. The Notice of Violation gave Peacock 30 days to take corrective action, De Lange said. De Lange said that businesses in transition sometimes resort to such operating tactics as Peacock's while they negotiate leases for permanent spaces.
"By March 5 they should be explaining to me what their circumstances are," De Lange said. If Peacock does not offer an explanation or a plan of action that meets De Lange's approval, De Lange said that he could issue a citation for as much as $500 for every day that Peacock has been in violation, but a single $500 fee is more likely, he said.
"Normally with these things, people know that they have to straighten it out," said De Lange. "We're not really interested so much in collecting money; we're interested in compliance."
THE ORIGINAL tent was erected one morning in early February, said Norair. Installing the tent required the removal of some small trees on the property and the destruction of a fence, said Norair. The roof of that tent caved in after a recent ice storm and was replaced by an even larger one, Norair said.
Certain small businesses such as antique stores, bed & breakfasts and small child-care centers can gain permission to operate in residential zones, but Peacock does not have such approval and would not be able to gain it, said De Lange.
"This guy's got all of these autos parked out there and that would never fly for a small [residential] business," said De Lange. "This type of business is just an out-and-out business."
According to the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation the house is owned by a Maqsood Mir and is not Mir’s primary residence. George Barnes of the West Montgomery County Citizens Association said that he believes the home is officially being rented by Peacock.
"It’s really an egregious violation," said Barnes.
Norair said that floodlights surrounding the tent are left on at night and that the tent is visible from her home, which, she said, is precisely why it violates the established zoning ordinances.
"Who wants a used car lot next door?" said Norair.