DERBY — The Planning and Zoning Commission has launched an investigation into whether violations occurred at a garage on Burtville Avenue allegedly used by a motorcycle club for more than just bike repairs.
The commission during its virtual meeting this week directed its attorney and city engineer to investigate an anonymous complaint about alleged zoning violations at the large garage bay located in a residential neighborhood at 49 Burtville Ave.
The complaint alleges the garage was being used as an “illegal bar” and social club by the Punishers Motorcycle Club, of which the city’s own Building Official Carlo Sarmiento is a member. The club is comprised of law enforcement officers and first responders and raises money for various charities.
Sarmiento, who also served as zoning enforcement officer and wetlands enforcement officer, has since resigned from those positions, without an explanation. In a letter to city officials last month, Sarmiento said he’s looking forward to streamlining the land-use regulatory process and supports ways to help the city operate more efficiently.
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The issue at hand is whether Sarmiento, in the role of building official, which he still holds, allowed his fellow club members to use the garage to repair bikes, and as a drinking establishment without the space zoned for such use. The garage is located in a residential zone, but was grandfathered in as an industrial use.
The complaint was sent to city officials, police, local media and the state liquor control, along with some photos allegedly showing Sarmiento and a large group of fellow bikers gathered around a bar inside the garage bay. It also alleges that “motorcycles come and go at all hours and guys are getting drunk and tearing through the neighborhood.” The complainant also alleged that on many occasions when he walked by the garage, he would “see guys paying for drinks so I know it’s a business … and have also seen young teens at the bar drinking.”
Sarmiento would not comment on the allegations. He hired attorney Dominick Thomas to represent him. Thomas said his understanding is that the club was using the bay to meet and work on their bikes.
“Apparently in the past, it was more of a clubhouse with some functions and a bar,” Thomas said. “I was told that has ended and they just meet and work on their bikes. Please note that anyone in the residential zone can invite their friends over, work on their motorcycles and have a beer.”
Thomas also said the complaint pertained to alleged activities that occurred two years ago, and if the garage was being used for a social club, “there may have been a violation” in that the club operated without a permit of a variance.
“If it was used as a social club in the past, that would be a violation,” Thomas said. “If it is not being so used now and they are just meeting to work on their bikes, that would not be an expansion of the non-conforming use created when the P&Z zoned the long-time industrial area to R-5.”
During the commission’s meeting this week, Commissioner David Kopjanski, the city’s former building official, expressed frustration that the complaint was received more than a month ago and no action had been taken. He said the garage “was never used for a repair shop,” which is why he requested an investigation about what went on there in the past and present.
Chairman Ted Estwan said the ZEO normally would conduct an investigation into such complaints — anonymous or not — but since Sarmiento resigned, that job falls to the commission.
“We’ll have our attorney, engineer and someone from the mayor’s office investigate and report back to us next month,” Estwan said.
Andrew Baklik, the city’s chief of staff, said the city hasn’t received any complaints from the area regarding the use of the property, other than the anonymous letters and photos “which seem to be a direct attack on Carlo as an individual and the social club to which he belongs.”
“Since (the P&Z) are currently operating without a ZEO, who would normally conduct the investigation, city staff will follow-up to ensure that there are no ongoing violations at the property,” Baklik said. “We have no reason to believe that there are at this time.”
Regarding Sarmiento’s resignation, Baklik said it was “voluntarily,” and “made sense to separate the Building Official’s role from that of ZEO/Wetlands Enforcement.” Baklik added the city is exploring options for potentially sharing the land-use department with surrounding towns in order to become more efficient.