By Richard L. Gaw
There are 25 vintage, two-cyclinder motorcycles dating back to the 1970s housed in Joe Samick's garage that it attached to his home in Kennett Township. Since 2000, he has used thee bikes as a showcase for RetroTours, a motorcycle touring comoany he runs, that allows enthusiasts to experience the open road from atop, say, a 1970 Triumph Bonneville 650 or a 1974 Benelli Tornado 650S.
Each year, Samick schedules about ten tours, and each tour averages about six riders. The tours usually go to places like West Virginia, the Susquehanna River, Central Pennsylvania and Hot Springs, Va. On June 1 of this year, Samick was hosting a Local Loop, which gives riders the opportunity to tool around Chester County and beyond in 5-, 15-, 30- and 60-mile loops. On June 1, after the riders returned from a longer trip, they suggested to Samick that they just do a series of 5-mile loops, so that they could experience the feeling of riding a series of motorcycles. Samick agreed, and suddenly, his driveway became a stopping off point of the tour, and without warning, the tranquil backroads of Kennett Township were now humming with the flow of motorcycles roaring on country roads. The sound magnified. Six motorcycles sounded like there were one hundred of them.
The June 1 incident inspired a few of his neighbors to call staff at the Kennett Township Building and complain about Samick and the business he was running out of his home. 'Was it legal?' they asked. It may not be; the township has asked Samick to submit a request for a special exemption to the township's Zoning Hearing Board, that asks permission to allow him to contrinue operating his home-based business in an R-2 district, with a hearing before the board to be scheduled soon.
"It was a bad decision on my part," Samick said last week about the June 1 incident. "Nobody said anything to me, but they compained to the township. A neighbor warned me, 'These people are really freaked out about this.'"
Upon hearing the news, Joel and his wife Lynn visited the neighbors who had filed the complaint, in order to apologize. They told them that an incident of that kind would never happen again. "They told me, 'You're running a busines down there,'" Samick said. "They told me that they don't like strangers in their neighborhood. They told me that they moved here for peace and quiet. I can appreciate what they're saying. I don't want to destroy their Shangri-La, but do I want to pursue my dreams, too. Maybe my Shangri-Las is not their Shangri-Las."
Phone calls from the Chester County Press to those who have filed complaints about Samick to the township were not returned.
Samick has been on motorcycles practically all of his life. He doesn't even own a car, and in the winter, he wears an electric vest to ward off the cold. He, Lynn and their family have owned Power Sports East in Bear, De. for several years. When he originally conceived the concept of vintage motorcycle touring, the Samicks were still living in West Chester, and at first, the tours were simple -- 3 or 4 riders heading out of West Chester with no plans and the road in front of them. Eventually, after rejecting cash offerings from riders, Samick realized that any money he accepted would go back into the maintenance and repairs he was doing on his motorcycle collection. Now, he charges his riders $75 per day.
"I'm not trying to make a living from the business, but just offset the expense of running it," he said.
Now, at the township's request, Samick is currently applying for a variance, which requires a permit - at the cost of $800 - for the process, which pays for certified letters, posting of the property, and public notice of all hearings related to the permit. He is preparing a 15-page document that supports his case, which he will submit soon to the township's Zoning Hearing Board.
Samick has already heard from Felix Cohen, the township's zoning officer, who informed him in a letter that Samick is operating what is known as an "impact business" which, in accordance with township laws, is not permitted in the township.
"The tests for what consitutues a 'no impact' business are laid out in the ordinance," Cohen said. "A 'no impact' business is generally considered the least obtrusive kind of buisness, where nobody other than family members can be employed, where no inventory is stored or sold there, where no customers visit, where no excess of delivery occurs there, and where there is no exterior evidence of a business. The presence of customers (at the Samick residence) creates some impact.
"Now that we know he has customers, I can't find a clear path to blessing it as an administrator," Cohen added. "You look for a way to bless it, but that's not available becuase he has customer visits, and neighbors who are on record as saying that they are unhappy. I've assured him that I'm not his advocate, but it looks like hes done his homework. I'm nobody's advocate, merely the gatekeeper."
Because Samick has not yet submitted his request for special exemption to the township, no hearing date with the Zoning Hearing Board has been determined yet. In the 7 years the Samicks have lived in the township, no one in the township governance, Cohen said, had any prior knowledge that Samick was running a business out of his home.
Samick said that he is hopeful that his argument to continue to run RetroTours out of his home will be supported by the documents he is finalizing, as well as by the testimony of people in the township. Paul Gamble, Samick's neighbor for the past 7 years, has not only never filed a complaint with the township about RetroTours, he said he was not even aware that Samick was actually running the business out of his home.
"They're (Samick and Lynn) motorcycle people, and once in a while we see a bike going in and out of their driveway, but it's never obtrusive," Gamble said. "They're not the loud motorcycles that you hear sometimes."
If a permit from the township is denied, Samick said he would consider the idea of continuing to operate the business as a hobby, and not charge participants during tours. "I will put it on the website, 'The township will not allow me to operate a business out of my house,'" he said. "'Therefore, there is no charge for RetroTours.'"
Another option Samick would consider pursuing would be to convert RetroTours into a "rolling museum" and obtain a 501C3 status.
He's already made sure his mistake of June 1 will not be repeated. Samick has another Local Loop scheduled for Oct. 15, and has already told all 12 participants who've signed up, 'We're going to pick our 12 bikes, leave here, switch bikes so you get to ride all 12, but instead of coming back here and switching, we will do one loop and return back to the house in the afternoon. One time out, and one time back.'"