Seattle business owner faces $550,000 in fines over one parking spot

Mar 21, 2018, 2:09 PM

Jodi Opitz owns and runs Seattle Rehearsal, a 31-studio practice space for musicians that is open 24/7. People come and go at all hours, moving large pieces of equipment.

But Seattle authorities are challenging her 28-year-old business. And Opitz is fighting back.

“It’s so circular and it’s so easily fixable. We could fix this in a day,” she told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson. ““They say, ‘Nope, you’re controlling traffic.’ I say I am controlling reasonable and reliable access to my building.”

RELATED: Curb squatting in Seattle with fake “no parking” signs

Seattle Rehearsal is on Occidental Avenue in the SoDo neighborhood. It has one loading dock. The Seattle Department of Transportation has lined the street with one-hour parking signs, including the spot in front of the loading dock. But Opitz placed a “no parking” sign on the garage door of the dock. She needs the space for musicians to come and go with equipment.

“Pretty large row cases that can weigh hundreds of pounds,” she said. “We can’t get them into the building if there are cars inside our loading dock. So apparently, starting from the 1950s, the previous owner had towing signs up as well. We’ve always kept the public out of these areas. It’s an abutting property because they used to run railroad cars through there. The first 15 feet off the building was given to the railroad for usage in 1910 by the city council. That’s why we have buildings built in this fashion.”

But the area has evolved since then. Crosscut reports that SDOT considers Opitz’s “no parking” sign a nuisance and is ordering her to take it down. Opitz has defied the city for nine years. The city has charged her $500 a day as a result — for three years. The fines have totaled nearly $550,000. She has challenged the city in court. A municipal court judge ruled in favor of the city. That decision is being appealed.

“We are waiting for the type of court that is more familiar with Constitutional arguments,” Opitz said. “The last judge, her parting comment was, ‘Your businesses hours seem a bit excessive.’ So there is clearly a disconnect in understanding the problem.”

“We have a new mayor, we are little bit hopeful she will be able to do something here,” she said.

Opitz, Seattle businesses, and parking

Opitz said that the original lawsuit against the city named two other businesses. Unlike those businesses, Opitz owns her building. The landlords told those two businesses to drop out of the lawsuit and comply with the city. One of those shops has since left SoDo after 26 years in the area. The building has sat empty for more than a year, Opitz said.

“I went through the process of hiring a forensic accountant,” Opitz said. “If I can’t depend on reliable access to my building, how long would it take for me to be out of business? And it was about two years. And I’m open 24/7. This is not a problem unique to me. I’ve surveyed and identified 45 other buildings and businesses in the same predicament. I’m just the only one open 24/7, and the only one who owns my building. We’ve got other people who want to be in this fight, but the landlords won’t allow them.”

“If I’m held to the fees, I’m out of business faster than that,” she said. “I thought I would at least put up a fight.”

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