August 21, 2003



An unfriendly business decision

Since it took office in November 2001, Village Council has made a point of stressing its desire to be business friendly and saying that business is welcome in Yellow Springs. Council has even made efforts to retain and grow existing businesses in Yellow Springs a top goal in both 2002 and 2003.

Council members must have forgotten these pledges when they agreed to amend the Village’s lease with Caboose Bike & Skate, which rents the two cabooses on the bikepath from the Village, and prohibit the business from selling bicycles and skates. The owners of Caboose Bike & Skate, Chris and Doug Roberts, have said that this is unacceptable since the business cannot survive on rentals alone.

Twice — in July and earlier this month — Council has voted to ask for a variance on business activities in the two yellow cabooses by seeking permission from Greene County, the state and the federal government to have what Council president Tony Arnett called an “amenity business” on the bikepath, and limit the amenity, Caboose Bike & Skate, to rentals. To do this, however, the Village will have to change its lease with the Caboose’s owners, who signed a 10-year rental agreement with the Village in 2000. In other words, the Village — the landlord — would breach its legally binding agreement with its tenant — the Caboose.

Council’s action is a misguided attempt to amend a conflict between the Village’s lease with Caboose Bike & Skate and a 1986 Council resolution that says “roadside stands and other private installations” are prohibited within the bikepath right-of-way. Caboose Bike & Skate is located within that right-of-way. Plus, Council has said that it is limiting the scope of the Caboose’s business because the Village always intended it to be a rental operation. (The owners of the business dispute this, saying they have sold bikepath-related items from Day 1.)

The problem is, the Caboose has a lease allowing it to sell and rent bicycles and skates. In fact, since the operation opened for business in 1992, its owners have signed three leases with the Village, and all three have said that the operation includes “sales and rentals” of bicycles, skates and related items.

Council’s recent decision punishes Caboose Bike & Skate for a mistake the Village made more than 10 years ago. What’s more, by fixing one problem, the Village is giving itself another, since the Roberts say that they are considering taking legal action against the Village for violating their lease.

Other options are available that could resolve this issue. The Village could pursue a variance that would allow a business to operate on the bikepath and allow Caboose Bike & Skate to continue to offer both sales and rentals. The Village also could offer to buy out the Caboose’s lease, or have the business alter its structure so it’s not in the right-of-way. None of these are perfect solutions but they are better than the course Council is taking.

What kind of business the Village intended to allow to operate in the cabooses is not the most important issue here. What really matters is how the Village treats its citizens. Even if the Village has the legal right to amend its lease with Caboose Bike & Skate — and that seems dubious — such action is ethically wrong. It’s unclear how a landlord can limit what a tenant does as long as it’s legal, and not prohibited by the terms of the lease.

Council members have a tough job that involves making difficult decisions on a regular basis. The Caboose dilemma has certainly been tough. But with every decision it makes, Council must consider what is best for the Village and local residents. It’s hard to fathom how Council’s action on the Caboose is good for the community.

—Robert Mihalek