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February 1, 2016

The City of Longmont has dismissed the case against Raymond “Rich” Smith, who was charged in December 2014 with the “crime” of repairing windshields.

Mr. Smith had been operating a windshield chip repair business in the parking lot of the hotel he manages. The City of Longmont claimed that operating a “mobile” windshield repair shop violated the City’s zoning code.

The city made these claims despite the fact that other mobile businesses, such as food trucks, were operating elsewhere around Longmont and national windshield repair and replacement services were sending technicians out in vans to customers’ homes and workplaces to make repairs. In fact, the zoning code specifically allows “minor vehicle repair or service” in a commercial parking lot like the one where Mr. Smith worked.

The decision to drop the prosecution is victory for entrepreneurs. The City’s absurd prosecution not only violated its own zoning code, but the constitutional rights of entrepreneurs like Mr. Smith. Although the government can impose rational regulations on businesses, the constitution does not allow the government to outright ban a safe and otherwise legal business.

Mr. Smith had operated his windshield repair business for years, but after a competitor complained, the city began looking for ways to shut the business down. The City cited Mr. Smith for operating a mobile business, even though his repair van is permanently parked and customers come to him. After receiving several zoning citations that didn’t apply to his business, Smith was ultimately hauled into court on an entirely different set of violations. The Court sentenced Smith to a year of probation, ordered him to pay a $385 fine, and assessed a 20-day suspended jail sentence—all for operating a windshield chip repair business out of a van parked on private property.

The Goldwater Institute appealed Mr. Smith’s conviction to the Boulder District Court, arguing that the City was violating its own zoning code and the Colorado and U.S. Constitutions. The District Court threw out the conviction and sent the case back to the municipal court for further proceedings. The dismissal puts an end to the case, and the Goldwater Institute is seeking assurances from the City that Mr. Smith will not be prosecuted again when he goes back to work.

Longmont is not alone in twisting vague zoning ordinances to fit the whims of regulators. Cities around the country are using zoning laws to stifle entrepreneurship and competition. For example, the Town of Jerome has “reinterpreted” its zoning code to prohibit vacation rentals. For the benefit of the economy and the constitution, other municipalities should follow Longmont’s lead and abandon their attacks on entrepreneurship. Longmont’s decision shows that common sense can still prevail in our over-regulated society, avoiding serious constitutional problems that would have forced the city to spend years in court defending its actions.



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