by Terry Rogers
At a recent City Council meeting, Shelly Maloney was denied a request to use a portion of her home as a bail bond office. The request met resistance from several residents who lived in the area despite Maloney’s assurances that her clients would not visit her home.
“The applicant is proposing to use a portion of an existing single family detached dwelling located at 8 East Clarke Avenue as a professional home occupation for a bail bonds company. The owner of the property is the only employee of the bail bond company, which operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week according to the narrative that was supplied by the applicant. Additionally, the proposed use according to the applicant would not generate any additional traffic and clients would not be coming to the property for any services,” City Planner Rob Pierce said. “Title 18 of the Delaware code requires a physical location to register the bail bonds agent with the State of Delaware and the applicant states the site would only used to store files. A Delaware code also requires the placement of a sign in front of the yard identifying the business which would be required to comply with any city sign regulations if approved by city council.”
There is no specific code in Milford related to where bail bond offices can be located. After discussing the matter with City Solicitor David Rutt, Pierce stated that his office determined it would fall under a professional office. Because bail bonds are governed by the portion of the code that governs insurance offices, Pierce treated the application similar to an insurance office. Before there was any discussion, Rutt stated that Councilmen Andy Fulton and Todd Culotta should recuse themselves as family members had testified at the planning commission meeting. The planning commission voted to recommend denial of the request by a vote of five to zero.
“You have excluded all Ward 2 council members from this voting process when this is in their ward,” Councilman Fulton stated when told he could not participate as a member of the public a she was a sitting council member.
According to Rutt, he was not attempting to exclude the council members.
“I didn’t exclude them, your family members excluded you by testifying at the public meeting before, so it just comes with the territory,” Rutt said. “And let me let me give a point of order on this particular matter and we’ll get into it, I know when your peers discuss it. This is a situation where the planning commission recommended not approving the application and under Chapter 3058D in the case of an unfavorable report or recommendation of denial by the planning commission. Any amendment or change of zone or conditional use would not be effective, in other words, it couldn’t be reversed except by a favorable vote of three quarters of the City Council. That means that since City Council is comprised of eight, six members would have to vote to reverse the recommendation. So, yes, you may be excluded. The applicant has a high hill to climb, but it’s just, that’s the procedure. That’s the law, you have a conflict of interest due to family members having testified before. Their testimony is part of the record.” Both Councilman Fulton and Culotta agreed to recuse themselves and did not participate in the discussion or vote.
Maloney was provided an opportunity to explain her business, stating that she had a business license in Delaware and in the city of Milford. She felt Milford was a good location for her business as it was central to both Dover and Georgetown where the courts are located.
“I don’t want to bring people to my home, I don’t want people at my home. I just have to have a secure facility to keep my files. I deal with a lot of people’s personal information such as social security numbers, that type of stuff,” Maloney said. “I mostly meet people at the courthouse, or out in another public location. I don’t bring anybody home. It’s just I have to be in compliance. The sign would sit in front of that portion of the house so it’s not visible from the road and it would not cause any extra or undue traffic via cars, or people or anything like that. It’s just for appearance purposes.”
During the public hearing, several neighbors spoke out against the request.
“I was reviewing the current requirements for the State of Delaware for a bail bond which states that every bail bondsman must maintain a principle business accessible to the public, identified clearly by a sign visible to the public. And then under item B, it says that a licensed bail bond agent has to post their fees charged for services rendered. That’s got to be posted conspicuously, displayed in the principal place of business in an area customarily open to the public,” Niecy Roberts said. “So, my concern is that it just doesn’t seem that the request from the applicant is compliant with the State of Delaware requirements. So, I think the intention of the state is to require a place of business that is accessible to the public. That kind of contradicts the statement that the storefront she’s maintaining is superficial. So, there’s no way to guarantee that there will be no pedestrian or vehicular traffic.”
Roberts also pointed out that in the documentation provided to council, Maloney stated she handled a lot of money at times, expressing concern that this could make her a robbery target. Roberts stressed that the neighbors had no issue with Maloney living on the street, but they were not comfortable with this type of business in their neighborhood. She was also concerned that a sign announcing the bail bond business would be detrimental to neighboring property values.
“I have some concerns about the potential bail bonds business that’s going to be located two doors down,” Kerry Fry said. “If you were to research already, it’s already showing that this bail bonds is up and running at this location. My concern is we have already started a pattern of going ahead and doing our own thing before we go through an approval. So, my issue would be also like Niecy mentioned, the signage issue with having a sign out there and then not being able to control who will be coming and going from that business. And she might not meet a lot of people at that business at that location. But there’s always the potential for people to be there because that is the address that is stated and it is stated it’s open 24 hours and there will be cash in the property that’s kept that goes along with the bail bonds business.”
Fry was also concerned about locating this type of business on a dead end street where children were often playing outdoors. Ashley Venett also felt that the business could be located in a different area, expressing that a residential area was not the right location for a bail bonds company. Rick Sherwood felt that the risks of this business far outweighed the benefits to allow it to be located in a residential area.
“The office door and sign are less than 20 feet from our front door,” Sandy Culotta said. “And I guess my biggest concern is a guarantee that people wanting to have her business don’t mix up our front door with her office. I know there is a fence between the two lots. But I just need to guarantee. We can’t have this, the people she serves and, I’m glad she serves those people because they need some support, just not in our neighborhood with the children and grandchildren on a dead end street. A lot of times they’re out in the road playing or walking. And that is my biggest concern. And I agree with the rest of my neighbors that if the state says it needs to be open to the public, how can you guarantee that that people won’t be coming here to our neighborhood?”
Councilwoman Katrina Wilson asked Pierce if he was aware of the state codes regarding bail bond offices. Pierce stated that he based his evaluation on information provided by the applicant. Councilman Dan Marabello asked where bail bond offices were commonly located.
“There are some at their homes, there are some that have separate offices. There’s like 13 or 14 companies, I think in the entire state of Delaware,” Maloney said. “I had an office a couple of years ago and my landlord who was elderly had passed away. So, her heirs sold all her properties. So, I’ve basically been doing everything out of my home and meeting people out in public, at their homes and at the court. Same thing for doing paperwork. When I get paid for my services, I go directly to the bank. I don’t put money at my house.”
Maloney stated that she was a registered gun owner but had never had any problem before with anybody breaking into her properties.
“Even in Dover, downtown Dover where it is really bad. I was located between Queen Street and Capital Green, you know, with gang wars and stuff going on out there. Never had an incident,” Maloney said. “I’m very conscientious of how I do my business. I would never put anybody in any kind of harm’s way. I’m very observant and the people that I deal with are not so much the criminals themselves or the defendants, it’s mostly their family members. In our business, we call that the circle of love. The only time I actually deal with the defendant is in court.”
Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo asked why an online search showed her business located at 104 Kings Highway. Maloney explained that it was a previous address where she had lived for ten years before her father passed away in November 2020 and she moved into the East Clarke Avenue house. Councilwoman Katrina Wilson stated that she would think if someone needed the services of a bail bond person, they would simply call them.
“That is correct. Our work is done over the phone. Other than doing the actual contracts and going to the courthouse,” Maloney said. “Like for instance. I’ll give you an example for today. I got a call from a mother whose child was in Stevenson House. I met her at Family Court, we did the paperwork, we did the money exchange, post the bond and she went her way and I went my way because that’s it.”
Maloney also explained that she had been searching for a new office since she lost the location in Dover.
“It’s $2,100 a month for an area that’s way too big for space out, I think it is called Milford Commons, the place where Food Lion and all that is. I’ve checked the two shopping centers. They’re well over $1,000. I checked the Masonic building. They had one office available for $800 a month,” Maloney said. “But the problem is, it’s just like a bedroom door. It’s not a very secure door. You know, so anyone could break in there. I mean, there’s a barber shop across the driveway that has had issues there quite often. I deal with sensitive information and I don’t want that leaked out, gotten a hold of. I would expect if I were to do something like that, that’s my business. Now most of my business is through phone. Somebody will call and I’ll meet them someplace and we go through the process and go from there.”
After the discussion, Solicitor Rutt read the Delaware Code regarding the requirements for a bail bond office. The code requires a location that is accessible to the public and identified by a sign that is clearly visible. The bail bonds person must have their address on the license and any change of address must be reported within 30 days. They must also have their fees clearly posted.
Councilman Boyle made a motion to deny the request which was seconded by Councilman Marabello. Council voted to deny the motion by a vote of six to zero with Councilmen Fulton and Culotta abstaining.
“I just went back and forth trying to justify because I believe that most of the business, the majority of the business is by phone, but, and because there’s a but, it’s caused me to have questions,” Councilwoman Katrina Wilson said after voting to deny the request. “Safety is an issue and availability for business is an issue. There’s always a chance that people will come to your place of business and I just I don’t understand why they wouldn’t, so I vote yes to deny unfortunately at this time.”
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