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Bookstore muscle prevails in Carlsbad

Lhooq Books reopens after challenges foisted by city

Sean Christopher in his garage-store
  • Sean Christopher in his garage-store

Opened earlier this year in a small, old garage just off Carlsbad Village Drive, Lhooq Books, a rare-books bookstore, was shuttered by the city for the past three weeks. But now, after much research, owner Sean Christopher has the city’s okay to reopen.

Located in an alley between Garden State Bagels and the KFC/Taco Bell, Christopher had been licensed by the city for the past decade to sell books online from his Jefferson Street home. The garage is in back of his property and faces the alley between Jefferson and Madison streets.

For the past eight years, the neighborhood has benefited from his surplus books, offered in a free give-and-take library. Christopher installed several outdoor shelves along the north side of the garage, and folks could take whatever they wanted.

About three months ago, Christopher said he received a courtesy notice from the city's code enforcement department that said he could not use the sandwich-board sign placed on Carlsbad Village Drive. He said he immediately took down the sign and notified code enforcement.

At the same time, Christopher renewed his business license and thought everything was fine. Later, he received a denial of the license application, which stated the business didn’t meet zoning and building requirements — he needed a two-car garage for the home and four parking spaces for the business.

Christopher says he sought out anyone at the city who he could get an email address for, from the mayor on down. About three weeks ago, a certified letter arrived stating he would be fined daily if he did not cease business immediately.

Two weeks ago he got a meeting with Glenn Van Peski, the director of the city’s community and economic development. In that meeting, Christopher pointed out that the building was built in 1941, well before the city incorporated.

“It’s clearly zoned mixed-use commercial — which allows for books, coffee, antiques, and arts and crafts,” says Christopher. He also told the city that his house and the garage building actually offer nine parking spaces.

Christopher provided evidence that the garage has been used commercially for decades: as a paint-supply store, temporary storage space for a large restaurant’s cooking pots and pans, and North County distribution site for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

“A loading dock was built for the newspapers,” says Christopher.

He even went to the Carlsbad library and looked in old telephone books. “I found four different businesses from the 1970s listed at the address.” He says perhaps the city was confused about the building’s history because Carlsbad Village Drive was named Elm Street at one time.

Not waiting for the slow wheels of government to trundle along, he started a support petition on change.org, linked from his Facebook page. He says the city heard from numerous disgruntled residents. He thinks that’s why he finally got a meeting with the city.

On August 11, Will Foss, the city’s building department manager said Christopher has been given the green light to reopen. Foss confirmed it in person and by email to Christopher on August 12.

“This is a straightforward land-use issue," says Foss. "There’s no further action on code enforcement."

Having only been made aware of the case on August 7, Foss says he only needs to consult with others in the city before granting grandfather status. “There’s no time frame; we’ll just work through it and he can continue his operation.”

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