The fate of the Star Lite Swap Meet rests in the hands of Lakewood Assistant Police Chief John Unfred.
Unfred oversaw an administrative hearing Monday where Star Lite property owner Hank Bardon challenged the city’s April 7 suspension of his business license.
Bardon’s attorney, Steve Burnham, argued the swap meet was not a public nuisance as alleged by the city of Lakewood.
Assistant City Attorney Matthew Kaser argued large crowds and poor traffic control at the swap meet posed a public safety hazard.
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Unfred, who was appointed the city hearings officer in this case by City Manager John Caulfield, has three options. He can choose to uphold the city’s suspension of Star Lite’s business license, deny the suspension and allow the swap meet to stay open, or impose conditions that if met would allow the swap meet to reopen.
A decision is expected by end of the day Wednesday or early Thursday.
Opening the hearing, Burnham argued Bardon’s license was pulled because Lakewood development director David Bugher has a personal vendetta against his business.
“We believe Mr. Bugher or the city as a group has a prejudice against the swap meet over the course of Mr. Bardon’s ownership,” Burnham said.
The suspension was an “over-exercising of power,” Burnham said.
Kaser argued the city has had ongoing problems with the swap meet, including concerns prompted by heavy traffic near the location in the 8300 block of South Tacoma Way.
The city revoked Bardon’s license at the end of last week, citing concerns about public safety, health and welfare.
An April 3 incident prompted the suspension. That’s when Lakewood police were sent to the swap meet for reports of a missing 6-year-old girl.
Three Lakewood officers that responded were met by bumper-to-bumper traffic on 84th Street waiting to access the site and large crowds once inside the gates.
Sgt. Andy Suver was first on the scene.
“As I approached the main entrance, there was just a throng of people going in the ‘in’ door and they were all just stuck right in the doorway,” Suver testified. “Pretty quickly I realized going in the ‘in’ door wasn’t going to be an option, so I went around and forced my way through the ‘out’ door.”
Bugher testified Caulfield, the city manager, ordered the suspension based on code violations.
“The basis of the closure going back to our code was really in the end a safety issue as it pertained to the ability of officers to arrive safely on the property,” Bugher said.
During his testimony, Bugher acknowledged the city and Bardon have a rocky history.
“One way or the other, the Star Lite and the city of Lakewood will come together and resolve our differences, although it’s not easy,” Bugher said.
Bardon says he has attempted to address traffic concerns by implementing a valet service to park cars and has a parking plan to improve the flow of cars on site. He has hired professional engineers to design off-site parking solutions, but said the city has not been receptive to suggestions.
“I’ve thought of a number of different ways to make this thing work for both parties,” he said.
Bugher and Lakewood police Chief Mike Zaro hand-delivered the suspension letter to Bardon on April 7. The suspension was effective immediately.
The next day, Burnham argued in Pierce County Superior Court that Star Lite was not given adequate time to respond. Judge Frank Cutherbertson agreed and allowed Bardon to keep his business open until 11:59 p.m. April 11.
The hearing concluded after 7 p.m. Monday, more than six hours after it began.
Bardon can request a further review after Unfred’s decision.