Car wash at Northshore Mall on hold

Ethan Forman/Staff photoWork on NE Hand Car Wash at the Northshore Mall was halted this week after the building commissioner learned the business owner did yet receive a special permit from the City Council by mistake. The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on this business on March 28.

PEABODY — Shoppers might have noticed a long canopy and a construction trailer have sprouted in the parking lot at the Northshore Mall’s far northwest corner.

A hand car wash business is planned there, but the city halted its construction this week. That’s because the 36-year-old entrepreneur who is trying to get NE Hand Car Wash off the ground started the job without obtaining a special permit from the City Council.

Dorjan Tozaj said he did not mean to start construction without proper permission.

“There was a little bit of a confusion at the beginning and we are trying to sort it out,” said Tozaj, a Crowninshield Street resident.

Tozaj, who recently received site plan review approval from the Planning Board for the car wash, did not realize he needed City Council approval as well.

On Monday, Building Commissioner Albert Talarico sent Tozaj a “cease and desist” order to stop all work, while also rescinding his building permit.

“Our permit was issued under the assumption you had been granted a Special Permit for the car wash, which is required in the BR1 (Regional Business 1) district,” Talarico wrote to Tozaj.

“These steps were all explained several times including our first meeting in my office in early/mid 2017,” Talarico wrote.

Talarico said a call from a resident alerted his department to the discrepancy.

Since receiving the notice, Tozaj has hired Peabody attorney Athan Vontzalides and has applied for a special permit for the hand car wash. The City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the request for March 28.

Talarico said he met with Tozaj on Monday.

“He was very apologetic,” Talarico said.

Tozaj was under the impression the Planning Board’s site plan review and special permit process were combined, but the special permit requires a separate public hearing. If he is denied a special permit, Talarico said, Tozaj would have to take down the canopy and remove the trailer.

“He’s a nice guy,” said Talarico. “I don’t think it was underhanded. He was not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes.”

Tozaj could have faced a fine of $200 for the first offense, and $300 for each subsequent offense, had the work continued. There was no one at the site on Thursday around noon.

“I’m hoping everything gets resolved,” Talarico said.

Working at the car wash

The Planning Board application for the car wash dates back to August 2017.

That’s when Tozaj’s wife, Esmeralda Shukulli, first applied for the site plan review.

“It’s a new kind of service which I haven’t seen offered around here,” said Tozaj, who previously lived in London and who directs the BESA Albanian Language and Heritage School in Boston. He is also preparing to take the state bar exam.

The hand car wash business will employ 12 full- and part-time employees and take up a small portion of the open parking lot bounded by Prospect Street, Essex Lane and Essex Center Drive. All of the structures there now, including a canopy and trailer office, are temporary.

Hand car washing uses less water than an automated car wash, Tozaj said — about seven to 10 gallons compared with 40 gallons for an automated wash.

Customers will be able to drop off their cars to be cleaned inside and out, while they shop at the mall. Tozaj said the plan is to have a shuttle to bring shoppers back and forth. 

Tozaj has a two-year lease with the Northshore Mall, and the mall’s manager has supported his request for permits and approvals, despite being informed this week the business lacked a special permit. 

“While extremely unfortunate,” wrote General Manager Mark Whiting on Wednesday, “it should be noted that the operator has remained current on his financial obligation to the mall and as such Mall Management supports the application for a special permit.”

“I thought it would go for less expenses,” Tozaj said about opening a hand car wash, which are popular in Europe.

The problem, he wrote in a letter to the council, is the process has taken him to the cleaners.

What was meant as a “temporary business endeavor” to test the market, according to a March 6 letter to the council “has reached unpredictable amounts of expenditure.”

Tozaj estimated he has spent $150,000 for “investment including payment of insurance, infrastructure and rent for an entire year.”

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews.