October 24, 2014

Open letter to citizens about car lot

Chris  Morrow
Mayor of Gardner
In the interest of clarity and full disclosure I’m writing this letter to inform our citizens and to provide them a timeline regarding the city’s dealings with Singh Food & Gas Service and their tenant Gardner Auto Sales.
In September 2012, the Gardner codes administrator issued a land use permit for the sale of used cars at “Singh Food & Gas Service” a fuel station, convenience store, and liquor store at18865 S. Gardner Road. The land use permit was issued for a period of six months, to expire on March 24, 2013. The land use permit, however, was issued in error based on the understanding that the property was zoned C-3. The property is actually zoned C-2.
In December 2012, the Gardner codes administrator was position vacated as the employee separated from employment with the city.
In January 2013, the city received a complaint about the used car lot, triggering further investigation by city staff. The fact that a mistake had been made in issuance of the land use permit is first identified.
On Feb. 11, 2013, Michael Hall assumes the role of community development director a position that had remained vacant since May of 2010.
In March 2013, Community Development Director Hall contacted the applicant informing him of the expiration date on the permit and that the city would not renew the land use permit.
On March 18, 2013. Singh Food & Gas Service submitted an application requesting a rezone of the property in question from C-2 (General Business) to C-3 (Commercial) to allow the sale of used cars.
On March 19, 2013, Community Development Director Hall provided the applicant with a letter describing the rezoning process, and stating specifically that a rezoning application does not guarantee approval of the request.
On April 23, 2013, the planning commission held a public hearing to consider the rezoning application but tabled the item and requested that staff come back to the May meeting and present them alternatives to the rezone that might permit used car sales on the property.
On May 24, 2013, staff presented alternatives to the commission, including one for a special use permit (SUP) that may be granted for up to two years The planning commission concluded their discussion of Gardner Auto Sales by stating their view that the owner/dealer has the option of either 1) keeping the rezone application active and deferring action to the Aug. 27 planning commission meeting, or 2) withdrawing the rezone application and submitting an application for a special use permit. The city’s zoning ordinance does not allow for submittal and consideration of a “successive application for the same use” without a waiver of the limitation on successive applications by the city council.
Community Development Director Hall explained to the commission and the applicant that because of the protracted process for resolution the business would be allowed to remain on the site until final resolution of the issue. Mr. Jones requested that any further hearings be deferred until August as he was planning to be out of the state in parts of June and July.
On Aug. 19, 2013, the city council considered the request by Tyrone Jones, operator of Gardner Auto Sales, to waive the limitation on successive applications. Mr. Jones requested that he be allowed to maintain the rezone application, and to allow a decision on the rezone, before applying for a special use permit. The city council voted 3-2 to waive the limitation and allow the rezone application to run its course before receiving a special use permit application.
On Aug. 27, 2013, the planning commission voted 4-1 to deny the rezoning request.
On Sept. 16, 2013 the city council voted 4-1 to deny the rezoning request.
Currently the opportunity exists for the applicant to apply for a special use permit (SUP). This is something the planning commission asked to be researched beginning as early as the April 23 commission meeting. City council allowed for this option, even after the rezoning request was denied, by granting a waiver for successive applications at the Aug. 19 council meeting.
Does any of this make the city of Gardner anti-business, or anti-car lot? No, in fact, an opinion contrary to that allegation would be true. As witnessed in the timeline above the city of Gardner and its staff, the planning commission, and city council has investigated options, made exceptions, and extended the time the applicant and his tenant are able to operate while the issue at hand is resolved. We understand the frustration experienced by the applicant Mr. Singh and his tenant Mr. Jones. We will continue to work with these local business owners, although we can’t predict the final decision.
Our dedication to business is such a high priority that the city council identified economic development as our number one priority for fiscal year 2014 at our June 10, 2013 budget work session. Economic development as viewed by city council is not restricted to new business, but includes retaining our current businesses and encouraging them to grow.  In 2013 and beyond, Gardner is and shall remain a pro-business community.

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