A Gardner man says a mistake by the city’s planning department could cost him his livelihood.
The city granted Tyrone Jones, Gardner, a six-month permit to sell used cars at a 18865 Gardner Road. The car lot sits on the same parcel as a convenience, liquor and gas store on the south end of town.
When he applied for the permit, Jones said he was told that its renewal wouldn’t be a problem.
Six months later, the land-use permit is set to expire, and city officials told Jones his land-use permit to sell cars at the location will not be renewed when it expires on March 24.
“It could bankrupt my family if I had to take that much of a loss on everything and pay the bank back for that loss,” Jones said.
When he applied for the permit back in November, he said officials told him he wouldn’t have a problem getting it renewed.
That was before they realized the property’s current zoning does not allow used car sales. The current zoning, C-2, allows for retail sales, but not car sales. For that, the land would need to be zoned C-3, according to Michael Hall, city development director.
“When we looked at the map, we realized we made a mistake,” Hall said.
Hall called Jones two weeks prior to the permit’s expiration to let him know that the city would not be renewing it.
“We gave him a phone call – a courtesy call – and said, I didn’t want you to be surprised when you came here,” Hall said. “This is kind of being characterized as us going out there and beating up on this guy and that’s not what happened. We told him we don’t intend to reissue a permit.”
Jones said he’s invested thousands into the business. The property also generates $14,556 in property tax, of which, more than $3,000 each year goes to the city. Another $8,000 goes to the school district. The business also generates hefty sales taxes that go to the state and city.
Jones said he thought of the short-term permit like a drivers license, which must be renewed periodically.
“But in good faith, we buy a car and think that they’ll do what’s right and allow us to renew (the license) if we follow the rules,” Jones explained. “(The city) said not to worry about anything.”
With his six-month permit in hand, Jones applied to the state for his car dealer’s license and purchased an inventory of cars to sell. The process also included getting a sign permit from the city.
“The city required us to have a permanent sign not a temporary sign. I’m operating in good faith,” Jones said.
Hall said the city did not tell Jones he needed to cease and desist car sales. They also have not issued a violation. The issue has been mischaracterized, Hall explained.
“We’re not going to renew the permit, because it was issued in error in the first place. That’s what we said,” Hall explained. “At the same time, we said here are your options – you could apply for a rezone.”
Rezoning is a lengthy process that requires approval of the city planning commission and the city council. It typically takes several months. Hall said he doesn’t know if city staff would recommend approval of the request. He said the business could also move to a location where the appropriate zoning exists.
Jones feels like he’s over a barrel.
“Why would I apply to do business with the city again and run into the same problem?” he asked.
He is, however, planning to apply for the rezoning.
“We don’t know what to do at this point,” he said. “We can’t move the cars that fast, and we can’t sell the cars that fast or we’d be millionaires if we could sell everything we wanted instantly.”
Jones said he’s learning from other local business owners that running a business in Gardner isn’t an easy proposition. After his story aired on a local TV station, the calls from other local business owners started pouring in.
“The guys here who own businesses, they tell a lot of nightmare stories,” Jones said.
Hall said changes are coming at city hall. For starters, the person in charge when Jones’ permit was granted, no longer works for the city. Hall, who moved here from Boise, Ida., has been the community development director for about a month.
“What’s important is that we handle any permits in a consistent, understandable, transparent way and that’s what we will be doing,” he said. “We will be moving in that direction, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Some things happen sooner than others.”
Meanwhile, Jones and his car lot are in limbo, and the clock is ticking. His land-use permit expires March 24.