Planning commissioners will recommend that the Gardner City Council deny a rezoning request south of town that would allow a used car lot to be operated at 18865 Gardner Road indefinitely. Only four of six commissioners voted on the controversial zoning request. More than an hour into presentations and discussions, community development director Mike Hall told commissioners and the car lot owners that the two members attending by phone, Adriana Meder and Aaron Weatherford, should recuse themselves from voting. The pair did not have access to a power point presentation the car lot owner’s showed the commission.
Hall’s presentation materials were electronically submitted to the phone attendees prior to the meeting.
Commissioner Sheri Barber suggested the commission table the controversial issue so the full body could vote, but Hall said city code stipulates that rezone applications be considered within six months of the application.
The application was just shy of six months old at the time of the planning commission vote on Aug. 27.
Tyrone Jones, the car lot owner; and Mr. Singh, the property owner, first applied to sell used cars last year. When they approached city staff with the idea, they were told they would need a land use permit, which the city granted on Sept. 25, 2012. The permit stipulated that it was for six months, however Jones said city staff told him a renewal would be a formality.
“We were new business owners,” Tyrone’s wife, Angie Jones, told commissioners. “We don’t know a lot about zoning. We relied on city staff.”
With city permission in hand, Jones received his car dealer’s license from the state in November and sold his first car of 48 sales so far, on Dec. 12, 2012.
Four months later, in March 2013, the Joneses received a letter saying the land use permit was issued in error. They would need to request to have the property rezoned, from C-2 to C-3, in order to continue selling cars at that location.
The car lot was zoned C-2, a zoning which does not allow for the sale of used car sales.
Angie told commissioners that the current zoning does, however, allow for the sale of new and used motorcycles and jet skis. It also allows for the sale of used cars, but only in conjunction with the sale of new cars.
“We wouldn’t be here for the rezone if the permit had been handled correctly,” she said.
Greg Godwin, planning commissioner, said he could not support a rezoning, however he said he could support a special use permit that would allow the Joneses to continue selling cars there for two years.
It’s a solution commissioners first discussed when the rezoning application was before the commission in April. At that meeting, commissioners tabled the request pending research about the possibility of issuing some sort of permit that would allow temporary used car sales at the location. Commissioners tossed around the possibility of some sort of five-year permit, an idea a majority of the appointed board appeared to support. However, at a later date, staff informed the commissioners that city rules only allowed special use permits with two-year limits.
In the meantime, a majority of the commission turned over as terms expired, a commissioner was appointed to city council, one moved out of town, and another resigned.
City staff’s recommendation – that the rezoning request be denied – has remained constant. The staff report cites a variety of concerns, including the aesthetics of the car lot and the lack of a concrete future vision for the area in the city’s comprehensive plan, which is currently under review.
Hall said a used car lot there may preclude more desirable development, like a hotel, in the area in the future.
“You’re looking at what might be there in the future instead of working with whose here now,” Tyrone said.
Hall said even if the rezoning request were approved, the car lot would need to submit a site plan, which city staff would review without oversight of the planning commission or council.
“That decision is made by the community development director,” Hall warned. “…The danger of that is I made a decision that the applicant doesn’t like.”
Decisions by the planning commission and city council can be appealed to another appointed board – the board of zoning appeals.
Despite the planning commission’s denial of the rezoning, Gardner City Council members will have a chance to confirm the commission’s opinion. It will not be the first time council members discuss the used car lot, however.
During an Aug. 19 meeting, council members agreed to allow the Joneses and Singh to apply for a special use permit in conjunction with their rezoning request. City staff suggested that the rezoning request be withdrawn before the Joneses be allowed to request a special use permit. However, council members agreed to allow the Joneses to make both requests simultaneously.
Three of the four voting members of the planning commission agreed to deny the rezoning request.