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Arlington council delays vote on proposed zoning changes for auto-related businesses

The City Council put the brakes on a proposal Tuesday for tougher regulations for automobile-related land uses.

The council was scheduled to hold a public hearing and to vote on zoning changes that would affect where future auto-service businesses — such as tire and oil change shops, repair garages, carwashes and used car lots — can open.

But the council postponed the vote for the third time Tuesday.

City officials decided to begin strengthening zoning regulations this year after 260 new auto-related businesses opened within two years.

At-large Councilman Robert Shepard asked for more time, saying he believes that some of the proposed changes went “too far” and didn’t address Arlington’s problems related to the high number of automobile-related businesses along major thoroughfares, such as Division and Cooper streets.

“I’m uncomfortable making such a quantum leap from ‘You can’ to “You can’t,’” Shepard said.

Although the public hearing was continued to a future meeting, resident Joe Bowers encouraged the council to vote against the proposed changes. Because the ordinance would not affect existing businesses, even if they changed ownership, Bowers said the grandfather clause would make used-car dealerships more valuable and would significantly hamper downtown redevelopment. Current used-car dealerships along Division Street downtown sell for $15 to $20 per square foot, which makes them too costly for restaurants and other businesses seeking to open on those sites, said Bowers, a real estate agent.

“Economics and land cost will solve our downtown appearance, not zoning or overlays,” Bowers said.

Currently, auto-related businesses can open in most zoning districts through a simple permitting process that doesn’t require council review and approval. The zoning changes, however, would give the council more discretion over where they could open and also the ability to request property improvements, such as landscaping.

For example, the proposed amendments would require all future used-car lots to obtain a specific use permit no matter what zoning their property has.

“We can’t unring the Division Street bell,” Shepard said, referring to the long string of used-car dealerships that line the east-west thoroughfare. “That stuff is likely to be there for some time. Doing this isn’t going to make that go away. We can’t look at this as if we are going to get rid of it because we are not.”

One of the items Shepard questioned was a proposal to require auto services and minor and major repair garages to seek specific use permits to open in light industrial zoning areas, the zoning category just below industrial manufacturing.

Other changes include prohibiting carwashes and other auto service locations, such as tire and oil change shops, from opening in areas zoned for community services and requiring minor repair garages and carwashes to obtain special permits to open in the city’s business zoning districts.

The changes would not affect existing automobile-related businesses, unless they expanded, or new car dealerships.

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